In this compelling and addictive novel set in the same universe as the critically acclaimed White Space series and perfect for fans of Karen Traviss and Ada Hoffman, a space station begins to unravel when a routine search and rescue mission returns after going dangerously awry.
Meet Doctor Jens.
She hasn’t had a decent cup of coffee in fifteen years. Her workday begins when she jumps out of perfectly good space ships and continues with developing treatments for sick alien species she’s never seen before. She loves her life. Even without the coffee.
But Dr. Jens is about to discover an astonishing mystery: two ships, one ancient and one new, locked in a deadly embrace. The crew is suffering from an unknown ailment and the shipmind is trapped in an inadequate body, much of her memory pared away.
Unfortunately, Dr. Jens can’t resist a mystery and she begins doing some digging. She has no idea that she’s about to discover horrifying and life-changing truths.
Written in Elizabeth Bear’s signature “rollicking, suspenseful, and sentimental” (Publishers Weekly) style, Machine is a fresh and electrifying space opera that you won’t be able to put down.
MACHINE by Elizabeth Bear is a space opera and the second book in the White Space series. It is also the first book that I have read by this author. While reading book one in the series might provide more background, this read well as a standalone novel. Dr. Jens is a trauma doctor and rescue specialist. She is of the crew on an ambulance ship answering a distress signal. Two ships, one centuries old, and another one that is contemporary are connected and no one is responding so Dr. Jens and Tsosie, the ambulance’s commander and senior trauma specialist are going to enter the vessels.
Dr. Jens is a likeable main character and definitely someone you can root for. She felt three-dimensional with a lot of depth, believable motivations and appropriate emotions. Details of her family situation and some of her work history were shared through her reflections. The secondary characters were not as well developed, but the relationships between the characters felt believable and not contrived. The story line was intense and complex. The world-building was vivid and gave a clear sense of time and place. Occasionally the dialogue wound go on too long and did not seem to move the story along. The science is well-integrated and the mystery was compelling.
Overall, this was a tense read that had high stakes, an investigation and some unusual plot twists. If you are a fan of both space operas and mysteries, then you may want to check this one out. I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series as well as checking out other books by this author.
Gallery Books – Saga Press and Elizabeth Bear provided a complimentary digital ARC of this novel via NetGalley. This is my honest review and opinions are mine alone and are not biased in any way.
Just finished, 1/23/21. Easy 5 stars! One of her best: likely her best pure-quill, classic SF novel. Working to get my thoughts (and notes) in order. I loved it! OK, here goes....
I had a great time with this, one of my very favorite SF author's deep-dive into genre history. A mysterious lost generation-ship that's gone further than its sublight engines should have been able to push it. A Synarche ambulance-ship responded to TWO distress calls, one from the ancient ring-ship, the second from a contemporary methane-breather ship that shouldn't be there, either. The crew of the ancient ship were put into cryosleep by their Captain, whose remains were found in the Command chair on the bridge. Left in charge was a golden femdroid: Helen Alloy! Bear is having a great time making fun of horny male teens (like me!) who ate up silly stuff like this in their pimply youth: https://auxiliarymemory.com/2018/08/1... Whoa! Here's the 1938 classic by Lester del Rey, facsimile of first pub: https://archive.org/stream/Astounding...
I loved her graceful tribute to the late James White's Sector General series, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sector_... A 12 novel series! More counting the shorts. Ran ~1957 to 1999. 40+ years! She also calls out CJ Cherryh's influence -- she started reading Cherryh @ age 11! -- but I didn't see any direct Cherryh influence in this book (I'm a Cherryh fan, too).
@ around p. 220, "the plot thickens" -- as we 'critics' like to say. Add "tightly plotted mystery-thriller" to my descrip of this wonderfully entertaining novel, that's headed for 5 stars! I haven't the faintest notion (at this point) how she's going to resolve this thing -- but great confidence that it will work out and be a great ride. Bear is just one hell of a writer! Stay tuned! Put it on your TBR!
Well, I won't be telling you how she resolved all the mysteries and untangled all the plot lines. It got pretty fast and furious at the end.... Truly, it will take a reread down the line to sort all this out, and there were some resolution issues that, hrm, had more auctorial forcing than I like to see. But, really, I'm picking nits here. If you love classic big-screen science fiction with a heart, this is the book for you! Most highly recommended, especially for Bear fans. Review is done for now. Over to you! Hope you like it. Opinions (as you can see) are mixed -- though the book does get a 4-star average rating.
Thank you to NetGalley and Saga Press for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Machine takes place in the same universe as Elizabeth Bear’s Ancestral Night, which was a three-star read for me but nonetheless left an overall positive impression. Machine follows an entirely new cast of characters and tells a very different story set in the same world as Ancestral Night. I was excited to see it on NetGalley and even more excited when my ARC request was approved.
As you might imagine based on my three-star rating, Ancestral Night was a mixed bag, with some things I loved and some things I didn’t. I loved the diversity, the worldbuilding, and the book’s themes: friendship, space travel, utopian societies. But I wasn’t a fan of Elizabeth Bear’s tendency to go off on frequent, long, complicated tangents, and the protagonist, Haimey, took a while to grow on me. Ancestral Night started off on a low note, and though I ended up enjoying it by the end, it didn’t feel right to rate it higher than three stars based on how rough the beginning was.
Machine was the opposite. It started out great! It kept all the things I liked about Ancestral Night and, at least at first, toned down the things that annoyed me. It had an amazingly diverse cast of characters (now with even more aliens!). It had layers and layers of rich, complex worldbuilding. It had friendship, it had space travel, and it had a utopian society. I was so ready to give this one four stars (because it still wasn’t quite perfect enough for five).
Our new protagonist, Dr. Brookllyn Jens, still went off on tangents, but they were shorter, simpler, and slightly less frequent, so they didn’t bother me as much as Haimey’s did. Probably as a direct result of this, I warmed to Llyn much faster than I did to Haimey. Her experience with chronic pain was enlightening and added realism and texture to the story. But then, in the last quarter of the story, she got really angsty, and her tangents came more frequently and were longer and more complex.
Like Ancestral Night, the plot of Machine centers around a complicated mystery. I was able to guess some aspects of the reveal, but definitely not the whole thing. I didn’t always know exactly what was going on, but this happens to me with a lot of science fiction because I just don’t know that much about science. I found the reveal anticlimactic, which, combined with Llyn’s turn for the worse toward the end – reverse character development? – took me down to three stars.
Even though I, once again, don’t feel like I can rate this book higher than three stars, I still definitely enjoyed it. It kept me engaged through some otherwise very boring days. And I do hope Bear continues the White Space series. This world that she’s created is too compelling to leave behind. Just… cool it with the tangents.
Billed as a straight space opera (but not with a straight MC), this follows a lot of usual tropes. Between salvage, finding an alien artifact, and juggling a few mysteries while handling personal and interpersonal ones, this has all the hallmarks of a comfortable opera read.
Good points: the MC is a doctor and happens to be one devoted to her job no matter how complicated that makes her life. Personal pain management has a bit of a House feel, too. And then there is the Machine. I like the whole thing about the Machine, but let me be honest: it's been done before. A lot. Like, a lot, a lot. I think of just having read Paolini's new work a few months ago and I'm trying not to compare the two, but this one suffers.
Bad points: the pacing is sometimes uneven and my interest sometimes lagged. It was far from being a bad tale, but it generally fits firmly in the "comfort" SF category. Again, that's not really a bad thing. It just happens to be an issue about pushing those boundaries.
It really doesn't.
BUT, there are worse things than to be a comfort read that checks off a number of boxes. Me, I'd have preferred something a lot more courageous. The mystery was quite fun. Hacking AI consciousnesses is VERY fun. I suppose I would have gone gaga if there had been more. More mystery. More surprise.
4.0 Stars Machine This was a solid piece of science fiction that blended together elements of a mystery into a larger space opera narrative. The story had a fantastic setup which immediately grabbed my attention from the first chapter. In terms of pace, this one was more of a slow burn, but that did not prevent me from becoming immersed in the narrative.
The worldbuilding in this novel was excellent, naturally weaving details about the future technology into the story in an organic way. There was a fair amount of hard science and theory in this novel. For the most part, I was fascinated by this information, but there were some denser sections I found a little slow. Given the amount of complexity within this novel, this is not a science fiction book for beginners, but rather one to be savoured by seasoned readers of the genre.
The main character, Dr Jen, was very likeable. I enjoyed hearing her inner thoughts because she often brought humour to the narrative, which kept this hard scifi story from feeling dry. The rest of the characters were also quite well developed. I particularly appreciated the diversity of this future, which was filled with aliens who were often quite different than the humans, both physically and socially.
While this is the second book in the White Space series, it works perfectly as a standalone. I have not read Ancestral Night and that did not hinder my ability to read and appreciate Machine. This novel followed different characters in a different situation. Furthermore, the White Space technology was re-explained in this second for readers, like myself, who were new to this universe.
Overall, I would definitely recommend this one to any science fiction reader looking for a smart story that explores ancient technology and artificial intelligence in a nuanced, fresh way.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher.
Dr. Jens, a rescue specialist for a medical group composed of different species from across the galaxy, is on a mission to save the lives of thousands of humans on an ancient ship, stranded among the stars. Something has gone terribly wrong with their computer system.
In addition, there's a strange, and dangerous looking, machine in the hold of another, far more modern ship, that is attached to the archaic ship. Could it be the genesis of everything that went wrong or something more sinister?
"There could be people alive in there. We had to proceed as if there were, until we had proven otherwise."
Elizabeth Bear has created a fantastical, possible future in Machine where humanity has learned to manage some of our more troublesome brain chemistry through the use of sophisticated machines implanted in our heads.
I loved her imagining of what aliens (she calls them 'systers') may look like and how thousands of different people from worlds separated by both time and space would be able to come together and create something resembling a community.
It leads to some particularly interesting questions in this story as Dr. Jens is concerned primarily with the physical, and occasionally emotional, health of the beings, both flesh-bound and digital, whom she encounters.
"An AI couldn't suffer a psychotic break, exactly. But they had their own varieties of sophipathology, and dissociation of their various subroutines into disparate personalities was definitely one that had been well-testified in the literature."
I liked those aspects of the story- the exploration of a universe so far removed from my own.
Unfortunately, I felt that this exploration was bogged down by long and meandering self reflection at key moments in the story. I realize that much of the development of the plot is an emotional journey for the characters, but it's not fun to read about and occasionally comes off as a little preachy.
"We had to learn that there were more important things than being 'right.' Brilliant people are sometimes terrible at being people."
And, as I said, it slowed the story down to a painful crawl through neurosis and the perpetual struggle Dr. Jens has between allowing her emotions or handling them through her technologically advanced and chemically-altering brain tech.
All that being said, Machine was an enjoyable sci-fi adventure and mystery, and I look forward to reading more from Elizabeth Bear in the future.
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for a free digital copy of this book for review purposes.
In this second space opera/mystery in her White Space series, Elizabeth Bear gives us first-person narrator Dr. Brookllyn Jens, who is part of an EMT team aboard the Synarche Medical Vessel I Race To Seek the Living. She’s a tough, lonely person(in spite of a failed marriage and a daughter ), who lives with constant pain, but in spite of that is a trauma doctor who specializes in rescue missions.
Answering a distress call from the centuries-old Terran generation ship Big Rock Candy Mountain, the rescuers discover the body of the long-dead captain, a cargo bay filled with cryogenic chambers, a memory-damaged golden, femme bot named Helen, and a modern ship filled with methane-breathers docked with the ancient ship.
Nobody is awake on either of these ships that have to be towed back to the space hospital where Jens works, to which she is dedicated, at the cost of all other aspects of her life . . . including, too often, her own physical wellbeing.
So imagine her reaction when the ships, and the AIs she works with, are sabotaged, and a big battle-bot is discovered . . . and things begin to rapidly go downhill from there.
The human cast is diverse, as well as the aliens. It’s clear that Bear had a ton of fun inventing alien species, called systers, emphasizing the cooperation in this future polity; one of my my favorites is the vast tree growing out of the station itself and referred to fondly as the Administree. But my absolute favorite, who I was glad to see back after introduction in volume one, Ancestral Nights, was the Goodlaw, like a praying mantis, only with more legs and eyes. The female is easily six feet long. The much smaller male is afraid of her, as females of their species used to eat the male after mating. So he offers food to everyone, a cultural holover, but that is only part of what makes him such a great character.
Organics (however you want to define that) are not the only people in this polity. There are also the AIs, including shipminds, who are very much considered persons, and who are not only doctors but also patients in this hospital.
The mystery is a chain of mysteries, beginning with the fact that these future humans have a ‘fox’ inserted into their brain, and they are brought up to monitor their own emotional fluctuations and bring them into harmony.
This fact, and many others, bring up interesting questions of ethics with regard to cloning to prolong existence, and personality modification as medical treatment. I zoomed through the second half—and look forward to more in this universe.
Set in the same universe as Ancestral Night, Machine is in no sense a sequel. It doesn't even have the same characters. But it has a sense of familiarity to those who experienced Ancestral Night. This time, our characters don't get entangled with space pirates and refugees. Our main character is a doctor assigned to a medical rescue team en route to answering a distress call. And when they get there it's nothing like they could have imagined. One ship is a giant from the dawn of human memory with a most unusual cargo. The other makes no sense docked there.
Bear explores in this book the concept of who belongs to an intergalactic federation made up of all kinds of species. It explores what qualifies as a person with rights under this galactic federation. And yes, that includes artificial intelligence such as shipminds.
The story basically falls into two broad parts. First, the mystery of the ship's sending the distress signals and exploring those ships. This was probably the best part of the story. The second part explores what happens when the artifacts from these ships are brought back to the medical headquarters and where intelligent existence goes from there. At times, this section dragged a little.
Overall, a fascinating exploration like everything Bear puts out.
Wow, this one ticked all the boxes for me. From first page to last I was hooked.
Dr. Brookllyn Jens is a doctor working from an ambulance ship going to the rescue of those in distress in space. She and the crew of the Synarche Medical Vessel I Race To Seek the Living have located the ship sending the distress call, Big Rock Candy Mountain, a ship that left Terra about six hundred years previously, and Llyn and her team must make the jump from her ship onto Big Rock Candy Mountain to ascertain the situation that required the distress signal. Reading the names of those space ships you may think this is a book with lots of comedy at it's core, which is what I was thinking for a while, but that's not what you will get at all. Finding out what the situation is aboard the vessel in distress is the first step in getting any survivors back to Core General, the largest hospital in the galaxy.
This was so, so good for me with a high percentage of interactions with various AI systems. Plots featuring those are some of my favorite science fiction reads. This book features a female lead who is old enough to have a grown daughter, not a situation I've encountered before, and Llyn tends to rely much more on her intellect to manage situations and solve problems than physical abilities. I do tend to get rather tired of the oftentimes standard spunky/feisty female lead. The hospital is under a terrorist attack but there don't seem to be any clues about who could be causing the chaos.
Elizabeth Bear also writes wonderful alien characters. And the augmentations that have been perfected in this future were so easy for me to become accustomed to. I liked the way the human and alien species worked together and the complexity of the problems they had to solve. Altogether this was a marvelous reading experience for me and I'm chomping at the bite for the next book in this series to be released. I also have plans to begin reading the first book in the White Space series. Happy dance, happy dance!
Thank you to NetGalley and Gallery Books/Saga Press for an e-galley of this novel.
Ahoy there me mateys! I received this sci-fi eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. So here be me honest musings . . .
I really enjoyed the first companion book in this series, ancestral night, and was looking forward to reading this. This book is set in the same universe as the previous novel but follows a different character. Dr. Jens works for an intergalactic hospital as a search and rescue specialist. Her life turns upside down when a ship with a distress call turns out to be an ancient generation ship from Earth where all the crew has been cryogenically frozen and an insane shipmind is in charge.
The positives of this book is that I loved the beginning and the setting. I loved the idea of the space hospital and how it functioned. I loved all the different species working together to save each other. I thought the rescue missions were an interesting concept. Dr. Jens was an overall cool character who happens to be in chronic pain.
Sadly, this book just didn't completely work for me. While I liked Dr. Jens, she spent too much of the book blaming herself for things out of her control. The elements I liked (frozen people, ship sabotage, Helen) turned out to not be the focus. The "conspiracy subplot" for me turned out to be a) lackluster and b) very predictable. I wanted more about the unfrozen people and Helen adjusting to the change of waking up far in the future. I wanted more search and rescue missions. And the ending and resolution was lame. I wanted answers and focus on other things.
Cool elements and ideas but ultimately rather disappointed me.
This should really have been a DNF for me. I started reading because I generally enjoy Bear’s writing and I am slightly obsessed with lost generation ship stories. I really wanted to stop reading because the endless repetitive internal droning of the POV character bored me out of my skull very quickly, yet somehow I still kept pushing through this verbal avalanche because all the various moving parts of the mystery kept bugging me.
I don’t know if the author gets paid by the word or what, but this could have been a lovely five star space opera mystery novel if it was about 200 pages shorter, and if those 200 pages contained basically 90% of Brookllyn’s internal monologues. And yes, she really does go on that much – about, well, just about everything that pops into her mind, and most of it is not in fact, interesting as such. There is a lot of virtue signaling (and I say that as someone who is heavily on Bear’s side of the political issues in question), there is a lot of repetition of things already established during previous monologues, and frankly quite a lot of whining for someone who a) is rightminded, b) makes a living by jumping out of spaceships to rescue others. Oh, and the occasional rumination on what to eat, when to sleep, and whether and how to poop… I think. I did zone out here and there.
And then, of course, the small, but persistent pebble in the shoe; “dia” and “an”. The only bit of non-English in what is, essentially, a translation into English of a far-future language comes off especially annoying when it is clear that they are simply Latin-based words for the same bloody thing. And if there is any actual difference between a “dia” and a “day”, it bears absolutely zero relevance to the story being told.
So, why the three stars? Well, because it is a nice mystery, it is a lovely universe, it is a truly diverse set of aliens, it features a lost generation ship, and somehow, despite all its shortcomings, it (just barely) kept me chugging ‘till the very end.
I really wanted to like this one, but unfortunately it just didn’t work out for me. While I’ve enjoyed Elizabeth Bear’s work in the past, for some reason Machine failed to capture my attention, and even from the start the story and main character struggled to make an impression, though I tried my best to give the book a fair shake.
At first, I thought it might have something to do with the fact it is a sequel, and that I haven’t read its predecessor, Ancestral Night. However, it soon became clear that was not the case, because although Machine takes place in the same White Space universe, it is written to be experienced as a standalone, featuring a new story and a different protagonist. Dr. Brookllyn Jens is her name, a rescue specialist working on a first responder ship dispatched to investigate a distress signal originating from a generation ship which left Earth hundreds of years ago. Upon arrival, Dr. Jens finds the ship’s crew and passengers still sealed inside their cryogenic space pods, with only an android named Helen as the only conscious caretaker active onboard.
Thus, a tantalizing mystery emerges: What could have happened to the ship to leave its ten thousand souls in such a state? And what might have caused Helen, an A.I. who doesn’t appear to be all together there, to be left in charge by herself? Even more disconcerting is the discovery of a modern vessel attached to the centuries-old generation ship, and the strange machine inside of it, dubbed a craboid because of its resemblance to the crustacean. Everyone is baffled as to its purpose, though Jens might have a few guesses. As she works hard to rescue as many of the passengers as she can by transporting them to the state-of-the-art hospital at which she is employed, even more problems begin to arise, including an unknown illness, computer viruses, and even malicious sabotage. As much as Jens wants to get to the bottom of all of it, she worries the answers will come at a steep price—and she isn’t sure she will like what she finds.
To be fair, Machine had quite a few strengths, even if they weren’t enough to win me over. For example, I liked that our protagonist was a doctor, and the medical angle of her narrative provided this space opera with a fresh and interesting perspective. I also enjoyed the author’s vision for her futuristic setting, one populated by humans, aliens, and A.I. There’s wonderful interaction between the characters, creating opportunities for compelling relationships as well as plenty of room to grow them.
Unfortunately though, Dr. Jens winds up being the weak link in all these scenarios. For one thing, she can’t seem to stop with the aggravating internal monologues, rambling on and on in a completely different line of thought than whatever was happening on the page. While it’s probably in her character’s nature to be inquisitive and examine every single tiny thing from all possible angles, as a reader trying to follow her often long-winded and digressive spiels it was absolute torture. It’s a shame, really, for I’m sure this novel could have been one hell of a sci-fi mystery page-turner, if only the main character could’ve shut up long enough for the exciting parts of the story to actually come through.
Perhaps it is not surprising then, that pacing was also an issue. Due to all the frequent interruptions and tangents, the plot never really manages to find its rhythm, and to be honest, there were too many moments I found myself bored and tempted to skim or skip ahead. I tried to sympathize with Jens, because she really does have quite an intricate and poignant backstory, but the narrative style simply made it far too difficult to engage. I also didn’t like her over-the-top self-criticism especially towards the end of the book, which didn’t help her likeability one bit, and only served to make me even more annoyed with her.
Overall, I can’t say I had a good experience with Machine, even though the novel’s premise with its mystery and intrigue should have been right up alley. Regrettably, I just couldn’t get onboard with the main character and the stop-start pacing of the story, when what I really wanted was less talk and more emphasis on the mystery aspect and the action elements. Ultimately, I was left unsatisfied and disappointed.
You can find my review on my blog by clicking here.
Once convinced that life is but an eternal mystery enveloping our existence only for us to discover our purpose and its many miracles, some dedicate their entire life to a unique cause, allowing it to surprise them on a daily basis. There might not be any point to question the future, their destiny, or their faith, when stuck in an unending loop of complacency, one where the thrill of every day’s duty is enough to stimulate their mind and get them moving. This was the case for one doctor until she came across a mystery that simply paved the way towards scrutinizing her own perception of the world, of her life, and of herself. Set in the same universe as her previous novel Ancestral Night, author Elizabeth Bear delivers an incredibly immersive stand-alone story that offers an immersive journey through space and cerebral questions about life and faith.
What is Machine about? The story follows Doctor Brookllyn Jens, a space trauma rescue specialist, who works for the multi-species medical center Core General. Onboard the Synarche Medical Vessel I Race To Seek the Living, a shipmind, controlled by an A.I. called Sally, that serves as their ambulance ship, she’s accompanied by five other crew members: Doctor Paul Tsosie, the new pilot Loese, the flight nurse Hhayazh, the flight surgeon Rhym, and the second flight nurse Camphvis. While she loves her job and has been content to live this life that has offered her the chance to save lives, to dedicate her own to a single craft, and to discover the beauty of life and the myriad of life forms that encompasses it, a distress call from a centuries-old Terran ship called Big Rock Candy Mountain will change her life forever. Upon responding to this signal, their team discovers that this artifact is not alone and that a much more contemporary ship equipped with modern technology has somehow found itself entangled with it. As they proceed to investigate these ships, Doctor Jens sets herself upon unraveling a spine-tingling mystery.
Rest assured, this latest novel by author Elizabeth Bear can be read without any prior knowledge of the white space universe in which it is set. It is her brilliant use of the intricate regime structure, politics, law, and culture of this galactic environment that also ends up being the highlights of this immersive and exquisite space opera. With the omnipresence of countless organic and inorganic sentiences that have evolved beyond human restraints, including the ever-growing presence of artificial intelligence amidst alien species, she also builds upon the foundational examination of evolution and life through her first-person narrative, especially through her protagonist’s cynical yet practical approach to her existence and her control over emotions—thanks to the art of rightminding, a neurological manipulation of brain chemistry to control one’s state of mind—through her daily struggle with chronic pain.
Similar to Ancestral Night, author Elizabeth Bear masterfully crafts her protagonist by brilliantly balancing her interaction with her comrades with her own digressions. It is notably through the latter that she winds up spontaneously philosophizing about tangent subject matters, giving the reader a glimpse into the character’s persona, motive, and history. Not only does this help tremendously in connecting with a character by feeling like a friend to her consciousness, but it also allows the reader to better understand the universe in which they bathe. In fact, the authentic and insightful interactions add significant depth to the narrative through exchanges that unveil the chemistry of the team. Add in the thought-provoking hard science that is sophisticatedly infused into the narrative, author Elizabeth Bear simply succeeds to engross the reader in a plausible future by inviting us on a space mystery unlike anything readers have seen before.
Machine is a riveting and captivatingly-written space-opera mystery set in a mesmerizing, lore-rich, and ever-expanding universe.
Thank you to Wunderkind PR for sending me a copy for review!
Elizabeth Bear is one of the best SF writers currently active, and Machine does not disappoint. As Bear makes clear in her acknowledgements, this novel, set in her 'White Space' universe, owes a debt to the Irish author James White's classic Sector General stories, which were a breath of fresh air in the 1960s. Like White's stories, the main setting here is a multi-species space hospital, with the central characters dealing with exotic medical problems. However, what we get in Machine is a lot more than just an exo-hospital drama.
In her White Space universe, Bear has what is surely one of the best successors to Iain M Banks' Culture universe setting, whether it's in the sophisticated culture, the AI-as-people or the quaintly-named ships. Throw in a relic wreck of a generation ship, located where it never should have reached, a host of corpsicles, a strange AI entity and unexpected systems failures and we get a satisfyingly rich and interesting plot.
The ideas come thick and fast, and Bear deploys fun future technology with aplomb. There are enough dangers and setbacks to keep the reader interested, with the usual introduction and consideration of the way that a more civilised future culture might behave.
Looking back at Bear's previous White Space title, Ancestral Night, I commented '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 seems to happen even more in Machine, where I did occasionally find it frustrating. There was one example where such musing even happens in the middle of an action sequence where the main character Llyn is running for her life, but still manages to spend several pages mulling things over. Elsewhere, Llyn spends rather too long reflecting on her medical condition. It's by no means disastrous - this is still a truly enjoyable and engaging novel, but the internal monologues could have done with some ruthless trimming.
A good addition to what I hope will be a long-continued universe.
Machine is a very good medical science fiction space adventure with a very diverse cast of well conceived alien races, elements of mystery, some good humor, and intelligent examinations of what it takes to get along with others both on a personal and societal level. The main character is a doctor who specializes in first-responder rescue situations; she used to be in police work and both professions are exercised to extremes in Machine. Some of the characters are artificial intelligences, and I found it intriguing that they are treated as individual patients by the medical community rather than as tools. (Some of them are members of the medical community!) There's also some challenging questions of ethics on personality modification as medical treatment, and the use of clones to prolong existence. After rescuing several cryogenic pods and the sole conscious intelligent robot from a very old generation-ship they are taken to the main medical headquarters, a huge hospital station. Meanwhile, there's sabotage to be investigated, a mystery to unravel, patients to be treated, and interesting events on every page. Bear knows her early science fiction quite well; she acknowledges James White (who wrote the Sector General medical sf series) and C.J. Cherryh in her afterword. I also detected nods to Poul Anderson (sophont), Lester del Rey (Helen Alloy), Roger Zelazny (K'kk'jk'ooOOoo), and perhaps Murray Leinster's Interstellar Med Service, L. Ron Hubbard's Ole Doc Methuselah, or some of Alan E. Nourse's medical sf. (The latter three were surely influences on White, at least. As I'm sure Heinlein was on Cherryh, come to think of it.) I was thrown a time or two by the measures of time and distance, which seemed to be inconsistent, or at least not well enough explained. I was also confused a time or two by the use of plural pronouns to denote non-traditional gender identities. I understand the purpose and the reason, but when multiple characters are involved and the narrator says "They left" or "I told them," the reader doesn't know which characters... one or all or some? I very much liked the florid names of the space ships. (You'd think a novel that has a military ship named I Really Don't Have Time For Your Nonsense would have a more imaginative title than Machine, eh?) All in all it's a fine story, with plenty of action, mystery, and sociological observation to satisfy fans of many genres. I won a copy in a Goodreads giveaway... thanks, y'all!
This is a standalone novel, the second set in the "White Space" universe of Bear's Ancestral Nights. There are some recurring characters, but no spoilers.
Dr. Brookllyn Jens is a rescue specialist on SPV I Race to Save the Living, better known by the shipmind's name, Sally. They operate out of Core General, a large, multispecies hospital, and have been dispatched to a site from which a distress signal has been received.
They arrive to find two ships, a centuries-old generation ship, and a current high-speed packet ship, SPV I Bring Tidings From Afar, shipmind name Afar, crewed by methane breathers. The generation ship, Big Rock Candy Mountain, is from Terra, and traveling at relativistic speeds really shouldn't have been able to get this far in the time since it left. Yet here it is. Nor should the packet ship have had any reason to dock with it--and yet here it is.
No one on either ship is responding to hails.
Jens and trauma specialist Paul Tsosie go aboard Big Rock Candy Mountain, and find silence, tinker toy-like bots, a golden-skinned fembot who says her name is Helen Alloy and who appears to be what's left of the shipmind, one dead captain, and the rest of the crew in cryo units.
On I Bring Tidings From Afar, they find the shipmind and his crew alive but, with the resources they have available, unreachable.
Something is very wrong here, and Jens, determined to rescue people and also having had a previous career as a cop, is determined to find out what.
Unfortumately, digging into that leads to alarming discoveries on Sally, and at Core General. Strange incidents of sabotage, a private ward which is apparently giving care not available to most of the Synarche's citizens, and strange malfunctions in the AI doctors and Core General's wheelmind, keep making the situation stranger and more dangerous. And why does there seem to be a connection between Big Rock Candy Mountain, and events on Core General? It makes no sense. It should be impossible.
And as the cryonics specialists (mostly of nonhuman species) start reviving some of the cryonically frozen crew of the generation ship, getting them acclimated also adds to the too many tasks Lyn Jens is trying to accomplish.
As she starts to discover what's at the root of the cascading emergencies, Jens starts to question her dedication to Core General, and her trust and confidence in her friends and colleagues.
It's a good mystery, and a good set of characters, in a setting reminiscent of but different from James White's much-loved Sector General stories.
I received a free electronic galley from the publisher via NetGalley, and am reviewing it voluntarily.
This second book in the White Space series shares a couple of characters with the first book, Ancestral Night, but the protagonist and setting is different. The setting is fascinating, and a character in its own right: Core General, a moon-sized multispecies hospital, and the artificial intelligence called Linden who runs the place. Its administrator--or Administree, as it's referred to--is a sentient tree named Starlight, and several of the important side characters are nonhuman sapients. Almost all of our time in this book is spent here, and there could easily be another book written with this setting and characters. Indeed, I wish there could be, as the minutiae and detail of what would make up a futuristic multispecies hospital interested me to no end.
This is a mystery, and a medical thriller; not a murder mystery (although there are some deaths). The point of the mystery is who is sabotaging the hospital and why? Our protagonist, Brookllyn Jens, is a trauma surgeon and rescue specialist at Core General, sent out with her ambulance (another sentient AI ship intelligence, this one called Sally) to investigate a newly discovered generation ship from centuries past. This ship, the Big Rock Candy Mountain, should not be in this section of space so far from Earth. What Brookllyn and her crew find there will upend her world, and threaten the Synarche, the galaxy-spanning civilization humans are now a part of.
This is a book of ethical dilemmas, and faith, and belief. Specifically, Brookllyn's faith in Core General, where she has worked for years, devoting her life to what she thinks it represents, and how she loses that faith and finds it again. As Brookllyn says when she faces down the artificial intelligence who, unknown to almost everyone, has run a secret, technically not illegal but highly unethical cloning experiment inside the hospital:
The most important thing in the universe is not, it turns out, a single, objective truth. It's not a hospital whose ideals you love, that treats all comers. It's not a lover; it's not a job. It's not friends and teammates.
It's not even a child that rarely writes me back, and to be honest I probably earned that. I could have been there for her. I didn't know how to be there for anybody, though. Not even for me.
The most important thing in the universe, it turns out, is a complex of subjective and individual approximations. Of tries and fails. Of ideals, and things we do to try to get close to those ideals.
It's who we are when nobody is looking.
This book has some action sequences, but for the most part it deals with its mystery, those ethical dilemmas, and its characters. Brookllyn, in particular, is stripped down to the core and has to face some unpleasant truths. Her friendships are shaken, and her assumptions and beliefs about her world are turned inside out. This focus on character might make the book seem slow to some, but the setting and the mystery more than made up for it, for me. I hope there's a sequel someday, as I'd love to see what happens to these characters going forward.
I liked this book a lot. Unlike book one in this universe, I had no trouble understanding what was happening in this story: Rescue specialist Doctor Brookllyn Jens and the rest of her team arrive at a huge generation ship and discover a damaged ship and shipmind with a robot peripheral caring for several thousand cryotubes. There’s also a methane-based ship, attached to the larger generation ship, with comatose inhabitants and a comatose shipmind. With the help of their own ship’s AI, Sally, Llyn and the others manage to arrange for the transport of the tubes back to Core General, a massive hospital administered and staffed by a dizzying array of aliens. And soon after they arrive, the hospital’s AI, an AI doctor, and the massive tree-like alien forming the core of the hospital become gravely infected and ill, resulting in numerous habitat and equipment failures, and deaths.
I really enjoyed the tone of this story, with Jens commenting on the Synarche, the many different types of aliens and their ways of living and interacting with other aliens, and her own life, choices and friendships. Along the way, we get a better picture of the Synarche, and where there are problems in the governing structures, but how, even with the problems and weaknesses, so much is built on respect for others and collaboration. (So different from the autocratic governments and systems of our present world that are failing so many they supposedly serve.) This is a hopeful book, and I’m fascinated by this universe, and would love to return here, should Elizabeth Bear choose to take us back.
Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in return for an honest review .
So no one will ever be able to accuse me of not being completely honest, even with books I got for free to review after this. I feel bad because this is an ARC and so with those I really want to be able to give good to glowing reviews. I do hope the author never sees this review.
But this book is frankly unreadable and I, unfortunately, hated it almost from page one. All of my issues were with the writing itself, which I am really surprised by given that Bear is an award winning author.
First, I'm don't know why Bear chose to keep the language used in this book exactly the same as it is spoken today - right down to the idioms being used - EXCEPT for two words: day and year are now diar and ans. She makes it a big point that the characters would not be able to understand any people they found on this very old ship because the language has changed so much. However, for the reader the only change is those two incredibly distracting fake words that keep popping up.
Second, the book is endlessly repetitive. It is filled with lines like introducing the whole crew of six people and then a few pages later "There were just six of us - [lists 6 names]. The whole crew. Plus..." Why not only say there are only those people twice and then add a plus on to it and then list others who were also there?
Or, "Camphvis responded with the bubbling sound that her species used to indicate derisive laughter - which the senso translated into derisive laughter."
There were also repeated scenes like the MC eating breakfast, going afterwards to talk to someone in another room, an then saying "I went to get [x] for breakfast," like she did not just have breakfast twenty minutes ago. These are just a few examples of something that was constant.
The third & forth points I'm going to write about together because they go hand in hand: world building via info dumps and poor pacing. The main character cannot get through an action as simple as walking from point A of a hallway to point B without info dumping on the reader. For every item of action that happens there is a two+ paragraph of lecture about whatever tangent the MC has been set off on by the action. To give you an idea, its like this: "The MC walked over to the table. This table was made of gloorp wood. [2 paragraphs about the woods on a plant she once wanted to visit, that isn't even where the wood was from]." These constant interruptions to the story (the bones of which are intriguing and interesting) created an overall pace that felt like nothing was happening. At only the 10% mark I deeply wanted the main character to stop talking at me.
Each of these points may seem like minor nitpicks in and of themselves, but together they create a work that is hard pressed to present a single line that doesn't contain some kind of issue. All of this led me to the decision of not finishing the book. I got more than 100 pages in, but I could no longer take it. I know some people will say, "well how can you review it then if you don't know the full story?" And I'll tell you how: all of these problems created a reading environment where I no longer cared about what happened in the story or to anyone involved. You can write the most brilliant story in the history of words and it still won't mean anything to the reader who simply does. not. care.
I came into this second book in the “White Space” series as a clean slate – neither familiar with the author nor having read Ancestral Night (the first book in the series). The blurb alone enticed interest to wait anxiously on-line for one of the first library loan copies with anticipation of becoming a new fan. My excitement was unfounded. Even before the end of first chapter, I was unimpressed by Ms. Bear’s unpolished writing style, her lack of narrative clarity, flimsy way of referring to characters with a single pronoun, a reliance on inner thoughts, and especially not captivated by her Sci Fi imagination. Two things became abundantly clear:
1) I felt clueless and thrust into the setup without enough basic understanding of the world created and its endless terminology. I simply didn’t speak that language and craved more explanations for what things meant. That lack of clarification left me in the dark and fumbling to keep up. Everything was too unfamiliar. As if I was an outsider looking in without the equal footing of her reader fan base. 2) I have never been, and never will be, converted to appreciation of “space opera-styled” Sci Fi.
I’m a huge fan of Sci Fi cinema, and cerebral/sophisticated/intelligent Sci Fi books that create impressive worlds that are smart, insightful, and fully cogent, aside from their entertainment value. Authors like Orson Scott Card, futurist Philip K. Dick, Jerry Pournelle, Larry Niven, Seanan McGuire, etc. You get my drift. This author is like the George Lucas of Sci Fi books – and Star Wars was nothing but an amateurish and derivative compilation of borrowed themes and stories. Sorry, not sorry. Not everyone rates the saga as quintessential. Even he admitted it was trash.
The concept is gripping. The mystery of two disabled ships – one ancient, one modern. A ship’s mind hijacked, possibly by a rogue virus. A recurring distress signal and a mysterious cargo, including a surprising survivor. The mystery of it all gave off apocryphal vibes – that none of it made any logical sense to the characters. Turns out that I didn’t give a slip about Dr. Llyn (a human species descendant), her female colleague, and an archaic AI in a “body” who are collectively caught up in solving the mystery.
That’s where my interest ended. I’m more drawn to Sci Fi that’s profound, thought-provoking, smartly-written, and expands the horizons of my imagination – but NOT like this book. I compare this type of world-building to the Star Wars saga of alien life forms, but without the humor. Non-humanoid aliens ARE NOT my thing. At least ones that cross odd boundaries, like plant-like life forms etc. -- so different from our own -- that always seem unintentionally ridiculous or cartoonish. I just don’t ‘get” that kind of cross-species interaction. And it feels like Ms. Bear threw alot against the wall in this muddled, internalized mystery. The ultimate investment in this space tale wasn’t worth the payoff, which left me feeling “meh” about the ending.
Normally, I wouldn’t judge a book based solely on my own preferences, but the flaws in this one went beyond that and involved execution, sentence structure, and even grammar. An author should be a master of the medium, not a novice. Shame on you Simon & Schuster. Where are your editors and proofreaders, huh? Is grammar dead? No, this will be my first and last Sci Fi read by this author.
I was in the mood for space opera, so this book fit the bill for me!
Doctor Jens is a search and rescue (in space) doctor. Aided by tech, a sentient ship, and a small crew, her group answers distress calls. I liked the world (universe?) in this book - the aliens were very alien - from tiny insectoid creatures, nitrogen breathers, etc. I also liked how people are assisted by sentient AI. However, things start to go wrong after a rescue on a very old ship. Many ships are sent to help with the best of intentions, but things start to go wrong.
I haven't read the first book in this series (yet) but I think other than brief mentions, this story is completely different characters. I know it can be read as a stand alone without any problems.
Thanks to Netgalley for an advanced copy. I enjoyed it!
This is the sequel to *Ancestral Night*, but there will be no spoilers. This is a "takes place in the same universe" kind of sequel, where we get some recurring characters rather than a continuation of the same story.
The bad news is that this book does not feature space cats (though Bear assured me on Twitter that she has plans for further books featuring space cats). The good news is that we get more mantis cop.
This book takes place about 5 ~~years~~ ans after the events of *Ancestral Night*. The main character is Llyn Jens, a trauma doctor at Core General. She and her team have been dispatched aboard the Synarche Medical Vessel *I Race to Seek the Living*, better known as Sally (the name of the shipboard AI). They've picked up a distress call from the centuries-old Terran generation ship *Big Rock Candy Mountain*, launched before humanity got it's collective shit together, discovered FTL, and joined the galactic community at large. When they get there they find a few thousand humans frozen in cryo, a primitive AI suffering from memory loss and doing it's best to care for them, another Synarche ship docked with the *Rock* but the crew and shipboard AI in some kind of stasis, a weird tinker-toy like machine filling many corridors of the ship, assiduously pulling away from Dr. Jens and reforming behind her, and assorted other mysteries.
But those mysteries can wait, because there's a few thousand lives to save. Llyn is a dedicated (if extraordinarily cynical) professional, and the Synarche in general and Core General in particular considers any cost worth it to save sentient lives, so they roll up their sleeves (metaphorically, cause the vacuum of space and all) and get to work.
And naturally the aforementioned mysteries don't wait, and Llyn finds herself wishing that all she had to do was successfully thaw out a few thousand culturally backwards corpsicles and see about getting them integrated into society.
Despite Jens’ cynicism, this is a wonderfully optimistic book. Those who have read *Ancestral Night* will be familiar with the Synarche, a United Federation of Planets-like galactic government where all sentient beings are valued and treated with respect, whether they’re human, giant praying-mantis thing, sentient tree, or any other flavor of life under the many, many suns.
A major part of *Ancestral Night* was “rightminding,” the idea that humanity (and indeed most species) are able to rise above crude evolutionary survival instincts and achieve true civilization through deliberate control of brain chemistry. The ability to literally turn off emotions that aren’t socially helpful is an interesting idea, and a troubling one. It’s not as central an issue here as it was in *Ancestral Night*, but it’s still present.
Overall this was a great read. It started out a bit slow, but really picked up speed around the middle to the point where I stopped being a functional human being for several hours and could only communicate in grunts because I couldn’t put it down. Jens is a wonderful character to spend time with, and her assorted multispecies friends make for great company.
The pun-lover in me particularly appreciates that Starlight, the sentient tree that runs the hospital admin, is referred to by the Terrans aboard Core General as “the administree.” Bravo on that one Bear.
As I said, this was wonderful. I give it a solid 5 stars, though if “Big Rock Candy Mountain” is still stuck in my head in 48 hours I might have to drop it down to 4.
It was a treat for me to read a science fiction book that reminded me of the scifi I had read in the past. Shelves and web pages contain a plethora of fantasy books and while I enjoy reading those also, nothing beats a scifi tale with substance.
“Machine” fits the bill, adding plenty of meat to the pages by digging deep into the culture of a galaxy centuries down the road. Author Elizabeth Bear focuses on the world-building, and we receive plenty of descriptions of life in the future without it sounding like a college lecture. Dr. Brookllyn Jens is our tour guide, allowing us to discover one revelation after another. The aliens (an everyday occurrence in Dr. Jens’ world) are creative and interesting.
Great imagination usually indicates a strong plot, and I wasn’t disappointed. There is a hint of espionage and a huge shroud of mystery. In fact, Ms. Bear has several questions for the reader to ponder all at once, and her deft expertise kept me turning pages long into the night.
Don’t be put off that this is listed as Book 2 of 2. It may be in the same book universe the author is crafting, but it is not necessary to go back and read the other book first. The story in “Machine” stands alone, and this book had me right from page one all the way to the end. Five stars.
My thanks to NetGalley and Gallery Books for a complimentary electronic copy of this book.
We start with a not-quite-BDO but at least a solid "What the Heck Is Going On HERE?" and an excellent rollout of slowly increasing complexity.
Bit of a sag when we hit the "you can't see the private area" and realize that Of Course it's the key to What's Going On, and the author will let us see it when she's damn good and ready.
Lead character is good, supporting cast solid. Some mild snarky humour, just enough to keep the reader relaxed. I liked the hand of challenges that Dr Jens has been dealt, and the way she handled them. Some good discussion of the moral issues, and food for though tafterward about "rightminding."
The ending wasn't great, but quite acceptable, because the complexity of the What's Going On Here didn't really allow for it.
This is certainly an allegorical didactic tale of the times. 4.5, but rounded up for the complexity of the project, not so much for the enjoyment derived from reading the book. It certainly demanded that one look at human failings and our outmoded attitudes and social norms in these times of turmoil and corruption. So, what else is new?
Wow, this was intense. At nearly 500 pages, it's not exactly a short read, but I started it yesterday afternoon and was gripped and unable to put it down for 12 hours, when something approximating good sense prevailed upon me to get some sleep. And here, almost exactly 24 hours after opening it, I've finished inhaling it.
I really, really liked it. It starts strong with some knife-edge anticipation (derelict ancient ship, distress signals, decidedly suspicious circumstances, anyone?) and then maintains a hell of a grip for a long time without pausing for breath.
I loved that Dr. Jens, our main protagonist, was allowed to be both physically disabled and fully, imperfectly human, with some fractured and incomplete emotional pieces and potential for growth.
While it's certainly not a contiguous sequel, it's also not just a novel that happens in the same world as the other White Space novel. Events in Ancestral Night are referred to and we encounter two of its characters again (one of whom, a certain mantis-esque cop, was my favorite character from the first book and so was particularly gratifying to encounter again) though I would have loved more time with them.
Near the end, the pace and tone shifted and things became a little disjointed and harder to follow. In two places, two different sentences contradict one another or suggest an apparent causal paradox that may have been the result of multiple versions of "how things happened" getting spliced together. Less distracting, but still noticeable, is that one character, O'Mara, spends the whole book with one set of pronouns (they/them) and then for one chapter or so becomes he/him, but I read an ARC and hopefully that gets corrected in the final proof.
I thought that overall, the final quarter of the book lacked some of the clarity and drive that kept me so breathlessly riveted for the first three-quarters. There was no shortage of action, but it felt less clean / expertly presented, especially once we delve more thoroughly into the psyche of the protagonist.
I love Bear's language and wry, perfectly-worded observations. Eventually I (mostly) got over wishing I could highlight or copy down every sentence that delighted me --not because they stopped being delightful, but because they're so numerous and I was too caught up in the momentum of the story to consider pausing. However, some of the smugness of future humans (they are as smug about the relative barbarism of the reader's modern day as we are about 16th century modes of thought) and psychological /social observations got a little sermon-y and heavy-handed at times --or maybe just repetetive-- and I say that as someone who agrees with the observations being made. I'm happy to say that even with the occasional moralizing or overly-edifying tone, Machine was not subject to the lengthy wandering musings that bogged down the pace of Ancestral Night and made me wish for a more assertive editor when I was reading that book.
If it sounds like I'm focusing on the detractions, let me be clear that if the astounding crafting / pacing / clarity of the first 3/4 of the book had been sustained all the way to the end, it would have been well-nigh perfect. As it was, I enjoyed it *tremendously* and I was sucked in much more thoroughly and consistently than I was when reading Ancestral Night. If, like me, you really liked parts of that book but weren't sure whether to give the next White Space book a go because of the parts that dragged, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised and find Machine to be a much tighter story. I am grateful to Simon & Schuster for the ARC and my opinions are my own.
This book starts with a space-opera-type rescue of an apparently derelict human ship from a long-ago era, with a disabled current-era non-human courier ship attached to it. The rescuer is an ambulance ship with a multi-species crew. The main character, Llyn Jens, is a human doctor and rescue specialist with a background in Judiciary, which is the Synarche's law enforcement/military arm.
The Synarche, as introduced in the Bear's previous book Ancestral Night, is an interspecies civilization spread widely in our area of the galaxy. It also includes AIs, who have personalities and autonomy (after their required Synarche service to pay off the costs of their manufacture, which is an issue that is likely to resurface if there are more books in this universe). The Synarche is more or less a benign government. Most if not all of its member species do some kind of rightminding, where they use brain implants to control their emotions/impulses to avoid doing harm and maintain peace. Use of rightminding is voluntary; each individual makes their own decisions (e.g., "dial down the anger and pain for now"). They have "foxes," basically implanted computers/AI that store data, translate, communicate, and I think handle the rightminding.
Dr. Jens and company take the possible survivors from the rescue to Core General, their workplace and the flagship hospital of the Synarche. Core General is a tribute to James White's Sector General books, which I also loved.
It's hard to write more without spoilers. There's a major problem that endangers Core General, and Dr. Jens is drafted to do detective work as well as her medical work. The characters, human, various other species, and AI are delighting if sometimes exasperating or scary. The hospital setting is fascinating. The story is suspenseful and absorbing. As in Ancestral Night, issues of ethics are important, and Dr. Jens has to address her own issues and some major disillusionment that I really related to.
I loved this book from the first pages, and totally enjoyed reading it. I hope for more from this universe.
Dr. Brookllyn Jens is an EMT in the Synarche’s ambulance spaceship I Race To Seek the Living. Elizabeth Bear’s soon-to-be-released second space opera novel in her White Space universe, is not a sequel to her 2019 Ancestral Night, but another story in the same universe. It opens on a rescue mission into the newly re-discovered generation ship Big Rock Candy Mountain, launched some centuries ago, before the advent of faster-than-light travel and before humanity entered the galactic civilization known as the Synarche. The ship names are cute, but the plot is more serious than that might indicate. Even so, Bear maintains an element of sarcasm in the thoughts and words of her first-person narrator Jens.
This concept of a galactic hospital and medical service pays obvious homage to James White’s Sector General novels, but I haven’t read those, so will leave others to comment. Less obvious homage is to C. J. Cherryh’s universe, with its diversity of non-human sentience, some species bizarre, and machine intelligences. To this mix, Bear adds rightminding, a systematic and intentional alteration of human (and alien) motivation and behavior.
Rightminding is ostensibly rooted in the principles of Right Thought, Right Action, and Right Speech. In practice, it consists of self-administered drugs/treatments for purposes of emotion control (in Jen’s case, also pain control). At one point, a pre-Synarche human is brought out of cryogenic storage, and he struggles to control his emotions naturally. Jen looks on this as sad and is a little bewildered that he works so hard to repress his feelings. However, to me, it seems that drug-administered emotion control is also repression of feelings. The judgement of when and how to self-medicate is exactly what is impaired in some forms of mental illness. And so, while AI’s are equally persons, they are also given the ability to impose emotion control on those they have responsibility over. Everyone is so balanced, that “hierarchical” forms of governance are also no longer necessary. Democracy is a rough mechanism that has been rendered obsolete by personal homeostasis of all members of society. I can easily imagine this concept played as a dystopia, rather than the utopia Jens views it as.
The plotting grows complex as a viral disruption infects the minds of the organic beings and AIs, and Jens tries to unravel it all, while questioning her own motivation, role, and dependence on her semi-conscious prosthetic exoskeleton. Actions moves from physical realm to virtual and back fluidly. It is a well-crafted space opera, but not hard-sf and not literary. Solid entertainment!
I received an ebook advance reader copy from Saga Press (Simon & Schuster) through netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The book release has been announced for October 6, 2020. I have previously read Ancestral Night, and a few other Elizabeth Bear novels.