Ancestral Machines by Michael Cobley

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Ancestral Machines by Michael Cobley

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Category: Science Fiction
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: Highly complex space opera - some great fight sequences, but it's tricky to trying to follow the detail.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 464 Date: January 2016
Publisher: Orbit
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0356501772

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Having completed the Humanity's Fire trilogy with The Ascendant Stars, I expected to go off and do something completely different. He didn't. In Ancestral Machines, we're back in the same universe. The Construct (an ancient AI on a mission) is still doing its best to protect sentient species, and the drone Rensik is still one of its key agents.

Sentient beings in the neighbourhood are going to need all the help they can get. Once upon a time - about fifty thousand years ago - there was the Great Harbour of Benevolent Harmony. Don't you just know that some mega-collaboration with a name like that was going to end badly. It ended, or at least the Construct thought it had, as the lair of several psychotic species hell-bent on slaughter, and was hunted down and destroyed....

Except it wasn't, and now it's back. No nice-sounding names this time though. Now it is known as the Cage. The War Cage. Three hundred worlds circling an artificial sun, and each world is nothing more than a perpetual battlefield. When they're exhausted, they are dragged out and used as ballast to replace a newly captured ground for sport. One planet exchanged for another. New for old, as it were. You can imagine the kind of power needed to do that.

You can also imagine the kind of ego needed to go up against it if you're just a backstreets space private with a touch of the blarney an eclectic crew of misfits whose total number you can count on your fingers, even if your spaceship is just a tad meaner than it looks. Meet Brannan Pyke. To be fair it's not just ego. It's motivation. His first motivation is that he's been done over in a deal. Then life just keeps getting worse... A rescue attempt sees him losing his ship. Comrades are kidnapped. This isn't the kind of deal that people like Brannan Pyke walk away from, and he's the kind of leader, a bunch of reprobates will follow to the end.

I was a fan of the first three books, despite their complexity, but this one I am afraid took the complication just too far. Having got to the end of it I'm afraid I have only the vaguest idea of what happened and why. There are too many species - many of whom seem to be differentiated for no real reason. There are some good developments of standard tropes, particularly of the cyborg variety with AI weapons seeking out their hosts and taking them over balanced by the Construct drones who have a few tricks of their own. Naturally, there are some great battle-scenes with the underdogs making do with what they can find against superior fire-power; light relief is provided by Pyke's gift of the gab and his Henkayan crew member Kref who comes across as a humanoid version of a Discworld Troll: not exceptionally bright most of the time, but definitely effective: then when you least expect it showing a flash of brilliance.

For the rest though, there are simply too many worlds, and it is too easy to skip between them. There are too many in depth histories that we have to assimilate, even the ones which don't seem to have any real impact on the current plot-line. Or maybe they do and I just couldn't keep up.

The real difference between this one and Cobley's previous offerings is that there is no emotional connection. Despite a focus on only a handful of key characters, a good proportion of which are clearly the good guys, it was hard to really care about them. Too much attention is required just trying to follow what's happening, with nothing left over to engage with individual characters.

If you do enjoy this one, we'd recommend going back to the beginning with Seeds of Earth Or check out a real master at work with The Algebraist by Iain M Banks. You might enjoy Impulse by Dave Bara.

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Buy Ancestral Machines by Michael Cobley at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Ancestral Machines by Michael Cobley at


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