Read Dust by Elizabeth Bear Online


On a broken ship orbiting a doomed sun, dwellers have grown complacent with their aging metal world. But when a serving girl frees a captive noblewoman, the old order is about to change.... Ariane, Princess of the House of Rule, was known to be fiercely cold-blooded. But severing an angel’s wings on the battlefield—even after she had surrendered—proved her completely withoOn a broken ship orbiting a doomed sun, dwellers have grown complacent with their aging metal world. But when a serving girl frees a captive noblewoman, the old order is about to change....Ariane, Princess of the House of Rule, was known to be fiercely cold-blooded. But severing an angel’s wings on the battlefield—even after she had surrendered—proved her completely without honor. Captive, the angel Perceval waits for Ariane not only to finish her off—but to devour her very memories and mind. Surely her gruesome death will cause war between the houses—exactly as Ariane desires. But Ariane’s plan may yet be opposed, for Perceval at once recognizes the young servant charged with her care. Rien is the lost child: her sister. Soon they will escape, hoping to stop the impending war and save both their houses. But it is a perilous journey through the crumbling hulk of a dying ship, and they do not pass unnoticed. Because at the hub of their turning world waits Jacob Dust, all that remains of God, following the vapor wisp of the angel. And he knows they will meet very soon....

Title : Dust
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780553591071
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 342 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Dust Reviews

  • Phoenixfalls
    2019-05-18 17:42

    Dust is a difficult book to review. It is a work of glorious genre- and gender-bending. It had moments of hilarity and moments of heartbreak, and way more sensawonder than any book I've read this year (including Zelazny's Lord of Light and M. John Harrison's Light). But the characters were ciphers to me through the first two-thirds, and I'm positive that I didn't get any of the allusions fully. Still, I shall do my best, and talk about the elements that occur to me in order.First, the science fiction. This is a broken-down generation ship novel, and the ship itself is a glorious bit of world-building. It is the world to its inhabitants, but they're under no pretenses that it is also a ship, and they curse accordingly -- Space! is the usual ejaculant, and the Enemy of vaccuum is present in several wonder-and-horror-tinged E.V.A.s. The ship is enormous, and much of it is dead, and what is left alive is incredibly strange, full of both nanotechnology and plain old terrestrial biology run amok. The people who set out in Jacob's Ladder (the ship's name) loved tinkering with genetics (for reasons explained about a third of the way in which I shan't spoil but which have bearing on the next section) so the humans now on board are split into the Exalt -- people whose blood literally runs blue due to their nanotech symbionts -- and the Mean, baseline humans who are forced to serve. The Exalt have clearly played with their genetics, many being winged, or furred, or otherwise altered, but even the Mean are not quite humans like us, as Bear makes it clear early on that there are at least three genders present -- men, women, and kant, the ungendered. (She invents new pronouns for the kant: "hir" and "sie" which function well enough but when first presented look unfortunately like typos.) And there are any number of artificial intelligences running around, greater and lesser ones, some diffuse throughout the ship, others contained in rather unlikely places (like a laser-torc that is also a basilisk, or a nuclear reactor leak).And running through all this SF coolness are biblical and Arthurian and gothic allusions that make the novel look and feel quite a bit more like high fantasy. One of the two protagonists is called Sir Perceval, and she (I did mention the gender-bending, didn't I?) is also a celibate knight on a quest; the Exalt, as mentioned before, are literally blue-blooded and have split what remains of the ship into domaines which they rule through primogeniture; and the A.I.s are referred to as "angels" and all (except one) have taken (or were given? it's unclear) names straight out of the Judeo-Christian tradition.But this is NOT fantasy dressed up as science fiction. It has all the trappings of a quest fantasy because it draws on those sources that quest fantasy evolved from, but these characters chose them consciously. The Exalt created their high-tech Medieval world, and their ancestors built the Biblical A.I.s, and the fact that there are two different sets of referents being used by two classes of individuals (the Exalt and the A.I.s) is totally consistent and meaningful. This is a consciously feudal future, one where terms like "Exalt" and "angel" are thrown around divorced from any sense of reverence or religious connotation (but again, not without a meaning that I don't want to spoil).There are also all the social SF elements -- this is the future, and one of the understated ways Bear makes sure we don't forget that is the way their mores are not our mores. There are the three common genders, and there's a double-gendered individual (I couldn't tell for sure, but I don't *think* that was a common thing; there weren't special pronouns for the single double-gendered person so I'm assuming that that choice isn't common, though it didn't particularly surprise or apall the characters who met him/her/hir); there's sexuality of all stripes presented matter-of-factly, including incest (after all, if there's no worry about inbreeding leading to monsters. . .); there's also cannibalism as a matter of course, because an Exalt who consumes another Exalt gains access to their identity -- memories and personality included. And yet alongside that cannibalism everyone appears to be very casually vegetarian, because humans are wonderful at maintaining two mutually-exclusive world views, and I wouldn't expect that to be any different in the future.Did you notice that this is only a 342-page novel? That's a lot to unpack, and that's one of the reasons I was engaged but not enthralled through the first 200 pages. Bear never hands the reader information -- all this world-building was accomplished without a single info-dump, and without any of the characters having those terribly awkward "As you know, Bob" conversations. But getting all that across and moving the quest along left less time than I would like to get to know the characters. Bear starts the novel at the last possible second (as you should, but as very few authors do, preferring to give their readers a few introductory chapters to make sure they're solidly grounded in the world and the people and the power structure) and that unfortunately means that I didn't have a clue why Rien and Perceval were acting the way they were at first. I had some guesses, and my guesses ended up being right, but it took 200 pages for me to be really comfortable in their skins, to feel like they were acting rather than reacting.Once I was there I was with them body and soul, and the ending kind of floored me, but it took a while.

  • Chris
    2019-05-17 12:34

    Delayed review, at last:I really don’t know what I just read, for two reasons. One, I was confused as all get out. Second, my mind was drifting to things that were more interesting, like the hands of my clock turning around. Nice thing about audiobooks are that when you drift or fall asleep, they continue to play. Eventually I heard “The End” and I could mark the damn thing as complete.There were elements in this book that reminded me of three others. Unfortunately, it was the annoying qualities of those books and not the cool stuff. So cross the spaceship mindfuckery confusion of Revelation Space with the immortal inbred scheming family at war with itself in The Chronicles of Amber and the Angsty Angel Romance dickery of Daughter and Smoke and Bone and you might have an idea at what this was about. Well, you might not but at least you’ll know what sort of groans and headdeskings you’re in for.Bear has decent prose and a good imagination. There were enough interesting bits in this to keep me from one-starring it, and the audio saved it from DNF status. In short, I might try Elizabeth Bear again, but the leash is short.

  • The Shayne-Train
    2019-06-15 16:24

    This was an excellent, sometimes-surrealistic, sometimes-ultra-realistic story of angels and knights and computer avatars trying to save/take over/destroy a huge, almost-decrepit generational starship that has become the 'world' to a human population.This is an extremely hard book to review, I find. There's so much going on. But, as is always the case with Ms. Bear's superb writing, the tapestry it weaves inside your mind is gorgeous, nuanced, and satisfying.I plan to read the other two in the trilogy, but this is the kind of story that begs for a break between installments. My mind needs to digest, and grow hungry again.

  • Shaun Duke
    2019-06-05 15:42

    Last year I reviewed Bear's Carnival and have had my eye on her since. She's one of those few writers who manages to write science fiction that deals with serious issues that doesn't feel so serious to me--and don't get me wrong, I like serious SF, but it's nice when you can get a story that is occupied both by future ideas and societal issues.Dust is an unique novel--not necessarily original, but unique. Unlike Carnival, Dust seamlessly merges fantasy and science fiction, making it the kind of novel that can appeal to both sides of the fence. Dust follows Sir Perceval and Rien, two of many inhabitants who have become complacent with their lives on a massive orbiting spaceship. Time there amongst the ship's internal landscapes has led them to create gods out of the ship's AIs, angels out of nanotech-augmented humans, and servants out of those born normal--the makings of a caste system. When Ariane, a princess of Rule, captures Sir Perceval, cuts off Perceval's wings, and consumes her superior--a process that isn't exactly like it sounds--she sets out to start war with the other Houses and take over the rest of the ship by consuming Jacob Dust, one of the ship's gods. When Rien saves Perceval and together they mount a daring escape through the vacuum of space to another part of the ship, she learns that not only is Ariane a danger to the ship and everyone else, but the star the ship orbits as well. The star is dying, and if unity cannot be restored throughout the ship, everyone on board will die...Dust certainly has an epic feel, as if merging the adventurous feel of Tobias S. Buckell's high-flying Ragamuffin novels, hard science fiction a la Chris Moriarty, and traditional fantasy elements, with Karen Miller coming to mind. But, through all this, Bear's writing style remains relatively unique. This can be good at times and bad at other times. I had some problems getting into the flow of the novel, what you might call the natural rhythm of the writing itself. I can't say this was necessarily bad, though, and probably had more to do with an unfamiliarity with Bear's style--consistent readers of Bear probably won't even notice this. I enjoyed the story, but it was something that I noticed while reading. Perhaps others won't notice it. I would liken it to the experience one might have when switching genre styles, if that makes sense.What really set this work apart from other novels in the SF/F vein is how perfectly it merges the two genres. Arthur C. Clarke's third law is that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, and I think this novel is a good example of that law in action. True, Bear talks about what gives the Exalts their power, and even refers to things like AI and computers, but the people living on this ship treat this world and the strange things in it in the same way we might treat magic. Strange creatures exist in the world as remnants of dead gods and some humans have wings and advanced healing abilities. It is, in a way, a fantasy world that just happens to be on a spaceship.One of the things I like about Elizabeth Bear's work is that she writes stories that are on the outside very much examples of good genre work, but on the inside are stories of forbidden love. Both books I have read from Bear have dealt with same-sex relationships in some capacity and Bear certainly has a handle on these themes. In Dust, Sir Perceval and Rien deal with issues of celibacy--Perceval's choice in order to avoid suitors--and difference--Perceval is an Exalt, one of the super humans and Rien is a Mean, or, to put it simply, one of the normal folks. There is a lot more to their relationship that I won't ruin here, but it adds to the tension as they get to know one another through the course of the book. My only complaint with this relationship is that it didn't feel as developed as in Carnival, though perhaps making a comparison here isn't the correct thing to do.Additionally, folks with an extensive background in medieval literature, or even a passing fancy, may find this story rich in Biblical and medieval references--particularly references to the Garden of Eden. If you don't notice them, don't worry, because it's not necessary to enjoy the story, but it does add a little depth to the characters. The plot itself harks back to some of the medieval romances, journey and all.Overall I liked Dust, though it wasn't perfect. The ending needed something more, although I can't imagine Bear could have written it any differently here. Perhaps there is a sequel that shows what happens next? I enjoyed the action and the world she had created, although I think more time could have been spent on the beginning to give it a firmer hold on the overall story--it felt somewhat rushed, though not badly enough to make me cringe. Fans of Bear's work will likely love this one just as much as everything else, and new readers may find this to be an interesting merging of genres with good themes and sympathetic characters--complex relationships exist here too, though, again, perhaps more time could have been spent developing such things (then again, my nitpicking, if taken to heart, might have resulted in a 600-page monster, rather than the 340-page piece that it is). Ultimately, this could very well be a good "ice breaker" novel for folks who haven't crossed over the line to dig into their sister genre--whether they be fantasy readers or science fiction readers. I think in some respects it might work better for the science fiction side, only because of the use of nanotechnology within Dust. I look forward to digging into something else by Elizabeth Bear. Considering how prolific she is, I have a huge selection to choose from, and so do you. Ha!

  • Louise
    2019-06-07 19:42

    I sped through the last quarter of this book not because I wanted to know what happened, but because the story was trash and I just wanted to get it over with. I guess it says something that I actually finished the book, but I'm not sure what.Dust takes place on a giant multi-generation space ship that's stranded in space. In case you haven't been reading my reviews, don't ever ever go into space. Bad stuff ALWAYS happens in space. And the "bad stuff" in Dust is mostly the storytelling.Heavy-handed religious symbolism? Check! (Self-aware computer programs called angels that are oh yeah, also named after angels)Gratuitous sexualty? Check! (Why do programs have to kiss to transfer data again? If they're all so powerful, shouldn't they have wireless or something that doesn't require physical contact, devouring each other, sex, kissing, or any of this nonsense?)Nonsensical world-building? Check! (I know it's sci-fi and all, but the emphasis in this book is *not* on science)Undeveloped characters? Check! (The characters were so bland, I wasn't even bothered by the rampant incest going on because they were just cardboard cut-outs of real people)I also got annoyed by the author's tone and writing at the end. It seemed like she fell too in love with her own words and couldn't bear to have an editor trim it down.I'm not really sure why I forced myself to finish this. The characters were so mutated, so far from being human that it was hard to care about what happened to them. Even when the big reveal happened, I didn't care. The book reminds me of Neon Genesis Evangelion in the way that it did *not* make sense.

  • aPriL does feral sometimes
    2019-05-30 17:45

    The front cover might give the impression this sophisticated YA book is a religious fantasy, but IMHO the story is pure science fiction.The plot is a mystery and a quest, with a fantasy tone. There is a lot of extremely impressive advanced biotechnology which has reshaped some humans into winged body forms. There are AI's which think of themselves as incorporeal gods/angels, creating their self-image from the ebooks within their computerized libraries. There are animals and insects scampering about, escaped from what were originally planned parks and gardens, now wild and untended, or farms which have become forgotten oases where individuals live, unknown to many of the others except for some of the AI’s.The plot derives from an extremely smart extrapolation of what might happen if a bible-based religious sect of thousands of humans set out into space on a high-tech ship to establish a colony, but the spaceship goes horribly off-course from damage and becomes trapped around a doomed pair of suns ready to supernova at some point. The book reads like a sword fantasy, initially, with some nominative religious imagery, but gradually I realized it was pure science fiction. The characters’ bodies have been genetically manipulated with a lot of nanobot machines in their blood, but the people have generally forgotten why they were traveling in space and remember almost nothing about their religion but for iconic representations. Some of the broken or disconnected sections of the monstrous ship have become Houses for Family groups. The leadership have become incestuous with the necessity of living inside fort-like homes and they marry cousins, sisters, and brothers between Families. (It appeared to me like the kind of society which develops on small islands, when people from a shipwreck were not rescued for many decades, or similar to the medieval ages of Earth, only with the natural social progression that might come from the ability to bioengineer bodies which can be changed into any sexual configuration.) Those who are the surviving children of Alasdair Conn, their last House Rule Commodore after the death of the last Captain, are of the elite Exalt clan, and they are barely human, having been heavily modified with biotech. ‘Means’ are unmodified humans, and the character Rien, whom I adored, belongs to the Means class, an ordinary person. Rien is a young servant in the Lady Ariane’s house in the domain of Rule. She tries to keep out of the way of the noble Ladies and Lords ruling the various Houses, but she finds herself mired in a growing web of murderous plots when the Lady Ariane decides she wants to start a war with the other Houses, and various ‘angels’ (rogue AI programs, spun off into individual consciousnesses when the main God AI was fractured in the catastrophe of the spaceship’s damage). Ariane intends to be the last chief standing by ‘consuming’. Consuming, or devouring enemies, gives the eater all of their memories through their personality programming (it is not described how this happens in the book, but I imagined implanted chips, wafers, integrated circuits being copied and then wiped). Ariana wants to be Captain, and she wants to unite the ship under her command. Although the Engineers and the first Conn had declared the ship/world unrepairable, Ariane is going to fix it. Somebody needs to do something about moving it away from the twin suns which are flaring.Rien is assigned to take care of an unexpected captive, Sir Perceval, a modified girl knight with wings, a ‘demon’. But despite her duties and loyalty to her Lady, Rien falls in love with Perceval (view spoiler)[and, with a reluctant divided heart, decides to help the demon (hide spoiler)].Jacob Dust, one of the angel gods, who really is a programming module of the original ship’s AI, is in a fight for his existence with the other angels, who are also now independent running modules of the original computer. Each angel controls portions of the ship and certain functions which keep the humanoids and the computers alive. He is aware of the House of Rule’s moves, so he begins to plan what alliances he must make with what other Exalts, and temporarily with what other angels, hoping to be the last AI standing when the Exalts have finished their complementary struggle for supremacy. The similarity between the personages onboard ’Jacob’s Ladder’, all under the sway of computerized, but fragmented, images based on stories from ancient earth literature and myths of Earth, are obvious. Everything is in fragments - minds, body and souls of machine and man alike, as is the broken and damaged sections of the ship, the suns, the original goals of the sect, and the Families. All have the motivation of survival, but with fragmentation there is corruption of purpose, ability - and programming. (view spoiler)[There can only be one Exalt Captain, and one AI God . (hide spoiler)]The book is fascinating, exciting and interesting, and I was very curious how it would end. Obviously, some readers will be offended by the, to me, social realism of a small group of related people trapped on a broken ship lost in space for many generations. The author’s projection of how people might live with ultimate atomic engineering power of nanobots in their bodies,(view spoiler)[ and the subsequent ability to copy and wipe human operating system memories and yet continue living flesh in a kind of ‘safe mode’,(hide spoiler)] was truly fun. Since this was Book one in a trilogy, I look forward to where this spectacular universe of people being able to change their sexes and form like we change hairstyles concludes.(view spoiler)[ I am aware of other, older novels with similar themes, but as this is an interesting YA novel and it is fun to read, I don’t care. (hide spoiler)]

  • Bradley
    2019-05-26 18:34

    I keep hearing Elizabeth Bear in all my regular haunts, I knew she had a lot of writing with nanotech, heavy-sf, and mythology, all of which I'm particularly fond. So why haven't I picked up her works before now? I'm an idiot. I can't think of a more accurate reason.So here I am, reading Dust and seeing a serving girl rescue a princess who just got her wings torn off and the lady of the household is preparing for war. All good and fine for a fantasy novel, only they're preparing for war within a generational spaceship that broke down, it's all-encompassing AI gone schizo, and everyone wants to put humpty-dumpty back together again by eating each other's minds until "The One" can become the Captain.Okay! I was wondering where this was going. Now I know, and I really like it! But wait, the schizo AI is really fragmented and spun out conflicting personas that are called Angels and like to stab each other in the backs. And they're also godlike. And they like to mess around in the destinies of mere bio-and-nano enhanced humans living in this experimental breeding ground. Who's good? Who's bad?Our serving girl gets an upgrade, and our rescued princess tells her that she's her half-sister. (What? Oh wait, that makes sense after you see how inbred everyone is on a generational spaceship.) Politics plays a big role throughout the novel, but only in the sense of gods playing with mere mortals, fathers using their children as bargaining chips, and the sense that we've all just been sent into a final battle royale.) The sibling's love can get rather complicated, but their regard never wavers, even when the two get pitted on either side of a tug of war between gods. Good conflict there, I suppose, but it didn't quite have the outcome the setup might have warranted. Am I dissatisfied with the outcome? I'm not sure. Something nags at me about the entire direction of the novel, and it's more of a forest question, not the trees. The trees were just fine. I like the ending. I just wonder if we could have had more directed conflict in the middle or even a few more reversals. The confusion of the main characters was fine, I just wonder if there should have been a bit more tugging from the non-godlike characters.That being said, I'm excited to read the other two books in the trilogy. Spoiler alert! Computronium is people. COMPUTRONIUM IS PEOPLE! I like the development where we've all been turned into breeding farms for smart swarms of nanos in order to retroactively fix the starship. There's a hell of a lot of fun in here once you get beyond the angel's machinations. It's a much smarter fix for the Duracell argument.Do I recommend? Hell yes if you want a good dose of symbolism and nanos, a-la Zelazny's Lord of Light, but not as powerful.

  • Alexis Hall
    2019-06-17 14:31

    This is a sort of sci-fi fantasy mash-up (reminding me, in approach, if not in tone or content of the pulp era before SF and F became such distinct and separate things: it's set on a spaceship but there's lots of the stuff you'd normally associated with high fantasy, like myths, and bloodlines, and politicking. It seems heavily inspired by Medieval romances (chivalry, princesses, etc.) but everything comes back to advanced technology, so the swords are nanotech and the angels are AIs. I think the most notable thing about Dust is that it's diversity-tastic: bristling with asexual lesbians, err non-asexual bisexuals, genderqueer people, and so on. It's refreshing though occasionally feels a bit LOOK AT ME AND MAH DIVERSITY. I'm not a big SF reader so the F trappings helped draw me in (the arc is a pretty typical quest narrative) but I did find it pretty inaccessible in times. I prefer my world-building to be low on exposition but, sheesh, does does err on that side of things. Also because it's basically all about the world, the characters can feel a little distant sometimes.So I guess I admired this more than I enjoyed it. But it was definitely interesting.Maybe I need a 'do not totally regret reading' shelf or sommat.

  • Alex
    2019-05-17 14:44

    This was a really good book and I'm conflicted cause there was a lot of stuff that squicked me out but overall I really enjoyed reading it. If you are going to read it be warned for incest and graphic descriptions of injuries, violence and sickness.Ace rep: One of the MC's was ace. At first I was a little leery because she used the word "celibate" and asexuality and celibacy aren't the same things. But her feelings around asexuality and her orientation did seem to align with asexuality rather than just chosen celibacy. There's also a point where another character suggests that the ace character get 'fixed' and immediately realizes how ignorant that sounds and apologizes, which I liked.

  • StarMan
    2019-06-01 19:21

    You had me at "On a broken ship orbiting a doomed sun..." (back cover blurb)VERDICT: 4 stars. Will definitely consider Books 2 & 3. Have read 'em all (and they are good).BRIEF REVIEW:   DUST is an odd yet satisfying survival/quest tale set in deep space. It features interesting characters (human and other), treachery, heroism, twists, and some quasi-romance. It's certainly one of the most most unusual generation starship SF novels I've read to date. Some readers might say DUST is fantasy-SF, but I say the stranger elements here are firmly based in science (actual or theoretical). Unusual, yes-- but not weird.If you like tales of long starship voyages where things inevitably go horribly wrong:

  • Natalie
    2019-05-21 17:47

    I got about half way through this book before I realized I actually couldn't care less about the characters. I pondered why, because I found the book interesting and it was filled with queerness, which I love in my sci-fi, and the court intrigue was convoluted, as it should be... but as our heroines found themselves in danger I had no sense of urgency. I just felt ho-hum.So, as I finished the last bit of the book I tried to decipher why I felt like that. I finally decided that the book is not visceral enough for me. Everything, even our experience of the characters' own emotions seem filtered through the intellect. The language was formal as well, which served to distance me from Rien, Perceval and the rest.I had been thinking that I wouldn't bother with the rest of the series. I read to live a fantasy life and this book just didn't have an emotional pull, so I was going to move on to something else. The the last 15 pages or so happened. I couldn't even tell you what it was that changed, but I suddenly found myself considering that I might like to know how this turns out. Those last few pages drew me in, felt urgent, and I'd wished there were a few more to read.So I probably will read the second book in the series. I can only hope that Bear relaxes into her character and her world a little more.

  • Richard
    2019-05-24 14:33

    Three stars for the following: - Completing what must have been a very challenging book to write, and - The setting and premise (I love the lost generation ship trope)That's where the praise ends, though. Strike one star for overt, unnatural sexuality. I don't know why science fiction authors apparently believe they cannot produce a good story without sexual situations that reach way past even liberal modern boundaries of acceptability. Likely, it's safer to experiment in one's imagination, a prospect that still makes my stomach heave. My best deduction is that science fiction and fantasy authors, like all authors, know that one law of commerce touches all industries: Sex sells. Strike another star for sadly underdeveloped characters. So much work went into the setting, the situation, the conflict, even the theory behind the science, but so little into the players in the play.. A measure of their shallowness is how easily I even lost track of who was who, particularly in the convoluted family structure of royalty.Anyhow, it's a short review. The story is worth the read for the setting and the resolution, but don't expect awesome.

  • Althea Ann
    2019-06-15 17:31

    First in a planned trilogy called, "Jacob's Ladder," "Dust" introducesus to a decaying generation ship, stuck in orbit around an unstablestar. Originally the project of a religious cult, both the people andthe AIs of the ship have devolved strangely as the years have gone by.Now, a last few bastions of people live feudally, at war with oneanother, and splintered artificial intelligences believe they are godsor angels - and are also in bitter rivalry.In a feudal dungeon, the servant girl Rien is assigned to care for amutilated angel - the warrior Ser Perceval. But Perceval tells Rienthat they are truly sisters, and the two girls set out on a quest toescape and prevent a disastrous war.Meanwhile, the AIs of the ship begin to realize that they must somehow get the derelict running and away from the star, or all will expire in a fiery inferno...

  • Kate Sherrod
    2019-06-05 13:47

    Not since I committed the slight error of letting the Wizard-Knight series be my first Gene Wolfe reads have I been so baffled and yet intrigued by a book as I was as I started Elizabeth Bear's Dust, the first book in her "Jacob's Ladder" series.Superficially, the two works have a fair bit in common: mysterious, half-mythological worlds strange technology that looks like magic/magic that looks like technology, strong theological overtones*, opaque and ambivalent secondary characters, puzzling and multilayered sub-worlds. Ultimately, though Dust is better regarded as a more accessible version of some other Gene Wolfe work, his Long Sun series, which takes place aboard a generational spaceship inside a comet, governed by "gods" that are software copies of the consciousnesses of various rulers from the homeworld's deep and almost forgotten past. But where the Whorl is one complete world through which characters can travel just like they might have on Urth, Jacob's Ladder, the dying generational ship through which our two protagonists move trying to prevent a catastrophic war, is compartmentalized to the point of atomization, with each sub-world either denying the existence of others or hostile to them. Pseudo-feudalism prevails, with the most important class distinction between those whose bodies have been altered and lives extended via colonies of nanomachinery and those who have not.As our story starts, an "Exalt" woman (i.e. a person benefiting from nanomachines) from the "Engine" world, named Sir Perceval (don't ask), has been captured in some kind of skirmish and awaits the pleasure of the petty tyrant of another sub-world, the Rule. By a Dickensian coincidence, the Mean (no nanites) assigned to keep Perceval alive turns out to be Perceval's long-lost sister**, Rien, who brings news that the petty tyrant has designs on taking over the whole of Jacob's Ladder and ruling it the way her distant ancestor, the Captain did long ago when the ship actually moved around. Naturally this ambition is inimical not only to the ways of life of every other population on the ship, but to the ship itself, which is just barely held together through the efforts of weird and mutually hostile fragments of the machine consciousness that once ran and directed the ship on its journey of exploration and colonization before disaster struck centuries ago.Part of the story is told from the perspective of one of these god-fragments, Jacob Dust, who watches events unfold from deep inside the substance of the ship and who is only able indirectly to influence them, through a set of nanomechanical wings he has managed to graft onto Perceval's back to replace those cut off when she was captured. His motives are unclear; his interactions with other fragments intriguing but weirdly directionless, his love for Perceval and Rien infectious. The mystery of what he/it was really up to is what really propelled me through this novel.And I needed some propelling, because once the setting and situation became clear, so did the fact that pretty much every person or entity on board Jacob's Ladder is pretty repellent, with the possible exception of Rien and Perceval, but sometimes even they are hard to take. And not in that fun, love to hate 'em way. These beings are nasty pieces of work, and descended from even nastier pieces of work, and seem kind of naturally inclined to take decisions that are, well, repellent -- even with the excuse that the deeds they contemplate are necessary for their survival.Dust has two sequels so far, Chill and Grail, but I don't see myself hurrying to read them anytime soon. Their blurbs indicate to me that the alienating qualities that made me sort of drag my feet in reading Dust are still very much a part of the greater narrative, and I have too many books on the infinite to-be-read pile as it is, you know?But still -- interesting.*Though I strongly object to the cover blurb "Can a broken angel save a fallen world?" Even combined with the pleasingly H. R. Gigeresque cover art, that's a pretty misleading bit of copy, and one that put me off the book for quite a while; this is not a religious allegory or bible story in genre fiction trappings, after all.**Everybody who is anybody turns out to be related to everybody else in this novel. It thus teems with weird bits of dialogue like "Chief Engineer, I need to talk to your about our brother, and our daughter." Um.

  • Kerry
    2019-05-22 13:24

    I really enjoyed this. I was a bit nervous starting as my experience with Elizabeth Bear has previously left me feeling kind of stupid.I read and loved Blood and Iron and Whiskey and Water, but mostly because of the beauty of the prose. I was left somewhat confused about what had actually gone on plot-wise. For that reason, while I own the other two Promethean Age books (Ink and Steel and Hell and Earth) I've never been quite brave enough to start them. I feel the same way about the Edda's Burden books, but since the first is a selection for the Women of Fantasy 2011 Book Club, I guess I'll be giving it a try this year after all.I was first intrigued by the idea of Dust ages ago, but never actually bought it and started it. So here we are, the first month of the Women of SF 2011 Book Club and Dust is the choice. And finally, I read it.I'm so glad I did. This time, I actually got to feel kind of clever instead of stupid. As the book revealed more and the world and plot developed, I could see the way the myth and society and near-mystical concept of the world had built out its past. And it was very cleverly done. It was almost as if the book existed on two levels, with the kind of bizarre setting of the present day imposed on the fundamental SF concepts underneath. But it is that intertwining and balance that makes the book such a good read (and so fundamentally Bear from what little of her work I've read). It would have been much less of a book if it had only been the SF tale, and I don't think I would necessarily have liked it. But having that underpinning there gave me something to hold on to and to ground the book for me. With the Promethean Age books I felt like I was trying and failing to grasp air. Here, I felt like I had something solid, and strangely beautiful in my hands, twisted into strange, reality-defying shapes.For all the the narration switched regularly between Rien and Perceval (with side steps to other characters, especially Dust), this felt like Rien's book to me. We are introduced to the Exalt and the larger world through her eyes and that too may help provide the more grounded feeling I had with this book. Then we have Perceval's point of view to balance Rien's, and yet we find that in her own way, Perceval knows little more of the world than Rien does. So both young women find they way and we, the readers, find ours with them.The supporting characters were less well developed I felt, but while reading didn't feel that the story was lessened by that. Yet I find I'd like to know more, especially about Tristen. Looking back, I think it is a pity those other characters weren't developed better, but there are two more books for that to happen and I'm pretty sure I'll be reading them. (In fact, when I finish this I'll be off to buy myself an copy of Chill although I don't quite know when I'll have a spare moment to read it.)Mostly, I'm left with a feeling of something wonderous and peculiar and strange, in all the best possible ways. It's a feeling I'd generally expect to find in fantasy rather than science fiction, and this is very definitely a science fiction novel, which makes me feel like I've discovered a special treat.

  • Jamie Collins
    2019-05-20 19:46

    I was disappointed with this - I expected to like Bear's work, but I didn't even finish this book. The prose is fine, but the characters are bland and interchangeable and the world-building is frustratingly shallow. There are some nice concepts, but I felt like there wasn’t much substance to the story. I just couldn't stay engaged with it.The plot summary sounds fascinating: the crew of a multi-generational colony ship parked for repairs after a catastrophe 500 years ago, and now their descendants must attempt an escape in a decrepit ship from an unstable binary star system. The ship is populated with winged engineers, hermaphroditic necromancers and robotic basilisks. The crew has nanotechnology which can repair a human body even after death, and the memories of long-dead engineers have been preserved in fruit to be bestowed upon the eater. The ship’s artificial intelligence has fragmented into separate personalities which are warring for control of the ship. It all sounds really weird and cool, but somehow none of it worked for me.I see that some reviewers are squicked because there’s some incest, but honestly, these people are so genetically modified and nanotechnology enhanced and radiation soaked that I don’t think a little inbreeding is going to have much impact.

  • September
    2019-05-27 15:35

    This book is the first in a trilogy; the remaining two books have not, yet, been published.I was really rather disappointed withDust; it showed such promise.The problem: I think the author was unable to flesh out her definitions of the world, the types of beings, and their relationships to each other. There were/are just too many unanswered questions. There are so many examples, I won' bother you with all of them.A frustrating fact. If I'm remembering correctly, all but 2 of the characters in the book are related to each other, and I don't mean cousins and so on. Incest producing half siblings who longed to commit incest, as well. It was just awkward for the plot line. In the end, the climatic scene fell flat. Why was this particular result the outcome of this action? Nothing made sense. The reader is just supposed to swallow it whole and move on. And then, what happened to the whole other end of the plot line? It just miraculously came together?Sadly, I will not be reading the rest of the trilogy, unless... I become very bored and have very little else to read.

  • Alytha
    2019-06-09 17:50

    Finished Dust by Elizabeth Bear a couple of days ago, and really liked it.A thousand years ago, a sect left Earth in a huge generation ship called the Jacob's Ladder. After about 500 years, something catastrophic happened, disabling the ship's engines. It was parked in orbit around a binary star and patched up as well as possible, but large percentages became uninhabitable. Another 500 years later, the various members of the Conn family feud against each other in several medieval-like holdes. Through genetic manipulation and nanotechnology, they have made themselves all but invincible, and gained wings and other modifications. The capture of the winged Sir Perceval sets events in motion that will change their world, as the fragments of the shattered ship' AI take an interest in her.I really liked this book, the first of the Jacob's Ladder trilogy. The worldbuilding reminded me a lot of the Hyperion books by Dan Simmons, especially the Ouster civilisation. The characters are very well-described and engaging.It's a fast, entertaining read, although it evokes discussions about human nature, and necessary sacrifices. Looking forward to the second volume.8.5/10

  • Mimi
    2019-05-31 14:29

    This is an interesting mix of sci-fi and fantasy. The story takes place on a living space ship, but a lot of magic is used throughout and there is a war going on that has roots in mythology. A lost princess with no memory of her past is found living among servants at an enemy house. The rest of the story is about rescuing her and trying to get off the ship.I really wish I could have liked this book more. Elizabeth Bear's writing style and ideas are interesting, but this book just wasn't for me. Maybe I picked it up at the wrong time and the story didn't grab me because I found myself distracted easily by other books, then having a hard time returning to it. But I'm still interested Bear's writing and will probably try something else by her. Probably the Eternal Sky trilogy, which is a historical fantasy set in a Central Asian influenced realm. All three books have received rave reviews, and I look forward to starting them.More reviews at

  • Jasmine
    2019-06-12 18:20

    Well THAT was a trip and a half.

  • Dana
    2019-06-07 20:39

    (January book for "The Women of Science Fiction" 2011 reading challenge.)The really short version of Dust is that it is a story about the people on a generation ship. Which is, of course, true. But the generation ship has been stuck in “temporary” orbit around this particular star for 500 years after an unknown disaster forced it to find somewhere it could stop for repairs. In that time, the people, and to some degree the ship, have forgotten that the ship is a ship meant to be moving to somewhere else. It has instead become its own world, with its own nations, races, and religions.And while I don’t feel like that’s really revealing too much about the book, since it’s all more or less included in the back matter, it really sort of is. Bear sets the reader down right at the beginning of a burgeoning war, with Rien, a character who has a very limited viewpoint as she has never left the domain of Rule, in which she is a servant. She is assigned to care for a recently vanquished prisoner from the realm of Engine, Perceval, who in turn has her own limited viewpoint. And then we get a vignette from the view of Dust himself, which, while seemingly omniscient, he points out himself is still limited in scope. So the reader must piece together everything, the social dynamics, the form of the “world,” what is actually going on to spur all these political machinations, along with the characters. As it turns out, this is a rather clever metaphor for the overall story itself. Read it and you’ll see.If you’re not a person who enjoys having to struggle along with a limited view that you know is limited, though, this may not be the book for you. If you want to be taken along for a fantastically interesting ride in a sci-fi world that thinks its medieval, try it! The third book of the trilogy comes out tomorrow, so now’s a good time to pick up the series. I’m certain I’ll be reading the rest of it. (At some point. When I don’t have so many things checked out from the library.)

  • Deborah Brannon
    2019-05-29 12:27

    I finished this one last night and, upon sleeping on it and reflecting, have decided that I don't much care for it. The premise is intriguing and full of curiosity: so much so that I do want to see where Elizabeth Bear takes it. I'm just not sure I want to actually read the ensuing books to find out. I may simply wiki it when the time comes.However, I found the writing difficult. Bear's style is very, hmmm... staccato. Abrupt. Ragged. I couldn't get into the flow of the story because the rhythm of the writing kept taking me out of it. There were parts I absolutely enjoyed. There were parts where I had no idea what I was supposed to be imagining or, even, ultimately what action was taking place.This bled over into the dialogue, as well. I found the majority of the dialogue to be fairly painful, riddled with those same abrupt elements, layered over with confusing character subjectivity. Half the time the characters were putting feelings and thoughts onto the other characters that might not have been, and I found that took away from my reading of the characters themselves.Also, most of the secondary characters were a bit flat and static. Only Rien and Perceval (and the angels, Samael and Dust) showed any real dynamism. Unfortunately, I found I had completely misread Rien and Perceval by the end of the book. I had no idea that theirs was a love story. That revelation completely threw me off.So, hm. Love the premise. Love some of the imagery. Don't like the writing style. Want more roundedness in the secondary characters.

  • steven
    2019-06-13 15:31

    The base concept behind the story I really like: a generation ship with the basic societal structure broken down and distributed unevenly from base components. All the technology is there, but it's all been transformed into myths and legend.What ruined it for me is about halfway through, when there was an unnecessary sex scene. OK, fine, I can skip over that, and ... oh, look another one! I can appreciate a finely crafted tale with the occasional sexual dabblings, but the story was already failing to completely grab my interest, and I had to put it down. Now I may never know if the McGuffin got saved, or destroyed, or whatever it was they were trying to do.

  • David
    2019-05-27 19:26

    Another example of fascinating worldbuilding hamstrung by terribly flat characters, uneven pacing and jarring prose. You've got a slowly crumbling world-ship in orbit around a dying star controlled by transhuman feudal 'nobles' descended from original crew, with the ship's computer split into warring AIs. Seriously cool.Unfortunately, most of the characters don't have much of a distinct voice, and there were a number of elements in the conclusion that left me scratching my head. The first book in a series, I'm hooked enough by the ideas to give the author another chance and to at least see where the story goes.

  • Suzanne Rooyen
    2019-06-09 20:25

    A fascinating book that meshes elements of fantasy and science together in a seamless blend that will please readers in both genres, I think.Loved the play on gender, gender roles and stereotypes, but I was even more enthralled by the exploration of a fractured AI consciousness.The book is beautifully written in true Bear style and I look forward to reading the rest of the books in this series.

  • Bree
    2019-06-07 16:45

    This was a very confusing book. This was also a very good book full of surreal, poetic science fiction and exquisitely complex heroines. I didn't know what was going on until the last fifth of the book, but there was something that kept me tethered to the story. Seriously strange stuff. To reference Francesca Lia Block, "love is a dangerous angel." And so is this book.

  • Alice
    2019-06-14 17:46

    Beautiful, very high concept plot and language make this worth checking out, but in terms of coherent narrative and characterization I did find it a bit lacking. but bonus points for being an ambitious, female-lead twist on angels, heraldic lore, and generation ship politics.

  • SubterraneanCatalyst
    2019-05-21 12:49

    Weird. Interesting. Could have been better but wasn't bad. Agreed with other reviewers that character development was lacking. Will read the rest of the series to see the conclusion.

  • Aliette
    2019-06-10 14:43

    Superlative use of Arthurian mythology, generation ships tropes, and sprawling families. Yes, it all sounds a bit weird, but it meshes wonderfully well.

  • Gail
    2019-06-03 18:23

    Strange story, but good. It did take me a while to figure things out. So, this takes place on a generation ship that ran into trouble and stopped in orbit around an unstable binary star system. And it stays there for the next 500 or more years. Nobody is sure. Much of the ship has been damaged and abandoned. Part of the people have nanotechnology enhancing them, and those who don't are the servants. When the ship broke, the AI broke itself into pieces, different parts taking over different functions. The different departments-- engineering and command, in particular-- had different ideas about what to do about their disaster, which has devolved over the years into war. Now, the suns are entering their final phase of life-- which is a violent, explosive destruction-- and the ship needs to leave. And some of the Exalts (the people with the nanotech) are starting the war. One main character is a non-enhanced human who is assigned the job of taking care of a mutilated prisoner, a girl who's had her wings chopped off. And things take off from there. It does take a bit for the action to start, since it takes some time to explain enough of the world to understand what happens. The story felt a bit set at a distance. Almost like a legend or fairy tale. I liked it though. It's a good read.