rachelmanija: (Books: old)
rachelmanija ([personal profile] rachelmanija) wrote2017-02-16 09:15 am

A Different Light, by Elizabeth Lynn

In a future world, cancer has been all but eradicated. Jimson Alleca can live another 20 years with drugs and a peaceful lifestyle -- if he stays in space-normal. But he's willing to risk it all to make the jump into the Hype, the shimmering "not space" for one year among the stars.

I have a huge thing for choosing a short time of glory over a long stretch of not-so-great, so this premise was right up my alley. I also love the trope of "space will kill you but let's go anyway."

This book is and is not that. The blurb is correct as far as it goes, but the tone and content are not what I expected from it. It's much quieter, the emotions are far more low-key, and what Jimson actually does with his one year before leaving the planet kills him is nowhere near as dramatic as I expected. I liked it for what it was, though the beginning is stronger than the rest, but I'm still looking for the book the blurb promised.

Jimson is an artist with bone cancer under control with treatment, so long as he never goes into space; if he does, it will metastasize and kill him within a year due to radiation exposure. His art is acclaimed in worlds he'll never see, and he's still hung up on Russell, the boyfriend who bailed on him for outer space fourteen years ago and hasn't contacted him since. Jimson has gotten increasingly depressed, bored, artistically blocked, and trapped. Then Russell sends him a photo of himself with no note, and Jimson decides that he's had it: he'll take his one year and go look up Russell.

My favorite part of the book was this part, where Jimson is making his decision and taking interim steps toward it. There's some really beautiful writing and imagery. It's also, despite the sound of it, less about Russell (who has not yet appeared) and more about what Jimson wants to do with his life in general.

Then Jimson finally goes off-planet. I was expecting a desperate, defiant grab at glory and wonder in shimmering not-space. What he actually does is plonk down in a town on another planet, have a low-key affair with a woman pilot, and hang out in a bar. For months. And months. He has ONE YEAR TO LIVE, because he went off-planet, and he spends a whole lot of it not doing anything he couldn't have done on his own planet. I'm not sure if this was the point or what, because eventually Russell shows up and things take a different turn, but also, unfortunately, into anticlimax.

Russell is a giant bag of dicks. Again, I'm not sure if he was supposed to be or not, but I really disliked him. (I did like the portrayal of sexuality - most characters are bisexual and this is unremarked-upon - I just disliked Russell.) He's a space pirate, and realistically they would probably be jerks, but seriously? JERK. He ditches his doomed boyfriend and doesn't contact him for fourteen years, then sends him a photo and nothing else. The vanishing was because he was flipped out over Jimson's illness, and is understandable. The fourteen-years-late space selfie with no note attached? JERK. He then proceeds to be a dick for the rest of the book, though at least Jimson gets to be with him and is at least somewhat pleased about that.

Again, given the suggested delicious melodrama of the premise, Jimson is an incredibly low-key character and so is the book. There's one scene that sort of lives up to the "shimmering hyperspace" bit but Jimson's experience of hyperspace is that it's kind of reddish, and he spends most of it wandering around the spaceship making sure the characters who are doing exciting stuff don't forget to eat.

There's some mild space adventuring which is nowhere near exciting enough that I'd give up my whole life for it, followed by an ending which you may or may not read as a cop-out. Jimson dies, but some of his personality melds with someone else, and the Jimson/not Jimson guy ends up with Russell.

This is at least the second book I've read in which someone chooses to go into space for a brief period of glory before it kills them. The other is Emma Bull's Falcon, which I like a lot but which skips most of the "period of glory" part, jumping from the moment right before the hero goes into space to several years later, when his time is about to run out.

Does anyone know of any more books with that premise? Especially if they actually write it the way it sounds like.

Only $4.00 on Amazon. A Different Light
melannen: Commander Valentine of Alpha Squad Seven, a red-haired female Nick Fury in space, smoking contemplatively (Default)

[personal profile] melannen 2017-02-16 09:52 pm (UTC)(link)
In my recent reading, Ben Bova's Asteroid Wars has a character in the first book who has hit his lifetime limit of radiation exposure and knows he'll probably die if he goes back out, but when the chance comes he goes anyway.

I liked that part but unfortunately to get there I had to wade though the 85% of the book that is poorly-written corporate maneuvering with annoying sexual politics for spice, so this is not a rec.

And there's Heinlein's "Requiem", of course.

I'm sure I've read others but nothing is coming directly to mind. :/
juushika: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)

[personal profile] juushika 2017-02-16 11:28 pm (UTC)(link)
I love this book, maybe in part because I came to it familiar with the author and through Jo Walton's review, which focuses on that quieter tone and scale. I sympathize with Jimson's approach to his final year: he doesn't want to have a period of glory, really, and neither would I; he wants to be freed from the restrictions imposed on him, but his focus remains interpersonal and on his art. It's what I come to for Lynn, for a focus on the interpersonal that almost eclipses the larger plot and setting.

"Everyone is bi by default, also: free love" is Lynn's baseline (except when worldbuilding directly contradicts it, in which case how society regulates relationships vs. how people feel is a central theme), and I treasure it above all things. It's a specific sort of wish-fulfillment/idealization which fulfills a lot of my wishes, too.
lydamorehouse: (ichigo being adorbs)

[personal profile] lydamorehouse 2017-02-17 03:00 pm (UTC)(link)
I read everything by Elizabeth A. Lynn when I first discovered her in the early 1980s. This was my least favorite of hers, I have to admit. I also have no idea how something like DANCERS OF ARUN would stand up to the test of time. My sense is that her writing is very 1970s.
vass: Jon Stewart reading a dictionary (books)

[personal profile] vass 2017-02-17 04:45 pm (UTC)(link)
I'm not sure I want to read this book, but if I did, I think I'd be a lot more interested in this mind-meld deal than in his/not-his continuing relationship with Russell.

Does anyone know of any more books with that premise?

Achilles' choice, but in space? I don't, but it is an appealing premise. (Are you familiar with Emilie Autumn's song 'Shalott'? Based on Tennyson's 'The Lady of Shalott'. It's very... that choice. Set at the moment of giddy glee/despair that her doom is finally here and she won't have it hanging over her head any more, and she won't see the world for much longer but she'll see it unfiltered for the first time. I love it.)
skygiants: Sokka from Avatar: the Last Airbender peers through an eyeglass (*peers*)

[personal profile] skygiants 2017-02-18 12:47 am (UTC)(link)
I feel like Anne McCaffrey must have done this at least once but all I can think of is the bit in that one Dragonriders prequel when that one character goes to the space station and gets her feet sliced off and her completely rock-sexual husband finally realizes he might love her after all but it's TOO LATE.

[identity profile] nojay.livejournal.com 2017-02-16 09:23 pm (UTC)(link)
The Japanese manga "Planetes" has the idea that space will kill you if you live there and work there long enough. Accidents are common, the environment is unforgiving and radiation-induced cancer is a regular killer of people in middle-age, never mind the psychopathic von-Braun analogue character who is quite willing to murder thousands of people to take one step further out. People still leave safe benign Earth to take that step.

Going a lot further back there's manned space travel in Heinlein's "Green Hills of Earth" which in its early days is fraught with danger but has no lack of people willing to accept the risks.

"Spacemen did not care; by preference they signed for shares, and any one of them would have bet you that he could jump from the two hundredth floor of Harriman Tower and ground safely, if you offered him three to two and allowed him rubber heels for the landing."
Edited 2017-02-16 21:25 (UTC)
sovay: (Rotwang)

[personal profile] sovay 2017-02-17 07:23 am (UTC)(link)
Does anyone know of any more books with that premise? Especially if they actually write it the way it sounds like.

I feel as though I have encountered some, but I'm only coming up with not-quites.

Outer space is dangerous to lethal in several of Cordwainer Smith's short stories, but I don't recall a full death-or-glory tradeoff in any of them; "Scanners Live in Vain" presumes voluntary body modification to the point of inhumanity in order to allow pilots and their supervisors to withstand "the Great Pain of Space" without the insulation of cryosleep and the solar sailing of "The Lady Who Sailed The Soul" requires similar far-future modification, although for different in-story reasons. (The latter story also contains a weird anti-feminist caricature in the same narrative as a heroic woman doing something—out of choice and interest, not duty or necessity—that no woman has ever done before. I'm not sure what happened there.)

In the Demarchy of Joan D. Vinge's Heaven ChroniclesLegacy (1980) and The Outcasts of Heaven Belt (1978)—space itself is not such a big deal, but the dirty nuclear engines of the culture's spacecraft are. Men can take the radiation hit because the Demarchy has sperm banks, but since it did not retain (or, one suspects, have any real interest in recovering) the technological resources to harvest and preserve eggs in the wake of the Belt-wrecking Civil War that also irradiated the environment generally, women are traditionally, heavily discouraged from going into space at all. One of the protagonists of the first novella is a fertile woman who has chosen to be sterilized in order to pursue a pilot's career. This is viewed as irrationally selfish, but she's doing it anyway. I am ambivalent about the second story in the book, but I imprinted weirdly on the first in middle school. As an adult, I came back to it and realizes it follows a deliberate course which I can only think of as "screw you, Tom Godwin," which I'm fine with.

[identity profile] cat-i-th-adage.livejournal.com 2017-02-17 10:39 pm (UTC)(link)
I still liked Light for the way it kept coming back to art, to the creation of art, to the choices one might make in the creation of art.

But yes, Russ was a bag of dicks.