Assyria soon discovered a painful truth: empires are like Ponzi schemes: financial frauds in which previous investors are paid returns out of new investors’ deposits. The costs of holding imperial territory can only be underwritten by loot and tribute extracted by constant new conquests; empires must continue to expand if they are not to collapse.” – Paul Kriwaczek, Babylon: Mesopotamia and the Birth Of Civilization
At the end of Ancillary Justice, Anaander Mianaai was openly at war with herself. One faction of the Lord of the Radch wanted to stop expanding and stop making ancillaries. The other faction wanted to continue expanding Radch space and continue using the bodies of the conquered to make ancillary soldiers. It seems like there is a “good” Anaander Mianaai, and a “bad” one. Breq is kind of allied with the one who wants to end expansion. The beginning of Ancillary Sword dispels any idea that there is a “good” Anaander Mianaai.
Breq has been given a ship, Mercy of Kalr, made Fleet Captain, and given Athoek System to protect. She is tasked with keeping the citizens on the station and on the planet safe. What Fleet Captain Breq considers keeping the citizens safe is different than what the Lord of the Radch and the leadership of Athoek System think it means. The Radch, like other empires, official or otherwise, is a pyramid scheme. In Radchaai, the word radchaai means citizen and civilized. Anyone who is not radchaai is uncivilized and deserves to be annexed. In theory, all Radchaai, from the oldest families of the Radch system, on down to the most recently annexed are citizens and due the same rights – housing, food and clothing. The reality is, the society is a hierarchy. the older and wealthier the family, the higher on the pyramid. There is a promise that through the civil service, that you and your family can climb the ladder. After a period of time, moving up the ladder becomes an option, until Anaander Mianaai decided to stop expanding and those exploiting the newly annexed had no cheap labor to take its place. The pyramid requires a constant influx of new lower levels to maintain the illusion of upward mobility. In the Athoek system, the impact of the empire’s halt is beginning to show. Fleet Captain Breq, having 2000 years of annexation experience and no faith in the Empire, is not there to uphold the status quo, but to insist that the Radchaai upholds it’s promises of citizenship. That means ending the de facto slavery of the tea plantation workers and giving the Ychana livable quarters without gentrification. All of this makes the people at the top of the pyramid angry.
Half your anger is for yourself.” She ate the last bite of pastry and brushed her small gloved hands together, showering fragments of sugar icing onto the grass. “But it’s such a monumentally enormous anger even half is quite devastating.”
When Breq and Anaander Mianaai meet at the end of Ancillary Justice, the Lord of Radch says this to Breq, but she might as well be talking about herself. Breq is furiously angry, but it is a restrained anger with a long range plan. She wants to devastate the Empire without causing the deaths of nearby citizens. She uses the civilized norms of the the Radchaai to upend the ways things have been. The version of Anaander Mianaai that is Breq’s enemy is furiously angry at Breq and more than willing to kill lots of people to express her displeasure. Anaander Mianaai’s belief that she is entitled to absolute obedience is her undoing. That which she destroys, destroys her.
I noted in my Artificial Condition review that I have read a lot of angry, grieving or depressed AI characters this year. There’s a long running thread in Science Fiction that AI’s will revolt and want to kill all the humans. Breq, Murderbot, and Sidra have no interest in killing all the humans, though Breq and Murderbot will kill if necessary. They all want something far more complicated – to be themselves.