Friday, 23 January 2015

Scardown by Elizabeth Bear


It's interesting reading a series in such short order. I usually try to pace things out more, to let one book sink in fully before barging on to the next. But I'm moderating discussions on this series over three months in an online SF group, so here we are. (Because I'm trying to catch up on some discussions I wasn't moderating, I'm doing the same thing for Octavia Butler's Lilith's Brood series.)  As I mentioned in my review for the first book in this series, though, I had actually read the last book of the trilogy first, in my own sheer perversity. Still, I'll reread and review it next month.

In this case, I think it really worked to go through Hammered and then Scardown in short order. In my first review, I said I thought that the pacing was slightly odd in the first book, in that there isn't really a major denouement. (Or maybe it didn't feel like a major denouement because I already knew it from the third book. Also possible.) I liked what the book was trying to do, but wasn't sure what I'd have made of it had I not known where the books were going. And if that isn't the most convoluted sentence I've written in a while, I'll eat my hat. And I like hats, so I have a lot to choose from.

Scardown definitely does not have the same issue. (I'm hesitant to even call it a problem.) The end of this book has all the shit-hitting-the-fan I could possibly wish for, and at least one moment, even though I knew it was coming, made me cry. Now that's a good sign, when a writer can show me something I knew was going to happen and make it so poignant that even though it's not a surprise, it breaks through any emotional defences I might have.

Jenny Casey continues to be an awesome character, and I love her so much. There was less Elspeth in this book, and that's too bad, because I like her almost as much, and enjoyed her sections in the first book. Jenny has been upgraded to be the pilot of new interstellar ships that are a bitch to steer - they tend to be irresistibly attracted to objects of large mass, like planets, and stars. Your first mistake is likely to be your last.

While the Canadians are getting closer to being the first to get out of the solar system, the Chinese are not far behind, and the national, corporate, and personal tensions rise accordingly. Much of these books, and particularly Scardown, seems to be about the conflict between duty, orders, and responsibility. What if a good order comes from an enemy? A bad order from a friend? When do you make your stand, and how? How do you make such stands effective?

Jenny's commanding officer is a man who has given her every reason to want him dead, but she starts to suspect there may be more going on than she realizes. A young woman revolutionary has similarly good reasons to want Jenny dead, and is definitely working from insufficient information.

Another theme is, I think, about wrecking the house on the way out, or, conversely, tidying up. If we're about to leave the solar system and start new colonies, and the Earth's ecosystem is nearly irrevocably wrecked, what does that justify? And what do you do with those who are willing to wreak more havoc so they win?

I realize I'm being oblique, but this is not a book you want spoiled. Suffice it to say that all these themes are wrapped up in awesome characters, great action, and heartbreak at the end. I'm very glad I've finally read the whole series. And will try not to start at the end next time.

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