Empire of Light by Gary Gibson
Review by Flossie Brown
I haven’t read many sci-fi books. They all seem to be pretty similar, but then, if you picked one up and it didn’t have spaceships and scientific machines and language when you expected it to you’d be disappointed. I wouldn’t say this one is anything different; it’s a classic image of science fiction.
As an author, Gary Gibson is clearly cut out to write sci-fi. He uses very imaginative and clever words. He can find one word that summarizes everything without having masses of description. The result is a very scientific sounding dialect, detailed action scenes, more room for technology and a fast pace. Sometimes, though, it was difficult to keep up with the speed and complicated ideas that ran throughout the story.
It did make me think a lot, whether it was who to trust or what was real. Some of the ideas were genius. It was the kind of book that light-heartedly drops philosophical questions and theories on you and when they finally sink in you’re left stunned.
‘It’s a hypothetical technology that manipulates the fundamental properties of space at its lowest possible level, where matter and information cease to be distinguishable,” Ty explained, “and if matter is only an expression of information then the universe itself is utterly programmable, an infinitely complex computational system. Subatomic particles aren’t really anything more substantial that a collection of data concerning spin, angle of momentum, location… that kind of thing. Some might say that this means there is no such thing as death, only iterations of a program that started running at the beginning of time.”’
There were times that Gibson would give the answer to something big away, but so subtly that I couldn’t work out what it was, even though I knew it was there. It was like having both ends of the string but being unsure how to tie them. It hit you in the face, but was too close to see properly, and gradually, confusedly bits of the previous books and chapters would creep back and it became clear how important those hints were. Occasionally, the final revelation was less of a shock than that first, key bit of information, however, and I was left expecting something bigger. It wasn’t necessarily an anti-climax, but once a height has been set I expected it to overstep that height every time.
It did have the feel of an ending hovering just below the surface, the exhaustion of the characters, the dreamlike quality of some places, the way different stories floated in and out of the main plot, but I liked that. They had found the way to end the war, they just weren’t sure if it was more than a rumour. In the end, Dakota, Lucas and the rest of the crew have to abandon everything they know, trust and all protection to find out.
The characters began very similar. But once I got into it they became original and all had personality. What threw me at first was the indecision of who to follow. Usually, at least one character is the enemy of the main character, the one that no one likes. Yet in this instance, all of them had near equal good points and bad points. It was a mater of opinion and belief. The readers opinion and beliefs rather than the authors, which was both original and gave the book a different meaning for different people. It was easy, then, to understand the characters. When they talked about things they loved, the sparkle in their eyes was unmistakable, although they were only letters on a page. What did upset me was the authors ease at discarding lives that were significant without a backward glance.
The book rounded off peacefully and that ending sensation welled up into something much more obvious. It cleverly brought back the past and had a depth to it that made me smile. It had no sort of happily ever after, but it faded away into hope.
What did you think about Empire of Light?
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