Sunday, May 5, 2019

Light from Other Stars

Light from Other Stars by Erika Swyler
Bloomsbury: 5/7/19
eBook review copy; 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9781635573169

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.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Bloomsbury.

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