The Light Of Other Days

By Arthur C. Clarke

Rating: 4 stars

When I was a couple of chapters into this book, I felt that I was going to struggle with it, since I was finding the characters unmemorable (and, when I did remember them, irritating), the plot thin and none of the really big ideas that Clarke is famous for. I was wondering if this was just another senile-period damp squib. However, I’d heard good things about it, so I stuck with it and was eventually rewarded.

A driven media entrepreneur, Hiram Patterson, creates a way to use artificial wormholes to view any point on earth, and he uses this to scoop his media rivals. The book starts getting interesting once a) the ‘wormcams’ are able to look backward in time (due to the nature of spacetime equivalence at the quantum level, Patterson’s genius son David realises that as well as moving in space, the wormholes can move in time) and b) the technology becomes democratised and available to the mass populous.

It’s at this point that the book starts tackling issues like the complete lack of privacy that becomes just about inevitable, and how now that everyone can become a peeping tom, society starts changing. We see extremes from a group called Refugees who use extreme technology to try and hide from the wormcam observers to the ones who go to the other extreme, eschewing any form of privacy, up to and including clothing (there’s one scene that depicts a pair of teenagers having sex on a park bench in public, uncaring of the watchers).

The book suggests that people eventually beyond this and start using the technology in large “wiki” projects to eradicate corruption and crime, and stripping the mythology of the past to see what historical figures were really like, rather than the myths that have built up around them. However, call me cynical, but I’m not sure that if we had access to such technology we’d ever get beyond the peeping tom phase, extrapolating from similar high hopes for the Internet.

I continued to not find the human characters hugely interesting throughout the book, but couldn’t ignore them for the ideas entirely. I suspect this may be Baxter’s work, since Clarke’s characters are often just narrative vehicles and entirely ignorable, but trying to force them to have their own story dragged the book down for me. The end, seeing Hiram’s two sons, David and Bobby, ‘travelling’ far into earth’s past as they followed their ancestors into geological time was a breathtaking journey showing me that Clarke still had what it takes to evoke my sense of wonder as effortlessly as he did forty years earlier.

So, hard work in places, but definitely worth reading.

Book details

ISBN: 9780002247535
Publisher: Voyager
Year of publication: 2000

Nausica of the Valley of the Wind, Vol. 5 (Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, #5)

By Hayao Miyazaki

Rating: 4 stars

Princess Nausicaä’s quest to understand the nature of the spores and the Sea of Corruption nears its end in volume five of the series. As the Dorok emperor poisons the younger brother in whose shadow he has lived for decades (due to his lack of supernatural powers) and makes plans to invade the Torumekian empire, this human-scale politics is played out against the backdrop of the apocalypse that has been unleashed and is threatening to destroy the few remaining viable lands that humans can inhabit. The vast, impersonal powers show up the petty human squabbles in a way that is chastening but never preachy.

Book details

ISBN: 9781591164128
Publisher: VIZ Media
Year of publication: 1991

Nausica of the Valley of the Wind, Vol. 6 (Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, #6)

By Hayao Miyazaki

Rating: 5 stars

Nausicaä faces a spiritual journey in the penultimate volume of the series and in the process is able to heal the black soul of the Dorok emperor’s brother and set him free. She also discovers a secret of the Sea of Corruption but when she returns to the land of the living, while trying to protect the people she loves, she accidentally awakens the last remaining God Warrior in the world – one of the genetically engineered giant super-warriors who destroyed civilisation in the Seven Days of Fire, a millennium earlier.

Goodness me, it seems that Nausicaä is turning into a prophet – the scorned Wormhandlers even revere her as a deity. She’s yet to declare her message but people will follow her wherever she goes anyway. Roll on the last volume, as the final revelation in this makes for very unexpected reading!

Book details

ISBN: 9781591163541
Publisher: VIZ Media
Year of publication: 1993

The Book of Frank Herbert

By Frank Herbert

Rating: 4 stars

This is a collection of short stories by the author of the Dune books. I really enjoyed the collection, there were a few stories that didn’t work for me, including one about the extinction of all canines due to an over-enthusiastic genetically engineered virus, but there were many more thought-provoking, enjoyable or just darn funny stories. The last one, Occupation Force had a punchline that actually made me laugh out loud. This is a collection that shows that Herbert had a wide range in his SF and wasn’t a one-hit wonder with Dune.

Book details

Publisher: Daw
Year of publication: 1973


By John Clute

Rating: 3 stars

Nathaniel Freer is a trader who’s been lucky enough to find a commission in a time of hardship, when a data virus, plaque, is slowly encompassing the galaxy. He barely escapes from the planet Trencher when the plaque engulfs it but it seems that his cargo is more than it appears, and Freer must run for his life towards his destination planet that seems to be at the centre of everything.

This is a hard science fiction novel with lots of interesting world-building. From the twinned AIs, pleasingly termed ‘Made Minds’, to the hints of plaque apocalypse that overtook Earth in the distant past. This apocalypse has meant that Humans have had to abandon Earth but they have been welcomed by the Galactic community because aliens can get high on Human smell. However, it’s also a very dense book. It’s full of very evocative imagery but it gets tiring having to turn to a dictionary every other paragraph. There’s a lot packed into the words which I suspect would reward rereading, but which made the first reading difficult.

A lot is just thrown at the reader with no explanation or context and while some of it eventually starts making sense, some is just left as general background noise which I found somewhat irritating, although I can see the point of it. I think that at some point I would like to reread it though and see if it’s an easier read next time round.

Book details

ISBN: 9781841491004
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 2001

Nausica of the Valley of the Wind, Vol. 3 (Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, #3)

By Hayao Miyazaki

Rating: 4 stars

In this volume, Nausicaä goes to war. She ends up in an uneasy alliance with a princess from a distant empire who is as busy fighting her own family as the people she was sent to fight. These people are using the miasma from the forest of corruption as a weapon of war, effectively cutting off their nose to spite their face, losing their own lands to the corruption.

We also see more hints of a prophecy that Nausicaä is at the centre of and the expanded canvas of the graphic novels gives this much more room to breathe than the film.

Book details

ISBN: 9781591164104
Publisher: VIZ Media
Year of publication: 1984

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