Saturday, December 26, 2015


Elizabeth Bear's Pinion tells the story of people on a shipwrecked generational starship, and their struggles with each other and the starship's fragmented AI to try to escape their own demons (as well as the star system, whose binary star is about to have an explosively destructive event).

The book is permeated with biblical imagery and metaphors, as well as quotes from the "New Evolutionist Bible," which bears a certain thematic resemblance to the New Testament, although its contents and subject matter is different. The various AIs title themselves "Angel of X", as in: Angel of Death, Angel of Life Support Services, Angel of Knives, Angel of Memory, Angel of Electricity, Angel of Communication, Angel of Wires, Angel of Stars, Angel of Voids, Angel of Poison, Angel of Biosystems, Angel of Propulsion, ...

The humans, and their enclosed habitats, are not quite familiar --- they are the result of centuries of advanced bioengineering tinkering, a project whose original goal was to improve en route to the destination, and whose proximate goal has been to self-modify and selectively breed and improve in order to survive stranded in space. The biblical theme continues here, as many humans have wings, or space-hardening adaptations, or perfect memory, or echolocation, or other senses not easily tersely-summarizable.

The book is great, enjoyable, well-written. The characters are interesting, sympathetic without being helpless, smart without being geniuses, weak without needing rescuers, crafty without relying on deus ex machina. They each have limited knowledge, as do the AIs, as do we the readers, and Bear handles these deftly, gradually unfolding a comprehensive picture of what is happening throughout the (enormous, interstellar!) spaceship, as well as throughout the ship's remaining infosphere, and at a social and interpersonal level (and even internal, psychological level) with and between the characters. It is self-aware without being trite, or exploiting dramatic irony, but readily acknowledging the various points of the book that are internally consistent, but nonsensical to the reader, for example (p. 150):
Primogeniture is a stupid way to run a starship.

This post's theme word is ruction, "an insurrection" or "a disorderly quarrel." A starship ruction is no small thing, mere "mutiny" is an insufficient descriptor.

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