I know I usually write about non-Yuri stuff on Sundays, but I’ve read a pile of great science fiction recently that I wanted to share with you before the holiday season slams down on all of us and I spend my days slaving over end-of-year lists.
To start things off, I highly recommend the Imperial Radch series by Ann Leckie. The Sad/Rabid Puppies hated this series with the burning of thousand fiery dyspeptic stomachs, which was good enough for me to give it a try. ^_^ I’ll do my best to no-spoiler synopsize the books, but no promises.
The series, which consists of three books – Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy – follows an artificial intelligence that runs a troopship, Justice of Toren. The timeline of the first novel is split as Justice of Toren tells us of her experiences before and after a massively traumatic experience forces her to involve herself in the personal politics of the rule of the Imperium. The language of the Empire is non-gendered, and Justice of Toren is herself not really all that keyed into understanding gender, she she defaults to calling everyone “she.” (And for the moment, so will I.) This enraged the Puppies, as did some implied and actual homosexuality. It’s true that the different perspective on gendered language makes the book difficult for some folks, but of itself not enough to call the series good. That said, the story is not good – it’s brilliant. Characters, writing, world-building are all impeccably tight and extremely well-constructed. Leckie’s ability to create a society based around the principles of the Roman Empire that feel fresh and also very human, and her ability to create characters that are not at all human in stark contrast is astounding.
I have literally one complaint about this series and it has nothing to do with the series itself, but entirely is about my own needs as a reader. We – unfortunately, IMHO – do learn the sex of several of the main characters, when gendered language is used. I felt that to be a bit of a betrayal of the core concept. Other than that one thing, I found the entire series to be compelling reading. I’ve got Leckie’s next book, Provenance on my to-read list.
My next book of interest was Martha Wells’, All Systems Red: The Murderbot Diaries. This follows an artificial intelligence security bot, who refers to itself as “Murderbot” assigned to protect a scientific expedition. When it appears that they are being sabotaged, Murderbot teams up with it’s humans (despite it being generally uninterested and incapable of dealing with humans all that well) to find out what the heck is going on.
Based on the size of this book and it’s font, I assumed it was an YA novel. I certainly could have read it easily in one sitting had I had the time. Even so it only took me two evenings to finish it. It was amusing, rather than compelling. I found myself fascinated by the behaviors of the protagonist who, despite calling itself Murderbot, seemed a peaceable enough being. There is also homosexuality in the story and gender and sexuality are topics that are covered within the story. Murderbot was, like Breq in the Imperial Radch series, not interested in sex for themselves, although it understood the concepts, and was, unlike Breq, not very good at relating to humans. More and more as the story unfolded I started developing an idea about AI behavior being patterned after or reflecting our understanding of neuroatypical thought. I can totally see the behaviors associated folks on the Asperger Spectrum reflected in these characters. I am not saying “ASD folks are like robots” or that they are inhuman. I am saying neuroatypical folks might see themselves reflected, as I did. These AIs were empathetic for me and they allowed me to see my own neuroatypicality reflected as I watched them process human relations. It seemed to me to a useful lens with which to understand my own processes.
I’m wrapping up a third book about an AI tonight (I’m still not sure if the trend here is with stuff that’s being published or just me, honestly). Autonomous: A Novel by Annalee Newitz is good, but I have some reservations about it. It follows a pharmaceutical drug pirate and biotech engineer, a woman who goes by the name Jack, as she seeks to stop an outbreak of a deadly adverse event in a reverse engineered drug she’s bootlegging. The powers that be have sent a human-AI team to track her down.
Sexuality and gender are part of the plot in this story. Jack is bisexual and that’s a non-issue, but the human detective Eliasz and his AI partner Paladin have a sexual relationship, as well. And this is where my reservations come in. Paladin is a military-grade bot, and is therefore gendered by humans as male. Eliasz has a very self-loathingly homophobic reaction to his own attraction to Paladin. When they commence an actual relationship, Eliasz ask Paladin whether he should refer to it as a he or a she. Paladin chooses “She.” I 100% support Paladin having a choice and the choice she makes, but, by making it, she allows Elisz to skip over his very serious issue with homophobia. And Paladin realizes this. So she appreciates the act of being able to consent and the fact that she is an active participant, not just a receptacle, but also thinks this is more complicated than Eliasz realizes. I agree. I’m not done with this book, should be wrapping it up tonight, so maybe I’ll feel differently in a few hours…but I don’t think so.
Also queued for me is Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer, which I am told also deals with gender in an intelligent way. It’s worth noting that Tor is really reach out to find and publish interesting books on sexuality and gender (and by women,) and so are getting a lot of my money these days. ^_^
If you’ve read anything you think people ought to know about for their winter reading, throw it out in the comments! We can all always use a good book recommendation.