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3.50  ·  Rating details ·  549 ratings  ·  64 reviews
A frontier world on the back end of nowhere is the sort of place people go to get lost. And some of those people have secrets worth hiding, secrets that can change the future–assuming there is one. . . .

André Deschênes is a hired assassin, but he wants to be so much more. If only he can find a teacher who will forgive his murderous past–and train him to manipulate odds and
Paperback, 368 pages
Published July 31st 2007 by Spectra
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Average rating 3.50  · 
Rating details
 ·  549 ratings  ·  64 reviews

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May 01, 2012 added it
I have reluctantly adopted the policy of not giving star ratings to books written by the woman I'm dating. ;)

Undertow is not without its weaknesses and suffers a bit from the cramming of several major concepts each worthy of a full novel-length exploration into one brisk book. Even so, the world is richly built, the ideas flow fast and furious, and the proceedings are limned with Bear's trademark intelligence and precision.

This novel makes an interesting triptych with H. Beam Piper's earlier Li
Sep 04, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: SF readers
One sentence: Solid writing, nicely foreign future, good speculative use of the human impact of quantum physics, oddly un-foreign aliens.

I liked that the aliens, "ranids" or froggies in the vernacular, didn't have a species name. They call themselves "people" as most people do. Only the humans called them ranids. They were genderless, and this was done so well that at one point in the book there was what I assume was a spell-checker error and the neutral pronoun 'se' was suddenly 'she' which was
Jan 12, 2015 rated it liked it
So my kid has this ridiculously awesome car. It’s a Chrysler 300, it has those ridiculously stupid, or awesome, I can’t decide which, wheels that all them kids are crazy for these days. You know, where it is the illusion of being all rim with just the thinnest sheen of rubber that passes for a ‘tire.’

Seriously, the car is way too nice. It was purchased at a police auction, I think, and then was one of his friend’s, until he decided to get a truck. At such a time it ended up with my son.

Yay for
Jan 01, 2011 rated it it was ok
Crunchy SF about the mining exploitation of a planet with a population of amphibious aliens, and corporate wrongdoing, and people who can alter probability with their minds, and redemption, and time forks.

To be fair, this book had the misfortune to intersect my life during a deeply frustrating snowed-in interlude, some bad travel, and today a – let’s just call it the aftermath of New Year’s and leave it at that. So not good context.

But still, meh. There’s a lot of stunt writing here – completely
Julie Czerneda
Oct 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I've had books by this author in my to-read pile and finally grabbed this out to read.
Why have I waited this long!!!! Bear is astonishing. Clear voiced, confident, compelling. Her world building is outstanding and her story kept me on the edge of my seat till the end.

I'm now a new fan and will be pulling out all the other books I've missed. Go. Grab yours!
Jonathan Lupa
Jun 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
I liked the scifi here, but it took me a while to get into.
Althea Ann
Jun 09, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I'm finding myself having to revise my opinion of Elizabeth Bear. I read her "Blood and Iron" for my book club in 2006, and really didn't like it very much. But I was told, "Her sf is much better than this venture into fantasy" - (I should mention here that I have this vague feeling that I then read 'Carnival', I think around June 2007, but I appear to have neglected to review it and I can't remember it, which is really not good. Although I have another vague feeling that I liked it.) Anyway, so ...more
While this book took a little while to get into, I definitely appreciated the build up once the plot began to unfold. Cyberpunk meets alien suppression and exploitation meets assassin meets turning on a chance. Indeed, this tale brought together several tropes and spat out something unique and highly memorable. Told mostly from Andre’s point of view, and an interesting view it is, we see his impersonal approach to his job, assassinating folks. He also has a somewhat impersonal approach to his lo ...more
Nov 18, 2016 rated it it was ok
This is a tough book to rate. It started out incredibly slow and did not get going until nearly 2/3's of the way through the book, around chapter 9. It does an interesting job of covering a lot of Sci-Fi topics ranging from cyberpunk, to cloning, to aliens, time travel and more. It only covered any of these topics at a superficial level though and none really seemed to integrate deeply into the narrative.

The book doesn't do a great job explaining a lot of details about the world. Various encount
Aug 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Elizabeth Bear is possibly the worst author at writing conclusions that I have ever read. Sometimes, if I'm on an e-reader, I don't even realize at first that that WAS the end, because it feels abrupt and unsatisfying.


I adore her. I will read and buy anything she writes (and I rarely buy books, choosing mostly to public library it). I AM reading everything she has written. Because her worlds are lush, her prose and action sequences are unlike anything you have ever read or ever will read, an
Nadine Jones
You aren’t you. You aren’t the you you were this morning. Your consciousness provides a semblance of continuity, but if you’ve had an exigency incident, you’ve been an infinite number of people between then and now. There is no free will. It’s all an illusion.

This is a fantastic, even mind-blowing, book that is cleverly concealed behind a glacially slow start and a confusing cast of characters. If you feel yourself getting bored and wanting to DNF, try to stick with it a little longer. It’s
Jan 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science-fiction
Q: How do you know when you've read a really good book?

A: When you put it down and go, "Wow."

And then after a few moments' consideration, you say, "Wow."

That would be Undertow.
Lian Tanner
Feb 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
Reminded me somewhat of the early works of Jon Courtenay Grimwood - wheels within wheels and nothing is quite what you expect. I liked it a lot and will seek out more by Bear.
Aug 14, 2018 rated it liked it
I really wanted to like this book. The themes she explored and the setting it takes place in are very compelling, but it just didn't pull together in a way that was emotionally worthwhile.

The characters don't have very distinct personalities, and even towards the end I could never muster up enough care about them to become seriously engaged in the plot - which was interesting, but didn't pick up until halfway through.

Many of the plot points and character history that would make the story engagin
Feb 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
'Undertow' is a great, slow-building SF thriller where humanity has learned to manipulate quantum probability to take itself to the stars; on an industrial scale, to instantly send goods and information between distant star systems, and on a personal level, where certain skilled conjures can bend luck and probability to help themselves... or strike down enemies. It's also a system that chooses to prop itself up with the exploitation of the native aliens, and their environment. Bear has written a ...more
I'm fine with admitting sometimes that a book is just not meant for me - I am not its target audience. That was the case with Undertow. I have a rule for any book I read - I will give it one third of its length to build something that hooks me. Some books are slow to get going, and I understand that. If after one-third, I can't find anything to keep me invested (whether it's the plot, the characters, the setting, something), I'll put the book down.

Unfortunately, Undertow is one of those books. D
Sep 15, 2018 rated it liked it
Any book that has an occupation of 'coincidence engineer' has something going for it. Undertow has some interesting propositions to set up its world: instantaneous interstellar travel but only for non-sentient matter; people have to take the slow boat. Quantum uncertainty that can be manipulated on the macro level to create 'luck'. Those things got me hooked and kept me interested, but there were also a few things that left me unsatisfied. People's reactions to events were sometimes puzzling. Ev ...more
Aug 12, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2017
Randomly grabbed from the library's paperback exchange. This really needed to be a trilogy to handle all the competing themes and plots; particularly since the meat of the book is thrown at you in a cacophony of action and exposition that left me exasperated over entertained. There's some solid ideas in there, though, and the Elizabeth Bear of 2015 would give this a far stronger treatment than her counterpart in 2008.
Jamie Rich
May 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Undertow (Kindle Edition) by Elizabeth Bear

When is an assassin not an assassin?
When is death really dead? And what happens when you create another self, complete with your memories, and send him/her off to some other world.
Oh, and let's "conjure" up some twisted realities of budding universes, political ambition, murder, and whatnot. It all conspire for a great read!
Michael Batz
Pretty typical Evil Mining Corporation sci-fi, salvaged by good writing, a cool planet (a floating barge city on a water world), neat tech (fiddling with luck and probability), and an interesting alien species (genderless eusocial frog-like creatures).
Marsha Valance
On an inhabited aquatic colony world, a hired killer is asked to murder the lover of a conjurer with whom he wants to apprentice.
Oct 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sciencefiction
I feel like I probably missed some things, but I really liked the things I did get.
May 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
with 4.5/5 on this one. The plot is rich and detailed, the characters flawed and driven by strong motivations, and the aliens really feel alien. The worldbuilding and prose are both uniformly excellent. My only real complaint is that the sheer tonnage of ideas occasionally push the reader a bit too hard, and they have to take a breath before diving back in.
Jan 10, 2009 rated it really liked it
Disclaimer: This isnt as much a review of the book as it is a report on my enjoyment of the book, and its probably more useful as a way to check on my tastes and quirks than to decide whether to read the book[return][return]It's terribly hard to write a book and I am conscious I couldn't even write something half as good as an awful book. And this book is not awful at all! [return]But this is just to say I hate to criticise someone's hard work, but when I try to write a review books I often end ...more
Jul 28, 2012 rated it liked it

I have read three of Elizabeth Bear's science fiction novels -- the Jacob's Ladder series -- and I loved them very much. They were complex, fast-paced, and hugely inventive. I want to describe her prose as jagged; it's sometimes a bit challenging, but I really like it. I feel like I need to concentrate when I read her books, to keep track of everything, and that's a feeling I enjoy.

In many ways, Undertow was no differen
May 24, 2012 rated it liked it
Good solid SF. The concept of "conjuring", or altering probability by an extrapolation of Schrodinger's observer principle is very interesting. If you aren't familiar with Schrodinger's thought experiment, check out It is interesting that Bear takes the thought experiment not as orginally intended (as showing how absurd applying quantum observations to our reality is). Instead, she takes the concept and runs with it. The idea is that an observer can actu ...more
Aug 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
I had a hard time focusing on the first 1/3 of this book...either because the author's writing style takes some getting used to or because of the sinus infection I was fighting off. Once things got going, I really enjoyed it, though at times I had to backtrack to figure out what was going on. Some of the dialogue was confusing, since the author has a habit of having a character begin a statement, interrupting it with a description or action of some sort, and then finishing the statement a paragr ...more
Oct 05, 2008 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: Die hard Science fiction fans.
Recommended to Tatjana by: Random Pick.
I clearly am not well suited to this flavour of sci-fi. I try... I really do... but it kind of leaves me empty.
Usually I can finish the books, but not this one. Of the fiction I was reading (Anansi Boys, Gunslinger, Nothing but the Dog, etc.), this book was incredibly flat. Usually I hear the voices and see the sites like a movie. There was no humour, no depth, no *life*.I thought I'd try to wake it up with the audio CD. That was much worse. The reader was definitely not my style... and it seeme
Jul 27, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobook
I've previously read Carnival and Hammered by Elizabeth Bear. I've also sampled short stories by the author. I really enjoy her writing style - and even though the plot of Carnival failed to move me, I kept reading because of the characters, culture and story-telling.

Undertow is somewhat similar to Carnival. It has the world-building and in depth characters I've come to expect from this author, but this time I enjoyed the story more. As I have found is typical with an Elizabeth Bear novel, the t
Mar 07, 2015 rated it liked it
Three and a half stars.

About halfway through I was thinking that Undertow was suffering from Too Many Ideas. But then things began to fall together. The plot thickened, the characters' pathways converged, and things, in short, got interesting. And of course ambition is never something to be sneered at.

And then there was the section where (view spoiler), which was extraordinary. Although I think this probably wasn't the best Bear novel to beg
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