The second book in the Jacob’s Ladder SF trilogy.
Publication year: 2010
Narrator: Alma Cuero
Running Time: 11 hrs.
The book starts soon after the end of the previous book, Dust. At the same time, things have changed but some have stayed the same. The one of the main POV characters in Dust, Perceval Conn, is a POV character here, too, but to much smaller degree. Perceval’s uncle and father are the main POV characters this time, together with the Necromancer Mallory and a few other characters.
Even though the generational ship is under way, is badly damaged, has a new AI (called an angel), and has a new captain, there are still people who are trying to take over. The antagonist in Dust, Ariane Conn, is dead but her mother Arianrhod manages to escape her tank and is still determined to become the captain of her world. Another AI is helping her. Tristen and Benedick track her through the ship while Perceval and the AI are trying to keep the ship together and make some hard choices.
They barely escaped the sun going nova and are now speeding through space on the nova’s shock wave. Some of the ship is so badly damaged that it can’t be salvaged. Most of the passengers are sleeping in pods; they are needed to repair the ship but can the ship feed them? However, most of the story follows Tristen and Benedict.
Tristen and Benedick are both troubled characters. They have both done things earlier in their lives, in the service of their father, which they now regret. They both come face to faces with some of the consequences. They are quite introspective and are trying to behave now in a more moral manner. This time, Arianrhod is a POV character and we see what motives her, and the relationship she has with her rebel angel (fragment). We also get to know a few other Conn family members.
Mallory is a more enigmatic character. The Necromancer is more enigmatic character whose job is to take care of the memories of the dead people, so Mallory knows a lot and often advises the other characters. Gavin is a helper AI in the form of a basilisk. However, he has feelings and at one point he muses that humans realized that a brain without feelings wouldn’t function properly.
The characters are interesting but I didn’t really connect with any of them.
There are a lot of religious reference in the book: the AIs are called Angels and the ship itself if called Jacob’s Ladder. There are also quotations from the King James Bible and the New Evolutionist Bible. Some people consider the ship’s builder as gods while others consider them close to torturers. Some of the characters talk about the Christian God and what he apparently wants. This is rather uncommon for SF where religion is often left out, at least on the SF books I’ve read.
Like Dust, Chill also reminds me of Zelazny’s Amber books. Like in Amber, Bear’s trilogy has a feuding family at the heart of it. Perceval, Rien, Tristen, Ariane, Arianrhod, and Benedick are all part of the Conn family, and dangerous to each other. They also live a lot longer than the ordinary people, the means, around them. In this book, it’s because of science and not magic, though. They also have an absent father, dead in this case, who spawned the large family. The ship itself remind me of the way Corwin walked though the Shadow worlds. While Jacob’s Ladder doesn’t have quite as wide a range of different worlds as the Shadows, it’s still possible to encounter a mammoth and a snake cult in different parts of the ship. Also, the names, of course, reference Arthurian stories. Tristen goes through somewhat similar trials as Corwin and Benedick is a bit similar to Zelazny’s Benedict who also withdrew from his scheming family.
There are a lot of ideas in the book about human evolution, post humanity, immortality through technology, and artificial intelligences. Yet, the society in the ship is cruelly divided between the few immortals and the many means so only a few can enjoy the fruits of the high technology.
Chill builds on the characters and places seen in Dust so Chill doesn’t stand alone. Dust should be read first.