Hugo: Among Others (2012)

Among Others by Jo Walton
Read April 28, 2015

Premise: After a mysterious accident, a teenager runs away from her controlling mother to her father she has never met and is sent away to boarding school. There are fairies, magic, and a late-’70s science fiction book club mixed in.

Verdict: I devoured this novel in one day. For a start, the descriptions and philosophies of magic are so close to my own that it was a bit like reading my own ramblings.  Magic in this novel is easily dismissed as chance or coincidence, but it has far-reaching consequences and implications. The fairies can be real or can be her adolescent over-active imagination. The narrator, Mor, is sent away to a crappy boarding school and has to deal with being an outsider. And then, in a desperate effort at connection, she finds a science fiction book club in the local town and basically keeps notes on her lit crit activities for a huge list of classic sci-fi. This book is pretty amazing. There’s the sort of wish-fulfillment you’d expect from a novel about an outcast nerd, but there’s also plenty of self-empowerment and coming into one’s own. Mor was recently crippled in a devastating accident, and there was a line in there about this story being what happens after the adventure novel ends and is the boring stuff you’re not supposed to see. I liked that. I also loved the way blood relationship was presented as not really that important when it comes to forming close bonds. Just sort of generally, I’m curious if the prevalent (and gross) idea that “family” cures all and loves you in a disgustingly simplified, pervasive, and simultaneously dismissive way is a cultural wish fulfillment of its own? This is one of my pet peeves so I was really thrilled that this novel was like “you know, these people might be related to me but they really suck and I need to be away from them.”

Holy crap, this was amazing. Please read it (and every book mentioned in it) and let us discuss.

Hugo: Ancillary Justice (2014)

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
Read April 17, 2015 – April 19, 2015

Premise: An artificially intelligent warship whose consciousness is housed in a human body becomes embroiled in intergalactic imperial politics. And if I told you anymore it would give away way too much.

Verdict: All my love for this novel. All of my love ever. This is imperialistic space opera at its best. The politics are presented but never preached. The world is well-built but not laboriously over-described. The characters are startlingly relatable given that the narrator is a piece of a the aforementioned artificially intelligent warship’s hivemind. Aside from the stylistic elements that I’ll get to shortly, it doesn’t even hammer home weird messages of gender, sexuality, and reproduction (glaring at you from across the playground, Bujold.) One of the (innumerable) things that I love about sci-fi is both figuring out the perimeters and premises of the speculation and then tracing it over the course of the novel to see where it goes. Ancillary Justice never falters once. I’d hold it up as an example of how space opera and even military sci-fi should be in my ideal world.

On the purely stylistic side, it subtly challenges the cultural default to imagine anyone whose gender is not specified as male. Gender is unimportant in the Radch and Esk One is terrible at reading gender markers so she just blanket refers to everyone as “she” in narration. This has the effect of rendering the entire universe default female until someone mentions specifically that a character is male—and usually the narrator continues to ignore male gendered pronouns even then. It’s delicious, and unsettling simply because it forces you to realize just how ingrained looking at the world with a male perspective is. I loved it.

I also loved that the entire impetus of the plot is a grudge Esk One has because the ships harbor intense affection for certain people/officers exactly the same way a human would. The affection is presented extremely well, and Leckie most definitely demonstrates it rather than just explaining, so that man, I felt everything the ship felt. The incredibly large amount of perspectives just from the one character are also woven together so seamlessly (in places sometimes three or four things are going in in different places at exactly the same time) that I really felt like I too was a ship with an enormous omniscience and two-thousand years of experience.

As far as politics go, it questions individuality v. collective on top of the rigid social casting system of the old Radch. It manages to do this using two of the main ship’s former officers: an aristocratic one from a thousand years ago and a more recent one from a common family. The interweaving of time, stories, and motivations is superbly done. I basically read this thing in one long wallow because I didn’t want to put it down.

Love. Love love. Throwing confetti and dancing I loved this book so much.

Next time someone gives me the same bullshit about sci-fi being shallow, exclusionary, and poorly written I’m just going to hand them Ancillary Justice and shut their ass up. This is everything I love about science fiction and the potential for science fiction as a storytelling device all wrapped up in one well-reading package.