Ancestral Night 2: Social and political stuff

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Reviewers have had mixed views about the book. Some people feel that Bear spends too much time digressing away from the main story into political and social issues... others that these same passages are exactly what makes the book intriguing. What do you think?

Comments

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    edited August 2

    I think that's accurate. There's some great world-building behind the setting and events in the book, and I'm glad we had some of that explained. On the other hand, more than once I skipped over yet another block of exposition. I think that ideally the exposition should have been worked better into the flow of events, but looking at Bear's output I imagine she didn't have any more time to spend on the book!

    But what "social and political stuff" was there? I picked up:

    • strong adherence to rule of law and respect of rights
    • wide personal freedom / personal autonomy
    • basic supplies like food, water, air, fuel were allocated on the basis of need, not ability to pay (but bureaucracy can be made to run slowly)
    • mostly-equal rights for machine intelligence
    • government by sortition, service for fixed terms
    • criminal penalties are fines, and terms of indenture to the state

    What did I miss?

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    edited August 2

    @NeilNjae said:
    But what "social and political stuff" was there? I picked up:

    • strong adherence to rule of law and respect of rights
    • wide personal freedom / personal autonomy
    • basic supplies like food, water, air, fuel were allocated on the basis of need, not ability to pay (but bureaucracy can be made to run slowly)
    • mostly-equal rights for machine intelligence
    • government by sortition, service for fixed terms
    • criminal penalties are fines, and terms of indenture to the state

    What did I miss?

    Maybe:

    • Diversity of species and consequent customs and expectations, with an effort to recognise unique perspectives where they don't conflict with others - ie they don't [EDIT] eat [/EDIT] each other :)
    • The existence of outside groups (pirates, clades etc) who disagree with the majority viewpoint and aren't necessarily very good at coexisting with it
  • 1

    We both missed rightminding, psychological alteration of people to make them more social. Or, from the perspective of the Synarche, make people sufficiently social that they can get along, without freeloaders or worse.

  • 2

    While I generally don't mind - actually quite like - when an SF book discusses socio-political ideas, I do understand where this comment is coming from and somewhat agree with it. It's not so much that Bear floats these ideas, as it is that the forward momentum of the plot seems to come to a complete stop in the 3rd quarter of the book while Haimey and Farwhether have a battle of ideologies like they are trapped in a snowed-in cabin together. (Here, Haimey might say "Such discussions are great for space travel because they are designed for people with time on their hands. Middlemarch. Gorgeous, but it just goes on and on.") An this is in spite of this being more or less the crux of the novel, where we find out Haimey isn't who she thought (or at least her ancestry isn't what she thought).

    I quite liked some of the social ideas in the book, like the idea that the ship-mind needs to work off its own conception. But I never really got the impression that was much of a hardship, so maybe not fully fleshed out?

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    @Apocryphal said:
    ... the forward momentum of the plot seems to come to a complete stop in the 3rd quarter of the book while Haimey and Farwhether have a battle of ideologies like they are trapped in a snowed-in cabin together. (Here, Haimey might say "Such discussions are great for space travel because they are designed for people with time on their hands. Middlemarch. Gorgeous, but it just goes on and on.") An this is in spite of this being more or less the crux of the novel, where we find out Haimey isn't who she thought (or at least her ancestry isn't what she thought).

    There's a lot about Haimey's reading habits and them being rooted in 19th century literature - is there a sense in which she (Bear, not Haimey) is trying to write a 19th century novel? Though this would go against the idea in another thread that she tries to make her books fashionable with the enthusiasms of the moment?

  • 1

    @RichardAbbott said:

    There's a lot about Haimey's reading habits and them being rooted in 19th century literature - is there a sense in which she (Bear, not Haimey) is trying to write a 19th century novel? Though this would go against the idea in another thread that she tries to make her books fashionable with the enthusiasms of the moment?

    I think Bear likes 19C novels, and has enough love of good literature to want to draw on them. Perhaps that was a goal she set herself in writing? And just because she's taking care to ensure the book is commercially successful, it still needs some artistic merit in its own right.

  • 1

    There wasn't a question about theme, but the title was Ancestral Night, there was much talk of atavism, and Haimey's clade was central to the plot. Was there anything else? Did people feel the theme was developed enough?

  • 0

    I think you're right - the plotline was not the main focus of the book, but rather the two experiences 1) of lifeforms in general living in that particular universe and 2) Haimey in particular coming to terms with the big shifts in her internal world.

    I'm in the middle of listening to The Handmaid's Tale and it has struck me how there's very little "storyline" in a conventional sense in that book - it's far more focused on the experience of one woman living in that society, rather than a tale that has a beginning middle and end

  • 1

    You could easily read Haimey's final transformation as being an allegory for trans "awakening": she consciously decided the person she would be, going beyond the social role she was groomed for (by her clade and then by the court). But wider than that, it's something about becoming an adult, outgrowing the role you were given and finding your true self. Even if we don't have rightminding, or change gender, we choose whom to associate with and what values we support.

    For me, that's the theme: do we choose to be good neighbours, friend, allies; and how do we change ourselves to allow that? What restrictions do we accept on our own behaviour to support and encourage others? How do we live as "adults" rather than atavistic "children"?

    Does that mean that Haimey's clade are regarded as children? Their reaction to difference is to smother them or pretend they don't exist, rather than accepting people are different and finding ways to live with them.

  • 1

    I have to agree with @Apocryphal that the political discussions with Farweather were hard to take. And I also thought there was just too much repetition in general - the book could have been 200 pages shorter without cutting any actual content (ok an exaggeration, but a lot of the internal expositition didn't drive anything forward). And the discussions of say rightminding, which would have been interesting to me, were trivial.

    I thought a lot of this is due to pretty much exclusive 1st person narrator. I found the socio-political discussions were about horrible things and events, but a horror without any feeling to motivate action, only exposition. For me the text showed a Haney who only knows what Haney is supposed to feel, but doesn't feel it resonate. Lack of affect is a sign of socio-psychopathy, so Haney should be an unreliable narrator, but I think the reader was supposed to be thrilled that Haney didn't want to be an unreliable narrator. For me this was not enough of a conflict to keep my interest.

  • 1

    That's a good observation. Haimey did experience first-hand the effects of maladjusted people, with the bombing. But she didn't know about it when she was having those discussions. Would the book have been better if she'd had those revelations earlier? Pehaps Farweather could have disabled her fox, Haimey had the memories resurface, then still insist that the Synarche's approach was still the best.

  • 0

    @BarnerCobblewood said:
    ...For me the text showed a Haney who only knows what Haney is supposed to feel, but doesn't feel it resonate. Lack of affect is a sign of socio-psychopathy, so Haney should be an unreliable narrator, but I think the reader was supposed to be thrilled that Haney didn't want to be an unreliable narrator. For me this was not enough of a conflict to keep my interest.

    Is it possible that Bear was writing in a kind of mimetic style - the writing (being 1st person narration) is subdued because it is mirroring Haimey's emotional perspective, which itself has been flattened a) by the rightminding she does to herself and b) because of the medical / psychotherapeutic manipulation carried out on her by the Synarche?

  • 1

    @NeilNjae I found the whole section of Hainey and Farweather a chore to read. Too much emphasis on theory, not enough on fiction. @RichardAbbott Quite possible I suppose. I got a bit frustrated by the book because I do think Bear can write, and so the style is a choice rather than a limitation, it's just a choice that didn't suit me.

  • 1

    I enjoyed those discussions. It's an interesting society and there are some fascinating digressions. Then, I prefer Herodotus to Thucydites. I enjoyed thinking on these questions, and such questions form the basis for my own gaming. So it took me a bit longer because I liked the stuff you guys were bored by.

  • 0

    @clash_bowley said:
    I enjoyed those discussions. It's an interesting society and there are some fascinating digressions. Then, I prefer Herodotus to Thucydites. I enjoyed thinking on these questions, and such questions form the basis for my own gaming. So it took me a bit longer because I liked the stuff you guys were bored by.

    For the record, I also liked them, but it's clear that lots of readers and reviewers didn't :)

  • 1

    @RichardAbbott said:

    @clash_bowley said:
    I enjoyed those discussions. It's an interesting society and there are some fascinating digressions. Then, I prefer Herodotus to Thucydites. I enjoyed thinking on these questions, and such questions form the basis for my own gaming. So it took me a bit longer because I liked the stuff you guys were bored by.

    For the record, I also liked them, but it's clear that lots of readers and reviewers didn't :)

    That I can't dispute! What one likes is purely subjective. Because I like these digressions doesn't mean they are a good thing! :D

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