4 out of 4 stars
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Unlight by Chandra Shekhar is a wonderfully nerdy and uplifting post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel. After a cloud of dust particles envelops Earth and prevents sunlight from reaching it, Earth freezes over and we follow a handful of survivors. A genius inventor and entrepreneur is among the few who took astronomers’ warnings seriously and built a survival shelter for his family and himself just in the nick of time. Conveniently, his family includes a medical doctor, an ecologist, a science genius, and a spiritual counselor. Together, they keep the shelter running while growing their own food and weathering crisis after crisis.
I liked most how the science in this story is on point. Everything from the astronomy at the beginning to the thermodynamics and engineering talking points later is correct. The few instances of lack of common sense I found ended up being explained as simple oversight or human error. This added realism to the story, and I appreciated them not being ignored or hand-waived away for plot purposes. Of course, the fact that each family member has such a useful skillset is unrealistic, but at least nobody appeared too flawless or perfect.
I also liked the overall positive tone of the story. I kept expecting a truly dark turn, such as somebody going amok from shock and PTSD, but in the end, their problems are scientific in nature. They effectively built a utopia in a dystopian environment and manage to thrive for most of the story.
That brings me to the only thing I didn’t like in the story – the characters are almost too positive at the beginning. As far as they know, they are the only survivors on the continent, maybe even on the planet. They mention in passing in their diaries that it is horrible for everybody else to have frozen to death, but they mostly get over it quickly thanks to their focus on their own survival and family love. In real life, I can only imagine that survivors would grapple for a long time with flashbacks about all the people they would never see again, all the mundane things they took for granted that they would never do again, all their life goals being overturned, etc. Only one character grapples with severe existential questioning, and even that is resolved with a few meditation sessions. It wasn’t enough to dampen my enjoyment of the story though, and it was refreshing and unusual to read a utopian post-apocalyptic story.
All in all, this is an easy 4 out of 4 stars for me. The writing is beautiful and almost lyrical at times, the editing is exquisite, the pacing is a tad slow at first but picks up, the characters are intelligent, and the science is sound. There is no profanity or erotic content, and the family is as wholesome as one can wish for. Because I can’t think of any reason not to read this, I highly recommend it to everybody.
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