The sidebar only knows how to show one book, but this is really a review of the whole Jenny Casey trilogy, starting with Hammered and continuing on through Scardown and Worldwired.
These novels are science fiction, set in the 2060s. The US has become a crime-ridden backwater, driven there by mixing religion and politics. Canada and China are the two remaining superpowers, fighting their own cold war as global warming heats up the planet. There’s a colony on Mars and asteroid mining. Space elevators carry things to and from orbit.
This world felt real.
Jenny Casey is a retired vet in her 50s who’s had half her limbs replaced with prosthetics after severe combat injuries. She’s in pretty bad shape - hurting, bitter and world weary.
Jenny’s the primary point of view character, but we do get to see things through several other people’s eyes as the series goes on. My favorite of these is an AI based on the personality of Dr Richard Feynman. I think Bear did a great job of making me feel like the character was something a bit other than human. The notion of personality threads forking, going their separate ways and then joining again later seems very natural to someone who’s spent almost 20 years working with UNIX.
All in all, Bear does a really good job of writing everything from young teenagers to world-weary veterans. Every time I thought she was going to leave a character as set dressing she pointed her lens at them, zoomed in and showed me their depth. Everybody has their own internal conflicts and motivation. You definitely get the feeling that they’re all the hero in their own stories.
Bear did something interesting that I don’t remember seeing before. Passages seen from Jenny Casey’s POV are written in first person, while everyone else is written as third person. It got me attached to Jenny the way you’d expect from a first person narrative without restricting the whole story to just what happened when she was there.
I say I hadn’t seen this before, but Charlies Stross just did the same thing in Apocalypse Codex (another really good book I should write something about). It’s very effective and I’d like to see it done more often.
There’s a political conflict bringing China and Canada to the brink of war. There’s an evil corporation angling for profit at the expense of anyone who gets in their way. There’s a global cataclysm and an alien threat. Did I mention the love triangle?
There are an insane number of very different plot-lines running through these books, though the overall theme seems to be that everything comes down to individuals making tough choices and the importance of communication.
I absolutely devoured these books, doing the kindle equivalent of chain smoking. The plot didn’t fly along or anything, I just really really wanted to know what happened. I cared about the characters. I was sad when they died and happy when they got their head out of their asses and talked to each other.
These were Elizabeth Bear’s first published novels (all published during 2005) and she got her novel writing career going with a bang.