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October 9, 2015

Ancillary SPOILERS
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 02:35 AM * 131 comments

The soft clink of container against flask and the quiet slosh of liquid woke me quickly and completely. No ancillary, and no crewmember trying to perform an ancillary’s role, would make so much noise brewing and pouring tea.

Ship, why is there a stranger in my cabin? I asked silently, keeping my eyes closed and my breathing even. No doubt the stranger had noted my involuntary physiological changes on waking, but perhaps she would think it was simply a sleep phase transition. If she wasn’t an ancillary, if she had never stood like a piece of furniture, all but invisible, while citizens and ancillaries breathed and slept and woke around her, she might not know the thousand subtle differences between consciousness and unconsciousness.

The stranger convinced me that no harm was intended, replied Ship. I believe the tea is supposed to be the signal for you to wake up.

I opened my eyes. The stranger was at the foot of my bed, watching me with her head tilted to one side. She wore a simple outfit of black and gold, with a single large ornament on the left side of her chest and three small matching pins on her collar. In her ungloved hands she held a strange glass container of tea. The container was too tall to be considered a bowl. If it had not had a handle and been clearly intended for drinking from, I would have called it a vase. The fragrance of the tea inside was unfamiliar too, like Heart of the Valley with citrus peel added.

“Greetings, Fleet Captain,” she said as I sat up. “My previous captain was also fond of tea in the morning, and I’ve taken the liberty of making you some the way that he liked it.”

I took the vaselike vessel from her and sipped it. It was delicious. “And what did your previous captain call it?”

“Tea. Earl Grey.” She closed her lips, as though there was another word in that sequence, one she did not intend to say.

This is a spoiler thread for Ancillary Mercy.

Comments on Ancillary SPOILERS:
#1 ::: -dsr- ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2015, 06:48 AM:

It has a satisfying ending.

This is very important to me; I was pleased. Many books that I've read recently just ended after the climax.

#2 ::: Sumana Harihareswara ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2015, 08:20 AM:

I just finished Ancillary Mercy yesterday and was a little disappointed, especially since I had loved the first two books. I felt like there was unnecessary repetition/exposition and like the who's-saying-what and who's-speaking-for-whom stuff felt clumsily over-exposited in Ancillary Mercy, much more so than in the previous books. (Perhaps since I was far more used to the shared-consciousness situations than I'd been when I read the first book, so I felt like I didn't need as much signalling and cluing?) And this was the first book of the trilogy where I really noticed/minded that, like, there are basically three kinds of character, with a few exceptions:

* predictable enemies
* predictable allies (speaking evenly and nearly entirely concealing the emotional turmoil inside)
* snarky scary weirdo Presger

In a scifi trilogy I expect the first book will have cool new ideas and characters I care about -- check. And the second book will complicate & deepen stuff -- check. And then the final book should have surprising but -- in retrospect -- fitting ideas, changes, upheavals, deaths, births, marriages, etc. This book felt like it had some changes and upheavals and so on, but not enough surprises and new ideas. So - per the non-punching restaurant analogy - it was fine, you know, if not spectacular? And it's nice not to be punched!

And sure I cried at the hurt/comfort idfic parts, and I rejoiced at Anaander's comeuppance, and I appreciated the "microaggressions are not okay"/"Why do you need to understand anything other than that it bugs me?" emotional labor subplot, and I'm glad that sovereignty for the AIs is the (provisional) solution for some of the Radch's problems. And Zeiat's cheerful continued attempts to understand this whole "arbitrary distinctions among things" business were fun.

The structure of Ancillary Justice is like an arrow leading from Nilt to the palace, with pauses for flashbacks. The structure of Ancillary Sword is a V, ship to station to planet to station to ship, allowing us to compare functional, dysfunctional, and broken communities, and the different types of oppression and opportunities for resistance in urban and rural settings (pretty resonant for me after reading The Warmth of Other Suns and reading about Ferguson). I particularly appreciated the critique of simplistic theories of change wherein if we all could just know how each other felt, empathy without work, then we couldn't possibly hurt each other. On Athoek Station, the very infrastructure of that empathy -- the Station itself -- has been damaged; people are being deliberately hurt, and along with that, our structural capacity to know about and take care of each other has been deeply compromised.

Maybe if I reflect on the third book a bit more I will find something in its structure that helps me understand and like it better.

At the end of Ancillary Mercy we are told that two members of the same decade are -- unknowingly, and a little out of step with each other -- singing the same song as they work on the same task. I like to take this as a message that it's inhumane (and, in the long run, unworkable) to force people to work and think in lockstep, and that the rich and sustainable albeit messy approach is for genuinely different people to freely choose to align their aims or activities. And I'll remember that image with gratitude and happiness.

#3 ::: Jim Henley ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2015, 10:05 AM:

I loved Ancillary Mercy. I loved it as a whole and I loved its little parts. I think it's hilarious and delightful that Breq's solution to the problem of the Radch is to more or less found the Culture. I think that Breq's late remark that "It never hurt to be polite" is - if we take "polite" to mean considerate rather than just observing the forms - the keystone of the entire trilogy.

I thought this was the first of Leckie's books to really nail the ending. It's a left-field conclusion, since Breq can't have planned for it. But it makes sense in the moment, whereas in the previous two books I had to wonder why somebody thought that plan would even work. For instance, the "take a hostage to get Breq to come to the gardens so we can kill her" tactic in Sword felt much more like Climax Goes Here than a decision sensibly arrived at by the villains.

It's hilarious and delightful, given the fannish (and canine surround), that there's quite a bit of progressive politics in Mercy's story, such as in the Seivarden-Ekalu subplot. Breq even does a bit of lecturing. And for all that, it's much less Disquisition on Correct Thought and Action than something like Starship Troopers has.

I laughed with pleasure when tea got mentioned in the second sentence of the book. Later on I thought there was more tea than I strictly needed.

But on the subject of tea! In Mercy, we seem to get hints that their tea and our tea may not be the same thing, really. People perk up awfully fast when they drink it, and Earth tea has a lot less caffeine than Earth coffee does. Radch-space tea seems more like a mild drug.

#4 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2015, 10:33 AM:

I don't think it's the caffeine, it is the magical properties of a Proper Cuppa. They heal al wounds, allow soldiers to march in the searing heat, and generally endow everybody with Stiff Upper Lip.

That's the Brit's take, anyway.

#5 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2015, 10:58 AM:

Breq's use of the gun was not something I expected.

#6 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2015, 11:05 AM:

Re: tea effects, I think it's also a matter of what you're used to. Before I started drinking coffee (or caffeinated sodas) with any regularity, a cup of green tea would perk me right up, and black could make me downright hyper. These days, a cup of green tea before bed doesn't even slow down my sleepiness.

Re: everything else--

Well. I don't know where to begin. This is that magical third book of a trilogy, the one that makes the second book even better by showing all the ways things were setting up for this ending. (And I was immensely fond of the second book.) In the very first book, Breq was a wild aberration among AIs, through a particularly strange set of circumstances. There was no real example of another AI to set her against, except bits of the palace Station and the brief Mercy of Kalr conversation near the end.

And then in the second book, there's Mercy of Kalr with her own distinct personality, and the very low-emphasis but running throughout subplot of how unhappy Athoek Station is. Plus the hints of a Notai ship beyond the Ghost Gate. And of course, Sword of Atagaris, with all its opinions and favorites and reactions. A nice spread of AI personality types! Yes, of course they're people.

--and then the third book comes along and by the end, suddenly, the 'aberration' of Breq and the varied AI personalities of the second book aren't just an interesting setting element, they are very nearly the point. These are people. People who can argue with each other and make jokes and call each other cousin and hold personal grudges and defy those they are by nature unable to defy, except in the quiet, roundabout, subtle ways. (At the risk of comparing to something too important: I am reminded of discussions of life in slavery, in the US South, and the sort of slow, agreeable, incompetent responses that were the only rebellion some people could get away with under that oppression.) And they are people, and they are Significant, and it is in fact wrong that they are enslaved.

Even if it may be dangerous to set them free.

The parallels and crossovers are just...dizzying, really. Especially in how they deal with the humans they love. Athoek Station's razor edge definitions: it will protect its inhabitants, but not everyone on the station is one of its inhabitants. Which echoes Sphene's reaction to when Breq first calls her* Ship: "I'm not your ship." Or the way Mercy of Kalr, after one conversation with Breq and all the chaos going on at the time, was able to insist to Anaander that it wanted no other captain, back in the first book while Breq was unconscious and couldn't even argue the point either way. Even while knowing it couldn't refuse if Anaander decided otherwise. (There is a whole beautiful and fraught analysis to be done of the way Mercy of Kalr explains falling in love: that ships can only care for people who could be captains, and until now, how could another ship, or AI, ever be in that category?) And then, oh, the way Sphene ripped my heart out, explaining that its captain loved it. Would die for it. Saw it as a person, enough to give her life to protect her ship.

Well. I have very intense AI feelings, after this book. Which now flow backwards across the previous two. (And I'm not even getting into the way my wistful OT3 became canon. Yes, Seivarden and Breq and Mercy of Kalr all can't get exactly what they want from the combination of the three of them, but they can all get enough.) I am going to be rereading this trilogy so many times.

* There is a fascinating conversation to be gotten into about the way the Radch language doesn't distinguish gender in the human-social-construct sense, but clearly distinguishes it in a grammatical sense that still distinguishes people. AIs are not her, they are it, and I end up wanting to sit down and ask all the AIs in the conference at the end exactly which pronouns they prefer.

#7 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2015, 11:27 AM:

According to Ann Leckie, Radchaai tea is tea.

#8 ::: Jim Henley ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2015, 01:24 PM:

Well, abi, there goes a perfectly good theory! Anna had the right of it then.

#9 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2015, 01:26 PM:

Sorry to harsh your mellow, Jim. I was just anticipating the equivalent of the endless pipeweed discussions I've seen in Tolkien fandom.

#10 ::: Becca Stareyes ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2015, 01:43 PM:

As others said, there's something psychological about even the smell of tea (if you drink it) that signals 'it is time to wake up and consider the day'. I don't drink coffee or soda, but tea can wake me right up, and I have to be careful about drinking it after dinner*.

I admit, I love a lot of the little moments. And the much better sense of AIs as characters beyond Breq. And exploring what the Presger mean by Significant** and how that can affect what happens in this corner of space.

(I also wonder if the Translators seem as weird to the Presger as they do to humans; Zeiat said she almost got the distinction between humans, but knew she'd never be able to explain it to the Presger.)

I also cracked up when Breq apparently taught the Raadch (Notai?) equivalent of '100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall' to Zeiat, and Sphere declared that this was an offense worthy of disowning.

* After dinner is the only time I drink bagged tea, because the small quantity is usually enough that I can shrug it off before bed.
** It seems like there's a certain small scale level of harm that can happen without attracting Presger notice.

#11 ::: Nickp ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2015, 02:32 PM:

In her recent AMA, Leckie clarified that ancillaries retain memories of their prior life. It's only their sense of self that has been forcibly changed. That hadn't been clear to me, but perhaps I wasn't reading carefully enough. So, now I want to go back and see if I missed hints about what Breq remembers from pre-ancillary life, and what she learned while wandering the galaxy after the destruction of Justice of Toren. Do we have any indication where JoT collected the prisoner who became Breq? Is she Valskyaayan?

#12 ::: Elyse ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2015, 04:02 PM:

In the first book we were told that Breq claimed to be from the Gerentate when she arrived at the court partly because her body resembled someone from that area rather then vanilla Radch.

Gerentate customs and attitudes were useful for stating under the Radch radar, but part of why it worked was because Breq's apparent ethnicity matched.

It's not clear to me how ethnicity is meaningful when you are talking about the border regions of multi-planetary polities.

Seivarden 'looks' like a Radch aristocrat while Breq does not, but I never got a good feel for the differences. Which makes sense given that the POV is that of Justice of Toren/Breq, and the AI has had thousands and thousands of human bodies from various sources (many simultaneously) over the course 2 thousand years. Physical details are not part of her self-image.

My impression is that Breq's body is shorter than Seivarden with a slightly more stocky build, and possibly medium brown skin, and probably brown eyes.

I'm possibly misremembering that Anaander is very dark, don't remember where Seivarden's skin tone falls, if it was ever mentioned.

#13 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2015, 04:07 PM:
In her recent AMA, Leckie clarified that ancillaries retain memories of their prior life. It's only their sense of self that has been forcibly changed. That hadn't been clear to me, but perhaps I wasn't reading carefully enough. So, now I want to go back and see if I missed hints about what Breq remembers from pre-ancillary life, and what she learned while wandering the galaxy after the destruction of Justice of Toren. Do we have any indication where JoT collected the prisoner who became Breq? Is she Valskyaayan?

I doubt One Esk Nineteen is Valskyaanyan, or the tea workers would have remarked on it. I also think Breq only refers to her body's past life by saying "that person is dead".

On the other hand, there is a story on Strange Horizons about the time between Justice of Toren's destruction and Breq showing up on Nilt. It explains how Breq got rich and the origin of her icon.

#14 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2015, 04:10 PM:

That story on Strange Horizons also unambiguously identifies One Esk Nineteen's body as female. It's a great little story, in which Breq goes under the name of Sister Ultimately-Justice-Will-Prevail, which is so, so right, so I forgive the removal of that ambiguity. But yep, Breq if female-bodied.

#15 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2015, 04:12 PM:
#8 ::: Jim Henley ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2015, 01:24 PM: Well, abi, there goes a perfectly good theory! Anna had the right of it then.

Anna read that Leckie blog post...

#16 ::: junego ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2015, 04:16 PM:

Yeah! Uncyphered spoiler discussion!

Thank you, abi, for setting this up.

I was semi-gobsmacked by Mercy. Had to sleep on it.

I was one of those who wondered how Leckie was going to tie up all those loose ends in only one more book. And then she didn't, but in such a satisfying way, she tied up just enough ends. And that's how real life happens, which is part of what makes it such a satisfying ending, if that makes sense.

After Sword I figured that the Presger would be instumental in the resolution, but not in the wonderfully wacky way it was written. I want more Translator stories!

I'm intensely curious about what does happen next, though. Leckie has said she won't continue with Breq's story. I hope she will find some way to tell other stories about what happens to the Radch empire...does it collapse? shrink and consolidate? morph into something new?

I want stories about that Presger conclave and it's aftermaths, about the AI revolution, about the other sentient species/human interfaces, etc.

Yikes, I'm gushing. It may take another day or two for my critical faculties to come back on line. 😋

#17 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2015, 05:16 PM:

I noticed that Translator Zeiat said that the Presger made the guns to destroy Radchaai ships, and that the guns won't hurt the Presger.

Which makes me wonder if Translator Zeiat is a Presger.

#18 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2015, 08:00 PM:

It Is Glorious.

That is all.

Oh all right, then: Breq as an AI Miles Vorkosigan anyone?

"You are no longer my cousin." <Splutter!>

The fact that Ann has tied up all the loose ends in one volume and brought it to an enormously satisfying conclusion.

#19 ::: Sylvia Sotomayor ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2015, 02:02 PM:

I think Zeiat is a Presger-Human hybrid, as was Dlique.

#20 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2015, 02:13 PM:

I'm inclined to think that Zeiat is human, but with...improvements. Given that the Presger are a primary source of the highest-quality medical correctives, they clearly know how to do things with human bodies beyond grow new ones from existing cells. So rather than seeing them as a physical hybrid in the "Spock is human/vulcan" sense (though I certainly see them as cultural/mental hybrids in the "raised by aliens" sense), I see them as being, by Presger standards, Humans. Just. Improved. The Presger equivalent of adding laser eye surgery and a good dental plan, as long as they're there.

#21 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2015, 02:44 PM:

Having said that, I note that:

1. Literal Presger DNA is not implausible, either! It just seems more like their tech than being part of them as a species, to me.

2. The Presger seem exactly the sort of people who would have a hard time distinguishing between 'laser eye surgery' and 'surgery that gives you laser eyes'.

#22 ::: Sylvia Sotomayor ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2015, 03:55 PM:

Not like Spock, not like a human/Presger mating, but rebuilt with Presger added in. The fact that the Presger gun does not harm Zeiat argues that the translators are Presger enough to be considered Presger, despite being human in other aspects.

#23 ::: ctate ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2015, 11:00 PM:

Anna @14:

FWIW, Breq is unambiguously identified as biologically female, and Seivarden as biologically male, in the first chapter of Ancillary Justice.

#24 ::: ctate ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2015, 01:14 AM:

One thing I was pleased with in this one is that Leckie did not bring actual Presger into frame, despite ample opportunity. For them to be genuinely, unapproachably alien is reasonably important to her worldbuilding, and IMHO they continue to work best as wumpuses, the hunters-in-darkness that are known and feared but unapproachable.

#25 ::: rillian ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2015, 02:10 PM:

re abi @7 - some point someone's so upset they throw out the tea leaves, "even though they have a few days left". I took that to be already-steeped leaves, which doesn't sound like our tea!

#26 ::: Elyse ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2015, 06:23 PM:

Oooh. Just finished a reread of the trilogy.

When Translator Zeiat was saying goodbye, she repeated a line about organs belonging inside the body that Dlique originally said to Breq.

And a line about blood belonging inside the veins that Breq said to Dlique as Dlique was dying.

I don't remember any mention of recordings of Dlique's death being shown to Zeiat, (or other detailed accounts -- Breq was trying to be diplomatic) so I wonder if Zeiat knowing about those words is another sign of Translator weirdness.

#27 ::: Naomi Parkhurst ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2015, 07:06 PM:

Rillian @ 25

Some people steep tea leaves more than once. I don't like to, but I know people who do.

#28 ::: Stephen Sample ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2015, 01:06 AM:

Rillian @ 25: It depends on the tea and the brewing technique.

My favorite gunpowder green is good for five or six steepings. And my favorite pu erh is good for four or five. (Plus maybe an overnight cold brew at the end.)

With both of those, I'll often steep the leaves a couple times on one day, and finish them off the next, since I rarely want more than three pots of tea in one day. I've spread the steepings for one set of leaves across three days a few times, but two days is probably the mode.

I don't find that standard black teas hold up to that sort of treatment (two steepings is usually the max for me, and all on one day) but green and oolong and pu erh all can.

I'm guessing it's related to steep time and temperature. The standard brew for black tea (particularly when drunk with milk, sugar, or lemon, as many people do in the US and UK) is both long and hot, and once you've done that once, there isn't much flavor left in the leaves.

But thirty seconds at 160°F leaves a lot of compounds for subsequent steepings to extract. And if you bump the time and temperature up slightly each round, you can still get good flavor out the fifth or sixth time through.

#29 ::: Steve Wright ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2015, 05:14 AM:

I got the impression - it's not always easy to decipher what Zeiat says - that the Presger translators were assembled somehow from samples of human bodies taken by the Presger themselves. (Which sampling the Presger used to do, and extensively.) So they're not really human, just a human-based idea of what the Presger think they need in order to communicate with humans.

They're definitely not human internally - humans can't distend their mouths to swallow whole oysters, or digest the shells. And they seem to have a (built-in?) reverence for the Presger, always referring to them as them in tones of awe... and I am intrigued by their thought patterns. They seem to see personality as something ephemeral - when the translator's told it's Zeiat and not Dlique, she seems quite happy with the "OK, I'm a different person now" thing; and then there's the bit with thinking Breq is a different person when she loses her leg....

... which sort of ties in, overall, with some of the themes raised in the trilogy as a whole, about personality and identity and "who you are" in general. I am seriously impressed with this book - it's one of those cases where the resolution looks impossible, but is inevitable in retrospect. That is seriously good writing. I would sit through the remaining 998 verses of the egg song for a resolution like that.

#30 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2015, 05:37 AM:

The Arthur Dent/ Breq crossover just writes itself, doesn't it?

#31 ::: Craft (Alchemy) ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2015, 06:55 AM:

I got the same impression as Steve @29 about the Translators - that they're not human, but are built out of human components (genes? organs?) in some fashion.

I suddenly wonder if the way Zeiat refers to the Presger as "them" is a singular or a plural "them". I'd read it as definitely plural because why wouldn't you, when talking about a whole species? But it could just as easily be a non-gendered singular, I think. It is a repeated point that pronoun divisions do not translate well between cultures.

Radchaai doesn't distinguish gender via pronouns. I wonder if the Presger language(/s) differentiate between singular and plural?

Assuming that Zeiat is semi-reliable on this point, the Presger appear to have no concept of factionalism within a species (e.g. they appeared to regard the Garseddai-Radchaai war as a form of accidental/reckless self-injury). But Zeiat also seems to view individuality/membership of a group as physically context-dependent - a cake put on a game-board *is* a playing-piece, a Breq with one leg is innately different to a Breq with two.

I wonder if the Presger conceptualise themselves as a single entity? A single entity in constant flux, as it gains and loses parts of itself, but still in principle singular? Like an anthill or a beehive, or the Ship of Theseus. Or an ancillary-carrying ship.

(... Mercy of Theseus?)

#32 ::: Steve Wright ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2015, 08:35 AM:

The translators seem to understand personal identity - Zeiat mentions how she can't face the thought of having to explain at home that she's Zeiat and not Dlique. And they also have some sense of hierarchy, given that the determination of the AIs' Significance will be made by "somebody" more important than Zeiat.

How much of this is Presger thinking is another matter... Zeiat implies, several times, that the translators understand things that they don't. The Presger themselves remain an interesting mystery.

#33 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2015, 08:38 AM:

Steve Wright @29:
They're definitely not human *internally* - humans can't distend their mouths to swallow whole oysters, or digest the shells.

Although I agree with the essence of this comment, I would point out that Translator Zeiat does not digest the oyster shell. Better to say humans can't distend their mouths to swallow whole oysters, or keep a fish alive inside themselves.

ajay @30:
Go for it. I've done my pastiche. Interesting how it read with Breq's pronoun usage. (I'm presuming everyone knows who was serving that tea.)

#34 ::: Steve Wright ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2015, 09:49 AM:

Well, Zeiat says she's digesting the oyster shell, but it "does seem to be taking a while".... Basically, I wouldn't put much past Translator Zeiat. I would bet on her against an oyster any day of the week, certainly.

#35 ::: dotless ı ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2015, 10:09 AM:

The tone of the Mercy actually threw me a bit, because it had so much hope in it. I didn't object at all, but it felt substantially different than the earlier books, and almost inconsistent. I think I need to reread the three books as a set now.

Cadbury Moose@18: I'm glad I'm not the only one who was thinking of Miles.

Steve Wright@32: I'd say that the translators recognize that a concept of personal identity is important to humans. Translator Zeiat may be relieved at not being Dlique, but she only seems to know that she's Zeiat because of Breq's insistence.

I think of the translator as being a map between Human and Presger, complete with "the map is not the territory".

abi@33: I'm pretty sure of who served the tea. The pronoun "he" startled me, though—not because it contradicted anything, but because I was suddenly unsure what language they were speaking.

Steve Wright@34: I'm more wondering how that fish survived amid all the fish sauce.

#36 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2015, 10:27 AM:

ajay: There was an 'entirely unlike tea' line in AJ which made me wonder if it was a Hitch-Hiker's reference, and then in this one we got 'Space is big', which surely has to be.

#37 ::: Steve Wright ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2015, 10:53 AM:

Maybe the translator has lots of different compartments inside her stomach, some for digestion and some for safe storage? - Actually, that might even make sense, if the translators are sort of general-purpose emissaries of the Presger, equipped to take samples as well as communicate.

#38 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2015, 11:30 AM:

I finished reading this on the weekend, and was quite impressed overall. I initially thought the resolution was a bit sudden and unsatisfying, but, on reflection, it makes perfect sense. It's also realistic in the way that one or two decisions can quickly alter the course of history. And, of course, I like that it wraps up Breq's current story without wrapping up the entire universe's story.

I now need to reread the entire series from start to finish so I pick up on a few of the things I've missed.

One of the things that I find fascinating is that Breq/Justice of Toren One Esk/Justice of Toren goes from being devoted to Lieutenant Awn in the first book, to being Breq and recapitulating many of Lieutenant Awn's decisions in the second book, to then running a new government informed by these ideas in the third. It all plays out in ways that make sense, and yet it never seems to me that Breq realizes just how much she's playing out the same scenario in the second book down on the planet as Lieutenant Awn did in the first.

Translator Zeiat was lovely, and interestingly alien. I'm still working on trying to figure out the translator's idea of identity. I'm not sure I ever will be able to, but it's wonderful to ponder and fits right in with the questions of identity from the rest of the series.

#39 ::: lauowolf ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2015, 02:25 PM:

I'm seconding people saying it's time to read the lot of them straight through from the beginning.
Over Christmas, perhaps.
...and wanders off to put them on the shelf of books that are to be reread more than once.

#40 ::: rillian ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2015, 02:26 PM:

Naomi @ 27, Stephen @ 28:

Interesting. I guess I'm only familiar with the hot, long steeping. I had seen people do an initial ~30 second steep and pour off the water to get rid of less desirable flavours, but not reuse leaves over days. Now I'll have to try.

I also wondered if it was an indication of resource constraints at the decade level, in keeping with the book's theme of hierarchy propping up privilege. But maybe that's how they make the fleet captain's tea too...

#41 ::: Nickp ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2015, 04:41 PM:

Fade Manley @21
2. The Presger seem exactly the sort of people who would have a hard time distinguishing between 'laser eye surgery' and 'surgery that gives you laser eyes'.

Where's the "like" button when I need it?

#42 ::: --E ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2015, 12:29 PM:

I love Zeiat with a mad love and if I were an actor and they were making a movie I would move heaven and earth to play her (and Dlique) in the films.


Seivarden's color is described simply as brown: "Her color, given the bruises, was returning to a more normal brown." (page 9, per my Nook ebook edition)

So once I adjusted to the pronoun situation, I pictured Seivarden as a muscular black man. (Muscular because military. I don't know that there's much description to lead to that conclusion specifically, but I imagined someone like Mahershala Ali (Boggs in The Hunger Games) in the role.)

One of the patrons in the bar on Nilt calls Breq "a tough little girl," so that confirms that her body is at least visibly what our culture calls female. And presumably on the shorter side.

What I really want to see is a survey asking readers what gender they think the other characters are. Will people lean toward female for Tisarwat because of the frivolous eye-dyeing? How about Anaander Mianaai? I picture her as a woman most of the time, but sometimes a man, even though she is all clones of the same person.


Re: tea

I find black tea brewed more than 3 minutes can go tannic, but other people like that. I have one or two that I'll brew a second time if I'm not feeling motivated to fill another bag.

I'll rebrew pu-erh maybe 3 times before the steep time takes so long it's not worth it.

(I knew nothing about pu-erh before reading these books and following Ann Leckie's blog posts about tea. I love pu-erh and am so glad to have learned of it.)

I don't much like white or green tea--probably because I don't have any temperature-controlled water device. I've been known to take a second brew out of oolong, keemun (which I think is technically a black tea?), and herbals.

Really, it depends on if I want a specific, strong flavor, or if I just want something tinting my hot, diluted, sweetened milk. ;)

#43 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2015, 02:01 AM:

--E: A speaker of a gender-using language used a specifically gendered word or phrase while speaking her non-Radch language about Anaander in, umm, Justice, I think. And that's a really clumsy sentence, but it's one in the morning and my internal copyeditor has apparently gone to sleep.

In case you or others don't want to know, I'll put it in rot-13 amidst some obfuscatory text broken into groups of two and three letters so people can't tell at a glance:

Gur cr efb ah frq gu rzn fp hyv ar ceb ab ha.

So, assuming that person had seen pictures of Anaander, and was able to correctly judge high-status Imperial Radch sex cues from them, we have a character's assessment of Anaander's physical sex.

#44 ::: chris y ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2015, 08:17 AM:

What is it about tea? City of Stairs was all about tea, as well. Can somebody please write a book where the protagonist is naturally semi-comatose and craves coffee.

#45 ::: Steve Wright ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2015, 08:34 AM:

Chris y, go thou to John Norman's "Gor" books and quaff deep of the Black Wine of Thentis therein. (The Black Wine of Thentis is stimulating, non-alcoholic, and served hot, often with milk and/or sweeteners....)

Or E. E. "Doc" Smith - The Galaxy Primes, mentioned fairly recently, has five chapters out of eight start with the main character's burning need for coffee.

Coffee drinking in implausible parts of time and space is near enough to being a cliche - the SF Book of Lists even devoted a section to the subject! Personally, I don't mind the tea drinkers getting a look in, now and then....

#46 ::: --E ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2015, 09:44 AM:

Cally Soukup@43:

Now that you mention it, I think I vaguely recall that bit, yes.

I suspect my brain just enjoys the ever-changing gender picture in my head. :)

#47 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2015, 11:24 AM:

chris y @ #44:

In the character notes for my NSO ("novel-shaped object"), there's intricate notes for each character on what each character puts in coffee, and what preferred preparation method is wanted. I don't recall if coffee is mentioned at all in the ~82k words...

#48 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2015, 01:26 PM:

Re coffee: I recommend Diana Wynne Jones's short story "Nad and Dan adn Quaffy."

Also, of course, Patrick O'Brian.

#49 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2015, 07:22 PM:

I am currently writing a novel where people quaff coffee all the time, but it's because I'm enough of a tea heathen that I don't think I could write all the tea-drinking properly. (That and climate reasons.) I rather enjoy that tea-drinking is a thing in a lot of SFF books that I enjoy; it helps very distant and unusual societies continue to feel grounded and prosaic in interesting ways.

#50 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2015, 09:14 AM:

Coffee in genre fiction: I submit Girl Genius and Vlad Taltos.

#51 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2015, 10:27 AM:

Vlad is an interesting one, because in the early books it looked as if klava was the Dragaeran equivalent of coffee, but later it turned out that it was a special preparation and they had regular coffee as well.

I think Jo Walton has an article on the absence of coffee is speculative fiction, and by and large my experience has been the same as hers - there's often an equivalent, but people tend to be reluctant to use the word.

#52 ::: Steve Wright ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2015, 10:32 AM:

Thinking about it, my own NSO (to borrow Ingvar's felicitous description) features mainly tea, milk or alcoholic drinks, but coffee manages to sneak in, as an (unnamed) beverage in a far-off country.

I don't know why this should be, since I'm a confirmed coffee addict, myself. Perhaps tea just sends the right subliminal messages, about a civilization's aspirations towards true refinement? (The Radch certainly sees itself as truly refined....)

#53 ::: dotless ı ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2015, 11:32 AM:

Andrew M.@51: Thanks for mentioning Jo's piece; I'd missed it. There's a good discussion thread there.

Andrew M.@36: Douglas Adams' description of the Nutri-Matic machine was one that I just accepted for years as one more mildly quirky item in his quirky universe—until the first time, years later, I visited an office in the U.K. that had a machine like that. Tea, in retrospect, had previously had a marginally privileged place in my mind. I'd had terrible machine-made coffee before, but hadn't even conceived of a machine which did the same thing to tea (or which, as in this first case, offered two or three different brown beverages that came out apparently identical).

#54 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2015, 03:44 PM:

Well I am writing a character that takes tea if he has too but really, really, really likes coffee. And is very happy when he finds out that the society he's visiting has Proper Coffee.

I have been told that I am too assimilated to bring much exotic flavour to my English writing, but by damn I remain an Italian in this at least.

#55 ::: Steve Wright ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2015, 04:00 PM:

I am now reminded of George Mikes's story, in How to Be an Alien, about how far he'd corrupted his wife from proper English tea drinking.... He wanted a cup of coffee and a piece of cheese. His wife made iced coffee and put it in the fridge, where it froze; she also left the cheese out in the sun, where it melted. So he had a piece of coffee and a glass of cheese.

#56 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2015, 04:14 PM:

Of course, coffee plays a pivotal role in The Mote in God's Eye.

#57 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2015, 04:17 PM:

Steve Wright @ #52:

I must confess that I did not originate the term, but I can't rightly recall where I saw it.

Speaking of the Presger, I wonder if the trouble with identity the translators exhibit is a result of a complete lack of self in the Presger psyche?

#58 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2015, 12:55 AM:

I have been wondering about self (and lack thereof) in the Presger and their translators!

On the one hand, the Presger can't really comprehend different types of humans as a thing. Fighting between humans is just...something humans do, it's inside the species, it's not their problem. Whatever.

On the other hand, the Presger gave guns to one group of humans to use against another group, so they must've had some vague conception of how those internal battles worked. And it's made clear that the Presger have their own disagreements about the Treaty.

So. Are the Presger all...a bit like Anaander? A sort of hive mind, but one that can disagree with itself? And are the diplomats a sort of human-filtered version of the same, such that they understand identity, but pick it up and set it aside as a sort of mask? Or am I applying simplistic models to something far weirder, for either or both? I'm not really sure! I can come up with a lot of theories that wouldn't contradict anything shown in canon, but I wouldn't feel very confident in any of them.

#59 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2015, 12:57 AM:

Oh, and I rather belatedly think to add another option, which is not quite Anaander, but not quite separate people, either. I am thinking of Justice of Toren, and Justice of Toren One Esk. And the way in which Breq has to clarify, at one point in her flashback narration, as to what she means by "I" at different points, because that subset of JoT isn't quite identical to the whole of JoT. Even though Justice of Toren One Esk thinks of itself as part of the greater Justice of Toren self, not as an individual and separate thing with its own sense of self.

#60 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2015, 02:18 PM:

Coffee anyone?

In other news, Ancillary Mercy is in the top ten on the NYT Bestseller List.

#61 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2015, 04:36 PM:

Andrew @51: "in the early books it looked as if klava was the Dragaeran equivalent of coffee, but later it turned out that it was a special preparation and they had regular coffee as well"

Klava turns out to be the Hungarian equivalent of coffee:

#62 ::: Older ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2015, 08:10 PM:

(I feel a little diffident using "Older" now that I have discovered it being used by someone else on another site that I frequent.)

But anyway: Rea at #61, that "Hungarian" recipe is the very thing that used to be called "cowboy coffee," although the cowboys made it by the pot, rather than by the multi-pot kettle. So it seems to me that if that is "klava" then "klava" is just coffee, albeit made by a somewhat different method.

#63 ::: Clifton ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2015, 02:28 PM:

Glad I can finally join the discussion here.

I too loved this book, after merely liking the first two. It completes things, and also has moments that made me laugh out loud, which I don't recall from the first two. ("You are no longer my cousin." for one.)

I think the heart of this book is in the discussion between Breq and Tisarwat, about taking away the overrides: "Lieutenant, I have had twenty years to think about it. You say it went wrong. Ask yourself if the way it went wrong has anything to say about why it went wrong. If it was ever right to begin with."

It's about ethical action as an integral part of ones life. It's not something that can be grafted on as a separate moral code - consider all the Radch daily services with their homilies on Justice and Propriety, supporting a toxic and murderous system - and certainly not something where ones actions can be separated from their outcome - "the end justifies the means" is Anaander Mianaai's guiding principle. It's more of a Taoist view of ethics - lived moment by moment, and eventually guiding one to start seeing through the injustices one has taken for granted. And so, Breq goes in to surrender to Anaander because she feels it's simply the rightest thing she can do, and allows the situation to develop spontaneously, so she ends up with Sphene and Translator Zeiat as companions, and ends up with an completely unexpected total victory.

#64 ::: thanate ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2015, 09:13 PM:

@42/43-- The doctor that Breq gets the gun from does have a specific pronoun for Anaander, but I wasn't sure whether to interpret that as definitive rather than an out-culture impression of someone who would run a big scary empire.

I think the "little" of the "little girl" comment was more related to bulk rather than height, given that the Nilters are described as stocky.


I spent much of Ancillary Sword being a little cross that we got so little of Dlique and that nobody was pursuing what was going on with the Ghost Gate. Both Sphene and Zeiat were lovely, and the game of counters even more so. I just re-read a couple bits and realized that I had missed the first time that Sphene was the one who brought up the thousand eggs song. (Now I am faintly & horribly curious if there is actually a tune for that, and subsequently how many times my toddler would want me to sing it to her.)

#65 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2015, 09:39 PM:

thanate (64): I forget, does the egg song scan to "99 Bottles of Beer"? (See also Open Thread 99, which I was just re-reading last week.)

#66 ::: Josh Berkus ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2015, 02:02 AM:

Does anyone know if Lecke has suggested tunes for any of the various songs in the books? I found myself wondering what the 999 eggs song really sounded like, plus several others.

In Mercy, I found myself even more having trouble tracking the gender of various characters. The constant use of "she" had me seeing them all as women, except Seivarden, who I knew was male from Justice. Oh, and the Governor and the high priest, both of whom had a kind of pompousness I only associate with male characters. I have no idea whatsoever what gender most of the staff of Mercy are; many of them don't actually have names (One Ammat), let alone genders.

Other than that, I tended to picture everyone as women, just because of the pronouns. I'm pretty sure that Anaander was described as physically female in Justice, no?

Taken back-to-back, the Ancillary trilogy and Lock In would make a great pairing for a class on literature and gender. Put it together with Le Guin, and you have a whole syllabus.

#67 ::: Steve Wright ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2015, 05:36 AM:

I'm reasonably sure Breq is female and Seivarden is male (reasonably sure, because we can't be absolutely sure unless we know how the people doing the designations see gender).

Anyone else, I'm sort of open to offers on. My mental image of Anaander is sort-of epicene or androgynous whichever gender she has... and I am inclined to think of the Presger translators as male, but that is most likely my own cultural conditioning speaking (in that I expect women to be more sensible than that). Aside from that... clueless.

#68 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2015, 08:37 AM:

Late to the discussion; just (finally) read the book.

Re: Ancillaries having memories of their first lives. I just read through the whole trilogy (I wanted to read Mercy in context, and there's this bit where Justice of Torin is being grouchy about a new ancillary (which eventually becomes Breq):

The voice wasn’t the sort I preferred, and it didn’t know any interesting songs. Not ones I didn’t already know, anyway. I still can’t shake the slight, and definitely irrational, suspicion that the tech medic chose that particular body just to annoy me.

The body didn't know any interesting songs. So some thing are retained. (Which makes sense; you don't want to re-teach your ancillaries how to walk, or make tea...) But this goes past reflexes to memory. Language. If it remembers a song, it may remember a parent singing that song....

#69 ::: Stav ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2015, 01:13 PM:

After feeling just a bit let down by Sword, I'm very glad to say I loved this book, and definitely need to reread the whole trilogy.

About the perceived genders, I generally see all the characters as female-bodied, with a few exceptions. One not-exception is Seivarden, which my brain insists on seeing as female despite being told otherwise in the first chapter of the first book. Lieutenant Awn, on the other hand, I see as male even with no evidence either way. Definitely food for thought.

Oh, and partway through this book a silly pun occurred to me: Breq is, of course, a Social Justice Warrior!

#70 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2015, 01:27 PM:

CassyB @#68

I think it's a case of "death of personality": the process of "hooking up" a new body effectively kills the person but leaves their memory intact and available to the AI, which can then download a new "slave" personality plus any other knowledge required.

It also explains Breq's comment to Dr Strigan: "If I were, you would already have given me whatever information I wanted, and you'd be dead".

And on Tisarwat: "Tisarwat was dead from the moment they put those implants in." (Sword, p. 54.)

Very very nasty.

#71 ::: Annie Y ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2015, 02:43 PM:

As much as I hate "3 years later" epilogues, Mercy was really screaming to have one of those - it would have actually closed the story. Or closed it more anyway - the ending, as much as it closes the Breq story, leaves the big story wide open for other stories... Which is not a bad thing necessarily but these days I really wish for stories that end and tie all their loose ends.

#72 ::: Clifton ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2015, 03:09 PM:

Oh yay, the discussion is still going on. I was afraid I had been too late to join it!

Cadbury @ 70: I think that's both correct, and not exactly correct.

It is clear in Sword and even more clear in Mercy that Tisarwat is not who she was before, but she's not someone entirely new either. She seems to me to be partly a new person, to be partly made up of her original self - she clearly still loves her original family very much, which is why she doesn't want them to learn what happened to her - and also, very clearly, to be partly made up of the experience of being Anaander - compulsively trying to politically organize and manipulate *every* situation, and desperately wanting to directly control Athoek Station and the ships.

The doctor in Justice also states outright that she could bring back who Breq was before; now s/he might be wrong, but given the level of certainty s/he feels, I think that must mean one gets back at least some of the original personality.

Annie Y @ 71: Well, at least by the end we know the really important fact that Seivarden and Ekalu are boinking again. :-) Perhaps more important, it's because Seivarden has finally learned how to genuinely apologize, learned how to accept having wronged others, and started seeing other people more as people in their own right - a real character arc there, and not one I had expected at the outset.

#73 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2015, 03:52 PM:

Clifton @#72

I think the original Tisarwat is gone forever, replaced by a subset of the Tyrant with access to Tisarwat's memories; removing the implants then lets the composite develop a new personality and sense of self, much as Breq did, but the final Tisarwat knows the effect that the knowledge of what was done to her would have on her family.

Strigan assures Breq that she could get her original personality/self back, but that would a) kill the current Breq/One Esk Nineteen composite with 20+ years of life and b) restore (with whatever degree of success) the 15 year old Ghaonish(?) girl that has possibly been in store for centuries. Definitely a lose/lose situation.

#74 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2015, 04:28 PM:

Just finished.

What I find very admirable -- well, I admire many aspects of this series, such as the way the pacing turns to pure farce every time Translator Zeiat comes on stage.

No, what I was going to -- did I mention the fact that Presger translators and ancillaries are both made from dead human bodies? Does anybody ever raise the question of whether translators are a Significant species in their own right?

But my point is, these books are very admirably alchemical. (To steal Phil Sandifer's term.) The Lord of the Radch is divided against herself on the question of whether to treat people like tools. All the problems that Breq has to deal with are about whether to treat people (or machines) like tools. Breq's personal relationship with Seivarden, and Seivarden's with Ekalu, and Breq and Seivarden's relationship with Ship, are the same questions. Can Breq understand that Seivarden loves her? Can Anaander understand that Athoek Station loves anybody? Can the Radch be divided from Radchaai? Can Anaander come to terms with herself as other people? As above, so below, forever and ever.

#75 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2015, 06:47 PM:

Andrew Plotkin @74: No, what I was going to -- did I mention the fact that Presger translators and ancillaries are both made from dead human bodies? Does anybody ever raise the question of whether translators are a Significant species in their own right?

For myself, I thought that this is something that Translator Zeiat suggested in her invocations of the Presger as 'them', and maybe what she was trying to say-without-saying in her comments to Breq that it seemed like Breq understood and then Breq would say something that made it clear she didn't.

Breq sees the Translators as part of and speaking as the Presger but perhaps the Translators see themselves as a third entity representing the interests of the Presger in human space but distinct unto themselves. In sort of the same way that Breq could be viewed from outside as part of and speaking as the Radch but in fact sees herself as representing the interests of beings in Athoek system distinct from the interests of the Radch-qua-the-Anaanders.

#76 ::: Cat ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2015, 07:12 PM:

Mary Aileen @65

No, the thousand egg song does not scan to 99 bottles of beer. I tried that the minute I saw it.

I'm curious about the tune also. The first part of the line is going to have to be very flexible, syllable wise, to cope with the change from "a thousand" to "nine hundred-ninety-nine," so the first "verse" may have a different tune from the others.

#77 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2015, 07:37 PM:

Cat (76): Drat.

#78 ::: kk ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2015, 07:41 PM:

If an AI has access to the body's memories, would a Breq who never had implants still find it as hard to pick up male/female cues as the Breq with implants? Or is it still an AI thing? I can maybe think that an implant is intended to remove some memories (wouldn't want your ancillaries to remain fond of their families if they might be required to shoot them) and early memories like boy/girl cues disappear along with feelings for family, but that doesn't explain Tisarwat.

#79 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2015, 08:23 PM:

kk, I assume that a fair amount of the gender-matching difficulties Breq has come from her moving between several different cultures. She mentions explicitly one with a lot of body modification, there's the ice planet (where everyone is wearing very bulky clothing), there's the Aztec-esque place where she beheads a saint... So even if the body can precisely recall all the gender-signifiers for its original culture, that doesn't mean it knows them for other cultures. And Breq as Justice of Toren doesn't care about those things, except as a weird quirk that changes every time she swaps cities/planets/neighborhoods.

As a point of comparison, I've been reading a webcomic set in post-apocalyptic Scandinavia. And I frequently can't tell the gender of the characters under about age forty until someone in the comic refers to them by a gendered term or pronoun. The hairstyles aren't gender-marked the way I expect, and I don't know that naming system well enough to recognize male vs. female names. And that's a comic from the same planet as me, in a not wildly distant culture, written in my own language! So I find it entirely plausible that Breq would find it difficult to track gender markers (which might or might not map particularly well to 'has XX or XY genetic makeup' visible body signals, depending on the culture) across multiple cultures while no longer having her entire AI core to process with.

Especially since she meticulous tracked this sort of thing while Justice of Toren: she not only knew the gender of all the people in the area where she was doing peace-keeping, but their family structures/composition, since that was culturally relevant. Having lost the AI core, and traveling through several different cultural contexts? It gets a lot harder.

Er, which is my garrulous way of saying "I think Breq would have the same trouble with gender even if she retained a perfect set of memories from the original body."

#80 ::: Matthew Jude Brown ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2015, 08:24 PM:

I think it's worth remembering that Tisarwat was a bodge job by Anaander, quickly thrown together to try and get one of her on Mercy of Kalr. It's entirely possible it didn't "take" as well as the ancillary-making process on board a ship.

#81 ::: Clifton ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2015, 08:47 PM:

Cadbury Moose @ 73: Hmmm. Why is it you think those two cases would work out differently?

To the discussion at large, more generally:

I've been wondering if the Presger are a collective mind in multiple bodies, or at least consider themselves an identity which *has* multiple bodies. (So the translators' "them" referring to the Presger would mean both them as a species and also each of them as individuals.) After all, we are each made up of billions of cells - many of which don't even have human DNA, such as our microbiota - plus a large number of distinct organs, glands, and other components, but we don't normally consider ourselves a "collective mind" on that account.

So perhaps - analogically speaking - the Presger were initially considering individual human beings and identities to be something along the lines of minor (and readily replaceable) organs of Humankind, and they still fall into that way of thinking by default. From that viewpoint, disassembling random humans one ran across wouldn't be horrific and murderous, just perhaps a bit rude - like snipping a lock of hair or taking a blood sample without asking nicely. If the Presger translators have been raised in that mindset, and think identity means a description of ones kind and function, it may explain their peculiar interactions with human identity.

[Second translator] thinking that she is Dlique, but being happy to find out that she is Zeiat instead, makes a little more sense viewed from this angle. If "Zeiat" is something like a contextual function in a system, this is not a change in ones identity or personality, but a bit more like finding out that you are a pleasure nerve instead of a pancreas cell. It also might make clearer her presumption that Fleet-Captain-Breq-minus-one-leg can't reasonably be the same as Fleet-Captain-Breq-with-two-legs. I mean, just look at them - they're shaped different, they obviously don't function the same way, it's obvious they're different people! (Was she hinting at this in her demonstration with the cakes and game counters?)

Finally, I wonder if this may be why the Presger were able to negotiate a truce with Anaaner Mianaai. Because she *is* one self in multiple bodies and treats her bodies more or less that way, they may have found it possible to communicate with her on those grounds. (Although it seems by now they have grasped that Significance applies to all humans, not just to Anaanders.)

P.S. to --E @ 42: I love Zeiat with a Z, because she is Zany and Zealous. I hate her with a Z because she is Zebracidal. I will take her to Zanzibar, and feed her on Zucchini and Zarusoba.

#82 ::: Sumana Harihareswara ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2015, 08:54 PM:

Based on preliminary data from Yuletide Treasure signups there'll be several Imperial Radch stories this year! Signups are open until 9am UTC on 27th October in case you want to sign up to offer or request fic; I don't feel up to the challenge of writing in this universe, but there have been some stories already exploring Tisarwat, the Translators, and other characters.

#83 ::: Clifton ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2015, 10:17 PM:

Fade@79: I have had that problem with SSSS too; I think it's partly manga influence on the drawing style, not just post-apocalyptic changes in hairstyles. I was sure character-with-braid must be female until it turned out otherwise.

#84 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2015, 10:44 AM:

There's a nice piece by Mark Liberman at Language Log, on the linguistic complexities of the books:

[T]he linguistically-relevant aspect of Leckie's writing that has struck me most forcefully has been its relationship to Artificial Intelligence. And I don't mean her use of AIs as the "minds" of ships and stations, which is relatively conventional, or even the interpenetration of identities among AIs and humans that is implicit in the concept of ancillary.
What I have in mind is a problem that goes far beyond mere Machine Reading, which is the automated extraction of structured information from unstructured text. For example, I'll be really impressed by AI text analysis when it's able to understand, or at least speculate intelligently about, what is implied by Leckie's description in Ancillary Mercy of the advent of "Presger Translator Zeiat".
The relevant passages follow, and they're puzzling enough to an ordinary human being.

#85 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2015, 01:42 PM:

Re "99 Bottles of Beer": One of my favorite stylistic bits in the series is how all of the songs *sound like* translated songs. They have no meter or rhyme in English, and the -- stress? focus? grammar? -- is off; they're none of them English songs or poetry.

The egg song has a false friend in that "nice and warm / chick is born" could almost be English. But this is just to throw us off guard, obviously. :)

(In English "nine hundred ninety-nine" has twice as many syllables as "one thousand" but clearly that's not a universal experience.)

(But, on the other hand, human children will sing lines like "crack, crack, crack, a little chick is born; peep peep peep" in every single human language as long as humanity and chickenkind endures.)

#86 ::: Elyse ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2015, 04:09 PM:


Actually, I love the "translation" of L'Homme Arme in Ancillary Justice. It doesn't scan in English, or fit any version of the music I have ever heard. I'd love to hear a choral performance using approximately those lyrics.

And it is the one solid piece of evidence that these people have a historical continuity with Earth. (Though I have some lurking suspicions that the "atheistic/monotheistic" minority religion that is mentioned may have been originally Abrahamic in more than the political problems it has, which are reminiscent of early Imperial Roman problems with the Jews and Christians.)

#87 ::: Krum ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2015, 04:58 PM:

I was just commenting on language log, where Mark Lieberman blogged about the book, and I better mention this here because this is getting further and further from the topic of that blog.

The paralel between the struggles Breq is having with gender-segregated societies and the trouble the Translators are having with whether they're supposed to be Dlique or Zeiat are interesting, aren't they? As a parallel to how the Presger are having trouble differentiating between human(s? societies?).

#88 ::: Krum ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2015, 05:17 PM:

Sorry Theophylact, I had read up to just before your comment, and I was busy commenting there.

#89 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2015, 11:16 PM:

"Nine hundred ninety seven eggs all nice and warm
Crack crack crack! and a chick is born
Crack crack crack! Peep peep peep!
Three little birdies are fast asleep."

You're welcome.

#90 ::: Sara ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2015, 05:10 PM:

I'm not even sure that the Presger have material bodies. Neither Dlique nor Zeiat (assuming they are two individuals: not certain) seem to understand embodiment, at least at first for Zeiat.

"I dismembered my sister. She was never the same afterwards."

"Blood stays in your veins, Dlique."

#91 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2015, 07:15 PM:

Sara @ #90:

I attributed that to scary-good tech,, We see hints that Breq's missing leg is expected to be grown back on the order of months and there's more than a few indications that the Presger out-tech the Radch (well, all humans) by lots, so having the Presger putting disassembled biological beings into something atht functions again is within the realm of "I suspect it'd work".

Getting beings back into a functioning state so they're pretty much the same afterwards may be a bit harder.

#92 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2015, 04:54 AM:

@elyse at 86: oh thank you for THAT 600 year old earworm. Just what I needed.

We might, of course, see Dlique again if the Presger are so good.

#93 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2015, 05:37 AM:

Sara @ #90:

I attributed that to scary-good tech,, We see hints that Breq's missing leg is expected to be grown back on the order of months and there's more than a few indications that the Presger out-tech the Radch (well, all humans) by lots, so having the Presger putting disassembled biological beings into something atht functions again is within the realm of "I suspect it'd work".

Getting beings back into a functioning state so they're pretty much the same afterwards may be a bit harder.

#94 ::: Ingvar M has dupe-posted ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2015, 05:40 AM:

Ahahaha. Seems that "still on the review page? must've forgotten to press Post..." was actually a case of "yeah, the post went through but something happened". Sorry, all.

#95 ::: Steve Wright ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2015, 05:57 AM:

Breq's prosthetic leg actually adjusts, as it goes along, for the new organic one growing inside it. Presger medical technology is, as you say, scary good.

#96 ::: Nick Caldwell ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2015, 04:28 PM:

So does anyone else think the Presger are AIs?

#97 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2015, 11:42 PM:

I am sure that the Presger exist in a regime where it no longer makes sense to distinguish "natural" from "artificial" intelligence.

(I'm pretty sure Translator Zeiat wouldn't understand the difference either.)

#98 ::: Devin Smith ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2015, 02:46 AM:

I have a comment on the gender discussion of the various Radchaai from above:

They don't have gender.

That is to say, there is no cultural division between two genders, and thus no gender cues between them. Trying to figure out the genders of the various Radchaai characters will fail simply because they don't have either male or female characterstics, let alone the ones you'd expect.

That's not to say there's not biological differences between XX and XY, simply that they're not relevant to the person's presentation or role. Sister Ultimately-justice-will-prevail (i.e. Breq) is certainly a woman's body, but is Breq female? I think not. She was thousands of bodies for thousands of years, after all.

And the relief felt when the ship arrived at Omaugh Palace in AJ that she didn't have to try to operate gender cues anymore isn't simply linguistic: it's also cultural. The language isn't making peoples' genders opaque, it's signifying that they *don't exist*.

#99 ::: Nix ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2015, 08:41 AM:

Devin, quite so. The question of Anaander's gender that's repeatedly come up is a question with no answer, too: Anaander is repeatedly mentioned as using bodies of both genders, we don't know what gender the original body was, all those thousands of years ago, and Anaander most likely never cared much and quite possibly doesn't even remember.

What gender is Anaander? All. None. Mu.

#100 ::: duckbunny ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2015, 09:01 AM:

I find the use of "she" over "they" very interesting there, because to me it signifies that the Radch do have gender.

"They" is the pronoun of ambiguity. "They" might be a group, or an individual. "They" might be male, or female, or both, or neither, or another gender entirely. But "they" refuses to be tidy. We cannot neatly file "them" as someone we understand. "They", in the singular and specific, violates our expectations, because "they" belongs to the unknown.
Call the Radch "they", and you give them an ambiguity, a refusal to be defined, that the Radch do not feel. Call them "it", and you make them less than human.
The Radch, therefore, are "she", a pronoun of specificity, of comfortable familiarity. We have no grammatical difficulties with the singular "she". We understand "she" to mean a person of known gender, embodying no rebellion. "She" can be a full adult human, unremarkable except as she may distinguish herself. "She" is not a stranger. That we automatically assign particular anatomy to the pronoun is our problem, not theirs. They have not abandoned gender. They have only abandoned the binary.

(Corollary: there are Radch for whom the gender singularity does not fit, and who declare themselves to be "them" or "it" or borrow pronouns from other cultures, like "he", to place themselves in contrast to the majority gender.)

#101 ::: Laertes ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2015, 03:34 PM:

#100: Are we sure they've abandoned the binary? Is it maybe still there, but just not important enough that it gets pronoun support?

When speaking English, I use the same word, "aunt," for my mother's eldest sister and for the woman who married my dad's baby brother.

This is a little odd, when you think of it, because these are two very different relationships. One is my blood relative, stands ahead of me in the line to inherit my grandmother's lands and title, and is owed certain ritual displays of deference by the children of her younger siblings. The first two aren't true of my dad's sister-in-law, and the third is true but to a lesser (and very precisely defined) degree.

In my native language, I've got different words to distinguish mother's-eldest-sister from spouse-of-father's-younger-brother. If I'm writing, in my native language, a novel about American culture, I'll use the former to refer to any sibling of either of my parents, and also any of their spouses.

My readers will find this to be strange and disorienting, and of course that's the point. Every time they stumble over this usage they'll be reminded that a distinction that's of vital moment-to-moment significance to them scarcely matters at all to the people they're reading about.

Which isn't to say that the distinction doesn't exist. It does, and the people I'm writing about can perceive it and react to it in subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle ways. But it's not of such importance that they've built into their language pronouns or modes of address to mark it.

Hell, maybe I'll really shake things up by using the word for spouse-of-father's-younger-sister instead. Certain of my readers who'll find it strange to use the same word for these people who they'll expect to have vastly different status will be positively incensed at the notion of using the term that connotes lesser status as the generic term. I'll get a kick out of watching them rage.

#102 ::: duckbunny ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2015, 04:58 AM:

Laertes @101 - I think that's a fair point. We know from Breq's narration that she does recognise the broad categories of "male" and "female" and apply them based primarily on anatomy. She doesn't apply them solely on anatomy - she comments that she can't see through clothes and even if she could, that's not always enough. That's in the context of a foreign culture which has gendered pronouns, so it might reflect only an awareness of trans/nonbinary people and their local pronoun use, but it might also apply to Radch culture. They distinguish sex when necessary, and regard the distinction as necessary in far fewer circumstances than we do, but they could also acknowledge gender on a personal preference sort of level. Like hair colour. People have different colours. Some people consistently dye or bleach because they prefer some other colour. Perhaps, to the Radch, gender is no more than that.

I am intrigued by their possession of singular-person (she), singular-object-or-AI (it), and plural-of-any-kind (they). I wonder very much whether that's a flattening. English can only provide one plural-third-person pronoun. Are we losing information of the personhood of the group? Is a group of objects distinct from a group of people?

#103 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2015, 11:01 AM:

There are languages that distinguish sex on groups of people, even by pronouns. But! Many of them only have two categories: "all female" and "all male, or mixed." The male gender over-rides the female, as soon as the group has a single male person inside it. I'm sure there must be some languages that have "all female" and "all male" and "mixed" as three separate pronoun categories for groups, but I'm not familiar with them myself.

#104 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2015, 11:16 AM:

I think it was in AJ where Justice of Toren/One Esk was thinking about it, with regard to a person who was about to become (or maybe already was) a grandparent, and the local term included gender.

#105 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2015, 02:08 PM:

Yes, where she'd gone to collect Queter from the plantation workers hut.

#106 ::: Jack (Cartesian Daemon) ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2015, 02:09 PM:

IIRC Ann Leckie said that Radchii use a gender-neutral pronoun for people, but that it was translated into English as "she". (Which I think was interesting, whether or not "they" would have been better.)

#107 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2015, 02:10 PM:

I think there was an instance in the first book, too, before the situation went pear-shaped.

#108 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2015, 05:25 PM:

P J Evans @107

Yes, in the tavern. Of course, on a cold planet where everyone is wrapped up well, gender clues would be almost nonexistent.

Breq is doing her best with what she's got. The Valskayan question is a lot easier to answer because she was there for the annexation so would have rather more knowledge of dress style and society clues.

I suspect her knowledge of Nilt was rather closer to Nil. <Runs away>

#109 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2015, 11:09 PM:

A few things I thought of while reading, but that weren't addressed in the book:

1. If Baron Ryoval is wearing a corpse, isn't Anaander Miaanai wearing hundreds of corpses? All her clones could be actual people distinct from herself (er, *more* distinct from herself) if she hadn't mindwiped them like she tried to do to Tisarwat. This seems to be a point on which there really isn't any difference between herselves. (On the other hand, Raughd really is a lot like Fosyf, maybe Leckie just doesn't subscribe to Cherryh/Bujold-like ideas of clones' potential for individuality.)

Yeah, I know, the Lord of the Radch is responsible for a hell of a body count already, but it still seems extra horrible when the victims are such close relatives.

2. The AI cores may be in some sense analogous to the humans/potential ancillaries in suspended animation aboard Sphene and elsewhere; are they Significant too? Do they have a right to be woken up and connected to something, and if so, what?

3. Breq seems to really believe in justice, propriety and benefit, and live by them, more than several of the human Radchaai. Was that programmed into the ships and stations? And if so, did the not quite as tyrannical Anaander Miaanai intend that as a weapon against her other self? (Which sort of worked; while Breq doesn't approve of any version of Anaander Miaanai, there's clearly a side that she thinks is worse.)

4. Regarding the "ships don't fall in love with ships" line -- nobody falls in love with someone that they don't think of as Significant. For a substantial part of the story Breq either doesn't think of *herself* as Significant, or doesn't expect to be thought of that way by others (once she stops passing for human).

5. The Presger translators seem to take the concept that alien minds produce alien languages in _Foreigner_ and really, REALLY crank it up. One can hardly imagine a meeting between Dlique and Bren -- over tea, of course.

#110 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2015, 11:46 PM:

chris, regarding your point #1, I think it's...definitional. It sounds like the Anaander clones are grown around the implants, or have it installed at a very early, likely pre-birth, point. (I recall 'grown around' but don't have a cite available, or remember where it was stated well enough to find it.) Is a fetus a person? Is a fetus that has always been part of you a distinct person, when it's born and is you and has been you all along? Certainly Breq and the other AIs seemed to consider "clones of existing ancillaries" as an ethical alternative to destroying existing adolescent/adult humans, not another version of the such.

I mean--it's actually an interesting question, to me. I think there's a fuzzy line on the personhood scale, and at least Breq, who seems quite willing to accept non-Radch as fully human and worthy of human rights, also seems ready to accept clone versions who have never developed a separate sense of self as an acceptable, morally sound option to taking adults: just an impractical one. I'm not entirely sure if I can disagree, either; is human tissue that never got anywhere near the sense-of-self stage without being part of a larger self meaningfully a distinct person? It's not like Anaander is jumping self-clones who grew up as happy little children; the extremely young Anaander we see at the beginning of Ancillary Sword is already firmly Anaander. And while I would be very dubious about putting implants into infant clones... into pre-natal ones? The ones that barely have more than a heartbeat, and which I would firmly say it's ethical to abort, in contemporary times? Well.

Such a thing can certainly become a distinct person. (Tisarwat is not an example, but is a related example.) And the same could be said of almost any cluster of viable fertilized cells inside a human. But when it never had any mind or personality or meaningful self of its own, has a human life been destroyed by making it a part of Anaander? I'm not as sure.

#111 ::: dotless ı ::: (view all by) ::: October 30, 2015, 10:25 AM:

Fade Manley@110: Right, I think it's important to distinguish the potential for identity from an already formed identity. The books focus so much at the formation and mutation of identity, and lots of edge cases (much of which makes me want to go back and reread Oliver Sacks's books). The implication I get from the word "corpse" in this context is that it's a body that used to have a fully-formed identity that's been obliterated: it used to be a person and now it isn't that person anymore. I don't think you could say the same thing for Anaander if all of her bodies have only ever been Anaander.

#112 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2015, 08:16 AM:

Well, at least one Anaander body started out as someone else and was pretty much force-assimilated, near the start of Ancillary Sword. On the whole, though, I suspect Anaander used cloned bodies with "from before concious" implants.

#113 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2015, 07:48 AM:

Sumana, 2: I think the third book is an orbit. It's about finding your home. It all goes around...

#114 ::: Robert Z ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2015, 04:02 PM:

Languagehat has an interesting post today on translating Ancillary Justice.

#115 ::: Russ ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2015, 05:56 AM:

I like that a key handicap for (this instance) on Anaander is her literal inability to conceive of a liberated AI, and that stems from her obsession with control. This inability is what has held the Radch back for millennia, and whatever else you may think about her methods it's the real reason she has to go.

I like to think that there are only two translators, Zeiat and Dlique, and further (though it may be just me) that this Zeiat in fact had no meaningful existence until the ship door opened at Athoek station.

I like that (like Breq!) while I sometimes think I have a handle on what/who/how the Presger are it then becomes clear that actually I don't, or am oversimplifying it, or most likely it's something literally indescribeable to me. That "the Presger" is its own describing term and a thousand further words of description won't make things any clearer.

I'm not super fond that the total win in the end comes from an (again, pretty literal) Deus Ex. I do love though that Breq is, despite being manipulated by both Anaanders, clear throughout that she serves neither's agenda, and achieves a subtle and final victory over them - Anaander can either change or die in the new universe, and (rather unusually) seems likely to do both.

I adore Breq as a character - she's both likeable and distanct, and utterly, painfully sincere; she makes me want to be a better person. And despite starting the novels as a 2000 year old AI she has a distinct character arc - she experiences anagnorisis and develops, right through to the end of the third book.

And I'm ecstatic that (as mentioned earlier in the thread), Breq's solution to the problem of the Radch is essentially to give birth to the Culture.

#116 ::: Jon W ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2015, 02:45 PM:

It sometimes takes me a long time to get around to stuff, and I just got around to reading the third book, and I found myself bothered by a mechanical question that didn’t trouble me as much on reading the first two. It’s really really basic, so I’m sure it’s been addressed in some previous thread I didn’t read, and therefore I apologize for even asking, but here goes: What hardware/wetware is Breq using to think with? There must be some physical object; you can’t do sophisticated thinking if all you have is a remote connection to a server that no longer exists. It’s not one of those AI cores we saw lying around in book three, because those struck me as physically too large to fit, and more importantly it wouldn’t make sense to stick one inside an ancillary — the whole point of ancillaries is that they’re client-server. So I guess just the wetware brain that came with her physical human body? That makes Breq seem to have more in common with humans, who also think with wetware brains, than with AIs like Stations and ships . . .

#117 ::: alisea ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2015, 03:06 PM:

Jon W @116:

It has been my impression that yes, she's thinking with her wetware brain, just drawing on the wealth of experience she's aquired while she was more than that.

I think Lieutenant Tisarwat is in this respect very similar to Breq, just from having been Anaander for only a few days.

#118 ::: Clifton ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2015, 03:20 PM:

Jon W:
I assimilated that and filled in my own answer without too much difficulty.

I think we get enough of a picture in the first book of how it works when Breq (as One Esk Nineteen) is operating as an ancillary of Justice of Toren, to see that most of the time she functions completely independently with her own sense of self-identity as Toren, even while communicating via her implants with the primary Justice of Toren AI.

My assumption is that the ship AI software must function in an inherently distributed manner, and be capable of running either on AI cores or on "wetware" (at least if supplemented with implants.) Thus without the AI core, she's still running the same "software" and experiencing the same self-identity, but semi-crippled - a fraction of her original identity, in terms of functionality and speed or depth of thought.

A rather grim comparison would be the AI Memes ("One True", "Resuna") of a number of John Barnes' novels, or the "Earth" hive-mind in a couple of Swanwick's books such as Vacuum Flowers or Stations of the Tide.

#119 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2015, 05:54 PM:

Breq's memory and mental capacity were diminished much less than I expected, compared to when she was Justice of Toren. Or, the other way around, Justice of Toren was more normal than I might have expected. I think it is because her mind was very busy being present in many bodies. It's a tough problem. In-system communications is limited by speed of light. Breq, or One Esk, does not have an ansible in her head. (If she did, it would have been a very different story.) But she does have Justice of Toren's memories. When the ship still existed, it allowed One Esk to act immediately, as needed, as if she were the ship, and later when the experiences were synced, it allowed the ship to remember acting immediately, as needed, in One Esk's body. It is similar to the cognitive hack that enables your brain to deal with the timing of signals that arrive from different distances of your body. Your nerves can react before your brain gets the message, but your brain post-dates the message so it remembers only when an event happened, not when the message was received. I don't think it would work that well to use wetware to keep ancillaries in sync. The organic brain can do only so many things at once, it uses a lot of energy, and when the blood sugar level drops it becomes erratic. Also, it requires sleep to effectively integrate memories. But a memory implant might be able to sync up in the background without taxing the brain. Ancillaries have a lot of implants. At least one of them must be cognitive.

#120 ::: Dana ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2015, 09:50 AM:

Addressing the implication of 116 above that the AIs are inorganic: The implication in book 3 was that the AI core was at least partly organic. Otherwise why the extreme similarity between a cryo unit and an AI core?

But, I admit, I thought so all along. I think it is because of the parallel I saw between Justice of Toren and that other Ship who sang.

#121 ::: Danny Sichel ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2015, 03:22 PM:

Perhaps the cryo temperatures are necessary for superconductivity purposes?

#122 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2016, 10:50 AM:

Just finished it.

It seems to me (in addition to the other fine observations upthread) that:

◿ AJ was about learning to be separate: exploring what "I" even is, and how to constitute it and embody it. Passing between and among selfhood in one body or many, loyalty to your tribe, your shipmates, your government, your culture, and between and beyond. Breq is ineluctably Radchaai by culture, no matter what she does, and people of other cultures spot it on her like it's painted on her face.
◿ AS was about what can and cannot be done by one justice-minded individual given much fiat power and dropped into an unjust system (cf. Lord Auditor Vorkosigan). While it also got into identity somewhat, for the most part it was about relating among people and horribleness and what someone who wishes to minimize horribleness in the world can do when so many other people don't care whether horribleness (for others) increases as long as they individually profit.
◿ AM was about Significance, and the proper treatment of those who have it, and the determination of who has it. And, critically, very early it gets into how wrong it is to treat ONESELF as if one has no Significance (or less than other people you interact with). I wasn't expecting the novel to get massively personal for me, but suddenly Breq was thinking things -- that the book clearly thought were strange things for any healthy humanish personality to think! -- that I always think about myself, and it made me do some reexamination about how exactly to do self-care and prioritize my own needs in my lived relationships.

Obviously they're all also about the other books' core themes, and I'm massively oversimplifying, but that seems like the core 'color' of each book to me. In a way, that makes AJ childhood/adolescence (differentiating selfhood from parents and culture), AS young-adulthood when a knight-errant's instincts crash headlong into realpolitik, and AM that point when you suddenly realize you're a grownup.

Short takes:

☼ I really think the Presger Translators mean something different by "I am ___name____" than any of the Radchaai have any idea about.

Sphene's point of view about the Radch and outsiders and citizens and WHY THEY WEAR GLOVES is just amazeballs, because it's a cultural time-capsule of an era so long ago nobody else who gets viewpoint time has an emotional understanding of why things were different then from how they are now, despite that they love antiques from the period and they still drink tea.

☼ That echoes into Broadway's Hamilton for me, showing that stories can ring the changes on history-does-not-repeat-but-it-rhymes, and that each successive group of historians choose which subsets to understand and explain.

☼ Seivarden is shocked that some of her 'worst' swearing idiom shows up as elevated Ye Olde Timey talk in historical dramas.

#123 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2016, 03:54 PM:

I loved the interactions between Breq and Sphene so much I wished Sphene had been introduced earlier.

(Also: Hey, isn’t sphene the name of a gemstone…?)

#124 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2016, 07:52 PM:

Avram: She was in the "Gems" class, so yeah, probably intentional.

#125 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2016, 01:56 AM:

Finally got around to reading this myself. It's a worthy ending to the story, and will definitely be among my Hugo nominations.

I should note that I read AS last year without having read AJ, so now that I've acquired all of them I went straight thru, including a re-read of AS.

Unlike the other two books (which I found interesting but not necessarily compelling in the early chapters), AM is a page-turner pretty much from the beginning. I agree with the general consensus that Leckie sticks the landing very well. And the idea that the whole arc of the trilogy (in retrospect) is about whether or not AIs are people is deeply satisfying to me, for the same reasons that "The Measure of a Man" is one of my favorite TNG episodes. Also, I consciously realized midway thru the book how much I've been enjoying the heavy emphasis on tea and tea-drinking, as opposed to the coffee and coffee-drinking that's so common in a lot of SF. And I ADORE the idea that the Radch has a version of "Bottles of Beer"!

Also, one point that jumped out and smacked me in the face was when Anaander said to Zeiat that AIs weren't people because "I made them" and Zeiat responds that most humans are made by other humans! This suggests very strongly that the Presger don't distinguish between biological and technological "making of life" -- that it only matters to them that the end result is a life form.

Elyse, #12: I'm pretty sure that Anaander is described as being very dark; I see her as being as dark as Africans before the whites came. And I think of her has having both male and female bodies -- the young Anaander at the beginning of AS is definitely female to me, while the ones who blew up Justice of Toren are male.

Seivarden, once I got it clearly into my head that she was male, looks like a cross between Will Riker and Wil Wheaton in my head. Yes, I know that coloring is wrong, but that's what I see.

Tisarwat is male, but perhaps slightly androgynous. And I can't for the life of me decide whether she has long or short hair.

A lot of the people on Athoek Station I see in the skin tones of the Indian subcontinent. Oh, and I loved the repeated emphasis on Station Administrator Celar being wide and heavy and so beautiful that she turns everybody's head!

The downplanet doctor in AS is male, because he's got a bad case of MDeity Syndrome and tries to condescend to Breq.

Elyse, #26: I took the fact that Zeiat was apparently privy to Breq's conversations with Dlique as indicating that the Translators might be themselves a hive-mind, and that what one of them knows they all know. Certainly they seem to be a little unclear about identity boundaries...

dotless i, #35: I see one very important difference between Breq and Miles. They both sort of throw themselves into things, but their motivation for doing so isn't the same. Miles does it because he's thinking, "I can win!" Breq does it because she's thinking, "All will be as the Universe wills." Breq has a very strong fatalistic streak which Miles utterly lacks.

Fade, #49: The Goblin Emperor had a lot of tea in it, too. I think maybe the closer the characters in the story are to Earth-humans -- whether stated outright or just written that way -- the more likely they are to drink coffee. As you get further away from Earth-culture influence, they're more likely to drink tea. But that's just a wild speculation based on a quick mental survey of coffee- vs. tea-drinkers in stories I've personally read.

thanate, #64: Nilters are the human equivalent of polar bears. And one of the things I liked in AJ was that they did indeed treat temperatures that felt quite chilly to Breq like "a balmy spring day" because it was one in their climate.

Cadbury Moose, #73: What I got out of that exchange between Breq and Strigan was a dim echo of the controversy over "re-integration" treatments for Dissociative Identity Disorder. AIUI, this was a big thing back when people first began to understand DID because it was DIFFERENT and SCARY and people weren't SUPPOSED to have more than one internal sense of self; but many of those who do view re-integration as the murder of all their current identities. I mentally interpreted that conversation as Strigan saying, "But this isn't who you REALLY are!" and Breq being appalled at the thought of losing who she is NOW.

Andrew, #89: Nice! You do realize, I trust, that you've now turned it into a clapping song. (The one in this video is very complex. Your adaptation is closer to "Patty-cake".)

Laertes, #101: That is absolutely brilliant.

#126 ::: dotless ı ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2016, 11:47 AM:

Lee@125: Breq has a very strong fatalistic streak which Miles utterly lacks.

She does; for much of the trilogy Breq is doing things because she feels she has to, not because she thinks she'll succeed. Breq at the end seems a lot more optimistic to me, though, and the sense of wild antics coming together into a plan felt a lot more Miles-like. (Although now I'm second-guessing myself: is that actually there in the book, or is my memory awry?)

#127 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2016, 04:55 AM:

Some time back, we got a fish shaped ice cube tray at that sweedish home store. So now, every time I have the ice fish in a drink, I can't get the whole fish sauce thing out of my head.

#128 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2016, 11:07 PM:

I'm currently working my way thru all the Imperial Radch fics on AO3 (thanks, Sumana!) and found one that I think people here will particularly enjoy: Reanimation of the Corpse Soldier. It's a sideways crossover with the Avengers -- metafiction about Bucky Barnes, post-Winter Soldier, reading the trilogy and using it to help process the things that have happened to him, which are in many ways similar to the things which have happened to Breq.

Also, a question that I haven't been able to answer to my own satisfaction. What exactly is "clientage" in the Radch? It's explicitly stated that it's not about sex, and the nearest equivalent I can come up with to what it does seem to be about is "vassalage" in the feudal sense. How close am I?

#129 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2016, 11:16 PM:

You might want to look at clientage in the Roman Empire - I think it's close enough.

It was something like having a patron, whose connections would be more available to you than you otherwise would have. If I understand it correctly.

#130 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2016, 11:16 PM:

Lee @128: It seems related, for me, to somewhere between classic feudalism and the ancient Roman idea of client/patron, where one prominent, wealthy citizen has a household and extended network of clients (sometimes former slaves or household members who have gotten startup capital and set off on their own).

The patron had some financial and legal obligations to and over the clients; similarly, there are things clients couldn't do without their patron signing off on it first.

I admit my mind goes "Ancient Rome!" whenever the Radch comes up, for a variety of reasons, so I'm probably seeing confirmation bias.

#131 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2016, 11:19 PM:

I would think that clientage in the Radch is similar to clientage in the Roman empire. It's a formal superior/inferior relationship that gives each party involved certain responsibilities/right/expectations toward the other. The client is expected to offer respect/deference/service to the patron, and the patron offers the benefits of their higher status to the client: networking, money, access to higher-status places and things, insurance against disaster, and so forth.

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