On the Absolute Genius of Ann Leckie

Ann Leckie books

At the end of last year, I was feeling sorry for myself because I wanted to find some new sci-fi to fall in love with and nothing I tried quite cut it for me. But then I found Ann Leckie.

You see, as someone who recognises how inventive, revolutionary, influential and progressive science fiction has been and continues to be (unlike some LiTeRaRy authors who snub the entire genre and its extensive history based on prejudicial snobbery and then write what is essentially a run-of-the-mill sci-fi novel and proclaim it to be the most original, innovative piece of literature ever written in the history of humankind *cough* Ian McEwan *cough*) — err yes, sorry, where was I?

Yes, so as much as I enjoy reading plot-driven romps through space, they don’t hit the mark for me when it comes to fulfilling the huge potential that comes with the territory of science fiction. For sci-fi to be truly great in my eyes, it has to contain (in no particular order):

  • awesome spaceships
  • compelling characters
  • awesome spaceships
  • a breathtaking plot driven by the characters’ decisions
  • awesome spaceships
  • a nuanced portrayal of interestingly different future societies that serves as a lens through which to examine our own current society
  • awesome spaceships
  • realistic diplomatic tension that prevents people just going around blasting other people with lasers, blasters and/or death rays
  • awesome spaceships
  • diversity and good representation of marginalised voices (*starts chanting* “THE FUTURE IS HERE, THE FUTURE IS QUEER!”)
  • awesome spaceships
  • no misogyny (Leviathan Wakes, I’m looking at you – I gave you SO MUCH benefit of the doubt before finally throwing you across the room in rage)
  • awesome spaceships
  • some philosophical depth but nothing too on-the-nose
  • and, finally, awesome spaceships.

Come on people, I’m not asking for much.

But here’s the thing: ANN LECKIE TICKS ALL OF THESE BOXES! She is a goddamn hero and has shot up into my hallowed list of favourite authors.

I don’t really know where I was half a decade ago when Leckie stormed onto the scene by winning pretty much all the major sci-fi awards for her debut, Ancillary Justice. Somewhere with my head in the sand, evidently, because Ann Leckie wasn’t even on my radar until recently.

I got some Iain M. Banks vibes from the blurb of the first book, which is always a good sign, so I jumped right in. Ancillary Justice wasn’t exactly what I was expecting at first, but once I was about a third of the way into it, I was in love. I tried to pace myself after that, but couldn’t help storming through the rest of the Imperial Radch trilogy (Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy), and now I’ve just finished reading the spin-off / standalone book set in the same universe, Provenance. They are all incredible novels that I cannot recommend highly enough to every SF fan out there.

I would say that you should ignore the blurbs, though. The blurb of the first book gives away a hell of a lot about the main character, Breq, that I would have preferred to find out from the narrative alone. And the other blurbs in the series set you up to expect epic showdowns and endless action. There are dramatic moments, sure, but they are more about political scheming and characters’ inner struggles than gun battles (although there are some incredible weapons and kickass action when called for). In fact, there is definitely more tea-drinking than gun-firing, and most of the ‘action’ happens in the tense subtext of conversations held over the aforementioned cups of tea. I absolutely love that, but I’m aware that if you’ve been led to expect explosions in every chapter, you might get a little frustrated.

Ann Leckie has meticulously and skilfully crafted every single thing about these books. The extensive, detailed and utterly believable world-building of multiple societies is left for the reader to figure out (no info dumps here!) while never being overwhelmingly confusing. The characters are consistently multi-faceted and Breq, the protagonist, is such an amazing and refreshing character. And, without giving anything away, the skill needed to narrate from Breq’s unique point of view showcases a level of writing that is nothing short of masterful.

Provenance is quite different in tone, and it takes place outside the Radch empire so the society and characters are entirely separate from the other books, but the level of quality is just as high and it was a pleasure to read.

Both the Ancillary books and Provenance have interesting things to say about gender and pronouns, too, which I am a sucker for. I’m planning to write a separate post about this (and the approach of other books) sometime soon, so watch out for that if you are interested!

I could rave about these books indefinitely, but I want this post to be a spoiler-free zone so that if you, dear reader, decide to give Ann Leckie’s books a go, you will get maximum enjoyment out of them. Mark my words, the Imperial Radch books will be rightfully regarded as must-read SF classics in the near future (if they aren’t already). So, what are you waiting for? Go read them already! 🙂

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