Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Chill by Elizabeth Bear - review

Elizabeth Bear
Jacob's Ladder #2

****** six out of six stars

cover  - See, here's the thing.  These characters are supposed to be very pale - as evidenced on this cover.  But not shown on this cover, is that they are also pretty blue tinged....  however, this IS this representation of a colony of symbiont colonies....a type of nanobyte, if you will, that aids in keeping the bodies fresh, fighting disease and injury - even too much emotions.   Science Fiction - gotta love it.  :)

If you haven't read Dust, then Chill isn't going to make much sense.  It's still doable, but it's better to read Dust first.  The second in a trilogy - Jacob's Ladder trilogy, Chill takes off right where Dust ended.  The aftermath of a great battle...  but you need back ground.  Too  bad you're not going to get a lot of back ground -- you really need to read the book to get the most out that you can. See, I'm not sure I got everything out of the book that I could.  But here's a start...

The generation ship - Jacob's Ladder, has been recently saved from hundreds of years of orbiting a dying star.  Using a dangerous combination of events, the newest captain has managed to begin a journey to find a planet for the inhabitants of this ship to colonize.  this is something that was planned long ago, though the plans to colonize seem to have been delayed.  The original ship dwellers are mostly all gone - there are some who have been around for a few hundred years, but even they don't know all there is to know of the beginnings of the flight; they don't know the complete story to how the ship ended up stranded and orbiting in a dying system for hundreds of years. Unfortunately, though the ship is now traveling, it's also continuing to fail at an even faster rate.

The inhabitants: this is where I believe the SciFi merges with some fantasy elements - whether the author planned this or not, it's how I see it.  There are some strong SciFi elements; bio-engineering, computer programs merging with humans; computer programs turned into artificial intelligence turned into "angels"; elite family members with special gifts such as wings, the ability to sense things and converse telepathically with the AI.  The background of this book is rich with details of all types.

The support staff of the ship are divided according to the systems they work in - here is where I show how much I don't remember terms, so I'll just describe.  The engineering section is one family, the kitchen/life sustenance is another.  there is life support, and the ruling class - the Conn's who are not the nicest people in the world.  And the ship itself - it's vast.  Vast enough to contain seasons, fields and holdings resembling fiefdoms of yesteryear.  I cannot do this book and all the details justice.

So, I skip to the storyline.  In Dust (Jacob's Ladder #1), we meet Perceval, Rien, Mallory, Gavin, Tristen and Benedict - among a few others.  In Chill, Perceval is now Captain of the ship.  Two of the enemy angels have warred - with one clear winner.  Each ship system had its own Angel, and one Angel was ambitious enough to take over and absorb the other angels, trying to effect a change that would save the ship.  Because of this, Perceval's new found love - Rien, is now part of the computer system/angel.  Perceval is angry, and trying to adjust.

And even though the war is "over" it's not really over.  The ship is losing valuable resources almost faster than damaged areas can be fixed.  Tristen (one of the uncles) and Benedict (one of the other uncles) have gone on separate and parallel quests to find out what's going on, and to try to fix the problems.   Unfortunately one of the Aunts - Arianne, seemingly captured, has escaped and has some plan she's been putting into action.   Mallory - a necromancer who looks like a man and a woman, but who claims to be a woman - is helping.  Mallory has the memories of hundreds, if not thousands of previously living people in his ....memory banks.  His sidekick is a metal bird, called Gavin who seems to have the memories of one of the other Aunts.  This aunt was a sorceress - (you see where I get the fantasy along with the SciFi?)

It sounds confusing as hell, but when you're reading it, you just fall into the story, and the details unfold as you read along.  The details as well as the rich surroundings, and the fantastical mix of science and fantasy, computer programs and magic.  It's a hell of a mix, ending in a hell of a story.  

Another merging of factions is the female vs male, hetero vs homo sexual - only it really isn't a versus type of thing, it's more of a mixture.  Sexuality, and even male/female presence is more of an afterthought, or even better - a blending of ideals.  For example, as an exalt (the elite members of the family) one can choose to be sexual or asexual.  Perceval had chosen to be asexual until she fell in love with Rien, and even then though she really wanted to marry this woman, she wasn't concerned with a sex life, more of a merging and spending a life with her loved one.  Mallory - not quite male or female, is with either sex.  It's as if an ideal future for the sexes was being described here - a world where people are allowed to love as they will, with no judgement or spotlight.  The sexual preferences just ... Are.

Good story, with the promise of more with the third of the series - Grail.  I enjoyed the dialogue, the inner thoughts and the lush descriptions of everything from the ship's different sections to the animals and fauna within the ship, and all the different people.  It all combines into one hell of a story.

   Books one and three of 
    Jacob's Ladder trilogy

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