Sunday, August 20, 2017

Ancillary Mercy

Ann Leckie
Book 3 of the Imperial Radch Trilogy

The final installment of this trilogy and I am not disappointed. Having read 1 & 2 out of order, I am finding that it was actually quite a good accident. The 2nd (Justice) was the best in terms of hook and action and setting the stage. The 1st (Sword) then gave lots of backstory and fixed a few misconceptions I had. But in all, I was allowed to imagine the world without having it fed to me directly first. Finally, the 3rd (Mercy) completes the action. I also felt like the style Leckie uses here started off very much as reporting, filling in some backstory from the point of view of Breq -- which evolved over the course of the book into personal narrative. This was, I am sure, intentional as it mirrors the identity journey of Breq and it was highly effective.

The story picks up with the Mercy of Kalr (Breq's ship) managing security in the system and navigating the civilian adminsitration as well. The appearance of a Presger translator, an unattached ancillary and another instance of Anaandar Mianaai makes the political intrigue of who supports whom quite thick. In many ways, a classic space opera. But when we start getting to ideas of identity and Significance with respect to the AI's, I am again reminded of the current (real-world) fear of AI taking over the world and pushing humans to extinction. Fear that any true AI would become all powerful and couldn't possibly have a need for humans. And the suggestion (I wish I could remember where I first saw this idea) that this concept of AI is based on the perception of an AI being male. In Leckie's trilogy, gender pronouns are irrelevant in the Radchaai language and nearly everyone is referred to as she. In addition, the AI personality is largely stereotypically female (nurturing, self sacrificing for those whom they are responsible, etc.). Why are we not seriously working at this? While current tech companies continue to develop AI, they are not seriously working to fix gender inequity amongst their developers, directly pushing the fear of dominant/out-of-control AI being born closer to reality.


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Sunday, August 6, 2017

Ancillary Justice

Ann Leckie
Book 1 of the Imperial Radch Trilogy

I had already read the 2nd book (Ancillary Sword) so this was good backstory. We get the history of how Breq (the One Esk 19 ancillary of the Justice of Toren warship) became separated from her ship and became an individual. We also get the development of the bifurcation of Anaandar Mianaai, Lord of the Radch. There is good thinking (as any good sci-fi should inspire) about the nature of good and evil, the difficulty of the gray area in morality, and the effectiveness of the individual against a culture of domination. Now just have to wait for my library to get me the conclusion.

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Saturday, July 15, 2017

Champion

Marie Lu

Book 3 of the Legend Trilogy.

Final installment, and we pick up 5 months later. June is in training for the Senate leadership in the Republic, Day is hanging out with his brother Eden, both getting treatment. A cease fire has been negotiated with the Colonies and work is proceeding on an actual peace treaty. And then there is another plague outbreak, blame abounds, peace is off the table and the war is full bore again. June is obviously part of the mix as part of her senate work, and Day is pulled back in. Battle, Tension, Clever Solution, Resolution.

What I probably find most interesting about this trilogy is the presentation of 3 distinct societies that have developed in this dystopian future. There are the Colonies "A Free State is a Corporate State" where people are "free" to choose which corporation to work for. Every part of life is commercialized. For example, call the police whenever you want and they will, as a fee for service, investigate your crime or protect your victimization. Can't afford the fee, the police don't exist. Same with food, education, housing, etc. So clearly an "other" class will exist. There is the Republic, that began under martial law to quell riots, and maintained the authoritarian ruling structure. Here the military and the wealthy have power, and the "others" live in squalor, or don't live at all. The power structure institutes mandatory trials at age 13 to sort the populace into privileged, poor, and expendable. Finally there is the society portrayed from Antarctica, technologically and militarily superior. Obviously a cultural melting pot with no native populations, this society is built on the gamification of cultural norms. Every citizen gains points for doing things beneficial to society (going to school, picking up litter, being respectful, etc.) and has points deducted for poor behavior (cheating on a test). The computer keeps track and peoples rank in society (including wealth and standard of living and political power) is based on the accumulation of these good points. In addition, your point total and every increase/decrease based on your actions is publicly visible at all times. We did not spend enough time in Antarctica to see the "other" class, but I was thinking about the difference between people who had to get all their points 1 at a time by watering plants, compared to those who could gather 100's by completing school, or some other task that was not commonly available.

I guess I like thinking about societies and culture. While this little bit of thinking does not make the entire series a must read, it was engaging and largely satisfying. But I don't think it really holds up (still feels like something that was popular 5 years ago). So unless this is what you love, Wait.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Prodigy

Marie Lu

Book 2 of the Legend Trilogy.

OK, so this is better than Matched based solely on the fact that the second book is not awful. In this installment, June and Day are working with the Patriots to overthrow the Republic government and move to all out anarchy. The romantic tension between June/Day, June/Ander, Day/Tess all heighten the difficult decisions that need to be made and of course, nobody can actually say what they mean in a way that communicates their true feelings (but since the readers also get the perspective of their thinking, we are in the know). And the political tension between government, rebellion and individuals, while predictable, is actually able to drive the story along and the book holds contains an actual story arc (with tension and resolution). By the end, the Republic and the Patriots are in a very different situation than at the beginning of the story, and new tough decisions will need to be made about how to proceed in the next installment.

I am going to stick with my Wait rating until the series wraps.


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Legend

Marie Lu

Straight up YA dystopian future that follows the formula of Divergent or Matched. We are set in a North America post massive sea-level rise, and the east and west coasts of the U.S. have split. The Colonies (the east) are at war with The Republic (the west). Told chapter by chapter from the alternate perspectives of Day (Republic street kid doing what he can to be a one person rebellion) and June (Republic military prodigy). Of course, they meet and not everything is as it seems. I am sure that 5 years ago this would have been astounding. Now it seems wrote.

Wait

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Intuitionist

Colson Whitehead

Subtlely set in Manhattan, as the city that is the place to be if you are interested in vertical transport, and utilizing tensions within the Elevator Inspectors Guild to tell the story. Lila Mae Watson is the first female, black inspector in the history of the guild. She is also an intuitionist, which puts her already at odds with the empiricists who currently dominate the guild. There is an accident with an elevator that she inspected and she is pulled into the machinations of the guild politics. However, she does not see what is happening as politics. She sees an existential question, exploring her own identity as an inspector, a woman and black. And while she is clearly intuitionist in the world of verticality, Whitehead really tells Lila Mae's story using empirical observations of the events surrounding her. This is billed as a racial allegory, but it seems to me that it is really an exploration of identity, with the protagonist being on the outside of dominant culture on three counts (intuitionist, woman, black). Interesting at the least, but I suspect I will be thinking about this for awhile.

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Monday, July 3, 2017

On the Steel Breeze

Alastair Reynolds

Fantastic. Science fiction should push the boundaries of science and use the resulting world to make you think about strange connections or possibilities in our current non-fiction world. Reynolds does that. Our protagonist, Chiku Yellow, lives on earth in "the surveilled world". The Mechanism is an AI (or machine-substrate consciousness as it prefers to be called) that manages everything from giant construction/recycle machines called Providers to the aug, which is implanted in every living thing and assists with translation, health, etc. Truly the surveilled world. This civilization has sent out colonizers to a planet 28 light years away on holoships (effectively giant, hollowed out, asteroids) and we also find Chiku Green as a leader on one of these ships. One of the core tensions throughout this plot is that the people on the holoships are counting on the development of an engine that depends on physics not yet discovered in order to be able to slow down an actually stop at their new planet.

What I particularly like about this book is how it doesn't just wave over the years worth of communication lag between the holoships and earth. We don't have a magical faster than light communication scheme, but we do have connected stories going on in two vastly separated parts of the galaxy. This is creative storytelling at its best. I also like how we are asked to think about AI, how it might evolve, the pros and cons of "the surveilled world" and even about human identity and our place in nature.

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