by Robert FlemingNovember, 1998
Versatile novelists never stay content for long with a specific genre or style. Restless like a big cat in a small cage, they assume another fictional persona, don another narrative voice, and strike out for new pastures. Walter Mosley, creator of the popular Easy Rawlins series, has temporarily abandoned soulful Los Angeles, triple cross schemes, rubber checks, and raw fisticuffs in the night. His old fans will be startled by his wicked curveball of a new novel, Blue Light, a work of speculative fiction. A space-age mortality play, Blue Light does not burst from the starting gate, instead it falters momentarily through a fragmented prologue, where a vast array of characters meet a baffling fate with their first encounter with the all-transforming light. No one is the same after the strange contact. The narrator, Chance, recounts some of this other-dimensional tale from the comfort of a sanitarium. He tells the readers of his endless bad luck, his termination at his library job, his academic failures, and the bitter departure of his girlfriend. And things only get worse from there as the surreal fable soon begins to pick up pace.
Chance, one of the chosen by the light, joins a shadowy cult, led by Orde, a man afflicted with a rare blood disorder. Each of the people touched by the light morphs into a new form of human, complete with exaggerated strengths and flaws. This evolving super-race experiences a quickening of the genes, causing both spiritual and physical changes, bringing them into direct confrontation with the Old Order. The other key targets of the light band together into a group, The Blues, who seek to convert the non-believers into acceptance of their reconstituted existence.
Not always in complete control of this new genre's thematic demands, Mosley does ask critical contemporary questions about race, loyalty, moral responsibility, and humanity. Occasionally, the writing borders on the farcical during the building of the novel's curious premise, but there remains an abundance of imagination and literary bravado throughout. Mosley is not afraid to take chances, not shy about pushing into that improbable territory of science and myth carved out long ago by such master writers as Fritz Leiber, Clifford D. Simak, Roger Zelazny, and Arthur C. Clarke. Again, the war of the Opposites returns. Who would have thought that the hard-bitten writer of detective fiction could sing so ably in this key? And then there was the sun shining, Mosley writes in his new-found celestial voice. The pulsing story of creation humming again and again through her inner timbre. So beautiful that it called a song from her depths, a song that flowed out through the atmosphere and deep into the soil and stone of the earth. She was calling to awareness the very atoms that composed the world. If the reader can forget the author's much celebrated tie to Rawlins and surrender to the lure of the imagined world of the Blues, Blue Light will provide a daring, provocative trek. The novel contains a few miscues, several under-utilized characters, surprises when it hits its stride. It's a courageous experiment worthy of your time and patience.
Robert Fleming is a reviewer in New York.