Saturday, 30 June 2018

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Twenty years ago she was the Justice of Toren, a mighty starship with artificial intelligence. With thousands of ancillary soldiers in her holds she annexed whole planets in the service of the ever-expanding Radch Empire. Now, a breathtaking act of betrayal has left her with a single fragile human body called Breq, an unreliable drug-addled companion, and a lot of unanswered questions - questions she fully intends to find an answer to even if her quest will bring the empire crashing down around her. 

Ancillary Justice is an original and thought-provoking science fiction novel that has, quite rightly, won almost every genre award going. The first third of the book is very confusing as you are thrown into the middle of the story with no idea what is going on. The chapters flip between the past and the present which was more than a little disorientating. However I'm glad I stuck with it because when the story did start to reveal itself, I was hooked. Likewise, the book goes slowly at first and doesn't seem to be getting anywhere but every paragraph is essential layering of different elements that eventually knit together and create a story which is complex, absorbing and intelligent. 

The standout element of this book for me was the masterful way that Ann Leckie handled the major concepts of Ancillary Justice. I thought the multiple viewpoints of the Justice of Toren were handled cleverly so you got the impression of a vast artificial intelligence with thousands of segments but most of the story focused on the segment which would become Breq. It also was a cute way of being an omnipresent narrator while still staying in first person. The other concept that intrigued me was that the Radchaai don't emphasise gender so Breq refers to everyone as 'she'. As a result, I have no idea whether many of the characters, including Breq, were male or female. At first this bothered me, and then it bothered me that it bothered me. Like I said, this is a book that will challenge and intrigue.

At its heart, Ancillary Justice is a space opera with a unique protagonist and plenty to say about power, justice, free will, and what it means to be human. 

Recommended For: Fans of character-driven science fiction that is less about the space battles and more about human nature.

Read On: Ancillary Mercy is the next book in the Imperial Radch trilogy. Another character driven space opera is The Warrior's Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Among Others by Jo Walton

Everything has changed for fifteen year old Mori Markova. Her twin sister is dead, she's crippled for life, her beloved grandfather has had a stroke, and she has been sent from the wild Welsh valleys of her childhood into the care of a father she barely knows. Packed off to boarding school in England, Mori deals with her loneliness and homesickness through books - but her mother is out for revenge and not even her new friends from the library can save her from a final reckoning.

Among Others is a work of magical realism that has won a slew of prizes, including both the Hugo and Nebula Awards in 2012. I really liked the first half of this story as I can relate to escaping an unhappy and lonely existence through books. I found Mori to be a very sympathetic character and Jo Walton really captured that feeling of floating through life rather than engaging in it. I also liked the very light touch of magical realism; Mori can see faeries and talks about the magic of the everyday, but I was never quite sure if it was real or just a coping mechanism to deal with a mentally unstable mother and a dead sister. 

However, I was disappointed with the second half of Among Others. Because I liked Mori, I wanted her to come back into the real world through friendships and a better relationship with her father. I wanted her to still love books, yet become far more than just a bookworm, and it annoyed me that still all she ever talked about with anyone, ever, was books.  Another problem for me was that I never found out what happened before Mori was sent away. I get that there was a car accident, possibly involving her mother. I get that she ran away and was in a children's home and that there was some sort of court case. These are major aspects of the story, and yet they are only mentioned in the most maddeningly oblique way. However, the most disappointing part of the story for me was the ending. It really jarred. For most of the book, the magic was very insubstantial and then suddenly Mori was able to shoot fire from her fingertips? I was so annoyed by this, it spoilt the book for me.

At its heart, Among Others is a coming-of-age story about the difficulties of being fifteen and a bit odd as well as being a love letter to books and their ability to help people cope when tragedy strikes.

Recommended For: Readers who enjoy reading books about fantasy as much as reading fantasy books themselves.

Read On: Another book which has won both the Hugo and Nebula awards (as well as a pile of others) is Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie.