Ancillary Mercy – Ann Leckie

After Ancillary Justice (reviewed here) and Ancillary Sword (reviewed here), this is the third part of the outstanding space opera trilogy that burst on to the scene from (apparently) nowhere, becoming the first novel to win the Arthur C. Clarke, Hugo, and Nebula awards.

First, if you are interested in these books, don’t do anything other than read them in order. That is a necessity, unless you have some kind of masochistic desire not to enjoy yourself.

Now, where were we?

The book starts with the main character, Breq – having survived one assassination attempt – returning from the planet below to Atheok Station. There, she faces a mounting crisis, as various factions push and pull in a bid for power and control of the area. After the heat is turned up, things get worse – or at least more complicated – with the discovery of an ancillary from an out of system ship, the arrival of the rather strange representative of the Presger (super powerful alien race), and one instance of the Raadch Empire’s ruler. (She has multiple versions of herself.) This is no place for faint hearts!

I should have mentioned before that one of the neat aspects of this whole creation is that most of the characters are female, with males relegated to very minor roles. Leckie does not make a song and dance about this, merely reporting it as part of the story telling, and the narrative is that much stronger for it. Rightly or wrongly, we begin to take it for granted, and gradually become enmeshed in the perspectives of the characters without noticing.

Breq is obviously a standout, with Leckie’s finely restrained writing doing a great job of presenting a rounded, complex, and often intriguing character. Her crew vary from spoiled kids to smart and savvy operators, and while many are key to the tale’s development, I felt there may have been more to tell. So, the author did not bore us to death by going off on a tangential journey, but kept to the task at hand. Well done her! Perhaps these other characters will feature in other books.

One character I am still unsure about is the Presger representative, Translator Zeiat. Handled with kid gloves, the character almost plays the part of a child, with daft behavior and humor to match. It was entertaining, but it might grate. Want a comparison? Think of the character of Drax the Destroyer from Guardians of the Galaxy and his ‘Nothing goes over my head.’ line and you will get the drift. Also, this character may, instead, be Dlique, another Presger from earlier in the trilogy. Why this possibility exists, and what it says about the situation, and the Presger, are a bit of a mystery.

In this universe, one of the themes that features strongly is to do with humanity, sentience, and identity. The AIs that run the ships and the space stations are more than just token additions to portray a high tech society, and the author’s treatment of these was smart and thoughtful.

The competing forces eventually bring the conflict more into the open, and the inevitable showdown looms large. Another strong feature of the book is that even in the action scenes, somehow the author is able to bring a sharp freshness, without trying to bamboozle us with technology or tactics. In other words, the quality of the writing remains strong.

I liked the story, the characters, the pacing, the observational insights, the backdrop, the original ideas on show, and the overall effect. Quite the best science fiction I have read in a while. A wonderful trilogy. I hope Ann Leckie keeps writing in this genre.

Ancillary Sword – Ann Leckie

The follow up to the highly acclaimed Ancillary Justice, this continues the science fiction story of Breq (the soldier who used to be a ship) under the command of the emperor she once swore to destroy.

With a new ship and crew, Breq goes to Athoek Station, where  the sister of a former colleague lives. The mission is to save lives, but Breq has to factor in her own past as the killer of that colleague, as she deals with the politics and danger that is swirling around Athoek.

Although I was less impressed with Ancillary Justice than the critics were, I was pleasantly surprised to find this a more rewarding read. It may be that the properly developed back story of the first book is the reason. Or it may be that the author is developing. Regardless, I found it a fine mix of space operatic action, philosophy, ┬ámystery, and surprise. The author’s writing style is restrained, effective, and measured – like delivering steady does of drugs through a drip feed – despite having to juggle a myriad of perspectives.

Incidentally, on the back of my paperback version it has this quote from Elizabeth Bear:

“Establishes Leckie an heir to Banks.”

Indeed, some of the book does remind me of the late Iain M Banks’ science fiction. However, it’s important to acknowledge that Leckie has her own voice, her own outlook, and her own style. And, so far as my experience is concerned, it’s all original.

On this basis, I’ll be keeping an eye out for the next Ann Leckie novel.

Ancillary Justice – Ann Leckie

I bought this because of the buzz. Was it justified, or hype?

What was the buzz? This is a debut novel by an unknown author that won every major science fiction award in 2014. It was reviewed and described as being a game changer, cool, brilliant… Need I go on? I was intrigued enough to try it out.

To save you time, I can say now that I don’t think it’s as good as the best reviews have said, but it is good.

The story is this: a warship now occupies a human body and is out for revenge in the universe controlled by the Radch. They are feared conquerors who use dead prisoners as AI controlled soldiers. They see all and know all. How can the warship achieve its desired goal?

It is modern style space opera with a nice fresh zippy attitude. It goes in some interesting directions, and the central narrative is well paced and engrossing. There are a couple of places where I thought the logic of the character was off, and the writing floundered. But that might just be sloppy editing, or my impatience with a didactic diversion.

The background is reasonably well drawn, if a little sparse in some places. The tension is well ratcheted up, and the plot twists add enough spice.

The fact this is part of a trilogy, sadly, makes the ending less satisfactory. But overall this is a good piece of entertaining and thought provoking fiction.