Why I Read It: When I read Dust, I discovered it was a book I liked more and more as I thought back on it. Certainly, it was my favorite Elizabeth Bear book to date, and when I had the opportunity to get my hands on the last book of the trilogy, I decided to go ahead, nab it, and get Chill in the process, because I’m all about reading stories in order. The Mount TBR challenge allowed me to get to Chill rather quickly this year, so I settled in to see how Bear would developed this generation ship story even further.
The premise: ganked from BN.com: Sometimes the greatest sin is survival. The generation ship Jacob’s Ladder has barely survived cataclysms from without and within. Now, riding the shock wave of a nova blast toward an uncertain destiny, the damaged ship — the only world its inhabitants have ever known — remains a war zone. Even as Perceval, the new captain, struggles to come to terms with the traumas of her recent past, the remnants of rebellion aboard the ship still threaten the crew’s survival.
Yet as Perceval’s relatives Tristen and Benedick play a deadly game of cat and mouse in pursuit of a traitor through a vast ship that is renewing itself in strange and dangerous ways, an even more insidious threat is building in a place no one ever thought to look. And this implacable enemy could change the face of the ship forever if a ragtag band of heroes cannot stop it.
Spoilers, yay or nay?: Nay. Some vague spoilers about the actual shape of the plot, but no specifics, no whys or hows or what ends up happening before the book is said and done. But if you’re paranoid, or in a hurry, just skip to “My Rating” and you’ll be fine.
Discussion: In comparison to Dust, which I was thrown into with no preparation at all (Bear likes to do that to her readers, starting them in medias res, and making them work for the story. There’s nothing wrong with that, but you do have to be patient when a book does this to you), starting Chill was something of a breeze. Of course, it’s the second book in a trilogy, and I’d already read the first. That said, I did have a bit of a learning curve, because I read Dust over a year ago, and I’ve read lots of other books since then. I’ve slept since then too, so it’s understandable that I don’t remember everything that happened in the previous book.
The good news is, my memory slowly returned while reading, and Bear gave me enough clues to keep me going.
You’d expect bad news, but there isn’t any in regards to that point. But I will go ahead and say that should I ever re-read this trilogy, I would like to do so back-to-back, because I think I’ll get more out of the story when I’m swimming in the world-building instead of jumping in and out of that proverbial pool.
But there was one thing about this book that did trip me up a bit: we start off with various members of Jacob’s Ladder waking from their acceleration tanks (and they were put there due to the events that wrapped up the previous book). One of the crew members decides to purge Arianrhod, one of the characters who made things so damn difficult in the first book, to make Arianrhod pay for her crimes. Only that goes wrong, and those who are awake have to hunt her down.
What tripped me up was that I thought this was going to be a smaller part of a larger story. I figured a fourth, maybe a third of the way into the book, this would be resolved. Nope! The whole book was about the hunt for Arianrhod, and the discoveries that are made along the way. Discoveries like what their Conn ancestors were really up to and why, discoveries that are a real danger to the ship. Okay, cool. It just surprised me when I realized I was halfway through the book and Arianrhod hadn’t been captured yet. It took me a moment to readjust my thinking, and I carried on.
I’m not saying this is the author’s fault by any means. I really don’t know why I had the expectation I did. But I’m mentioning it here because it was part of my reaction to the book, and that’s what my reviews are for. The information may be worthless to you, but there you have it.
Moving along: in the previous book, we focused more on the ladies: Perceval and Rien. Here, we focus on the men (mostly), two brothers: Tristen and Benedick. The POVs were interesting, especially as each reminisced about family and mistakes made in the past and WHY those particular mistakes were made. Tristen and Benedick are both on the hunt for Arianrhod, and each have their own entourages, and it makes for a rather pleasant back-and-forth between the two different points of view, because we learn more about the world and the family in the process.
One of the more interesting things I noticed was the recurring identity problem: by this, I mean that thanks to their level of technology, a person could wear the body of someone that was familiar to another character (like a son, or a daughter, or a sister, or a lover, or whatever), but not actually be that person. Another soul would be residing there. I noticed this over and over… with Nova, whose body and personality were strongly influenced by Rien, but not quite Rien, though Perceval feared it was the case. Tristen ran into his dead daughter, only with a different soul inside determined to make him pay for his crimes against her. Then there was poor Gavin, who had the opposite problem: he had his own body, but the memories of a long-dead Conn, one who mostly started the mess the characters are left cleaning up at the end. And the list goes on.
But it tickled my interest because characters found themselves reacting to what the person looked like, rather than who the person really was. And there was some distrust involved too. How certain were any of them that memories hadn’t carried over? It was a fascinating bit of world-building, and while I have no grand insights or conclusions about it, it entertains me and sparks the intellect, which is a plus.
I also paid very close attention to the “fantasy” elements of what I now know to be a very SF book. This generation ship is so far removed from our time that their entire world reads like an epic fantasy, partially because of the terminology they’ve adopted. So I paid very close attention to their “angels,” because we all know that right now, angels aren’t my thing. And there was a passage that made me want to stand up and applaud when I read it. In context, it’s Arianrhod referring to the angel Asrafel on page 225:
She had trusted him, loved him, this far. If all were lost now, well — all was lost. She had sacrificed all else on the altar of her angel. If he had deluded her, she might as well die of his love as live without it.
You did not love an angel to be safe, or in the interests of survival, or even because you thought the angel might ever love you back. You did not love an angel because you thought you could tame an angel, change it, make it safe. You loved an angel because to love an angel was to touch something larger than yourself, and because the process of that touch enlarged you as well.
I’m not going to name any names, but novels about angels and girls/women falling in love with them are quite the trend these days, especially in YA. And I just want to say, this is how you describe it. I read most of a book earlier this year that I think may have been trying to say this very thing in the course of nearly 500 pages, but here, in two paragraphs, Bear encapsulates the idea so well and beautifully.
Of course, if a writer disagrees with this notion of what loving an angel is like, then far be it from me to tell them they’re wrong. But if they’re after this idea, then pay heed: Bear can be difficult to read, but she’s talented and she knows how to bring a point home. Again, she says in two paragraphs what other authors try to say in one book.
Moving on, I want to say that the end was a little, well, surprising. It also felt a little bit too easy, but not in a way that made me feel I wasted my time reading. Rather, it made me really curious to see how the events and resolutions in this book play out in the final installment of the trilogy, which makes me glad I have that final installment waiting in the wings.
In closing, and quite randomly: I loved the toolkit. We needed more toolkit.
My Rating: 6 – Worth Reading, with Reservations
I’ll say first: for as challenging a read as it was, I liked Dust better. The sense of discovery was more powerful in that book, and the primary points of view were two sisters, and I always enjoy the female POV when it comes to SF. That being said, Chill is still very good. It may retrace the lines of Dust‘s plot a bit in terms of discovering new things about the generational ship Jacob’s Ladder, and the motivating factor of the main story wasn’t quite as epic for me personally, but it was still very good. The ending was a little out of left field, but I do wonder if it’s because I’m forgetting important details from the first book. I feel like I’d get so much more out of these pages if I read the whole trilogy back-to-back, and Bear’s writing is strong and fascinating enough that I may do that. Looking forward to the trilogy’s conclusion, which I intend to read soon.
Cover Commentary: I do rather love the coloring, and this cover has always caught my eye ever since the book’s release. That said, I’m not in love with the font, because I feel it distracts some from the cover art itself. No matter, it’s definitely an eye-catching cover, and my favorite of the trilogy.