‘Dust’ a.k.a ‘Pinion’ – Jacob’s Ladder #1 by Elizabeth Bear

This is an original and engrossing version of a ‘generation’ colony ship gone wrong. I liked that Elizabeth Bear didn’t slow down and didn’t infodump. She presented me with two strong but vulnerable characters under threat, added a constant stream of action that kept me turning the pages and gave me all the threads I needed to weave my own understanding of this strange world.

The story is enabled by technology so advanced that it sometimes feels like magic but it isn’t, it’s just broken machine intelligence that has healed twisted, combined with a nanotech-engineered human evolution, tainted by the religious aspirations of the founders of the colony ship and soured by unintended generations spent aboard a stranded ship. It seemed to me that the thinking behind the evolution of the machine intelligence and the nanotech-infested humans was original and rigorous.

The storytelling style contrasts with the hardcore Science Fiction contents. The story is told through the eyes of two young women, estranged sisters brought together when one of them is maimed by the leader of the household in which the other has been raised as a hostage and it is as much a story about the love and loyalty that grows between them as it is about a ship in space. The story is structured as a quest. The two sisters travel through the ship, encountering enemies and allies (although it’s hard to know who is which) and working towards a journeying towards a common goal. The result is that, while ‘Dust’ is a generation colony ship story that I’d normally think of as space opera, the experience of reading the book is much more like reading a sword and sorcery fantasy.

For me, this unusual tension between style and content worked well. It felt fresh and it kept me thinking about what was going on.

For most of the book, I was eagerly turning the pages to see what would happen next but the final few chapters didn’t feel as intense to me. The ending was a mix of challenging concepts, intense action and emotionally charged decisions. It worked but I had to work at it.

Even so, I’m looking forward to reading ‘Chill’ the next book in the series.

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