Wealhtheow's Reviews > Hammered

Hammered by Elizabeth Bear
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Apr 13, 12

it was ok
bookshelves: sci-fi, cyberpunk, disabled-character, pocmaincharacters
Read from April 10 to 12, 2012

Jenny Casey is a war hero, but she's also a middle-aged woman with increasingly debilitating disabilities and a drug habit. Then tainted batches of Hammer (the combat drug she was addicted to) pop up on the streets of her home town. While her friends trace the drug back to its source, Jenny is coerced into joining a dangerous research project.

I really wanted to like this book, but it frustrated me all too often. This is the first in a trilogy, but there's a lot of backstory to this universe. I generally love in media res, but all the characters made vague statements like "She wouldn't let him try--not after the last time" and what happened "last time" is never explained! There are a half dozen different point-of-view characters, and all but two or three of them are unnecessary. I'd have preferred a single view point with a single tense than mishmash of every character even tangentially involved getting their own chapters. The narrative randomly jumps forward and backward in time, going from three weeks ago in one person's narrative to the present told from Jenny's pov to fifteen years ago...it's needlessly confusing.

I also don't see why the entire subplot of Razorface, Barb, Mitch, and the tainted Hammer existed. This is only the first book in the trilogy, so perhaps it will gain greater importance later, but as it stood it just provided more proof that Unitec was up to no good. Obviously! We already know! 50% of this book doesn't need to switch between Razorface, Mitch, etc's povs in order to tell the really basic story of "Unitec dumped some tainted drugs onto the street to test them." Look, I just did it in one sentence! Hell, the characters themselves figure it out in the first few chapters, so I'm confused by how drawn-out it was. It was like Bear had originally written this drug war as a stand-alone story, and then awkwardly grafted it onto Jenny Casey's.

I did like the characters. Jenny Casey is my favorite kind of badass--the kind that's very damaged but has mostly come to terms with it, and still inspires a mixture of fear and awe in those she meets. The lady psychiatrist was pretty fun too, with her blase attitude toward romance and sex. But my appreciation for the characters was hampered by the often unnatural dialog (there's a great collection of examples here) and the fact that by the end, half the dialog was in untranslated French. I do not speak French! When I come across whole pages of unintelligible dialog in nineteenth century novels, at least those authors have the excuse of assuming their readers are polyglots. Bear is writing in the 2000s! At least give us endnotes or something! (ps, sex scenes often have unintentionally hilarious dialog, but the repitious "je t'aime"s and "mon amour"s tipped it over into farce)

And I did like Jenny Casey's plot. I would have loved to read more scenes of her figuring out how to (view spoiler) What is there is written pretty well, although Bear has to strain to get her prose beyond "workman-like". If there had been more of Casey's adventure, and less incredibly obvious and unnecessary street fighting, I would have enjoyed this more. As it stands, I doubt I'll bother reading the rest of the series.
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