Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Thoughts on “Mindswap”

May 22, 2017

So the last of Sheckley’s books that I have and will talk about is “Mindswap”. Unfortunately, here we’re going from one of Sheckley’s best to what may well be Sheckley’s worst.

The problem here is that there’s just too much packed into it to make Sheckley’s normal quick pacing work. The book starts from the idea of people using “mind swaps” to travel, by getting their minds transferred into the bodies of other beings. And those are definitely other beings, because the galaxy, at least, has been explored and we’ve run into a number of alien species, including Martians. These two ideas, in and of themselves, offer a wealth of avenues to explore. But Sheckley doesn’t stop there. He adds in a plot where a young person — of around 30 years — wants to explore, and ends up getting swindled and losing his body, and so needed to find some other body within 6 days, which he does by offering to work for it, which is another idea that’s worthy of exploration. So the main character has to try to find a way back to Earth and recover his body, while exploring a number of different planets, cultures, and alien bodies, with the help of an eccentric detective who pops in every so often to remind us that he’s there. Oh, and there’s a bit of a twist ending that needs to be set-up, on top of that. Along with a semi-romance.

There’s just way too much here for this to work. Because there’s so much, the little details can’t all pay off like they did in “Immortality, Inc”, and so most of them are merely interesting asides. But there’s so much plot and drama and strange cultural explorations happening that we can’t just follow the main character’s life like we could in “The Status Civilization”. You can argue that this was meant to be more a humourous exploration of those different cultures, but that could have been achieved easily just by using the main character’s wanderlust instead of adding on the “Recover my own body!” plot.

In the end, reading the book made me feel that things were unfocused. The exploration parts seemed extraneous while he was supposed to be looking for a way home, the main plot gets resolved in a very shallow manner, the twist ending comes out of nowhere (even though it was foreshadowed), and the romance goes nowhere. There’s really nothing in the book that’s worth paying attention to or watching. It both drags and moves too quickly. There are some interesting scenes, but beyond that every other book of Sheckley’s that I’ve talked about is far, far better than this one.

Thoughts on “The Status Civilization”

May 15, 2017

This is the book that I remembered and which got me to read the other Sheckley works that I’ve looked at. Will it hold up on re-reading? There may be spoilers, so I’ll continue below the fold:

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Thoughts on “Crompton Divided”

May 8, 2017

So, the second book of Sheckley’s that I had bought and never read was “Crompton Divided”. Spoilers: This book does not work anywhere near as well as “Immortality, Inc” did.

The main plot here is about a man named Alistair Crompton who, as a child, developed a viral form of schizophrenia. As he was station out in the boonies of Antarctica, this wasn’t picked up in time, and so it developed to dangerous and lethal levels before he could be properly treated for it. The treatment for this is to split up the personalities by placing the other minds into temporary bodies and letting them live out their lives to a certain age, when all of the personalities are reintegrated into a complete and whole person again. Because the treatment was so late, it’s not recommended that Crompton attempt the procedure, but he decides that he dislikes his incomplete life and sets out to reintegrate himself.

Again, Sheckley’s development seems rushed here, and this really hurts the work. Unlike in “Immortality, Inc” where the details of the world carry the novel, here all we have to focus on for the most part is Crompton’s quest. While that takes us to different worlds and is set in the future, for the most part all of those details are background to Crompton’s quest. Thus, if he skims over details or resolves things too quickly that impacts our impression of the main thrust of the work and main point of interest. In short, the world building isn’t interesting enough to carry us through when the main plot stutters.

Other than that, though, it was a relatively interesting read. I might not read it again, but it was good enough to get through and, fortunately, short enough that what when it started to bug me I didn’t have much left to go.

Thoughts on Immortality, Inc

May 1, 2017

So, I was browsing through the books on my bookshelf looking for something to read, and came across my old copy — I had it when I was a kid, so over thirty years ago — of Robert Sheckley’s “The Status Civilization”, which I had loved. But I seemed to recall that it seemed fragile the last time I had read it, and so instead of reading it I instead decided to look for a new copy of it, which I managed to find … and even some collections that contained the short stories that he had done in it that I had loved (and I don’t normally like short stories). But then I was browsing again after re-reading some Starcraft novels and found a couple of novels of his that I had bought at some point and had never read. The first one I decided to read was “Immortality, Inc”. And after doing the Hugo Award Assessment I thought it would be a good idea to talk about it and see how it compares to modern science-fiction.

The overall plot is about a man called Thomas Blaine, who gets into a car accident in 1958 … and wakes up in another body in 2110. It turns out that the future has solved the problems of both time travel and of mind/body separation, and so this big corporation has decided to bring him from the past into the future as a marketing gimmick. And then they get cold feet. The novel focuses on Blaine’s attempts to adjust to his new body and his new future, with the complications of a zombie, a ghost, and the fact that he’s seen as an embarrassment to a major corporation and, potentially, a legal liability.

The novel focuses on describing and outlining the world of 2110 and the consequences this sort of technology would or could have, and does that reasonably well. There’s a lot of exposition, but it’s all directed at Blaine and done through conversations, and so stays interesting, unlike “Seveneves”. However, this does mean that the development of the plot and characters tends to be pretty shallow, as events and characters crop up and friendships and relationships are started without all that much preamble; things just, well, kinda happen for most of the work. As such, the pacing is quite good, but the relationships and events often seem to come up … well, not out of nowhere — because the hints are always dropped long before the things happen — but at least in the sense of them just, again, kinda happening because they should happen now and not due to overt development through the novel.

However, I’m going to forgive him for this because, at the end of it all, all of this pays off. Every one of those moves really adds to the work, either by adding a great scene or an interesting insight or something. We always look back on those scenes that looked like they might add something later but didn’t really have to and note that, yes, they really did add to the work … including to the ending.

At the end of the day, the plot seems rushed to me … or, at least, like it is rushing. But that keeps things moving, and what development is done turns out to pay off really well down the line. So my only complaint about the work is that I wish he’d spent more time developing the world and plot more and letting us see more of how this stuff all works and worked out. But at the end of the day, it was still a good read.

And This Is Why I Don’t Buy Science Fiction Anymore …

March 31, 2017

So, again, there’s a new controversy — which by the time you read this will probably have settled — in science fiction that is drawing commentary from both P.Z. Myers and Vox Day. Here’s my understanding of what’s going on:

John Scalzi has a new book out, called “The Collapsing Empire”. Vox Day and Scalzi have had a minor feud going on for a while, over things like site hits and the like. Some claim that Day sees this as being more of a feud/rivalry than Scalzi does, but it’s not like Scalzi ignores Day either. At any rate, at some point in time Day and his publishing company “Castalia House” decided to publish a “parody” of “The Collapsing Empire” called “The Corroding Empire” authored by “Johan Kalsi”, with a nearly identical cover. Since Scalzi’s book, obviously, wasn’t out when they started it, the parody is not a page-by-page parody of the work itself, but seems to be a parody in the sense of taking what they knew about the underlying plot and the Scalzi’s explicit attempt to make a Foundation-style story. Then, right around the release date of Scalzi’s work, Amazon pulled “The Corroding Empire”. In response, Day redid the title and the cover to be different in an attempt to get it reinstated. Much bureaucracy ensued, but eventually Amazon has reinstated the book in its original form.

But, of course, the controversy doesn’t end there. The people on Day’s side insist that this was an invalid banning of the book done by the behest of a specific SJW at Amazon. This impression is buttressed by the fact that every time a manager at Amazon reinstated it the book went off again until things finally settled down, suggesting some kind of difference in opinion, at least, between management and some employees. On the other side, the idea is that Day did this deliberately to try to generate sales for his book by having people confuse his book for Scalzi’s and buying that one instead, with the main evidence being the similarities and the fact that Day said that he wanted his book to outsell Scalzi’s, thus leading to the argument that Day had a similar Foundation-inspired book on tap and used this as a way to artificially increase its sales.

Now, I wouldn’t put it past Day to try to do that, but in this case I’m inclined to believe Day here. In the lead-up to this, much was made over how bad Scalzi’s book was from the look ahead previews and about how bad the pre-order sales were, following on from comments that Tor was going to doom themselves by giving Scalzi such a huge advance when he wasn’t that great a writer. So the story they tell of cobbling something together quickly that could give Scalzi a run for his money is one that would appeal to them. Also, I can’t imagine that even with the similarities enough people would be fooled to really raise Day’s rank and lower Scalzi’s. That being said, I would actually have understood if Amazon had merely say “Hey, these are too similar, people are getting confused, please change it”, even as I’m not convinced that as many people who say in the reviews that they were confused really were.

What’s really interesting, though, is how this impacts reviews and views of the works themselves. There are believed to be a number of false “1 star” reviews of both books, where people who have not read either book are commenting on them saying how bad they are. This, then, skews the review scores which, well, makes them useless. But even more interesting is that if you read the comments on the book from people on either side — there’s more comments from the pro-Scalzi side on this post from file770 — they come down on the side that they politically favour. Those on Scalzi’s side love his book and hate the one Day is promoting. Those on Day’s side hate Scalzi’s book and love the one Day is promoting. So, how is someone who really doesn’t give a damn about all of this political crap supposed to filter through this?

As it turns out, I’ve glanced at the previews from both sides. After reading the prologue for Scalzi’s, I was tempted to get all three preview chapters and tear them apart because, well, the prologue was just plain bad, and what I’ve read of the next chapter was not any better (it involves someone holding a conversation with someone else while having sex). For Day’s, my impression was … meh. It wasn’t terrible, but it didn’t stand out much either. So I’m not inclined to think that those on Scalzi’s side are assessing the works fairly — and I disagree over how bad the big example on file770 is. They seem to be definitely letting their political views influence their assessment of the works. But while at least for now the pro-Day side seem to be, at least, saying that about a work where it’s debatable how good or bad it is, I can’t trust them to keep doing that — especially since their reactions here and during the Hugo Awards discussions certainly don’t match mine — just because in this case — and in the case of some of the Hugo Award pieces — they happened to be right. If the purportedly “SJW” side of the debate are as bad at judging the quality of works as I have reason to think they are, pointing out that those works are bad isn’t exactly a sign of fairness or deep insight.

I’d get these two works and analyze them myself except that a) at least for now, Day’s version isn’t available in paperback and b) I’m to lazy busy to do that, and really don’t care enough about it to put that much effort and pain in again. But I really wish these political wars would get out of the way so that we can trust works and reviews again.

Ah, well. I just bought new copies of all of the X-Wing series, so at least I still have that … and they can’t take that away from me.

Star Trek Memories

February 20, 2017

So, I ended up exchanging all of my Hugo Award nominee books for, essentially, the “Star Trek Memories” books by William Shatner. I enjoyed the Star Trek books far, far more than the Hugo Award nominees.

I found the second book — which discussed the Star Trek movies — to be far more engaging than the one covering the series for some reason. However, both of them were quite entertaining reads. Shatner mixes the memories parts with a number of jokes, and often jokes at his own expense. It’s hard to say how arrogant and self-centered he really was on the show, because Shatner admits to it in discussing Nichelle Nichols’ calling him out on it, but from his own recollections he denies that it was an intent to grab the limelight and more an attempt to push for the scene to be done in a way that he thought made sense, which he says that Leonard Nimoy was also pretty insistent on. He admits, though, that often those comments didn’t take into account the other actors and their positions. Which is also a bit refreshing, as Shatner doesn’t spend as much time as you might expect justifying himself and claiming that he didn’t really do or act like that; he essentially cops to it and his big defense is that he didn’t mean it the way it was taken. He’s also pretty effusive in his comments that Nichols, Koenig and Takei, for all of the problems they had with him — only Nichols and Koenig actually told him about that in their interviews — are very, very nice people … at least in part because they were generally at least polite in telling him what they were unhappy about (and Takei didn’t mention it in the interview for that book).

Shatner was also upset that Doohan didn’t even meet with him for the book.

On Star Trek V, the one that he helmed, Shatner isn’t as dismissive of the issues with the movie nor does he blame as much of the movie on the suits as I had expected from watching SF Debris’ comments on it. Yes, he laments the thin budget and that he couldn’t do what he wanted, but for the most part he recognizes changes that made sense and his discussion of how the movie could have turned out with his original idea isn’t entirely implausible. I don’t know if his idea could have worked — the explicit God/Satan angle — but from what he says and from my own viewing of the movie his ideas weren’t terrible. I think that Nimoy and Kelley were right that them abandoning him — at least permanently — didn’t make sense, but I can kinda see what he was going for. At any rate, he blames most of the issues on the various disasters, and less on, merely, the interference from the executives. And he seems rightly bothered by Bennett seemingly accepting the ideas in the hopes of talking him out of them later.

Overall, it’s an interesting read if you are in any way a fan of Star Trek.

Hugo Award Assessment: Final Thoughts

January 16, 2017

So, my final thoughts on the 2016 Hugo Award Best Novel nominees:

If this is the best science fiction and fantasy have to offer, then I weep for science fiction and fantasy. The works here were “Meh” at best, and utter crap at worst. I find much less flawed and even philosophically deeper works in the X-Wing series, and it’s not even really trying to do that. Even worse, in order to keep my mind uncluttered I refused to read any actual science fiction and fantasy novels, and since reading is my major pastime I ended up reading graphic novels and, most importantly, the “Order of the Stick” books, and found that that stick-figure comic had better characterization, plots, and generally was more entertaining than any of the Hugo Award nominees. To rub salt in the wound, I read the “Order of the Stick” books twice while reading these works, and can’t think of a book here that I would ever read again. Science fiction and fantasy is in dire straits, it seems to me.

Another thing I noticed in every work is the focus on super-competent and generally female protagonists, being able to do what no one else things wise or even possible. Gwen in “The Aeronaut’s Windlass”, all of the “Seven Eves” in “Seveneves”, Breq in “Ancillary Mercy”, the main protagonist in “Uprooted” … all of them are hyper-competent and almost never fail due to their own fault. I had thought for a while that “The Fifth Season” would avoid that, but even though Syenite isn’t as powerful as Alabaster, even in those sections she does almost everything of importance and never fails, and even the trans character (male to female) is overly impressive in a number of ways. Jemisin only avoids doing this outright because she really fails to establish anything about any of the characters beyond soundbites, which leaves little room for them to be overly impressive.

Now, people may reply that male protagonists were always that hyper-competent, and it’s just that when it’s women that I’m objecting. To counter that, let me present characters from the Amber series and from David Eddings’ “Elenium” and “Tamuli”, all of which are among my favourite works. Corwin in the first Amber series starts off with amnesia and has to trick others into helping him, and relies on Random and Deirdre to fill him in, protect him, and get him to the castle. In the first book, he joins with another sibling to take the throne of Amber, and fails miserably. Later, it is implied that he was actually manipulated by his sibling. He is blinded, and recovers his sight, not because of some super-special ability, but because he is arguably better at doing what all of his family can do … which only means that he does it faster, not that they wouldn’t recover in the same way. And, when his sight recovers, it’s not portrayed as this huge victory, but instead as a spur for him to escape because if he doesn’t he’ll be blinded again. As he escapes, he curses Eric … and opens the way for the forces of Chaos to attack Amber. He returns in the second book to take the throne, and wins because of unique weaponry … that he discovered not because he was some sort of great chemist, but instead purely by accident. For the rest of the series, he investigates various things, almost gets killed on a number of occasions, and arguably screws everything up in trying to save it. He learns humility and decides that maybe his feud with Eric — and the fight over the throne — wasn’t worth it, and while he meets his son, at the end of it all he wins neither the fair maiden nor the throne, and loses his most beloved sister … and is mostly content with that.

In Eddings, the most powerful character is … the secondary female character Sephrenia. And while she is very wise and experienced and very powerful in magic, she’s pretty vulnerable to weapons, and so has to be protected a lot of the time. Thus, she fits neatly into the mentor/wise advisor role. Sparhawk, the main character, is important because he has a destiny and is generally a jack-of-all-trades: he can fight and use magic, but isn’t necessarily the best at any of them. And at the end, when he gains ultimate power, he gives it up because he doesn’t like the person he becomes while using it … and only uses that ultimate power to fight the other ultimate power.

Good heroes need weakness and flaws to exploit. They need to struggle and fail, and overcome it all in the end. Modern science fiction and fantasy — at least in these Hugo nominees — seem to attempt to take away the struggle … but heroes who never struggle are uninteresting to us, and plots featuring them are boring. “Uprooted”, “Seveneves” and “Ancillary Mercy” are prime examples of how uber-competent protagonists kill any drama in the plot.

Okay, all that aside, here are my picks, starting from the worst and working my way up. If you’ve read my commentaries, the work at the bottom of the list will not surprise you, but the book at the top might:

5) Seveneves: This work is just terrible in every way imaginable. It’s only interesting at all as hard sci-fi and doesn’t even do that right. This is the only work that I’d even consider “No Awarding”.

Hugo Award standings: 4th.
Vox Day’s standing: 2nd.

4) The Fifth Season: While last place (and first place) were pretty much clear for me, 2 – 4 was a tight race. For the longest time, I had this in third, but the primary job of the first book in a series is to make us want to read the next books in the series, and it’s clear that the way Jemisin chose to do that falls completely flat due to a lack of development. It fails at its main goal, and isn’t really good at doing anything else either.

Hugo Award standings: 1st.
Vox Day’s standing: No Award.

3) Ancillary Mercy: For all of the time that this languished in fourth place, I was torn over it … and am still torn over putting it third. The problem is that most of the problems with this work are not the fault of it, but are instead the fault of the other works in the series. If it had tried valiantly to save the series and failed, I would have been more charitable, but at the end of the day, it didn’t.

Hugo Award standings: 3rd.
Vox Day standing: No Award.

2) Uprooted: While it is still terribly flawed, boring, and suffering from an utter lack of drama due to an overly powerful protagonist, it manages to come in second by being pretty much a standard if lackluster fantasy work. One ought not be proud of coming in second because the work wasn’t specifically horribly flawed.

Hugo Award standings: 2nd.
Vox Day standing: 1st.

1) The Aeronaut’s Windlass: The work is boring at times and relies heavily on us feeling an emotional connection to people, places and things that it doesn’t do the legwork to ensure that we do develop that emotional connection. But … it actually has a plot and some interesting characters, which is enough to get top spot. Again, that’s not really something to be proud of; I would think that all authors would want to achieve something more than “well, there’s a bit of a plot and characters there, so you win!”.

Hugo Award standings: 5th.
Vox Day standing: 3rd.

There you have it. I was starting to read “The Mote in God’s Eye” (which so far was “Okay”), but I now think that I need to cleanse my palate, and go read something that I actually like. And I’m going to try to sell all of the Hugo Award nominees if I can, because I will never read any of them again.

Hugo Award Assessment: The Fifth Season

January 9, 2017

“The Fifth Season” is the last of the Hugo Award nominees, which means that it’s the one that won. That being said, it’s not a particularly good book.

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Hugo Award Assessment: Uprooted

January 2, 2017

I swear I didn’t realize this until after I had finished reading “Uprooted” by Naomi Novik.

A while ago, I wrote a post about the female author sweep of the Nebulas, and explicitly called out one of those interviewed for not understanding science fiction and fantasy because she insisted that she wanted to do something different, an alternative narrative that wasn’t as revenge driven, when there was, indeed, tons of science fiction and fantasy that had ignored revenge narratives and/or subverted them … like her very examples, in fact. This actually becomes ironic because I will sum up “Uprooted” this way:

The best thing you can say about it is that it’s a pretty much standard fantasy narrative, bringing nothing new to the genre and sticking pretty close to the standard or expected formula.

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Notes on “Ancillary Trilogy”

December 26, 2016

“Ancillary Justice”:

First Reading: 100 pages in (after leader arrives in the flashback):

– Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way: the use of “she” as the third person personal pronoun. I don’t really see the point of it. It does require some mental gymnastics — which I avoid most of the time — to translate it all out, especially when you get phrases like “she was definitely male”. So it’s a bit of a burden on the reader. If you put a burden on the reader, you have to make sure it pays off, or else you risk them giving up on the work or disliking it for the extra work they have to do. The problem is that I don’t see what using “she” actually does so far. If Leckie wanted to reverse the typical presumption of the male personal pronoun, then a) someone’s almost certainly already done that and b) that doesn’t come across because we don’t use the male personal pronoun when referring to a specific person. So since it does more than that, it’s not a good way of presenting another viewpoint. Additionally, given the circumstances, using Shale’s “it” would work better: the AI would be thought of and referred to as a thing, and so by it, and yet that’s how the consciousness would have learned to refer to persons. This then would play into the struggles to pretend to be or act human, as it would refer to people as if they were things, but then people would be genuinely offended by that. Referring to them by the wrong gendered pronoun isn’t anywhere near as off-putting. And doing this would avoid the “she was clearly male” lines.

Now, what I find myself doing here is assuming that every character is female, and so the point might be to get people doing just that, and so again challenging the male presumption. However, an easier way to do that would have been to simply make all the characters female, especially if specific gender doesn’t make a difference (and so far it doesn’t seem to). So this is a bit of an awkward structure that doesn’t seem likely to have a big payoff in the series. But maybe it will later.

– The story is somewhat interesting, but the backstory sections are so long and detailed compared to the present day details that so far the present day seems like an aside to that story … and it isn’t clear yet how the two are actually related. So, so far, they don’t seem to be. And being 100 pages in should mean that I have a better idea why the two stories matter to each other.

– So far, though, the book is a solid “Meh”.

Second reading: 200 pages in (after Severeiden)

– It might be just my imagination, but it seems to me that the nastiest characters are all eventually identified as male …

– The use of “she” still gets confusing — especially when Leckie mixes in people using “proper” gendered pronouns — and doesn’t seem to fit the civilization. How is it that their genderless pronoun came to be what we would consider the female one? This would be an interesting exploration that is, so far, completely ignored.

– World building is lax. 200 pages into the first book, I should understand more about the culture that’s driving the plot events than I do. Butcher’s book did this so much better (and I still found it a bit lacking).

– Events drag.

– Severeiden seems to be a pointless addition. The scenes with that character were short, the character didn’t contribute to much if anything in them, and ending it here seems to be an attempt at character building that doesn’t build character. Given that these scenes were also the least interesting of the two and featured the least interesting secondary characters, it would have been better to just document the journey to Strigen and have the conversations there.

– Awn is an interesting character, but the scenes after the massacre drag.

– Still in the “Meh” category, which is a boon after “Seveneves”.

Third Reading: Up to Chapter 20.

– I still think it would have been better to have done the race like the Asari, all female, using only artificial means for reproduction. Some sort of disease that wiped out all the men could demand it and make sense of the use of the female pronoun, plus having no idea of what identifiers identified gender.

– There are interesting scenes and some action, but it drags and the conversations meander. If we cared more, we might sit through the ruminations, but as it is the conversations definitely seem to meander too much.

– The risk with Seivarden is that making a character that the protagonist hates might cause us to hate them, too … and since Seivarden is an important cog in this part, that might mean disliking this part.

– I’m 300 pages in … has anything happened yet? Sure, it’s the first book in a trilogy, but it’s building up too quickly to carry this one story the entire trilogy, and yet nothing has HAPPENED in this story.

Fourth Reading: End “Ancillary Justice”

– From reading this and reading the blurbs for the last two … ah, this is THAT kind of trilogy, where we follow the adventures of one character in a new world with its own problems. Given that … the book fails. Breq is an interesting enough character, but the book neither builds the characters or world enough to serve as a sufficient introduction to the world. Again, we are left wondering why all of this matters and is important. The structure of it itself is confusing, and while it might be meant to be Breq itself doesn’t really seem to be. Which side are we supposed to be cheering for? Breq hates them all, and yet is still sucked into being a captain to make things better? Really? Seivarden moves from pathetic to suddenly exceptionally competent, just in time to drive those plot points.

– The plot points and character points often get buried under what seeming is supposed to be clever banter, or internal ruminations. But the banter is generally not clever because it doesn’t really GO anywhere. It meanders too much to work as exposition but doesn’t have the consequences to work as verbal fencing.

– Overall: As the first book in a trilogy, it doesn’t really work because it doesn’t leave an interesting enough conflict to drive us to read the next book in the series. It’s all driven by wanting to read more of the series itself and more about that character, which is hampered by the lack of interesting plot or character conflicts and the idiosyncratic “she” pronouns; it’s harder for me to work through the book because I either treat all characters as women or have to consciously remind myself who’s who, but the characters and plots and world aren’t interesting enough to make me want to do that extra work. As a standalone work, it’s a “Meh”, as the plot and the resolution to it are too quick, and the fact that the main character is interesting doesn’t overcome that.

“Ancillary Sword”

First Reading: 100 pages in

– Why is this book Ancillary Sword and the next one Ancillary Mercy when in this one the main character captains a Mercy? Progressing the character from a Justice to a Mercy and finally to a Sword makes sense and reflects planning, and then the titles reflecting that would give us a nice sense of that progression.

– Why is Breq still alive? The leader doesn’t trust Breq at all, Breq is willfully defiant, and cannot be trusted at all to do what the leader wants. Surely there’s a way to get through that armour, even if by surprise or with poison. Or blowing the entire ship out of space, which the leader is certainly ruthless enough to do. What does Breq bring to the table that makes them so valuable, other than being the viewpoint character?

– Breq is WAY too competent for this, defusing almost everything interesting with knowledge or skills or whatever. For example, Breq foils the leader’s insertion plan by seemingly knowing about it from the start. More time working out the puzzle would have made the resolution more entertaining, but instead it’s just a quick “Oh, rip the implants out and we’re done”, and everything is mostly settled. One of the more interesting plots is resolved in about 20 pages. That’s … not good.

– Is it Leckie’s intent that I find it so easy to ignore any thoughts of presentation and real physical gender and just picture all of the characters as female, given the pronoun? The bad thing about that is that when she tries to talk about presentation or real physical gender I get annoyed, both because I don’t care and second because it drags me out of the story for a bit while I briefly wonder if I should care and adjust my mental model. Since it almost never DOES matter, I’m getting better and better at simply ignoring those parts and getting back into the work. That doesn’t seem like an attitude that justifies Leckie’s move to deliberately do it … and leaves me thinking that having all of the main citizens BE all female would have been so much better than what she’s doing here.

Second Reading: After translator killed

– Leckie sets up the translator in a brief scene before killing her. This is a constant flaw in this series, as things happen WAY too quickly to be interesting.

– The pacing is relatively good; the book moves quickly so you’re never really bored reading things. However, nothing really happens, so we have a lot of conversations that are detailed and often interminable that don’t work for either plot advancement, character development, or verbal fencing.

– This might have worked better as a political work than as … whatever this is. At least then all the conversations could be reworked and cast as verbal fencing and political maneuvering, which we don’t really have here.

Third Reading: After the greenhouse goes boom

– Leckie tries to add in romantic and sexual relationships here. This is both awkward given her pronouning and is, in fact, still mostly irrelevant, so it gets in the way of the story.

– About the only thing of interest learned here is the overall corruption of at least the system, and perhaps of the entire empire … but it would have been better to show that in the earlier books instead of focusing so much on the protagonist’s backstory. Since we’ll be with this protagonist for the entire series, certain aspects of the history could have been brought out later.

– It might pay off later, but so far the translator’s death seems to be nothing more than an excuse to get them down to the planet.

– Because the culture hasn’t been established yet, all of the mourning requirements seem like things pulled out to allow Leckie to get the main character into the situations she needs her to be in. As I’m over half-way through the series, this is not the time to try to introduce stuff like that.

– The dishes thing was a cute aside at first. At this point, it’s just WAY overdone.

– It’s interesting that I considered Rhegaud (the abuser) to be male. I’m not sure if Leckie said that or if I’ve been so conditioned to think of abusers as male and the abused as female. If Leckie had made a big deal of this and inverted it — the abused is biologically male and the abuser is biologically female — then that whole pronoun thing might have paid off. It might still be the case — I can’t remember what she said and am not going to look back to look it up — but it needed to be highlighted more to allow for a revelation. But the structure of the book itself doesn’t allow for it.

Fourth Reading: End.

– The supports breaking between the Garden and Undergarden was WAY too convenient. Just because you set something up and make references to it doesn’t mean that it can’t be seen as being too convenient, especially if it works to the advantage of the protagonist (working against them just gets classified as “Everything always happens at the worst possible times). And here it meant that Station wouldn’t hesitate to intervene and wouldn’t worry about risking the life of the hostage.

– So, about page 200 – 220 or so, another ship was introduced with another Fleet Captain, which I recall wanted to take over command. What happened with that?

– The resolution of the bombing and the Captain’s plan and ring again was too quick to matter.

– Breq, the protagonist, is too competent for good drama. Conspiracies don’t work because she figures them out too quickly and is hardly ever if ever surprised, and she somehow always knows everything before anyone else does, even if it relies on having information that we are not really given. As a first-person work, it would be better if she struggled a bit with this. But as she’s so competent every move is met by “I knew that, and I know what I’ll do next, and everyone will do what I want and what I expect.” This gets very boring.

– I’m getting sick of this series.

Ancillary Mercy:

Pre-book thoughts: The final book in a trilogy has to wrap up all the loose ends. But I’m not sure there ARE any really interesting loose ends that NEED to be tied up. Sure, the ancillary civil war might be one, but if it stayed in a detente that would be reasonable; do we REALLY expect Breq to be able to settle all of that? I guess the Praesger issue might be one, but they’ve been an aside for two books now, and so only rate as a complication that we might not have needed. Breq has seemingly resolved relations with Awn’s sister here, so that’s gone away, and neither Seivarden’s nor Tsarwart’s stories are interesting enough for us to care about their resolutions. And there’s not much of an arc to complete with Breq either, so her going on as before would work as well. I think the first two books did not really do much to help the last one turn out well … and, as I said, as I’m starting to get sick of the series because of the second book they might have actually very much hurt it.

First Reading: 100 pages in

– A third of the way through the last book, and it seems like Leckie is still stage setting. All of that should have been done by now.

– Leckie lampshades Breq always being right, but dismisses it. Lampshading something does not make it go away.

– Leckie reminds us of the other Fleet Captain only to do nothing about it in the first third of the book.

– The big issue here is that everything has been a background event in the previous two novels. The Civil War has been in the background, the Undergarden has been in the background, the Praesger have been in the background, Serivarden has been in the background, Breq has been in the background, the ship AIs have been in the background, and so on and so forth. So up to this point, all this book can do is talk about background events that we don’t really care about. But this is a clear flaw in the work because things that could be serious are treated dismissively. The new Translator shows up early in the book but only acts strangely up until now. The other palace falls, ships might arrive from the “other” leader … and when they arrive Breq merely comments to keep an eye on them and that she’ll be back in a couple of days. Leckie makes a big deal of the Ship in the Ghost Gate … but then the reaction to finding one of those ancillaries is “Give it a job”. We don’t care about Seivarden’s arc and relationships because it hasn’t been brought up much in the other books. And Leckie can’t get us to care about the kef recovery because most of the time it’s irrelevant and Leckie only brings it up when she wants to talk about Seivarden having “emotional turmoil” that requires medication. We don’t care about Tiswart’s issues because, again, they’ve only been background. This is a prime example of a work that seems to want to express ideas but doesn’t want to actually do anything with them, explore them, or make an interesting story out of them.

– Two examples: 1) Leckie talks about how bulky and beautiful Celar is, which could be an attempt to go after “fat shaming” … except that we don’t have any actual context for it, Leckie herself doesn’t focus on it, and so we are unaffected one way or the other. We don’t really know — or care — about how that alien humanity judges beauty. Also, Leckie talks about AI issues at the end here, and about making the Station AI control itself completely … but it is too late to RAISE those issues, and besides there doesn’t seem to be much potential for a pay-off here. If the AIs were presented as being the only rational agents that might be able to take over, rule, and govern, then you’d have the interesting dilemma of releasing them and risking them having a completely different view than humans, and so risk vs reward. But it’s clear that other than caring about their own inhabitants a lot, they aren’t any better than anyone else, not more competent, more caring, more honest, or anything like that. Their short-sightedness makes them unqualified to lead, and they are just too much like the humans to replace them. So bringing it up here adds an idea that can’t be explored properly to an already cluttered set of ideas. Again, expressing ideas but doing nothing with them.

Second Reading: 200 pages in.

– Were we supposed to cheer and be impressed and happy when Seivarden apologized to the other lieutenant? It’s been a sideshow the entire time, an aside, an afterthought. Why should we care?

– Gee, that gun can destroy entire ships! Maybe there’ll be a problem with it being used! That will come up in the last 100 pages! Meh.

– There might have been some drama and excitement around finally confronting the other leader’s forces, but it went way too quickly and then got buried under the internal conversations that went no where and weren’t that interesting.

Third Reading: To end.

– And nothing got resolved at all. Sure, nothing needed to, but it leaves the last book with nothing at all to do.

– Small spaces of dramatic action buried under interminable, pointless conversations.

– The final “resolution” is all the worse from being blind luck — Translator and the other ship would have had to come with her for it to work, but she had to think it up during the shuttle ride — rather than from her exceptional and unbelievable competence … especially since it still required incredible competence for her to pull off the arguments.

– Leckie hinted at the issues with mistreating non-Significant species before, but never explained anything about it. So we have no idea why the Translator would even go along with any of that.

– The Seivarden sequence continues, but again why in the world would we care?

– Overall: the book is very disappointing, but that’s mostly because the rest of the series fails to give it anything of interest to do.