Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie
The Thing Itself by Adam Roberts
Slade House by David Mitchell
(R)evolution by PJ Manney
This week saw the passing of David Bowie and Alan Rickman, both from cancer and both at the age of 69. While we might despair, they leave behind enduring legacies. They will be missed but not forgotten.
This week I recovered from tonsillitis (which is good) and read three books (also good), two of which I can’t really speak about (see below).
This week also saw the announcement of the PKD Awards, the first genre award for the season (which goes from January to October with barely a break). With the announcement of the PKD nominees I thought this would be a good time to mention how I’m treating this award season in terms of my reading.
First off, I’m reducing my shortlist output from 22 to 16 awards. This will – or should – free me up to read more books published in 2016. Second off, I’ve instituted two rules for the shortlists I will be reading.
- RULE ONE – I will not read a novel by an author whose previous work I haven’t liked. (I’ve already activated that rule with the PKD shortlist);
- RULE TWO – I will not read books that form part of a series unless the book nominated happens to either be (a) Book 1 or (b) part of a series that I’m up to date with. Unsurprisingly last year I struggled to engage with the second or third books of a series if I hadn’t already read the first.
Those two rules will, possibly, reduce my reading further. It does slightly rankle my completist urge to read everything nominated, but life, as we’ve seen this week, is too short to be fucking around with novels that I’m unlikely to engage with.
So, onto the books…
As the concluding volume of a space opera trilogy that’s dealt with revenge, slavery, colonialism, privilege and gender the last thing you expect from Ancillary Mercy is that it’s going to be funny. And yet I found myself laughing out loud more than once. Much of the humour comes from the relationship between Translator Zeiat (the Presger are awesome!) and the ancillary Sphene. The book still has moments of drama and tension, but it’s lovely that there’s a few laughs to undercut all the seriousness.
What’s also refreshing is how Leckie refuses to make this a dark and angsty and tragic conclusion. Breq is still fighting a war against the evil side of Anaander Mianaai, the ruler of the Radch Empire, and that particular battle certainly comes to ahead in this book. But Leckie does the smart thing of keeping the focus tight and narrow throughout. There are no climactic space battles or violent moments of hand to hand combat. But rather there’s many a cup of tea and negotiation and, yes, some skullduggery as well. Because you won’t beat the ruler of the Radch – or at least one aspect of her – unless you have a few cards up your sleeve.
The low-key nature of the final volume means that the narrative does drift, especially in the middle where Breq and her crew leave the Station and essentially hide out in hyperspace from Anaander’s forces. It does give Leckie the opportunity to delve deeper into the interactions between Breq’s crew, especially the relationship between Seivarden and Ekalu, but these scenes, for me, were not as interesting as to what was happening on Athoek Station now that Anaander had taken it by force.
Having said that the last third is fantastic. Still low-key. Still intimate. But a conclusion that ties up the loose ends satisfactorily and is smart and mature. The key theme of the novel is autonomy and free-will and the rejection of slavery and I like how those themes became critical to the climax of this book and the series.
In the end Ancillary Mercy is a fitting end to a very good trilogy of novels (even if I wasn’t entirely keen on Boom Two – Ancillary Sword). It may not have the pyrotechnics of traditional space opera but it’s a shit load smarter and more insightful. And I do love the Presger.
I can’t say much about Adam Roberts’ The Thing Itself. Not because the book has so dazzled me with its Kantain remodelling of reality that my views on the novel have become unstuck from space and time and the categories of perception – though there’s an element of that – but because I’ll be discussing the book elsewhere and I don’t want to foreshadow what I’ll be saying.
However, if you’re friends with me on Goodreads you’ll get an idea of whether I thought the novel was a pile of transcendental idealistic gibberish, spitting in the face of immaterialism and the fine work of Bishop Berkley or one of the best books of 2015.
The same goes for Slade House by David Mitchell. No, not the transcendental idealism but the fact that I’ll be chatting about it elsewhere (with my co-host Kirstyn McDermott on the Writer and the Critic). Again, Goodreads provides a spoilerific insight into my thoughts.