A few years back a mystery object given the name, ’Oumuamua, visited our solar system. The consensus of opinion amongst astronomers was that it was a large lump of rock. Others speculated that it might be a well camouflaged space craft.
On the album, 50 Words for Snow, Kate Bush has a song called “Snowed in at Wheeler Street”. It is a duet with Elton John about two time travellers who keep meeting up at different moments in history, and then getting pulled apart again.
These two things come immediately to mind on reading Gareth Powell and Peter Hamilton’s novella, Light Chaser. The story centres on Amahle, a long-lived star-ship pilot whose job is to travel the galaxy collecting valuable goods. She visits each world on her route once every thousand years. On each one she trades technology for memory collars which have recorded the lives of members of specific families since her last visit. She leaves new collars behind when she leaves, with instructions for them to be passed on from one generation to the next until she returns.
The alert reader will soon notice something odd about all this. The worlds that Amahle visits are all unique, and at different levels of technology. None of them have much in the way of space flight, and some don’t have it at all, yet they all welcome this visitor who clearly has far superior flight technology. None of the societies on these worlds evolves in any way in between Amahle’s visits.
The memory collars, then, are a much-prized form of entertainment for a long-lived and powerful civilisation that is keeping the rest of the galaxy as pets, producing endless streams of reality TV for their consumption. Amahle seems oblivious to all this, but into her life comes Carloman, someone who claims to have lived multiple lives, and in one of them to have been her husband.
It is an interesting conceit, and very well executed as you might expect from two fine science fiction writers. If I have a complaint, it is that Powell and Hamilton didn’t manage to find a way to make more of the idea. Amahle’s adventures on each planet that she visits are very skimpily told. Mind you, there is a little bit of male gaze going on here, so perhaps that’s just as well.
Anyway, this book has got me thinking about how novellas work, and about how you include multiple lines of narrative without making them seem skimped. This is probably a job for someone with far better fiction writing skills than me, but given the recent popularity of the form it is rather important.
Title: Light Chaser
By: Peter F Hamilton & Gareth L Powell
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