Friday, February 12, 2016

The Ann Leckie Ancillary series... it sucks!

all three book covers I really missed reading a good science fiction book and when I was in this vulnerable mental state I stumbled upon this very positive review on Ars Technica recommending Ann Leckie's trilogy Ancillary. Ars Technica is one of the sites that I respect a lot for the quality of the news there, but I have to tell you that after this, my opinion of them plummeted. Let me tell you why.

The only remotely interesting characteristics of the Ancillary series is the premise - that an AI gets trapped in the body of an "ancillary" soldier that was used as only a physical extension among many others - and the original idea of using no gender when talking about people. You see, in the future, the empire language has lost its need of defining people by gender and therefore they are all she, mother, sister, etc. It is important that the genre is translated into our backward English is all female, as to balance the patriarchal bias of our society. Way to go, Ann! The books also won a ton of awards, which made me doubt myself for a full second before deciding that notorious book awards seem to be equally narrow in focus as notorious movie awards.

Unfortunately, after two books that only exposed antiquated ideas of space operas past, boring scenes and personal biases of the author, I decided to stop. I will not read the third book, the one that maybe would give me some closure as the last in the series. That should tell you how bad I think the books were. On a positive note it vaguely reminded me of Feintuch's Seafort Saga. If you want to read a similarly out of date space opera, but really good and captivating, read that one.

You see, it all happens on ships and stations, where the only thing that doesn't feel like taken from feudal stories are... wait... err... no, there is nothing remotely modern about the books. The premise gets lost on someone who focuses exclusively on the emotions of the Artificial Intelligence, rather than on their abilities or actual characteristics. If I were an AI, I would consider that discrimination. The same ideas could be put in some magical kingdom where magical people clone themselves and keep in touch. I don't know who invented this idea that the future will somehow revert to us being pompous boring nobles that care about family name, clothes, tea and saucer sets (this is from the books, I am not making it up), but enough with it! We have the Internet. And cell phones. That future will not happen! And if it would, no one cares! The main character acts like a motherly person for stupid or young people, no doubt reflecting Leckie's mood as a stay-at-home mom at the time of writing the books. You can basically kill people with impunity in this world of hers, if you are high enough on the social ladder, but swearing is frowned upon, for example.

OK, ranted enough about this. I don't care that her vision of the future sucks. I wouldn't have cared if her writing was bad - which it isn't. It's not great either, though. I do care when I get flooded with review titles like "The book series that brought space opera into the 21st century", by Annalee Newitz, or "Ancillary Justice is the mind-blowing space opera you've been needing", by Annalee Newitz, or "Why I’m Voting for Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice", by Justin Landon - a friend of Annalee Newitz' from the Speculative Fiction compilations, and "A mind-bending, award-winning science fiction trilogy that expertly investigates the way we live now.", by Tammy Oler, who is writing with Annalee Newitz at Bitch Media. Do you see a pattern here?

I have to admit that I think it is a feminism thing. So enamored were these girls of a story that doesn't define its characters by gender, that they loved the book. Annalee's reviews, though, are describing the wonderful universe that Leckie created, with its focus on social change and social commentary, and how it makes one think of how complex things are. I didn't get that at all. I got the typical all powerful emperor over the space empire thing, with stuck up officers believing they know everything and everything is owed to them and the "man/woman of the people" main character that shows them their wicked ways. The rest is horribly boring, not because of the lack of action, but because of the lack of consequence. I kind of think it's either a friend advertising for another or some shared feminist agenda thing.

Bottom line: regardless of my anger with out of proportion reviews, I still believe these books are not worth reading. The first one is acceptable, while the second one just fizzles. I am sure I can find something better to do with my time than to read the third. The great premise of the series is completely wasted with this author and the main character doesn't seem to be or do anything of consequence, while moving from "captain of the ship" to "social rebel" and "crime investigator" at random.