Dust by Elizabeth Bear
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I keep hearing Elizabeth Bear in all my regular haunts, I knew she had a lot of writing with nanotech, heavy-sf, and mythology, all of which I'm particularly fond. So why haven't I picked up her works before now?
I'm an idiot. I can't think of a more accurate reason.
So here I am, reading Dust and seeing a serving girl rescue a princess who just got her wings torn off and the lady of the household is preparing for war. All good and fine for a fantasy novel, only they're preparing for war within a generational spaceship that broke down, it's all-encompassing AI gone schizo, and everyone wants to put humpty-dumpty back together again by eating each other's minds until "The One" can become the Captain.
Okay! I was wondering where this was going. Now I know, and I really like it! But wait, the schizo AI is really fragmented and spun out conflicting personas that are called Angels and like to stab each other in the backs. And they're also godlike. And they like to mess around in the destinies of mere bio-and-nano enhanced humans living in this experimental breeding ground. Who's good? Who's bad?
Our serving girl gets an upgrade, and our rescued princess tells her that she's her half-sister. (What? Oh wait, that makes sense after you see how inbred everyone is on a generational spaceship.) Politics plays a big role throughout the novel, but only in the sense of gods playing with mere mortals, fathers using their children as bargaining chips, and the sense that we've all just been sent into a final battle royale.) The sibling's love can get rather complicated, but their regard never wavers, even when the two get pitted on either side of a tug of war between gods. Good conflict there, I suppose, but it didn't quite have the outcome the setup might have warranted.
Am I dissatisfied with the outcome? I'm not sure. Something nags at me about the entire direction of the novel, and it's more of a forest question, not the trees. The trees were just fine. I like the ending. I just wonder if we could have had more directed conflict in the middle or even a few more reversals. The confusion of the main characters was fine, I just wonder if there should have been a bit more tugging from the non-godlike characters.
That being said, I'm excited to read the other two books in the trilogy.
Computronium is people. COMPUTRONIUM IS PEOPLE! I like the development where we've all been turned into breeding farms for smart swarms of nanos in order to retroactively fix the starship. There's a hell of a lot of fun in here once you get beyond the angel's machinations. It's a much smarter fix for the Duracell argument.
Do I recommend? Hell yes if you want a good dose of symbolism and nanos, a-la Zelazny's Lord of Light, but not as powerful.
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