REVIEW: Worldwired by Elizabeth Bear

REVIEW SUMMARY: While the series does not end on a whimper, the bang is less noisy than before.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Former Canadian Special Forces operative Jenny Casey attempts to establish contact with the mysterious Benefactor aliens while the world engages in a superpower finger-pointing match after the cataclysmic events of Scardown.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: The Benefactor thread evokes a sense of wonder; cool use of nanotech.

CONS: The second part of the book, which focused on the politics thread, was weaker than the rest of the series. Lack of drama.

BOTTOM LINE: Still a good read, but does not quite meet the achievements of the previous installments.


Worldwired concludes the booksplit story that began with Hammered and Scardown.

One year has passed since the catastrophic events of Scardown. The world is an ecological mess and it will take some time for the AI known as Richard Feynman to makes things right. But much of the attention of the world’s superpowers is focused on assigning blame for the events which took place, culminating in a hearing involving Canadian Prime Minister Constance Riel and PanChinese Premier Xiong. Meanwhile former Canadian Special Forces operative Jenny Casey, pilot of the starship Montreal, is trying to establish communication with the ships of the mysterious Benefactors, the aliens whose nanotechnology has been leveraged to create the starships and the worldwire – a self-aware, self-replicating instantiation of the Feynman AI.

The first half of Worldwired concerns itself mainly with the Benefactors and the attempts to communicate with them. In the second half, the focus slightly shifts to the political maneuverings of Riel and Xiong. Thus the first part of the book worked much better as a science fiction story than the political maneuverings of the latter part. The Riel thread, in fact, was a letdown when compared with the rest of the series and made it feel a bit padded – with the definite exception of some intense, dramatic action near the end of the book when all hell breaks loose. And maybe that highlights an issue I had here: there is no clear-cut villain (or other suitable situation) in the story to create a sense of drama in most of the book. There is only the hope that the PanChinese government will be held responsible for their actions.

But there are some interesting themes and issues brought up along the way. For example, can a self-aware artificial intelligence testify in court? Loss also plays heavily into the story as the events of previous year still weight heavily on the characters, and rightfully so. And while we do eventually get to experience a bit of the aliens, many questions about their nature remains unanswered.

Even so, the exploration of the Benefactor ships had the sense of wonder sf fans should expect from a plot like this. Things get even better when mercury-like aliens envelop some scientists, cutting them off from their shipmates. Nanotech is used throughout the story in reasonable and exciting ways, but the star of the tech side has to be the Feynman AI, one of the best characters in the story. His actions become decidedly human making him a likable hero by book’s end.