Ancillary Justice/Sword/Mercy, Ann Leckie

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Ancillary Justice/Sword/Mercy, Ann Leckie

Postby EdgarJPublius » Tue Dec 16, 2014 4:05 am UTC

I picked up Ancillary justice a while back because of a blurb I read somewhere about SF with interesting gender dynamics, and when I got around to reading, I was blown away. I was elated when a quick search turned up the sequel and loved that as well, though it is a very different kind of story. I can't wait to read 'Mercy.

Anyway, I later discovered that Ancillary Justice had won pretty much all of the awards and thought maybe other people here had read it and might like to discuss, so I made this thread.

EDIT: oh yeah, maybe some sort of quick synopsis or something should go here for people who haven't read/heard of this yet:

The Radchai empire is like a sort of expansionist Space-Rome with a penchant for tea and not distinguishing people by gender (the author uses feminine pronouns for everyone, except when characters are talking with outsiders using gendered language, in which case they typically guess the wrong pronouns). They conquer neighboring civilizations and absorb them into the Radch.

The empire's military superiority is enforced largely by 'Ancillaries', human prisoner/slaves who are networked to powerful starship AIs and used as extensions of the AI. the ships use the Ancillaries as soldiers, servants for their human officers, and for general maintenance/etc. The 'Emperor/Empress' Anaander Mianaai uses a derivative of Ancillary technology to govern through numerous clones networked together across the Empire.

Breq, the main character, is the sole surviving fragment of the ship Justice of Toren in an Ancillary body and is seeking revenge on the person responsible for destroying the ship and killing it's crew.

That last sentence may not seem like much after the rest, but Breq/Justice of Toren's story is fascinating and well told. It's greatly enriched by the backdrop of the Radchai empire, and in turn greatly enriches the backdrop by uncovering new and interesting facets of life in Space-Rome-with-Tea-and-Gender-Ambiguity.
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Re: Ancillary Justice/Sword/Mercy, Ann Leckie

Postby Kewangji » Sun Dec 21, 2014 1:57 pm UTC

I'm writing my bachelor's thesis on Ancillary Justice. Haven't gotten to Sword yet. Very good stuff.
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Re: Ancillary Justice/Sword/Mercy, Ann Leckie

Postby piksel » Tue Jan 20, 2015 10:34 pm UTC

Can we read your thesis? :)

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Re: Ancillary Justice/Sword/Mercy, Ann Leckie

Postby Andries » Sun Feb 01, 2015 7:27 pm UTC

Yup, I would like to read your thesis too. I loved Ancillary Justice. A very subtle book on many levels.

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Re: Ancillary Justice/Sword/Mercy, Ann Leckie

Postby Kewangji » Sat Feb 07, 2015 12:56 am UTC

I'll respond to that in a PM shortly! Further questions about my bachelor's thesis should probably be in PMs.

On Ancillary Sword:
Spoiler:
I devoured the second book so I don't know that I remember everything in order but I loved the continuation of the themes of identity. The character of the person whose brain Anaander Mianaai stole was not as interesting as she could have been, and I hope the interpreter for the Presger is a prelude to massive language-fuckery in the third book. I could read 700 pages of that character talking. It's good that this was a completely different story from Ancillary Justice but it does suffer from being the middle child in a trilogy. Feels unfinished. Hoping for a grand finale in Ancillary Mercy.


Did anyone read her short story set in the same universe, "Night's Slow Poison"? I started reading it but got distracted by having to do work, so I couldn't form opinions on it. Is it worth reading?

Also, I want a poster/framing of the painting that the covers all have details of.
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Re: Ancillary Justice/Sword/Mercy, Ann Leckie

Postby Andries » Sat Feb 07, 2015 7:48 pm UTC

Yup. The interpreter was much the most interesting thing in Sword. And it was a bit weird to spend so much time worrying about
Spoiler:
fine china
after all the high stakes in the first book.

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Re: Ancillary Justice/Sword/Mercy, Ann Leckie

Postby HungryHobo » Wed Oct 14, 2015 8:27 pm UTC

Reading Ancillary Mercy now. Highly recommend it.

People talk a lot about the gender stuff but it hasn't struck me as that strange as far as SciFi goes, though I tend to seek out stories with unusual social/gender/morality dynamics. (Greg egan, Vinge etc)
The whole glove thing is almost becoming a trope when an author wants to signal that a cultures morals are different to our own but doesn't want to actually include genuinely weird or distressing morals that might put off casual readers.

It sort of seems weird to me that I've read a number of reviews which talk about "feminist" themes in the Ancillary series but to me that doesn't feel right. It feels more like the author thumbing her nose at it.

So we've got an empire which is basically perfectly feminist. It's not humanist or egalitarian but it has no gender roles, gender has effectively been eliminated as a concept and there appears to be total equality between the sexes.
The only times we see the pronoun "he" is in reference to the oppressed peoples or the destroyed cultures or the few people who help the main character while outside radchaai territory.

So the author created a strictly-feminist empire but made it an evil empire which regularly murders billions, brainwashes, enslaves and lobotomises people for profit to fuel a military industrial complex or sends them off for re-education and oppresses and enslaves all the gendered cultures in an environment which makes 1984 look like a forgiving, kindly, highly private and relaxed society and direction of the series is sort of towards the oppressed cultures trying to shake off the oppression of their genderless overlords.

It would be like someone made star-wars but made all the storm-troopers black and had them all giving the Black Power salute while murdering all other races and committing genocide but then got praised for the themes of anti-racist empowerment.

That being said I think she handles it extraordinarily well without getting bogged down in discussing it, it's far better as a simple background.

I do kind of wish there was more worldbuilding in the series, she hints at a rich universe which never even gets a whole paragraph to itself.

I had Ancillary Mercy on preorder and will continue to have her books on pre-order. Definitely an up-and coming author.
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Re: Ancillary Justice/Sword/Mercy, Ann Leckie

Postby maybeagnostic » Thu Oct 29, 2015 11:56 am UTC

HungryHobo wrote:So the author created a strictly-feminist empire but made it an evil empire which regularly murders billions, brainwashes, enslaves and lobotomises people for profit to fuel a military industrial complex or sends them off for re-education and oppresses and enslaves all the gendered cultures in an environment which makes 1984 look like a forgiving, kindly, highly private and relaxed society and direction of the series is sort of towards the oppressed cultures trying to shake off the oppression of their genderless overlords.

It would be like someone made star-wars but made all the storm-troopers black and had them all giving the Black Power salute while murdering all other races and committing genocide but then got praised for the themes of anti-racist empowerment.
I haven't started the third book yet so I might be missing something but...
I don't recall the Radchaai repressing or persecuting anyone over their genderness. They are frequently snobbish about it in the way a more "advanced" society considers its culture clearly superior but the Radchaai are not on a crusade to eradicate the concept of genders and the cultural significance of biological sex. If there is a message to be had there, it is more aptly summarized as "Look, the concept of gender is not some intrinsic feature of every imaginable society. Here's a human society that makes no difference in the societal roles of sexes but continues to be just as human as ones you are familiar with including being avaricious, expansionist and dismissive of others. The people in it are still mean to foreigners, each other and even themselves."
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Re: Ancillary Justice/Sword/Mercy, Ann Leckie

Postby Kewangji » Fri Oct 30, 2015 5:12 am UTC

Yeah, I'm with maybeagnostic here. You're missing the point quite hard if you think the series is being praised for how the Radch is a perfect society or something. Just as Leckie would be missing the point if she had written that the gender binary is the be-all end-all source of oppression in society. It's more that power co-opts and corrupts everything. It all comes down to equations of power, and under the oppressive iron hand of power there's kaleidoscopic diversity. (The way Breq consistently cares about and for the people she has power over is a subversion of this power.) She is using her story to comment on gendery dynamics in our society, though it is much more complicated than simply saying "gender is bad, stop having it". That is not her feminist theme, not what she is being praised for.

(People still have gender in the Radch, by the way.)

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Re: Ancillary Justice/Sword/Mercy, Ann Leckie

Postby HungryHobo » Sun Nov 01, 2015 10:03 am UTC

maybeagnostic wrote:I don't recall the Radchaai repressing or persecuting anyone over their genderness. They are frequently snobbish about it in the way a more "advanced" society considers its culture clearly superior but the Radchaai are not on a crusade to eradicate the concept of genders and the cultural significance of biological sex. If there is a message to be had there, it is more aptly summarized as "Look, the concept of gender is not some intrinsic feature of every imaginable society. Here's a human society that makes no difference in the societal roles of sexes but continues to be just as human as ones you are familiar with including being avaricious, expansionist and dismissive of others. The people in it are still mean to foreigners, each other and even themselves."


If simply ignoring gender is supposed to be the major thing them that's pretty common and unoriginal in scifi, (are all these people calling it amazing people who've never read any other scifi and thus find it surprising?) Leckie does somewhat lampshade it more than most scifi authors who include that trope, making the point again and again.

I don't believe that Leckie meant it to be anti-feminist in any way though it does feel like blowing a raspberry at people claiming that a feminist culture would be automatically better/nicer than one that isn't.

They're not on a crusade against the concept of genders or sexes, they're on a crusade to spread things they consider "civilised", civilised being indistinguishable from their word for their own culture.
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Re: Ancillary Justice/Sword/Mercy, Ann Leckie

Postby maybeagnostic » Thu Nov 12, 2015 8:03 am UTC

HungryHobo wrote:If simply ignoring gender is supposed to be the major thing them that's pretty common and unoriginal in scifi, (are all these people calling it amazing people who've never read any other scifi and thus find it surprising?)
I've read a lot of sci-fi and never encountered the idea before. Some of Le Guin's work is roughly in the same ballpark but I wouldn't really call it similar. Maybe The Culture series but none of the Culture books I've read even have humans in them yet the characters still have gender. What have you read that you find this "common and unoriginal"?

HungryHobo wrote:I don't believe that Leckie meant it to be anti-feminist in any way though it does feel like blowing a raspberry at people claiming that a feminist culture would be automatically better/nicer than one that isn't.

So you either show a feminist culture is automatically better and nicer than what we are familiar with or you are being (unintentionally) anti-feminist?
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Re: Ancillary Justice/Sword/Mercy, Ann Leckie

Postby HungryHobo » Mon Nov 16, 2015 8:08 pm UTC

maybeagnostic wrote:I've read a lot of sci-fi and never encountered the idea before. Some of Le Guin's work is roughly in the same ballpark but I wouldn't really call it similar. Maybe The Culture series but none of the Culture books I've read even have humans in them yet the characters still have gender. What have you read that you find this "common and unoriginal"?


Lots of Greg Egans stories are explicitly stripped of sex and/or gender. Oceanic is a good example. In Schild's Ladder it's explicitly stated that gender is entirely 100% personal, unique and mutable and they have a tradition of competing making up the most absurd stories about sex and gender for humans from the distant past who arrive in cryopods in sublight spaceships.

Star trek played with it quite a few times.

http://memory-alpha.wikia.com/wiki/The_ ... episode%29

As you mentioned, the culture.

Pratchetts discworld dwarves.(dwarfish courtship mainly involves finding out, very tactfully, what sex the other dwarf is)

Some of Anne McCaffreys stories.

Stephen Baxter plays with it a few times.

A few more of the authors I read as a child like Brin had it as flavour for an alien race or 2.

Charles Stross's glasshouse and most of his other transhumanist stuff: gender is sort of still a thing but it's more something you wear like a coat that you might change a few times in an evening.

Perhaps it's that I read a lot of transhumanist stuff which tends to include post-genderist themes by default.

So you either show a feminist culture is automatically better and nicer than what we are familiar with or you are being (unintentionally) anti-feminist?


If you create a story that just happens to be based in a hellish dystopian state that implements communism to the letter is it automatically ( perhaps unintentionally) anti-communist?

If you create a story that just happens to be based in a hellish hyper-capitalist state is it automatically ( perhaps unintentionally) anti-capitalist?
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Re: Ancillary Justice/Sword/Mercy, Ann Leckie

Postby maybeagnostic » Wed Nov 18, 2015 8:31 am UTC

I explicitly mentioned the Culture as the anitexample of this where their society is made up of many different alien species who evolved entirely independently and the members of the Culture do not see themselves as different species but still have strong binary gender identities. Pratchett has it as a throwaway joke about dwarves in fantasy and even has a relatively major dwarf character embracing her femininity. I never noticed this in McCaffrey's and Brin's works but I've only read 2-3 books and some short stories by each so I might have missed it. I'll have to check out Greg Egan and Charles Stross though. Egan has been on my to-read list for a while and I had somehow not run across Stross yet.

HungryHobo wrote:If you create a story that just happens to be based in a hellish dystopian state that implements communism to the letter is it automatically ( perhaps unintentionally) anti-communist?

If you create a story that just happens to be based in a hellish hyper-capitalist state is it automatically ( perhaps unintentionally) anti-capitalist?

I wouldn't describe the Radch as a "hellish state" of any kind. It is imperfect, perhaps even fatally flawed like Anaander Mianaai but even that much is not entirely clear to me (maybe I should read the third book already :P).

However, the answer to your question is a definite no. If an author presents a hellish feminist society, it would not automatically be anti-feminist. They would have to somehow blame feminism for that society's woes, imply or hint that it is the underlying reason for the problems and something else fixes them. Neither of these is true for Leckie's trilogy in the same way that 1984 is not a criticism of traditional gender roles.
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