Thursday, December 24, 2020

Review: Machine by Elizabeth Bear

Cover of Machine by Elizabeth Bear
Title: Machine
Author: Elizabeth Bear
Series: White Space #2
Pages: 496
ISBN: 9781534403017
Publisher: Saga Press
Published: 20 October 2020
Genre: Science Fiction / Space Opera
Source: Review copy from publisher

Meet Doctor Jens.

She hasn’t had a decent cup of coffee in fifteen years. Her workday begins when she jumps out of perfectly good space ships and continues with developing treatments for sick alien species she’s never seen before. She loves her life. Even without the coffee.

But Dr. Jens is about to discover an astonishing mystery: two ships, one ancient and one new, locked in a deadly embrace. The crew is suffering from an unknown ailment and the shipmind is trapped in an inadequate body, much of her memory pared away.

Unfortunately, Dr. Jens can’t resist a mystery and she begins doing some digging. She has no idea that she’s about to discover horrifying and life-changing truths.

When I read Ancestral Night I fell in love with the White Space universe. Elizabeth Bear has managed to create a universe of vast potential, filled with fascinating alien races, ancient relics and endless wonders waiting to be discovered. Ancestral Night was a great introduction and Machine, the second White Space novel, expands the universe further from a rather unconventional angle. Ever wondered what galactic emergency services and medical care would be like? Machine explores that question with a heavy dose of mystery thrown in. ER meets NCIS in space!

“We saved lives. We alleviated suffering, and I’ve lived with enough suffering to know that any time you can take the edge off it, repair it for even one creature, you are creating a net good in the universe. Not because the universe cared. The universe was vast and didn’t even care enough to be called implacable. But because life cared, and life had ethics and morals and obligations to one another.”

Machine follows the exploits of Dr. Brookllyn Jens, a rescue specialist with nerves of steel. Not only does she jump out of spaceships to come to the rescue of others, she does it all while living with chronic pain. And it’s this daily struggle, this integral part of her that makes her such a compelling and complex character.

“The pain still existed. It wasn’t gone. It just didn’t saturate my awareness the way it had before. It was a sensation, not a prison. It’s even in the words, isn’t it? We talk about being hungry, being thirsty, being distracted, being tired. But we are in pain. Pain is a trap. It surrounds us. It’s a cage: a thing we can’t get out of.”

When a rescue mission doesn’t go quite as planned Dr. Jens uncovers hidden secrets that shakes her to her core and shows that even the seemingly idyllic Synarche society harbors injustice. An injustice she has the power to bring to light.

Machine is a captivating read from the very start. It deals with issues of ethics, morality and the social contract in thought-provoking ways and even the concept of a machine takes on a multitude of meanings. While the pacing is uneven at times, there’s a very strong sense of foreboding that compels you to keep reading and even the slower sections just fly by. The story has some unexpected twists and turns culminating in an ending that will leave you breathless.

The cameos by characters from Ancestral Night are a nice touch, but I really loved the fact that Goodlaw Cheeirilaq has such a pivotal role to play. She’s my favourite alien law enforcement officer ever. Who doesn't love a mantoid alien sporting a bolero jacket and badge? Cheeirilaq definitely deserves a novel of her own.

My only criticism is that, given the parties involved, the way the core mystery is exposed felt too convoluted and stretched the bounds of credulity to breaking point. I’m sure there could have been a more elegant, less dangerous way to go about things…

Machine is a very good read that’s well worth checking out! While it can be read as a standalone I suggest you pick up Ancestral Night first to ensure maximum enjoyment.

The Verdict:
ER meets NCIS in space! Elizabeth Bear’s Machine is a riveting return to the White Space universe and offers a truly fascinating look at emergency services in a galactic setting. Bear deftly plays around with the questions of morality and ethics and the main protagonist, Dr. Brookllyn Jens, is one heck of character with some excellent disability representation. Machine is definitely well worth checking out!

The Rating: 7/10 (Very Good)

1 comment:

  1. I've been wanting to get into this one, but there isn't enough TIME. Dang it! I'm glad you could enjoy.