#FridayReads: The Imperial Radch Trilogy by Ann Leckie

cover for Ancillary JusticeJust yesterday I finished reading the Imperial Radch trilogy by Ann Leckie. I enjoyed every second of it, and am excited to learn that a new entry in the series comes out in September, right after my birthday!

I’ve felt a bit out of the sci-fi loop for not having read this series since it made the awards circuit in 2014–and all of them are well earned, that’s for sure.

Science fiction has been asking the question, “What makes us human?” since its earliest days, and this trilogy continues that tradition with its own take. It also explores themes of colonization, empire, class, and gender.

The trilogy consists of Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword, and Ancillary Mercy. In this universe, military spaceships and space stations are run by powerful, intelligent, and emotive AIs. Many of these AIs have ancillaries, which are human bodies essentially wiped of their consciousness and tied into the AI’s consciousness. It’s a brutal process that involves the death of the person inhabiting that body.

cover for ancillary swordThe leader of the expansionist Radch empire, Anaander Mianaai, has hundreds of clone bodies and has ruled Radch space for thousands of years. Several incidents with various alien species has caused her to split into multiple factions, which leads to the destruction of the ship Justice of Toren, minus one ancillary, who now goes by Breq.

The Radchaai language doesn’t distinguish genders, so all characters are referred to as “she” throughout the books, and we learn (some of) their genders through interactions with people who speak languages that do distinguish gender. Interestingly, we’re never explicitly (that I remember) told what gender Justice of Toren’s last remaining human body is. It doesn’t matter, though, and that, I’m sure, is Leckie’s point in concealing the gender.

cover for ancillary mercyBreq has set out on a mission to kill Anaander Mianaai, and thus sets in motion the trilogy’s plot. Leckie balances the demands of writing an overarching plot for the trilogy while also giving each book a true beginning, middle, and end. There’s a lot of internal tension, which balances well against the bursts of action and violence. This is definitely intellectual science fiction more than action-adventure-type sci-fi, though there’s plenty of action.

The trilogy is all about revenge, but I appreciate that the revenge Breq exacts involves out-maneuvering rather than outright killing the Lord of the Radch–which would be almost impossible, because of her many many of clone bodies (though Breq does try to kill as many bodies as possible anyway, and who can blame her?).

I could probably write at LEAST half a dozen critical essays on the way Leckie handles class, colonialism, and humanity in general, but I’ll leave this review here: If smart, well-written, character AND plot driven science fiction is your thing, you’ll enjoy these books. I can’t wait for the next one!

#FridayReads: Finishing School

I read Finishing School: The Happy Ending to that Writing Project You Can’t Seem to Get Done awhile ago, but have been too caught up with life to write about it, which is ironic in a sad, pathetic way.

Here’s the thing, though–I didn’t need to read this book. Sometimes I struggle to finish things, but I do finish them. I’ve written two books plus three novels for National Novel Writing Month, so clearly I’m capable of finishing things.

photo of the book finishing school on top of a notebook

Here’s Finishing School on top of the notebook containing the almost-complete first draft of my novel-in-progress.

Even so, I’m always looking for ways to improve myself, my writing, and my writing process. Hence my obsession with self-help and time management books. And that’s what Finishing School is, really–a self-help/time management book for writers.

It’s written by writing buddy duo Cary Tennis and Danelle Morton, with alternating chapters in each of their voices. Sometimes this is annoying, but here I thought it was helpful to have two different perspectives on the writing process and its pitfalls.

The book’s premise is a simple accountability system geared toward writers specifically. You find a group of people (or a single partner) who are all working on a writing project. You set up a regular meeting time. At the meeting, you talk about your project, then pull out your calendar and schedule times you are going to work on your writing project. Then you go your separate ways, do your writing thing, and report back at the next meeting. During the week, you text or email your writing buddy to let them know when you start and finish your writing sessions. They do the same, and everyone (ideally) feels motivated to get their writing done.

You’ve probably heard over and over, in many different contexts, that having an accountability partner–for quitting smoking, losing weight, learning a new language–makes you more likely to succeed. So you don’t really need a book to tell you the same will work for writing.

That’s not all Finishing School is, though. It also explores the common writing hangups people get stuck on. Things like fear, insecurity, jealousy, despair, and all the other wonderful negative emotions that plague humanity.

Only after it goes through all the reasons you might not be writing does it get to the accountability stuff. This is smart, in my opinion. It’s the same in customer service: you have to deal with the upset customer’s emotions before you can address the root problem.

If you’ve been having trouble completing a writing project, you may want to give this book a try.

#FridayReads: Revenge of the Fifth Edition

Later this month marks the 40th Anniversary of my favorite thing ever, Star Wars. Now, pretty much every day is Star Wars day for me, but as May 5th is known as Revenge of the Fifth in the fan community, here’s a special edition (don’t worry, not that kind) of #FridayReads. Enjoy!

There are several things I want out of Star Wars movie novelizations: insight into the characters via inner monologues/descriptions of feelings, a few extra tidbits/tangents that shed light on a background element in the movie (character, droid, place, etc.), and writing that is decent or better. The novelization for The Force Awakens was a bit disappointing on the characters’ inner lives bit, which I imagine is because they’re keeping a tight lock on things to avoid spoilers for the upcoming saga films.

the rogue one audiobook

Rogue One doesn’t have such compunctions for obvious reasons if you’ve seen the films, and so far the novelization has met or exceeded my expectations on all fronts. The audiobook is extremely well-produced to boot, with sound effects and background music at appropriate points. The story follows the movie perfectly, of course, but I appreciate the little glimpses we get into Cassian, Jyn, and their growing friendship/feelings for one another.

We get quite a bit from Chirrut and Baze’s points of view, which was something I didn’t expect and am enjoying quite a bit (and we should get even more with the Guardians of the Whills comic series!). Director Krennic also makes POV appearances, and I like that his scheming to maintain power and control over the Death Star is a main focus of his inner thoughts. Plus, it’s very interesting to see Darth Vader through his eyes—there’s a lot of disbelief and resentment until he experiences Vader’s power first-hand.

Jonathan Davis’s reading of the story is  fantastic. He makes his voice sound like exactly like Cassian, Chirrut, Galen, and even Tarkin. His Jyn is a little off, but it’s a truly exceptional male narrator who can pull off sounding like a woman without making her also sound like a child. They put his voice through a modulator to create K-2SO’s voice, which is a nice touch.

The only point the background SFX became an annoyance was while they are leaving Jeddha to head to Eadu. There’s a constant, high-pitched whining in the background through that whole scene meant to duplicate the way ships sound in hyperspace, but my god was that irritating. I almost fast-forwarded through that, but it’s an important scene so I broke it up over days and suffered through it.

This has been my first Star Wars audiobook (books are my big collection so I usually just buy the hardcovers and read them the old-fashioned way). I’d definitely recommend this as an entry point into the canon beyond the films. I’ll certainly be checking out more Star Wars audiobooks for my daily commute.