If you’re looking for a bit of light summer reading with a science-fiction hook, pick up Speed of Light, a first novel from the author Lee Baker. It’s a, fun, fast-paced and action-packed book that I read in one sitting, the type of book that has clearly been designed for translation to the movie screen.
So no, it won’t really make you sit down and think deeply, and the “science” part of the story is minimal at best—more of a device than anything else. Frankly, the whole speed-of-light aspect may have been the weakest part of the novel. But in general, this is a good read, and you can just see the “Matrix”-inspired slow-motion effects as they happen on the page.
Here’s the story: Life seems peachy for Pierce Black, a test pilot who loves his job at Paralight, a shadowy company that’s one thing to the public, but has some interesting covert projects going on. He’s about to celebrate an anniversary with his wife Catherine, and he has a son named Danny whom he loves very dearly, though Danny has an unnamed mental disorder of some kind and hasn’t spoken since birth.
Then things start to go wrong. Catherine and her brother Cole have been working to expose Paralight for bad dealings regarding the project called Stormlight, with which Cole is deeply involved. This has caused tensions within the marriage, and on the night of their anniversary, Catherine is killed in a car accident—a hit and run.
Suffering from her death, Pierce continues with his work. He’s about to embark on a history-making flight that will turn him into the first man to travel at the speed of light. And it works. And he survives.
When Pierce becomes conscious again, it’s five months later. He’s been in a coma all that time. Cole has disappeared, but that’s the least of his worries right now. He starts to discover that his body and his mind aren’t exactly as he remembered them; he’s stronger. He can run faster. He has visions. Time is open to him; he can tell what’s happening in the future and the past, with some help from tangible objects. And now, he also knows that someone is trying to kill him.
The explanation Paralight’s scientists make, at least for the improved performance of the body, is that somehow traveling at light speed knocked out the body’s “impurities.” Whatever the reason for his new abilities, Pierce soon learns that he can control them. And they save his life more than once, as he begins to realize that his life is in danger – and so are the lives of the people around him, at least the ones who haven’t died yet.
Pierce makes a new connection with an old flame – his sister-in-law, Vanessa, who works in the district attorney’s office (convenient, don’t you think?). There’s no mystery here. Thanks to Pierce’s new abilities, we know exactly who’s behind the killings and why – the truth is revealed through Pierce’s visions in a series of flashbacks that are clearly designed for the big screen. And we know that Catherine and Cole were right to be suspicious of certain people within Paralight’s organization.
Of course, the police have noted Pierce’s strange behavior and his talk of having learned the truth from “dreams” and he’s now suspect number one. Fortunately, his new abilities make it easy for him to run from the police with nary a scratch, while creating pulse-pounding car chase and foot chase scenes perfect for today’s summer audiences.
As I said, the science part of this book is virtually non-existent, so don’t expect any explanations for what’s happening to Pierce or the plane he flies. The light-speed trick is used as a device to give Pierce his powers and provides a rather spectacularly excessive way of trying to get Pierce out of the picture. But this book is about action, not science, and it certainly packs a punch in that regard.
Another weak point of the novel is characterization. There’s nothing obviously wrong with Baker’s characters, although I thought Pierce could have used a bit more mourning time for his wife before he jumped in with feelings for his lawyer, but most of these people aren’t as well fleshed out as they could be. The bad guys are just evil, with no good reason for it that we can see; the good guys are good, and the police are good but confused. There aren’t any real mind games or betrayals, although there are certainly moments of tension. One of the most potentially interesting characters in the book is Pierce’s son Danny, but this doesn’t get explored deeply enough.
If you visit the website at www.speednovel.com you’ll discover that Baker is the president of a visual effects and animation company called Sandman Studios, which makes a lot of sense. Reading this you can totally envision Pierce Brosnan (I’m not positive the coincidence here is unplanned) or one of today’s muscular action heroes in the role of Pierce, and the best descriptions in the book are of the visual effects. In fact, the depiction of Pierce’s jump to light speed is quite masterful, and the narrative used to create the slo-mo you see in so many of today’s action flicks is also very effective.
Speed of Light is at heart a simple story, with very little you haven’t seen before, and only a few complexities to work out. But this makes it the perfect quick read for the beach; it’s thrilling enough to keep you to the last page without taxing your mind with complicated ideas.
At the end of the book, the words “The End of Book I” greet you. I’m thinking a sequel is planned, perhaps one that will delve more into the world of the fictional company of Paralight, which isn’t involved enough in this story. It will be welcome.
Speed of Light is available now on Amazon.com for electronic devices through Kindle apps. You’ll see it in bookstores this August from Paralight Publishing. And yes, it’s being turned into a movie by Paralight Films and Sandman Studios.
I don't know about you, but all these Paralight references are making me dizzy.