Friday, April 04, 2014
Monday, January 20, 2014
What I found here was the debut novel of Anne Leckie, Ancillary Justice which was getting a lot of buzz last autumn when it first came out. The story opens with its (probably female) protagonist, Breq, on a wintery and brutal world acting with impulsive kindness to a former officer that she had served with in the armed forces of the aggressively expansionist Radchaai empire. It soon becomes apparent that Breq has hair trigger killer instincts, some interesting enhancements, and a lot of anger. Thus far she is similar to the tough female killers that have populated science fiction novels from William Gibson to Iain M Banks for decades.
But Breq is rather unique - she is not what she once was. Literally. She was Justice of Toren, a massive troop carrying starship, most of whose soldiers were ancillaries, mind wiped prisoners of war, now slaved to the ship's Artificial Intelligence. As a result, Justice of Toren sees the world through multiple eyes in multiple locations, and can speak (and indeed, sing) with literally thousands of voices. Only all that is now left of her is one, lone ancillary, Justice of Toren One Esk Nineteen, out to avenge the death of all she once was and all she had once cared for. She is an AI in a human body trying fit into human society, with a quest for vengeance.
The multiple conversations and observations that her multiple self shared with her human officers and the citizens of a world recently 'annexed' by the Radchaai makes for fascinating reading, and when this is broken down in one particularly traumatic event about of a third of the way into the novel, we get a real sense of the loss, disorientation and fear that ensues for her/it.
All of this is interesting science fiction, set in a standard space operatic format and happily playing with all the usual tropes of the genre (vast empires, massive spaceships run by AIs, special weapons, exotic worlds, epic battles). But actually the novel is a lot more than this precis suggests. Exploring the nature of empire, imperial expansionism and the war crimes that are committed in the name of protecting that empire, it does what the best science fiction does and holds a mirror up to our own world. Lecke is American, but as a Brit I got at once the sense of an empire reaching the end of its expansion and the yearning for the glory days of old amongst the officer class (and their obsession with drinking tea!). One telling quote summarises the realisation that some of the Radchaai were coming to about the nature of their empire:
luxury always comes at someone else’s expense. One of the many advantages of civilization is that one doesn't generally have to see that, if one doesn't wish.Some amongst the Radchaai (a word that means 'civilised') are questioning the empire, and this hinges around two, appalling war crimes to which the Justice of Toren is both witness and contributor. The tension between the conservative and progressive streams amongst the Radchaai are at the centre of the story.
Another interesting quirk of the narrative, and one that most reviewers (especially male reviewers) hone in on first is the use of gender. Radchaai culture and language make no apparent distinction between genders, using a single pronoun for either sex and no apparent differences in dress or social roles between male and female. As a result, the non-human Breq struggles conceptually with languages and cultures that do make such distinctions. All characters are referred to in the feminine, except rarely where she must speak in other languages and to other cultures that do not make such distinctions, where we learn she regularly gets genders the wrong way round, causing much confusion and occasionally, offence! What this achieves is initially a sharp sense of confusion and dislocation in the reader, although by the end of the novel I had ceased to notice and was going with the flow. It does ask the reader where her/his presuppositions about how we assume behaviour and social role will fall along gender lines, and how culturally prescribed these presuppositions are.
All this is done in a narrative that avoids too many space opera cliches that pander to the inner thirteen year old male of so many of the genre's fans. There is little violence (and when it does happen it is mostly 'off screen' and all the more disturbing for it), no sex or sexual tension (although Breq's underlying lack of humanity means she misses the cues that may be there). Like Iain M Banks and Ken McLeod, Leckie is subverting the genre to look at political themes that this most politically conservative and masculine of all science fiction sub-genres generally eschews.
The book does end on an apparent anti-climax, but as it is the first book of a trilogy this is forgivable, leaving you at least wanting to know where it goes next. A strong start to a trilogy and an impressive debut novel. I look forward to the second volume out later this year.
Friday, September 02, 2011
this post originally appeared on the blog of the Christian Medical Fellowship at http://www.cmfblog.org.uk
Saturday, April 02, 2011
Tuesday, December 07, 2010
Well, fourteen inches of snow in our back garden by last Friday, three days snowed in and working from home, chaos on the road and trains. Welcome to the British winter! Again.
It is interesting how just a few inches of frozen rain reveal how vulnerable our society is – shops running out of perishable supplies, major transport infrastructure going wrong, leaving people trapped in trains and cars overnight. What would happen is something really serious happened, and all of it just fell apart?
It puts me a bit in mind of Jesus’ warning to the disciples not get anxious about future or current troubles – it’s the way it will be. Sounds a bit fatalistic, but actually, it is reminder that we so easily get distracted by the immediate perils that we miss the bigger picture. If Jesus really is retuning, then things will be kicking off out there in way we cannot mistake – but history is replete with natural and manmade disasters that must have seemed like the end of the world. The long, hard winters at the start of the twelfth century, followed in less than a generation by the Black Death must have felt pretty apocalyptic to the people of Northern Europe And you can point to countless other events of similar ilk. A reminder that our lives on this planet hang by a thread.
Which is why knowing that Jesus is coming back remains so important in Christian thinking – because we know our fragility and ephemerality, we also realise that we have no help or hope other than God, and if the whole world comes crashing down around our ears, God remains firm. There is always a hope, even in the midst of hopelessness.
One of the most striking novels and films of recent times is ‘The Road’ which takes us to a world where is has all collapsed – there is no future, no hope, only a lingering (or if fortunate, a swift and painless) death. But although God never appears, there is that spark of hope, of light, of humanity in the midst of this devastation that looks onwards to a future. It is a human instinct to believe and hope that there is a better world coming – I believe that it has been planted there by God, because it makes us willing to get up every day, persist through the hard things, toil in the face of adversity, believe in the face of doubt, hostility and even persecution.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Thursday, May 20, 2010
This little valley, glimpsed twice a day for barely a minute is, for me at least, a reminder of God's incredible creativity and artistry, and of his tangible presence in a Creation that holds together through his very Word.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Thursday, May 06, 2010
- Encourage the importance of marriage as the best environment to bring up children
- A change to the voting system so that it is more representative of the votes cast
- For politicians to act with honesty and integrity
Other suggestions that make up the top ten ideas include:
- Foster social entrepreneurship in inner city areas that have suffered from long term deprivation
- Fully worked out plans for supplying water and sanitation to those currently without in developing countries
- An immigration policy that ensures we provide proper sanctuary for those fleeing persecution in their own country
- Cap the interest rate that can be charged on loans and credit cards
- Reform the House of Lords
- Work to set up an international tax on financial transactions
- Take hard choices to tackle the national debt
This is just a sample of the many ideas that were submitted to the Facebook group and via Twitter, and show that Christians are passionately committed to all areas of society. Which ever party or parties form the next Government we call on them to listen to these suggestions and engage with the Church. Across the country churches are an integral part of local communities and work for the good of all society. We ask that you work with the church as a key partner as you begin to govern.
The thinking is refreshingly global, focussed on justice, fairness and community - values at the heart of a Christ Centred, Biblical world view. I doubt that the party leaders will have listened that much (judging from most of their manifestos), but whatever government we find tomorrow morning, we have here some of the issues that Christians at least would like it to address - issues that will have a wider benefit rather than simply fulfilling sectarian interests.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
It was meant to be in foreign policy (although less than half was - especially if you take a pointed question about the Papal visit as being less about foreign policy and more about relationships with faith communities, which the leaders seemed to do). So we got Europe (sort of), Afghanistan (a lot) and the Special Relationship with the US (again, sort of). But nothing on overseas aid.
Four or five years back, that would have been in the top three questions asked by the audience or the pundits. Not now - the world's poor have dropped off the agenda again. Depressing. Inevitable, but depressing, because this election will once again be fought about who is going to put more pounds in my pocket - and the swing voters in middle England will be the ones who's pockets that party will want to promise to line. Our own poor, and the poor of the developing world, once again, not getting a seat at the table.
Update May 2010:
Well, it seems the lack of Development related policy or questions was no surprise to some, and that that other have been dissecting the limited differences between all the parties (who all adhere notionally to the target of % of GDP going in aid by 2013). All well and good. And the One Campaign has got all the party leaders to go on record with their fairly trite statements on aid policy. All seem to be saying the same things, and none of them are bad. But I fear that the world's poor have genuinely slipped off our radar as a nation.
In Sarah Bosley's Global Health Blog in the Guardian this morning there was a pointed piece about Avastin, a bowel cancer drug that can (in very small doses) cure wet age related macular degeneration. But the drug companies are peddling the low doses of Avastin at a hugely inflated price and under another brand name. And this goes on all the time with diseases in the developing world, where treatments are denied the poorest of the poor because of profiteering. But this gets hardly any media or political attention.
This morning I led a morning devotion on Ezekiel 16 (one of the stronger passages in a pretty hard hitting prophetic book). Verses 49-50 say something quite scary - the sin of dear old Sodom, destroyed by sulphurous fire in Genesis, was not as is widely assumed, homosexuality, but rather that they sat back comfortably engrossed in their own pleasures and problems while the poor and vulnerable around them starved.
I fear for our nation - that we have let our own concerns (however relevant and valid they may be) deflect us from the real needs of the poor and our obligations to them as the rich world. And what judgement awaits us for this? Hmmm, read the rest of chapter 16 in Ezekiel and beyond...