Book Review: “The Light That Never Was” by Lloyd Biggle, Jr.
Lloyd Biggle, Jr., was a musicologist with a PhD in musicology, a musician, an educator, and an oral historian, so it might not come as a surprise that the arts—and aesthetics—play a major role in this delightful 1972 science fiction novel and in much of his sf writing. Biggle also served in various roles for the Science Fiction Writers of America, founded the Science Fiction Oral History Association, and turned to writing full time in the 1960s. Kelly Freas’s cover painting for this paperback edition captures the themes of the novel well: alien humanoids considering a human sculpture.
For the most part, The Light That Never Was is a mystery novel set on other planets. A planet is well known as the location for many artistic works of historic importance, and its Fountain at Zrilund remains a site often captured by sometimes amateurish artists selling their wares to tourists. How can the planet and its economy cope with changing tastes and styles in the art world? How can the local citizens manage an influx of politically sensitive immigrants, art critics, and tourists?
Similarly, a dealer begins to sell extremely innovative and interesting pieces of art by an artist whose identity is a closely guarded secret. Who is the artist? What methods do they use?
And thirdly, the book is a novel about political unrest, race relations, attempted genocide, and the surviving refugees. Art becomes the tool with which the refugees can make claim on a new home initially safer than their old. That path is not an easy one, and they are challenged by the planet’s residents.
The story is enjoyable and multi-layered, and the portrayal of artists, dealers, and critics is occasionally quite critical and funny as Biggle considers the economics of art and the politics of indigenous art and artists. What qualifies someone as an artist? What makes fine art fine? A surprisingly interesting book on a number of levels, The Light That Never Was introduced me to a writer I’ll seek out in the future.
(This review was previously published in slightly different form in the LASFAPA apazine Faculae & Filigree #13. To inquire about participating in LASFAPA, reach out to LASFS member Marty Cantor.)