Review: HAMMERED by Elizabeth Bear

185638Hammered is set in the near future of an alternate Earth, where the U.S. is very weak and Canada and China are the competing powers. The Canadian government is working on a super-secret project (of course) and are trying to recruit their best and brightest.

Jenny Casey is supposedly retired from active military service, and is doing her best to live a quiet life in a small town with her gangster friends. However, she’s an extremely valuable piece of military hardware, as much of her body has been replaced with prosthetics, mechanical parts, and computer hardware. Jenny’s best friend, Gabe Castaign, and a scientist convicted of treason, are entangled in the project as well, which has something to do with a rogue artificial intelligence nick-named Richard Fenyman.

The world-building is top-notch, as usual for Bear (I am a fan but seriously. World-building). The world is pretty bleak, and I really question whether it’s not just going to all end in tears, but the denseness of the writing is really rewarding if you pay attention. The science and tech were all really interesting, believable, and necessary to the story (which, you know, is always nice when that happen in scifi (I mean, what?)). Another characteristic of Bear that shows up in this novel is the use of red herrings. Several characters and ominous hints are dropped, that might pay off later in the story but are probably just trying to lead our heroes astray. It’s used effectively here and I like it, but can be a lot to keep track of.

Speaking of which, Hammered begins slowly and continues so. You read that right, my primary complaint is ONCE AGAIN THE PACING. I realize this is the first in the trilogy, and this is also the main reason I am beginning to loathe trilogies. The first book is all emotional build-up and the slow unveiling of the conflict and various revelations. There is a lot going on in this story, between all of the back-story for the AI projects and for Jenny (told via flashbacks), Richard’s shenanigans, the murder mystery in Hartford, Jenny’s health, the SEKKRET PROJECT, and Leah’s adventures in cyberspace. But for all that, it still crawls along for most of the first half. The fastest moving section of the story was the quest to find out who murdered a cop in Hartford and whether it’s connected to a bunch of tainted drugs on the street. It was interesting how this black and white, “hunt for evil” sort of plot contrasted with how Jenny has to deal with the grayer areas by herself (with mixed results for everyone, really). I wasn’t convinced, however, that the Hartford sub-plot was essential to the overall story.

Trilogies, man. They’ll kill me. I just want to kick them in the face and tell them to be a standalone novel.

The characters in Hammered are very complex. Bear likes breaking her characters down to their most basic parts and seeing what they choose to do after that, and she definitely does that with Jenny here, as well as the gangster Razorface (He has metal teeth. It’s great.), and Elspeth, the brilliant AI scientist. I really love them, as well as Gabe and Gabe’s daughter Leah, who is a believable thirteen-year-old, which made me very happy: few things make me angrier in a book than badly-written children or teenagers.

Jenny herself, our intrepid heroine, is kind of a downer, but she has so many reasons to be a downer that you can’t really blame her. Except that you can because she’s determined to be a downer always, and you want to hug and slap her sometimes, which is probably how Gabe feels. She’s like one of those brooding heroes from gothic romances; they obsess over their troubles which are pretty extreme but you want them to just focus on happy things.

PS: I love Richard and I want more sassy-AI always.

I’m going to finish reading this trilogy, but maybe not immediately; it requires a lot of emotional stamina.

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One thought on “Review: HAMMERED by Elizabeth Bear

  1. I don’t really remember how they said that Canada got to be a world power. Was that ever EXPLAINED? Cause I mean, I like Canada–some of my best friends are Canadian– but I’m skeptical.

    Also, yes, I also loved the teens and the AI. Maybe I should try some of this newfangled YA bear is always talking about.

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