The Books of 2017, #4: Meeting Infinity, Jonathan Strahan, Editor

This collection of short sci-fi stories basically made no impression on me whatsoever. I’m not kidding; even though it features some of my all-time favorite authors, I’m sitting here a few weeks after I finished reading the book and am struggling to remember a single goddamned thing about it.

I think this is more my problem than that of the authors or the writing itself; I’ve never cottoned to sci-fi short stories. I liked some horror collections in the past, I still enjoy essay collections and fiction short stories, but sci-fi, specifically, I think I need full-length novels to really get into and be affected by.

Sorry shrug. This isn’t to say that this is a bad book by any means, it just wasn’t the right book for me to be reading at this time, apparently.

The Books of 2016, #5: Ancillary Mercy, by Anne Leckie

ancillary_mercySee my previous thoughts on this series to date here.

This goddamned series… I am trying, and failing, to think of a series I’ve read in my life that started out so promising and then disappointed me so greatly. I’ll be honest: I straight-up didn’t finish this fucker.

To briefly recap: first book, YAY! Grand in scope, a galactic emperor at war with herself! The concept of gender does not exist for the main race wowzers, that’s got some weird and interesting implications! Ships are people! Action takes place across multiple worlds and many decades!

Phew! THAT’S how you start a goddamned space opera!

Book Two! You’ve got… um… well, a LOT of talk about the class implications of tea pottery? Ship person is sad and distant. 90% of the action takes place on a space station that might as well be any current modern city on Earth, for all of how alien and space-y it is (isn’t). The rest of the action takes place on what might as well be a 19th Century Indian tea plantation. There’s literally not a single thing that happens on that fucking plantation or station that implies “SPAAAACE OPERA!!!!”.

The brilliant removal of gender as a language concept that helped make everybody in the first book actually seem _alien_? Now just an annoyance, one that is literally tossed aside at the one point in the plot where gender actually would matter. So why fucking have bothered in the first place?

That crazy mad space-empress at war with her own self? I dunno, she was absent almost entirely in book two and hadn’t shown up in the first 120 pages of book three and I punted at that point.

So, then Ancillary Mercy picks up right where Ancillary Sword left off, with Breq, our putative protagonist, recovering from “her” boring injuries incurred in the boring conclusion to the boring second book. The Mad Emperor Mianaai may or may not have shown back up in the system, I dunno, they mention her ships possibly coming through a gate but they’re a few weeks out from actually being able to interact with anyone and I didn’t read the book long enough to find out if she ever actually shows the fuck up.

While we’re waiting for the Space Lord to arrive and theoretically start some semblance of action, we must first read through another hundred pages of Thinly-Veiled Future Space Analogy To Current Day Racism and Classism That a Goddamned First-Year English Major Would Have the Decency To Be Embarrassed About.

That’s where I gave up.

To be clear: I’m not opposed to Sci-Fi As Social Analogy for Current Events AT ALL; that’s one of the strengths of the genre, its ability to cast current events into an interesting alien future in a way that possibly seeds some thoughts on how to deal with said problems now. And Lord knows there have been many very interesting takes on oppression, classism, racism, etc., done by many, many authors in the genre.

I just don’t find Leckie’s take on this interesting at ALL. She was going someplace wonderful in that first novel, but then scoped it down to something that hardly needs to be sci-fi in the next two, and then fails to do anything with the interesting premises setup in that first novel.

And that REALLY bums me out.

Leckie is still a pretty “new” author, this series started with her actual debut novel, and I wonder if she just ran out of steam on it. I can see having added a bigger conflict between Breq and Mianaai to the end of the first novel and just having ended the whole story _there_. Shifting to a whole new location for books two and three that, as of ~120 pages into the third, served NO purpose to highlight or advance the conflict between the various sides of the Lord of the Radch’s personal meltdown war, just makes no sense. Particularly since that conflict was setup in Book One as the Primary Plot, the pivotal event around which all other events should be viewed in relation to.

I dunno. Maybe I’ll finish the book someday, I can’t have more than an hour or two left in it. But I am just so disappointed in where this series has gone; it’s quite obvious that Leckie has got some stellar ideas in her head, she can do some solid if, so far, monochromatic world-building, but seems to struggle with fleshing out good base ideas into an entire series of books worth reading. I’ll keep an eye out for what she does in the future, but for right now, I’m setting this aside.

 

The Books of 2016, #2: Ancillary Sword, by Anne Leckie

ancillary_mercy

What was Book #1, you might be asking? Purity, by Jonathan Franzen. Enough ink has been spilled on that book already to where I see no need to add to it. If you like Franzen, you’ll probably like Purity, tho’ I didn’t find it quite as good as either The Corrections or Freedom. I hated every character, but loved reading about them getting their various comeuppances. It’s a book generally about well-off, hateful white assholes designed to be appreciated and enjoyed by well-off, hateful white assholes. It succeeds miserably and completely on that front. The End.

So, Book # 2 on the year is, uncomfortably, the middle volume of a three-book sci-fi romp that has garnered all the praise and awards (seriously, the first book took home the Hugo, Nebula, Clarke AND Locus. And it was Leckie’s debut novel. That’s some achievement right there), and the first book, Ancillary Justice, sure deserved them. I enjoyed that volume tremendously and was looking forward to this sequel.

Unfortunately, a lot of what I liked about the first entry is missing in the second. Breq, again our protagonist, was rather fascinating as a ship. Not so much as a human. Anaander Mianaai, a wonderful villain and concept (Near-Immortal Emperor of the big human empire who also happens to be at war with herself), is relegated to a brief appearance at the very start and some background mentions in passing otherwise. The completely alien and beyond-powerful Presger? Also almost entirely absent, except for a short stint as a Plot Device spent by the wonderful character of Dlique, their human-born but otherwise completely alien translator. Frankly, even the use of “she” for all genders (the Radch do not recognize gender in their speech, so the characters generally refer to everyone using female pronouns), which was a neat trick in the first novel, is more of a nuisance here, and actually set aside entirely in one scene where it would’ve muddled things up too much.

What we do get is a thinly-(very)-veiled morality play about Why Imperialism And Colonialism Are Bad. Most of the action takes place on Athoek Station and its namesake planet, both of which feature a colonial overlord class that lords it over the other races and keeps them oppressed. On the station, they live in the “Undergarden”, which is heavily and brutally policed, and completely unserved by the social and health services that exist for everyone else on the station. On the planet, the non-Radch are either plantation masters or the actual not-slaves-but-totally-slaves that harvest the tea that is the source of the planet’s wealth. Yes, really. A sci-fi book that centers on tea plantations.

I’m seriously hoping we just had a bad case of Middle Book Syndrome here, because I’ll be getting to the closing volume of the trilogy after a quick palette cleanse, but for now I am as disappointed in this book as I was impressed with the first.