Elizabeth Bear is joining us today to talk about her novel, Machine. Here’s the publisher’s description:
In this compelling and addictive novel set in the same universe as the critically acclaimed White Space series and perfect for fans of Karen Traviss and Ada Hoffman, a space station begins to unravel when a routine search and rescue mission returns after going dangerously awry.
Meet Doctor Jens.
She hasn’t had a decent cup of coffee in fifteen years. Her workday begins when she jumps out of perfectly good space ships and continues with developing treatments for sick alien species she’s never seen before. She loves her life. Even without the coffee.
But Dr. Jens is about to discover an astonishing mystery: two ships, one ancient and one new, locked in a deadly embrace. The crew is suffering from an unknown ailment and the shipmind is trapped in an inadequate body, much of her memory pared away.
Unfortunately, Dr. Jens can’t resist a mystery and she begins doing some digging. She has no idea that she’s about to discover horrifying and life-changing truths.
Written in Elizabeth Bear’s signature “rollicking, suspenseful, and sentimental” (Publishers Weekly) style, Machine is a fresh and electrifying space opera that you won’t be able to put down.
What’s Elizabeth Bear’s favorite bit?
Hello, everybody. I’m Elizabeth Bear and I’m here to talk to you about my new book Machine, which is a space opera about space medics and a viral outbreak in a space hospital.
And I’m just going to get this out of the way up front: I’d be lying if I said that anything other than Mantis Cop was my favorite bit.
Well, let me clarify that a little. Mantis Cop, also known as Cheeirilaq, isn’t exactly a mantis. It’s a six-foot-long, six-foot-tall, mantislike alien with an extremely sardonic sense of humor. It’s also not exactly a cop, because (we can all hope, anyway) law enforcement in the future in space doesn’t work exactly like law enforcement on Earth right now. But at some point in the process of writing the White Space books, I started calling it Mantis Cop, and that just kind of stuck.
There are a lot of things I love about Machine. I love the chance to explore politics and forms of government that haven’t been invented yet (except I guess I just invented one of them). I love the chance to talk about some of the issues with machine-based decisionmaking. (Without any spoilers, let’s just say that sometimes A.I.s come up with… odd and counterproductive ways to handle a problem.) I love Dr. Jens in all her dysfunctional glory. (A.I.s are not the only ones who make bad decisions.) I love space chases and archaeological mysteries and giant black holes and massive space stations full of incompatible biospheres. I love writing a little Agatha Christie in space.
But the single thing I love writing the most is Cheeirilaq, because Cheeirilaq loves banter and playfulness so much that it’s easy sometimes for the other people around it to forget what a terrifying apex predator it actually is. So I get the double joy of writing the banter and playfulness, along with the cognitive dissonance that comes when other characters remember that they are playing conversational tennis with a carnivorous bug that would measure about six meters from the tips of its raptorial forelimbs to the ends of its spinnerets if you stretched it out on the floor.
I love writing jaded characters, because they often have strong and salty opinions. And Cheeirilaq is a little jaded, it’s true. It is so tired of everybody’s nonsense, and just wishes people would behave better, so it could just take a nice long vacation. It’s worn out from mammal shenanigans. Not to mention all the shenanigans gotten up to by plants, sentient computers, and probably laser sharks, too.
But it believes that people can do better, so it’s willing to keep trying. It’s a very ethical giant exoskeletal insectoid with fourteen limbs, and it really does want what’s best for everybody. If I had time, I’d write a crossover fanfic in which Mantis Cop goes bowling with Chidi from The Good Place.
Except I’m not sure how a giant praying mantis could bowl.
Watching it scuttle down the lane on the tips of its ambulatory limbs would be pretty delightful, though.
Elizabeth Bear was born on the same day as Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, but in a different year.
She is the Hugo, Sturgeon, Locus, and Campbell Award winning author of dozens of novels; over a hundred short stories; and a number of essays, nonfiction, and opinion pieces for markets as diverse as Popular Mechanics and The Washington Post.
Elizabeth is a frequent contributor to the Center for Science and the Imagination at ASU, and has spoken on futurism at Google, MIT, DARPA’s 100 Year Starship Project, and the White House, among others.
She lives in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts with her spouse, writer Scott Lynch.
Some recent essays are available on Medium.com.