by Arthur C. Clarke & Stephen Baxter



316pp/$24.95/March 2000

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter's collaborative novel The Light of Other Days is set in a near future which seems to be an extrapolation of many of today's worst trends.  Even as much of the world balkanizes, the United States has absorbed England in the face of Scottish independence and antagonism.  Wars over water rights are breaking out around the world as formerly fertile areas are being turned into desert.  As if these calamities weren't enough, scientists have recently announced the discovery of a massive asteroid, called the Wormwood, on a trajectory which will cause the destruction of all life on earth in the year 2534.

And yet, all of this is merely background to the speculations presented by these two authors.  The Light of Other Days focuses on the family of Hiram Patterson, a latter-day Bill Gates.  Patterson has made his wealth in broadcasting and has begun to explore the possibility of opening up wormholes to trouble spots around the world in order to lower his costs and increase his coverage.  However, this wormhole technology results in a complete shift in world culture as the technology can be used first, to see anywhere in the world, and later can be used to peer through time.

The spread of this new ability seems based on the spread and use of the internet, although it quickly becomes apparent that it has much more far-reaching ramifications, even with its limitations, than the internet.  Although anything can be seen, there can be no interaction between the viewer and the event.

The Light of Other Days has a quality of malaise to it.  Rather than living their own lives, characters begin to live in the past, either viewing events which had specific meaning to them, reliving happier times, or trying to learn more about history.  Between the state of the world and the impending doom brought by the Wormwood, there seems little motivation to continue working for a better future.

Clarke and Baxter focus their energies on the emergence of the technology rather than the relationships between the characters.  Many of the characters, such as David or Kate have interesting traits which the authors don't really begin to explore.  Increasing the human aspect of the novel would have given the book a more finished quality than it has without, perhaps, adding too much to its length.

The authors' focus on technology suffers from a disjointed quality of time.  It is clear that research into the wormhole technology continues and progress is made, but there is little real feeling of the passage of time and delay as the new products are rolled out to an public or the various characters' lives more slowly forward.

While The Light of Other Days includes many interesting ideas and potentially intriguing characters, it has the feeling of a work not entirely finished.  Scenes jump around and the characters are never brought fully to life.

Purchase this book in hardcover from Amazon Books.

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