I read this book as the January book for the 2011 Women in SF Book Club, being organised by TJ at Dreams and Speculation. I’d not read any novels by Elizabeth Bear before, although I’ve enjoyed a number of her short stories and she’s also one of the contributors to Shadow Unit, which I adore. I didn’t know what to expect from this story, but it wasn’t what I got.
In short: I really enjoyed it, and am totally cut that it’s the first of a trilogy! (I thought I was doing so well with avoiding those.) I enjoyed the characters, and I thought it was a really interesting take on a not-original (which doesn’t mean it’s not interesting) SF trope.
At length, with spoilers:
I didn’t read the blurb before reading the book. The cover gives some indication of angelic types mixed in with technology, which I thought was a fascinating idea, and then the angel comes in right at the start – sans wings. Perceval, the angel and a woman despite the name, is a really fascinating character. She’s conflicted, she’s loyal, she never gives up despite an enormous amount of wearing down and opposition.
There are numerous other characters, but most of them are really only bit parts with one, maaaybe two exceptions: definitely Rien, maybe Jacob Dust. It’s Rien’s point of view that we get most often; starting as a lowly servant, discovering that she’s Perceval’s half-sister and actually of some consequence, and going and having some adventures – she is, I think, more approachable as a character than Perceval, who despite having some flaws and being somewhat tormented is more symbolic, more… a talisman. Rien is earthier, more grounded, and I think more approachable. Dust, on the other hand, is not very likeable or approachable at all; he’s quite a quirky take on the slightly crazed AI which I really enjoyed (I enjoyed the whole idea behind and consequences of the fractured AI, actually).
It took me a while to realise that the setting was a generation ship; right at the start I wasn’t even sure it was set in space, and I was wondering whether this was going to be some planet where the people had reverted to a faux-medieval existence with just a few people still taking advantage of old tech. Which is kinda true, but everyone is aware of the fact that they live on a spaceship, even if they don’t necessarily do anything directed connected with that reality at the moment. It’s a really clever setting: being on such an enormous ship means there’s not the claustrophobia of space travel in a tin can, and there are more options for moving around – and for having two antagonistic parties at each others’ throats but far enough apart that they have to actually work at reaching other. But it also means that vacuum is a genuine threat, which is a problem you never get dirtside… and it means you have the option of moving the whole damn ship, too (hence the trilogy).
I still haven’t quite figured out whether there were more Arthurian links than just Perceval’s name (and she does talk about being a knight errant… oh and there’s also a Tristen), and I somehow missed them. The third book is apparently going to be called Grail, so maybe there are – or maybe they will be more developed over the next two books.
Finally, let me say that I really didn’t expect the conclusion, which is a pretty awesome outcome when I read a book.
We went back to the survivors of the Cylon attack just as the Chief and friends are getting into Ragnar Anchorage, to get the stored munitions… and they find someone there ahead of them. Surprise!
Again, this second half of the mini series reinforced the emotional power and extreme detail that I’d been reminded of in the first half. Roslyn impressed me this time around more than I remember from the first time; she is so self-contained – in public at least – and already we see the cost that she personally pays for making the hard decisions: leave thousands to certain death to ensure that some of them survive. Who would ever want to be responsible for that? But she takes it in her stride and just does it. And her encounter with Commander Adama is wonderful too. That she asks straight out whether he plans on a military coup, and then he seems to ignore her but only a few minutes later is repeating her words and realises she’s right… it really does set their relationship up for the rest of the series.
A couple of other things that struck me in this half: first, the aesthetic. Having recently been made aware of corridors in sf movies/tv, I was hyper aware of them here. Some are claustrophobic, some are large and airy, but on the Galactica at least they’re all – at this stage – very samey. This makes sense, of course, but it contributes to the feeling of being in a maze and being lost – much like the situation they find themselves in. The other thing is that in the beginning, everything was so controlled: it’s organised, and neat, and orderly, and everyone basically knows where they should be and what they’re doing. Over the mini series, things slowly get more chaotic and untidy, and from memory this is something that continues inexorably. It’s a really nice aspect and is indicative of the care given to details in the whole show.
What else? Starbuck being Starbuck – that awesome move to save Apollo really sets the tone for her character, even more than her biff with Tigh (do we ever learn his call sign? I don’t think we do). Baltar began to grate on me already in this section, the self-serving, arrogant, little twit, but I enjoyed Six more than last time: I think Helfer is actually a really good actress, and I’m looking forward to seeing her in her other roles – although that will also be painful. And Adama lying about Earth?? Outrageous, and yet… so noble, in an odd sort of way. The revelation of Earth as the thirteenth colony obviously didn’t do anything for me this time, but last time – what a clever, clever idea.
And there are the cylons. I love, love love the final scene, and the revelation that Boomer is a cylon. I don’t remember how I reacted when I first saw it, but what a gut-tearing discovery. There’s been so much effort to build Boomer up as a character: having to abandon Helo on Caprica, her illicit love affair with Chief, being nice to that annoying kid… and then BAM. Ow my heart. Damn you Larsen et al.
Unstoppable is close to being the perfect action flick, even though it doesn’t have Bruce Willis in it.
- It’s “inspired” by true events, which gives it a slightly more gripping and horrifying feel than your generic action-adventure.
- There are trains going to high speed.
- There are helicopters getting close to trains going at high speed.
- There’s a little bit of family drama: just enough to give the viewer an investment in the main characters, not enough that I started to fall asleep and/or expected Elijah Wood to turn up.
- It has Denzel Washington to make up for the lack of Bruce Willis.
- There are trains going at high speed.
- There’s a mad dude with a pony tail who drives a red pick-up really, really fast.
- There’s conflict between a (black, female) subordinate and a (fat, white, male) superior.
- It’s a rooky/retiree buddy flick, but the conflict between them is neither overplayed to tragic Greek proportions nor downplayed to non-existence.
- It’s less than 100 minutes in duration.
- It knows when to end.
Seriously, I loved this film. It has highs, it has lows, it has comedic and blood-draining-from-the-face moments. Chris Pine is quite good, and Washington is… Washington. I could watch that man even if he was acting as a football coach. (Oh wait, I have. Numerous times.) It’s no Oscar contender, but for excitement and entertainment it’s a winner.