Driving is more than the act of sitting in a vehicle, it involves actual movement. Living in Canada in the winter, the capital no less, means that there’s not much driving to be had, so I end up taking the bus to and from work. I don’t particularly like the bus as I can spend 20 minutes waiting for the damn thing to arrive, only to be packed like sardines, but it is a greener option and less costly overall. When things do end up just right, I get a seat and can get some reading done.
Murf had mentioned this late last year, getting some heavy reading done with a particular focus on the Hugo Awards. That works out, since I have quite a liking to the sci-fi genre. I used to read quite heavily on my e-reader, though over time I found it less and less practical compared to having a tablet. So I’ve loaded up some software and started at it.
I will say this about sci-fi, and fantasy even, authors have a love for trilogies. I don’t get what people are so fascinated about the number 3, but it seems like everything is linked to something else. The downside to this is that you have trouble moving between series and feel some sort of obligation to finish it (if possible) or end up waiting years between the books to close some cliffhangers. Robert Jordan and GRR Martin are notorious culprits in the length of writing, though quite nicely offset by the quality.
Back on track. I wasn’t quite sure where to start with the Hugos, either the golden age or the new age. Then I started looking at the titles and realized that I’ve already read a fair chunk of the older stuff. Clark, Asimov, Dick, Heinlein, Niven, Card…heck, without realizing it I’ve probably read 20 of them on the list already. So I’m going to move from the newest to the oldest, skipping those I’ve already done. If all works out, I should have 20 novels done by the year, though that will likely include books in the series rather than just from the list. Some of them will be long to get through, such as Robinson’s Mars series but other’s I’ve already done, like Herbert’s Dune series.
While I know the Three Body Problem should be first, I noticed that the Ancillary series was already there twice, so I started with the first one, Ancillary Justice.
Set in space, with a very high tech empire bent on conquest and annexation, the story deals with a ship AI who’s been stranded in a single body and is looking for revenge. Ancillaries are corpse soldiers, captured enemies who get implants that allows for the ship AI to take possession of their body. Not a hive mind as much as a bunch of puppets.
The book is most notable for its parallels to the Romans. Conquest, culture assimilation, language, citizens, emperor and quite a bit more come out from the background. There’s actually quite a bit found here that’s already been explored in the Foundation series, though this one certainly has more action within the pages. The second piece that makes this series stand out is that the main culture is gender neutral. I speak French, and as with most latin-based tongues, it’s heavily focused on gender. A ball is feminine, while a book is masculine. English really only focuses on pronouns (he/she), so there’s certainly less of a gap to be had, but it’s still hard to read through a book where the word “she” is used for both males and females. It makes is hard to visualize the character’s attributes, but otherwise has little impact on the story.
Truly good sci-fi has technology as a setting and not so much part of the plot, which for the majority of the book is the case. It’s the people that matter and their decisions, and they are all generally relatable. The hardest part to get your head around is the concept of many bodies but a single mind, and the impact that has on society. I’ve been in sci-fi for a long time, so the hive-mind mentality isn’t too far-fetched but I’m sure for a lot of folks, it’s a hurdle. It does bring some interesting ideas to the table, certainly near the mid-point and the plot twist (well, you can see most of it coming), which I think is why it won the Hugo. It’s not a perfect 5/7, but it’s certainly a solid read.
Now onto Ancillary Sword, then Ancillary Mercy.