Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Sunday, September 6, 2020

My Thoughts on Ancillary Justice

So I found I really like The Imperial Radche series. And of course, when I finish a book, or movie, or game I like I surf the internet to see what other people thought about it and they hated it. 

Well, that's overstating the case. What attracted me to the book, other than the algorithm is that it won a ton of awards. But it is a case where at least anecdotally there is a dissonance between the critics and the general audience.

In the end, I don't particularly care. There are millions, hell trillions of stories and I don't personally believe in the universality of those stories. If I were 15 years younger maybe but I'm long past the age where I feel compelled to force the world to like everything I like.

Still, I'm finding a lot of the things that other people disliked are things I specifically liked. And that's worth examining. 

It's Boring
It's not the most interesting thing about the story but it's worth mentioning, many of the major conflicts in the story aren't solved by a big battle. This is a story where a lot of the action occurs by talking. And I kind of like that. There are plenty of stories where the heroes win by killing the bad boss at the end. This is more a story of diplomacy. 

Yes The Book Has Progressive Politics and That's Okay
It doesn't matter now but this book was a target in the backlash against progressive politics in science fiction and fantasy. This isn't 2014. By now everybody knows the sad puppies are stupid. But I've still seen the sentiment and people trying to defend the book by saying it's not that political and progressive and...

Look the third book has a B plot where a couple breaks up because one of them can't wrap their head over what a microagression is and getting back together when that person learns to "check their privilege". 

If you're argument is that this book is apolitical you're wrong. Subjective truth, power to reader, death of the author yada yada... you're wrong. 

And this bothers me specifically because people "not seeing race" or gender or sexuality. Is kind of a button for me because not seeing it gives them license to act abhorrently in regards to those things. 

So when not just this story but ANY story stands up and says, THIS. THIS is what I'm about when it specifically is about people being blind to those things I find it particularly infuriating. 

...There is a reason why in a series about an expansionist, domineering (and racist don't forget the racist) empire, EVERY FIVE MINUTES THE CHARACTERS STOP TO TAKE TEA!

On Personhood
So like the Fifth Season, Imperial Radche is about personhood. I want to be careful about saying it's about racism even though it is A LOT of science fiction and fantasy is about racism. And a lot of it is done badly. Racism isn't bad because racism is bad. Racism is bad because it SUCKS BALLS for your humanity to not be recognized. 

It is a story about a sentient machine slowly discovering it has feelings, and then asserting to the powers that be that those feelings are valid and should have been considered even within the framework of its own actions. 

Gender and Language
So one of the things that turns people off of the series is that it uses feminine pronouns for all genders. I don't think that ALL of the backlash against this creative decision is misogyny. It is a decision that does make the book harder to read. But it's also a show don't tell thing. 

Part of how the book explores the concept of personhood is through exploring how language can restrict or expand thought and expression. The book goes through GREAT pains to explain how in the language most of the characters speak the word for civilization and the word for citizenship to the dominating nation-state are the same implicitly making ANY conversation either the nation-state, "citizenship" or "civilization" implicitly exclusionary. 

English doesn't really have a gender-neutral singular other than "it" or "one" which have their own implications in a story about personhood. The language itself forces people to make presumptions about gender. And the book is trying force the reader to confront that. To confront how the language itself can force them into certain thoughts. 

Like I said this is a book where a lot of the conflicts are solved or even initiated through talking and as such both the audience and the characters are conditioned to understand implicit statements. How someone chooses to dress, or stand, the exact wording of a statement, what's not said and even what can not be said because neither the language nor the mental framework of the participants in the conversation to adequately describe something sometimes something important... like personhood exists. 

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