Released: May 2019
Light From Other Stars follows Nedda Papas during two harrowing points in her life. We bounce between when she is an 11 year old who dreams of nothing but being an astronaut to when she is an adult finally realizing that dream aboard a colonization spaceship.
Set amidst the backdrop of the 1986 Challenger explosion that devastated a nation, a scientific experiment gone inconceivably wrong forever alters the lives of everyone in Nedda’s small Florida Space Coast town. Her tenuous relationship with her mother is pushed to the limit as they have to work together to try and save those they care about most from being lost to them- and to time- forever.
Then, in the future, adult Nedda is aboard a ship headed to a planet that could be the dying Earth’s salvation. The realities of long distance space travel wreak havoc on the fragile human bodies of the crew as they fight to reach humanity’s last hope at survival.
A blend of sci-fi with a dash of historical fiction and a hefty dose of family drama make up the intricate tale that is Light From Other Stars. To say much more than my brief synopsis above would be giving away a lot of spoilers so I’ll try my best to explain how much this book moved me without ruining it for you.
Much like I was as a child, precocious Nedda is obsessed with everything NASA which is lucky given her proximity to Kennedy Space Center. Most of this gripping book was set during a time when shuttle launches were national events that inspired wonder, especially in young scientifically inclined minds like Nedda’s. I was a baby when the Challenger disaster happened, but it was something that still clouded the country when I was old enough to understand when people were talking about it. It was a pretty intense event to have looming over Nedda’s own ordeal.
I identified a lot with Nedda, not just with her obsession with space travel but in that she had a brilliant chemist mother who gave up her career for motherhood, and a scientist father obsessed with his experiments in his basement lab. Except with my dad it was the garage and a storage unit.
Also much like Nedda, I was closer with my dad as a child. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized how much I loved and needed my mother and how much we were alike. Sometimes I felt like Erika Swyler was plagiarizing aspects of my life and I would need to write her a sternly worded letter.
So it’s pretty obvious this book struck a personal chord for me, but even if it hadn’t I still would have enjoyed it.
One of the reasons for this is the way it celebrates women in the sciences, showing them time and time again saving the day whether it was in a small town stuck in a time loop or during a life or death mission millions of miles from Earth.
Another aspect that stood out for me was the book’s beautiful take on loss.
“If her dad were right, people who died were just thoughts traveling like light, continuing.”
It’s a wonderful thought to think that when we’re gone all of the building blocks that made us burst back out into the universe. That all the atoms we’re made of never really go anywhere, they just change shape and continue out there in the cosmos. It’s dazzlingly comforting.
It’s been hard to summarize how much I enjoyed reading Light from Other Stars and all the emotions it evoked within me. I found myself going from fascinated, to heartbroken, to anxious, to full of hope every few pages as I read this. It was such a powerful, multifaceted book that was packed with a lot of feels. For a novel that is mainly science fiction, it is also a compelling exploration of the emotional messiness that is family.
Yet at its core, this was an ode to the sciences. Much like one of my favorite books, The Martian, science and ingenuity were the backbone to our characters’ survival. I can understand reviews that have said the equations and theories throughout the novel could be a bit much for those without scientific backgrounds, but I don’t think this will prevent most readers from connecting with Nedda’s story. I mean, a lot of it went way over my head but it was still fascinating to read.
Overall, this book was genuinely moving and captivating. Erika Swyler expertly weaved together several genres to leave us with a truly unique and powerful tale of survival, love, and science. I can honestly say without hesitation that it will be a book that will stay with me for quite awhile.
* On a side note, when I was very young we briefly lived on the Florida coast and my earliest memory is watching a space shuttle launch in person with my parents. I didn’t find this out until I was older but it was the first space shuttle launch since Challenger, which I suppose explains why we were three among thousands there that day. Seeing the magnificence of a shuttle launching into the greatest of frontiers pretty much cinched it for me- I instantly became a lifelong space nerd.
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