Tuesday, October 20

Reading: Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie. Almost done with the second, and one more book to go in the series, I think.

I’d been half-aware of these for a while, but I didn’t really think much about reading them until I hit this comment over in a MetaFilter thread about some ridiculous assholes:

So what are some good, recent , literary works of Conservative SF?

If by “Conservative SF” one means “military SF with space battles and laser rifles , where the good guys are an expansionist, conquering force, where the protagonist is a strong-jawed and clear-headed hero who outfights and outwits those who would confound the plot, and where tactics, strategy, and technology are both visionary and critical story elements,” then may I recommend the Hugo Award-winning Ancillary Justice?

…which somehow kind of struck a nerve, because I’m not sure I did want to read about the good guys as expansionist, conquering force. But then again I have read a decent amount of MilSF at one time or another, and I am still a sucker for space battles, and anyway I was curious what it was about Leckie’s stuff that would so upset the GamerGate-slash-John-Birch-Society-slash-Christofascist wing of marginally-published SF.

With respect to KathrynT (and thanks for nudging me toward the read), I don’t think that comment’s a very accurate description of the work. So far, it feels like a complicated meditation on the mechanics of empire, oppression, political power, surveillance, and distributed identity. It’s ambivalent about empire, about the situation of its protagonist—a piece of literal machinery in a ruthless, exploitative colonialist project—but it often feels like an essay on empire’s dysfunctions and cruel hypocrisy.

Then there’s the gender thing. Which I think works, mostly, and is interesting, and reads for the most part far more as an element of the worldbuilding than it does as polemic. Which, oddly, despite the deeply sexist and gender-essentialist past of so much of the genre, is what I remember about all the SF that used to shake my younger brain’s half-formed notion of what gender was, exactly.