Ancillary Sword is the sequel to Ancillary Justice (my review). The books really should be read in order, although reading Sword frequently made me waAncillary Sword is the sequel to Ancillary Justice (my review). The books really should be read in order, although reading Sword frequently made me want to go back to Justice.
That's because Ancillary Sword is a fascinating book. It was hard to stop reading, and also difficult to stop thinking it through. I reread pages and scenes, looking for details I'd missed or misunderstood. Not until the last half of the last chapter was it clear where the plot was going.
Ann Leckie may be the most interesting sf author alive.
Sword is told from the point of view of Justice's semihuman protagonist, Breq Mianaai. Breq used to be part of a many-bodied warship (read the first book), and is now coping with being only a single body. She is also on a mission for the empire's ruler, another multi-bodied entity engaged in civil war against other parts of herself.
In the novel's opening scene that ruler sends Breq on a mission to a remote agricultural world, Athoek Station, and that's where the rest of the book dwells. Breq and her troops investigate various mysteries, confront social problems, and try to solve some of each.
I'm being vague here because the plot, well, isn't exactly filled with mysterious and plot twists, but is actually hard to anticipate. It isn't a plot-driven book, but I want to save the narrative unfolding for the reader. I can say more behind the cloak of spoiler: (view spoiler)[there are really two plots, the bomb plot and the smuggling plot. The Presger assassination is misdirection, at least as far as this book's concerned. The main plots lead to several dramatic scenes (testimony before magistrate, a shooting, the battle in the Undergarden, some interrogations. (hide spoiler)] Leckie places the elements of these plots in plain sight for much of the book, then lets Breq (and the reader) piece them together, a bit like a detective (more like the British Detective Chief Inspector, with those resources) and also in the manner of a political hero, rearranging a social situation. That combination was present in the first book as well.
Putting these together, Sword is a hybrid in another way. In its anatomy of a problematic society it's a social novel. Yet at the same time the bulk of the text concerns closely observed interactions between people, at the level of manners and interiority. Some have called this Jane Austen with spaceships, but that's not quite right. There is an Austen-type focus on interpersonal dynamics, but there isn't a lot of space opera in this one.
Leckie's style is part of what fascinates me. Like Austen, she zeroes in on how people present themselves and react to each other. And also like Austen, she has fun with irony.
On a station, privacy was paradoxically both nonexistent and an urgent necessity. Station saw your most intimate moments. But you always knew that Station would never tell just anyone what it saw, wouldn't gossip. Station would report crimes and emergencies, but for anything else it would, at most, hint here or guide there. (171)
Leckie's prose is sparse, unlyrical, yet paragraphs sometimes curve away unpredictably. Her world is vast but thinly populated with a minimum of descriptions, key nouns and phrases frequently repeated: tea, gloves, songs, arrack. Leckie reminds me of the later Frank Herbert, with weird, powerful dialogue always working on at least three levels. And she even offers the occasional aphorism while wrangling with big questions:
'Everything necessitates its opposite," I said, cutting her off. "How can you be civilized if there is no uncivilized?" (162) "What is justice, Citizen?... Where did justice lie, in that entire situation?" (291)
Ancillary Sword feels cold and distant for much of the book, something which doesn't bother me. The reason for that voice is Breq's combination of trying to manage a complex situation while learning to be a post-ancillary human being. Breq is calm, restrained, logical throughout... until she leans in for a hug in the last chapter, a long way to go for a good payoff. And a call-back to a key event in Ancillary Justice. It's worth the haul.
There is a tonal interlude starting on page 143, with the introduction of a semi-human alien ambassador. For example,
"'Say exactly what we told you to and nothing will go wrong,' they said. Well, it all went wrong anyway. And they didn't say anything about this. You'd think they might have, they said lots of other things. 'Sit up straight, Dlique. Don't dismember your sister, Dlique, it isn't nice. Internal organs belong inside your body, Dlique.'" She scowled a moment, as though that last one particularly rankled. (144)
Translator Dlique grinned... "Give me supper, will you? I just eat regular food, you know." I recalled what she's said when she first arrived. "Did you eat many people before you were grown?" "No one I wasn't supposed to! Though," she added, frowning, "sometimes I kind of wish I had eaten someone I wasn't supposed to. But it's too late now." (147)
Dlique's wackiness makes Breq into a perfect straight man/Radch, a nice comic break.
Sword is narrower in focus that Justice. That might be due to the middle bit of a trilogy problem, since it's not introducing us to the Radch universe, nor resolving it. This is also due to the plot framework, which focuses solely on Athoek Station. We come into contact with one terrifying, hilarious alien representative, but that only lasts a few pages. Otherwise it's all about the tea plantations.
One extra note: Sword is very concerned with class struggle. It's an anti-1% novel, which I don't recall from Justice. In that respect we could see it as an artifact of our time, where income inequality has become a larger issue.
Do I recommend this? Yes, if a) You read the first book b) You're interested in challenging sf.
I'm looking forward to Ancillary Mercy.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Tuf Voyaging is a collection of entertaining science fiction stories. It's not a major work for George R.R. Martin, but will likely amuse the sf readeTuf Voyaging is a collection of entertaining science fiction stories. It's not a major work for George R.R. Martin, but will likely amuse the sf reader, and maybe some Game of Thrones addicts.
The book takes place in the far future, when humanity has spread across many star systems. The narraive concerns the adventures of a space trader turned entrepreneurial ecological engineer as he visits planets to solve their largest problems. The protagonist obtains a vast and powerful starship in the first story ("The Plague Star"), and that vessel powers each story from then on.
Tuf Voyaging is clearly a fix-up novel of short stories, mostly published in the 1980s. Each chapter can stand alone as a tale, more or less. This gives the book an episodic, almost picaresque feel.
The central character, Haviland Tuf, provides much of the book's entertainment. Tuf owes a great deal to Rex Stout's great detective Nero Wolfe. Our protagonist is pompous, brilliant, disinclined to physical activity, formal, and often reliant on the labor of others. Instead of orchids Tuf has cats to obsess over.
Tuf's speech is archly funny, especially since most other characters serve as straight men. A sample:
"Perhaps I am more aesthetically pleasing when mouthing reassuring falsehoods through a filter of facial hair in melodramatic vidshows reeking of false optimism and post-coital complacency." (251)
His lack of affect is a powerful negotiating tool, making him a perfect poker player. It's also funny at times:
The tyrannosaur roared. It was, thought Haviland Tuf, a thoroughly frightening sound. He pressed his lips firmly together in annoyance... (70)
Tuf's also a vegetarian, which becomes a major theme in one explicitly anti-meat-eating story ("Guardians"). I don't recall this theme from Martin's other work.
In fact, Tuf Voyaging presents an unusual politics. Besides the vegetarianism (not vegan; Tuf eats too much butter) there is also a fierce opposition to animal cruelty ("A Beast for Norn"). Taken together, we could imagine a kind of left/liberal/green/ecofeminist politics. But Tuf is also militantly in favor of birth control ("Loaves and Fishes", "Second Helping", "Manna from Heaven"), while being utterly asexual himself. Eros and romance play no role in this book, unusually for George R. R. Martin, and also strange for stories adopting these politics. Moreover, Tuf is a shameless entrepreneur, ending each story with a profit, which he finagles out of each planet through tough (sorry) negotiation, self-deprecation, and ruthless maneuvering. Governments are useless, sometimes dangerous, often incompetent throughout.* So Tuf Voyaging is a libertarian, vegetarian, animal rights book. I can't think of many others.
The book's style is generally very basic, focusing primarily on displaying and setting up dialog. There isn't much in the way of description nor lyrical prose. In contrast Tuf's tone is ambitious, ranging from comedy to scientific discussion to horror to political scheming. At best these synthesize neatly, as in "Call Him Moses".
So what's not to love? To begin with, the stories all follow the same plan. Locals present Tuf with a difficult problem. Tuf heads to his ship's labs and creates a solution. The locals don't really like it, but have no choice and pay through the nose. It becomes mechanical and doesn't change by the end.
Tuf is too invincible. He wins every time, superior to each situation and all people. The final story sees a sympathetic character proclaim him a god (376). Sigh.
I remain a devotee of good world-building, and Tuf only does this in fits. The overall setting is not even sketched, relying instead on science fiction genre assumptions (FTL travel, interstellar commerce).
Overall? An entertaining read with some interesting politics. Best read by individual story, rather than as a whole.
*Steven Kaye suggests Poul Anderson's Nicolas van Rijn as an inspiration, especially given Anderson's libertarian politics. This grows on me....more
I'm a space opera fiend and also a comics reader, so anything combining these naturally draws my attention. Trillium succeeds on both of these countsI'm a space opera fiend and also a comics reader, so anything combining these naturally draws my attention. Trillium succeeds on both of these counts as imaginative space opera and very well done graphic nvel.
The plot concerns an anthropologist of the 38th century, part of an endangered human species seeking to escape a killer plague. The surviving humans have paused on a lonely planet near a black hole. Nika's working on a curious temple and its caretaker aliens, until a crisis drives her to push things beyond the usual protocols.
As the same time William is a World War One veteran, hired in the early 1920s to hack through a South American jungle in search of a lost temple. His group is attacked, and William escapes by fleeing... right to the very temple they sought.
Beyond this is spoiler territory: (view spoiler)[Nika and William meet through the time- and space-warping nature of the alien temple. Despite differences in language and culture they connect, gradually falling in love. Then they fall back into each other's times, with modifications, and fight for their sanity and each other. The mystery of the caretaker aliens, their temple, and the black hole eventually comes clear. (hide spoiler)]
As a comic Trillium offers good art and world-building on a panel level. What makes it better is the use of alternating sequences to explore the Nika-William relationship. Sections of the book have parallel strips, one upside down and running backwards to the other. There are useful connections and references across them, vertically. Looking for these connections while being able to read the book backwards and forwards nicely develops the story's timeline conceit.
A gender note: Trillium balances gender roles very well, a nice surprise for our often reactionary romance age. The characters swap places very symmetrically, pushing a kind of androgyny I'm most used to seeing from 1970s sf.
Overall, an exciting, thoughtful, and moving graphic novel. Recommended.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Saga concludes on a very high note, wrapping up plot lines while never ceasing to offer its rapid-fire mix of humor, invention, and pathos.
If you haveSaga concludes on a very high note, wrapping up plot lines while never ceasing to offer its rapid-fire mix of humor, invention, and pathos.
If you haven't read Saga before - well, get going on volume 1! It's a graphic novel taking place in a kind of space opera setting. The main characters are two lovers and their infant daughter, running from various forces that want them dead.
Volume 3 introduces new characters, develops some already present ones, offers some spectacular vistas, while finishing up the chase narrative. I'm especially fond of a scene between Lying Cat and the rescued ex-slave girl, which combines sweetness with an emotional gut-punch in a handful of panels.
The first volume of Saga is a delightful romp. That's largely because it's a fine mix of subgenres and tone. The story is one part space opera, one paThe first volume of Saga is a delightful romp. That's largely because it's a fine mix of subgenres and tone. The story is one part space opera, one part fantasy, and a big part relationship drama, plus comedy, ghost story, sex story, and horror.
The plot involves a cross-species couple and their just-born baby running from an interstellar war. I'll avoid spoilers here, but said plot races along at manic speed, spiked by extreme violence and nonstop invention. Every few pages presents a new lifeform, a new character, or an energetic plot twist.
The art is excellent, presenting the world in its richness and different registers: interpersonal drama, wild gunplay, sadness.
Ancillary Justice is an impressive first novel, and a worthy contender for the 2014 Hugo award. It grabbed me from the start.
The setting is a sprawlinAncillary Justice is an impressive first novel, and a worthy contender for the 2014 Hugo award. It grabbed me from the start.
The setting is a sprawling interstellar empire, complete with starships, AIs, teleportation gates, a Dyson sphere, interplanetary invasions, threatening aliens, and personalities inhabiting multiple bodies. The Radch empire is several thousand years old, and seems to have frozen scientific development for some time, as new discoveries and technologies haven't been going on for a while.
The main character is an "ancillary", a person whose personality has been wiped, then replaced by an AI spanning multiple such bodies. Breq is a nicely realized creation. She grapples with emotions in a controlled way that goes against the grain of most artificial life plots (cf Star Trek's Data). Another character, Seivarden, is also well developed. She's a former aristocrat ripped out of her life, fallen on hard times, and gradually attracted to Breq. Lieutenant Awn, Breq's commander, begins as a colonial ruler trying to do the right thing and becomes, believably, tragic. The Radch's ruler, a thousand-bodied tyrant, appears as the villain, and is also intriguing (see spoilers below).
The plot concerns Breq's quest for revenge and, well, titular justice. The novel's narrative structure consists of two plot strands for most of the book, a present path and backstory. Chapters alternate between then until the past catches up with the present. The backstory establishes the injustice which Breq much address; the present catches up with her plans in the last stage of realization.
The opening chapter does a fine job in many ways. It's a marvel of how to pull readers into an sf world without piles of infodumps. It also misdirects us into thinking the genre is detective fiction, since it starts off with the discovery of a body and the mystery associated with it. Breq is fascinating and almost opaque. The setting - a frontier world - is intriguing, and nicely opposed by the backstory's locale.
On style: most of the text is dialogue. There aren't many descriptive passages, unusual for space opera. Action (battles, fighting, chases) occurs through very few words. This could be a fine stage play. It also reminds me of Asimov's fiction, which is largely dialog-based.
Ancillary does some fun things with gender in language. The Radch empire is biologically unisex. People can be biologically altered to give birth, but are otherwise ungendered. The language then treats everyone as female. Radch citizens get confused when visiting foreign worlds that gender their speech and bodies, and have a hard time figuring out who's what and how to talk about it. Foreigners tease the imperials:
"You might just be very good with languages - inhumanly good, I might even say-" She paused. "The gender thing is a giveaway, though. Only the Radchaai would misgender people the way you do." (104)
There's a fine moment on page 283 when a disoriented Breq thinks she has to re-gender what she sees. She gets confused by bodies, appearances, and the panoply of custom... then remembers she doesn't have to. Seivarden starts off as generic female from Breq's linguistic perspective. Then we realize she's a male based on the gendered language of a resident of the frontier world (76). When we return to Breq's viewpoint, Seivarden appears linguistically female afterwards. To what extent is gender biological, when we have control over our bodies? To what extent do politics shape our gendering? This is exactly the kind of stylistic exploration which science fiction does so well.
The main character's problematic nature is also fascinating. Breq was once One Esk, an ancillary soldier that was part of a starship's AI, Justice of Toren. Leckie sets up fun scenes in the past storyline where multiple Justice of Torens observe, act, and speak at nearly the same time, all from the first person singular. There's a painful scene when the starship boots up an ancillary into the hive mind/body, and all the ancillaries suffer physical agony (169ff). In the present storyline she's simply Breq, isolated, and it's fascinating to see her continued evolution in their weird, very fallen state.
So why not five stars? When the two narrative lines coalesce the novel stalls out. The action slows, some new characters appear without much interest, and repetition sets in. Then the conclusion, while dramatically satisfying to a degree, shies away from any serious resolution. Spoiler time: (view spoiler)[The opening of Radch civil war is thinly described, surprisingly so. It's not clear what it would mean for the realm. The alien threat, which seems enormous (the Lord notes the Presger could wipe them out!), should loom even larger, but doesn't rate a mention by the end. The contrasting ideologies are also underdeveloped; it's not clear why any citizen of the Radch would adopt reform or conservation (neither is even named as such).
This strangely muted ending also frustrates the reader emotionally, since we're set up for serious revenge and don't get it. Breq/One Esk does get to shoot a bunch of tyrants, but to no real effect. Instead the tyrant adopts her (!) and gives her a job. I appreciate the lack of simple resolution, but the end feels too compromised.
Clearly this is all set up for the sequel. Breq and Seivarden are going to have a starship, the civil war unfolds, and the nasty aliens should appear. (hide spoiler)] Ancillary Justice concludes by setting up a sequel, and that's a novel I look forward to. This book's world is fascinating and carries the potential for at least another good book. I recommend this one highly. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
An engaging and entertaining Asimov novel, part of his Empire series (which I think I'm just getting into now).
Currents of Space is an sf/mystery bleAn engaging and entertaining Asimov novel, part of his Empire series (which I think I'm just getting into now).
Currents of Space is an sf/mystery blend, turning on that old amnesia storytelling device. One character, Rik, appears on the surface of the planet Florina, having lost nearly all of his memory. Various people take interest in Rik, which triggers all kinds of events: (view spoiler)[murder, mistaken identity, revolution, imperial scheming, blackmail, and ultimately the threat of planets destroyed by nova. (hide spoiler)]
Several aspect of Currents of Space stood out for me.
First, the genre blend of science fiction and mystery. Perhaps 1/2 of the book consists of either people trying to solve a mystery, or telling others their solutions. One character, quite a villain, describes himself as playing detective at one point. At the same time we get science fiction tropes. There's space opera, with starships, interstellar empires, advanced technologies, and (view spoiler)[exploding stars (hide spoiler)]. There's also hard sf, involving what the title means, and its implications, (view spoiler)[broken down in terms of chemistry and interstellar space (hide spoiler)].
Second, the novel is very much about racism and racist societies. The planet Sark rules Florina much like American whites ruled black slaves in the antebellum south. Sarkites are a racial elite, while Florinians exists only to toil in fields, picking something called "kyrt" and which acts a lot like cotton did in the 18th and 19th centuries. Sarkites use classic racist techniques, even calling Florinian males "boy", no matter their biological age. For America in 1952 this must have been obviously evident. Moreover, the Florinians have unusual skin pigment - very white! One major character, Selim Junz, is unusually dark-skinned, which, he says, gives him empathy for the Florinians. Junz cheers every reversal experienced by Sark.
All in all, an interesting novel, always engaging.
The sequel to Forge of God is a remarkably powerful, dark novel. Anvil of Stars is one part space opera revenge tale and one part meditation on violenThe sequel to Forge of God is a remarkably powerful, dark novel. Anvil of Stars is one part space opera revenge tale and one part meditation on violence, social dynamics, and extreme power imbalances.
The plot concerns a ship full of young people, assigned to exact punishment on the villains from the first book, aliens simply known as The Killers. Much of the first 2/3rds of Anvil is concerned with exploring this microcosm of human society. Bear sets out dozens of characters, most notably three leaders, Martin, Hans, and Ariel. He charts their respective rises and falls, how the group organizes and schisms, responses to poor information, crises of authority, sexual dynamics, and deaths.
The plot drives forward, starting with (view spoiler)[a disastrous encounter with a Killers star system. Aliens appear, one group dead, the other tasked with integrating with the humans. Very fascinating race, the "Brothers". The last 1/3rd of the book is a spectacular war with an second and immense Killer system and its aftermath. (hide spoiler)] The plot is usually very compelling, leading to some exciting, suspenseful scenes. Indeed, a major mystery isn't revealed until the antepenultimate chapter.
The tone is mordant throughout. Every character is scarred by the murder of Earth, which occurred during their childhood. Most are named after mourned features of their natal planet, including animals and natural features. The ship's crew suffers losses by violence and suicide, with casualties building up as they battle the Killers. The "children" (as they call themselves) are also frequently terrified, since they know so little of what they're getting into, and are overwhelmingly outgunned and -classed by their enemies. Point of view character Martin is a dour one, spending a great deal of time dealing with those two emotions of terror and mourning.
The universe is very credible, both in terms of hard and soft sciences. Bear builds on the scenario sketched in Forge, partly by describing fascinating astronomy, and also by inventing many technologies. The sociology is equally credible and compelling.
I recommend this book as a fine sequel, although it can certainly be read on its own. Bear doesn't simply replicate the first book (say, by having Killers reappear to take out Mars), but uses its aftermath to move in new directions. Vengeance is a logical plot idea following book #1, and Anvil explores this deeply, with ambivalence and humanity.
It makes for a fine and fairly unusual space opera, lacking the politics of contemporary US/UK examples, and being far sadder. The book reminds me of some Poul Anderson novels, like Enemy Stars, in its combination of grimness and hard science. Indeed, there's something of the Viking in the determined character of Hans.
I've heard rumors that Bear wanted to do a third book in this world. I hope he does so.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
What a richly inventive novel this is. Lady of Mazes is most of all about ideas, the concepts coming quickly and piled on top of each other.
To descriWhat a richly inventive novel this is. Lady of Mazes is most of all about ideas, the concepts coming quickly and piled on top of each other.
To describe the plot is really to do the novel an injustice. Well, if I must, I'd say it's a kind of travel narrative in a far future solar system, where virtual reality plays a central role. The protagonist, Livia, sees terrible things happen to her home and world, so sets off to address them.
Where does she go? Livia travels between ringworlds. By flung house.
I'd like to describe more, but that's really spoiler time, since exploring this world is one of Lady of Mazes's pleasures. So: (view spoiler)[humans exist on a series of ringworlds, or "coronals", plus spacecraft and planets. Livia begins on a remote one, separated from everyone else by a giant artificial nebula. Crossing that nebula leads her and her companions to the rest of spacefaring humanity. But we humans are kept going by "anecliptics", posthuman, nearly alien entities who manage the very sun. (hide spoiler)]
Virtual reality is really central to the plot, which turns on the politics of building, maintaining, and sharing artificial worlds. Which sounds drier than it really is, since Schroeder's dialog keeps discussions thoughtful and fresh.
I was surprised by much of the plot, since it shunned cliches and swerved in odd directions. That's a rare treat for today's sf.
I have some passages to share in my next update.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
The Centauri Device is a bitter anti-space opera and a vital precursor to cyberpunk. Important reading for anyone interested in sf.
The plot concerns tThe Centauri Device is a bitter anti-space opera and a vital precursor to cyberpunk. Important reading for anyone interested in sf.
The plot concerns the voyages of Captain Truck as he shambles around the galaxy being pursued by military superpowers. The latter convince the former to help find the title's ancient superdevice. In the end (view spoiler)[and after much suffering Truck finds the device, then uses it to destroy the Earth and nearby stars (hide spoiler)].
There's a lot going on in Centauri, and I'll mention a few things.
First, the grimness and bitterness of the story smacks science fiction space opera upside the head. Almost nothing in the far future is gleaming, awesome, or even very decent. Most of the scenes take place in bad bars, police interrogation chambers, trashed alleyways, and bedsits for nearly starving people. Characters are junkies, poor people, failures, thugs, prostitutes, beggars, losers. The two military interstellar empires (based on Arab nations and Israel, weirdly, sort of hilariously) are powerful but disgusting and entropic. Most plots ends badly, quests failing, human civilization flopping towards mediocrity. Call it grimdark space opera, or a response to Flash Gordon.
It's a melancholy book, lacking any sense of a future. Most of the characters look to the past, all too often the 20th century, or their own sorry backstories. There isn't much hope for a better tomorrow. (That 20th century fixation is one of the few imaginative weaknesses of the novel.)
Second, and following this, Centauri lays important groundwork for cyberpunk. We see the world dominated by stupid powers, and the hero an antihero who can't really make the world a better place. We also see some culture mixing of the kind Gibson did well in Neuromancer. Not much cyber, but plenty of punk.
Third, the novel shows once again Harrison's excellent style. Each snarling, brooding paragraph is beautifully shaped, setting up ideas with a precise minimum of words.
Recommended for anyone remotely interested in sf. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more