To Fear the Light (To Save the Sun, Book 2), by Ben Bova & A.J. Austin — a book review

This 1994 novel is a sequel to To Save the Sun, which was published in 1992.

I remember enjoying the first novel, also co-written by Ben Bova and A.J. Austin, but I’m afraid I read it too long ago to remember the details. What made me enjoy the novel is that it reminded me of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy. That much I remember. It is about an Empire in decay, and our sun, the star Sol that we’re familiar with, is dying. One woman decided that it was important to save the sun, so that the home solar system of humans wouldn’t be abandoned and lost to history. Humanity has already spread to other planets, so it’s not so much about saving humans as it is about the symbolic preservation of humanity’s origin. The project is one that will take the cooperation of millions and will not be finished within a normal human lifespan.

To Fear the Light begins 200 years after the end of the first book of this duology. Astrophysicist Adela de Montgarde has been in “cold sleep” during that time so that she could be reawakened to oversee the final stages of her plan to reignite our Sun. She awakens to a different Empire. Her son Eric is the Emperor. Faster-than-light travel has been achieved through the use of alien technology and wormholes. Although it’s still called the Empire of the Hundred Worlds, humanity has spread out to far more planets than that.

This was something that initially confused me when I was reading this book. Still confuses me somewhat, if I’m honest with you. Montgarde’s son is the Emperor, and she’s been asleep for 200 years. It seems that methods to prolong human life have been perfected while the astrophysicist has been in cold sleep. Her son and grandchildren are still apparently in their prime, and even people she knew before going into cold sleep are still around. Human rejuvenation isn’t the confusing part. I just wonder why Montgarde wasn’t awakened once her son, the Emperor, realized her life could be prolonged to see the end of ambitious project.

As it turns out, this second novel doesn’t spend much time focusing on the project to save the sun. Montgarde’s magnum opus continues without her, and—this isn’t truly a spoiler—succeeds without any further contributions from her. She even makes this point at some place in the book. Her desire to be there at the end (which she could have apparently done without suspended animation) was largely born of vanity. What I’m saying is, don’t worry, the sun and the Earth are okay.

If saving the sun isn’t the point of this story, then what is? That is the $64,000 question.

Other reviewers have mentioned that you need to have read To Save the Sun in order to understand what’s going on in this book. As one who has forgotten most of the details of the first novel, I can categorically deny that this is true. Other than an ultimately inconsequential extension of the first book’s premise and some characters that were carried over, this doesn’t feel like a true sequel at all.

There is an opening sequence concerning an emergency situation on board a passenger spaceship, essentially a science-fiction cruise ship, that is exciting and reads like a good space adventure short story. Don’t get too invested in its characters or expect them to show up again in the plot of the book. They don’t.

At least one reviewer mentioned that the story that follows reads like a loosely-tied collection of novellas. I have to agree with that assessment. On one hand, the main plot seems concerned with a demagogue named Lord Jephthah, who uses the xenophobic fears and prejudices of the masses to rise in popularity and power. It’s a story as old as time, and not one we’re currently immune to.

Then there is a great deal of information about the aborigines of Australia, and a love story connected to it. Then there’s a politically motivated colony revolt, some intrigue concerning a spacefaring socialite, a First Contact situation as a new alien race is discovered, and, finally, a showdown between Jephthah and the Emperor.

And, almost as an aside, the conclusion of Adela de Montgarde’s sun-saving project.

There’s a lot I like about this novel. It’s clearly written and the science seems well-researched. I still feel like the overall milieu of the story owes a lot to Asimov’s Foundation. As a fan of Asimov’s original vision—if not all of the sequels—this is a check in the plus column for me.

However, the plot meanders and seems unfocused. Most of the characters are one-dimensional, which would be less of a problem in a more cohesive story. This reader is left with a nagging feeling that it could have been a much better book. Still, there’s political intrigue, space battles, and speculative science. You know if that appeals to you better than I do.

Firewater’s Why-Didn’t-Anyone-Wake-Me-Up? Report Card: B

I regret that I can’t give it a higher grade, but, at times, I felt this novel was only a Trade Federation blockade away from being a Star Wars prequel.

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