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Chris Blocker

Literary snobbery and other thoughts by Chris Blocker

Review: Light from Other Stars

Light from Other Stars - Erika Swyler

Sometimes you go into a story with a certain expectation. I approached Light from Other Stars this way. Somewhere I'd gotten the impression that this was novel was going be the mind-bending what-the-hell-just-happened I found in James Renner's The Man from Primrose Lane (if you want your mind blown, read that novel.) Light from Other Stars isn't what I expected, but it's still intriguing, intelligent, and sometimes a little fun.

Light from Other Stars takes place largely in Florida in the days after the space shuttle Challenger explosion. Eleven-year-old Nedda's father is a scientist working on an entropy experiment at the time of the accident. Enter science. Science was never one of my stronger subjects in school, so consider my ignorance when I say that for me this was big-s Science fiction. The narrative occasionally switches to a space craft in the future, but I'll just leave that part a mystery.

Even though Light from Other Stars is heavy on the science, it's also a very effective in showing the human condition. Love, grief, birth, mortality, individuality, and family are all explored in quite some depth. The characters and the plot both show expert craftsmanship, but they probably do get a bit lost in the technical jargon. That said, Swyler is not an author who talks down to her readers. The explanations for the more scientific elements of the story are done in a largely organic way.

The one thing that I think would've made this book stand out more is if the big reveal (don't worry, no spoilers here) had been less obvious earlier in the novel. Now we're dipping into questions of Authorial Intention versus Reader's Interpretation. Perhaps Swyler was not seeking a big reveal. Maybe she wanted it to be obvious from page one. That's a possibility, but she also never comes right out and says it, so it gives the impression that she's trying to hide something. This results in high expectations for what will be a letdown for many.

Light from Other Stars is certainly one of the more imaginative Literary novels I've read in recent times. I would've gladly embraced some more surprise in these pages, but the exploration of time and the human heart made for an excellent journey.