Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand

Ancestral Machines Ancestral Machines
by Michael Cobley

Supplied for review by Hachette New Zealand

Reviewed By: Simon Litten

Michael Cobley first came to my attention with the first book in his Humanity’s Fire trilogy, which was a nicely nuanced space opera. So I was keen to see what he had in store with this return to that vision of the future in Ancestral Machines in this his fourth book. The short answer is an excellent plot and a cracking adventure offset by weak character development and at times pedestrian prose.

Ancestral Machines begins with freebooter merchant Pyke and his crew being double-crossed on a sales deal and finding themselves two crew members down and out of pocket one valuable trade good. Most curiously, the planet they had been orbiting has been replaced by a toxic dump of a world. After rescuing some besieged people from this world Pyke and his crew lose their spaceship to the party they rescued and find themselves on a world that is swapped in to a configuration known locally as the "warcage" – and then the fun and games begin.

Unfortunately, for this reader, the telling of the story suffered from what reads like first draft writing. Several times I noticed the same adjective doing solo duty in a paragraph. From his previous work, I know Michael Cobley is a better writer than evidenced by Ancestral Machines. If there was more authorial interest in the final draft the over working of adjectives would have been edited away. Similarly, there were times when the characters were motivated by their love interest (with other characters) and times when that motivation was marked by its absence. Consistency of motivation was lacking.

However, for all its flaws Ancestral Machines was a fun read and wasn’t a chore to finish. A welcome diversion if not the author’s best work.

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