This book was nominated for a Philip K. Dick Award -- and after reading it, I can see why...
When the Ring aliens first thought to contact other worlds, they gave
no consideration to the fact that other species might be constructed
differently from them. Deep-space dwellers, more like large and complex
bundles of genetic information than physical entities, they sent their
probes off into the night hoping to build a bridge between their dark
and beautiful society and others. Most probes vanished into the infinite
ways of space, but one found Earth. And one was all it took to utterly
disrupt life as we know it for all time...
And that's all I'm going to give you of the very chatty blurb -- because
after this point we are into serious Spoiler territory. No point in
ranting about it in the hope that the publisher might change their ways,
though -- Earthlight no longer exists.
Suffice to say that after the probe lands, Humanity is left completely
altered by the experience and a portion of the survivors emerge with an
unswerving drive to respond to the aliens' invitation and build a star
vessel capable of reaching them. While others come through the
upheaval with a very different agenda, and want nothing more than to
try and reclaim normality as best they can.
Young charts the lives of her main characters and shows how they are
shaped by what befalls them. Of necessity, this book is written in
multiple viewpoint and given the span of years and distance she is
covering, there are big leaps in the narrative time where the characters
have moved on. Despite my strong preference for in-depth characters in
first person viewpoint (I), this book gripped me to the end. Young is a
highly talented writer with an amazing ability to provide a big
emotional wallop to her characters in a relatively small scene. Jude's
helpless, desperate love for Valerie, his best friend's wife, is
visceral -- which matters as this drives a lot of his motivation through
the rest of the story. I also found Varouna absolutely riveting in the
early stages of the book -- and would have liked a few more scenes in
her viewpoint later in the book near the climax, although I do accept
that Young had to make some hard choices in order to keep this book
from developing into a sprawling, unwieldy mess, which it never does.
In fact, given the epic subject and the scale on which she is
operating, the structure is very tightly focused on her viewpoint
characters. Through them, we get some fascinating glimpses of how human
society has changed after the probe landed, and I have read some
readers grumbling that they wanted her to enlarge this aspect of the
book. But this book isn't focused on what happens on Earth, it is all
about the building of the Bridge.
So, does Young succeed in adequately covering her subject and give us a
sufficiently complex and plausible experience in this very ambitious
novel? In my opinion, yes she does.
This is why science fiction really is my favourite genre -- at its best,
it poses mind-expanding 'what if' scenarios and then goes on to
explore them, weaving contemporary concerns and issues into an
entertaining storyline. Young's 'what if' is how our world could unite
sufficiently to provide the huge resources necessary to build a
deep-space vessel. If you enjoy an intelligently written epic science
fiction story peopled with some memorable characters, keep a look out
for The Bridge
-- it's a cracking read.