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Ann Leckie - Ancillary Justice (2013)

As a reader: I enjoyed this very much. It was a very competent and entertaining space opera of a kind I have enjoyed for years. The use and discussion of gender pronouns adds a note of interest, and I particularly like the way Leckie deals with switching narrative viewpoint. Elizabeth Moon's Vatta's War and C J Cherryh's Chanur and Merchanters/Union books come to mind as direct comparators, and my copy has a chapter of a Moon novel bound in so obviously the publishers think so too.

As a science fiction fan: I am pleased that someone writing this particular strand of the genre is getting a day in the promotional sun in the UK. Moon has some books in print, but I don't think C J Cherryh has, and she took home her Hugo for Cyteen in 1989, which is a very long time ago in reading years. I have no problem with Leckie taking home all her awards for this very readable and competent novel. I'm very pleased to have brought a third UK printing, hope that Leckie has a long and successful science fiction career, and that mutliple printings will encourage UK publishers to be more active both in the genre and in publishing and promoting women writers of sf. But although the book is good, and deserves to have caught its moment, it's not a standout, and I do wonder whether it having taken all the prizes may be evidence that there is not much else that's good out there right now.

Now I have some time to read, your evidence in support of or to the contrary of the above observation, and recommendations of other current good stuff, would be welcomed and may even get followed up.


( 25 comments — Leave a comment )
17th Sep, 2014 13:02 (UTC)
What, for you, makes a good space opera and a great space opera?
17th Sep, 2014 15:02 (UTC)
The key (for me) is protagonists who pursue multiple conflicting personal goals in a coherent and well-realised universe where there are many contending factions of human and alien races. This allows a lot of latitude.

Many people have done them well: Niven, Delany, Poul Anderson, Norton come quickly to mind. Stargate and Farscape are tv examples. IMHO E E 'Doc' Smith's Lensmen and C J Cherryh's Chanur set the gold standards in their generations.

Is this what you wanted?
17th Sep, 2014 15:09 (UTC)
I think so: multiple protagonists, an ensemble cast, set on a wide canvas.
17th Sep, 2014 15:14 (UTC)
Not necessarily ensemble cast. It helps with complex plots, but some of the best have had quite tight focus on their protagonists, the Leckie being an example.
17th Sep, 2014 14:19 (UTC)
I thoroughly enjoyed it. Pacing, plot and genre concepts were all just the way I like it. It got my vote as first choice in the Hugos and BSFA Awards.

I hadn't twigged to the similarities to Cherryh and Moon, but now that you mentioned them - yes indeed.

I pine for enjoyable space opera. I've tried Alastair Reynolds and Michael Cobley and they were not to my taste (though I did like the 2nd Reynolds I read better than the first). Gary Gibson was okay. Some Julie Czerneda series are wonderful, some are terrible.
17th Sep, 2014 15:11 (UTC)
You could try F M Busby, Rissa Kerguelen and others, if you can get hold of them - they may not be in print. David Feintuch's Midshipman was fun, at least the early ones. Vernor Vinge and Ken MacLeod have both written pretty good space opera, although not all their books are. I enjoyed some Reynolds. Haven't tried Gibson or Cobley.

Which particular Czerneda are good? I might take a look.
17th Sep, 2014 18:45 (UTC)
Thanks for the recommendations. I agree about Feintuch's Midshipman and have enjoyed several McLeod and the two Vinge I've read.

The Czerneda I really liked were the Webshifters series, the Species Imperative series and the stand alone novel In The Company of Others.

The series I detested was the Trade Pact series. Firstly is filled with romance genre tropes, which is a turn off for me, and secondly she cheated wildly as a writer! To make the plot work in the first volume she has chapters which are the equivalent of reading a conversation between the Queen and Prince Philip about the recent murder of Prince Charles without it ever being brought to the reader's attention that Charles is their son, is the heir to the throne and that they are both rather upset about him being dead.
17th Sep, 2014 17:02 (UTC)
And you could go take a look over at desperance's lj - earlier today he had a pointer to a page of interest.
17th Sep, 2014 18:48 (UTC)
17th Sep, 2014 16:33 (UTC)
I agree that Ancillary Justice is good but not great. But I think there are very few truly great space operas. Maybe Cherryh's Chanur series. Many feel that Bujold's space operas are good but not great. But they are quite good, and the Vorkosigan series as a whole is wonderful. It seems reasonable to hope that Leckie could turn out to be another Bujold. Bujold had to publish several novels before she started getting recognition. Leckie's timing is better. But she's good, and maybe she has more up her sleeve for the next books. I hope so. I had a chance to talk with her at Loncon and she gave me a "(heart) = (fish)" ribbon.

For other recommendations, I think Hild is the book of the year. I'm currently reading Max Gladstone's Full Fathom Five. The first two books were in the Hugo packet. I enjoyed them tremendously and bought the third. Martha Wells has a new book of Raksura stories out, which I will be reading next. If you haven't any of them, start with The Cloud Roads. It's fantasy that reads like science fiction, and it's excellent.
17th Sep, 2014 16:46 (UTC)
I agree Chanur, and Bujold, pretty much what you said here.

Hild is already on the list to be acquired. The others are noted and I'll take a look. Thanks.
18th Sep, 2014 18:14 (UTC)
I enjoyed Hild a lot - will be interested to discuss when you have read it.
17th Sep, 2014 20:07 (UTC)
Good, enjoyable - I like it. Not a 'must read' but definitely 'worth reading'. I like her making the masculine the gramatically 'marked' form - more subtle than some clunky attempts at genderless pronouns I've seen elsewhere. I found the class conflict theme more interesting than the gender one - esp her nicely ironic rendition of upper-middle class entitlement (I like how she draws UMC outrage on twigging that the 'aptitudes' merely advantage their kids, but disgracefully fail their key purpose of keeping ALL those obviously less able 'chavs' away from the shiny jobs).

Edited at 2014-09-17 20:12 (UTC)
18th Sep, 2014 16:14 (UTC)
Yes, I noticed the class conflict theme as well, and I think it's probably part of the reason why she has 'caught the moment'. What with inequality and all.
18th Sep, 2014 19:05 (UTC)
Yes, and rather interesting blend of a uniquely 21st century brand of snobbery alongside an almost medieval kind of clan/family preoccupation.

Edited at 2014-09-18 19:06 (UTC)
18th Sep, 2014 06:36 (UTC)
I guess I liked it more than you did - but neither you nor anyone else in the conversation hereabove (unless I've missed it) has mentioned Banks, and this felt so much like reading a lost Banks novel, I suspect that may have skewed my perception sentimentally.
18th Sep, 2014 16:19 (UTC)
I did like it quite a lot, just perhaps have a little more context behind my reading it than some people - it does help (or hinder) to have been reading sf for 50 years.

I have seen people make the Banks link elsewhere. I do agree with you, and I did think of mentioning Banks, and/or LeGuin who I think is equally relevant, but those two would have required me to write another paragraph and go into a whole extra level of detail, which I didn't have time to do on this occasion. Heigh ho...one of these days I shall give up parenting and earning a living and just read and write about books...

(And over there are wing-ed porcine creatures ambling amiably through the Ilford air...)
18th Sep, 2014 16:23 (UTC)
Flap-flap oink! - Ah, how well I remember that sound...

(But I shall look forward optimistically to the time when you do have time to write more about books, because I will enjoy that.)
18th Sep, 2014 16:32 (UTC)
Thank you. It is nice to think people enjoy what I write.

(And I hope you don't mind it when that includes commenting on my reading of your own work. I really enjoyed White Skies in the Ryman anthology I read next after the Leckie, and I hope for Kipling on Mars and perhaps some of your other books to be part of my not-too-distant future.)
18th Sep, 2014 16:44 (UTC)
And I hope you don't mind it when that includes commenting on my reading of your own work.

Mind? I love it when serious readers comment on my work. And I was delighted to see "White Skies" show up in your thoughts, because stories-from-years-ago tend to vanish from ken, for the most part. (New collection coming in November, though; I'm excited about that.)
18th Sep, 2014 16:52 (UTC)
I like short story collections nowadays - I shall look out for it.
18th Sep, 2014 10:26 (UTC)
Yes, I enjoyed this tremendously and it got my vote in the Hugos. Of course, such is my reading backlog and reading speed, my reading tends to be award nominees-led rather that having any idea of what is generally available.

Incidentally, the bits where the narrator switches her viewpoints around her various ancillaries reminded me of the Wandering Rocks sequence in Ulysses, where Joyce continuously switches viewpoints around a number of characters scattered around Dublin at the same time in the afternoon.
18th Sep, 2014 16:21 (UTC)
That's interesting about Ulysses. I must read it again sometime. I did read it once, but so long ago, and so much of it whistled past my teenage self, that it isn't a book I can bring into literary comparisons.
18th Sep, 2014 13:46 (UTC)
Cherryh is still writing, still in print and is still published by DAW. She had a new book out last year, I think.
She's just forgotten, along with so many other women writers.
18th Sep, 2014 16:28 (UTC)
I know Cherryh is still writing and in print, at least with the Foreigner books. Looking at what I wrote I can see that I lost my intended meaning, which was to say 'in print in the UK', which I'm fairly sure she is not - certainly I have seen none of her books in Waterstones recently.

As for forgotten, she is not forgotten while you and I and others tell people to read her, and they actually do so. Then they will make their own judgements as to whether her work stands the tests of time and new generations - we can't decide that, although I would hope and expect it to do so.
( 25 comments — Leave a comment )


Caroline M

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