Elizabeth Bear’s Ancestral Night

Haina, Singer and Connla, plus the cats Mephistopheles and Bushyasta, are the inhabitants  of the boat without a name. Oh, it has a registration number but not a name. Haina considers them a family. Not sure what the cats think the five of them are, and since Bushyasta is named after the Zoroastrian demon of Sloth I’m not sure she’s awake long enough to care.

Haina hails from a clade, an orbital group family of sorts in the Synarche, the sort of overarching interstellar authority at this not clearly stated point in the future. Myriad intelligent species exist and most are members of it, humanity being late-comers. She’s bio-engineered to zero green with such adaptions as hands on four limbs. Connla’s planet bred and raised, survivor of raids by pirates. Singer’s a Ship Mind, a free will of his own, beholden to no one. They’re partners in what’s called officially a salvage tug, but is really an interstellar salvage ship looking for lost vehicles that have gotten adrift in White Space, the faster than light region that makes it possible to get from star to star without spending lifetimes doing so.

And now they’ve found the find of lifetime… or so it seems. This routine salvage mission will instead find brutal evidence of a terrible crime and relics of ancient, almost godlike  technology. Haina and her small crew run afoul of pirates at the outer limits of the Milky Way, and find themselves on the run and in possession of universe-changing information. Information not everyone wants revealed.

Haina and what she thinks of as her family are apparently fed clues that first lead them to the corpse of a slaughtered Ativahika, a vast whale-like sentience. Soon they find the reason for that slaughter, when they encounter a ship whose crew had used the flesh of  that Ativahika to make a drug that’s both rare and highly sought after. The crew came to a much deserved fate.

Now our salvage crew is running from the pirates, who want something very awesome that Haina was infested with at the ship, and which she can’t get rid of. The living Ativahika think that she and her crew are responsible for the slaughter of their fellow. Add in that the a certain female pirate knows that what Haina thinks is her personal history isn’t quite true and things get complicated fast.

I’m not going to say a lot more about this first book as I don’t want to spoil  your experiencing it, other than to say everything’s wonderful here. The settings, all of them, make sense as do, for the most part, the characters. Bear handles her very non-human characters with a degree of creativity rarely scene elsewhere.

I experienced it via the audiobook version, which was narrated perfectly by Nneka Okoye, who brought each character to life by giving then a totally unique voice. It’s interesting that one Amazon reviewer said this audiobook was spoiled by the ‘annoying emo girl’ who narrated this which is fascinating as Haina in part comes across as emo. One of the conventions of this story is that everyone in the Synarche can adjust their emotional balance as needed. Yes, this plays very strongly into the plot. And yes it makes her feel just a bit emo.

I’m very much looking forward to the next novel to see where this crew goes next. It should should a terrific story.

(Audible, 2018)

About Cat Eldridge

I’m the publisher of Green Man Review and Sleeping Hedgehog.

My current novels are listening to Pushing Ice by Alastair Reynolds, and reading Naomi Kritzer’s Catfishing on Cat-net and Anthony Boucher’s Murder in the Morgue My current graphic novel is Spider-Gwen: Most Wanted..

I’m listening to a whole bunch of new Celtic and Nordic new releases but I’ll dip in my music collection for such artists as Blowzabella, Jay Ungar and Molly Mason, and Frifot as the weather goes colder.