Bridging the gap between the future and the past, Sir Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter have teamed up to write The Light of Other Days (Tor, $24.95, 0312871996) which looks into the near future and also into the distant past. Clarke is, of course, an icon of the science fiction genre, while Baxter is a major new talent. The future they envision, taken from some of today's darker headlines, is one in which one-time grasslands are turning into wastelands and nations are at war over water supplies.
Set against this background, news tycoon Hiram Patterson is trying to find a way to cover news hot spots instantly, without getting a news crew into position. His solution is the creation of the WormCam, a device which can provide real images of any place in the world. As the global population tries to cope with this invasion of privacy, Hiram and his sons introduce refinements to the WormCam which allow viewing through time as well as space. This results in a 12,000 Days project to record the life of Jesus.
Both Clarke and Baxter have made names for themselves by extrapolating future trends from current technology, and The Light of Other Days is full of the big ideas which are so often proposed in science fiction novels. Their future world is anything but utopic, however, and the technological advances they show clearly create a new set of problems. Patterson frequently compares his WormCam to the advent of the Internet, and it becomes apparent that the issues surrounding these two advancements have much in common. While Clarke and Baxter don't necessarily provide perfect solutions to the questions they raise, they do open a discussion about issues of privacy, intellectual property ownership, and the manner in which people deal with the past. Another interesting view of the future can be found in Lodestar (Tor, $24.95, 0312861370), the third book in Michael Flynn's series about preventing a major asteroid strike on the Earth.
In his earlier novels, Flynn described the schools and industries started by Mariesa van Huyten in response to her primal fear of an asteroid strike. In this novel, Flynn begins to turn his attention to the children raised in those schools who, even when working towards van Huyten's ultimate goal, have their own motivations.
Rather than continuing the focus on space exploration, Lodestar examines the evolution of the computer and virtual reality. Leading us on a journey is Jimmy Poole, a hacker-turned-security expert whose interest in a space station is sparked by his inability to bypass its security.
Flynn has an ability to make his view of the future seem real. Throughout Lodestar, the characters use slang invented by the author, and no definition of terms is required. The society Flynn portrays is neither too similar or too outrageously different from our own, and each of Flynn's changes can be seen a possible outgrowth of current trends.
In many ways, Lodestar stands on its own. No knowledge of the earlier works, Firestar and Rogue Star, is required to enjoy this new entry in the series, although the reader may find in Flynn's references to the earlier books some hints about where he intends to take his story.
If the future is the realm of science fiction, fantasy is frequently set in the past. The second, and concluding, volume of Guy Gavriel Kay's Sarantine Mosaic, Lord of Emperors, demonstrates what fantastic literature can be when well written. Considering the slight appearance of magic in Lord of Emperors, Kay's book could almost be classified as an historical novel. However, by changing the names and places slightly, Kay indulges in story telling without worrying about the constraints of the historical record.
Kay manages to bring his city and world alive, populating Sarantium with complex characters in a rich and lively city. Kay's world is populated by emperors and dancers, soldiers and doctors, artisans and sandal makers. All of these characters have their own hopes and dreams the only difference between the artisan and the emperor is a matter of scale. Kay's concern is not how these people will react to a world filled with magic, but how they will respond to each other.
Steven Silver writes from Northbrook, Illinois.