Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Machine (White Space #2), by Elizabeth Bear

Gallery Books, ISBN 9781534403017, October 2020

This is a standalone novel, the second set in the "White Space" universe of Bear's Ancestral Nights. There are some recurring characters, but no spoilers.

Dr. Brookllyn Jens is a rescue specialist on SPV I Race to Save the Living, better known by the shipmind's name, Sally. They operate out of Core General, a large, multispecies hospital, and have been dispatched to a site from which a distress signal has been received.

They arrive to find two ships, a centuries-old generation ship, and a current high-speed packet ship, SPV I Bring Tidings From Afar, shipmind name Afar,  crewed by methane breathers. The generation ship, Big Rock Candy Mountain, is from Terra, and traveling at relativistic speeds really shouldn't have been able to get this far in the time since it left. Yet here it is. Nor should the packet ship have had any reason to dock with it--and yet here it is.

No one on either ship is responding to hails.

Jens and trauma specialist Paul Tsosie go aboard Big Rock Candy Mountain, and find silence, tinker toy-like bots, a golden-skinned fembot who says her name is Helen Alloy and who appears to be what's left of the shipmind, one dead captain, and the rest of the crew in cryo units. 

On I Bring Tidings From Afar, they find the shipmind and his crew alive but, with the resources they have available, unreachable.

Something is very wrong here, and Jens, determined to rescue people and also having had a previous career as a cop, is determined to find out what.

Unfortumately, digging into that leads to alarming discoveries on Sally, and at Core General. Strange incidents of sabotage, a private ward which is apparently giving care not available to most of the Synarche's citizens, and strange malfunctions in the AI doctors and Core General's wheelmind, keep making the situation stranger and more dangerous. And why does there seem to be a connection between Big Rock Candy Mountain, and events on Core General? It makes no sense. It should be impossible.

And as the cryonics specialists (mostly of nonhuman species) start reviving some of the cryonically frozen crew of the generation ship, getting them acclimated also adds to the too many tasks Lyn Jens is trying to accomplish.

As she starts to discover what's at the root of the cascading emergencies, Jens starts to question her dedication to Core General, and her trust and confidence in her friends and colleagues.

It's a good mystery, and a good set of characters, in a setting reminiscent of but different from James White's much-loved Sector General stories.


I received a free electronic galley from the publisher via NetGalley, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

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