May. 26th, 2014

divisionsandprecisions: (dry)
My first novel read from the list of nominees was Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie.

It was an interesting debut novel. Often first novels show an unconstrained exuberance, the author's idea generator out of control. This was the opposite, perfectly restrained, concise, nothing wasted.

The novel is built out of space opera tropes---space ships, AIs, war between alien empires, planetary invasions. But the major themes are not typical for the subgenre---privilege, sexual and social discrimination. SF has been grappling with these themes for at least 4 decades, but here they worked into the story with a deftness rarely seen. A typical attempt from 70s SF leaves the reader trying to sort out a mess of unreadable invented pronouns, but Ann Leckie simply tells us that the dominant culture makes no distinction between male and female, and every character in the book is referred to as "she". It feels very natural, but the cumulative effect is large. Similarly, the novel is not a polemic about the evils of social privilege, it includes the reality of it in the cultural backdrop.

The character development is unusually deep for the space opera subgenre. The story is more character driven than plot driven. The pacing is also atypical. Instead of a roller coaster, it is like a train leaving the station that accelerates slowly but continuously. I am concerned that its Hugo chances will be particularly harmed by Orbit's decision to include only an excerpt in the voter packet (the voter packet has not been released yet, so I purchased this myself).

The world building is spartan, but had rich detail where it comes into play in the story. Where the world-building in some works peters out into vague generalities, here it seems mostly omitted as irrelevant. It is imaginative and realistic when included. Ann Leckie knows how to deploy just the right amount of detail to establish an interesting setting. So we get a wonderful description of the native building style, multi-story buildings with no permanent walls, just screens for internal walls and emergency shutters for the outside, but when the characters need to take a fishing boat, it is just a boat.

This novel deserves the awards it has received, and I would not be surprised if it won the Hugo. Now, I need to start the Charlie Stross novel.

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