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Eternal Light
Paul J. McAuley
Victor Gollancz/Millennium, 463 pages

Eternal Light
Paul J. McAuley
Paul J. McAuley was born in England in 1955 and currently lives in Scotland. He worked as a researcher in biology in various universities before going to St. Andrew's University as a lecturer in botany for 6 years. He's chosen to move on to become a full-time writer.

His first novel, Four Hundred Billion Stars, won the Philip K. Dick Memorial Award and several subsequent novels have been nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, winning one for Fairyland which also won the 1997 John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best SF Novel. His short story, "The Temptation of Dr. Stein," won the British Fantasy Award. Pasquale's Angel won the very first Sidewise Award for Alternate History (Long Form) in 1996. McAuley also produces a regular review column for Interzone and contributes reviews to Foundation.

Paul J. McAuley Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Reading List: Paul J. McAuley
SF Site Review: Ancients of Days
SF Site Review: The Invisible Country
SF Site Review: Child Of The River
SF Site Review: Fairyland
SF Archive: Paul J. McAuley
Star Makers - Paul J. McAuley
Mark/Space: Paul J.McAuley

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Jean-Louis Trudel

Advertisement
Science fiction... Remember that stuff about rockets and spaceships, brave and strange new worlds, and voyages to distant times and places? Remember how exciting it could be? How it challenged readers to imagine the grandest vistas, the most alien settings?

Perhaps you thought there was nothing new any more under the sun, and that you were condemned to read endless reams of TV tie-ins just to find a smidgen of honest-to-God science fiction in today's debased marketplace?

Wrong.

Paul J. McAuley's sequel to Four Hundred Billion Stars is all that real science fiction fans could wish for. Complex societies. Characters shaped by the technologies of our wildest dreams. Wild rides through space and time. Glimpses of surreal landscapes and transcendent beings.

The preceding novel was a bit stiff in places, the mark of the new and earnest writer afraid to unbend. This one is already less afraid of having fun. Dorthy Yoshida is back from Four Hundred Billion Stars, abducted by a near immortal who wishes to use her knowledge of the alien enemies of Earth, the Alea, as well as her telepathic Talent. Among the other main characters are a retired space fighter pilot, Suzy Falcon, and a young cyborg artist, aptly named Robot. All of them are driven by immortal Talbeck Barlstilkin into pursuit of a secret military expedition off to investigate a hypervelocity star, which will lead them to the Galaxy's core and into more adventures than they'd bargained for...

For that distant system holds a direct portal to the Galaxy's centre. Once the humans reach the vicinity of the core's black hole, the faction-riven crew of the starship Vingança falls apart, as religious fanatics and scientists struggle over the meaning of their discoveries. Dorthy Yoshida carries inside herself a simulation of an Alea matriarch, with her own ideas about what needs doing. And, inside the wormhole that has led the Vingança to the Galactic core, strange angels watch over graceful aliens in a virtual universe of their own...

McAuley is unafraid to play with ideas, with fresh visions, and with extreme characters. While it may feel old-fashioned at times, reminiscent of older brands of space opera, this will be no knock against it for fans of Larry Niven or Poul Anderson. And McAuley brings to the fore an updated sense of realism, using well-researched physics and astrophysics to ground his story.

The same hard-edged feeling for details, from flying tournaments on Titan to Dorthy Yoshida's hang-ups as a Talent singled out since early infancy, makes for a richly textured story. The technological minutia contributes to the depiction of a credible future (though the cutesy "ReUnited Nations" made me cringe). And the insights into Dorthy's psychology lend added depth to her pivotal role as the chosen interlocutor of more than one sort of alien. It's a potent combination, and a convincing one.

The book closes on a literary homage to H.G. Wells, using the scene from the world at the end of days in The Time Machine, but giving it a very different meaning. The Universe may end, but there will be no end for the intelligence within it, a light burning forever.

Together with Four Hundred Billion Stars, this novel makes for a quite satisfying diptych. McAuley ties together the loose threads left over and tackles some of the grand ideas that were very hot back in 1991, when Eternal Light first came out: the anthropic principle, Tipler's Omega Point universe as intelligence incarnate, and, never old, the problem raised by the Fermi Paradox. Fans of thoughtful space opera and hard SF on the grand scale, such as Gregory Benford's Galactic Centre series, should appreciate McAuley's own take on some of the same issues.

Copyright © 2000 by Jean-Louis Trudel

Jean-Louis Trudel is a busy, bilingual writer from Canada, with two novels and fourteen young adult books to his credit in French. He's also a moderately prolific reviewer and short story writer.


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