Ancestral Night 1: Overall impressions

0

What did you think of Ancestral Night overall? Would you read other books by Elizabeth Bear?

Comments

  • 1

    I've previously read Karen Memory and really enjoyed that (a cracking good steampunk adventure romp). I liked this book! She's taken inspiration from the "hopepunk" style of Long Way to a Small Lonely Planet and similar. In this one, we have some decent people trying to do the right thing even though it's difficult, and the setting and people are imperfect but still working on making things better. And there was some decent action/adventure in it too.

  • 0

    I hadn't thought of comparing with Long Way to a Small Lonely Planet but it's a good connection.

  • 1

    Looking at Bear's bibliography, she's got a varied output. She doesn't have a single, hugely successful series to build a career around. Instead, she seems to spend her time writing books in the currently-fashionable style.

  • 1
    edited August 3

    I overall liked Ancestral Night, and though I wasn't 'wowed' by it, there were times I thought it was quite good. The last comment above that Neil made resonates with me, as I kept thinking through the reading that it really seemed to capture the zeitgeist of current SF, which is another way of saying 'it's fashionable'. I've never been one for fashion, sadly. This book is replete with authorial conceits, like those witty observations that seem to be present in all the latest books, gender fluidity, and yes, pointless cuddly cats named after Mephistopholes (and other people/demons the crew of the ship has probably never heard of unless it was via one of Haimey's 19th Century novels).

    Despite these foibles (and they are my foibles, not the book's) I thought it was rather good. I liked the writing (i.e. choice of words and their construction) and I really liked the world building - there seemed to be good depth and interesting ideas. I didn't find the plot all that interesting - or at least I was more interested in the beginning than the end, which means I liked the initial mystery, but not so much how it was resolved I suppose.

    Based on this, I would read another book by the author, but here we come back to Neil's point about being fashionable. Here's the thing about being an Ent: I dread the idea of reading 'fashionable' literature - it makes me think the book will cater to other people's tastes, and therefore not mine.

  • 0

    @Apocryphal said:
    ... Here's the thing about being an Ent: I dread the idea of reading 'fashionable' literature - it makes me think the book will cater to other people's tastes, and therefore not mine.

    I think it was Woody Allen who said something like "I wouldn't want to be in a club that would have people like me in it" - only this time applied to books :)

    But yes, I agree with that. Someone at the local book club here in Grasmere referred to how a lot of modern authors (or editors or publishing houses) seem to have a checklist of must-have's which need to be ticked off by the end of the novel.

    Back with Woody Allen, we do all seem to manage each other in this club which is the relational high-point of my internet life!

  • 0

    I think it's a reflection on the commercial side of genre publishing. There's not much money in any one book, so authors have to keep churning them out, and making sure they sell in large-enough numbers, to pay the bills. Some authors (e.g. Charles Stross) are able to keep writing one thing that the fans lap up, and that's how we get multi-book series and universes. Others (e.g. Bear) look at what's currently selling well and aim at that.

    It's not a problem with Bear. If she didn't do that, she wouldn't make enough money to survive and we'd have no books by this talented author. If you don't like fashions in publishing, I think it's a case of hating the game, not the players.

    Has it got worse recently? I don't know. But I expect the rise of self-publishing and subscription deals like Kindle Unlimited have moved the industry more towards a "pulp" style of economics rather than an "artisanal" style. Volume of production is gaining significance over fewer, more distinctive books.

  • 0
    In odd synchronicity, I read today that Stephen King has been testifying as an expert witness opposed to the proposed merger between Penguin Random House and Simon and Schuster, on the grounds that it would be bad for competition in the industry (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-62402141).

    Certainly those of my author colleagues who have wanted to and managed to get taken on by a publishing house (small ones I mean, not the likes of Penguin) have felt under a lot of pressure a) to produce considerable volume within a challenging time limit, and b) to pitch a series of at least three books in a series rather than just one. That would definitely lean towards the quantity side of things, by the same logic as streaming services aim for series that people binge-watch, rather than one-offs

    And I agree, subscription programmes, plus the whole Audible thing that you can just send a book back if you don't like it, distort the market towards consumerism rather than readership.

    I think self-publishing can go both ways - I've certainly come across SP books which are very pulpy and obviously put out in a rush to get lots in a series quickly. But others who are more artisanal in approach, preferring to write what they want to without being chivied along by the commercial pressures of the moment.
  • 1

    A lot of good ideas that were left undeveloped because of trying to be something for everyone. If I want good ideas undeveloped I'll read Philip K Dick. I think it's a shame to be honest because she can write.

    @NeilNjae I think that it is more due to the vertical integration of production, distribution, and sales, collapse of independent libraries and critical press, etc.

  • 1

    @BarnerCobblewood said:
    A lot of good ideas that were left undeveloped because of trying to be something for everyone. If I want good ideas undeveloped I'll read Philip K Dick. I think it's a shame to be honest because she can write.

    All very true.

    She's written a second novel in the same universe, called Machine. I may pick that one up, especially as it's got a good dose of medical drama included.

  • 1

    I read Machine after finishing Ancestral Night and enjoyed it a lot - there are one or two allusions to the first book but it is in no way a sequel. She goes even more to town on variety of life forms in it, and deals a lot more with the central organisation of the Synarche, in both its good and bad aspects.

  • 1

    I really enjoyed this novel. It was well written, and had good ideas. It was also well researched. As for the current argument, 'artisanal' just means 'of or pertaining to an artisan' or in other words 'hand made' - which, until books actually are entirely written by AIs - means all books are 'artisanal'. It is currently a buzz word and is being marketed as meaning 'of high quality', and it's stupid, so screw that crap. Many musicians and music lovers back in the old days got hung up on a distinction between "Pop" and "Rock" which was equally brainless. Pop is whatever is popular, by definition, What is popular can be the Beatles or it can be Baby Shark. It's not a mark of quality, nor a label of genre, just something a lot of people liked. So I'm not going to worry whether or not something is artisanal. I care if it's got cool characters, and I care if it's interesting, and I care if it's well written. This book hit on all counts. I got caught up in it, and enjoyed the ride.

  • 0
    I can understand a distinction being made between "artisanal" and "mass-produced" products, but even the most prolific author cannot possibly mass-produce new titles! So yes, I agree that all books are artisanal in that sense. There's always been this kind of attempt to grade books - "pulp" being another word that tried to imply poor writing quality and not just a marketing and manufacture process. The current idea of "literary" vs "genre" fiction is another one.
  • 1

    @RichardAbbott said:
    I can understand a distinction being made between "artisanal" and "mass-produced" products, but even the most prolific author cannot possibly mass-produce new titles! So yes, I agree that all books are artisanal in that sense. There's always been this kind of attempt to grade books - "pulp" being another word that tried to imply poor writing quality and not just a marketing and manufacture process. The current idea of "literary" vs "genre" fiction is another one.

    Yes, exactly!

Sign In or Register to comment.