Lightwing by Tara K. Harper was first published in 1992 so I suppose it would be classified as contemporary sci-fi. Lately I’ve been sticking to Nebula and Hugo award winners, but I took a step outside that safety zone with this book. A friend loaned me a stack of books that included Lightwing, along with William Gibson’s Neuromancer, Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light, and others. Putting Lightwing among these sci-fi greats would be like Peter Jackson giving a cameo to Rod Schneider in Return of the King, having Rob sitting on a lawn chair on Mount Doom, shouting, “YOU CAN DO IT!” at Frodo and Sam. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it was a real which-of-these-does-not-belong moment for me.
I don’t mean to say that Lightwing is bad exactly – it’s just very pulpy compared with something like Neuromancer. In a nutshell, the story follows a woman named Kiondili Wae who uses her intelligence and telepathic ability to assist in the creation of a faster-than-light drive. Kiondili works in a remote research station with human and alien scientists who are desperately trying to get the drive working before their grant money runs dry. So the setting is actually quite interesting, as is the way the whole telepathy aspect is handled. I also enjoyed some of Harper’s descriptions of the aliens and the problems caused by “incompatible species” working closely with one another. The scientific environment – research politics and clashing egos – gave Lightwing an engaging character dynamic.
Unfortunately, I found many of the characters themselves to be a little cartoony. To Harper’s credit, she didn’t pull a complete Michael Crichton and throw out some empty character templates to bumble around her storyline. Kiondili Wae is filled out pretty well with decent character construction. In the end, when you add the silly characters to Harper’s intelligent, but monochrome prose, you get something that feels like a standard Star Trek episode.
But hey, I like Star Trek.