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Elizabeth Bear
Bantam Spectra, 368 pages

Elizabeth Bear
Elizabeth Bear shares a birthday with Frodo and Bilbo Baggins. She was born in Hartford, Connecticut, and grew up in central Connecticut. She currently lives in the Mojave Desert near Las Vegas, Nevada, but she's trying to escape. Elizabeth Bear is her real name, but not all of it.

Elizabeth Bear Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: New Amsterdam
SF Site Review: Carnival
SF Site Review: Carnival

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Alma A. Hromic

This one's a doozy.

Elizabeth Bear does an extraordinary job of juggling a dozen balls -- political mayhem, exotic tech, ethical dilemmas, probability magic, cultural milieu, social interactions between both HUMAN friends, enemies and rivals and ALIEN ones. She creates a beautifully coherent world, and exhibits the true storyteller's gift of creating truly alien aliens -- because she understands humans so well.

It is true that for those who are more fantasy-oriented in their reading bent, like me, much of the joy of working out whether her technology actually had a prayer of being functional in the context that she provides is kind of lost because I freely admit that I don't completely understand the quantum basis for the transportation technology that makes her universe viable. But in a novel of this caliber, that becomes irrelevant -- because the details of the tech and the background are so seamless, so beautifully woven into a world that could not possibly be any other way if it tried, that you might as well be comfortably ensconced in the warm and familiar surroundings of Jane Austen. Nothing surprises you in Bear's books, because it all fits; on the other hand, everything astonishes you, because in the context of that fit anything can happen and usually does.

The crux of Undertow revolves around a question that is, on the face of it, very simple -- there is a particular raw material that is essential for the functioning of the universe-as-they-know-it because without it the instant transportation they depend on is quite simply snafued out of existence. Said raw material is mined on one world, and one world alone. The world is inhabited by an alien species dubbed ranids (or froggies, by the less tactful) who have been deliberately assumed to be pre-technological, and therefore it's okay to waltz into their world and exploit both it and them.

But the ranids are more than meets the eye. And in the end, human greed is faced with its usual choices -- the white hats are (as always) found ignorant and astonished as the reality of the situation is put to them, and the black hats are willing to deal with the same situation with whatever it takes for the situation to remain favourable for their own exploitation.

Even genocide, if only that will do.

But that's when it stops being simple, and Bear weaves a twisted and complex rope of story which builds on slippery layers of trust and betrayal, love and lust and friendship and opportunism and family dramas and lovers tiffs and entitled heirs working in secret to preserve their "heritage" whatever the cost. All I can say, again, is this -- it's a doozy.

A fast-paced thriller with an emotional core, Undertow is worth picking up. You won't regret it.

Copyright © 2007 Alma A. Hromic

Alma A. Hromic, addicted (in random order) to coffee, chocolate and books, has a constant and chronic problem of "too many books, not enough bookshelves." When not collecting more books and avidly reading them (with a cup of coffee at hand), she keeps busy writing her own. Her international success, The Secrets of Jin Shei, has been translated into ten languages worldwide, and its follow-up, Embers of Heaven, is coming out in 2006. She is also the author of the fantasy duology The Hidden Queen and Changer of Days, and is currently working on a new YA trilogy to be released in the winter of 2006.

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