Ossus Library Index Science Fiction Index

TO FEAR THE LIGHT

A novel by Ben Bova and A.J. Austin (1996, TOR Books)
Book 2 in the Empire of the Hundred Worlds Duology

Adela and the Emperor try to stop a xenophobic madman while dealing with a newly discovered sentient species.

 

 

2 stars

Read June 6th to 14th, 2000  
    Wandering aimlessly, this book did manage to get into focus in a couple of spots, but not enough to keep me interested.  Fortunately, the writing style was excellent, which makes even a poor book seem good.  By the end, though, both the heroes and villain became idiots.

I was intrigued by the very first page of this book, though I wondered where Adela was. A transport ship was having trouble, and a couple of crewmate lovers decided to take some time for "refreshment". Unfortunately, the episode, in which the ship is completely destroyed, and an alien Sarpan vessel disappears conspicuously from behind it, is completely irrelevant to the rest of the book, except to incite a little more fear in the populace.

For the main villain in this book is a man by the name of Jephthah, who makes dramatic speeches that cannot be traced, and is causing anti-alien sentiment to rise throughout the Empire of the Hundred Worlds. Even by the end, I never really understood what Jephthah's reasoning was. I imagine that he was setting himself up to become Emperor, but I can't be sure.

For the Empire is dying. Wormhole travel and instantaneous communications have made it obsolete, and there are way more than a hundred planets. Eric, son of Javas and Adela, is the last Emperor, and he knows it. His children have no desire to rule, thus breaking the line of rulers. I expected 100% that Javas' ex-wife, Mistress Valtane, was behind Jephthah, and that she would make him an offer that he couldn't refuse, to take the leadership of the Empire from him, but keep the royal family alive, because any son that she had with Javas' sperm would still be from the family.

But no, Mistress Valtane is put to terrible use here, even to the point where I didn't know why she was present at all. She rescinds her threats from the end of the last book, makes some deals with the man who we could easily guess is Jephthah, when she is betrayed, she makes a deal with Eric to reveal his nemesis, and then is killed by Jephthah when she discovers him. End of her part of the story. A complete waste, as far as I'm concerned.

Another waste is the way the project to save the Sun is dismissed. At the end of the last book, it was implied that Adela had some great things left to do, but here she reveals that she went into cryosleep for two hundred years because she simply wanted to be there when they "flipped the switch". It takes her a good long while to figure out that she's worse than useless in that capacity now that the galaxy has left her behind, so she decides to do something else. But before she does, Eric presents her with a new plan. Never mind that she's an astrophysicist, he wants her to be an anthropologist now. Good thing all these characters are so well rounded.

Before moving on to the main focus of the book, if it can be called that, I must wonder what exactly was the purpose of Cathay and Billy's Australian sojourn? I suspect that it was meant to show how a rebirth could be achieved, but it was not interesting, and it didn't tie into the rest of the story except possibly as an analogy, and a weak one, at that. After they decide to fall in love, they are dropped from the story.

Except for the last two pages, the last we hear about the Sun project takes place with more hate-mongering. It seems that even rational scientists are susceptible, because the Mercury Sun station crew rebels, wanting to kill the Sarpan who has been in cryosleep for nearly two hundred years. The action really held my interest, but the setup seemed unreal, and it never amounted to anything except as fuel for Jephthah's broadcasts. No thanks.

Meanwhile, what seems to set off a whole conflagaration is the discovery of a new sapient race, who are in the steam age. They are also extremely violent. When word leaks out through Jephthah about the nature of these new aliens, it threatens to destroy the whole Empire. Eric institutes a blockade of the planet, sending his sons and Adela to enforce and study it.

Much of this was very interesting, especially in the interaction between the scientists. I really liked Gareth Anmoore, and was glad to see that he had such a smart head on his shoulders. Unfortunately, they find yet another sentient race on the planet's moon, buried deep inside. The actual discovery was very well done, but then the authors try and describe minute details about the spheres, every little action they take, and what-if hypothesis, that left me wanting to skip forward several pages. I was not interested in these aliens in the slightest.

To make matters worse, they don't colonize planets the way we do -they clone their colonists, and develop an entire society that way. The primitive aliens were supposed to be their clones, except that an accident destroyed the personality-programming ship. So when they reveal that they want to help human society, they create clones that look like humans, which they say will make working with these bodies easier because of the xenophobia. But that is completely wrong. In fact, letting humans know that these aliens can impersonate anybody would make the anti-alien sentiment worse. The worst case is the creation of a Javas clone for Adela. He serves no purpose except to get Adela upset, and is killed by Jephthah anyway.

Jephthah is smart enough that he killed and impersonated an elite Imperial protection agent, who all have secret identities that even their colleagues don't know. They were created for the express purpose of preventing what happened when Eric was young, and almost killed. But here, the secrecy backfires, as nobody knows that one of the agents has been replaced. The authors take every chance to let us know when Jephthah is around, just to make us worry. I worried by the end that the authors were taking too much time to set up his plan. It felt like reader manipulation to me. 

So when Eric arrives at the alien planet, as he must inevitably, Jephthah sees his chance. Eric allows him to destroy several alien airships before taking any action. Sure, he probably would have gotten himself killed, but I'm sure he could have stopped Jephthah. And Anmoore's excuse to get back inside the shuttle felt really forced. Eric and the others were stupid in not taking the chances when they were presented. But Jephthah deserved his fate when he was finally killed. Moments after telling Adela that he was not stupid enough to leave a working weapon on the shuttle (and Adela was stupid not to check the charge in the first place), he crawls underneath the shuttle, which he knew Eric had full control over via his brain implant.  As a side note, how did Jephthah get the other security agents under his control?  Were they his agents who followed his example and foiled these supposedly unassailable bodyguards?  Or were they corrupted to his cause on its own principle?

The end is barely worth mentioning, as Eric relinquishes the throne and creates a commonwealth between humans, Sarpan and the new clone aliens from near the galaxy's core. Ah, yes, and the project to save the Sun is completed, almost as a footnote.

There were lots of wasted opportunities in this book. Strangely enough, it held my interest throughout most of it. Unfortunately, there were way too many moments that I was crying foul! Enjoyable, but not great, by any means. I liked the characters, but the story was way too aimless.
 
   

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