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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