Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Review: Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear

Cover of Ancestral Night
Title: Ancestral Night
Author: Elizabeth Bear
Series: White Space #1
Pages: 512
ISBN: 9781534403000
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Published: 5 March 2019
Genre: Science Fiction / Space Opera
Source: Library loan

Buy it from:
The Book Depository

Haimey Dz thinks she knows what she wants. She thinks she knows who she is. She is wrong.

A routine salvage mission uncovers evidence of a terrible crime and relics of powerful ancient technology. Haimey and her small crew run afoul of pirates at the outer limits of the Milky Way, and find themselves on the run and in possession of universe-changing information.

When authorities prove corrupt, Haimey realizes that she is the only one who can protect her galaxy-spanning civilization from the implications of this ancient technology—and the revolutionaries who want to use it for terror and war. Her quest will take her careening from the event horizon of the supermassive black hole at the galaxy’s core to the infinite, empty spaces at its edge.

To save everything that matters, she will need to uncover the secrets of ancient intelligences lost to time—and her own lost secrets, which she will wish had remained hidden from her forever.

Ancestral Night had me captivated as soon as it mentioned an Alcubierre drive. Bear takes the use of Alcubierre drives, plays around with all the ramifications of their use, and takes that as the starting point to build an absolutely fascinating, thriving universe around. The White Space universe feels lived in, populated by both aliens and humans with their own distinct characteristics and governed by the Synarche, a multi-species governing body, founded on the principle of using resources for the greater good.

I loved the trio of salvagers, well most of them. Haimey has a wicked sense of humour and her interactions with Singer, the spaceship AI, provides for some hilarious snark. The third member, Connla, wasn’t all that interesting. He seemed almost too good to be true and the repeated descriptions of his physique became slightly grating. The introduction of the space pirate Zanya not only drives the conflict but also provides for a fascinating juxtaposition of beliefs. Her societal outlook differs vastly from Haimey’s and she ultimately acts as the catalysts which forces Haimey to confront the trauma of her past and to explore the various transformations she has gone through.

Bear explores the malleability of memory, the impact of trauma and the concept of identity in interesting ways. Some sections focusing on Haimey’s past could have been condensed slightly to prevent repetition and to make it feel less like a detour from the main storyline without compromising on the pacing.

There are moments that left me completely awestruck where I couldn’t quite believe the direction the story takes. Ancestral Night is a riveting space opera, filled with loads of adventure and an entertaining spin on the big dumb object trope. With homages to Iain M. Banks, fantastic use of the science behind Alcubierre drives and an absolutely compelling universe Ancestral Night was the hard sci-fi hit my brain craved. I definitely want to see where Bear takes us next. Highly recommended!

The Rating: 7.5/10 (Very Good)

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