Bingo Square: Award Winner
I’ve been meaning to read this novel for quite a while now, but BR 11 Bingo was the final push to get me to start it. I like sci-fi, but some sci-fi can become a bit dry and too technical for me to enjoy, and I feared this might be one of them. As it turns out, I should not have been concerned about that at all.
I also started reading Becky Chambers’ novels recently, so it was interesting to read two novels where a ship’s AI played such a large role, and showed two very different ways in which an AI might struggle with suddenly being reduced to one body (both authors actually raised on similar concern/issue for their AIs – dislike of large open spaces that didn’t allow them too easily monitor everything around them).
I am not even sure how to adequately review this novel! The amount of detail and world building is amazing, and while a large part of the story involves an event that occurred about twenty years before, the ship, Justice of Toren, has a two thousand year history to draw on and refer to, and many of the issues in the novel’s current day trace back to actions from a thousand years before that led to a change in life style and regulations that is only now truly coming to its conclusion – such as the ending of annexations, the use of ancillaries, and the idea of the elite and testing for placements in the military, leading to questions about meritocracy vs. aristocracy. Leckie also plays with concepts of gender view as the dominant, conquering race, the Radch, have a language that does not identify gender and simply refers to everyone as she/her.
It was incredibly rich and thoughtful, and yet I don’t want to give too much away because the novel revealed so much of itself slowly, always keeping the reader engaged.
The chapters alternate between the present day when Breq is about to finally complete the last steps in her preparation for a revenge mission she has been on for twenty years, and the events from twenty years before that led to her seeking revenge. In the present day, she stumbles upon an officer that worked on her ship’s crew a thousand years before, who had been thought dead but whose escape pod was discovered recently. Seivarden is near death, a drug addict, but something compels Breq to help him even though it will make her life more difficult. It also adds a nice point to help illuminate how much their world changed in the last millenium as Seivarden struggles with her place in the world (at one point, Breq states Seivarden is male but since Breq refers to everyone as her, I’m going to follow her lead).
Twenty years before, Breq had been but one body of a ship’s AI with detachments on a planet which was also the location of the last Radch annexation. These flashback chapters explain how the Radch were able to conquer and subjugate so many planets, how they used the bodies of their enemies to make them part of their AIs and show how Esk-1, the part that would become Breq, found herself as an isolated body rather than part of a system providing support to thousands with multiple bodies.
I don’t want to get too much farther into it without fear of ruining the story, but the novel is absolutely fascinating and addresses so many different ideas about conquering nations, AI, identity and classes. Go read it!
Bingo Square: Award Winner