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Occasional Media Consumption: Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear

It entirely escaped my memory that, while on my cruise, I finished Elizabeth Bear's new novel, Ancestral Night, and hadn't managed to review it yet, because I spent so much time gushing about it while on the boat. Like, honestly, for a couple of days it was my opening conversational gambit: "Hi! Have you read Ancestral Night? Yes? Let's talk about it! No? You should read it right now!"

So yes, this is going to be a positive review, in case you hadn't guessed.

As a fan of Star Trek and Ian Banks' Culture novels, I can absolutely see the underpinnings of the Synarche (and the dark mirror of the Freeporters) present in this novel, which I desperately hope is about to become a series. The main characters in the story are two humans, two cats, a giant preying mantis, and an AI and all of them have hidden fracture-points and surprising secrets that are hidden, sometimes even from the person who's hiding them. And like the best parts of ST and Culture stories, the main focus of these stories is not technology, or sociopolitical arguments, or rayguns and FTL (though those things are there to serve the story and they're interesting side-conversations); instead, the main focus of this story is "what is a person" and "how do we take responsibility for both ourselves and for others" in society. And making these sorts of questions take center stage on a literal-galactic scale requires a very deft touch, which Bear clearly demonstrates. She populates her wide world with people, some of whom are human shaped and some of whom are building-sized space-whales and some of whom are plants. And Bear (and the story) never forgets that the central point of telling a story is to make sure there's someone at the center, not just something.

It's a great book. It's a fun romp. It's an interesting murder mystery. It made me cry at least once. And I can't wait for the next one.

Ancestral Night is available wherever books are sold.

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