Machine by Elizabeth Bear

Title: Machine.
SeriesWhite Space #2.
Writer(s)Elizabeth Bear.
Publisher: Gallery / Saga Press.
Format: Hardcover.
Release Date: October 20th, 2020.
Pages: 496.
Genre(s): Science-Fiction.
ISBN13:  9781534403017.
My Overall Rating: ★★★★☆.

Also in the White Space Series:
Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear.


Once convinced that life is but an eternal mystery enveloping our existence only for us to discover our purpose and its many miracles, some dedicate their entire life to a unique cause, allowing it to surprise them on a daily basis. There might not be any point to question the future, their destiny, or their faith, when stuck in an unending loop of complacency, one where the thrill of every day’s duty is enough to stimulate their mind and get them moving. This was the case for one doctor until she came across a mystery that simply paved the way towards scrutinizing her own perception of the world, of her life, and of herself. Set in the same universe as her previous novel Ancestral Night, author Elizabeth Bear delivers an incredibly immersive stand-alone story that offers an immersive journey through space and cerebral questions about life and faith.

What is Machine about? The story follows Doctor Brookllyn Jens, a space trauma rescue specialist, who works for the multi-species medical center Core General. Onboard the Synarche Medical Vessel I Race To Seek the Living, a shipmind, controlled by an A.I. called Sally, that serves as their ambulance ship, she’s accompanied by five other crew members: Doctor Paul Tsosie, the new pilot Loese, the flight nurse Hhayazh, the flight surgeon Rhym, and the second flight nurse Camphvis. While she loves her job and has been content to live this life that has offered her the chance to save lives, to dedicate her own to a single craft, and to discover the beauty of life and the myriad of life forms that encompasses it, a distress call from a centuries-old Terran ship called Big Rock Candy Mountain will change her life forever. Upon responding to this signal, their team discovers that this artifact is not alone and that a much more contemporary ship equipped with modern technology has somehow found itself entangled with it. As they proceed to investigate these ships, Doctor Jens sets herself upon unraveling a spine-tingling mystery.

“Life is a funny, terrible thing. We laugh at it because the utter banality of its tragedies renders them constant and unremarkable.”
— Elizabeth Bear

Rest assured, this latest novel by author Elizabeth Bear can be read without any prior knowledge of the white space universe in which it is set. It is her brilliant use of the intricate regime structure, politics, law, and culture of this galactic environment that also ends up being the highlights of this immersive and exquisite space opera. With the omnipresence of countless organic and inorganic sentiences that have evolved beyond human restraints, including the ever-growing presence of artificial intelligence amidst alien species, she also builds upon the foundational examination of evolution and life through her first-person narrative, especially through her protagonist’s cynical yet practical approach to her existence and her control over emotions—thanks to the art of rightminding, a neurological manipulation of brain chemistry to control one’s state of mind—through her daily struggle with chronic pain.

Similar to Ancestral Night, author Elizabeth Bear masterfully crafts her protagonist by brilliantly balancing her interaction with her comrades with her own digressions. It is notably through the latter that she winds up spontaneously philosophizing about tangent subject matters, giving the reader a glimpse into the character’s persona, motive, and history. Not only does this help tremendously in connecting with a character by feeling like a friend to her consciousness, but it also allows the reader to better understand the universe in which they bathe. In fact, the authentic and insightful interactions add significant depth to the narrative through exchanges that unveil the chemistry of the team. Add in the thought-provoking hard science that is sophisticatedly infused into the narrative, author Elizabeth Bear simply succeeds to engross the reader in a plausible future by inviting us on a space mystery unlike anything readers have seen before.

Machine is a riveting and captivatingly-written space-opera mystery set in a mesmerizing, lore-rich, and ever-expanding universe.

Thank you to Wunderkind PR for sending me a copy for review!



25 thoughts on “Machine by Elizabeth Bear

  1. Well, thanks to you I already have a lot of the books by this author on my to reads list (and yes that is a compliment). Guess I will be adding another one now! I love space opera s you know, and this book sounds amazing. Definitely intrigued by the premise alone, and as always your review is once again very convincing and enthusiastic for me to give this one a go!😀I also really like the sound of the characters! Awesome review Lashaan!😀

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This very much sounds like a story I’d enjoy. I love when authors create a series around a universe, where each book can usually stand alone, or be read together for greater depth. Alastair Reynolds is another who does this. And I enjoy hard science fiction stories that integrate great scientific concepts and details without causing the story to drag or requiring you have a PhD to follow. I’ve not tried Elizabeth Bear yet, but I’ve been wanting to for a while now. I have Ancestral Night so I’ll likely start with that one. And a side tangent, I love the ship name: Big Rock Candy Mountain.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s actually rare for me to find books set in the same universe but telling completely distinct stories (outside of comic books), so this was really refreshing to indulge, especially when the first book (Ancestral Night) did a fantastic job in creating a universe that I thoroughly embraced and enjoyed! I agree about hard science. If it’s done in an entertaining way, I can definitely enjoy it. My worse experience was Ball Lightning by Cixin Liu, for example. I hope you enjoy these books by Elizabeth Beth, Todd! Thanks for reading. And, as always, really appreciate your comment, good sir. 😀


  3. This is a totally fascinating premise! I would have enjoyed the “space doctor” theme on its own (I still have fond memories of the Med Ship series by Murray Leinster) but the sentient ship and the big mystery to be investigated make this story all the more intriguing. And worth reading, indeed…
    Thank you so much for sharing! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s definitely one of the first time I’ve read a “medical” sci-fi story but I can assure you that I was completely enamoured by the experience! I’m convinced that you would enjoy plenty of this journey too! Hope you get the chance to try it out soon, Maddalena. Thank you so much for reading! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Dag nab it. You sold a book to me through this review. Space opera AND hard SciFi. What a blithering mess, I think I’ll love it. I’m interested in getting into some SciFi after all the October horror reading! Thanks for the rec Lashaan. 😎

    Liked by 1 person

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