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The Light Of Other Days
Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter
Tor paperback $14.99

review by Tony Lee

First published in 2000, when the aged Clarke was confined to a wheelchair, and Baxter was churning out books as if there's no tomorrow, I wondered at the time how and when the authors found time and energy to collaborate on this intriguing exploration of the super-scanner concept.

In the near future, a megalomaniac industrialist scores when his ultimate video gadget is made available to a spectacle-hungry public. The small-minded watch their neighbours, parents or children; the police keep an eye on criminals; state governments spy on their enemies; journalists compile truthful documentaries, while scientists search other worlds.

Then they discover the powerful wormhole-linked camera can see into the past. It's not a machine for travelling in time, just for looking at it. That's enough, though, to solve great mysteries, rewrite accepted versions of history, and launch video-biography projects of everyone from Lincoln to Christ. Linking the versatile 'worm-camera' to a mind's eye VR rig makes time tourism possible, while adding DNA tracking enables individuals to find their ancestors. And that's far from the whole story.

The Light Of Other Days is more than a book of clever ideas, though. Creator of the WormCam, Hiram Patterson, is a great capitalist villain - both fascinating and repellent. His chalk-and-cheese sons, David and Bobby, seem familiar enough to be archetypes but are well drawn characters nonetheless, and protagonist reporter Kate Manzoni provides us with a credible heroine among all the monopolistic commerce, media posturing and woolly idealism of her 21st century contemporaries.

The personal dilemmas of these central characters are handled with the same impressive plotting skills as the narrative's political and social issues (many of which resonate strongly with today's concerns, of course) like the right to privacy, the exposure of high-level corruption, and 'Big Brother' surveillance. This an excellent SF novel, with some well thought out ideas, intelligently used for highly dramatic effect. However Clarke and Baxter shared the workload, the outcome is an unqualified success.
previously published in TTA #25 (November 2000)

The Light of Other Days by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter



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