Reading: Ann Leckie — Ancillary Mercy

Calling this the first book of the new year. Ann Leckie’s third in the Imperial Radch trilogy. I want this not to be a trilogy. This is the best thing since Iain Banks’ Culture. Everything I said about Ancillary Justice (Book of the Year last year) holds for Ancillary Mercy. And I’m preparing a binge-read of the three because a) it’s that fucking good and b) there’s so much in it that requires this. Ooo! Just read, another one from her in Imperial Radch in 2017, plus another skiffy novel! Awesome!

I read the second book, Ancillary Sword October last year, so it’s a year for me between sequential events, and I’m scraping my brain to remember details. Like The Castle Omnibus, it would be doing this trilogy a service to bundle them together with special new cover art, preferably gatefold, and print it on the equivalent of coloured vinyl (I would not say no to soaking an Ancillary bookmark in LSD). The soundtrack to the Ancillary Omnibus would be Yes’ Heart of the Sunrise, this would swap to Can for the Presger translator Zeiat. (In a fictional future where a convincing movie of the trilogy is made, Dasniya plays both translators Dlique and Zeiat, mostly for her fish sauce consumption. Also for her comparable excellence in logic.) Imagine Zeiat and Wittgenstein together…

The only reason this isn’t as momentous a novel as Justice is that it comes after the previous two, so we’re used to the space opera and pronouns (everyone is ‘she’ or ‘her’)—ok, first novel also had romping across a few planetary surfaces, and Breq throwing herself off a bridge to catch someone who fell—but Frances, Mercy had Breq hanging off the side of a spaceship in hyperspace, dropping out to take potshots at the Imperial fleet before losing a leg and lamenting it wasn’t the crap one—the one she landed on after the bridge incident, all the while singing singing singing, Oh, tree! Eat the fish!, and Peep peep peep peep!

What I wanted: more from the other side of the Ghost Gate. More of the Presger. More of quite a lot of stuff. With the Imperial Radch, Leckie has created culture and history as long and rich as Banks’ Culture, something I really didn’t expect to see again in sci-fi, and I want several-hundred page novels of this annually. (I haven’t been so thrilled about an author since Banks, and everyone around me knows how I blab on about him.) Also wanted one of those List of Characters, like you get in Shakespeare, cos I got dead confused over who was what.

Unexpected resolution: Leckie does Space Opera without the Star Wars/Trek finale set piece battles. It ends with Zeiat coughing up fish—fish shaped cakes, fish sauce, a real fish. Then she has Breq, who is effectively an AI, announce that she, the station and several of the ships are declaring themselves Significant nonhuman beings, Significance being a Presger denomination for any species off-limits from their fiddling (If you’ve read Banks’ Excession, the Presger are an Outside Context Problem), and by extension affording them rights and beinghood distinct from the Radch.

It reads much better, more coherent than that (and funnier). Pertinently, the issue of AI (and non-human) human rights is one which I witnessed friends’ eyes glaze over when I tried to explain how an AI (or animal) might be regarded as human—right after they’d been telling me about Japanese immersive porn holograms. It’s going to make Global Warming look like kindergarten (if we make it through the former).

So, don’t read Ancillary Mercy. Read the other two first, then read this. Gonna be Book of the Year next year for the ending alone. And the fish sauce. And the singing. And it wasn’t long enough.