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June 28, 2014 6:02 AM   Subscribe

The Nebula, Arthur C. Clarke and Hugo awards are the Triple Crown of science-fiction writing. If Ancillary Justice claims the Hugo, it will become the first novel to win all three. After years toiling in obscurity, Leckie's given up trying to wrap her mind around how quickly she and her gun-slinging, galaxy-traversing heroine, Breq, have climbed to critical and popular adoration.

[...]
Leckie's success — and the fact that it was achieved with a novel that not only has a strong female protagonist, but also refers to all of its characters, male or female, as "she" — comes at an interesting time. Barely a year ago the science-fiction community was tearing itself apart over sexism allegations. Seemingly in response, the 2013 Nebula Awards marked the first time in its nearly 50-year history that all of the winners were women.
The St Louis Riverfront Times takes a look at the success of local author Ann Leckie and what it means for science fiction as a whole. (print edition.)
posted by MartinWisse (47 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite

 
I have a lot of love for this book and I hope it wins the Hugo too.
posted by Foosnark at 6:14 AM on June 28 [5 favorites]


featuring quotes from mefi's own and sci fi author Dan Scalzi.

I've not heard of this book before. I look forward to giving it a read.
posted by rebent at 6:16 AM on June 28 [2 favorites]


This is on my to-read list, based on comments I've read here.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:19 AM on June 28


Ancillary Justice is a fantastic book; I crashed through it in a weekend and it left me craving more. The universe she's built is ripe for exploration and I'm super excited to crack into Ancillary Sword in October. Ann Leckie has more than earned every honor she's received with crisp writing, believable and emotionally complex characters, and a great story. Onward to the Hugo!
posted by Lighthammer at 6:21 AM on June 28 [2 favorites]


I liked the book, but it's not quit at the level of Dune, Ringworld or the Foundation series, so not sure I'd put it up in triple crown territory. It's clearly set up to be a trilogy or series.
posted by sammyo at 6:22 AM on June 28 [1 favorite]


The Nebula, Arthur C. Clarke and Hugo awards are the Triple Crown of science-fiction writing.

Is this true about the Clarke award? I'm asking out of curiosity, not skepticism. I haven't followed the industry side of science fiction since the mid-90s, when the Clarke was too new to be seen as an equal to the Big Two. Is it really a "Triple Crown" now?
posted by Ian A.T. at 6:23 AM on June 28 [1 favorite]


And now that I've finished the article in the FPP -- this is a great overview both of her writing (she had a chance to study with Octavia Butler!) but also of the current arguments over women in the genre. John Scalzi has a great quote in it:

"There were a lot of male writers out there who were really excellent feminists in 1975. But it's not 1975 anymore," says Scalzi, a Hugo Award winner and former president of the SFWA. "So what happens is, people had a tendency to believe that once something happens then it's settled, and we can all move forward. But nothing is ever settled."

It's a fairly long article, but well worth reading in its entirety.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:32 AM on June 28 [3 favorites]


Is it accurate to refer to Breq as a "female protagonist"? I didn't get a sense that she* was really gendered at all, and I certainly don't remember a time when she was even visually described with secondary sexual characteristics. I'm also pretty sure that the gender of her old Lieutenant was never established, either. I mentally assigned some of the characters bodies of one sex or another, but I'd suspect that other readers made different assignments.

Anyway, yes, it's a fantastic book. I'll go read the article now.

*pronoun used in deference to the book's conventions
posted by kavasa at 6:38 AM on June 28 [1 favorite]


I've seen Space Empires before, pseudo-Roman and otherwise, but I don't think I've ever see the trope this well executed - the moral compromises and cognitive dissonance of the soldiering class, the intricacies of patronage, the pragmatically syncretic religion. Empire's not a trope in Leckie's hands; it's a subject fit for serious investigation.
posted by Iridic at 6:42 AM on June 28 [10 favorites]


I am really looking forward to reading this book - about fifty million great new things came out this past year (two new Hal Duncans, Sarah Tolmie's Stone Boatmen, A Stranger In Olondria and on and on) so I haven't had a chance to get it yet. But I'd be totally stoked if it won lots of awards - I love books that do stuff with pronouns. Also, it's exciting to see someone start strong later in life - it's interesting to get a first novel written by someone with life experience, having had kids, out of her first youth, etc.

Also, those who have read it: do you think it's vaguely Iain Banksian? The plot synopses make it sound that way and - rest to his bones, and soul's delivery - it's a sad world with no new Banks to look forward to.
posted by Frowner at 7:28 AM on June 28 [7 favorites]


There's a blink and you miss it moment in the first few pages that shows her body is female; whether she herself is, is another matter.
posted by MartinWisse at 7:40 AM on June 28 [3 favorites]


I assume the author of the piece is not an SF fan: they did some good research, but it was definitely written by an outsider. For instance, someone clued them in that Vox Day is "he who shall not be named", but describing him as a "long time member" makes you think it was a famous golden age author feuding with NKJ.
posted by 445supermag at 7:43 AM on June 28 [1 favorite]


I really enjoyed it and it deserves the awards its getting. I thought the gender stuff, though interesting, was the least of its virtues, really; it was to above all an interesting sfnal examination of imperialism.

To the commenter above: It is Banks-ian, I think. It has big ideas vividly described in a big universe, solid writing and excellent action.

It's a pity it came out in the same year as A Stranger in Olondria which was intellectually even more interesting and also deserves a solid run of awards.
posted by tavegyl at 7:49 AM on June 28


The author Ann Leckie has a blog and a GoodReads page. The book itself is on Amazon of course, but it's published by Hachette so beware being the pawn in some publisher/distributer dispute.
posted by Nelson at 8:04 AM on June 28


I imagine Vox Day, at these present circumstances, writing an angry blog post titled "I have no audience and I must scream".
posted by fatbird at 8:47 AM on June 28 [4 favorites]


What an odd coincidence. I bought Ancillary Justice yesterday on the basis of its recommendations elsewhere. I'm liking it so far.

And Vox Day can go fuck himself.
posted by sotonohito at 8:56 AM on June 28 [2 favorites]


While this is the book I will likely vote for, my guess is that the Hugo is going to get steamrolled by the legions of World of Time fans. Still, it is refreshing to see this book getting lots of positive attention.
posted by Ber at 9:07 AM on June 28


"mefi's own and sci fi author Dan Scalzi"

Dan's here?!? That bastard owes me money!
posted by jscalzi at 9:14 AM on June 28 [60 favorites]




about fifty million great new things came out this past year (two new Hal Duncans,

Wait, what?

I thought he only has had two novels so far (Vellum and Ink)?
posted by MartinWisse at 9:47 AM on June 28


About 30-40 years ago I read a sci fi novel (at least well-known enough that my local public library had a copy) where all the characters were referred to as "she." Confused the hell out of me until I figured it out, but I can't remember much of anything else about it.
posted by lagomorphius at 9:48 AM on June 28


It's a very good book, and one I'd vote for if I was doing the Hugo this year.
My review.
posted by doctornemo at 10:08 AM on June 28


I started reading this last night, immediately after reading Delaney's "Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand," which also refers to all characters as "she," though I haven't read far enough in Ancillary Justice to see if the language is precisely the same about sex and gender. In Delaney you switch pronouns to he if you're talking about someone you're sexually attracted to, regardless of your or their gender. That probably doesn't carry over. Anyway, it was funny to go from one book directly to the other. "Wait, everybody gets a she? Well, I'm already there with you. Let's go."
posted by Rinku at 10:16 AM on June 28 [3 favorites]


The Hal Duncans are a highly-praised book of SF theory/criticism and a book of short stories, Scruffians. I've just blown all my book allowance on used books at the Goodwill, so I don't think I'll be getting either this month, but they're on my long, long list alongside Ancillary Justice. Stranger in Olondria and Stone Boatmen I've read, and both are dazzling and wonderful and assuredly classics.
posted by Frowner at 11:07 AM on June 28 [1 favorite]


About 30-40 years ago I read a sci fi novel (at least well-known enough that my local public library had a copy) where all the characters were referred to as "she." Confused the hell out of me until I figured it out, but I can't remember much of anything else about it.

I've read enough sci fi where all the characters were referred to as "he" that they kinda blur together.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:17 AM on June 28 [15 favorites]


I can't tell if rebent's reference to Dan Scalzi is a reference I'm not getting or a mistake or what?
posted by Justinian at 11:28 AM on June 28


I want to read the heck out of this novel.

I vomitted in my mouth a little though when I opened up the article and the first words I saw about Leckie were "St. Louis mother".
posted by tofu_crouton at 11:35 AM on June 28 [7 favorites]


Also, those who have read it: do you think it's vaguely Iain Banksian? The plot synopses make it sound that way and - rest to his bones, and soul's delivery - it's a sad world with no new Banks to look forward to.

It's not exactly Banksian. As my wife puts it, 'the Culture has become my prototype of a utopian far future. The thing to shoot for."

Ancillary Justice describes a civilization that's attacking and pillaging other worlds.

So it's not the same. But it's a good book.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:25 PM on June 28


Yyyeah, but the various governments of Golter and outlying planets approach dystopic and are also Banksian, and the empire in the Algebraist is pretty blecchy but it's still Banksian, etc. Azad, Idir, and the Affront approach being moustache-twirling villains at the societal level but are still Banksian.

I'd agree that it captures some of the sense of big, vivid, and also serious space opera that Banks was known for. But the people we're following are far more Azadian than Culture.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:41 PM on June 28 [5 favorites]


I really loved this book. I mean, really loved it. I also loved that this is a great example of how it's never too late to make your initial contributions to art and literature (or science). I love that she's 48 and straight-out-of-the-gate fantastic. That doesn't seem that old to me any more, but I've grown weary of the idea that if you don't do something awesome by your 20s and give up a family in the process, you may have missed the boat. So much of life is about seasoning and preparation, and it adds a very discernible texture to art that is also evident in this book.
posted by SpacemanStix at 1:29 PM on June 28 [6 favorites]


my guess is that the Hugo is going to get steamrolled by the legions of World of Time fans

Mine, too.

What I liked best about Ancillary Justice wasn't the gender/pronoun stuff, which was great, but the way that the narrative conveyed the multiple perspectives of the ancillaries, in such a way that you were able to follow what was going on. That was very skillful writing.
posted by suelac at 2:48 PM on June 28 [7 favorites]


Maybe the legion of WoT fans will cancel out the right wing troll voters?
posted by tofu_crouton at 3:20 PM on June 28


I don't expect the right wing troll voters to be much of a factor. The WoT fans, however, may be one. Sadly, neither of those groups are voting for something which deserves to win.
posted by Justinian at 4:56 PM on June 28 [1 favorite]


@Justinian, I agree with both parts of your statement. The right wing trolls are too tiny a group to make any difference, they'll push Beale's book higher than it really merits but not high enough to win.

But the WoT fans, they truly are legion. And that's unfortunate because they likely can muster enough votes to get the series the Nebula. And that's a damn shame because while I appreciate that they love the series, it really isn't high quality.

That's not an indictment of the series. I like many things that aren't high quality, stuff that should never get a Hugo or Nebula (the Honor Harrington series, for example). If they could love the WoT books while acknowledging that, much as they love them, they really aren't Nebula quality that'd be awesome.

Or take a better example than the Honor Harrington series: the Harry Potter series. I love HP. I've spent hours in line at midnight waiting to get the next book. I've debated the finer points of HP with my friends and family.

And I'll be the first to admit that it absolutely does not merit a Hugo or Nebula equivalent prize. Fun, yes. Great, no.

We already have a way to identify and honor books that are very popular but not necessarily all that great, we call it the NYT Best Seller list. Popular is fine, popular even sometimes goes along with great. But there is a problem when something become sufficiently popular that the fans can insist it also get a prize for being great when it really isn't that great.
posted by sotonohito at 5:36 PM on June 28 [2 favorites]


I liked this book, but I didn't think it deserved "Triple Crown" status - it took a while to get going and seemed to be holding back a bunch of stuff for an obvious sequel, and I dislike these series books (in terms of Iain Banksianness, his Culture books were part of a shared setting but always seemed satisfying self-contained). Mind you, many of the books over the past 20-30 years that have swept the big award baskets seem in hindsight to have done so on the basis of an of-the-time acclaim that later, devoid of the cultural context, seems to lack some enduring impetus. Anyway, this book is written better than a lot of SF, with good PoVs, and the gender pronoun playfulness is nice. Having grown up reading Triton, Stars in my Pocket and Female Man, Left Hand, etc, mixing up genders is always going to be something that, for a long time, will rapidly convey a sense of otherness to your readers. But then again, for a couple of years, I've been reading all the kids' books to my toddler using "she" in place of "he" ("he" seems to be ubiquitous in these, even for animals). Lately I've got into the habit of asking them "Is this a girl or a boy?" and adjusting the story accordingly. Interestingly, in the Frog and Toad stories, Toad is male and Frog is female. So as to whether the protag here is bio or performative female or male? People begin ascribing gender characteristics very early and seems idiosyncratic and subjective.
posted by meehawl at 6:00 PM on June 28 [3 favorites]


Ancillary Justice just won the Best First Novel award at the Locus awards.
posted by dhruva at 7:30 PM on June 28 [2 favorites]


The Hal Duncans are a highly-praised book of SF theory/criticism and a book of short stories, Scruffians.

Thanks. That criticism book looks interesting. On the backlog.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:46 AM on June 29


I want to read the heck out of this novel.

I vomitted in my mouth a little though when I opened up the article and the first words I saw about Leckie were "St. Louis mother".
posted by tofu_crouton at 11:35 AM on June 28


I think though that there should be some recognition that writing while parenting young children is an especially difficult task. That part is at least relevant, even if she might not have wanted it to be the first thing we know about her.
posted by newdaddy at 3:44 AM on June 29


I'm sure she wrote through a lot of difficult experiences. I'm also sure there are male writers who have children who aren't described first and foremost in terms of their child rearing status. For the past decade or so, every time a major newspaper framed an article this way, the nation got up in arms. I feel like journalists would know better by this point.

At least the article is framed in such a way that the focus on her gender is relevant. Framing it this way allows a reflection on the current state of science fiction literature as a whole. They also chose to focus on the gender issues in her novel*, so it all ties together neatly.


* I'm halfway through now because I immediately bought it after reading this post!
posted by tofu_crouton at 6:42 AM on June 29 [2 favorites]


I thought what Leckie did with the structure of the story and multiple perspectives was stunning -- masterful writing.
posted by geeklizzard at 4:58 PM on June 29 [1 favorite]


I thought what Leckie did with the structure of the story and multiple perspectives was stunning -- masterful writing.

agreed. and I was quite disappointed when that shifted to a singular :/ the whole first 2/3rds is massively impressive though.
posted by young_son at 3:42 AM on June 30


I started reading this last night, immediately after reading Delaney's "Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand," which also refers to all characters as "she,"
posted by Rinku at 12:16 PM on June 28


I'm reading that Delaney novel right now, and intend to read Ancillary Justice next. How funny.
posted by joannemerriam at 12:57 PM on June 30


I started reading this last night, immediately after reading Delaney's "Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand," which also refers to all characters as "she,"
posted by Rinku at 12:16 PM on June 28

I'm reading that Delaney novel right now, and intend to read Ancillary Justice next. How funny.
posted by joannemerriam at 2:57 PM on June 30


I can't wait for books on FanFare.
posted by tofu_crouton at 1:08 PM on June 30


I started reading this last night, immediately after reading Delaney's "Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand," which also refers to all characters as "she,"

As I was reading this book, it dawned on me that the rhetorical affect of the pronoun usage would not have remotely worked any other way. If everyone was referred to as "he," you would not be faced with the tension of the gender ambiguity (or the muting of gender relevance) every time you read it. It would feel like par for the course, that most everyone probably just was male. You might wonder where the women were in the story, but it would not dawn on you at all that most of them very well could be women. Even if the narrator would tell you that "he" was ambiguous at some point, it would very quickly be something forgotten as your reading would simply conform to conventional expectations. This was the needed pronoun for this to work effectively.

It's amazing what one little letter can do for the entire tone of a book. It's also amazing to me the power of this pronoun by itself to constantly bring a particular tension to mind and provide a texture to the read that isn't possible any other way. That, to me, is literary genius.
posted by SpacemanStix at 3:14 PM on June 30 [3 favorites]


If everyone was referred to as "he,"
This was basically the criticism that The Left Hand of Darkness faced.
posted by dhruva at 7:13 PM on June 30


Just finished reading this, thanks Metafilter Book Club! It's good and totally worth reading if you like space opera sci-fi. I like the author's voice, she's particularly good at writing characters that seem to have meaningful inner lives. A central plot device in the novel is the idea of multiply embodied intelligence, which happily made me recall the Tines from Fire Upon the Deep. Only she took a similar idea and expanded it into most of a novel and it works pretty well. Good stuff.
posted by Nelson at 7:39 AM on July 9


I'm really glad this thread is still open; I asked for the book for my birthday (because of this thread!) and just finished it, and I'm blown away. I frankly don't understand some of the grudging praise (e.g., "totally worth reading if you like space opera sci-fi.... it works pretty well"); I'm a sf fan of over half a century's standing (I sat next to Larry Niven and Fuzzy Pink at LASFS meetings and attended the 1968 WorldCon) and I read lots of "real literature" (Tolstoy in the original!), and I think it's the best novel I've read in quite a while. I would certainly vote for a Hugo for it in a heartbeat. I was initially intrigued by the pronoun stuff, but as many people here have said, while that's very effective, it's only a tiny piece of what makes the book worth reading. Like all great literature, it's about life and death, destiny and free will, love and hate, and ultimately what makes us human. It does all that in a way that's specific to sf and yet resonates with real-life experience much the way Tolstoy does. I was originally reluctant to get into the first part of a trilogy, but now I can't wait for the sequel. Thanks, Ann Leckie, and thanks, MetaFilter, for inspiring me to read it!
posted by languagehat at 11:46 AM on July 26 [6 favorites]


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