From the author of The Stone in the Skull (2017, etc.), the first of a space opera trilogy featuring gabby pirates, a giant intelligent mantis, and a narcoleptic cat.
The galaxy is governed by the multispecies Synarche, though we’re told little of how it operates. Operating on the economic fringes are engineer Haimey Dz, her partner, pilot Connla Kuruscz, and their spaceship/AI, Singer, who make a living by locating and exploiting space wrecks. Their latest acquisition, horrifyingly, turns out to be the murdered remains of a vast, ancient spacegoing alien. Human pirates have stripped the corpse of its advanced technology, but after investigating, Haimey finds she’s acquired a nonsentient parasite that occupies her skin and confers strange new abilities to sense and manipulate gravity fields and navigate in hyperspace. This, we’ll eventually learn, is part of an elaborate piratical scheme to force Haimey to face the past she’s suppressed and divulge a secret she doesn’t know she knows, resulting in a confrontation between Haimey and sociopathic pirate Zanya Farweather—clearly the intent all along. Their opposing views on just about everything form the centerpiece of an extended debate contrasting immature and irrational human sociopolitical mores with, ultimately, the mature, reasoned forbearance displayed by powerful aliens. Bear, then, offers plenty of big, bold, fascinating ideas in a narrative that culminates in a double showdown with a dazzling array of said thoughtful beings, but to get us there the plot has to wheel through highly improbable convolutions. The main characters—MacGyver-ish Haimey with her angst-y self-censorship, absurdly dull Connla, a chirpy know-it-all AI that natters on about politics—annoy more often than they appeal. The whole package contrasts somewhat unfavorably with Bear’s fantasy works, where the characters realistically inhabit fanciful landscapes and stories grows organically from their interactions with it and each other.
Impressive at the core. Readers who relished the Jacob’s Ladder trilogy will certainly enjoy this one.