April 23, 2023

Review: Descendant Machine

Descendant Machine Descendant Machine by Gareth L. Powell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really liked this author's previous trilogy, the Embers of War series. His second series, Continuance, is not as good. The setting here is a hundred and twenty-five years (seventy-five years for the first book, Stars and Bones ) after a nuclear war stopped by the godlike energy beings Angels of the Benevolence. Humanity is punished for its treatment of the planet by being banished to the Arks of the Continuance, a traveling fleet of megaships that will ramble the galaxy into the forseeable future, as humans will not be allowed to infect a biosphere again.

I didn't care for this backstory too much, and thankfully none of it comes up in this book. This is an entirely new story with new characters, and almost no references to the Angels of the Benevolence. We are dealing with a Big Dumb Object that gets reactivated when it really really shouldn't and a story that spans several billion years, from the end of the universe back to the beginning. Yes, there is time travel, utilizing the FTL method in this universe (the "substrate," which is basically another dimension underlying our own that spawns wormholes and can only be navigated by an organic brain), and universe-shattering stakes.

The new characters include Nicola Mafalda, a navigator who suffers a rather horrifying injury in the prologue; her scout ship, the Frontier Chic, who presents this story in the form of a "report" to the Council of Ships; Kona, Nicola's on-and-off-again alien lover, who requests her help to deal with a rogue faction of his people, the Jzat, who want to activate the Big Dumb Object, the Grand Mechanism; and Orlando Walden, a very young, immature and egotistical Big Dumb Object and substrate expert called in by said Jzat rogue faction to study it.

The author has always been fond of alternating first-person viewpoints and that trend continues here, although Nicola narrates the majority of the chapters. This is a good thing, as she was a nice character to spend one's time with. (Orlando, not so much. He undergoes a sudden character evolution that was pretty unrealistic, and his chapters really should have been rewritten.) This particular book is pretty plot-heavy, and as a result the pacing is ramped up to accommodate. There's not as much of an emphasis on character as the previous trilogy, but what's here is adequate. This series, so far, isn't living up to the standards set by the Ember of War books, but it's a pleasant enough space opera to lose oneself in for a few days (or hours, I suppose, depending on how fast you read).

View all my reviews

No comments: