Saturday, June 13, 2015

Think Galactic: Ancillary Justice

Much overdue on this one: Wiscon etc. happened right after. Apologies in advance, have a handful of writeups to knock out before we're caught up.

Also this has been a much-discussed book, including a number of discussions at clubs I didn't attend or before Positron started.

But! Ancillary Justice! Ann Leckie! Think Galactic!

This Hugo-winning novel certainly created a lot of buzz; it's one of those books that an unusually high percentage of SF/F folks have read and have opinions about. Which is cool! Canons are problematic, but having a set of touchstones in common is, I would opine, extremely valuable for any community, and helps to prevent some of the cultural balkanization that can otherwise occur.

But I digress! Possible spoilers below:
Story-wise, "Ancillary Justice" is essentially a revenge tale, set in a large space-opera universe that features an expansionist empire that tastes a bit of Rome. The bit that has grabbed most folks' attention is the gender language--the Radch (that's the empire) don't "have the concept of gender", and the narrator uses only female-gendered terms in describing people. Note that the "concept of gender" and "gendered language" are actually two different things, something we discussed at some length at group.

John brought show & tell! It turns out that Breq's songs are from the Shape note school of singing (which Leckie and John both partake of), a style of musical notation/instruction that also has its own sort of lineage of hymnals. John brought in some Shape Note songbooks to show us "Clamanda" and "Bunker Hill" (which are pretty badass) so we could compare the lyrics in full and see the notation.

We talked for quite a bit about reproduction and sex (as opposed to gender) in the Radch, with many comparisons to other SF  works ("Left Hand" et al. ). We thought that the use of all feminine-gendered words even when non-gendered are available ("she" instead of "they" or other neutral/neuter pronouns, "sister" instead of "sibling", "daughter" instead of "child", and so on) was an interesting choice. A more neutral phrasing might have been more "realistic", but the use of the feminine draws attention to and heightened the impact of the Radch's outlook--many of us had the experience of first the shock of realizing what was going on, then the search for "but really, what sex are they", then realizing that a.) we might never find out and b.) it says something a little odd about us that we want that "but really" so bad. So in those senses, a very successful linguistic experiment.

Talked a lot about some other stylistic things, such as the braided narrative and what exactly those time-jumps contribute to the story. Also, issues with first person narratives in general, and what specifically we thought about Breq, how non-human we can see her as given we're inside her head(s) narratively.

Long discussion of some of the mechanics of the world and where our individual suspension of disbelief boundaries lie. This is not a book that is very interested in the nuts and bolts of its technology--the ancillaries/AI & their actual infrastructure, FTL, the frankly magic gun, the Radch's dyson sphere, but they're central enough that we talked about them quite a bit.

Ugh that bridge scene, how does that even work? Pretty sure one could do the math on acceleration and terminal velocity and show that just doesn't work.

And those...are all my notes!

No comments:

Post a Comment