Scardown, by Elizabeth Bear

This is the sequel to Hammered, which I read a few years ago. I had been intrigued by Ms. Bear’s protagonist Jenny Casey: she was prior military, older (~50), and scarred emotionally and physically. Her military career had nearly been life-ending and she’d lost an arm — but the military saved her from a nightmarish life on the streets. That street life of drugs, pimps, and prostitution was the result of escaping a homicidal sister willing to get rid of her own family members… The farther back you went, the worst Jenny’s life proved to be. So the reader realizes that as bad as her life gets in Hammered, it’s nothing compared to what she’s been through. This justifies Jenny’s self-enforced anonymity and her attempt to keep everyone at arms’ length (or further).

It took years for me to get to the sequel, Scardown, and I paid a price for my delay. The two novels feel a bit like one novel that was divided down the middle. Even though the settings change and some characters exit in the climax of Hammered, one still needs to remember certain facts — and my memory wasn’t up to the task. I also had difficulties remembering the motivations and beliefs of certain characters, but with the help of the author, I managed to limp through. I recommend reading the two books fairly close together (which wasn’t an option for me, since the first is still packed in storage from my 2006 move).

In Scardown, the political and ecological situation of the Earth is more sharply drawn than in Hammered. China and Canada are the foremost rivals for space exploration, made necessary by predictions that the Earth will be unlivable within a century. The deadlines shorten and the Chinese decide to hasten the Earth’s demise. The stakes become very personal for Jenny. Complication after complication kept me glued to the story as the climax builds and the situation darkens; Elizabeth Bear does a masterful job of cranking up the tension. And while Hammered didn’t seem to have a climax, Scardown kicks Jenny (and the reader) below the belt.

At the end, however, there’s still plenty of problems. Presumably, Worldwired picks up the story and deliver the same page-turning tension. See Elizabeth Bear’s website and LJ blog for more of her work.

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