Review: Ancillary Justice by Anne Leckie

•January 30, 2016 • Leave a Comment


The promotional copy, from goodreads:

On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest. Once, she was the Justice of Toren – a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy. Now, an act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with one fragile human body, unanswered questions, and a burning desire for vengeance.

There are some rather intense speculative set pieces underlying Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, the first novel in a trilogy. The grand idea of “an artificial intelligence linking thousands of soldiers” is first explored in unique narrative sections where multiple viewpoints are offered by a single viewpoint character. It’s handled well. However, it’s later revealed that these Ancillaries of the ship are prisoners of war who have had their consciousness completely override by the ships artificial intelligence. The practicality and horror (interesting reading this right after zer0es) of this practice colors the narrative but isn’t explored too deeply.

The lack of gender in the language of the Radch has been a major discussion point for this book. I particularly like this piece about translating this series into other languages. The exclusive use of female pronouns by the narrator requires the reader to think a bit more deeply about default character assumptions. However, I’ve heard less discussion of the concept of clientage. As I read it, it’s basically a contract like marriage, except with an explicit one way power dynamic and no concept of monogamy. Filtered through the lack of gender distinctions, the concept of clientage offered me plenty to think about with respect to our current views of relationships, contracts and privilege.

There’s a running dialog with religion throughout the novel. The integration of local deities into the pantheon worshiped by the Radch, the devout worship of Radch soldiers, and Breq’s personal icons all contribute to a rich view of religion in the universe Leckie created. The exclusion of Ancillaries from worship and Breq’s view of religion as superstition and simply part of her disguise are in conflict with the comfort she finds at important moments in the Radch reliance on fate and chance. The opening passage of the book offers a shorthand translation between our religious concept of grace and service and the Radch religious concepts of serendipity and chance.

From the good Samaritan opening to that action’s fate like importance to the resolution of the climax, this novel explores deep issues in the trappings of a traditional space opera. The multiple literal interpretations of a mind struggling against itself resonates with my personal struggles with depression. The protective buffer of empire and fear of other resonates with my white male American privilege. Neither of these are ideas I enjoy confronting, but experiencing them in the medium of science fiction (particularly science fiction done this well) is a starting point for some great self reflection.

Review: Zer0es by Chuck Wendig

•January 28, 2016 • 1 Comment


Five hackers are forced to work for the government and get drawn into a dangerous conspiracy involving a malicious artificial intelligence. Mr. Robot and Person of Interest have shown that this premise can be done well – shine even. I picked up Zer0es after reminding myself how much I like Chuck Wendig’s writing with Aftermath. I’ve also read and enjoyed Double Dead and Blackbirds. Chuck Wendig writes strong, difficult to like characters that tend to grow on you (or die or both). He writes a no nonsense in your face fast paced narrative.

The five hackers are diverse both in talent and background. Old and young, men and women, multiple races, multiple body types. The author definitely starts from stereotypes for both the types of hackers and the characters. The characters get fleshed out fairly well. There’s a definite Breakfast Club vibe as the characters bounce off of each other. The pacing as the team is assembled by an FBI suit is thriller appropriate and never really slogs. There’s a parallel team being assembled by a significantly more sinister character that maintains an ominous tension.

The problems crop up in the technology side of the techno-thriller. Sitting in front of a computer is difficult to make both realistic and exciting and it’s easy to lose both in the process. Wendig uses plenty of good terminology, but then inevitably falls back to bad TV-tropes. Technology is introduced that would be more at home in a far future sci-fi than in the ambiguous present day, and this is done for no apparent reason. The conspiracy driving the plot is flatly evil in a “humanity good; technology bad” sort of way. I had to remind myself I wasn’t reading Michael Crichton. The final resolution of the climax seems like it could have been accomplished remotely without putting anyone into harms way, because … hackers.

Ultimately Zer0es fails as the near future sci-fi it was trying to be, but the world this novel sets up involves the start of a technology driven zombie apocalypse, which I think is squarely in Wendig’s wheelhouse. While I don’t enthusiastically recommend this book, I enjoyed it in spite of its flaws and look forward to future volumes.

Reading at the gym VI: Machine Learning by Nancy Kress

•January 27, 2016 • Leave a Comment

[2016-01-27 6:10 PM] 20 minutes on the recumbent bike and 30 minutes on the treadmill.

Future Visions is a collection of science fiction stories inspired by current research at Microsoft. Nancy Kress’ story is simply titled Machine Learning. She comes at the topic from multiple directions, adds in a new disease and potential cure and wraps it all around a family tragedy. I haven’t finished the story yet, but so far it’s as good as the previous pieces. I’m really liking this collection.

Reading at the Gym V: The Builders

•January 18, 2016 • Leave a Comment

[2016-01-18 5:30pm] 15 minutes on the recumbent bike followed by a 45 minute 5k on the treadmill. Did it walk 3 minutes run 1. Got up to 7.2 mph, but did most of the running at 6.5. started publishing novellas last year. I saw at least one on the shelf at Small World Books the other day. If eBooks are your thing, they’re releasing these in bundles now. You can get The Builders by Daniel Polansky either on it’s own or bundled with 2 other novellas.

The first 3rd involved getting the band back together. Anthropomorphized animals tearing it up in a tale of revenge. I admit to plenty of Redwall flashbacks, but my favorite part about the novella so far is Polansky’s voice. There’s a humor in even the the bloodiest passages.

The part I read at the gym today finally saw the team in action. Honestly I’m more focused on how good it felt of the treadmill. I’ll write more about The Builders when I’ve finished it.

Ingress in 2016

•January 18, 2016 • Leave a Comment


I’ve earned the Translator medal in #Ingress.

Been a while since I played actively, but I got drawn back in on the 3rd waiting for my friend to finish a half marathon in downtown Los Angeles. I did the 5k. She did the 5k+half marathon challenge. It’s one more reminder to get outside and move. Now back inside for laundry and other responsibilities. Gym later.

Reading at the Gym IV: Two of Swords Part Twelve

•January 16, 2016 • Leave a Comment

[2016-01-16 7:15 am] 6 miles of walking, to and on the Venice boardwalk.

Read the 12th installment of K. J. Parker’s ongoing serial Two of Swords at The Sidewalk Cafe and finished it off after the walk. Musen, the thief, spent this bit as the mouse in a game of cat and mouse. He and Axeo (the cat) arguably have the same goal, though they disagree dramatically about how to achieve it. Plenty of colorful characters encountered as always. It’s crazy difficult keeping the cast of POV characters straight between installments, but I’m still finding the serial rewarding.

Also spent some time at Small World Books and came away with Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. I’ve been meaning to read this and it always feels great to support a local independent bookstore. I read a bit of this on a bench by the skate park. It’s a bit cool out, but there was still a pleasant cognitive dissonance to sitting in the bright sunlight and reading about a frozen planet. The main points that I knew about the book, the non-gendered language and the main character that used to be a ship, were both raised in the first few pages. Looking forward to finding out more.

Reading at the Gym III: The Coode Street Podcast

•January 14, 2016 • Leave a Comment

[2016-01-14 6:10am] 35 minutes walking and running around the Venice, Wade, Pacific, Moore block. This was a proof of concept. How well do I run on a cold morning. Could I possibly run down to the beach (2.3 miles) and back for a morning run? Actually, strike that. There’s a bus that runs regularly along that route, so I really only need to be comfortable getting to the beach. 2.3 miles is cake! I’ll top up a TAP card and try this next week.

Just as I wasn’t actually in the gym, I wasn’t actually reading. I listened to the tail end of Episode 257, the last episode recorded in 2015, and the start of Episode 258, an interview with Jim Minz.

I’m always amused when Gary and Jonathan ponder how people are supposed to stumble across new (to them) writers in a podcast where they’ve given dozens of reading recommendations. I know that an insider baseball (actually science fiction) podcast like this isn’t going to be where the average reader discovers the gems of science fiction, but it’s one of MY favorite ways to dive deeper into the field. To the extent that I go on to recommend books, the seed of those recommendations often start here.