melannen: Commander Valentine of Alpha Squad Seven, a red-haired female Nick Fury in space, smoking contemplatively (Default)
melannen ([personal profile] melannen) wrote2015-05-19 09:45 am


So last weekend I accidentally Ancillary Justice.

...I accidentally Ancillary Justice despite having a ridiculous to-do list of fifty-one fairly major items all of which absolutely must be finished by Friday morning.

You know, I have a long, half-finished post sitting around that explores why I don't read many novels anymore, but really, the whole thing boils down to: when I'm reading a good novel, I make stupid decisions like ignoring the entire ridiculous fifty-one item to-do list to finish it. and then ignoring it some more to write dw posts about the book.

Anyway, Ancillary Justice: SO GOOD. *chinhands*

So if you took Lord of Light, Sutcliff's Dolphin Ring cycle, The Left Hand of Darkness, the Alternian Empire from Homestuck, and most of Anne McCaffrey's FSP books, put them in a blender, skimmed off all of my favorite bits, and then reshaped them into something entirely new and wonderful, that would sort of begin to explain how I enjoyed Ancillary Justice.

I kind of regret not waiting until the whole trilogy was out tbh although probably better this way, for all I didn't need to spend that time on it this weekend I definitely didn't need to spend three times the time on it.

Here are some non-plot-related-but-possibly-spoilery thoughts under the cut:

I am currently sitting here being paralyzed with indecision about whether I want to go look for the Breq/Seivarden fic that I know is almost definitely simmering there on AO3 waiting for me.

On the one hand, I don't ship Breq/Seivarden like, at all? I don't get shippy vibes off them at all, and possibly the opposite, and I'm not really interested in exploring that direction for them either? (I am kind of interested in how the Radchaai conceptions of primary relationships, and Radchaai perceptions of Breq and Seivarden, overlap with our concepts of romance, but I think I would rather see it as compare/contrast really.)

Plus one of the things I like about this book is the way it carries on the long and glorious, if often discontinuous, tradition of SF POVs that are deeply awkward about romance. It's not that there's no romance, there's a backround romance, but the romantic relationship isn't elevated as being more important than all other relationships just due to being romance, and their love is explicitly written as being not different in quality than non-romantic love, and it's fundamentally different due to cultural factors from the way American readers are used to seeing romance done, and the POV character is deeply awkward whenever forced to acknowledge it.

And that is so great and so restful to read.

On the other hand I do have a desperate desperate need for about 300,000 words of story where absolutely nothing important happens other than Breq and Seivarden aggressively being people at each other until they manage to sort out some of their issues, and if that's not the entire point of shipfic then I don't know what it's for.

On the gripping hand to the extent that I ship anyone in this goshdarn book, it's Mercy of Kalr/Justice of Toren One Esk. (Raise your hand if you know me and you're surprised that I ended up shipping the ships. Yeah, thought so.) That relationship has so much potential to be fucked up and fun. (I'm kind of terrified of reading Ancillary Sword because that relationship is either going to be glorious or not at all what I want. Or it'll be what I want and then Mercy of Kalr will go down in a blaze of glory. Augh. Don't spoil me.)

(I don't get to pick up Ancillary Sword until EVERY SINGLE TO-DO ITEM IS DONE, you guys enforce that ok.)


So the first thing I heard about this book was the gender thing: The main character can't tell the difference between male and female and just uses female pronouns for everybody.

Somehow I got the impression that this was due to her particular circumstances, but no: she comes from the Radch, a culture where nobody makes a distinction between male and female, and in fact all the main characters, and nearly all of the secondary characters, are also from that culture, or in the process of assimilating into it. So that's really interesting.

But also: I read several people's meta about how they found it brain-twisty that male characters are referred to by female pronouns, and having to remind themselves that these characters could be male despite the pronouns, and stuff like that. And Breq does spend a lot of the early part of the book embedded in a culture that's aggressively gender-binary, trying to figure out how to assign people male/female, and as a result we get told early on that certain characters are "male" by the standards of that culture despite Breq continuing to use female linguistic gender for them in her POV.

And this works really well as a way of establishing what the author's doing with gender without infodumping, and signposting the reader not to assume everyone referred to as "she" is female? But it's also something of a red herring, because it tricked me into spending longer-than-I-want-to-admit trying to figure out whether Radchaai characters were male or female, like Breq was doing at the beginning, when of course that's entirely missing the point: Radchaai characters aren't male or female, they're Radchaai.

And in fact, Breq is missing the point when she tries to make that distinction too, I think, because even in this aggressively gender-binary culture she's hiding in (I love the way the author establishes that their language is even more gendered that English) all of the locals pretty much immediately ID the Radchaai-raised characters (except when Breq is trying very hard to pass), not as male or female, but as Radchaai. Radchaai are all gendered Radchaai, and even people who are steeped in an m/f binary recognize that. (Whereas she has a much easier time passing as non-Radchaai among Radchaai, because like fish swimming in water, they don't even realize there are Radchaai gender markers that are obvious to people of other genders.)

And then I realized that Radchaai itself is a gendered language - at least, linguistically gendered - because at least some of the Radchaai characters use different pronouns for Radchaai than for Ships, which actually gives an interesting twist to JoT One Esk's repeated protests that despite being of the Radch, One Esk is not Radchaai. And now I have this theory that the Radchaai actually have different linguistic genders for Radchaai, noncitizens, and Ships, and Breq's POV is deliberately flattening that distinction and using Radchaai gender for everyone, as a political statement.

I'm going to have to re-read - AFTER THE TO-DO LIST IS EMPTY - paying really close attention to pronouns. Partly to see if that theory of Radchaai linguistics works, partly to play close attention to how the non-Radchaai are gendering the Radchaai characters.

so who here thinks Anaander Mianaai was once a ship's ancillary

(OK I also sort of enemyship Anaander Mianaai/Breq, especially given that, if I am interpreting that right, Anaander basically marriage-of-convenienced them without even asking Breq. :P)

I am totally going to have the two words "Anaander Mianaai" stuck in my head like a mantra for the next week. Thanks, Ann Leckie.
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[personal profile] seekingferret 2015-05-19 04:07 pm (UTC)(link)
And in fact, Breq is missing the point when she tries to make that distinction too, I think

One of the things that makes the Radch books so satisfying, I think, is that Breq is missing the point a lot, and is wrong a lot, and quite often Leckie doesn't tell you this and leaves you to figure it out on your own.
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[personal profile] seekingferret 2015-05-19 06:38 pm (UTC)(link)
Hmm... Could be it's a realization I had reading Sword, and am reflecting back on Justice?

But I don't think Breq is as clear-eyed as she seems even in Justice. I think it's deceptive because she's so methodical and analytical. She goes through this very firm, determined plan in Justice, step by step, assembling pieces of the plan and as you learn what the goal is, you think "I can't wait to see how she puts these pieces together and pulls it off," but... she doesn't have a whole plan. She hasn't figured it all out. She's traumatized and broken and alone and she appears to be making progress the way she is because she's still at least part Ship and that's how she works, but she's going nowhere.

And I think we're supposed to take a lot of Breq's other cultural observations the same way- as a totally disoriented and broken shipmind trying to make sense out of a world that doesn't follow the rules the Radchaii pretend it does. She doesn't believe in the rules the Radch follow because she can't, she's been thrown out of the system. There's a few moments in Sword that suggest that there's a lot of stuff about the relationship between sex and gender and family for the Radchaii that Breq doesn't understand because they weren't in the purview of a shipmind that never had to deal with children.
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[personal profile] neotoma 2015-05-19 04:19 pm (UTC)(link)
But it's also something of a red herring, because it tricked me into spending longer-than-I-want-to-admit trying to figure out whether Radchaai characters were male or female,

Whereas I went 'every significant character is female unless otherwise noted, screw you patriarchal-brain-colonizing fiction tropes'.

Anaander basically marriage-of-convenienced them without even asking Breq.

Huh. I interpreted that as Breq being adopted into the family, as was often done in ancient Roman family what a promise person was spotted by a family without an heir.
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[personal profile] vass 2015-05-20 03:46 am (UTC)(link)
Here via [personal profile] brownbetty.

Welcome to the fandom. You have been assimilated. Hurry up and finish your to-do list so you can read Sword, because based on this review I very much want to know what you think of it.

And it's also established that the Radchaai have medical technology at a level where secondary sex characteristics can be altered at will and they don't particularly care if the result aligns to any non-Radchaai norms

YES THIS. It amazes me how no one's been discussing this, even when Breq is being accused of habitually misgendering people by a two metre tall iron grey-skinned human being. Primary sex characteristics too -- in that conversation, Strigan asks Breq how Radchaai reproduce, and Breq mentions "have surgery so they can carry a pregnancy" as one of the ways Radchaai have children.

so even Seivarden appearing to have male gender markers to Breq-trying-to-pass-as-Nilt is pretty meaningless (and iirc Breq doesn't specify which ones those are - she might just be going by Seivarden having short hair and wearing pants...)

Agreed about what gender markers Seivarden has not being specified, but a small datapoint about Breq there: she doesn't pick the pronouns for Seivarden. Both times that happens (with the Nilters, then with Strigan) the other person genders Seivarden first, and Breq just goes with what they said.
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[personal profile] vass 2015-05-21 12:50 pm (UTC)(link)
Breq says "Seivarden was easy, I knew she was male" but she says it one line after a Nilter has just gendered Seivarden, so it's entirely possible she's referring to picking up the Nilter's cue.

That's how I read it. She mentions listening for the same cues and having to guess if they haven't given her the cue she needs, so it makes sense to me that that's what she's doing then.

you'd only ask "how do you reproduce at all" if you're reading Radchaai as not having males or females AT ALL.

I read that slightly differently, as Strigan trying to catch Breq out. Like, "you silly Radchaai, you THINK gender is entirely relative and not a meaningful or essential distinction, but WHO MAKES THE BABIES, huh?"

I also love that Breq just casually implies that most non-Radchaai humans have access to, and use, the same technology. Because that's exactly the sort of thing that happens with gender!

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[personal profile] elanya 2015-05-19 04:51 pm (UTC)(link)
*ads books to her 'to read* list >.>
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[personal profile] cinaed 2015-05-19 06:27 pm (UTC)(link)
I have so many feelings about Breq and Ancillary Justice and EVERYTHING.

For my part, I see Seivarden being in love with Breq, perhaps not sexually, but definitely in love and devoted to her, but I also don't ship them at all.

But I love Breq, and I love that Leckie doesn't give us easy answers about anything. I also really like (and by like I mean am fascinated by) how the book handles relationships between the Radchaai and the conquered worlds they are trying to assimilate.

...Also, Leckie wrote a novella called "She Commands Me and I Obey" that's set during those twenty years we don't see in Breq's life, fyi, haha.
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[personal profile] sapote 2015-05-19 07:14 pm (UTC)(link)
Seivarden just wants to be SO LOYAL. It kills me. She just craves being the most loyal ever. She wants those gloves, man. She wants 'em.

I got the impression somewhere that the radchaai pronoun is "radchaai", or "citizen", or at least that's the term of direct address? I also thought for a while about why they would ass themselves to have their pronoun translate as 'she' and I finally decided that maybe it was the closest they could get when they were out gallivanting around colonizing civilizations that matched gender more or less with reproduction because part of the point of being a citizen was that you could be the matriarch of a house? Of course that makes all kinds of cultural assumptions about what that means on my part, but I like the idea that maybe the translation is a loan-word that they most closely matched to THE PERSON THAT GIVES YOU LIFE, WHAT IS.

Also I can't pass a post about the Radch on my read list without feeling compelled to point out that I couldn't be Radch because all that dangley stuff on my blazer would make me CRAZY. So many pins! Dangling off your sleeves! Festooning your lapels! Argh.
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[personal profile] sapote 2015-05-19 09:05 pm (UTC)(link)
Hah! I like that idea; the Radchaai were like "uhh, whoever can't bear children (sorry, btw, when we're done conquering you we will FIX THAT), we aren't those people, so I guess..." at some point in the fictional translation chain to English. As far as who chose - I mean, Leckie, who wrote a thing defending the choice to use "she" and not "he" or a gender-neutral pronoun. But from a Watsonian perspective, I don't know, I don't think English or Earth are involved in this universe necessarily.

To my mind, Sievarden was in a bad spot and really wanted something stable, and then over time fell in loyalty-love with Breq and started idealizing her as an ideal patron. And Sievarden is very, very aristocratic and old-school and probably has notions about how important that relationship is. I love the idea of her running smack into the fact that this is in fact a spaceship and being really thrown.
Edited 2015-05-19 21:05 (UTC)
sapote: The TARDIS sits near a tree in sunlight (Default)

[personal profile] sapote 2015-05-20 12:47 pm (UTC)(link)
Man, it was everywhere in the Ancillary Justice tag on tumblr a month ago, and now I can't find it! I'll keep looking. The upshot was that she wanted to use a pronoun that all of us have heard often, which was why she didn't use one of the less-commonly-used gender-neutral ones, but she said she certainly hopes that more stuff is published in the future using less-commonly-used pronouns.
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[personal profile] sara 2015-05-21 06:06 am (UTC)(link)
Go read Ancillary Sword, you're not doing anything else that can't wait.

It got me through a very trying holiday-season visit with my SIL, and for that if nothing else I am duly grateful (it is also quite a good novel, even if you're not trying not to yell at someone who inexplicably has not mastered basic household cooperative skills despite being 44 years old).
Edited (incomplete double-negative) 2015-05-21 06:10 (UTC)
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[personal profile] jainas 2015-05-21 03:10 pm (UTC)(link)
I don't know if it is the fic you're looking for, but "The Proper Choice" by Hellscabanaboy is one-sided Breq/Seivarden full of confused UST and service kink, and it is delighfull.