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The Light Of Other Days
Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter
Tor Books, 316 pages

The Light Of Other Days
Arthur C. Clarke
Born in 1917 in Minehead, Somerset, England, and living in Sri Lanka since 1956, Arthur C. Clarke is best known for his 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) based on his short story "Sentinel of Eternity." His Against the Fall of Night (1948) and Childhood's End (1953) are also among his best titles. Clarke was voted Grand Master at the 1986 Nebula Awards. His short story "The Star" (1955) won him a Hugo award as did the movie adaptation of 2001. A writer of hard science fiction, though not without some elements of mysticism, Clarke has also written a large volume of science-popularizing non-fiction for which he has won UNESCO's Kalinga Prize (1962) and a non-fiction International Fantasy Award in 1972 (for The Exploration of Space). Clarke has also received many honours from the scientific community, in particular for his work in the development of today's geosynchronous communication satellites.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Profiles of the Future
SF Site Review: Arthur C. Clarke & Lord Dunsany: A Correspondence
Arthur C. Clarke Tribute Site

Stephen Baxter
Stephen Baxter was born in 1957 and was raised in Liverpool. He studied mathematics at Cambridge and obtained a PhD from Southampton. He has worked in information technology and now lives in Buckinghamshire, England. His first story, "The Xeelee Flower," was published in Interzone #19.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Longtusk
SF Site Review: Vacuum Diagrams
SF Site Review: Titan
Stephen Baxter Interview
Book Review: Ring
Book Review: Flux
Stephen Baxter Tribute Site
Stephen Baxter Interview

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Ernest Lilley

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"Kate's eye was caught by a splinter of light, dazzling somewhere over her head. One of the drones was carrying an image of the rocket ship she'd noticed before. It was climbing into the patch of blue-gray central Asian sky, utterly silently. It looked strangely old fashioned, an image drifting up from the past rather than the future. Nobody else was watching it, and it held little interest for her. She turned away."
After waiting a lifetime for space travel to get underway, Arthur C. Clarke has joined forces with fellow British master Stephen Baxter to write a story about what lies beyond the death of the dream. Though others have collaborated with Sir Arthur before, they were outmatched and outclassed and the results were never up to expectations. Stephen Baxter has the both the requisite talent and tone, but his works have tended to a post-modern glumness, a much different tack from the hopeful worldmaking of Clarke. Instead of journeying outward, The Light Of Other Days shows us an all too plausible future closer to home.

Hiram Patterson, global media magnate of the 2030s, is tired of getting scooped by other news services. So he spends a few billion dollars on research and develops a way to manipulate subatomic wormholes to connect any two points and open a window to anywhere allowing him to put a camera on the spot instantaneously. I suppose he could have just used web-cams but what fun would that have been?

Hiram also wants to create a dynasty, àla Joe Kennedy, and is using his two sons and the wormhole discovery to do it. For a time, he lost his first son to the religion virus, as he puts it, and has taken careful steps to make sure that won't happen with Bobby, the second. Thanks to Kate Manzoni, a willful freelance journalist who falls in love with Bobby, all the careful plans Hiram has for the future threaten to come undone and the two wind up on the run in a world where surveillance technology can see anyplace, any time.

Even though I liked the lovers on the run part of the story, and the characters in general, The Light Of Other Days is really about the ideas the authors unfold. They bring out the looming threat of asteroid impact, silvering of America, cognitive enhancers to combat senility, massive climactic shifts with permanent storms and northern Europe frozen over, elective brain surgery, Catholicism in England and cultism in the US and more. It's Clarke's library of ideas displayed by in grand style by Baxter.

When the discovery is made that the wormholes can tunnel across not only space but also time, another of Sir Arthur's sacred cows ambles forth as the book spends a considerable amount of time debunking the saints and heroes of the ages. Ultimately the wormhole device is, as the authors put it, a truth machine, and the they use it to show the panorama of human history, first tearing down the notion of godhood, and then showing the connections of all life on the planet as they trace a single life backwards in time through it's ancestors all the way back to a single-celled organism and beyond.

It nagged at me as I read this section that I had seen the demystifying of history by being able to see into the past before... and most likely by Clarke himself... indeed I had, and the authors are nice enough to point it out in the afterward. The previous work was Childhood's End, and very much the same sort of past by remote viewing is a gift of the Overlords, the aliens who have come to watch over the transformation of mankind.

The truth can also be used to tell a lie, the Brit boys point out, as the storyline follows Kate through her incarceration on charges trumped up by Hiram. It can be very disquieting to watch the authors demonstrate that an individual's memory of events is no match for the external record in this very Orwellian twist. Speaking of truth machines, if you enjoy The Light Of Other Days, you may also enjoy James Halperin's Truth Machine, which covers some of the same ground from a different angle, but with much the same style. Even if Halperin is a Yank.

Ultimately the book is about the change to a trans-human world, which is disconcerting because they convincingly connect the dots between here and there. Artificial telepathy, memory and cognitive enhancement, hormonal controls, all pretty obvious steps on the road to post-humanity, but after we are done, will any of the original remain? Does it matter? These have always been central questions for Clark, and the current book adds food for thought.

Although tame wormhole technology may be a bridge too far for many technologists, a number of the questions in the book pose themselves just as well if they are posed by technologies rapidly becoming real. If you wait long enough, the future is bound to become the present. And Sir Arthur has been waiting patiently for some time.

Stephen Baxter is an excellent writer alone, but I enjoyed his duet with Clarke tremendously. If the spirit moves them, an encore would be welcome.

Copyright © 2000 Ernest Lilley

Ernest Lilley is the Editor and Publisher of SFRevu, a monthly 'zine for science fiction reviews, news and interviews. It can be found at http://www.sfrevu.com.


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