The year is 3235. Adem is a trader who has lived the majority of his life on a small starship, named Hajj. After the ruin of Earth, mankind has populated a handful of exoplanets, some more successfully than others. Starships connect the planets traveling at almost the speed of light. To go from one star to another, say a dozen lightyears away, will therefore take a bit more than the 12 years, since we must accommodate time for acceleration and deceleration. Due to the effects of relativity, while such a journey will take 12 years, from the point of view of the occupants of the ship, only a few months go by.
Adem is a young man of marriageable age. It is common for families to arrange marriages. They pick out an eligible couple on a planet, pay them handsomely to have a daughter who will eventually marry into the family. Adem picks his future bride, Hisako, before she is even conceived, let alone born. They make a deal, pay Hisako’s parents a life-changing amount of money, and Adem returns to the ship and embarks on another trading trip to one of the planets. The time spent on that trip, relative to Adem, will be less than two years. By the time he comes back, two years older, his unborn bride will have grown up, gone through school, graduated from university and be ready to join him as his 24-year-old wife.
Needless to say, complications arise.
I love stories about time dilation. Haldeman’s The Forever War is a book I read twice for that reason, as it works the effects very well into the plot. The Light Years is all about the effects of time dilation and it illustrates many fascinating concepts. However, the author is using too much magic science to make it happen. As an example, the starships in The Light Years travel at more than 99% of the speed of light. This is necessary for the plot to have the significant time dilation effects. However, he never even tries to explain how the ships accomplish that. They just do, never mind that it takes infinite energy for an object to reach lightspeed. There is also no attempt to explain where the fuel comes from to generate this energy, or how the ships protect themselves from interstellar dust.
The author tells the story from the viewpoints of the two protagonists, Adem and Hisako, in alternating chapters, each titled with the name of the character. I have seen this done before in other books and it can work well, but it didn’t do that here. Adem’s chapters were written in the third person, just from his viewpoint, while Hisako’s chapters were written in the first person, with Hisako directly telling the story. This threw me off throughout the book, and it was unnecessary. The third person worked a little better – it usually does – so I would have just changed Hisako’s chapters and the result would have been a more readable, better book.
In the end, if you are interested in time dilation, you have to read The Light Years, the non-science parts notwithstanding. We observe human life on several planets. Obviously, traders live thousands of “normal” years as they go on their journeys, and they can never come back “home” to any place, as it will have aged decades.
It’s a fun, speculative read.