≡ Menu

I read some books, and I loved them

Ancillary justice

I’ve realised recently that I miss writing on the blog. I’ve pretty much just moved to pictures only, because I can do those while doing something else, whereas writing, I really need to sit down to do it with some concentration. I just don’t have the time to do that now, or rather, I don’t want to. But what I have realised is that sometimes I write really quite long comments on facebook or instagram, and maybe I should just write about stuff that I write about on there, fluffy things, or answering a question. Blog like no one is reading (which may well be true, haha!).

So with that in mind, today I am going to talk about the books I read over Christmas!

It’s the Imperial Radch trilogy by Ann Leckie: Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy. It’s sci fi, set in a very distant future, or possibly just a different world altogether, in which there is space travel and thousands of planets are colonised. Earth does not feature (there’s a bit that goes ‘we do know where humans originally came from, but it’s not very interesting and there’s nothing in that part of the universe’), and in the timescale talked about in the book (the last 3,000 years) there was always all this technology.

The context is that there is one group of humans, the Radchai, who have gone about colonising everyone, annexing whole planetary systems, and control an empire that takes about a year to travel from one end to another, even with the ships. The ruler of the Radchai, Anaander Mianaai, is no longer one person, but has made lots of clones of themselves which are held together by a central control through AI implants (they all know what each other are doing), so they can be in all these places at the same time, and also live forever. In order to do the annexations, they have built warships, which are manned by hundreds of ancillaries, which are human bodies tied to and controlled the AI core of the ship. The ancillaries will follow commands unquestionably, although they do have emotions and to some extent think for themselves, and there are also human soldiers.

The book’s main character, Breq, used to be such a warship with ancillaries, but by the time we meet them, they are only a single surviving ancillary body, with the actual ship and all the other ancillaries destroyed, by Anaander. Or rather *an* Anaander, because what has happened is that the ruler has split into two selves, who are at war which other over the future of the Radchai. One wants to continue annexing everyone, the other wants that to stop. Nobody knows about the split though, and the two factions are doing their scheming in secret, while society goes on. We meet Breq 19 years after their ship-self was destroyed, on a mission to expose the split and kill Anaander.

In a way, it’s a very enjoyable sci fi plot. There’s fighting, spying, a lot of politics and space travel. It all moves along at a pace. But what makes this book special is the perfectly imagined world its in. And it’s all done with a light touch – you know how sometimes the author has imagined a world in a lot of detail, and they want to tell you all about it (looking at you, China Mieville and Perdito Street Station, which is 50% descriptions of neighbourhoods)? Well, it’s not like that. Not that much is explained for its own end, stuff just comes up when it comes up in the plot.

But the most notable thing about the world is that the Radchai don’t recognise gender. You might have noticed I was careful to refer to Annander and Breq as ‘they’ above, and that’s because you don’t know what they are. I guess there are still male and female bodies, but it’s not a distinction that is really made. In the Radchai language there are no gender specific pronouns and fashions that elsewhere might mark gender are worn indiscriminately. People have sex (quite a lot), but children are born through artificial processes (and not necessarily with just two people’s DNAs). This is explained because Breq struggles when moving about in remote systems that do make this distinction, and can never figure out what pronoun to use. The way this is all handled in English is that everyone is referred to as a ‘she’, but also ‘Sir’ and Anaander is the ‘Lord of the Radch’. Kids only have mothers. There are a couple of people where you are told that they are male, because Breq has to make a call in a different language and gets it wrong, but apart from that you have no idea and have to imagine it for yourself. For me, Breq was male (I guess because they, as the narrator, aren’t referred to as she), but everyone else was female, even the people I was specifically told were male, but I actually tried to keep it in my head in a gender neutral way. It’s just an amazing thing to experience, and it’s so skilfully done.

The other thing I liked about it, and maybe this is just me, is that everyone drinks tea all the time. It’s rude no not offer someone tea when they see you, and there is a whole hierarchy of what kind of crockery you serve it in. All the socialising is done in tea houses. One of the characters is a drug addict and wanders around the outer parts of the system, but when they go clean and reenter Radch space proper, they immediately attempt to buy some tea and complain about how terrible it is. There is also one scene where someone is very nervous and drinks tea continuously for like 12 hours and ends up completely over caffeinated and needing to pee constantly, which amused me because I sympathise!

So anyway, that’s why I like (love!) these books. I’m not sure this will have necessarily encouraged anyone to read it, but if not, don’t let that put you off. You definitely should!

Re the picture: a kindle screen is not the most photogenic, so I asked Milo to draw me a space picture.

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Sadie 30 January 2018, 9:02 pm

    I’m really glad you enjoyed them! I have to say, I have always imagined Breq as inhabiting a female body, but I love the fact that mostly you have no way of knowing and it really doesn’t matter. (I also realised quite recently that female pronouns with male titles is probably inspired by Ursula Le Guin – in The Left Hand of Darkness she uses male pronouns for the mostly-agender Gethenians, and she regretted that and in later works she uses female pronouns with male titles, so there’s a short story which begins ‘The king was pregnant…’.)

  • bani 5 February 2018, 9:10 am

    Yessss, sci-fi recommendations! I’ve put in a reservation at the library now. Thank you for the tip! 😀

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge

Next post:

Previous post: