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Lightborn by Tricia Sullivan

01/02/2011. Contributed by Gareth D Jones

Buy Lightborn in the USA - or Buy Lightborn in the UK

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pub: Orbit. 438 page small enlarged paperback. Price: GBP 8.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84149-407-4).

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Set some time in the not too distant future, ‘Lightborn’ is a post-apocalyptic tale of intelligent software, deranged adults and a struggle for survival by the youths abandoned to look after themselves. The term ‘lightborn’ or ‘shine’ refers to education and entertainment, transmitted by light, that is beamed straight into people’s brains. Only once they reach puberty are people able to process this input, which is why when rogue AIs take over the system in the city of Los Sombres, the adults go insane and the children are spared.

Even before this catastrophe, many adults already suffer from various addictions caused by the shine, so a huge range of delusional behaviour becomes evident throughout the book. The light is processed through receptors implanted into the forehead, though even without this, youths are in danger of becoming infected when they start growing up, though no explanation of this is given. The shine is transmitted by specialist computer equipment, but also can be sent through streetlights, torches and any other light source in some unexplained fashion. Although supposedly an education and entertainment system, there are also arguments that shine doesn’t transmit data, but only emotions. Despite all these inconsistencies, the uses that shine is put to are quite ingenious – creating virtual invisibility fields, organising the deranged inhabitants of the quarantined city of Los Sombres into relief teams, rendering people unconscious and preventing nausea.

It’s a complicated plot, centring on two characters. Xavier has been taking inhibitors to keep him young and immune to shine. He lives on a ranch full of outcasts outside Los Sombres but still within the quarantine zone. The opening chapters, full of horse-training, odd ranch hands and bonfires reads like a John Steinbeck novel. Then he runs away to the city, where life continues in an eerily calm fashion. Here things get really interesting and the pace is kept alive by the use of short chapters with quirky and amusing titles that I enjoyed.

Roksana lives in the city where she has found a way to survive and to help improve the life of the human detritus who still dwell there. Although a teen-ager, she is immune to shine and her life becomes involved in helping Xavier. Her father is a Rider, an expert on shine, who foretold the problems and is working to fix them. The plot weaves back and forth several times, changing our perception of what shine is, who is good and bad and whether those words have any relevance.

Why the author felt the need to continually use the same two expletives, I don’t know. It became very tiresome and unnecessary, being used in the narrative as well as dialogue and substituted for a wide selection of words which could do a perfectly adequate job. This also reduced the drama in tense moments where you might expect characters to pepper their language with expletives.

This is a gritty, dramatic and action-packed novel, peopled by well-developed characters and supported by a wide variety of secondary characters that break away from the stereotypical norm and make Los Sombres a believable place. The book deals with issues of preconception, propaganda and media control in an excellent way, allowing us to experience revelations and realisations along with the youthful protagonists. Certainly a book to grip the imagination.

Gareth D. Jones

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This book has 15 votes in the sci-fi charts

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