RogerBW's Blog

Grail, Elizabeth Bear 22 September 2022

2011 SF, last of its trilogy. Fifty years after the events of Dust and Chill, the generation ship Jacob's Ladder has finally got to a habitable world. Alas, it's inhabited…

It doesn't feel like fifty years later, though: with all the pressure off, everyone's relationships seem to have been frozen until the reader meets them again. Still, that's not the main point, which is a meeting of two human-descended societies, each alien to the reader and to each other. Who has the real answers? Because if they're going to live together, some answer has to be found…

Alas, this is all interrupted by yet another reappearance of a dead villain, and the sort of shenanigans we got in the last two books. Can't anything ever be resolved? Wasn't it interesting enough without the action scenes? The problem for me is that the limits of this sufficiently advanced technology are never clearly defined, so when someone tries something and someone else attempts to prevent it there's no real tension. Magic has prevailed over other magic, move on.

For me that was tedious. Much more fun was the talky interaction between the ship's personnel, descended from hyperevolutionists but trying to recover from that complex of ideas; and the occupants of the planet, descendants of the human society that the generation ship left behind, societally subject to "rightminding" which removes many of the acquisitive and violent human impulses but does seem also to have some drawbacks. They work out their points of commonality, and their points of disagreement, and we don't know what will happen, whether the inhabitants of Jacob's Ladder will be welcomed, asked to move on, or…?

…or a deus ex machina resolution that sucks away any tension that remains. Oh well. I still enjoyed the book, and the trilogy; I'm glad this final volume wasn't just more of the same; but there are definitely times when it feels like the result of a crude tool being used to delineate what in the artist's head was something much more interesting.

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Previous in series: Chill | Series: Jacob's Ladder

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