May. 16th, 2016

purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (books)
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie won just about every award going in 2013/2014. It was also the centre of some controversy based on its use of pronouns and so became one of the contentious points in the current brouhaha surrounding the Hugos* (I notice that one of the factions involved has now become more reconciled to the series which doesn't entirely surprise me since, pronouns aside, I would have thought Ancillary Justice if not precisely thoughtful action-oriented military SF is close enough to that genre to appeal to its fans).

To be honest, Ancillary Justice reminds me a lot of Iain M. Banks' Culture novels. It lacks the sense of a wild imagination running amok that some of those novels had and the overtly socialist agenda, but it does have a galaxy spanning civilisation, ships governed by AIs, murky politics and set piece dramatics. It tells the tale of Breq, an ancillary part of a ship AI, who is out on her own beyond the fringes of the Radch Empire in search of a weapon with which to kill the Lord of the Radch. Along the way Breq picks up Seivarden who used to be an officer of hers. In another move reminiscent of Banks' work (though it is a common enough device) the story starts in the middle and works both forwards from the point where Breq stumbles across Seivarden and backwards through her memories explaining how she got to where she is and why she is seeking to kill the Lord of the Radch.

The world-building is excellent. It has nice touches including, for instance, genuine thought given to the issues of communicating across vast distances (though there is still implicit faster-than-light travel, just not so fast that all distances become trivial), distributed intelligence (both natural and artificial) and interesting thoughts about the nature of empire while working hard not to be simply an analogy for, say, the Roman Empire. Then there are the pronouns. Breq, when thinking in her native language, thinks of everyone as `she' because the Radch civilisation is uninterested in gender. The constant reminder that all these character are largely androgynous in appearance is surprisingly disorienting and makes the civilisation seem genuinely different. I don't think its an effect that could have been achieved by using `he' as the default pronoun. I liked it, once I had go used to it. I thought it was a clever idea and a nice use of prose to convey world detail.

Obviously, I'm always a bit of a sucker for good world-building but there is a genuinely gripping story here, even without all the details. I wanted to know why Breq was on the quest she was and I wanted to know how it would work out. The only weakness, I would say, is that it is a massive coincidence that Breq happens to stumble across Seivarden when she does. I know it is generally felt that stories can get away with one massive coincidence and the world building is at least constructed so that Breq and Seivarden consider the coincidence to be a manifestation of fate, rather than something completely random but I'd have liked there to be a more coherent reason for Seivarden to wind up where he/she did.

There are sequels and, as with a distressing amount of my recent reading, they have gone on my Amazon wish list. I must try to get more stand alone novels on my to read pile.

* If you don't know about the current brouhaha surrounding the Hugos then I wouldn't recommend looking into it unless you feel sufficiently divorced from written SF, social justice arguments and authorial egos of various stripes to enjoy it for the popcorn-munching value. It must be said that last year it had extremely high popcorn value, but less this year I think, since most of the arguments are the same as last year and are just repeating themselves. On the other hand, this year, with the appearance of Chuck Tingle** on the ballot, one could argue it has achieved some kind of bizarre performance art status in its own right.

** TBH, if I thought high concept comedy gay dinosaur erotica was remotely my sort of thing I would be checking out Chuck Tingle because the way I've seen his body of work described makes it sound rather wonderful, but I suspect I would have to skim an awful lot of porn to get to the interesting bits. At the moment my plan is to get [livejournal.com profile] fredbassett to read it for me.

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