The novel “Supernova” by C.A. Higgins was published for the first time in 2016. It’s the second book of the Lightless trilogy and follows “Lightless“.
The Mallt-y-Nos started its revolution against the System on all colonized planets and moons, but above all on Earth. However, disagreements among the organization’s leaders and the uncertainties about who are the allies and who are the enemies make the liberation of the solar system complex. The revolution might burn anyone who gets involved.
On the spacecraft Ananke, the artificial intelligence on board was modified to such a point that it was transformed into a sentient creature but it’s totally devoid of experience. Althea Bastet, the ship’s computer expert, tries to assess her skills but being a mother to a creature different from any ever existed before is difficult, especially if she can destroy anyone who threatens her.
“Supernova” takes up the story told in “Lightless” expanding it with a subplot about the revolution of the Mallt-y-Nos, the organization opposing the System’s dictatorship. Some characters from the first novel are also present in the second, sometimes with a different importance. Basically the trilogy forms a single great story so you must have already read the first book to understand the second.
The structure of “Supernova” is different because the one set on the spacecraft is no longer the only plot with flashbacks about the characters on board but is a subplot with less room. It’s still a crucial part of the story due to developments in its on board artificial intelligence, unintentionally made much more powerful by the attack suffered in “Lightless”.
One consequence of this difference is that the author focuses on the characters in a different way. Leontis “Ivan” Ivanov and Matthew “Mattie” Gale, among the first novel’s protagonists, are believed to be dead but the information about their fate is inaccurate. Constance Harper becomes a protagonist together with Milla Ivanov.
Separate comments must be made about Althea Bastet, already among the protagonists of “Lightless” and protagonist of the subplot set on the spacecraft Ananke in “Supernova”. Unfortunately, I think she remains the most problematic character, in the sense that she didn’t seem particularly competent in the first novel and she confirms it in the second.
Althea tries to understand how the artificial intelligence on board, which has the same name as the spacecraft, has changed but in a way that doesn’t seem adequate. She asks her mathematics questions and a classic logic problem but seems incapable of carrying out a thorough evaluation.
Althea states several times that she feels like a mother towards that artificial intelligence, but even in that capacity she doesn’t seem very successful. There’s the clear impression that C.A. Higgins chose not to make the story too complex but this theme’s superficial development was disappointing for me, all the more so because Ananke’s new skills make her the most powerful spacecraft in the solar system.
In trying to carry on her task of educating Ananke, Althea seems more than ever unprepared. She can’t provide important lessons about ethics and morals and that’s a big problem. She ends up scolding and threatening her, but that’s even ridiculous since that’s aimed at an artificial intelligence that has full control of the spacecraft and can easily kill Althea.
The subplot concerning the operations of the Mallt-y-Nos seems to me better managed because at least some characters show specific personality traits and there are many events. The novel is too short to tell the whole story of the revolution in the entire solar system, especially because there are flashbacks from six months before the destruction of the Earth, but at least something significant happens.
The revolution overturns the System but risks burning everything and everyone like a star. The various parts of the novel refer to the phases of the life of a massive star that consumes its hydrogen in the main sequence then starts consuming heavier elements until it explodes into a supernova. The Chandrasekhar limit establishes what happens to the supernova remnant: depending on its mass it can be a white dwarf, a neutron star or a black hole.
“Supernova” has more substance and a faster pace than “Lightless” but the trilogy still doesn’t excite me. This second novel doesn’t have a real ending because it ends with some twists so the subplots will continue in the third book. If you’re OK with this book’s themes and structure, you might like it.