Saturday, 17 December 2016
Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie
As I read Ancillary Mercy, the third book in this series (and the last?), I realized that I'd been lured into the same sort of mental mistake as many of the characters - I kept thinking of Breq as human. Human who hadn't always been human and would always differ in important ways, but human. Many of the characters make the same mistake. I'm reminded of a conversation about Solace the Artificial Intelligence who lives in the internet in several of Spider Robinson's Callahan's books. (The Callahan Legacy, I think, but it could be the Callahan Touch.)
In the scene I'm thinking of, Solace was telling the people who frequented the bar about how they tended to see her, either as less than human (as Anaander Mianaai, Lord of the Radch does), more than human (which I'm not sure anyone here does) or simply human. But what they should correctly see her as is other-than-human, and I think that's true of Breq as well, as the end of the book makes abundantly clear.
I'm also intrigued by the choice to make Breq asexual - it's not an ancillary or ship thing, we're led to believe by a discussion in the second book that talks about sexual need as based in the bodies the ship has at its command, if it has ancillaries, and that some bodies need sexual release and some don't. It becomes more apparent that the one body Breq has left under her control doesn't, because we see more and more that there is at least one person willing to sleep with her, but the specifics and the concept appear to be entirely uninteresting to her.
But let's get back to the main plot. At the end of the last book, Breq had been mostly concerned with local matters on the Station she and her new Ship had been sent to, trying to stay out of the way while the various Anaander Mianaais fought their bloody civil war between themselves. This time, the war starts to come to them, as one of the Anaander Mianaais comes to them, one of the ones who most hates Breq, although she really wants to be on neither side.
The underlying theme of identity is continued as Breq takes her ship away, trying to avoid endangering the people on the Station, while starting to think about removing the controls on the other AIs, the Ships and Stations. It is eventually completely laid out that although she no longer has a Ship to be, or a physical AI at her core, that is how she regards herself.
Mianaai, on the other hand, is so invested in retaining her own power that not only does she see the AIs as potential other beings with rights, she doesn't see other Radch as really human either. As Lord of all she surveys, with hundreds or thousands of bodies at her command to occupy, other people seem to have faded into unreality as the Empire has expanded.
We get discussions between those who want a change in how the Radch is governed, those who support the structure as it is now - and those who are willing to see the whole damned thing torn down, exposing the abuses it has hidden behind a press release saying all citizens are equal. And the Presger become more of a presence, sort of, that mysterious alien race vastly superior militarily to humans and utterly unlike them.
This has been a damned good yarn, and a slow journey to realizing both who Breq was and her own journey to figure out what she wanted. It's been about identity and bodies, where customs are rooted, and a scathing examination of power that pretends at equality while institutionalizing indentured servitude, poverty, and mass inequalities. Leckie deserves all the accolades she's been getting.