Month: July 2014

Ann Leckie: Ancillary Justice

Another Amazon / Goodreads suggestion, Ancillary Justice is Ann Leckie’s first novel (though not her first published work), a space opera — when a review made a comparison to Iain Banks, and I saw the huge Kindle discount, I was sold.

The premise is that of a far future interplanetary empire. Humans have colonized hundreds if not thousands of planets, and there are huge ships and space stations with superhuman artificial intelligences. These AIs can use human bodies as “ancillaries,” avatars of sorts. The main character is one of these ancillaries separated from their ship’s AI. By now the parallels to Bank’s Culture are probably apparent.

One particular, if not entirely believable, aspect is the way the book deals with gender from the viewpoint of a genderless language and a genderless machine. It’ll cause any future Finnish translators a lot of grey hairs. While the rationale behind introducing the verbal trickery may be a bit suspect, the effect was pretty interesting, at least to me.

The language and prose were well crafted, and it’s clear time was spent on this book. The pacing is a bit slow — this isn’t as much space action as it is a more measured “what if” exploration, which speeds up towards the end. Unfortunately I felt like many of the moral issues were not entirely satisfactorily dealt with. Since the main character isn’t human, criticizing them for not really getting all the depth one might want seems churlish.

Overall, I’m a bit torn; if I look at any single technical aspect, Ancillary Justice is a good enough, but not great. And yet it kept me turning pages and neglecting chores and sleep; it clearly is better than the sum of its parts, and all of those parts are perfectly serviceable, if not excellent or particularly original.

Three and a half stars, and I’ll definitely pick up the sequel. The plot is self-contained; things are fairly well wrapped up making the read rewarding on its own, but there’s a clear larger story arch that has been set up. At least in the Kindle edition, after all the marketing fluff, there’s an interesting interview with the author. (And thank goodness, this book knows where it ends, rather than the Kindle thinking I have to page through all the previews for the book to be finished.)

Posted by Toivo Voll

Max Gladstone: Three Parts Dead and Two Serpents Rise

Me friend Tegan had recommended Max Gladstone’s Three Parts Dead for the quality of its prose, and being still under the spell of Patrick Rothfuss for the same reason, I gave it a try.

Three Parts Dead is the first book in a series carrying the same name. The books do not proceed chronologically or feature the same characters, but are set in the same world and do have linkages. I liked the first book; didn’t love it, but liked it. The prose was nice, the pacing good, and the world is original. If anything, it reminds me of a more serious Ankh-Morpork. If I stop to think about the internal consistency of it too much, I begin to have doubts, but it works well enough to keep the story moving.

The plot itself is a whodunnit, and the characters in question are pretty interesting, even if they don’t become entirely three-dimensional. Definitely worth the time and price, though did not make my top-shelf list. Three and a half stars out of five.

Where things get more interesting is with Two Serpents Rise. The events of this book take place before the first, and approach the world from a different angle. In many ways it really fleshes out the cosmology and theology of the world to a much greater degree, and not just by exposition, but by bringing up the inherent moral and ethical conflicts involved.

The plot is hard to pigeon-hole, perhaps calling it an adventure tale will suffice. I was not horribly impressed by the beginning of the novel. It started a bit timidly, but it kept building momentum and continued a good clip for the rest of the book. There were several turning points both in the story and emotion, so the traditional build-up to a climax and descend from there did not apply.

What appealed to me the most here was the relationship between the protagonist and his love interest. The relationship is mutating and complicated, much as reality. While the romantic moment tropes are well present, the entire story is a lot more interesting. Even so, though, the characters never quite came alive as deep people — some of this may be forgiven due to the way the primary relationship serves as an allegory to more fundamental events.

Two Serpents Rise earns four of my five stars, with the note that one of those is completely subjectively given.

Posted by Toivo Voll