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Ancillary Mercy (Imperial Radch)

4/5. Last book in the trilogy. My enduring image from this book, and the series, will I think always be, three formerly-enslaved artificial intelligences sitting around a table genteelly sipping tea and discussing what they're going to do with their self-determination. I mean, there this series is.

I finally really like this series, with this book. I enjoyed the first but didn't go into raptures, and thought the second was oversimplified and disappointing. But this one is truly wonderful. It is deeply concerned with personhood and the functioning of complex power structures, but also flavored with Leckie's unique brand of light absurdist comedy. I mean, this is a book that manages to say things about alienation and outsiderness through an extremely weird running joke regarding fish, fish cakes, and fish sauce. I think I finally tuned my brain to the correct wavelength, or Leckie finally really hit her stride, or both, because this all finally clicked together into the weird, tipsy, anti-imperialist, seethingly furious mechanism that it is.

I still think the linguistic gender work is a bit of a misfire, magnified by the way recording audiobooks of this series requires an implicit commitment to gendering Breq, which is pretty terrible no matter how good the narrator is. But the effect of using the universal 'she' pronoun is lovely, even if it works less on a meta level the more I think about it. It obviously has a useful function in that it prevents the reader from automatically positioning people in relation to each other based on their gender. And I'm not even talking about heterocentrism here – you can't queer this narrative either, because there's no queerness. That's helpful in that it gets a lot of shit out of the way so that this power structure can exist on its own terms. But it could have done a heck of a lot more (why doesn't anti-imperial sentiment manifest in rebelling against the Radch concept of gender? Wouldn't there be radicalism in having binary and trinary and etc. gender paradigms? Just for a random thought).
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Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch, #1)Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Ambitious scifi told from the perspective of one fragment of an artificial intelligence that doesn't just run but is a spaceship serving a colonialist empire.

This book had the great misfortune of being talked way up to me in ridiculous terms, to the point where I finished it and thought, "yeah, it's good, but come on, it's not that good." And the thing is, it's not, on a technical level. Leckie has an unfortunate addiction to infodumps which largely ruins the pleasure of puzzling out this strange but familiar post human world and its rules. And the last quarter or so of the book stumbles repeatedly with pacing and tension, such that it felt more like a deflation than a climax.

But that said, I am so entirely down with the stuff this book is rolling around in: the ethics of empire; conflicts of the self when the self is not as we understand it – a spaceship or a government rather than a human being; a marvelous intelligence made by humans but entirely not human, and also really, really angry. It's complex stuff, thoughtfully done, with the sort of textural awareness of class issues, in particular, that you just don't see every day.

The different iterations of the conflicted self were particularly effective for me. It seemed to get at the compromised, contradictory, self-deceptive heart of social hierarchies in a penetrating and accessible way, and I dug it.

But all that said. It isn't that good, come on. Let's do this book the favor of not talking about a debut like it's the second fucking coming, because that's a pretty awful thing to do to an author, honestly.




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