Stealing Light by Gary Gibson
Published by TOR/ PanMacmillan, October 2007
Review by Mark Yon / Hobbit
Here’s the setup. It is the 25th century. Humans have spread out across the galaxy by using faster-than-light technology from their only alien contact to date, an aquatic species named the Shoal, first met in the twenty-second century. The Shoal have generously donated the technology on the understanding that if it is copied all uses will be removed. As clearly interplanetary trade and expansion are connected to this, then Human cooperation is pretty much accepted. In the mean time, humans have continued to do what they normally do, fight amongst themselves and expand to fill up space where possible. Over the centuries, this has meant that the population has divided into two factions. The majority of people live in fairly happy coexistence as the Freehold, though under a fairly strict governing military regime known as the Consortium. However there is a breakaway splinter group at war for independence. Set up by maverick scientist Uchida, the ideological differences have led to a perpetual war between the two factions.
Our main character, Dakota Merrick, is a machine-head: a pilot hard-wired to link to the faster-than-light spaceships. Once part of a military unit, she is now currently a pilot for hire. Given a job she can’t refuse, she ends up piloting an old cargo ship towards a derelict ship discovered preserved under ice. The artifact has a faster-than-light drive, but one which predates the drives usage by the Shoal by a few thousand years. Its discovery suggests that the Shoal may have stolen the technology rather than invent it – something they clearly would not want others to know.
Of course as the book progresses we find that things are not as simple as they seem at first. Things become a complicated race against time and the risk of discovery, with the ending being suitably cosmic in scale.
This book, Gary’s third, shows that he is a writer who is developing in confidence greatly with each book. The characters are varied and interesting, the plot engaging. This reminded me of the scale of Peter Hamilton, the technological glee of Neal Asher and the violence of Richard Morgan’s Kovacs novels. If you like any of those authors, there is much to like here. I was a little disappointed with how little the Shoal alien (the Iain M Banks-style named ‘Trader-in-Faecal-Matter-of Animals’) was actually centre stage, and whose presence in the book was not at the end what I expected it was going to be. However, as this is the first book in a series, I suspect that there is more to follow.
In summary, a good page turner and pleasing signs of an author on the up. For scale, pace and sheer entertainment value, recommended.
Hobbit, August 2007
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