Friday, 7 March 2014

Ancillary Justice - Ann Leckie

Ancillary Justice is the much talked about debut novel by Ann Leckie, but still managed to escape my notice until it won the Golden Tentacle for best debut novel. Ancillary Justice now had my full attention. The cover is not great but it sure did sound like a great book. A proper epic SF with a rich, detailed world with political intrigue and mystery. Great ships controlled by AIs who instead of drones, robots and golems used enslaved humans to do their bidding.

The Radchaai conquers worlds to drive their economy, and the most cost efficient way is to have their AI used their mind controlled ancillaries as foot soldiers for the invasions, and those captured find themselves in stasis holds in preparation for the next invasion and their enslavement.  Ancillary Justice is about one of these ancillaries whose ship is destroyed and instead of being many she is now just the one, no longer able to feel the coldness of space against her hull. Just a tiny insignificant sack of meat and bones.

Ann Lackie's novel is a lot about questioning what you have previously accepted, even if this means challenging everything you believe in. Then dealing with the consequences of that decision.

Sadly, a lot of the story is lost in the horrible mess which is Ann Leckie's gender experiment. The main character is unable to tell the gender of people and this leaks into the dialogue as a 'her' in the first sentence and then a 'him' in the next. If the desired effect was confusion the experiment is a success. It reminds me of China Mievelle's Embassytown where he had a similar, intellectual, experiment which only ended up distracting from the story.

Ancillary Justice is also a rather dull book where nothing seems to happen at all. It could have been so much more, but we mostly seem to be stuck in a lecture on Radchaai culture and etiquette, instead of unravelling mysteries and righting wrongs.

Sadly, Ancillary Justice is best used for putting yourself into stasis until a better SF arrives.

Ancillary Justice weighs in at 432 pages and is published by Orbit Books.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

The Fell Sword - Miles Cameron

The Fell Sword, by Miles Cameron, is the second part in The Traitor Son Cycle and sequel to The Red Knight, which was one of my favourite fantasy books of 2013. Both books were easy to read and hard to put down. They might as well print the third one on flypaper to give me a good excuse to stay up all night reading.

The Traitor Son Cycle is a fantasy of epic proportions about a mercenary company and their Captain, who are much like a merry band of outlaws, but with heavy armour instead of tights. It’s fair to say the book is packed with characters who are larger than life, easy to like, and do their best to enjoy life while it lasts. The Captain is the strong silent type, who is always one step ahead of everyone else. What makes him somewhat unusual is that he is both a warrior and a mage, almost like Harry Dresden and Nine Fingers rolled into one.

The world building is catching as well with its man vs nature setting. Luckily, both sides are as fond of fighting themselves as their sworn enemies. Miles Cameron adds his own touch by inventing a few races of his own, but also throws in the odd troll and giant into the mix for familiarity.

In The Fell Sword the emperor is kidnapped, but only just after he has hired the company, and the Captain is quickly on the case. He will need both his cunning and formidable magical capabilities to win this one though as he is up against more than one foe this time.

The Fell Sword will stay with me for a long time.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

The Bletchley Circle

Once you got the taste of excitement, and more importantly, making a difference, it is hard to go back to a mundane life. In The Bletchley Circle this is exactly the case for four women, who during World War II  work as code breakers in Bletchley Park. The information they discover plays an important part in ending the war, but then they are all discarded and forgotten. With the return of the men they find themselves back to raising children and doing laundry.

Susan, played by Anna Maxwell Martin, cannot help but notice a pattern in a series of murders of young women. The chief of police is impressed by her knowledge and quickly realises Susan must have been part of the Bletchley Park crew. I was worried she would be dismissed straight away for being a women and given a glass of sherry and told to go home. Making a mark as a woman in a man’s world is of course a major plot obstacle, but it’s done in a tolerable way. However, the police are unable to find anything and Susan realises she must have missed something and recruits her friends to help her.

The Bletchley Circle is a crime drama with a great side story of how four brave women fight for their right to make a difference. It’s a high quality production with great cast and story. Sherlock, watch out!