REVIEW: Scardown by Elizabeth Bear

REVIEW SUMMARY: Continues the very good story stared in Hammered and leaves you wanting more.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Former Canadian Special Forces operative Jenny Casey must lead humanity to the stars before Earth suffers from ecological collapse.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Cool use of sf tropes; fast-moving story; well-crafted.

CONS: Took a while to organize storylines; distracting use of French.

BOTTOM LINE: I can’t wait to see what happens next.


The Earth of 2062 is in sad shape, both politically and ecologically. The two main superpowers, Canada and China, are in a race to colonize other planets. (Sorry, the U.S. has lost its position because of bad political maneuvers overseas and the loss of major chunks of real estate that are now undersea) Government experts give the Earth about 100 years before it becomes unlivable. Thankfully, alien technology was left behind on Mars by the so-called Benefactors (even though we have no idea of their intentions) that allow the Canadians and the Chinese to build a few starships to explore the galaxy. But exploring the final frontier is not a cooperative effort; it’s a national race for survival – even if it means starting a war.

Jenny Casey, a Canadian Armed Forces ex-soldier with an artificially constructed body, has been re-enlisted to pilot the starship Montreal. (Hooray for solar sails!) With the help of some friends, including an ex crime lord named Razorface and an Artificial Intelligence who named itself Richard Feynman, Jenny must deal with assassins, corporate corruption, a drug addiction and a love triangle just so she can save the human race. Well, Canadians anyway.

And thus outlines the tense, fast-moving plot of Scardown by Elizabeth Bear, the second in a booksplit-series that started with Hammered and concludes with Worldwired.

Scardown is woven from several interesting plot threads. Jenny’s first-person narrative is the thrust of the story and details how mankind makes the jump into space travel. The sponsoring evil corporation, Unitek, has dubious allegiance as Jenny comes to learn the hard way. Jenny is tough, but-imperfect. Besides her necessary drug habit, she’s involved in a love triangle with Gabe Castaign and Elspeth Dunsany. Elspeth created the Richard Feynman AI that can communicate with all pilots that are infected with nanites that allow them to operate the Benefcator-based starships. Pilots also require the Hammer drug to allow this to happen. Jenny is also training the next generation of pilots including Gabe’s daughter Leah, and Patty, the granddaughter of Jenny’s former commander, Colonel Valens. Valens, it turns out is not the bad guy Jenny thinks he is. (Or is he?) The new nasty is Unitek leader Amanda Holmes.

It may have been because it’s been five months since I read Hammered, but it took a while for me to keep all the storylines straight. But eventually I did and I’ve got to say this story moves at light speed. The troubled future of Scardown is nice and as gritty as the technology is cool; nanotech, faster-than-light travel and AI all play prominently. As in Hammered, I could have done without the use of French dialogue which sometimes went without translation, but the otherwise tight prose makes no apologies; it does not insult the reader by too much handholding. This is good as it forces you to think about what you are reading and make the mental connections that are hinted at before they are revealed in all their plot-twisting glory. I could have done without the love triangle, though. (Gabe seemed at times to be a jerk the way he strings both Casey and Elspeth along. He seems to have a nice family thing going with Jenny, but there is this tension that, while it makes good melodrama, seems a bit artificial.) However, the nail-biting, adrenaline-fueled final scenes are nothing short of pure science fiction heaven.

I can’t wait to see what happens next.