2015-12-24

Ars SciFi Reading List

I 100% Agree (for the most part ;)

I don't find myself drawn to near-future military fiction, so I'll skip that one.

But the Ancillary Trilogy (Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword, and Ancillary Mercy) really are all the hype suggest them to be.

I want to touch on why Ancillary Justice is so important, and why it belongs on the reading list of everybody who reads anything at all.  First and foremost is the description by Ars (they said it better than I ever could, so standing on the shoulders of giants and all..)

Ancillary Justice, the first novel in this trilogy, was so brain-explodingly original and powerful that it swept the science fiction awards in 2013, winning both the coveted Hugo Award and Nebula Award for best novel. It's the tale of a spaceship that is also an AI hive mind, blown up after the violent colonial occupation of a planet. All that remains of the hive mind is a single human named Breq, an "ancillary" who was once a kind of biological extension of the ship's will. Now, Breq lives only to avenge the death of her most beloved officer, which means killing another kind of hive mind that has gone to war with itself. The trilogy begins as an action adventure and slowly becomes a meditation on colonialism and AI consciousness. Come for the gun fights and fully-realized extraterrestrial civilizations, and stay for Leckie's sly observations about the nature of power.

What  is so wonderfully brain-explody about this series is how the civilization that Ann Leckie builds, one of complete gender neutrality, contributes to the experience of reading the book.   On the most basic level, the plot would make a pretty good sci-fi action movie.

The gender neutrality adds a dimension of mystery to the relationships between the characters that would be absent otherwise.   The main language of the dominant civilization doesn't even have a concept of gender, and this is re-enforced when characters interact with members of civilizations that do have a more familiar concept of gender; the result is confusion about which pronoun should be used for whom.

And it kicked off an absolute shitstorm when it won the Hugo.   Now generally, the use of SJW as a pejorative is a signal to me that you are an asshole, with nothing of value to contribute to anything.

Now the puppies, along with Gamerghazi (I use -gate as the suffix for actual scandals, butthurt teenagers don't count), make up the movement that I generally call Boko Haram of the Suburbs.

Essentially, it is privileged white males raging against a world that dares not perpetually reaffirm said privilege.   Like Boko Haram, they are stupid, desperate people lashing out at what they imaging to be their social enemies.

And yes, I'm aware that it is very much engaging in hyperbole to paint these seemingly insignificant groups of malcontents with the brush of radical (and extremely violent) terrorism.

The problem is, if the shoe fits...   What all of these groups have in common is they are closed feedback loops that "otherize" mainstream society, and lash out at it when the self-alienation becomes too strong.  Whether it's swatting, kidnapping a bunch of schoolgirls, or responding to the perceived "approved reading list" with one's own approved reading list, the root cause is the same.

So where the puppies intersected with the gamerghazi morons, is how I discovered the Ancillary trilogy.   And it is absolutely wonderful.

Just like Slaughterhouse Five, Persepolis, 1984, The Call of the Wild, and other books that are banned or frequently challenged, I was driven by curiosity to see what the hubbub was all about.

(as an aside, I didn't really enjoy Naked Lunch, and never actually finished it)

The Three Body Problem is also a brain-explodingly good read.   The eponymous problem of orbital mechanics factors fairly heavily, though the low level mathematics are omitted.  It features something of an ad hoc computer like those made by minecraft players.

The story is enriched by the translator's footnotes, which help familiarize the reader with aspects of China's cultural revolution; explaining references that assume a more complete understanding of Chinese cultural evolution.

So, buy the books I've linked to.  You won't be disappointed.

Edit:  Also, these:

  • vN, and its sequel iD.  These tell the story of sophisticated androids developed by religious fanatics to serve humanity after they [the fanatics] are raptured away.  The story is told from the point of view of one of these robots (and the religious aspect is a very, very, very minor part of the plot, it's not much more than the sentence I typed about it, in fact).
  • RedshirtsStar Trek meets Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.  Genre-savy and funny as well.
  • Flowertown.  A deadly chemical spill forces the quarantine of a midwestern American city and its residents.  Conspiracies, and plot twists, and a delightfully sarcastic female protagonist make this a great read.
  • The Sherriff of Yrnameer. A light hearted and hilarious story of escape and redemption, similar in spirit to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

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