Haimey is the engineer aboard the Singer, an interstellar salvage vessel named after its shipboard Intelligence. Haimey is genetically modified for zero-G, and she has brain-enhancing implants that connect her to the rest of the crew and chemically manage her emotional state. Haimey, Singer, and their pilot, Connla, discover an enormous wreck on the edge of inhabited space. The Derelict ship contains evidence of atrocities against one of the member races of the Synarche, the republic that governs most of the galaxy. While exploring the vessel, Haimey is infected by an alien presence that leads her and her crewmates to an ancient alien artifact that could change the galaxy. Along the way, a “sexy pirate” named Farweather hunts Haimey down, forces her to live without the support of her friends and reveals disturbing secrets from her past. She presents Haimey with a moral choice between the unrestrained self-interest of pirates and the pharmaceutically maintained altruism of the Synarche.
In her Author’s Note, Elizabeth Bear says she wrote this book because an editor friend was looking for a “big-idea space opera.” This story, though written from the single character perspective of Haimey, has the sprawling galactic setting and epochal time scale we expect from authors like David Brin or Vernor Vinge. Bear also introduces some memorable alien races and interesting details of FTL travel through “whitespace.” Did I already mention there are pirates? Oh, and zero-G cats, too.
The main story arc of alien discovery and galactic treasure hunting provides most of the wonder and carries the load of this novel. I found Haimey’s struggle to understand her past and her own identity less interesting, except as it related to the current external struggle. Perhaps Haimey’s tenuous relationship with her own identity made it difficult for me to get to know her and sympathize with her. On the other hand, I feared that the limitations of a single viewpoint character might be a problem for a novel of this scope, but technology that allows sentient beings to communicate freely and share each other’s experiences helped the author plausibly mitigate this.
Ancestral Night may not be exactly the style of Bear’s other novels, but she delivered on her editor friend’s request. I found this to be an enjoyable read with enough revelations to pull me along. I found the ending a bit predictable, though still satisfying.
Written on 21st May 2019 by Russ Brown.
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