Series: White Space #2.
Writer(s): Elizabeth Bear.
Publisher: Gallery / Saga Press.
Release Date: October 20th, 2020.
My Overall Rating: ★★★★☆.
Also in the White Space Series:
Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear.
Once convinced that life is but an eternal mystery enveloping our existence only for us to discover our purpose and its many miracles, some dedicate their entire life to a unique cause, allowing it to surprise them on a daily basis. There might not be any point to question the future, their destiny, or their faith, when stuck in an unending loop of complacency, one where the thrill of every day’s duty is enough to stimulate their mind and get them moving. This was the case for one doctor until she came across a mystery that simply paved the way towards scrutinizing her own perception of the world, of her life, and of herself. Set in the same universe as her previous novel Ancestral Night, author Elizabeth Bear delivers an incredibly immersive stand-alone story that offers an immersive journey through space and cerebral questions about life and faith.
What is Machine about? The story follows Doctor Brookllyn Jens, a space trauma rescue specialist, who works for the multi-species medical center Core General. Onboard the Synarche Medical Vessel I Race To Seek the Living, a shipmind, controlled by an A.I. called Sally, that serves as their ambulance ship, she’s accompanied by five other crew members: Doctor Paul Tsosie, the new pilot Loese, the flight nurse Hhayazh, the flight surgeon Rhym, and the second flight nurse Camphvis. While she loves her job and has been content to live this life that has offered her the chance to save lives, to dedicate her own to a single craft, and to discover the beauty of life and the myriad of life forms that encompasses it, a distress call from a centuries-old Terran ship called Big Rock Candy Mountain will change her life forever. Upon responding to this signal, their team discovers that this artifact is not alone and that a much more contemporary ship equipped with modern technology has somehow found itself entangled with it. As they proceed to investigate these ships, Doctor Jens sets herself upon unraveling a spine-tingling mystery.
“Life is a funny, terrible thing. We laugh at it because the utter banality of its tragedies renders them constant and unremarkable.”
— Elizabeth Bear
Rest assured, this latest novel by author Elizabeth Bear can be read without any prior knowledge of the white space universe in which it is set. It is her brilliant use of the intricate regime structure, politics, law, and culture of this galactic environment that also ends up being the highlights of this immersive and exquisite space opera. With the omnipresence of countless organic and inorganic sentiences that have evolved beyond human restraints, including the ever-growing presence of artificial intelligence amidst alien species, she also builds upon the foundational examination of evolution and life through her first-person narrative, especially through her protagonist’s cynical yet practical approach to her existence and her control over emotions—thanks to the art of rightminding, a neurological manipulation of brain chemistry to control one’s state of mind—through her daily struggle with chronic pain.
Similar to Ancestral Night, author Elizabeth Bear masterfully crafts her protagonist by brilliantly balancing her interaction with her comrades with her own digressions. It is notably through the latter that she winds up spontaneously philosophizing about tangent subject matters, giving the reader a glimpse into the character’s persona, motive, and history. Not only does this help tremendously in connecting with a character by feeling like a friend to her consciousness, but it also allows the reader to better understand the universe in which they bathe. In fact, the authentic and insightful interactions add significant depth to the narrative through exchanges that unveil the chemistry of the team. Add in the thought-provoking hard science that is sophisticatedly infused into the narrative, author Elizabeth Bear simply succeeds to engross the reader in a plausible future by inviting us on a space mystery unlike anything readers have seen before.
Machine is a riveting and captivatingly-written space-opera mystery set in a mesmerizing, lore-rich, and ever-expanding universe.