The Light Years

By R. W. W. Greene

The Light Years, a novel by R. W. W. Greene
Book details

Time is relative. We use this term in our everyday lives to explain why boring tasks seem to last an age, but the day flies by when we are having fun. Sounds good, but it is not what Einstein had in mind. His thought process was far more interested in physics and what happens as we approach the speed of light. Here time is relative. One minute for a person travelling closer to the speed of light, could be several for us. If you are this person travelling at immense speeds, how do you maintain relations with those that you left behind? Your younger brother is suddenly an old man, your lover now married to someone else.

Adem Sadiq comes from a proud family of traders who travel at speed between settlements. On average he visits somewhere like New Gaul every one of his years, but whilst he has aged one year, they have aged 25. On one such visit he meets a match maker to procure himself a wife. A wife that has not yet been conceived who must be trained in what the traders need and will be genetically improved. Hisako Saski is this future bride – how will she feel being bought and paid for?

The key to many good science fiction novels is a clear and intelligent central premise. R W W Greene has a splendid one within the pages of The Light Years. The concept of traders living life slower than their customers is brilliant. Rather than burden the reader with too many confusing science fiction ideas, Green keeps things succinct. One part of the story follows Adem on a one-year journey, the other follows Hisako during the same year. Just that she lives twenty-five of them.

These parallel lives plot would have been enough to sustain a reasonable story, but Greene goes far beyond this. There is some fantastic world building, family intrigue and relationship drama also to enjoy. Greene slowly reveals the world in which Light is set. We are not given pages of history and fact, but instead we live through the lives of two characters. Just by following Adem and Hisako, you get a great sense of the history and troubles that the various future human settlements suffer from.

Tonally, there are dark moments in Light that could really have made the book bleak. Planets are rife with refugees who are treated little better than dirt. Hisako has a troubled upbringing; brought up by poor parents she is never liked by the rich kids that she finds herself educated with. Scenes of bullying are particular jarring for any adult with small children.

Thankfully, Greene is an optimistic writer and he populates his book with positive and morally good characters. The situation is bleak, but the people are hopeful. The story is as much about compassion and companionship as it is about the plight of refugees on planets that just don’t care. Although Adem and Hisako are the centre of the book, they are surrounded by crew and family that are just as vital to events. The relational fluidity of these future traders means that anyone can be in a relationship with anyone else. This leads to some interesting dynamics, but what is best is that it is all seen as perfectly normal.

Light is a book that has some lovely word building and a cast of characters that you are interested in, but there is still more. The book could easily have paid off when the two main characters meet, but Greene decides there is more to tell after this. Thriller and mystery elements are expanded upon as the crew of the Hajj go searching for lost technology that would not only reverse their own fortunes, but that of humankind.

With a strong storyline Light is the type of science fiction that is easy to enjoy. There are complex ideas on show, but Greene explains them well. Hard sci fi fans may find that the information is a little fluffy around the edges, but I am someone who prefers to read about events rather than go into detail about an imaginary warp drive etc. Although the book deals with epic ideas, it is no space epic. This is a book about people, and it concentrates on what motivates them. We learn a lot about the world building through conversation and internal monologues, but you are never overburdened. If you are into character first science fiction, Light Years is full of people you are going to want to meet.

Written on 12th February 2020 by .

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