Tag Archives: Ann Leckie

PROVENANCE – Ann Leckie (2017)

provenance-20I enjoyed reading Provenance, but after I put it down the question whether this really was a good book quickly took my enjoyment hostage. As entertainment it works just fine: others have called it a comedy of manners, and Leckie has a distinctive, somewhat detached style which helps her create awkward social atmospheres seemingly effortlessly. The pacing is okay, the prose too, and enough stuff happens to keep the reader’s interest fresh. It needs repeating: all that is no mean feat, and Provenance is definitely not a bad book.

A small part of the novel’s charm deals with the strangeness of aliens – but ultimately it’s just the same old trick as in Frank Herbert’s Whipping Star: having aliens speak garbled English. I wrote ‘small’ part, because I wanted more. Provenance is set in the same universe as Leckie’s famous debut trilogy, but those of you craving more of the Rrrrrr or something like that hilarious & menacing Presger translator will be disappointed. In fact, the character of the Geck ambassador more or less repeats Leckie’s trick from Ancillary Mercy – yet without anything coming close to the genius of the fish sauce.

Provenance is the Imperial Radch trilogy light. Those books are about characters and pack quite some emotions – although it might not show at first, and Leckie takes her time to develop, all the way up to book 3. This is a standalone story of 438 pages, and the main character simply isn’t as interesting, her adventures not as compelling. In fact, the ending is so, so predictable I wonder if it’s a joke on Leckie’s part. Joke or not, it doesn’t make for literature that sticks, as the narrative arc ends with a fizzle, and the same goes for whatever emotional build up there might have been. Continue reading

ANCILLARY MERCY – Ann Leckie (2015)

Ancillary MercyAncillary Justice was a book about the non-existence of free will, and Ancillary Sword was about love. Ancillary Mercy adds the theme of identity, and what it means to be a Significant being. From the very first pages Leckie makes it clear that this is a book about Artificial Intelligence. Not only main character Breq, a former warship, but also the AI of Athoek Station – where the bulk of this novel takes place – and the AIs of several ships play an important role in the conclusion to the Imperial Radch trilogy. Them being beings with feelings turns out to be the real focus of these 3 books, not so much the gender issue, nor colonization. If there are lessons to be learned from Ancillary J-S-M, its main lesson would be to have respect for feelings. As such, this could be considered to be more a series on animal rights, than on males dominating our culture. The politics of Anaander Mianaai play an important role nonetheless, and Leckie dissects the ultimate ethical failure of its power systems meticulously. Somewhere between the lines is a strong case for the dismissal of the current form of capitalism, in favor of a more cooperative economy.

But feelings are upfront and in the clear, and not only the feelings of the AIs that populate the story. Leckie manages to explicitly give some character advice about arrogance and being self-centered & inconsiderate. The dynamic between Seivarden and Ekalu is recognizable to, I guess, lots and lots of couples. It’s great stuff, and very human. Seivarden grows as a person, and the pages devoted to their relationship could be copy-pasted directly in whatever non-genre literary masterwork.  Continue reading

ANCILLARY SWORD – Ann Leckie (2014)

Ancillary SwordI liked the first book of the Imperial Radch trilogy, and I think this book might even be a bit better. Still, it’s different enough to be surprised anew – not something a lot of series writers manage to pull off. Leckie really shows she’s an original, crafty writer…

The main quality of Ancillary Sword probably is its subtle, subdued nature. Leckie manages to channel the formal, militaristic nature of the Radchaai society in the way she tells the story. Content and form are superbly aligned. Both the restrained prose and Leckie’s supreme command of narrative voice are something to behold. There never is any exposition that would be out of character, and because of that, our discovery of the world Leckie happens very, very slowly. This is a strength rather than a weakness, though.

Because of this, the moments we do learn stuff (about the Presger aliens, about mourning rituals, about certain habits of ancillaries) have a big impact, and remind us readers we don’t have a grasp of this world, although we thought we did. Leckie shatters our self-deception a few times, and we should be grateful for that. Add to that the fact that these moments are always small and oddly poetic. It’s like traveling through a barren wasteland, to discover a shoot of an orchid once in a while, of a bright bed of mushrooms. It shows the author’s tremendous restraint. It’s a talent, because books about the same subject matter could easily be Grand and overdone.

The same goes for the emotional impact Ann Leckie manages to create. Because there’s not a lot of character development, and the characters often feel wooden, at first glance the novel seems detached and cold. Yet in the end it turns out that it is very much about different kinds of love, and I was truly moved. It’s only natural that some of the characters feel flat and wooden, as they are essentially forms of AI. There’s nothing of the good-humoured, pleasant and even funny AIs and robots that populate so much of space opera. And again, emotions are painted sparsely, and again that enhances their impact. A line here, a line there, but so well chosen and precise. Masterly.

Leckie also understands humans (and as such bodies) very well. She makes a few interesting biological observations about the bodily needs of ancillaries that make these robotic characters truly flesh-y and vulnerable. When this happens, it again comes as a gemlike surprise, even as a shock. It shows courage, and feels like a breath of fresh air in the space opera genre.

As other reviewers have pointed out, the narrative voice in this book differs a bit from the previous one, but it is still highly original. If Leckie manages to continue this trend of narrative change in the third & final book, it’ll really be a tour de force.

Even more than Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword is a deadpan comedy of manners.

Mind you, Sword is not an easy read. It needs focus & concentration, and the middle part is slow indeed. Don’t let that scare you off. This is brave, original, moving literature. I’m very curious about the final volume: luckily it’s just out, so I don’t need to wait an entire year…

ANCILLARY JUSTICE – Ann Leckie (2013)

Ancillary JusticeThis is a clever book, with a few great, thrilling moments. What I like best of it is the cold, harsh nature of some parts of Radch society. The AI/ship part of the story is also well done, but it reminds me a bit of Banks’ ship minds and other AIs elsewhere to be called truly original. It’s distinct enough though, so no sweat there. Near its end, the book also features some good phrases on the (non-existing) freedom of the will: (the illusion of) choice is it’s most important theme. Leckie at first makes you think there are choices, but ultimately, not so. Cunningly done.

On the other hand, it’s not as epic as I thought it would be: it’s actually a pretty small story, without a lot of characters, exotic worlds, interesting technology, or notable aliens. Aside from one (crucial) part, the story of this book could have just easily been a political intrigue set in ancient Rome. It’s not really high concept space opera on a grand scale.

Much has been said about the book’s gender issue, but that isn’t crucial to the story at all. It’s fresh to have mostly “she”s instead of “he”s, and it works pretty well, but it’s not an important aspect that truly advances the story. (But: it’s not believable at all that a highly advanced AI cannot distinguish between biological gender, so Leckie should have edited out the parts where that happens, it could have been easily done without hurting the story or the rest of the gender stuff.)

Ancillary Justice is recommended, and I will eagerly read the sequel, but for now Leckie is not a space opera writer of the same caliber as Banks, as some reviews tend to suggest. She might become one, and although her writing is a bit wooden at times, this debut definitely proves she has great potential.

originally written on the 1st of February, 2015