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Hammered by Elizabeth Bear

01/02/2005. Contributed by Tomas L. Martin

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pub: Bantam Spectra. 326 page paperback. Price: $ 6.99 (US), $10.99 (CAN). ISBN: 0-553-58750-1.

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It's difficult to know what to expect from a first novel. Some can blow you away and announce a new presence on the scene, whereas others can have so many flaws they leave you wondering where the editor was. Then there's a big mix of average releases somewhere in the middle.

Thankfully, Elizabeth Bear is an experienced writer already, having had a lot of short fiction at places like 'Sci Fiction' and 'The Magazine Of Fantasy And Science Fiction', so all of those first novel problems are happily non-existent in this enjoyable distopian thriller.

It's 2062. The gulfstream has moved, turning much of the UK and America into a glacier. Canada has become the world's peacekeeper as political and climate problems tear other places apart.

Jenny Casey was a special forces operative for Canada's peacekeepers. After two helicopter crashes left her with replacements of her legs and left arm, plus enhancements of her brain and left eye and an addiction to combat drugs, she retired to a Connecticut suburb, performing medical operations on local gang members to save a few lives.

Despite being in constant pain from her 'upgrades', Jenny is the only one who has adapted so well to her twenty-year-old replacement limbs and synapses. Now the people who made her want her back for a new project and they'll kill everyone close to her to do it.

The nicest thing about this novel is the rich characters. From the AI reconstruction of scientist Richard Feynman through the steel-toothed but friendly drug baron Razorface to Jenny Casey herself, every character is identifiable and unique. It's rare to find a book with so many characters you genuinely care about.

It's a rollercoaster of a good thriller, too. There's plenty of intrigue and a few climactic gunfights and an intriguing love triangle involving Jenny and an old friend. Everyone involved seems to have genuine motives for all the things they do and aren't just pawns in the author's game.

Jenny Casey is an excellent protagonist, reaching fifty, tired and crippled and liking it that way, unwilling to admit that she needs people. Elizabeth Bear manages to create an anti-heroine you still care about, despite her reluctance to take part in events. Plus she has an intriguing history that is occasionally delved into, along with that of the planet, that always leaves you wanting that little bit more.

Good first novels often end up as a series but this one builds things up nicely for the next book ('Scardown', released next July in the US), without the upcoming sequel seeming like a sequel, rather a logical progression of 'Hammered'. I, for one, will be looking forward to that next book. Elizabeth Bear has carved herself out a fantastic little world with this first novel. Long may it continue.

Tomas L. Martin

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