Wednesday, 24 June 2015

#CBR7 12: Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie

Tho' much is takes, much abides;

On a frozen world far outside of civilised space, Breq is distracted from her self-appointed mission of vengeance by a face from her distant past. Seivarden was the sole survivor of an assassination attempt on the Lord of the Radch a thousand years ago, a period in Breq's past which becomes more and more relevant as the narrative weaves on.

Breq is the last remnant of the troop carrier Justice of Toren, lost to all parts of herself and cast adrift two decades previously. She is not mad, although she was for a time, stuck in one body with only one set of senses to draw on where before she was the ship and the thousands of ancillaries she controlled. She struggles constantly to disguise her nature and her past from those around her, allies and enemies alike, while she unravels her recent and distant pasts and begins to understand the nature of her true enemy.

This book is incredible. The narrative is gently paced and portentous at first, as the world is slowly built up around Breq, but it accelerates constantly and by the end of it I resented every interruption and really had to force myself back into the real world. The characters are wonderful, redolent with flaws and strengths and dreams broken against the terrible machinations of a nearly-unimaginable enemy. The various different cultures examined in the book are all believable and unique - no simple space America, space USSR, space inscrutable Orientals here.

The blurb talks about how if you loved Iain M Banks' Culture novels you'll love this, and there are definitely similarities in the scope and ambition of the galaxy-building, as well as the transhuman and AI elements. But for me, Leckie felt much more like a true inheritor of Ursula K LeGuin, with her intricacies and slow burn and above all, her superb investigation into the nature of gender in society. If you are even the slightest bit interested in the way gender and sex interact with language and thinking, you need to read this book.

If you prefer rollicking space opera, this is going to be a harder read for you. (QQ, puppies, QQ.) But it's still the best Mil-SF I've read since Walter Jon Williams' Dread Empire's Fall series, and it does Leckie a massive disservice to overlook how good the action sequences are, how well she uses physics, and how much care she has taken to make it all visualisable and believable.

5 stars: and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Cross-posted to Cannonball Read here. Poetry: Ulysses, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Monday, 15 June 2015

#CBR7 11: New Amsterdam, Elizabeth Bear

I went on holiday last week and prepared my kindle with a bunch of interesting new books, several of which have been recommended by fellow Cannonballers. The first one I read, though, was one I bought a while ago in a Humble ebook bundle: New Amsterdam, by Elizabeth Bear.

More of a collection of short stories than a novel per se, the book contains several mysteries which are investigated and solved by three connected people: the vampire Don Sebastien de Ulloa, the sorcerer Abigail Irene Garrett, and de Ulloa's servant and courtier/courtesan Jack. The mysteries all have a supernatural bent to them, but the very human politics and scandals surrounding them are just as thrilling.

I've read other books by Bear, which I didn't review because I was stuck for a while, and she does non-standard characters well, as well as non-heteronormative romances. This book is no exception: the chemistry between the various different characters is great, and the way Sebastien builds up his small and unique court is a pleasure to watch unfolding. If I had to be a thrall to any fictional vampire, I'd want it to be him. He is a lovely character, and a really good vampire as well, with pleasing amounts of inhuman predator about him.

Abby Irene was my favourite though. She is never anything less than brutally honest with herself, and she takes no prisoners with anyone else either. She is very much in charge of her body and sexuality, and that's rare to see in any female character, let alone one in her middle age. She reminded me a lot of some of Bujold's older heroines, although Bear's style is very different than Bujold's work.

Amazon tells me there are more books in this series. I will definitely be checking them out at some point.
4 stars, highly recommended, would like more sex for fifth star.
Cross-posted to Cannonball Read here.