by Elizabeth Bear

Cover image

Series: Jenny Casey #3
Publisher: Bantam
Copyright: December 2005
ISBN: 0-553-58749-8
Format: Mass market
Pages: 398

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This is the concluding book of the Jenny Casey trilogy and is tightly linked to the background and setup of the previous two volumes. You don't want to read it without reading Hammered and Scardown first.

Worldwired opens months after the explosive conclusion of Scardown, but the characters are still in shock at the beginning of the book. Much of the book deals with (attempted) first contact with the aliens who have arrived on the scene, but there are also environmental and political consequences to deal with, and the AIs and human enhancement technology are still both developing. Everyone has been dealt a vicious blow; if Worldwired is about any one subject, it's about picking up the pieces and learning how to live in the new world.

The strongest aspect of the book is again the characters, this time most notably realistic mourning. I've read other books that handle dramatic sorrow well, but Worldwired is particularly notable for its handling of lingering sorrow and grief. Bear conveys this in poignant moments and sharp shocks of memory, entirely without repetitive angst and annoying drama. Bear's characters don't go through dramatic emotion and then pop back up on springs. They hurt, and that provides a weight and depth to the gravitas of the exceptional final scene.

Another point of characterization I particularly liked was the presence of body language. I rarely get strong images of how characters move through space from books, but Bear does this well. Her characters sit, touch, move, hug, and feel their bodies, conveying a strong sense of embodiment (even, amusingly, the AI). This makes the characters feel more real. It also reinforces the problems of the augmented, who have trouble with hypersensitivity and too much physical energy and display those problems in description rather than having them simply stated.

Plot is more of a mixed bag, but Bear does an excellent job of juggling all the threads. There are a lot of things going on (and a lot of viewpoint characters, as in the previous books), and I occasionally forgot pending problems or background plot threads. None of them were dropped, though; Bear always picked them up and wove them back into the story, or otherwise provided some clear closure. Several times, I and the characters had both not been thinking about a thread, and I felt the same surprise they did when it came back, making the story more engrossing.

I think the best part of the plot is the political intrigue and the dramatic confrontations in the United Nations. It's also, frankly, nice to see a political situation that admits more complexity than the US versus the world. Bear's placement of Canada in a precarious position between corporate chew-toy and leading nation-state in a world in which the US has largely collapsed into fundamentalism and isolationism is interesting and challenging, raising complex political questions that I found more satisfying than the normal near-future politics.

The aliens, on the other hand, are a bit more hit-and-miss. It's hard to do a truly new first-contact story. Some of the exploration, accidents, and slow construction of communication didn't hold my interest. I will say this, though: the aliens are quite alien, there are few shortcuts to communication, and they are not simply humans with cosmetic surgery. I like that the exact nature of some of the aliens was left as an unresolved mystery. I was a little less happy that the interaction between the aliens and the nanotech network was never entirely resolved.

This was a satisfying conclusion with the same strengths and weaknesses as the rest of the series. The characters and the conclusion were excellent; the plot was a bit hit or miss, and I thought viewpoint was still a bit too scattered. Still, the whole series is very much recommended for strong character-driven SF told with attention to detail and description and reaching a firm conclusion. I'm looking forward to reading more by Bear.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Reviewed: 2006-07-14

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