A routine salvage mission uncovers evidence of a terrible crime and relics of powerful ancient technology. Haimey and her small crew run afoul of pirates at the outer limits of the Milky Way, and find themselves on the run and in possession of universe-changing information.
When authorities prove corrupt, Haimey realizes that she is the only one who can protect her galaxy-spanning civilization from the implications of this ancient technology—and the revolutionaries who want to use it for terror and war. Her quest will take her careening from the event horizon of the supermassive black hole at the galaxy’s core to the infinite, empty spaces at its edge.
To save everything that matters, she will need to uncover the secrets of ancient intelligences lost to time—and her own lost secrets, which she will wish had remained hidden from her forever.
An early moment in Elizabeth Bear’s expansive new space opera Ancestral Night has narrator Haimey Dz offer a meta-commentary on the ancient, 19th century novels she reads during the long hours spent drifting through space: “They’re great for space travel because they were designed for people with time on their hands. Middlemarch. Gorgeous, but it just goes on and on.” Ancestral Night is a busy and boisterous novel, complex and beautifully composed, but also has a tendency to labor its points. Haimey and her team of salvagers spend their time searching for derelict ships and abandoned tech in “white space”, ripples in space-time that enable faster than light travel. On their latest job, a nano-parasite created by a mysterious, long vanished race called the Koregoi infects Haimey, guiding her mind to an advanced Korogoi ship hidden inside a black hole. They aren’t the only salvagers who know about the ship, and Haimey finds herself on a collision course with some very dangerous revolutionaries willing to use the ship to settle their score with the far-reaching galactic society known as the Synarche. Recalling the Culture novels of Iain M. Banks, Bear depicts a space-faring civilization made up of a multitude of alien cultures and intelligences that uses advanced technology to care for its citizens needs. Differences compound the deeper Bear takes us into her world: unlike the Culture with its artificial Minds, the Synarche chooses its civil servants by draft lottery, doing away with the corruptible governing elites that less enlightened societies create. Bear also takes technological augmentation to a new level. Haimey, like most of the Synarche’s citizens, has implants that allow her to interface with technology as easily as most of us breathe. These implants also allow her to turn emotions on and off and even alter her personality and psychological makeup at will. The cultish creche that raised her used them to brainwash her and make her complicit in their crimes, and later the Synarche uses them to remove her memories of those crimes. Bear highlights the philosophical conundrums inherent in these technological and social innovations and the complicated notions of consent that attend them. Ancestral Night is saturated with moral and political ambition. Rich with conflict and action, though often slowed down by explication and discourse, the story sometimes loses its momentum. I look forward to the second volume in this planned duology with the hope that it moves at a more studious pace.
“What would it do to your psyche if this were your sky? What would it do to the racial awareness of your species if this were their memory of their dirt-bound cradle, before they stepped out into the great emptiness beyond?”
Elizabeth Bear's Ancestral Night is a giant space opera featuring an engineer with a parasite inside of her that grants her unique abilities, a ship AI, the salvage operation of an alien ship that doesn't go quite as planned and galactic pirates. Lots of action and intrigue--and what in the world is the purpose of that parasite growing inside our engineer??--but it still took a while before I felt really engaged with this. Like her other work, though, this is thoughtful and well-written, with a mystery that you'll want to unravel along with the world Bear has created.
I had some really good fun with this book. The transhumanist elements, from all the various augs for the mind, body, and all the relevant lock-ins required to pilot, communicate, or engineer spacecraft is something I always tend to enjoy. It's realistic. After all, our bodies are such weak meat sacks. :)
In this case, our MC is got at from several directions all at once. Memory, behavior modification, social and political nastiness, all the way up to full and voluntary body control for the Space Opera elements.
The alien artifact, and I use the term lightly, adds a beautiful element to the rest, knocking the tale out of what really started feeling like a Becky Chambers novel right out of that orbit and into a straight adventure including a chase, more political horrors, the ghost of genocide, and tons of lies to work through with all the aliens and the "pirates".
I really enjoyed it. The ideas and the tech and the characters were all fascinating.
Unfortunately, there were a few parts that dragged, made me lost interest for a bit, before surprising me that I was enjoying myself again. BUT MOSTLY, the novel is one of the very best Space Operas I've seen for a while. With these caveats. It does the pushing of the envelope much better than most, and that's what I like to see even more than a character-heavy tale. But make no mistake, the characters are king, here. :)
Ancestral Night is a story set in the far reaches of outer space in some future time where most civilized entities have been engulfed into a loose organization ( the Federation, anyone), but on the outskirts are space pirates who shun artificial intelligence and group conformity as well as surviving remnants of ancient races barely recognizable as sentient beings. The star of the story along with her pilot and her AI shipmind work off their debts as a salvage crew. There are shades of 2001 Space Odyssey with an ancient space artifact holding countless secrets, shades of Leto Atreides changing his skin and becoming something new and different, and shades of every space pirate chase story. In the end though, Bear 🐻 has given us something new and different and at times fascinating.
But, if you are opening this thinking high-action space opera, be forewarned that the female-centered narrative is quite chatty and often slips into streams of consciousness. It's all interesting and worth reading, but there's lots of extra info and it's simply not the condensed version.
Slow start -- in fact, I kept dozing off* -- but she hits her stride around 100 pp. in. A scary sheriff who's a giant mantis! *Deep* space stuff, with the Synarche, Bear's take on IMB's Culture, and pretty well thought-out. Though the exposition took the form of college bull-session look-alikes, a fine sleep-aid. But now we're up to a Sexy Pirate babe with mystery Superpowers, and Our Heroine is discovering her own Superpowers too**, which she acquired investigating a horrible crime. And her salvage-tug has (for now) escaped the Freeport freebooters (aka Pirates) and has just arrived at the giant Black Hole in the center of our galaxy.....
Oh, I almost forgot: Cats in Spaaace!
Well, this one *should* have caught me in its spell --I mean, they salvage (sort of) a giant ancient alien starship! Then I'd hit another stretch of BS philosophizing. Then some action again.... And it's Book 1 of 2 (I think), so not self-contained, and with an ambiguous ending. So, I'm left feeling grumpy, that she came so close, and kept missing the mark. This may just be me: I've been reading this stuff for a long, long time, and I'm easily disenchanted. And there is a lot to like here.... But, lumpy.
Overall, 3.3 stars? I'm still thinking about that. And there's very little new SF that demands thinking about. So you should probably read it, even with my caveats, if thinky-SF is your thing. Be prepared to skim. ---- * in fairness, I doze off a LOT these days, in my dotage.... ** Physics-based superpowers, Bear assures us. Wisely, she is no more specific than that.
=============================== Author Bear @ Scalzi's, https://whatever.scalzi.com/2019/03/2... "I had originally envisioned something much more along the lines of an epic space opera with multiple points of view and a lot of focus on the politics. The politics were the big idea around which the world was built, after all. The idea of a massive, multi-species, basically benevolent but imperfect post-scarcity bureaucracy devoted to maintaining peace and the well-being of its citizens, however imperfect it could sometimes be in implementation, was appealing in 2014. I feel like it’s even more appealing now, frankly: it would be nice to believe in functional governments again.
I was inspired by Iain Banks and his Culture novels, but I wanted more detail on how a post-scarcity society and a completely novel form of government might work. The best, most egalitarian, fairest systems of government we have now are based on structures that are millennia old at their core. Democracies and republics actually use a series of bronze-age technologies to approximate some of the better aspects of group decision-making protocols that science shows us are the most efficient known way of getting stuff done, but the technology exists to remove even more barrier to making those protocols work. ... "
I’m stopping. I’m sorry. I made it to 70% and I don’t even have the desire to skip to the end and see how it plays out. I’m putting the content warnings up here in case you don’t want to read my spoiler laden review:
This is not what I expected it to be. I saw space salvage and space pirates and expected a thrilling action filled plot. Maybe a cat and mouse game, maybe some subterfuge. Some twists and turns.
There are twists and turns, but they are not the kind you’re thinking. This is not an action driven plot. This is the character study of a woman who was raised in a cult. Turn back now if you don’t want spoilers because I can’t explain why I’m not finishing this without them.
It’s five hundred pages of mostly inner monologue: Haimey suffering anxiety from past trauma, second guessing herself every step of the way, and auto-tuning her brain chemicals as a form of medical treatment. I mean- it’s by no means my kind of book no matter how you look at that, and I was bored to tears, but even that was not why I quit reading.
(Again, major spoilers ahead.) I quit reading because at some point the person holding Haimey convinces her to let her unblock memories that were “reconned,” (buried/blocked/written over). When Haimey remembers what actually happened she finds out her cult was a terrorist cult (I mean all cults are terrorists, but I’m referring specifically to the suicide bomber sort.)
Instead of allowing themselves to be separated and reconned themselves, they kill each other, and all the children.
That’s a hard pass for me. I’m sorry. It’s a hard pass for me in tv, in movies. I just don’t want to deal with it or think about it for any period of time.
I do have a lot of respect for Bear as an author, I think she is incredibly talented and imaginative. I liked her book Carnival for the society and world building. There was some cool tech, and some hints of societal structure here, but none of it was straightforward enough to really grasp and analyze which is what I was hoping for.
I don’t think it was all pointless. There is probably a very interesting discussion to be had about the implications of medicating or the possibility of overmedicating as a way to avoid confrontation and coping with life. (And I am not passing judgement on any of this- you’d have to read it to understand what I mean.)
So- I’m giving it two stars even though I didn’t finish. I think for someone that isn’t bothered by what I’ve stated above and goes into it expecting a character study will have a field day with this novel. It just isn’t for me.
Thank you to Edelweiss and Saga Press for providing me with an eARC to review.
Space opera is back, and at least in the hands of some female writers, it is not even remotely retrogressive in the ways that were standard some thirty years ago.
While portions of this book were claustrophobic in ways that usually lose me, Bear kept me reading as the questions opened outward, and I hoped to see more of certain secondary characters (two of them not human).
For me, space opera has to hit at least some of the following elements:
Larger than life characters with interesting explorations of gender and identity
Haimey Dz fits that bill in aces and spades. I say aces as a clever way of segueing to Haimey’s identity. When we first meet her, she is very certain who she is, and is determined to stick to it, even when that means using government mandated self-medicating.
She loves being a salvage seeker, living on the edge both of the known universe and financially, along with her crewmates, a pilot named Connla, agreeably complex and not even remotely a love interest for Haimey, and Singer, their AI who is at least as complex.
Then they make a discovery, of a ship that isn’t supposed to exist, leading to Reason #2:
Interesting space ships that go beyond sprockets and rockets
I love the worldbuilding here. The ship-design, drawing firmly on worldbuilding that supports awe-inspiring intricacy and mysterious power, opens up an array of questions about government, psychology, culture, social engineering . . . and of course What’s Out There.
Great alien design complements the development of the characters, as Haimey slowly begins to discover that everything, everything she thought she knew . . . is wrong. Leading to . . .
Big ideas—including glimpses of the numinous—without anything being dogmatic
The ideas keep getting bigger and bigger as Heimey grapples with a ship and with her own identity, while on the run from a villain very different from most space opera villains.
Layered or polysemous surprises
By the end the book has opened up in such promising directions I was quite hooked, and eager for more.
Thank you to NetGalley and Saga Press for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
This book takes off running, offering little explanation and a lot of unfamiliar terms, but I know to expect that from science fiction and I vastly prefer it to pages of tedious infodumping. The world of Ancestral Night was introduced gradually and, for the most part, seamlessly. I often cringe when authors invent their own future slang because so few can pull it off effectively. Elizabeth Bear is one of the few; her future slang fits the tone of the book and clearly involved a lot of careful consideration. The names she comes up with for characters and species were appropriately strange without being unpronounceable.
I was ambivalent about the book’s protagonist, Haimey Dz. She had an extremely cliché personality for a female science fiction protagonist: She’s independent, she’s practical, she’s tough, she’s snarky, she’s got a rough past and emotional issues... she’s not anything I haven’t seen a million times before. Her first-person narration went off on tangents so frequently that it was difficult to follow what was happening at any given moment. I adjusted to her narration style after a few chapters, but I would have enjoyed myself a lot more if it had been more focused. I did appreciate the development Haimey goes through over the course of the plot; she becomes more relatable and less cliché.
I commend Bear on the diversity in her cast of characters. I don’t understand why anyone would even bother writing science fiction that wasn’t diverse; it’s just not believable. We start out the book with Haimey, a female human salvager and a black lesbian; her business partner, Connla, a pansexual male human salvager; and their “shipmind,” Singer, a male-identifying artificial intelligence. There are more exciting and diverse side characters introduced later in the story but I won’t give too much away. Bear’s dialogue left much to be desired, frequently spinning off topic and descending into philosophical, political, or scientific discourses that added little to the plot. Combined with Haimey’s narration, it made me want to scream “get on with it, already!” more times than I can count.
Despite these obstacles, something about Bear’s writing style made it so easy to keep reading. The plot was incredibly slow-paced, yet for the most part I wasn’t bored. Ancestral Night had so many characteristics that seemed specifically designed to appeal to me: space travel, friendship, mystery, lesbians, ancient aliens, utopian societies. It was worth the read, even if it didn’t end up becoming a favorite.
I don't know how many times I came really close to abandoning this book. From the very start, I struggled, and found the text slow and the world puzzling. Then, something happened around the 40% mark, and I started to get a good feel for the book. I still found that the text was slower to get through than I liked, but I persevered, and have to say that I enjoyed this book.
Haimey, Connla and Singer (their sentient spaceship) are salvage operators. They're given a tip about a ship, and once there, discover the ship contains something horrible. Pirates appear, sending the team running, without their salvage and bills coming due. Haimey and company race through the galaxy, evading pirates and trying to find out more about their missed salvage.
There is actually much to like in this book: a large variety of aliens, many of whom are not bipedal, the Synarche (the organization/government that binds many alien races together), augmented/modified humans, the many ethical discussions throughout the story, references to Middlemarch, Haimey and her engineering smarts, her cats!!, and wonderful, funny Singer. Plus, this is Elizabeth Bear, whose work intrigues me with its variety of styles, characters and ideas. And despite its slow start and often exposition-heavy paragraphs, I found the book came together well, and left me wondering 1) what was to happen next for Haimey and team, 2) would Bushyasta ever do more than sleep, and 3) what were the things the Ativahika were referring to? So, I guess I'm reading the next book.
Ancestral Night is a big, sprawling space opera with interesting and engaging characters (humans, augmented humans, lots of aliens, and artificial intelligences), intriguing physics, some discussion of economics and politics and philosophy, cool space battles, space pirates, cats in space, and something for almost everybody. It does take a while to get started and has a couple of annoying bits (like the units of measure for the passage of time), but really picks up once you're oriented. It can be a little difficult to comprehend at times, with paragraphs like: "Connla and Singer had sensoed my feed, downloaded the full experience from my fox, and re'd the ayatana of the spliced-in switches on the Milk Chocolate Marauder, and of what had happened when I toggled those switches. But that didn't mean they had a window into my head." It takes a minute to figure out, but I thought the challenge was well worth the fun.
Ahoy there me mateys! I have really been enjoying my foray into Elizabeth Bear’s works and this was no exception. This story follows Haimey Dz who is a member of a three person salvage crew. A routine salvage trip turns to disaster when the ship they attempt to retrieve is a crime scene. And Haimey also catches an unknown alien virus. What results is a foray into ancient alien technology, dealing with space pirates, and exploring Haimey’s own past.
While I enjoyed this book, it was a very odd read to me. Part of this stems from the fact that there is a lot of physics in this book about the folding of space time and travel. As I continue to state, physics and I are not friends. There was also a small section about music theory that went over me noggin. But most of me personal problems stem from the world-building and plot pacing.
Elizabeth Bear’s fantasy series are dense in descriptions and ideas that make the fantasy worlds feel real. The plots are meandering and slow-paced. The action sequences are spaced out and a lot of the information feels like filler that is super fun but could be removed. I loved it in her fantasy books. This space book had all of those writing hallmarks but the sequences failed to capture me fancy in quite the same way. I had to put down the book at several points because I was slightly bored with the descriptions of the tech or philosophical platitudes.
In fact, I really would categorize this book more as a character study. The sections regarding Haimey and how she deals with the “sexy pirate” or the uses of her internal brain computer or her memories to be the highlights of this book for me. I also enjoyed what existed of the interplay being Haimey and her crew. The psychological effects of Haimey’s entire journey is really what kept me reading and what interested me the most.
This book will not suit every reader. While the plot is character driven, this is a book of ideas at its core. There are philosophical conundrums like how to run a society, the responsibilities of individual, the uses of technology, the applications and rights of artificial intelligence, genetic modifications, the fundamental nature of personalities, etc. I stuck with this book because I know that the endings of Bear’s books usually pan out and make the journey worth it. This was no exception. Plus there is a giant praying mantis space detective.
Apparently this is the first in a duology. Though in Bear’s interview with Barnes & Noble she states that “It’s not exactly accurate to call it a duology, however. It’s two related books, which will have some continuing characters, but each one should stand on its own as an arc and a story . . . The second book, which is titled Machine, is about a woman is a space trauma rescue specialist for an enormous multi-species medical center.” Sign me up!
Only a couple of weeks ago, reviewing a 1960s SF book, I bemoaned the fact that science fiction novels of ideas are less common now. Although it is correctly labelled a space opera, Ancestral Night delivers ideas with aplomb.
Let's deal with the space opera aspect first. Elizabeth Bear provides some excellent adventure scenes in space, and we've the usual mix of huge spaceships and interesting aliens. Main character Haimey Dz is an engineer on a ship that salvages wrecks - but, as we gradually discover - she also has a forgotten past. A major feature of the storyline (one that seems to link to the medieval idea of the lost wisdom of the past) is ancient technology from a long-dead race with capabilities, notably manipulating spacetime mentally (Bear has yet to point out that the travel technologies used here could manipulate time as well as space), which fit well with Arthur C. Clarke's magic definition.
I particularly liked the (surely intentional) nods to the much-missed Iain M. Banks's 'the Culture' universe - for example the quirkily named ships, though here they are more poetic than humorous, and the AI shipminds that are characters in their own right, though Bear's are less entirely emancipated that Banks's.
When it comes to the ideas, there are two broad strands. One is physics. Although the ancient alien technology is a different matter, the conventional spaceships have Alcubierre-White drives - based on the closest thing we have from real physics to the design for a real warp drive. This is lovingly described and plays a major part in the storyline. We've also get a rather nice description of (and plotline involving) the galaxy's supermassive black hole. More significantly, though, as a novel of ideas, the book explores the nature of personal freedom within society.
This is done in part by contrasting Bear's equivalent of the Culture - the Synarche - with a group of pirates. (As an aside it's fascinating how there seem to be spontaneous emergences of themes in books - we've also seen recently Alastair Reynolds' Revenger series with pirates as a major factor.) In all honesty, the 'pirates' in Ancestral Night would probably be better labelled anarchists as their motivation is significantly more sophisticated than stealing pieces of eight. It's perhaps a reflection of the fact that characters with ambivalent morals tend to be more interesting, that I found myself lining up more with Farweather, the main antagonist, rather than with Dz.
I only have two small moans. One is the not uncommon urge for the author to tweak just one aspect of the language - in this case, Bear changes the names for time units. So, for instance, days become diars and light years (I know it's not a time unit, but it's the time part of it that changes) become light-ans. Any far-future book is, in effect, translating the language, and it just doesn't make sense to change one tiny aspect - particularly one that's used by science, so is more likely to remain consistent. It just grated a little. The other small issue is that the book is rather too long, mostly because the author's motto of 'show don't tell' is ignored and we get long internal monologues - often lasting several pages - which don't move much forward. This contrasts with the dialogues, where the political side of the ideas strand is mostly advanced, which, if anything, can be too short.
These points are small though. This is certainly the best science fiction novel I've read in 2019 so far and I look forward to see how Bear develops the characters and her impressively rich universe.
3.5 Stars This is a smart, entertaining space opera that manages to feel fresh despite hitting on so many tropes of the genre. The writing was great, managing to be both intellectual and humorous at the same time. The actual plot did not entirely grab me, yet I still generally enjoyed the reading experience.
I'm halfway through and still no sign of a plot - just a lot of random encounters. I'm assuming the plot is not forthcoming. Some fun ideas and writing isn't bad, but in general it seems disjointed and pointless. DNF
Space salvage tug operator finds alien derelict that leads to intergalactic conspiracy and revelation about personal origin story.
My e-book copy was a hefty 550 pages with a 2019 US copyright.
Elizabeth Bear is an author of American science fiction and fantasy. She has more than thirty (30) published novels in both several series and stand alone. This is the first book in her White Space series.
I got to about page 100 and stopped reading. This isn’t a bad book, if you’re trained to give shallow, YA space opera rave reviews. (I’m more demanding than that.) It failed early to achieve the expected atmosphere and had what I thought to be thoroughly crappy main characters. Not wanting to commit myself to another 450 pages-- I cut my losses. I just don’t have the reading bandwidth to get involved in science fiction series that are faffing about.
Writing was generally good. Bear is a proficient and experienced writer. Dialog was OK. It was intended to be humorous in places, but the badinage wasn’t at all sophisticated. Descriptive prose was very detailed. However, when filtered through a main character I didn’t like, it failed to achieve atmosphere. For example, in places it felt too cutesy. Action sequences were good, but felt abbreviated.
There were three characters in the crew of the Singer space ship: Haimey, Connla and Singer. Haimey was the protagonist. She provided the single POV in the part of the story I read. Her narration was very folksy without any hint of competency in her vocation. Although, I found her inclination to self-medicate to be initially interesting. When she suddenly displayed McGyver-like ability I threw up my hands in disbelief. Connla the alpha-male, ‘hot pilot’ from a Sparta-like society was like a meat puppet. He was as testosterone-charged as oatmeal. Singer the AI who ran the ship was intended to be snarky. I found him to be unfunny despite a hip vocabulary.
Plot-wise, I only stayed for what I thought was a promising premise, “Space salvage tug operator finds alien derelict that leads to intergalactic conspiracy.” I never got past the derelict.
World building was mixed, if you don’t look too deeply. This was hard-ish science fiction. There were a few nice touches, like the White Space star drive. That was balanced by an absurd, leafy, space going, giant seahorse-like alien that lives in open space. The rest of the tech was of a Star Trek type, where you were expected to be familiar with the trope. Some things I found to be unbelievable. Why did there have to be cute cats on-board a cramped working vessel like a salvage tug? If anything, their detritus would be clogging the air filters. An earthly seagoing salvage tug would have a larger crew, simply because of the number of and variety of unforeseen tasks needed to be performed. Stuff like: seal a hull breach, remotely reprogram a crashed alien computer-based control system, haul an ass ton of heavy equipment about quickly, etc.. When Haimey went into a cold, airless, unpowered alien derelict by her lonesome not knowing anything about thier tech, while wearing the ship's only working spacesuit, I thought “That’s not a safe practice. Who is going to bring back the body?” It became clear, that the salvage tug model adopted by the author was her familiarity with AAA tow truck operation.
I started out this story was high expectations. It was written by an experienced science fiction author, with a good space opera-ish premise. My suspension of science fiction belief, was quickly at odds with the level-of-description and techno-handwaving. The story suffered a hull breach with the characters of the crew. I couldn’t imagine them as a Going Concern, much less a crew. In particular, Haimey’s POV was annoying. I never believed she could know the things she knew and was capable of the things she did.
In many ways this book is an excellent pairing with MCU’s recently released Captain Marvel. No, really, hear me out. Both are stories centring women being told what or not to do, told that their emotions are crap and that they should know better, that their choices of how to deal with their emotions are wrong. It is about empowerment, going against what anybody else thinks and finding your own way by embracing your identity, flaws and all. Also fighting against baddies and finding a home where your heart is. Watch the movie, read this book, is what I am saying.
I struggle when in the far, far future people still read 19th century books and refer to 20th century culture. I also struggle with books that go on and on about some detail or event. Unfortunately Ancestral Night ticked both boxes. And then it featured a character that gained more and more powerful and unique capabilities that continued to get her out of whatever pickle she was in. Nope this one was not one I enjoyed.
On the outer limits of the Milky Way, Haimey Dz, space salvager, and her crew, find evidence of a terrible crime and accidentally gain access to an ancient technology - now they are on a run from space pirates interested in this techology; or is it something else they're after?
In a way, the life on the salvage tug reminded me of "A Long Way To A Small Angry Planet" at first, but then things took different turns. There were many surprise scenes and turns that left me astonished in what a visual beauty they must've looked like, though some things were just 'necessary' level to me . Apart from Haimey, the other beings I loved was the tug AI Singer (named after the author's friend), .
There were various themes here one might think about: levels of freedom, community vs. individual, personality/identity forming and keeping, belonging, memories, anger and forgiveness, body control ways and accepting of them.
I think that as Haimey finally found the truth about the past traumatic event, it helped her find balance for her identity, and helped her
I liked some details, like how coffee is liked mostly just by humans, but chocolate is popular. That Haimey likes to read a lot, and even has one true paper book . The way the ancient teachnology *glitters*. Ships named like in Iain M. Banks books, a nod to "Stainless Steel Rat" series, and a Philip K Dick booktitle is a ship name here. Also the "more weight" quote appears (Giles Corey at Salem witch trials). Chapter 25 has the title appear, in the ship's name.
It was a lovely reading experience, the main character's POV just right, and not just about moving the plot on, but also showing time between actions, her opinions and tastes, and development in feeling more certain about her identity and what was right for her, what her preferred freedom was like, no matter what she experienced through the story, including learning anew what had happened to her before the book's events. So much other interesting stuff also, new old things revealed and the past history expanded, some way, even for those others living in space with her. Comforting, amazing, and thought-provoking, and that means - a good book.
Capsule review (longer to follow when I have time): Bear writes SF like Connie Willis on speed ... This is an extraordinarily chatty novel, with lots of asides, digressions, interludes, speculation, cryptic references, mock commentary, pseudo philosophy, psychology, anecdotes, jokes (many bad), and lots (I mean pages) of cute cat references. Thankfully, no footnotes. The text is jampacked enough as it is. Now you either like this kind of chummy all-on-the-page writing style, or it will bore you comatose or drive you to distraction. Or both.
Of course, all this does add a couple of hundred pages ... But Bear still manages to pull off some stunning set pieces, including the sentient star thingy space chase at the end, which includes a sentient praying mantis type alien (one of the most endearing characters in the entire book. Yup, a smart bug.) A lot has been made of the similarity between the Synarche (is it pronounced to rhyme with 'anarchy', I wonder?) and the Culture by Iain Banks. This is one of the authors that Bear does acknowledge as an influence in her Afterword. Needless to say Bear, and her large cast, have a lot to say bout this topic.
I liked it a lot. It is really smart and entertaining SF, and Bear underpins her world-building with some rigorous and thought-provoking speculation. And the ship names are so cool! A really strong start to a great trilogy.
A far-future post-scarcity space opera that owes a lot to Iain M. Banks (well-acknowledged in text), particularly in looking at the overall structure of society and an individual's place in it.
Haimey Dz and her small crew of space salvage operators stumble across the scene of an atrocity and an abandoned ship. An incident that occurs as part of the investigation of the abandoned ship leaves Haimey in particular the focus of pursuit and acquisition by pirates. All of which is a catalyst for Haimey discovering some unexpected things about herself and her past.
As much as I love the writing in this, the characters and the setting, overall I thought the book was a mess, primarily due to pacing issues. In particular there's an interminable section of the book (it's over a quarter of the length of the book) where Haimey and the main antagonist are stuck alone on a ship that's traveling from A to B where the only thing happening with the plot is limited interaction between the two and Haimey having an emotional breakdown.
Where it shines is looking at what sort of government and economic system needs to exist in a post-scarcity space operatic society as well as competing socioeconomic systems. It's also great at looking at personality where everyone is cybernetically augmented and can both express control over their endocrine and edit/control their memories.
So despite the pacing issues, I actually really enjoyed this and I would recommend it.
Glad that's over! Note to Self: Do not read more in this series. Maybe try Bear's Fantasy vs SF next.
I loved a few of the ideas presented in the book but I never got to a place where I saw the MC as a whole person or cared about what happened to her. The ending was not worth the hours between to get to it.
Elizabeth Bear has leveled up. She's working with a LOT of elements here, at the Master level: space travel, political philosophy, AIs, aliens, and the question (which she deals with better than it's EVER been dealt with before): "Where is the line between mental health and mind control?" As someone whose motto is Better Living Through Chemistry, I found this SUPER resonant.
Stylistically, Bear does a LOT of incluing, and it's really fun. Figuring things out from context when you *can't* look things up is a basic human joy, this is how we learn language, and only SFF can give it.
A memorable voice and a deep dive into the history and character of the protagonist? Check.
A smart-ass AI with tremendous loyalty to his friends? Check.
A far-future world with a multispecies empire of questionable moral authority (to say the least--artificial manipulation of hormones and brain chemicals to fit in is an accepted and even mandated thing)? Check.
A thoughtful exploration of the issues raised by said empire? Check.
Ships as big as planets, with one ship parked for thirty thousand years just inside the event horizon of the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy? Check.
A sapient, deep-space-dwelling species that seems to be a combination of space whale/seahorse with an Ancient Elder damn near as big as the aforementioned black hole Prize? Check.
And a main character who goes on quite the tumultuous personal journey, discovering things about herself kept hidden for twenty years, who at the end makes a firm decision to break free of her previous fears and limitations, and be the person she decides she is going to be, not the person various factions have tried to force her to be throughout her life? Check.
That's this book. It is not a quick read, despite being, in many ways, a classic space opera. It is deliberate, thoughtful and chewy, and deserves to be read slowly and savored. I think it would reward multiple reads.
On my train commute to work I'm faced with the option of reading or staring out the window. If I chose staring out the window then it's time to give up on the book I'm reading. This is what happened with this book. I persevered for 100 pages. There is some good points about the book. The ships use Alcubierre drives. There's not many books that adopt this recognized theory for crossing interstellar distance. But the explanations of it's function has issues which aren't even internally consistent to the story. However the biggest problem I had was the characters were the same. I frequently lost track of who was saying what as I couldn't tell them apart. The narrator and dialogue was also striving for witty repartee, most of which fell flat. It was trying too hard. Finally there was the author standing on a soapbox preaching politics. Exploration of political ideology and it's benefits, problems, and interaction with conflicting ideologies within the context of a story I enjoy. The author stopping a story to preach their particular view annoys me. This book falls into that category. I really wanted to enjoy this book. The cover blurb made it sound fascinating, but it just has too many problems.
If you like space opera, skip this one. There was too much navel-gazing by the protagonist (and narrator). The reveal 2/3 of the way through the book was completely predictable and you would have to have been not paying attention to have had it surprise you. The big reveal 3/4 of the way through was also unsurprising. And the deus ex machina ending was just plain disappointing.
The political/sociological material that's interspersed at irregular intervals is inadequate to give the reader a real feel for the "world" (in the worldbuilding sense) that the author created. To top it off, it distracts from the narrative, leaving you with a "where were we again?" sensation when the action resumes. Note to the author: read Starship Troopers to see how a master handled it.
The final conflict was so overwritten that it became boring. I forced myself to finish the novel because I don't feel like I can give a one-star review unless I read the entire book. That wasn't as easy as it sounds, because I kept finding excuses to do anything else except pick up that book again.
Haimy Dz is on a journey to what she hopes will be the salvage score of a lifetime. Her crew may be small--just her, the pilot, Connla, the shipmind, Singer, and two cats--but they work well together, and manage to own their own tug. This job, however, leads to pirates, an unspeakable crime, and unknown tech that will change Haimy's life forever. To find answers, she'll have to confront a past that she barely remembers.
This was definitely fun. Haimy is a fine character, and the future she inhabits is believable and captivating. She's a different person by the end of the book than she was at the beginning.
Being science fiction, there are the expected mind blowing concepts. Chief among them is the ability to alter the chemical balance of one's own brain: dial back fear and anger, boost concentration, damp down hormones, etc. Obviously, too much of this can be indistinguishable from brainwashing, and there's some spirited debate between Haimy and one of the pirates about free will versus being a cog in society.
The first half the book is a little slow, but the overall plot isn’t bad. The real downside is the pathetic protagonist and unlikable antagonist. The only enjoyable characters are supporting characters, and they aren’t around enough.
It doesn’t help that it’s written in first person.