This book has justifiably swept the SF awards lately. It’s an intricately designed space opera set in a human future that’s unsettlingly plausible. I’m usually tired of literal “space empires” but Leckie makes enough assumptions to make it work.
Of course there are downsides. The Radch expand by war, “annexing” rival systems and integrating their people and religions into their own. The titular “ancillaries” are prisoners of war, stripped of personality and memory and turned into elements of giant ship’s AI.
Underneath the genteel veneer of tea ceremonies, ritual gloves, and gender-neutral pronouns (everyone is “she” in this novel, a great touch) lies a dark heart of absolute power, state-sponsored euthanasia and utter lack of privacy, if you live on a ship or a Station monitored by an AI. Leckie avoids the trap of simply transplanting today’s society into the far future and gives us a glimpse of something that’s rather different - if instantly recognizable as human.
It’s apparently not a fantasy book series unless it’s at least a trilogy, and while I felt the abrupt ending of The Magician King was fitting for what I felt was the end of a Bildungsroman, I wasn’t too surprised to see The Magician’s Land in print.
That’s not to say I wasn’t happy. Grossman’s three books do a brilliant job of deconstructing the tropes of the magician’s school. It’s Harry Potter meets The Rules of Attraction, and Narnia at least gets a varnish of Lovecraft. The multiverse of the novels is brilliantly constructed and internally consistent.
Tying up all the loose strands of a story is hard work though, and while Grossman does a great job of setting the scene and telling the first half of the book, the last falls rather flat. However, only in the context of what’s gone before. It’s still one of the best fantasy novels I’ve read, ever.
(All pics from our trip are in this Flickr set.)
New York is a woman — she’ll make you cry
But to her you’re just another guy
Well it used to be everything was fine
Everything, this all was mine
But one fine day, you might say
That I, I threw it all away
‘Cause I made up my mind
I traded holy water for cheap wine
I ran out of time
Or something that I can’t define
I traded my whiskey for your wine
Leaving my river running dry
And a waterline
We went to Grand Canyon
And we stood at the expanse
And we watched the rocks change color
And we watched the shadows dance
And if California slides into the ocean
As the mystics and statistics say it will
I predict this hotel will be standing
Until I pay my bill
The latest Laundry novel takes on vampires! Stross does a good job integrating the known lore about his universe - magic as a side-effect of applied mathematics - and his explanation about the origins of his vampiric cell makes internal sense.
However, if there’s one criticism that can be levelled at Stross is that his plotting could be better. This novel deal with double-cross upon double-cross and it gets confusing about who’s crossing who. To deal with this, jarring interludes of exposition are introduced that try to explain what’s happening.