Everybody Scream! Everybody Scream!

It is almost Hallowe’en, my second-favorite candy giving holiday (Valentine’s Day has better candy, fight me) and the best holiday for reading and watching all the spooky things. I did not get in on RIP this year for the first time in a very long time, but it’s fall so I’ve basically been playing along anyway. Here’s what I’ve been up to:

Reading
The Woman in Cabin 10I sat down one evening planning to get a start on my next book club pick, The Woman in Cabin 10, and then three and a half hours later I was finished with it and up about two hours past my bedtime. Oops! This book is a perfect pageturner with a pretty decent plot to go with it, where a potentially unreliable narrator sees a woman go over the side of her small cruise ship but can’t convince anyone on board to believe her. It’s easy to see a few ways that this plot could go, but I definitely didn’t guess the way it would go, or how well the author would tie the ending all together, a difficult feat with this kind of book. I enjoyed the heck out of it and if you’re looking for a quick creepy read before Hallowe’en this is a good choice.

More recently I started reading Provenance, the new Ann Leckie book, and although it is not nearly a pageturner it is quite good so far and makes me long for the days of the one-hour lunch break.

Listening
After the meh experiment that was reading the YA X-Files books, a friend mentioned some Audible-exclusive X-Files audiobooks and I was like, hey, I have Audible and a bunch of credits sitting around not doing anything. I listened to the first book, Cold Cases, pretty quickly and it was much more my style of ridiculous X-Files inanity and has the original actors reprising their roles, so, A++. I’m about halfway through the second book Stolen Lives, but it’s been interrupted for a slightly more Hallowe’en-appropriate audiobook.

GhostlandThat would be Ghostland, which I found in the following strangest way: I went to the gym, got on the elliptical, started my podcast, and was doing my thing, and then this lady gets on the elliptical next to me. She props a hardcover copy of Ghostland on the elliptical’s screen and proceeds to do absolutely nothing with it while instead reading something on her tablet, which she is holding with one hand up in front of her face. I kept looking over, sure she was going to fall off the machine, and eventually the cover of this book intrigued me so much that I found it on Libby, downloaded it, and started listening after my podcast ended and with 15 minutes left on the elliptical. It’s a pretty decent listen so far, with some cool facts about haunted houses and some interesting discussion of the racism of ghosts, and perhaps I will share all of these facts with the trick-or-treaters on Tuesday.

Watching
True story, I sat down a few hours ago planning to write this blog post while watching The Nightmare Before Christmas, but then the movie was so engrossing that I couldn’t do anything else but watch it. It’s such a good movie, guys. If you haven’t seen it you absolutely should — I think it’s technically a Christmas movie so you still have time for it to be seasonally appropriate. And if you haven’t seen it in a while, watch it again. It’s still delightful.

I’ve also been keeping up with my TV shows and I will say that The Good Place is 100% back on my good list (ha), along with Brooklyn Nine-Nine (that Hallowe’en episode!) and Jane the Virgin. I also found this weird little horror anthology series thing called The House on Hulu that lasts maybe 30 minutes total and is worth about that much of your time, so. Not every episode is a winner but they all have some interesting bits to them.

Now I just need to acquire Netflix long enough to watch Stranger Things and I will be a happy lady!

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Ancillary Mercy, by Ann Leckie

Ancillary MercyBefore we start, let me say that this is the last book of a trilogy and as such I am probably going to spoil important plot points for the first two books. If you haven’t read any of these books but are interested in the phrase “person who used to be a space ship”, go back and read the first book, Ancillary Justice, and I’ll see you when you’ve caught up to this one. For those who have read the series, or those who just like to read my ramblings, let’s talk about this last book!

I mentioned when I read the second book, Ancillary Sword, that I loved the first book’s intrigue and subterfuge and fast-moving plot but preferred the second book’s lazier attitude toward the whole gender-as-a-language-construct thing. Interestingly, this book goes back to the high-stakes adventure but also falls back into close scrutiny, not of language this time but of the relationship between a Ship as an entity and its ancillaries or faux ancillaries, leading to a lot of “Kalr Five said, no, Ship said” remarks that are largely unnecessary. So, ups and downs.

We keep the intrigue and subterfuge bits, picking up more or less where the second book left off with the rebuilding of the Undergarden and the political process of smoothing all appropriate feathers to just allow the same people who lived there before to live there again. Ah, the sweet smell of gentrification.

The action part in this novel is driven by the arrival on Athoek Station of Anaander Mianaai, or, you know, part of her or whatever, and Breq’s (our person who used to be a spaceship) desire to have all parts of her dead. To get this done Breq undoes most of the damage that Anaander has done to the various Ship and Station AIs and sort of… liberates them in the process.

That liberation leads to the moral crux of the novel, which is whether artificial intelligence is sort of the same as regular intelligence and how we treat ships (and, say, people) that we view as part of the furniture and the casual, uh, ship-ism?, that all humans participate in whether they realize it or have realization forced upon them.

I enjoyed the heck out of this book, nearly as much as I did the first installment. The balance between action and thinkyness is nearly perfect, save for the repetitive bits and a little bit at the end when everything wraps up (-ish), and of course I could probably read about Breq reading the phone book and find it absolutely fascinating. She’s a person! Who used to be a spaceship! Who used to be a person! Aaaah, I love the conceit of this series.

Ahem. If you’ve read and liked the other books, and especially if you were a little down on the second one for being a bit slow, you will definitely enjoy this book. If you haven’t read the other books, what are you waiting for (besides the library to open)?

Recommendation: For fans of this series, thinky space dramas, and books about human faults sneakily disguised as SCIENCE!

Rating: 9/10 (with partial bonus points for being an awesome series)

Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie

Ancillary SwordI read Leckie’s Ancillary Justice last summer and loved the heck out of it even though I was absolutely baffled by almost all of it. Person who used to be a spaceship? Difficulties in using gendered language? Political machinations? Awesome and also mind-breaking.

I think Leckie and/or her publishers figured that out, because this novel is differently structured and much easier to read. Our main character, Breq, still used to be a spaceship, but we’re only focused on her present as an individual person so there’s not as much of the switching back and forth between points of view (although there is still some). She’s also primarily hanging out with the single-gender-pronoun people, so everyone’s a she and that’s just how it is, no explanations on every other page. And even the political machinations are simpler, with most of the subterfuge showing up early and the narrative having plenty of time to explain what’s going on. Huzzah!

In this installment, Breq is sent by the leader of the Radch (civilization, more or less) to check out a station for, um, reasons?, and when she gets there she finds herself embroiled in some weirdness from another ship stationed there, some class warfare on the station itself, and more class warfare on the planet below. Breq spends most of her time trying to make things better for all the inhabitants of the area by working to improve their living conditions, trying to talk sense into those who would discriminate for arbitrary reasons, and taking various stands against stupidity.

This book is not nearly as page-turning and exciting and crazypants as the first book, but it does have a nice slow-burning plotline in the weird spaceship at the beginning and there is constant tension between Breq and pretty much everyone else in the story that keeps things interesting. I really love the world that Leckie has created and it was great to spend time in it again.

Recommendation: For fans of the first book, which you probably should read before this one, but also fans of space machinations in general.

Rating: 8/10

Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie

Ancillary JusticeI bought this book about nine months ago on a trip to Virginia, at the famed (where famed = “talked about a lot by a podcaster I listen to”) Fountain Bookstore in downtown Richmond. I did what I always do at a new bookstore: I said, “I want to buy a book, in paperback, that you think is awesome. What do you got?” The bookseller, showing a respectable amount of laziness, pointed at the Staff Picks shelf but also mentioned which picks were actually his, one of which was this book. I had heard that it existed and was supposed to be good, but when the bookseller said, dude, it’s a book about a person that used to be a spaceship? You know I was sold.

And then of course I put it off in favor of library books that needed to be returned until earlier this summer when I found myself in need of a print book and this was the handiest one. And then I didn’t want to put it down, so it came with me to the beach and to Disney World and even briefly into the library with me until I was good and done with it.

Not that I am. This is one of those thinky books, not just in that it makes you think about things like gender roles and inter-class conflict and the nature of consciousness but also in that it is damn confusing. Which, it’s a book about a person who used to be a spaceship, I should probably have expected that, but I think it’s even just a little bit more confusing than that.

Why is it confusing? Well. The book is told in my favorite way, with two storylines from different time frames jumping back and forth between each other. In one, we meet Breq, who we soon learn is our erstwhile spaceship and who is travelling the galaxy on a mission but gets derailed rescuing a former crewmember from certain death. In the other, we meet Lieutenant Awn and her cadre of “ancillaries”, collectively known as One Esk, who are (and this is a bit awful) the AI of Awn’s home spaceship working inside of a dozen or so human bodies who areā€¦ not exactly dead.

There’s a lot to learn in both storylines. In Breq’s world, we’re finding out about Breq’s current quest to find an Important Thing and do another Important Thing with it, and also about how Breq knows this rescued crewmember and why the crewmember was almost dead and how the universe is functioning after a couple of other Important Things that happened, all of which start out super vague and get increasingly specific. In One Esk’s world, we’re finding out about this planet that was taken over by the Radch (with Awn and One Esk as the troops overseeing the results of the takeover) and what that means and how the different classes on this planet are reacting to the same event, and then also later we’re learning that the Radch leader is doing some dicey things that may involve One Esk and that may (read: totally will) lead into one of those Important Things from the future storyline.

So that’s awesome and fascinating but also tough, and it’s not made super easier by the fact that as One Esk, One Esk commands those dozens of bodies and is all, and then I sent my one body over here and she saw this and I sent my other body over here and she did that and also these six bodies were all doing these different things all at the exact same time. Also, it turns out that the Radchaai, whose spaceship One Esk/Breq was, don’t use gender in their speech, and so Breq just calls every person “she” or “her” regardless of anything, and spends a lot of time worrying about giving people the wrong gender designation because people get really touchy about that. But meanwhile everyone that Breq meets knows how to discern gender and so sometimes another character will go on at length about a “he” and Breq’s going on about a “she” and it’ll take six pages for you to figure out whether they’re talking about the same person or what. And then, when you get to the intrigue and subterfuge (subterfuge!), there’s so much of it it’ll make your head spin. I’m still not entirely clear on what happened at the end of the book, but hey, there’s a sequel coming out soon so maybe I’ll find out!

Recommendation: Totally worth a read if you are intrigued by any part of what I just said, though you’ll have to secure your thinking cap to your head with superglue.

Rating: 9/10