Review: Chill by Elizabeth Bear

Rating:

Chill by Elizabeth Bear
2010, Bantam Spectra

Review Summary: In Chill, Bear is unearthing a different story than I was anticipating, placing the expected main protagonist into a kind of secondary role and promoting members of the supporting cast from the previous novel, Dust, into more primary figures, as the story sidetracks from the ship’s regained momentum to delve into a somewhat bizarre and twisted set of revelations, historical notes and acts of vengeance.

Full Review:

In Chill, Bear is unearthing a different story than I was anticipating, placing the expected main protagonist into a kind of secondary role and promoting members of the supporting cast from the previous novel, Dust, into more primary figures, as the story sidetracks from the ship’s regained momentum to delve into a somewhat bizarre and twisted set of revelations, historical notes and acts of vengeance.

The ship Jacob’s Ladder, as a world and a history, obviously has innumerable potential characters to discover, create, or resurrect. While I appreciate the opportunity to learn more about the characters of Tristen and Benedick, and to flesh them out more as people, I am struggling with some of the other character introductions the author has chosen to make in this novel. It is apparent that the author wishes to tell the story of this generation ship as a gestalt of several characters’ stories, motivations, and beliefs, while at the same time keeping the action moving, but it occasionally seems as though the story is in danger of faltering in trying keeping the two wishes in balance.

Again, the overall plotting remains similar to that seen in Dust – a race with the bad guys through the different habitats of the ship, encountering, overcoming, and/or partnering with various people encountered along the way while a virus (nano-virus rather than biological, this time) sweeps through the world.

The author’s themes are firmer this time around, without being heavy-handed. Tristen and Benedick spend a good amount of internal dialogue musing on the time, effort, and losses they had both wasted in blind and/or apathetic obedience to their mad, tyrannical father, their break from his tenets, and the cold-blooded non-chalance they have learned to live by from growing up under his rule. The effect is akin, one imagines, to the worst of any imagined royal family, with the constant jockeying for power – or simply the right to stay alive and independent – amid jealous, cold-blooded relatives. Their resulting attitudes seem to be a sort of pragmatically benevolent social Darwinisim, and it will be interesting to see how those attitudes continue to advise and drive the actions of the current command crew as the story progresses.

01/23/11 CSL

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