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Big Brothers Are Watching
Legendary science fiction icon Arthur C. Clarke, who in recent years has cowritten The Trigger with Michael Kube-McDowell and several Rama novels with Gentry Lee (Rama II, Garden of Rama, Rama Revealed) collaborates here for the first time with British author Stephen Baxter (Moonseed, Voyage, Titan, and Manifold Time) on a powerful, near-future speculative story of our world on the brink of radical change. The authors envision what the social consciousness and culture shock of life would be like when all privacy is irrevocably gone. Driven by Clarke's vision and fleshed out by Baxter's easygoing narrative, The Light of Other Days is intriguing conjecture supported by deep-seated principles in a time when total indifference has taken root.
In the early 21st century, industrialist Hiram Patterson isn't content with his multimedia conglomerate called OurWorld and dedicates himself to further innovation. While attending an OurWorld event, journalist Kate Manzoni prepares to break a major story on Hiram's latest invention, which is shrouded in secrecy. Her previous cutting-edge bit of news was the disclosure of the Wormwood, a comet which is set on a collision course with Earth and destined to destroy all life on the planet in 500 years. Drug use, suicide, and apathy are at an all-time high across the globe.
Still, that doesn't stop Hiram from doing what he does best: making money off scientific breakthroughs. His latest invention, as Kate learns, is a "WormCam": a stabilized wormhole of atomic size that is only large enough to send a radio signal through. His next call of order is to enlarge the wormhole until it is big enough to allow for visual images. Hiram's long-abandoned son, David, a top physics scientist and devout Catholic, is called back to OurWorld in order to oversee the WormCam project.
The debonair Bobby Patterson, Hiram's younger son, is soon wooing Kate even while she uses him to get closer to Hiram's secrets. Bobby learns that the brain implant he had embedded as a child was actually designed to make him lack emotion and religious faith, as well as allow him to be easily coerced by his father. When Kate helps him to shut down the implant, Bobby is opened to a whole new world of exquisite love, anger, and pain. Eventually his brother David enlarges the WormCam until visual imagery is capable of traveling back and forth. David also determines that the WormCam is not only capable of bending space, but also time.
As Kate uses the WormCam in an attempt to take down a notorious religious leader who uses a deadly form of virtual reality on his followers despite its ill effects, she begins to make herself powerful enemies, among them Hiram. Bobby and Kate set out on personal missions intended to keep the wormholes out of the wrong hands and put them to use for mankind's benefit. However, that's easier said than done, as government agencies and corporate competitors learn of the invention and a chain reaction is started -- everyone spying on everyone else across the globe and across time.
Stephen Baxter deserves all the praise he's received in recent years for his thought-provoking and evocative novels. As a winner of the John W. Campbell Award, Baxter again proves he has what it takes to hold his own with such a visionary as Arthur C. Clarke. The authors are at ease fusing their ideas and techniques, moving between the hard-science elements and the credible, emotionally dense circumstances propelling the characters forward. The constant tension between Hiram, Kate, and Bobby is put to wonderful use, as Bobby sees life for the first time with an open soul. Possibly the strongest scene comes when Hiram realizes the WormCams can look backward into time. He turns a challenging gaze to the heavens for all the future watchers staring at him to see.
As the world undergoes extreme change and privacy is done away with, our protagonists are forced to take personal stands for their beliefs despite all the conflict taking place around them. This is made even more difficult for them by the ever-present threat of the Wormwood comet that will eventually decimate all life. The theme is a strong one: How hard will you strive for your ideals when the world is going to end in the not-so-distant future? How strong is your faith? Clarke and Baxter have given us a moving and believable story, bringing together various scientific threads and philosophical ideology. They not only grab the reader's interest but also fire one's imagination on how technology leads to radical social and political change.
The Light of Other Days doesn't sink under the inertia of the secular debates in the novel: Clarke and Baxter's unraveling of the intense subplots of faith and fear is impeccable. It's rare to find authors so cognizant of cultural transformation, who understand the ethical dilemmas that influence a world on the edge of upheaval in the name of progress. This is an enthralling inquiry into the effects of a major scientific breakthrough on values and belief systems; it will draw the reader into the brilliant light of powerful storytelling.