Friday 9 July 2021

The End Of History & The Last Question

A novella that could be interpreted as a direct rebuttal to the work of Francis Fukuyama, Light Chaser
Light Chaser hits
shelves Aug. 24, 2021.
(Image via Goodreads)

is a deftly written space opera whose slender size belies the big ideas its authors are tackling.

Collaborations are tricky businesses, but Gareth Powell and Peter F. Hamilton’s work here shows that the results can produce a unique and engaging chemistry. Both of these authors are best known for tackling space opera, but Powell has usually provided more action-heavy fare while Hamilton has gone for vast sweeping epics. Light Chaser is an interesting balance of both of their strengths.

Set in a distant future where a human diaspora has populated millions of planets across the universe, the novella follows a near immortal traveler Amahle whose task is to document, collate, and share the memories and experiences of those living in these worlds. After working on this task for millennia, Amahle’s memory of her own experiences has faded, providing an interesting point of reflection on the role of the cultural archivist.

The worlds she visits are disparate but stable. Some could be described as high-tech civilizations, while others are immiserated medieval monarchies. What all these societies have in common, however, is that they are stable and unchanging. Humanity has hit a steady state; this is the ‘End of History.’

One of the nicely used tools for worldbuilding employed by the authors is Amahle’s collection of work experiences. By allowing her to vicariously live the memories of a few inhabitants of civilizations she visits, the reader is provided an ethnographic glimpse of the civilization instead of a summative infodump.

As her travels progress, Amahle starts to receive coded messages from a mysterious sender in her past… and starts piecing together the fact that her AI companion on these voyages may have ulterior motives. At moments, this may remind readers of the 2010 Hugo-winning movie Moon.
Capitalist eschatology
reached its apex in 1992.
(Image via Amazon)

Be forewarned: the ending that may be undermined by the narrative structure of the novella. For example, the book starts at the end of the plot and even five pages in, the reader already knows that the protagonist will sacrifice herself and her partner in order to kill an ancient and evil force. So it doesn’t come as much surprise when the reader learns that this ancient evil force is behind the stagnation of the human race, nor does it surprise when they start preparing to sacrifice themselves.

That being said, the novella is very welcome for its implicit criticism of complacent feel-good neoliberal end-of-history ideology that leaves major portions of the human race trapped as part of low-wage low-rights pools of exploitable labour. The metaphor was both incisive and perfectly woven into the story.

Light Chaser is an absolutely essential text for fans of either author, offering the punchy dialogue and sprightly pacing of Powell’s best work and the quirky-big-space-idea think pieces of Hamilton’s. It will likely find a place on several of our nominating ballots next year.

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