Fiction Reviews

Light Chaser

(2021) Peter F. Hamilton & Gareth L. Powell, Tor, £8.99, pbk, 173pp, ISBN 978-1-250-76982-4


On paper this is a dream combination: a new short novel from the combined talents that gave us the 'Night’s Dawn' trilogy (Hamilton) and 'The Embers of War' series (Powell), amongst countless others, many of them award-winning. These are two writers on top of their game, both prolific and hugely popular.

For anything associated with Hamilton this is an odd beast – a book that’s barely novel length. The brevity helps: Hamilton’s recent 'Salvation' trilogy was a long and exhausting read. But it also means that, inevitably, we’re left with unanswered questions, as if this were an extended short story, and some intriguing characterisation falls short of reaching its full potential.

The plot is a slow reveal so in the interests of avoiding spoilers I’ll stick to the set-up. Amahle captains a starship – she’s a ‘light chaser’, on a thousand-year trading loop round disparate star systems – and she’s a crew of one – two, including her sentient on-ship AI. Every world she stops on is stable at a level of technological sophistication well below her own. She dispenses ‘memory bands’ and collects them back on her next pass. These bands record the lives of the wearers, and they’re prized by the people she works for, with lives lived vicariously for entertainment.

Amahle doesn’t age – she’s rejuvenated regularly – and has lived for thousands of years. She’s forgotten most of what she ever knew, though, since (at least so the AI tells her) her brain can only cope with so much information and she needs space for new memories. But then, as she reviews the memories trapped in the memory bands she recovers on her travels, she comes across someone who talks directly to her. And she begins to see her carefully constructed existence in a whole new light.

Light Chaser has moments of real sharpness, and the central, discovery, section is a delight. But the ending seems rushed and (I thought I’d never say this about a Peter F. Hamilton project) deserves to be much longer. And anyone familiar with these two writers will have fun identifying the Hamilton-scribed sections and those written by Powell, because the styles here are not consistent and the joins are evident.

I wanted more – I want more – because this is a cool idea and these are two excellent writers. As is this is an intriguing taster and a stripped down version of what might have been. It’s a great way in to the extensive back catalogues of them both, though – I suggest starting with Hamilton’s The Reality Dysfunction and Powell’s Ack-Ack Macaque and going from there. Be sure to build a bigger bookshelf though, because you’ll need it.

Mark Bilsborough


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