cover image Eternal Light

Eternal Light

Paul J. McAuley. William Morrow & Company, $22 (424pp) ISBN 978-0-688-12757-2

Ambitious but disappointing, this new work by the author of Four Hundred Billion Stars is set centuries in the future after humans have won a war with a race of vicious xenophobic aliens at a distant stellar outpost. Towards the end of these campaigns, Dr. Dorothy Yoshida was implanted by a dying enemy matriarch with immense but difficult-to-tap knowledge of this ancient alien culture. After a five-year ``debriefing'' by the Navy, Yoshida finds tenuous freedom under the wing of the immensely wealthy, near-immortal Talbeck Barlstilkin, who plans to use her in an elaborate revenge scheme involving a renegade star on a collision course with our solar system. Along with veteran combat pilot Suzy Falcon and a schizoid cyborg mechanic and artist called Robot, Yoshida and Barlstilkin eventually become the crucial pawns in the endgame of a multimillion-year contest between eons-old civilizations. McAuley works best on a grandiose scale, creating both awe-inspiring starscapes and grand cosmological theories with impeccable scientific detail. However, much of the book is derivative, a farrago of SF elements done better elsewhere. This dense, difficult work has some great ideas, but the background is more interesting than the plodding plot. (Sept.)