Light from Other Stars (Swyler)

Light from Other Stars 
Erika Swyler, 2019
320 pp.

From the author of national bestseller The Book of Speculation, a poignant, fantastical novel about the electric combination of ambition and wonder that keeps us reaching toward the heavens.

Eleven-year-old Nedda Papas is obsessed with becoming an astronaut. In 1986 in Easter, a small Florida Space Coast town, her dreams seem almost within reach—if she can just grow up fast enough.

Theo, the scientist father she idolizes, is consumed by his own obsessions. Laid off from his job at NASA and still reeling from the loss of Nedda's newborn brother several years before, Theo turns to the dangerous dream of extending his living daughter's childhood just a little longer.

The result is an invention that alters the fabric of time.

Amidst the chaos that erupts, Nedda must confront her father and his secrets, the ramifications of which will irrevocably change her life, her community, and the entire world. But she finds an unexpected ally in Betheen, the mother she's never quite understood, who surprises Nedda by seeing her more clearly than anyone else.

Decades later, Nedda has achieved her long-held dream, and as she floats in antigravity, far from earth, she and her crewmates face a serious crisis. Nedda may hold the key to the solution, if she can come to terms with her past and the future that awaits her.

Light from Other Stars is about fathers and daughters, women and the forces that hold them back, and the cost of meaningful work. It questions how our lives have changed, what progress looks like, and what it really means to sacrifice for the greater good. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Where—on Long Island, New York, USA
Education—B.A., New York University
Currently—lives on Long Island, New York

Erika Swyler is a graduate of New York University. Her short fiction has appeared in WomenArts Quarterly Journal, Litro,, and elsewhere. Her writing is featured in the anthology Colonial Comics, and her work as a playwright has received note from the Jane Chambers Award.

Born and raised on Long Island's North Shore, Erika learned to swim before she could walk, and happily spent all her money at traveling carnivals. She blogs and has a baking Tumblr with a following of 60,000. Erika recently moved from Brooklyn back to her hometown, which inspired the setting of the book. The Book of Speculation is her 2015 debut novel. Light from Other Stars, her second, was published in 2019. (From the publisher.)

Book Reviews
In Erika Swyler’s glittering novel Light from Other Stars, Nedda has sky-high dreams of following in Judith Resnik’s footsteps but finds herself subject to the reckless whims of others.… Both external and internal landscapes—including Florida orange groves in sweltering demise, the constrictions of womanhood, and deep space—are rendered with precision.… [E]licits wonder and sadness in turn.
Foreword Reviews

A tender and ambitious journey through space and time, Light From Other Stars contains stunning twists and turns along the way from Nedda’s childhood to her later life aboard a spacecraft on a mission bound for Mars.

Exquisite prose in an ambitious novel told in two timelines.… It's hard to imagine a sci-fi book so focused on pure, deep emotion while centered on the Earth and the wonders of space. Light from Other Stars hits big issues: loneliness, the bond between parent and child; grief; death and what happens to us after death . . . Plain and simple, I loved this book.
Midwest Book Review

A masterful story that hops through time to tell a tale of love and ambition, grief and resilience.… It is full of joy and wonder, a reminder to never stop looking up into the stars and the infinite spaces in between them.

(Starred review) In the dual narratives of Swyler’s poignant latest, a small Florida town falls into a sinkhole in time…. Swyler’s beautiful story, told in eloquent prose, induces shivers of wonder. This meditation on time, loss, and the depth of human connection is both melancholy and astonishing.
Publishers Weekly

(Starred review) [Swyler] offers a moving, often heartrending story with lyrical grace.… Fans of the film Interstellar, Jeff VanderMeer’s “Southern Reach" trilogy, and character-driven drama will have a new favorite. Simply gorgeous.
Library Journal

(Starred review) [B]ends genres as it explores how the past intrudes on the present.… Although… plenty of science fiction elements, [the novel is] also a coming-of-age story.…  Swyler has set herself an ambitious task. But the novel is well-paced, with a satisfying twist near the end.

(Starred review) Love and loss compel a brilliant scientist to defy the laws of physics.… Grand in scope and graceful in execution, Swyler's latest is at once a wistfully nostalgic coming-of-age tale and a profound work of horror-tinged science fiction.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. Discuss the juxtaposition of science and faith, whether religious or otherwise, as explored in the novel.

2. For readers who are old enough to remember the Challenger disaster, what are your memories of it? How does Nedda’s experience of it compare with your own?

3. What is the significance of setting the novel in a town called Easter?

4. What do Theo and Betheen’s personal passions and career paths reveal about their characters as individuals, as well as their marriage? What role do their scientific pursuits play in their roles as parents?

5. Discuss the similarities and differences between the various parent/child relationships described in the book, particularly Denny and Nedda’s relationship with their parents. What impact do their upbringings have on Denny and Nedda as adults?

6. Do you view Theo’s motivation for building Crucible as altruistic or selfish? Why?

7. Why does Pete tell Betheen to look at the man’s car as it sinks after the accident? How does their interaction after the crash foreshadow their future relationship? How does it compare with Betheen’s instructions to Nedda during the explosion in the lab?

8. Compare and contrast Nedda’s thoughts and feelings while witnessing Denny trapped on the pruner after the explosion with Betheen’s thoughts and feelings upon seeing Theo trapped in his lab. Also, compare and contrast Theo’s experience when he gets “stuck" with Denny’s. Why do you think Swyler describes each experience the way she does?

9. Discuss the ways in which Nedda’s feelings towards each of her parents evolves over the course of the novel. Are there specific moments you can point to when her attitude towards them shift? If so, when and why do these occur?

10. Throughout the novel, there are recurring instances of characters keeping secrets from or lying to other characters in order to protect them. Do you agree with this philosophy? Discuss some of these moments and whether you feel the characters should have behaved differently.

11. Consider the different ways in which characters including Betheen, Theo, Nedda, Evgeni, and Denny grieve. Which character do you identify with the most in this regard, and why?

12. Did you have a sense of when the Chawla/ "present-day" timeline was taking place before it was revealed? Why or why not?

13. Kalpana Chawla was the first woman of Indian origin to go to space, and died along with the rest of her crew in the Columbia disaster of 2003, nearly two decades after the Challenger disaster. What is the significance of naming Nedda’s ship after her?

14. Swyler begins and ends Light From Other Stars by quoting the poem "High Flight" by John Gillespie Magee, a fighter pilot who was killed during World War II. How does this poem relate to events in the novel? In what ways, if any, do Nedda and the rest of her Chawla crew mates view themselves as soldiers?

15. Why does Nedda finally feel warm after her walk to Amadeus at the end of the novel?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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