Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear – Book Review

There a plethora of space operas and deep physics based sci-fi novels on the market. I have a huge love for these types of novels, I must confess my preferences run to Alastair Reynolds, Peter F. Hamilton, Kevin J. Anderson and Stephen Baxter, but as they do not write new books fast enough I have had to branch out. I have been trying Richard K Morgan, Ann Leckie and now Elizabeth Bear.

Ancestral Night is a well regarded and award winning novel. It is set in the far future where most of the galaxy is within a galactic community called the Synarche. Our hero is a biologically modified spacer called Haimey Dz who with her pilot and an AI is unwittingly dragged in to galactic politics when during a salvage operation she discovers a horrific crime and becomes infected by a precursor race virus which gives her extra powers to perceive gravity and control precursor vessel of immense size and power.

The novel is a little oddly paced, at times it rattles along with some speed and at others it slows to a crawl. Haimey is an interesting and complex character. Using first person narration Elizabeth manages to create a sympathetic character who you want to succeed.

Elizabeth excels when detailing the battle of wits between the hero and the pirate, toying with the psychology of being trapped with an enemy and being forced to understand oneself before dealing with someone else. She is also good at creating believable alien aliens with different motivations and drives. She also has a deft touch with the AI. She creates here a proper character out of the computer program, one who you come to care for and is more nuanced than in many novels.

What she lacks is the ability to fully explain the physics of her world. Travel is predicated on something called White Space, I never felt this was explained well enough or perhaps I was having a thick day.

There are some great touches in the book regarding society and how society treats its members and those who are not members. There are discussions over how people should be punished and dangers of memory and mind manipulation.

Although slow at times the book was enjoyable and I would be willing to read more on Haimey and her crew and explore in greater depth the AIs, Atavikas and the precursor race as it is I will settle for her back catalogue.

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