Grail by Elizabeth Bear science fiction audiobook reviewsGrail by Elizabeth Bear science fiction audiobook reviewsGrail by Elizabeth Bear

Elizabeth Bear’s Grail (2011) concludes her JACOB’S LADDER trilogy. You’ll first want to read Dust and Chill which describe the generational ship called Jacob’s Ladder and introduce us to the ship’s strange denizens which include the ruling Conn family, various genetically engineered post-human species, and the ship’s fractured god-like AI.

Jacob’s Ladder has finally reached its destination, the planet they call Grail, 1000 years later than planned. Since that time, the planet has been colonized by humans who use a brain-changing process called right-minding to ensure a unified civil society free of religious zealots.

When the people of Grail discover that Jacob’s Ladder is approaching, they have no idea what to expect from its residents, who they call Jacobians. They think the Jacobians are irrational barbaric cultists because their reason for leaving Earth was to avoid right-minding. All these years later, the Jacobians still don’t want to be right-minded, but they’re about to land on a planet that might force them to comply.

What Bear does best in Grail, I think, is to fairly lay out both sides’ arguments. We hear Grail’s claim mostly represented by one of their politicians, a man named Danilaw, who makes a good case for why life is better when its citizens’ baser emotions and impulses are quelled. They value cooperation and unity above hierarchy, individualism, and authoritarianism, though they are guilty of some hypocrisy which the Jacobians point out.

In contrast, the Jacobians, represented mostly by their captain Perceval, do not want their brains tampered with. They agree that right-minding may make it easier for people to live together, but that doesn’t mean they are actually happier. If everything is so great on Grail, why is nobody making new music? And, anyway, who gets to decide what is a “right” mind?Jacob's Ladder (3 book series) by Elizabeth Bear (Author)

The people of Grail are also worried about introducing engineered DNA into Grail’s gene pool. Perhaps weirdly, the Jacobians don’t want anyone tinkering with their brains, but they have been perfectly willing to tinker with the human genome, a practice which has caused a lot of trouble on Jacob’s Ladder. And that trouble continues in this episode. When it’s witnessed by Grail’s political leaders, it only lends credence to their concerns about living with the Jacobians.

And so the two sides argue about philosophy, science, and religion and wonder how they are going to all live on the same planet. Meanwhile, there’s more Conn family drama, a murder, a revolt, and other bad doings on Jacob’s Ladder.

Grail is an interesting and creative conclusion to JACOB’S LADDER. I liked it better than Dust and Chill, mostly because I finally understood both the history of the Jacobians and what was at stake for them. The ending was surprising.

Still, though, I never managed to warm up to Bear’s characters in this trilogy, with the exception of Danilaw who was introduced in this book. I didn’t care at all about the Conn family drama, which took up a lot of the page count in all three novels.

I listened to the JACOB’S LADDER audiobooks which are produced by Recorded Books and nicely narrated by Alma Cuervo.

Published in 2011. Rife with intrigue and betrayal, heroism and sacrifice, Grail brings Elizabeth Bear’s brilliant space opera to a triumphant conclusion. At last the generation ship Jacob’s Ladder has arrived at its the planet they have come to call Grail. But this habitable jewel just happens to be populated by humans who call their home Fortune. And they are wary of sharing Fortune—especially with people who have genetically engineered themselves to such an extent that it is a matter of debate whether they are even human anymore. To make matters worse, a shocking murder aboard the Jacob’s Ladder has alerted Captain Perceval and the angel Nova that formidable enemies remain hidden somewhere among the crew. On Grail—or Fortune, rather—Premier Danilaw views the approach of the Jacob’s Ladder with dread. Behind the diplomatic niceties of first-contact protocol, he knows that the deadly game being played is likely to erupt into full-blown war—even civil war. For as he strives to chart a peaceful and prosperous path forward for his people, internal threats emerge to take control by any means necessary.


  • Kat Hooper

    KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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