Authors: Ann Leckie
Publication year: 2013
Publisher: Orbit Books
Genres: science fiction
Series: Imperial Radch
My rating: 4 out of 5
Breq, who used to be a segment in the hive-mind-esque warship Justice of Toren, seeks revenge against the Lord of the Radch, Anaander Miaanai, for not only destroying her, but also for forcing her to kill her favorite officer. It rings the bell of Iain M. Banks Culture series, and addresses head on the ghosts of colonialism and hegemony that lurk there.
One of the things that struck me most when reading this book was how much it felt like it was having a conversation with Iain M. Banks Culture novels. The similarities between the Radch and the Culture are not few: both are post-human trans-galactic empires; both are post-scarcity societies where citizens are given to work as they are best fit (though in the Culture, it more comes down to what you want to do).
But the two places have more different than in common, which I think Leckie uses to really interrogate what preceded a thing like the Culture. The Radch is only just barely leaving its expansionism behind. We meet Breq, who was until recently, an ancillary–a human body whose mind is emptied and used as part of the hivemind of a warship of the Radch. And Leckie doesn’t let the horror of this slide–a lot of people comment on the fact that these bodies, of which there are thousands per ship, are always the corpses created from the losers of a war of expansion (it would be improper to use Citizens for this purpose).
It’s kinda fucked up. and no one gets excused from this, which is good.
What’s harder, and better though, is that whenever someone suggests that Breq should or could return to who she really is, to the person whose body she wears, we also get left in the uncomfortable position of dealing with the fact that that person is likely long-dead, and that Breq would be in turn killed. It’s a running theme through this book and the next–the process of colonizing, whether a body or a place, is destructive, and doesn’t leave paths backwards: the only way left afterwards is forwards, and to go forwards, Breq accepts and carries her crimes of colonization.
Basically, this is a really good read. It’s some of the better sci-fi I’ve read (comparisons to Banks don’t come cheap from me), and it pushes hard to get you to think about colonialism, and what and how decolonization might be and work. Which is a judgement a little bit coming from bridging into the second book, but there’s a lot of groundwork laid here at least. And it’s a ton of fun.
Also, the action plot is super good. And I haven’t even mentioned the socio-linguistic games that get played. The Radch is mono-gender–all its people are she/her pronouned. And Leckie also nods to how deeply gender is a social construct by having even Breq, at the height of her hivemind power, screw up because of inability to read incredibly subtle social cues.
It’s also nice to have a book where damn near everyone is she/her, especially all the characters who older sci-fi would have expect to be men. But it feels different from something like The Stars Are Legion, but Kameron Hurley, where there’s a biological aspect to it (which is also a very cool and weird book). (Also, for the record, weird is a good thing around here).