Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Book Report: Dust, by Elizabeth Bear

I had some difficulty with this at the beginning, and it was entirely due to an orientation issue. The back promised a story of a generation ship in jeopardy, but the opening read more like a medieval fantasy complete with swords. It's the story of a servant girl who rescues a princess from captivity and tries to help her return home.

But that's not all it is.

The story does indeed take place on a generation ship, the Jacob's Ladder, marooned by some ancient accident in orbit around a black hole/red giant binary system about to go nova. The engines have been damaged and the ship's artificial intelligence splintered into a dozen different personalities ("Angels"), each vying to be the one to control that intelligence's eventual reintegration. "Magic" is the result of advanced nanotech which enables some fantastic capabilities in those who possess it. "Monsters" are evolved plants and animals or machines modified by AI and nanotech. The whole is presided over by the warring kingdoms of Rule and Engine, removed from their origins as Command and Engineering by hundreds of years.

The story is fascinating, and what seems a straight-forward "rescue the princess" fantasy twists itself into a story about love, loss, heroism and family in which the fate of the "world" really does lie in the balance.

Bear writes some beautiful passages, and mixes SF and Fantasy in a way that manages to remain loyal to both without devolving into "Star Wars" style melodrama. My only complaint here was that I had difficulty understanding the setting.

Ulysses Rating: 3 - I enjoyed this.

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