Tor Books, 2008
Contrary to what I initially thought this is not an official US release. In fact both versions currently on offer over at Amazon appear to imports of the hardcover and paperback US versions. Which is a shame since I think this book would do well in the U.S. In terms of scope and style Gibson is most comparable to Ian Banks and Alistair Reynolds (and likely other who I haven’t read) but those two in particular stuck out in my mind as I read. However I think Gibson’s work, for the most part, stands on its own.
Dakota Merrick is a “machine-head” pilot; a human augmented by cybernetic implants that allow her to interfaces with computers. Unfortunately, do to tragic events in the past, machine-heads are illegal and Dakota must hide who she is. She is forced to eke out a living on the fringe of society and take whatever jobs come her way. A job gone awry and forced to take on assumed identity Dakota is stuck working for people who hate her kind the most while trying to figure just what the alien Shoal, gatekeepers of faster than light travel, are up to.
The book is fast paced and easy to read with plenty of action and mystery to keep things moving. Which in turn is both the books weakness and its strength. It’s exciting yes but also sparse in the slower moments that allow for more robust character development. What we do get of that plays as a mere footnote to the action which is sad since those character moments are particularly interesting. In particular I thought Dakota’s relationship with her ship was interesting; and by relationship I mean that in every sense of the word. Gibson’s heavy focus on action takes something away from the initial exploration of the alien derelict a scene that could have been cool and atmospheric again becomes a footnote to driving the action onwards (Just thinking of derelicts makes me want to watch Event Horizon again).
Gibson manages to craft a real sense of history and life to the human aspects of the story. From the various human colonies to the other machine-heads we meet it is easy to see that Gibson has a particular vision for his universe. The city in the giant Shoal ship was especially impressive scene that reminded me of the cantina scene from Star Wars, with its motley collection of characters and high-stakes chase. Most impressive perhaps is the final section of the novel which, as action-packed as it was, still manages to play out in an almost stately pace with multiple points of view and world-defining revelations occuring right up until the end.
Stealing Light is an exciting read that pays homage to the space opera genre; a fact that is both a boon and curse for the novel. The elments that truly reveal Gibson’s potential often take a backseat for the more familiar scenes fans of space opera have read before. Which is a shame, since Gibson’s instincts, from gripping opening page to the well choreographed finale, are spot on. Recommended for sci-fi fans looking for a good, epic sci-fi yarn though not something completely ground-breaking or original. Good luck finding a copy though.