Monday, 30 May 2016

Lifespan of Starlight by Thalia Kalkipsakis

Lifespan of Starlight by Thalia Kalkipsakis is a YA science fiction novel I picked up from the library after it caught my eye in a bookshop. I went into it with some trepidation, having also read some less favourable reviews on Goodreads, but I ended up quite enjoying it.

In 2084, three teenagers discover the secret to time travel. At first their jumps cover only a few seconds, but soon they master the technique and combat their fear of jumping into the unknown.

It's dangerous. It's illegal. And it's utterly worth it for the full-body bliss of each return.

As their ability to time jump grows into days and weeks, the group begins to push beyond their limits, with terrifying consequences. Could they travel as far as ten years, to escape the authorities? They are desperate enough to find out.

But before they jump they must be sure, because it only works in one direction.

Once you trip forwards, there's no coming back.

Lifespan of Starlight is set in a near-future dystopian Melbourne, where everyone is chipped and these chips give them access to everything from food and water rations to safe road crossings. Scout (or Coutlyn) is an illegal. She wasn't chipped as a baby because her mother was supposed to have aborted her. Instead she bribed a doctor to keep quiet and has been sharing her own, not overly-plentiful, rations with Scout. Existing as a non-person has also taught Scout how to code and hack to get around the system. This is especially useful for things like triggering traffic lights to let her cross.

Scout's being illegal is a key element of the story, but one not mentioned in the blurb, for some reason. The blurbed part of the story — the time travel aspect — begins when Scout is moping in her cave and a dying woman suddenly appears in front of her. As in turns out, that woman was a time traveller and, when Scout steals her chip and hacks it to make it her own, she inadvertently falls in with some teens trying to learn to time travel.

The time travelling is a side-aspect of Scout's story, although it is the pivotal element. Most of Scout's time is taken up with trying to legitimise herself in the eyes of society. With her new chip she even gets to apply to go to a good school. Much of the story explores the difficulties Scout faces in being illegal, in pretending not to be illegal and what happens when her friends find out the truth. There was a poignant moment when her friends point out which "real citizen" her actions most affected, as though being a real citizen is more relevant than being a real person.

This is a fairly character-driven story. There is no world to save, no government to overthrow (well, I mean, there is because life is a bit dystopian, but none of the kids are  trying to fix that through rebellion or anything). Their problems are less grand and more personal, but still culminate in an exciting semi-cliff hanger ending.

I recommend this book to fans of science fiction more than YA. I felt that it had more SF tropes and ideas in it than YA-spec fic tropes. It's not an action-packed story, but I still found that I wanted to come back to it every time I put it down. I am looking forward to reading the next book and finding out what happens in the next chapter of Scout's life.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2015, Hardie Grant Egmont
Series: Yes. Book 1 of 2 so far of a planned trilogy
Format read: Paperback!
Source: Borrowed from the library
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge, Aussie Science Fiction Reading Challenge

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