It's not often that the third book of a trilogy makes me reassess my opinion of an earlier volume, but
Ancillary Mercy does just that.
My complaint with the second book was that the story was small and didn't advance the overall trilogy story arc. The third book resolves that and resolves it in a surprising and delightful fashion. The smallness of the second book was necessary. I don't want to give away anything, so I won't go into more detail on this, just that it's handled expertly.
On the other hand, Leckie's writing itself is as clunky as ever. It's difficult to parse, but not because it's explaining complex topics. It's just not clear writing. I think part of it is that she jams things together, textually. Too many lines of dialogue mixed with explanatory text.
So a big thumbs up on the book and the trilogy as a whole. I should have had more faith after finishing the second book.
Meanwhile, an editor somewhere is not upholding their end of the deal. (Andy Weir's editor is also guilty of not putting a strong enough hand on the shoulder of a novice author.)
I've been known to complain about books when the reveals don't come as a surprise, most recently with Lightless, but I also complained about Parasite having a truly great reveal that it made way too obvious halfway through the book, long before it actually confirmed it.
Planetfall does it right. Bad things are revealed, but slowly, deliciously so. Okay, so I maybe figured one out early. Otherwise, each one was a delight.
Combine this with a protagonist I both liked and really found confounding, in a good way. She's a complicated character, but one I could still identify with, even when disagreeing with her courses of action.
The ending might not be quite enough for some folks, but it suited me just fine.
Overall, it was a good combination of a plot-driven storyline and a meaty character arc.
I haven't truly loved a book this much in a long, long time. I haven't been as sad to have a book end, divorcing me from the characters' lives, since I last read the Lord of the Rings.
This isn't plot-heavy book. There's a simple plot holding things together, but it's not the important thing in the book. The important part are the characters and their various arcs. The characters themselves cover a wide variety of species, races, genders, and biologies (or lack thereof). Some get bigger arcs than others, but everyone gets something. Everyone changes over the course of the book. It's glorious.
It's not a perfect book. Some arcs are a bit too tidy. It's almost as if each chapter was an episode in a TV series. It's sort of like, say, the Mary Tyler Moore show. Most episodes revolved around Mary, but there would be episodes for other characters, too. Even Murray would get Murray-centric episodes, although they usually sucked.
This book reads a lot like that. It's very episodic. I didn't mind. It fit the nature of the book, but does serve to point out the minimal nature of the overlying plot.
The book ends on an open note, much like a TV season might. There's some resolution, but the door is clearly open for future volumes. I eagerly await them. (No TV-style cliffhanger at the end of the book, though. It's a standalone book.)
I made my resolution to read fiction only by writers other than white males based on this blog post. Coincidentally, she read the same book at the same time. She loved it as much as I did. My favorite part of her review is where she details just how much this is a
gorgeously queer book.
Hey! It's another debut novel! It's been receiving high praise! Did I like it? No!
Really, I didn't like this at all. It's basically Johnny 5. That sounds kinda cool, but it's not. It's slow and plodding. The big reveals are obvious. Painfully obvious. So obvious you want to shout at the book every time a character hasn't realized them yet.
One of the plot lines involves a long series of interrogations. The problem is that we're given no reason to care about the outcome of them. We haven't come to care about the characters involved. When the interrogations resolve at the end, it's impressive from a technical perspective, I guess, but I just didn't care.
The other plot line involves an easier character about which to care. Too bad her arc is pretty poor. She gains some personal strength, but never really any awareness of her position.
Things ramp up at the end, but it's a long slog to get there. The book ends just when I was actually getting interested.
A lot of attention has been paid to the author's credentials in physics. You sure don't see them in the book. This isn't hard science fiction. There's a little about black holes, but nothing I couldn't have detailed myself. The basics of black holes aren't esoteric knowledge anymore. Parts of the technology are simply anachronistic. This is supposed to take place on a space ship so advanced they've hidden it away, yet there's some really old technology that won't be used here on Earth all that much longer, much less in space in the future.
I read this Hugo-winner last year, so I'm writing this from an increasingly unreliable memory. It's also gonna be short.
Parts of this book I really loved, parts I really didn't.
The cultural aspects were gripping. You don't usually see this side of China in science fiction. I loved following the political machinations.
The actual science-fiction seemed dated and derivative. The virtual realities seemed like Gibsonesque 80s cyberpunk. The alien reveal wasn't much of a surprise, nor did it feel innovative.
Some of this is undoubtedly due to the translation and my unfamiliarity with Chinese literature, but the science-fiction parts read how older movies with bad CGI look. It was a little like watching The Lawnmower Man, only with compelling characters.
After the superb second book, I was really excited for the third. Alas, I was heavilly let down. The third book abandons the one of the dual plotlines from the first two. Folks go to World, but they don't really do anything there. There's really nothing for them to do. The book just wanders away from the place.
I really thought what would happen here is that World would return to its earlier state. (I'm trying to avoid spoilers here.) There are great issues of free will versus societal peace that could be explored. Hell, were crying to be explored! But they weren't explored, not at all.
Instead, the alternate plotline is some sort of coming of age story, with a young female protagonist. At first, I was fine with this. I looked forward to her slowly gaining more agency as the book went on. She never did. She was simply pushed and shoved through the plot. She has some effect on the plot near the end, but even then, it's not really her doing the driving. At the end of the book, I couldn't figure out why she was there. Did her character change? A little. She discovered boys. That's it. She didn't really become a stronger person.
Other characterizations suffered, too. Some characters seemed parodies of archetypes. It was jarring. The characters seemed much more real in the earlier books.
The final plot? Well, it was like Raiders of the Lost Ark. In the end, it didn't matter what the protagonists did. Things would have turned out pretty much the same had they all just decided to stay home. Overall, the issues get wrapped up just fine. It was a clever enough resolution, but I had little fun getting there.
Okay, so I wasn't thrilled with the second Ancillary book. How about the second Probability book?
Oh, so very good. It takes all the themes from the first book and continues to explore them. We get an expanded plot regarding the war with the Fallers. We get an expanded plot regarding World. It takes evrything I loved about the first book and keeps going. It's a superb example of a second book in a trilogy. It goes somewhere, somewhere important, expanding on the first book, while it sets up for resolution in the final book.
The second in the Imperial Radch trilogy (series?) was okay, but disappointing in many ways. Most of the cool things from the first book are missing here, but there's nothing new to replace them. We do get some insight into Radch society, but we lose the delicious interaction with non-Radch society from the first book. Also gone, by necessity I know, is the ancillary multiple-first-person perspective that was the showcase of the first book.
That basically leaves the plot, and the plot is weak in terms of the trilogy. It's fine as a standalone book, but it seems petty and small in view of the overall story arc. The fuller trilogy story arc doesn't seem to move along any. In terms of the trilogy, we're basically killing time.
Maybe if the first book hadn't had so many sweet aspects, then this one would look better.
I'm still looking forward to the the third book.
I read Harriet the Spy solely so that I could say I had, after a friend retorted
Well, have you ever read Harriet the Spy? (To what she retorted, I no longer remember.) That said, I quite enjoyed it. I'm both upset and amused by the protagonist's amorality. She almost belongs in Camus' L'Etranger.
Is it appropriate for children? Hell if I know. It's a classic, I guess, so go ahead. I liked it plenty. (Although not enough to read the sequel.)
Probability Moon offers some tasty science fiction with a hard edge. It involves humans visiting another planet, with a well-realized society. Some of the alien culture and turns of phrase are simply delightful. The human characters are more complex than they first appear. Two related plotlines are deftly handled. I found them equally interesting. All in all, it's a cracking good tale that sets the stage for two more books in a trilogy.
In some ways, the alien society reminds me a little of what the Sparrow could have been in more capable SF hands, and shorn of its preoccupation with religious issues. Although I guess that wouldn't leave much, would it.
I've also read through one of her short story collections, which I enjoyed. I'm part way through another. Based on what I've read in those collections, I'll be passing on her Beggars in Spain trilogy, whose founding novella gives way more time than needed to dispose of Ayn Randian philosophical nonsense. (That novella won both Hugo and Nebula awards? Seriously?)