Light from Other Stars by Erika Swyler
eBook review copy; 320 pages
Light from Other Stars by Erika Swyler is a highly recommended coming-of-age science fiction story.
The dual narrative follows two different stories set in two different
time periods. In 1986, eleven-year-old Nedda Papas is living in Easter
Florida, a Space Coast town, where she can't wait to grow up and become
an astronaut. Theo, her father is a physicist, a college professor who
was laid off from NASA, but he has an ongoing project, Crucible, that
manipulates time by controlling entropy in an effort to extend Nedda's
childhood. Betheen, her distant mother, is a baker and a chemist. Both
of her parents, unknown to Nedda, are still mourning the loss of her
brother, Michael, several years earlier. On the day after the Challenger
disaster, another disaster befalls the town of Easter, which also
affects Nedda's best friend Denny and her father. Nedda turns to Betheen
to find a solution.
In the future Nedda is an astronaut aboard the Chawla,
a four-person spacecraft en route to colonize a faraway planet to save
humanity. Nedda and her crew mates are facing several trials, but now
are doomed if they can't find a solution to a crisis that is threatening
all of their lives and the mission. Nedda's past may actually hold the
answer for a way to solve their current crisis.
The narrative alternates between the two time periods and the two
stories, with Nedda (and by association Betheen) being the connection
between the two vastly different narratives. For me, the young Nedda was
the better developed character and the earlier timeline/story was much
more compelling. I admittedly read the future chapters a bit faster to
get back to the coming-of-age story and the disaster befalling her
friend Denny and her dad Theo. It also allows the closeness of Betheen
and Nedda now make more sense, and truly highlight the sacrifices that
women often make for the good of everyone.
The writing is very good and the two plots are compelling for their
own reasons. As a long-time reader of hard science fiction, I didn't
find the science intimidating, but it would be easy to breeze over it
and get on with the story for those who want to do so. The greater story
is the examination of progress, finding meaning in your work, sacrifices, passions, determination, and the relationships between people in various contexts - parents, children, friends.
My review copy was courtesy of Bloomsbury.