Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Book Review

"Ancillary Justice" by Anne Leckie is an absolutely excellent science fiction book spoiled slightly by three things: A boring and straightforward main theme, a smug self satisfaction with its handling of sexual politics and the sequels.

It's an engrossing and entertaining read, full of interesting ideas and characters. It's her first book and it won both a Nebula and a Hugo! It's about invasion forces, hive minds, split personalities, revenge and adventure. I read a lot of sci-fi and I'm quite happy that authors use their stories to indulge their own interests – poetry, classics, bad puns, band names, etc. Anne Leckie's hobby horse in this book is about gendered pronouns. She does a brilliant job of telling a whole story without telling us the sex of the protagonist or antagonist and trains us to read "he" and "she" as interchangeable. Unfortunately she keeps pointing out exactly what she's doing either in dialog or in internal monolog and it gets quite irritating. I imagine that she's won a bet with a literature professor and spoiled her book in the process.

The main theme is a childishly straightforward "oppression bad / individuality good" and although it's not challenging or nuanced, the treatment of individuality is so interesting and inventive that you don't miss a more nourishing discussion.

When I lived with a woman she would spend Wednesday nights with a group of other women playing cards, drinking tea and gossiping. Their boyfriends uncharitably called these get-togethers "Cackling Hags Club". Reading the followup "Ancillary Sword" felt like I'd been trapped in an extended C-H-C. Leckie takes a handful of previously entertaining characters and sends them on what is essentially a long spa-weekend to gossip about who said what to whom, who is a bit of a bitch, and who fancies whom. "Ancillary Mercy" is so boring that although I only read it about six weeks ago I can't even remember what happened.

Read "Ancillary Justice", skim over the sections about pronouns and pretend that there are no sequels.

Richard "not a literary critic" B

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