Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Ancillary Mercy Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Ann Leckie
Publisher: Orbit
Genre: Space Opera
Series: Imperial Radch Book Three
Pages: 362

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(Spoilers for Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword are below).

Fleet Captain Breq discovers another ancillary, and her ship, that’s been hiding from the Radch for over 3,000 years. At Atheok station the arrival of the Presger and their translator Zeiat – or is it Dlique –  brings an alien presence with formidable technology that could change everything about the on-going Radchaai Civil War. When a more aggressive version of Anaander Mianaai is alerted to these events she decides take the Atheok system, and it’s up to Breq to form a desperate plan to stop her.

Ancillary Mercy is every bit as good as its predecessors and in many ways better.  The prose – which was really good for a first time author in Ancillary Justice – had a few issues; this time around everything reads finely polished. Maybe I’m getting used to Leckie’s writing, but this book was a lot easier to comprehend. Breq’s limits as a narrator are clearly exposed, and their are some devices that are used to let us see what other major characters like Seivarden are doing without Breq having to be apart of the action in any sort of capacity.

Action, as in battles and space fights, are few and far between. There might be some reader disappointment with this, but the few scenes of action that do occur carry a lot of suspense to make them memorable. The last book’s lack of focus on the Radchaai Civil War required some patience from me as a reader, but that plot thread, along with Anaander’s return changes that.

Breq continues to grow on me, especially when she’s singing … she never seems to stop whether it’s mulling about the ship or suffering from a grotesque injury. Seivarden gets to play a much larger role and her struggles with substance abuse, romantic relationships, and depression make up a lot of the non-Breq related conflict. The confused Presger translator is a healthy dose of off-beat comedy. This poor creature likes to eat fish out of tourist garden ponds, drinks fish sauce instead of water, and improvises the creation of a very complex strategic game out of a broken tea set and some other junk that’s laying around the ship.

At it’s heart Ancillary Mercy is about the exploration of what makes humans human.  A common exploration in science-fiction, Leckie in many ways doesn’t say something new here. But the presentation of it via the absence of gender and the suggestion of AI’s being able to act on their own and co-exist with humans makes for some thoughtful discussion on the subject, and makes  you wonder what may be in-store for humanity in the far future.

Leckie’s trilogy will be examined and re-examined for years to come. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it become the subject matter for some doctorate theses’. The gender neutral subject matter is especially invigorating. Not seeing gender identity in any of the characters you read about through an entire book really makes you look at how gender roles affect your life and your perception of people. For the deniers of how gender role affects perception, this along with LeGuin’s Left Hand of Darkness, are the books you should hand them. With the conclusion of The Imperial Radch Trilogy, I look forward to seeing what else Leckie will bring into the literary world. This is an excellent conclusion to one of science fiction’s most important modern stories.

Score: 9.3

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