01/06/2009. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts
pub: Gollancz. 419 page enlarged paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-575-08640-1.
check out website: www.orionbooks.co.uk
It's rather weird starting off reading an author's later books which I liked and then going back and reading one of his first books and realising how much he learnt in the interim. It could just be me, the editor, who knows what beats and emotional content is needed and how broadstroking detail rather than stay character orientated all the time, can gloss things over. You, purely as a reader, might not see that.
'Eternal Light' is part of Gollancz' six 'space opera' books and was originally released nineteen years ago. Author Paul McAuley chucks everything and the kitchen sink in on a plot where a wondering star from the galactic centre is heading towards the Earth and teams are sent to see what is going on.
Much of the story centres on Dorthy Yoshida and it isn't until the cyborg aptly called Robot, a passenger with another pilot joins her late in the book that McAuley borrows from 'The Wizard Of The Oz'. One of the other characters could even be seen to be the Wizard as well although we appear to be spared Toto, Scarecrow and Lion.
If anything, the story pulls in many different directions and you're left wondering if things would have been any different had the various factions not chased the star in the first place. Yes, the story is epic but McAuley loses emotional beats when characters die and if you blink, it doesn't actually sink in. When he gets down to writing character elements things do brighten up but there are also lengths of explaining than doing as well.
I came away from this story not really knowing what went on at the end. It's a book I want to like but it didn't always engage me. With so many years past, it's a bit difficult to become critical and say some things could have been changed. Certainly, it's too confining for a single novel. The fact that his later work is so much better suggests this is also part of McAuley's learning curve and publisher Gollancz obviously realised he would get better.
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