In Review: Bright Light–Star Carrier: Book Eight

The characters are engaging and the aliens outstanding.

Bright Light–Star Carrier: Book Eight by Ian Douglas

Published by Harper Voyager on November 27, 2018. Paperback of 370 pages at $7.99. 

The cover: A spaceship is in orbit of a blue planet. Simple enough illustration, right? Not here because both are enclosed in a massive structure that appears to be a Dyson sphere, complete with a captured sun in the background. This is a major structure handsomely crafted by artist Gregory Bridges. Having a bridge obstruct the sun makes the star shine all the brighter. The size of the planet and the ship tells the reader that the structure that holds these objects is gigantic. The colors are also really cool, with the oranges and reds powerful. Overall grade: A 

The premise: From the back cover, “Trevor Gray has been stripped of his command of the starship America, and is unsure what to do with his life. Having dedicated so much of himself to the service, he knew following the super-AI Konstantin’s advice could have severe consequences. He just never thought he would be out of the fight. Because that’s what Earth is in: a fight against a sinister alien force that is so technologically advanced there seems little hope. And that’s why he had disobeyed his orders in the first place: to figure out a way to stop them. But now he’s beached. Which is just what Konstantin wanted. For the super-AI has a plan: connect Gray with the Pan-Europeans, and set him on a course to the remote star Deneb. There, he is to make contact with a mysterious alien civilization using the new artificial intelligence Bright Light, and maybe — if they can make it in time — prevent humanity from being wiped from the universe.” I’m all for reading about overwhelming alien invasions, super AIs, and humans overcoming impossible odds in sci-fi settings. This sounds like this book will be right up my alley. I do have some trepidation reading this book, as it’s the eighth in a series of nine. I’m hoping I won’t be lost reading this. Overall grade: A-

The characters: There are several characters as one would expect in an end of the world novel, but there are four that command the most scenes. Trevor Gray is brought back into saving the world when Konstantin manipulates him into taking command of America to go to the Deneb system to get help from the aliens there. Gray is smart, but not infallible. He makes mistakes, but he goes with his gut feeling and speaks plainly, making him accessible and relatable to the reader. He really comes to the forefront of the novel after something happens to Earth and he was an enjoyable character to follow. As a human being, he has an chip in his head that allows him to go online for information. This chip allows him to communicate with the AI Konstantin. This AI was incredibly entertaining. I was very happy that Konstantin does not have a zippy personality, nor is he completely robotic, like HAL 9000. The AI has a surprise for Gray early in the novel and, like the humans, comes into a uniquely perilous situation. I really enjoyed the relationship this pair had, with their interactions one of the high points of the book. I liked that the AIs had a mysterious element about them, leaving humans, especially Gray, somewhat leery of them. I would read a book that featured this pair of characters happily. There is also Lieutenant Donald Gregory, a fighter pilot aboard America. His perspective on the dangers encountered takes the reader out of the bridge and onto the front line of fighting. Gregory provides the opportunity for author Douglas to show how the fighters deal with the threats. This allows the action to become intense because it’s so rapid and requires fast reactions from the pilots. All the aliens are the antagonists of the novels because humans do not feel they can trust them, even those that are considered allies. The primary antagonist is the Consciousness. This is an alien species that has been repelled previously by earthlings, but are back. What they want with Earth and its inhabitants is unknown. They are an old race composed of technology that absorbs galaxies to increase its knowledge and destroys those that can add nothing to its understanding. Guess what Earth appears to be. Their point of view rightly appears sporadically and is often very short, teasing what they think and understand about humans and their world. They were engaging, but the resolution to their threat undermined them ultimately. Overall grade: B

The settings: Earth is briefly shown and is obviously technologically advanced, but not to Star Trek levels of perfection. The ships that are focused on are also very believable, coming off as military vessels, but, again, not flawless. These settings increased the believability and plight of the protagonists. The aliens and their worlds/civilizations encountered are outstanding. I can’t discuss them in any detail without spoiling the effect they will have upon the reader. I enjoy books where the author creates something new or realistic with alien civilizations and Douglas has knocked it out of the park here. The Deneb system is fantastic and would be a budget buster in a film. Overall grade: A

The action: Gregory and his fighter pilots have the most direct action in the book as they confront the nanobots speeding toward Earth. It’s the action one would expect. It’s fine, but it went exactly as one would think if a reader has read any books involving pilots. The more indirect action occurs when aliens appear that America is searching for. This is an entirely different kind of tension and is better because the reader, like the characters, does not know what to expect from the advanced species. This was much more enjoyable. There’s a plot device that occurs in the latter third of the novel that leads to the humans attacking the Consciousness. The action is okay, though the device took me aback as this was a Star Trek solution. I love Star Trek, but reading it in this novel made it come off as disappointing. Overall grade: B

The conclusion: A momentary solution is found because there’s another book to come in this series, so those darned aliens must be coming back for a final assault on Earth. It’s fine, but that device that helps the human race came off as too far fetched for me, entering the world of fantasy more so than science fiction. Granted, it’s justified adequately in the book, but it still was too much. Overall grade: B-

The final line: The characters are engaging and the aliens outstanding. The premise is good, with some decent action, but the way humanity is able to save itself came off as too far fetched. That said, I am intrigued enough by the characters, and the alien races, to want to seek out the previous books and see how this series ends in its next and final installment. An enjoyable read. Overall grade: B

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Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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