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The Light Of Other Days by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter

01/04/2010. Contributed by Gareth D Jones

Buy The Light Of Other Days in the USA - or Buy The Light Of Other Days in the UK

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pub: TOR/Forge. 316 page small enlarged paperback. Price: $14.99 (US), $18.99 (CAN. ISBN: 978-0-7653-2287-6.

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This is the paperback edition of 'The Light Of Other Days', released an unusual ten years after the hardback original. Penned by the late and current chairmen of the British Science Fiction Association, Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter, it is sub-titled 'A Novel Of The Transformation Of Humanity'. As the book progresses, it becomes evident that the transformation is of that indefinable characteristic known as humanity as much of humanity itself.

Hiram Paterson is a rich businessman with a global media and technology empire, OurWorld, which he plans to pass on to his two sons, Bobby and David. These three are central to the development of the wormhole technology that not only shapes their own lives, but dramatically affects the lives of the entire Earth's population. It's sometimes hard to keep up with the new inventions and applications that are going on behind the scenes, introduced or mentioned in passing as their effects sweep the globe. However far-fetched each idea seems when considered alone, the authors develop a logical sequence of events in which innovation leads to social change, to propagation of the technology, backlash against its consequences and further development of complementary or opposing technologies. Each development seems perfectly reasonable as part of this ripple effect.

Providing an outside viewpoint and initially a moral counter-point is Kate Manzoni, the investigative journalist intent on breaking the next big story. Her previous revelation that the Earth is due to be destroyed by a giant meteor strike five centuries hence is the other major background theme to the novel. Her exposť has had huge social consequences as the population comes to terms with their impending doom. This makes an interesting balance in perspective as Kate attempts to justify her own responsibility for this while tackling the OurWorld Corporation.

Other characters take the stage from time to time, an FBI agent, various members of Hiram's extended family and others who have suffered from the effects of Hiram's technology. What is interesting about all of these is the morally neutral way they all come across. None of them are heroic, selfless, evil or any other superlatives. They all have moments of these various qualities, but ultimately they are all human, even those who are beginning to become something more. We learn enough of their story to understand why they act the way they do, but it becomes difficult to sympathise with any of them. This is reflected by the discoveries made when people begin viewing the past via wormhole technology: human history is full of banality. The tour-de-force of history, geology, cosmology and technology is used to illustrate this point effectively.

There are a huge amount of ideas thrown into this novel, mixed in with the development of a dynasty and the tragedy of human life. It's an interesting book and a book that makes you think.

Gareth D. Jones

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