Light Chaser is a novella length work from Gareth L. powell and Peter F. Hamilton. Those two have written some of my favourite science fiction of the last decade, so seeing them together was enough to make this mandatory reading. I’m happy to say that I went in with high expectations, and they were surpassed. This is some top notch science fiction, combining a universe sprinkled with fascinating environments and different societies, with characterisation that lets you feel the pain, the struggle, the hope and the love of our protagonist, makes them feel real, and with an overarching story which keeps you wanting to turn pages until it’s far too late at night.
Light Chasers circle the worlds of a galactic civilisation. Some of those worlds are high-tech utopia, others are more medieval hellscapes. But each is linked together on the route of a LightChaser. These pilots have ships moving at significant amounts of lightspeed - centuries for the rest of us pass as moments for them. The Lightchasers drop in on each world on their route, observe society, and collect information about it before removing on to the next world in their loop. They’re people out of time, chasing an ouroboros. And we’re following one of these wanderers across space and time, as they dip in and out of everyone else’s lives. In part, this is a story that’s a meditation on loneliness and connection. In the way different people and places speak to each other, and in the way that those tying the web together sometimes spend their time alone, outside of the societies which rely on them. Because a Lightchaser isn’t really from anywhere, not any more - and as they live on for centuries, enhanced beyond their natural span, they slowly forget more and more of themselves, losing who they were in the eternal now of who they are.
Powell and Hamilton are past-masters at creating living, breathing, believable worlds, and they do that again here. Each place we see is different, and special, and vividly drawn, and feels real.
This is matched by the Lightchaser herself, a woman who lives in the silent spaces between the stars, content in the endless round of circling her route between the stars. Cynical and world weary and craving experiences that are more than her boundaries allow. But also an explorer, and alone, and looking for something genuine, a sense of connection in the individual which is mirrored in the connections she enables in the worlds. The Lightchaser is smart and funny and wounded and sometimes painful to read, and still very, very human. As someone living in an eternal now, we're looking over their shoulder into both the new and old, trying to figure it out as she does.
And figure it out she must. Because there is something rotten in the state of Denmark. Or in the state of the universe, at any rate. Everything is not as it seems, and although I won’t spoil it, I’ll say this: the story is tightly plotted, letting out a slow burn of revelation which will keep you coming back to the story, and which certainly kept me reading until well past my bedtime.
Light Chaser is a smart, high-concept piece of sci-fi, with a great, well realised protagonist, a universe filled with different human societies which feel new, alien and real at the same time, and with a story that doesn’t let up, and won’t let go. In short, it’s great fun, and a great read. Give it a try.