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Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch, #1)
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2013 Reads > AJ: When/Why Did Science Die?

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Alan | 534 comments The book may not say it explicitly but it really seems like technological progress has stalled in the universe of this book. Otherwise, how could the Justice of Toren have been usefully in service for thousands of years? Why would Seivarden have felt out of place due to language and customs without any mention of technology confusing him? (There wasn't even a discussion of needing new training before rejoining the military.) And would alien weaponry really remain a mystery after a full thousand years to study it?

I might be able to fanwank explanations that allow those plot-points to co-exist with continued scientific progress but it really seems like the author made the intentional choice to have a society (and the other cultures that surround it) that has remained technologically frozen for millennia.

Did anyone else feel that way? If so, why do you think it happened to the Radchaii?


Gary Bremer | 21 comments Wow, that is a really good point that I hadn't even considered. I think the easy answer would be that the Radchaii definitely had a status-quo thing going on...so it's doubtful innovation was high on the Leadership's priorities.

Another way to look at the Radchaii might be as a Hive. They have the hive-mind going on for their leadership, and it seemed like their entire goal was to assimilate (resistance is futile! haha) everyone they came across. In that same vein, a Hive doesn't really worry about becoming "better"...just bigger. Generally speaking of course.


Daniel Eavenson (dannyeaves) | 127 comments Remember also that we have not actually seen true Radchaii society. The actual society is a Type 2 with a Dyson sphere built around their home world. The society we see is a Military engine. All the planets are incorporated under Miannai for purpose of protecting one star system. All other purposes were made secondary to expansion and exploration.

The lack of technological advancement also comes from the lack of challenge to that engine. Only one alien military force, which is the group that made the guns that kill anything, have ever hurt the society. And the reaction to that contact is essentially the shattering of the entire support structure either through direct damage from the enemy or the inherent weakness in the design of the society by miannai.

Also it seems the super guns are the first civilization to offer up technology that even comes close to what the Radch have available to them. Nothing to push them in the direction of the intuitive leaps of innovation.


Lindsay | 593 comments Good point Alan. I think it comes down to the "space empire" trope that Ms Leckie was talking about in the wrap-up interview. A scientific plateau or even scientific stagnation seems to be an important element of the trope.

I'm sure that this is for a number of reasons but in the case of the Radchaai empire I think it's two issues:

(1) Absolute Gerontocracy. With continuity of leadership across literally thousands of years and complete and personally-present control from Anaander Minaai what are the chances that potentially game-changing scientific progress is going to be funded or even allowed?

(2) Empire itself - with so much effort maintained in expansion and control, the best and brightest of the civilization are going to have other priorities.


Mike Personally, I see this as a bit of a trope in both Sci-Fi and Fantasy, where a world/universe doesn't seem to change significantly over long stretches of time.

I'm not entirely sure why fictional civilizations don't seem to advance at the same speed as real life ones, but it does tend to happen that way in books and I often feel like authors don't often put too much thought into it.


Rob Secundus (quintessential_defenestration) | 1035 comments I don't think it's a stretch that, even though we experience technology advancing ever more rapidly now, that that advancement might slow once we theoretically got up to, like physics breaking FTL level stuff.


Rick | 2775 comments Mike wrote: "
I'm not entirely sure why fictional civilizations don't seem to advance at the same speed as real life ones, ..."

They do. They just don't advance as fast as we have over the last 2-300 years. But keep in mind that the last few hundred years have been exceptional. You could take someone from 100AD and plop them in 1100AD and, culture and language aside they'd fit in. The technology in those 1000 years didn't advance that much (I'm sure there are exceptions, but the general point is true). Heck you could probably take someone from 1000BC and drop them in 500 or 1000AD.

My point is that civilizations DO plateau for long periods and it's perfectly possibly to imagine that the Radchaai hit a plateau and were SO dominant that they didn't need to make breakthroughs.

Two smaller points - The Justice of Toren we meet may well be more advanced that the one which started service thousands of years before. Also, I think it's very hard for an author to imagine, realistically, that technology might look like 5000 years hence. I mean, even on earth what we have now would feel like magic to someone from 3000BC. They couldn't have imagined it. I suspect we're just as unable to imagine what technology we might have in 8000AD even with long fallow periods such as we've had in the last 5000 years.


Lindsay | 593 comments You don't have to go back that far even.

I have a device in my pocket that allows me access to basically the sum total of human knowledge within a few taps of its screen. It holds, right now, well over 100 books and over 50 radio shows and is basically only limited by want I actually want to have on it. Oh, and I can use it to speak to anyone else in the entire world who also has one of these.

How far would you have to go back for such a thing to be completely unbelievable? I'm in IT - I could imagine such a thing in the 80s. Go back much further than that and it might as well have been magic.


message 9: by Rick (last edited Nov 29, 2013 11:23AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Rick | 2775 comments Well, no, you could have seen examples of cell phone capabilities for much of the 20th century. Heck, Star Trek in the 60s had communicators and the computer was a huge data resource.

But my point is that the 20th century saw MASSIVE change and much of this took place in a single lifetime or perhaps two. For example, I'm 55. My Mom was born in 1915... during WW1. She was a teen during the Depression and an adult during WW2. My Dad was 7 years younger and fought in WW2. That one generation back from me. My grandparents were born in the 1890s.... when Russia was ruled by a Tsar and Germany by a Kaiser. They lived to see people walk on the moon.

The amount of advancement in the last few hundred years is stunning... but our history, counting from the early Chinese empires and Sumerian civilization has seen long periods of slow technological advancement. It's a bit of historical weirdness that we live in times like we do and we need to be careful not to assume that our times are typical when analyzing other times (fictional or real).


Sandi (sandikal) | 1212 comments Don't forget that a society can regress as well as progress. Someone commented that a person from 100 AD would be comfortable in 1100 AD. I don't think that would be the case. The person from the earlier period would have lived during the Roman Empire. They had good roads, good hygene, and indoor plumbing. I think that Roman would have been appalled by the middle ages.


message 11: by Rick (new) - rated it 4 stars

Rick | 2775 comments Ha. Good point Sandi.


Ruth (tilltab) Ashworth | 1860 comments Definitely an interesting thought I hadn't considered from the OP, but, yeah, I agree with the general flow of this thread - they have reached a point where things have plateaued, which does happen, particularly when you are ruled by a being that can be several different places at once and has been around for a very long time. I think if everything had remained the same, it would have been questionable, but it seems reasonable that language, culture and dress would have been the more obvious changes.


message 13: by Alan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Alan | 534 comments Thanks for all the thoughtful responses - and for confirming that I wasn't totally misreading the book. Her use of the scientific plateau trope is a bit different from most of the interstellar empire genre in that the other books usually explain why it happened and there are usually other signs of societal decay.

As a "realistic" thing, I don't think most societies stay technologically static while they still have external threats. Yes, we've been born into an exceptional few hundred years but if you look back through history, there are major technological changes over several periods - all inside less than 3,000 years of recorded history.

The Radchaii have a highly-developed technological base and have never had a fall back into barbarism where they lose their scientific knowledge. To maintain that industry, they still need scientifically trained people and some of those people will come up with scientific advances, even breakthroughs. I think that the reason for it happening here will become clearer in later books. I agree with the posters who think that one likely reason is that the dictator's been quashing science.

I think it would not have struck me as so odd if the time spans had been shrunk a bit -- if the book had said that Justice of Torren had been in service uninterrupted, except for occasional maintenance upgrades, for five hundred years. And, if Seivarden's ship had been destroyed 100 to 200 years ago, instead of a thousand. To be honest, I think that everything about the book fits a bit better if there is a hundred years between Seivarden and Lieutenant Awn, rather than a thousand.


message 14: by Rick (new) - rated it 4 stars

Rick | 2775 comments Keep in mind that Radchaai society is not like the West here. It's structured in a feudal clientage manner from what we can tell in AJ with relatively few entities in the top rungs. That kind of hierarchical structure tends to work against progress. In our world you had things like the rise of the bourgeoisie in France who looked around, realized that they were creating all the wealth and wanted the power that came with that. In the novel, though, the upper classes had overwhelming military power that could suppress dissent (see what happened at Garsedd....). They also seem to be growing economically by conquest which, while it's inefficient, isn't unreasonable.

I guess the combination of millennia of stasis here (it's not just 3000 years, but 5-7,000 since we started living in cities) and suspension of disbelief makes this less of an issue for me. After all, the guns the Presger have violate everything we know about physics.... At some point I just suspend disbelief, accept the world and proceed.


Joanna Chaplin | 1175 comments Really neat point! I hadn't thought about that until I saw this post.

One thing I like about Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga is that she explicitly discusses how technology changes society over the course of the series.


Dylan I had noticed the lack of technological advance as well, and wondered myself at it, especially given the huge time scales.
I compared it with the Dark Ages in Europe, where there was a relatively large span of time stretching several centuries, and in which a unified governing body (the Roman Catholic Church) suppressed much of the advancement seen in the previous time period with the highly advanced Roman Empire. By controlling the progression of knowledge, power was retained. So perhaps scientific research is restricted only to Radchaii within the highly advanced circles? Also, I did not see any evidence of any kind of scientific publication or media available to citizens. Common knowledge was largely of culture and the military.

Regarding exponential technological change, I think it can be noted the speed of advancement increases as a result of better communication, again, something that an advanced civilization like the Radchaii could effectively control given the limits of lightspeed and travel.


Bryan Alexander I think Lindsay nailed a key point about "Absolute Gerontocracy". The lord of the Radch established something like a perfect Orwellian state two thousand years ago, and doesn't want to let it go.

This reminds me of the middle Dune books, where the empire stagnates, even regresses.


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