Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie

An electronic copy of Ancillary Justice was provided by the publisher. Additionally, me and the author are Twitter-friends.

Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie

Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie

Ancillary Justice is one hell of a debut novel. It’s unexpected, incredibly readable, and all around awesome.

I should probably break that down a bit.  First of all, what’s the book about? It’s about a person named Breq who used to be a spaceship, Justice of Toren. She’s not a spaceship anymore, though–she’s just an ancillary.

And what’s an ancillary? An ancillary is a human body inhabited by the artificial intelligence–in the slang of one of the worlds, a “corpse soldier”. It’s not clear to me if the original inhabitant of the body is flushed when preserved for ancillary usage or later, when being connected to the AI–the text is a bit ambiguous on this and I have the awful suspicion that the original inhabitant is left in suspension for however long it takes–possibly thousands of years–to be hooked up to the AI. I’m basing this mainly on the way Breq–or rather–Justice of Toren One Esk reacts when a new ancillary is activated.

The whole ancillary system is awful. Horrifying. The best words for it and the system of annexations that the Radch embark on is “war crimes”. And yet we still have sympathy for it because Breq, the last remaining piece of Justice of Toren, is so human. Even though she insists, through the entire book, that she is not a person but a piece of equipment (is she capital? does she depreciate? what’s her net book value?).

Anyhow, Breq has a mission. She wants to kill Anaander Mianaai, Lord of the Radch, and in order to do so, she needs a weapon. A very specific weapon, the only one of its kind, an artifact of the only failed annexation of a thousand years past.

This story is told in alternating chapters–Breq’s current quest to acquire the Garseddai gun as well as the events on Shis’urna that lead to the destruction of the Justice of Toren. I’m normally not a fan of this type of narrative structure because usually one half of the narrative is more interesting than the other, but this is not the case here–both parts of the narrative are equally compelling and the structure leads to a lot of momentum and tension. I especially loved the way Leckie handled the point of view–if you have twenty sets of eyes, then of course you would have twenty overlapping first person perspectives. It takes a bit to get used to, but once you get the rhythm it makes perfect sense.

There are civilizations that are thousands of years old, there are mysterious aliens, and there’s singing–Breq is a ship who sings and oh, how much do I love that?  This is a book about colonization, war crimes, cultures divided and at secret war with themselves, and what it means to be a person–and at its heart is this amazing character, Breq.

And I haven’t even gotten into the worldbuilding. We see three different cultures directly and hints of at least two others and they have a surprisingly solid feel to them. They feel coherent and irrational in ways that cultures often are (what is the deal with the Radch and the gloves? the text never tells us, it is just a Thing that is done).

Because this is told from the perspective of someone who came from the Radch we also are immersed in the Radch’s rejection of gendered language–everyone is she or her which is just such an interesting decision on Leckie’s part and one that proves, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he and him is not a gender-neutral choice, at least for me it did. Even when it’s clear that some characters have male bodies (like Seivarden), the use of she and her makes them seem more feminine and we don’t actually know for sure what sort of body Breq has, we just know that this segment of Justice of Toren One Esk has a raspy voice which is a bit heartbreaking to learn considering how much she likes to sing. The singing also plays a crucial role in the plot, it’s not just an eccentricity.

This is a wonderful book. It’s the kind of space opera I love to read and it hits one thing I really enjoy in my science fiction: sentient technology.  Let me put it this way: even though I received a free electronic copy of this book, I’ve also purchased a paper copy for my library because I’m going to want to read this over and over again (and possibly make notes and draw hearts in the margins). I know that this review is massively disjointed; for more coherent ones I point you to Liz Bourke’s at Tor.com and Annalee Newitz’s at io9.

I’m also in the midst of making a playlist of music by or about sentient tech. Some of these songs were suggested by folks on Twitter, three of them are songs actually referenced in the book, and others are ones I’ve been fond of for years now. Enjoy!

Falling Free, Lois McMaster Bujold

Falling Free, Lois McMaster Bujold

Falling Free, Lois McMaster Bujold

It has been at least a decade since I’d read Lois McMaster Bujold’s Falling Free and I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to get around to it for lo, it is awesome.

I had always thought of it as a relatively minor Bujold novel and on this reading I discovered that I was very, very wrong. I’m not saying it is the very best Bujold novel, but it’s definitely moved into my top five (the others: Paladin of Souls, Memory, Komarr/A Civil Campaign, Barrayar okay I am totally cheating here by combining two–I can’t pick just five!).

The reason I decided to pick this up was a need to use my Audible credits–I was going on a long train trip and wanted a few choices in audiobooks. Between the two credits I had and a mystery coupon that was in my account, I managed to get three audiobooks for about $3 (plus my monthly membership fee, of course). I’d heard good things about Grover Gardner’s narration, I was in the mood for something short, so I picked it up. And after listening to the first two hours last Friday I decided that I needed to read it faster than I could listen to it and happily discovered that Falling Free was included in the omnibus Miles, Mutants, and Microbes that I’d picked up a few years ago shortly after I got my first e-reader.

The plot of the book is extremely straight forward: Leo Graf, welding engineer, is sent out to the back end of nowhere to teach a class on non-destructive testing techniques. When he arrives, he discovers that he’s been specially requested by one of his former students, someone he booted up to administration for very good reasons (involving people being promoted up to their level of incompetence). He also discovers that his students are a group of genetically modified humans–modified so heavily that they are an entirely different species of human.

Instead of legs, they have arms–two pairs. Known as quaddies, they also have other modifications that allow them to thrive in zero-gee conditions. They’re also, legally, not people. They’re the property of a large engineering firm, GalacTech.

And that’s where the problems start. Because Leo does see them as people and it is through his eyes that the reader does, too. As Leo gets to know the quaddies, so do we. And they are just a bunch of kids–the oldest among them are just 20 years old and the GalacTech personnel in charge of their upbringing have done their best to mold them into the shape they want and need them to be. This involves heavily revisionist history, total lack of privacy, and a general ban on fiction and other media.

Then it all goes haywire–two quaddies, Tony and Claire, were told to make a baby. And they did, and in the process, they became pair-bonded. And when Claire’s “production schedule” is accelerated and Tony isn’t involved…well. Things get interesting fast. So interesting that reproductive choice is the trigger event for everything else that follows–this is something that’s a theme in Bujold’s other work, too.

This really is an amazing and wonderful book. It’s fast-paced and the quaddies are so very interesting–and you can see the seeds that Bujold planted in this book for what quaddie culture becomes when we encounter it again 200 years later during Miles Vorkosigan’s lifetime. The beginnings their dance and musical forms are here, as are their naming conventions and everything about their entire society. Bujold even slips in a bit about accommodations; at one point when Silver is in an environment with gravity, she reflects that it wouldn’t be so bad if only the seat were shaped properly.

I also really love this book because of Leo Graf. He’s an engineer through and through and approaches everything as if it’s an engineering problem, even as he’s figuring out how to help the quaddies grab their freedom with all four hands and not let go.

My favorite bit is one near the end involving a work permit. Or the earlier bit with the inspection record. Or maybe the point at which Leo throws in with the quaddies fully:

The solution had been lying around him in pieces all this time, invisible until he’d changed. He grinned dementedly, possessed. He yielded himself up to it without reservation. All. All. There was no limit to what one man might do, if he gave all, and held back nothing.

Didn’t hold back, didn’t look back–for there would be no going back. Literally, medically, that was the heart of it. Men adapted to free fall, it was the going back that crippled them.

I am a quaddie,” Leo whispered in wonder. He regarded his hands, clenched and spread his fingers. “Just a quaddie with legs.” He wasn’t going back.

Leo and Cazaril (from The Curse of Chalion) are, I think, cousins of a sort.

I think if I talk too much more about this book I’ll end up giving it all away or typing in all my favorite bits (which is like 30% of the book, at least) and no one wants that so I’ll just say that Bujold is doing so many interesting things in this book–she’s talking about privilege and what it means to be a person and integrity and so many of the other themes that echo throughout her entire body of work. Ethics is another huge theme here–how much genetic manipulation is too much? Is it possible to go too far?

There is one thing that confuses me, though. Why on earth has this book been repeatedly nominated for a Prometheus Hall of Fame Award? There’s nothing remotely libertarian about it–in fact, I would say that the principles it espouses are about as far away from libertarianism as possible. The quaddies share everything–they have very little private property and their entire society is set up as an interdependent system because that is the only way they’re going to survive. Quaddies, literally, cannot make it on their own–their natural environment precludes that as a possibility.

If you haven’t read this book, you really need to. It’s wonderful in every way a book by Bujold can be wonderful.

Women to Read: Romance & Speculative Fiction

One of the best things I discovered last month amongst all the various conversations is #womentoread on Twitter –I added lots of new writers to my completely unruly list of books to read (someday). Then I got to thinking: some people might be interested in reading outside their usual genres. So I thought I’d put together a couple of lists of romance that I think speculative fiction readers will enjoy along with explanations as to why and vice versa. The only limit I put on my recommendations was that the author needed to be someone who identified as a woman since what got me thinking about this was #womentoread.

Romance for Speculative Fiction Readers

Lord of Scoundrels, Loretta ChaseA Lady Awakened, Cecilia GrantThe Duchess War, Courtney Milan

I’m sticking with historical authors for this batch of recommendations because I think historical romance has a certain affinity for speculative fiction. Historical romances are, in my opinion, very much like fantasy novels and much like fantasy novels, the setting can and does inform the plot and characterization.

As in speculative fiction, historical romance relies upon an interlocking sequence of research and extrapolation that the story must rest upon–a strong foundation can hold up just about any kind of story. There are so many fantastic books in the subgenre that I had a difficult time picking just three writers to recommend!.

Loretta Chase: Chase is probably my absolute favorite romance author and I’m always recommending her–her books are smart, well-constructed, and thoroughly researched. I’d recommend either Lord of Scoundrels or Mr. Impossible–or both, if you want an idea of Chase’s range as a writer.

Lord of Scoundrels is one of her earlier novels–it was published in 1995–and yet it still feels fresh and revolutionary in so many ways. I can’t even imagine reading it when it was first published.  It must have been mind-blowing.

Jessica Trent is an intelligent and thoroughly self-possessed young woman and Sebastian Ballister, Marquess of Dain is a dissolute blackguard who has never been loved or loved anyone in his life. They have boatloads of chemistry together and it’s just fun to read their interactions. One of the key things about this book is that Dain is, on the surface, a stereotypical “alpha-hole” hero–but because the reader is given his backstory right at the beginning on the book, his alpha-hole-ness is subverted and the reader’s sympathy is gained. It’s a clever bit of storytelling and while it is a bit leaden, it’s also essential because otherwise Dain is essentially irredeemable. I’ve often been tempted to buy a copy of this book, remove the prologue, and hand it to someone who has never read it and see what they think. So much of the book’s success rests on the beginning.

Mr. Impossible is nearly the opposite: it’s funny and features a male protagonist who is basically a lovable and happy-go-lucky guy. Rupert Carsington is not book-smart, but he is emotionally intelligent and he basically falls in love with Daphne from the first moment he meets her. He is absolutely besotted with her intellect and he lets her take the lead on that front as they attempt to locate her kidnapped brother–the entire book is basically an extended rumination on how smart Daphne is and how very, very excellent that quality in her is. The villain of this book is, more or less, a standard issue British imperialist, but rest assured he does get his comeuppance in the end. There is also a completely ridiculous and over the top sex scene in a pyramid during a sand storm. It’s awesome. It’s also my very favorite romance novel of all time.

Cecilia Grant: A Lady Awakened was one of the best romances I read last year. There are many reasons for this but my favorite one is the truly epic bad sex and how it was absolutely right for the story and how, as the two protagonists came to care for each other their physical relationship transformed as well.

Martha is newly widowed and unless she is able to produce a boy child within the next 8 to 9 months, she will lose her home and become a poor relation. Theo is her new neighbor–the son of a minor nobleman, he’s been sent to the country to learn responsibility. Martha sees him as a possible solution to her problem and proposes that she pay him to try to get her pregnant in the next month–she knows this is unethical and it’s not what she wants to do but it is, literally, the only choice available to her. Watching Martha make this choice and still try to remain true to herself and her ideals is really something.

And Grant’s writing is simply gorgeous:

Her hands fell at random places on his back and stayed there, passively riding his rhythm like a pair of dead fish tossed by the sea. Or rather, one dead fish. The other still curled tight, like a brittle seashell with its soft sensate creature shrunk all the way inside.

That’s a sex scene. With dead fish. It’s wonderful. It’s such a perfect encapsulation of Martha at that point in the book–she is trying to be active but not being particularly successful at it–she hasn’t been taught how to be active in her own life: she’s all repressed and brittle and curled in upon herself. And the way she slowly, so slowly opens up is so very powerful. The ending is a bit rushed and didn’t quite work for me–there were too many coincidences–but for a debut novel, this was one hell of a book.

I also just love Grant’s take on romance as a whole, too.

Courtney Milan: I’m going to recommend the first two volumes in her current series, the Brothers Sinister. The first volume, “The Governess Affair” is a prequel novella that sets up the rest of the series–it’s not essential reading but it is useful background knowledge. The Duchess War is the first full-length book in the series and it’s fantastic. Milan is well aware of all the tropes in romance and she is explicitly playing with and exploding them while telling a compelling and moving story about people who feel so, so real.

Min is acutely conscious of her place in society–which is quite marginal, for reasons which are thoroughly explored within the text and which I don’t want to spoil here–and Clermont has bucketloads of unearned privilege that he’s very uncomfortable with. Milan is one of the few writers of historical fiction who is actively working within the restrictions on both women and those not of the upper classes–so often, characters in historical romances are able to move between social classes through the power of love (and buckets of money)–Milan’s body of work makes it evident that this oh-so-common genre convention is a fantasy and that while love is a powerful force, it cannot conquer all.

As for the trope-exploding, there are two very common things that occur in romance that drive a lot of readers up the wall. That would be the evil mother and the baby epilogue–Milan explodes both of them in The Duchess War, right down to the hushed dark room with a terrific amount of tension. And then when it becomes apparent what’s actually going on, it’s just a great ending to the book. And as for the evil mother–she has real motivations and isn’t just a cardboard character there for the purpose of causing trauma to her son.

There’s also a second novella in this series, “A Kiss for Midwinter” and it’s also wonderful–it’s about a couple of secondary characters and the theme of that one is knowledge and anger and horrifying Victorian medical practices. Good stuff. Can’t wait for the next one!

Speculative Fiction for Romance Readers

Shades of Milk and Honey, Mary Robinette KowalThe Sharking Knife: Beguilement, Lois McMaster BujoldIn the Garden of Iden, Kage Baker

My recommendations here have a certain something in common with my romance recommendations–these all have a strong thread of romance and they also have fully realized settings that the characters move within.

All three of these writers are firmly grounded in speculative fiction and it is mostly from these tropes these series spring–the romantic elements are essential but the stories wouldn’t be what they are without the speculative elements.

Mary Robinette Kowal: Her fantasy novels are Regency novels but with magic–they’re set during the Napoleonic Wars, a setting that should be very familiar to romance readers In the first book, Shades of Milk and Honey, Jane Ellsworth has a rare talent with glamour–the manipulation of which is considered essential for any well-bred young lady. Along with her sister, Melody, Jane’s life revolves around eligible young men and hopes of marriage. Naturally, Jane’s skill with glamour plays an important role in this book–one thing I found very interesting was the way Kowal subverts the use of magic in her book. Typically, in fantasy novels, magic is a prestigious or desirable activity and yet, in this book it’s an activity fit only for women and men on the fringes of society.

These books are an explicit exploration of women’s roles in society both in and out of marriage and how, even when entering into a marriage that both partners have agreed will be egalitarian, there is still a lot of internalized expectations that need to be overcome.

Lois McMaster Bujold: Bujold is a favorite around these parts, but I’m going to be recommending a series we haven’t covered here and that’s the Sharing Knife quartet. These were written explicitly as an exploration of romance and, as such, the romantic element is explicitly foregrounded while the fantastical elements are much more subtle. There’s a lot going on in these books and I enjoyed them for what they were but many of Bujold’s core audience did not (warning: link contains a lot of “ew, girl cooties”) and wrote the series off after the first volume, Beguilement.

The heart of this book is the relationship between Fawn and Dag and how it develops while they are dealing with magical creatures called “malices”. These books take place in a society that’s trying to rebuild after some sort of magical apocalypse–the malices are a remnant of the catastrophe and the Lakewalkers, Dag’s people, are charged with dispatching them. Fawn comes from people who are more settled and there is a tremendous amount of tension and misinformation between the two groups–most of the tension and conflict in these books comes from the clash of these two (very essential) cultures, not from the fantastic elements.. These books are definitely an experiment on Bujold’s part and while I’m not sure they’re a completely successful experiment even a bad book from Bujold is head and shoulders above a good book from other authors.

Kage Baker: Baker’s Company series is about immortal time travelling cyborgs. Specifically, one named Mendoza who is bitter, prickly, and hates humanity (and for very good reason, i.e., the Spanish Inquisition). And yet they’re also gloriously romantic although it takes many books before Mendoza gets a happy ending. I will note here that the last few books do not work for everyone and even though they worked for me I can absolutely see how the ending is deeply unsatisfying and problematic for other readers. I’ll also note that Baker passed away in 2010 after a short and brutal battle with uterine cancer. She is, still, missed.

In the Garden of Iden is the first book and it’s wonderful–it’s a science fiction historical romance which ends badly (possible understatement of the year) but it’s such a compelling story and the way Baker writes a thoroughly unpleasant character like Mendoza in such a sympathetic way is incredible. Mendoza is made into a cyborg at the beginning of this book and she trains as a botanist–her hope is to be sent someplace far away from people for her first assignment but instead she’s sent to Elizabethan England where she meets Nicholas Harpole and falls in love. Note: things end badly here. There isn’t even a happy-for-now ending.

There is wonk and angst galore in these books and I can’t recommend them highly enough. There’s also a deep and evident authorial love for all the characters and the setting–these are books about California and secret histories and pop culture and nightmare dystopian futures. With immortal time traveling cyborgs.

So to summarize: there are awesome books in lots of different genres. It can’t hurt to try something new–at worst, it’s a DNF and at best you have a new favorite. I’m hoping to make this a regular feature here, so any and all suggestions will be considered for the future.

The Doomsday Book, Connie Willis

The Doomsday Book, Connie Willis

The Doomsday Book, Connie Willis

I came somewhat late to Connie Willis.  I don’t remember exactly who first recommended her to me, but it wasn’t that long ago—maybe 15 years—and I’ve been trying to catch up on her back list ever since.  I’ve always given The Doomsday Book a miss in the past because one, it’s reeeeallllly  long and two, The Black Death didn’t sound like a cheerful subject to me and I don’t think my brain was in the right place to read it.

I’m not sure why I decided to read it now.  But holy cow, what an amazing book.  It is long, but it doesn’t feel long.  And I can confirm that if you read it while the movie Chicago is playing in the background, you might have some very odd dreams about flappers during the 1300’s.

The Doomsday Book concerns two pandemics: The Black Death that swept through Europe and finally into England in 1348 and a flu pandemic hitting Oxford in “real time” (which is really in the future).  They meet in the person of Kivrin, an Oxford Historian set to travel to The Middle Ages and 1320.  Unbeknownst to her, Kivrin has been exposed to an influenza virus right before travelling, and she arrives disoriented, with a high fever, and other flu symptoms.  She is found by a “contemp” (a person contemporary to that time period) and taken to the local manor house, where the lady of the manor, Eliwys, her miserable mother-in-law Imeyne, and the local priest, Roche, tend to her.  Kivrin eventually recovers, but in her delirium during her fever she has completely blown her cover story, so she feigns amnesia in order to have a chance to get back to her drop.  If she can remember where it’s at.  What she doesn’t realize is that there’s been a terrible error on the other side and that she has not been sent to 1320, but to 1348 and that the plague is about to sweep through England.

Meanwhile, the tech in charge of Kivrin’s drop has come down with this new strain of influenza and the entire city of Oxford has been placed under quarantine.  Just before succumbing to the flu, Badri tells Mr. Dunworthy, Kivrin’s mentor, that something “is wrong” with the drop.  As the local authorities and medical staff work frantically to prevent Bahdri’s flu from spreading, Dunworthy obsesses about Kivrin’s drop– and Kivrin– when it becomes clear she has been exposed to the influenza virus that is now killing people in Oxford.  Previously worried about her being set upon by thieves or cutthroats, Dunworthy is now concerned that she is ill during a period of history where medical intervention consisted of ineffective herbs and the application of leeches, a time when people routinely died from infected scratches.

It takes a good deal of skill to stitch together two separate narrative strands occurring so far apart in time without showing the seams, and Willis does a great job of fitting the two narratives together seamlessly.  This is helped by a fundamental feature of time-travel: while Kivrin has no idea what’s going on in the Oxford she left behind, the people there certainly know exactly what’s going on in 1348.  Still, it’s crucial that the Kivrin character be someone capable of holding a nearly 600 page novel together across 700 years.  She has to be heroic, yes, but she also has to be someone others care about and whom the reader cares about.  She’s all that and more.

What I found most fascinating about this book is that Willis makes it clear that despite all the technological advantages and all the medical advances of the future, people themselves have not fundamentally changed much.  They don’t follow instructions , they’re selfish, and they’re always looking to assign blame for problems to anyone but themselves, but they’re also selfless, kind, and heroic.  There are parallel characters working throughout the two narratives that help tie them together—for example, the awful Imeyne who does nothing but assign blame, criticize, pray, and consider her own needs finds a counterpart in a contemporary woman who selfishly harangues the college staff about trivial matters when she’s not depressing flu patients by reading them gloomy passages from the Bible or smothering her more than capable son with what she sees as motherly love.  Dr. Mary Ahren  devotes all of her time to her patients with no regard for her own health, just as Roche, the priest, tends to his flock.  Mr. Gilchrist, the acting head of Brasenose College, takes steps to protect his own butt with no regard for anyone else’s needs, just as the majority of priests during the black death fled from it to protect themselves (the comparisons between the Bishop’s delegates and Father Roche make a powerful statement about what constitutes a true Christian without Willis ever having to connect those dots).  Nope.  People don’t change.

But that’s not a bad thing because ultimately what you learn here is that despite the odd bad apple, people are fundamentally decent.  Everyone rallies to help Dunworthy when it becomes clear that Kirvin is in trouble—rules are bent or circumvented, helpful tech people are scrounged out of nowhere—just as the people of the manor rally to help Kirvin in her illness, despite being suspicious of her.  And Kirvin, whom I’m sure no one would blame for fleeing once it becomes clear to her that she’s in the wrong time period, stays and does what she can to help these people she’s become attached to.  Watching the plague devastate the village and the characters you’ve come to admire is like being repeatedly punched in the gut—we already know the outcome, know Kirvin’s meager medical knowledge is going to provide palliative relief at best.  The end of this book is both heartbreaking and uplifting, somehow.  I challenge you to not find your eyes welling up toward the end.

Willis spent five years researching this book, and the sections set during the Middle Ages come alive.  Everyday life 700 years ago wasn’t all that different: mothers-in-law still criticized, children still whined and got excited about Christmas, edible food and potable water still had to be found. People were born, people died.  Only the trappings are different now—we drive instead of riding horseback, our water comes from a tap or out of a plastic bottle and not hauled by bucket out of a well, we rely on doctors instead of folklore when we’re ill.  We face medical and spiritual crises differently, but we still face them regularly.

The more contemporary sections of The Doomsday Book are a little more problematic, but only because the book, written 20 years ago, seems kind of dated, which is a weird, weird thing to say about a book set in the future.  But in our current age of instant communication, it seems odd that these people are struggling with landlines, even if they are landlines with video features, and not using cellphones, twitter, facebook, or email to communicate with both each other and the general population.  At one point, a character is putting up placards about the flu and I kept thinking “why don’t they just use the internet?”  In a world where computers are used to facilitate time travel and technology is able to allow translator implants in the brain, it seems a bit wrong that there are no cell phones or internet.  But it’s hardly Willis’ fault that our current communications tech has outstripped her book.  And that doesn’t make the book any less readable or less enjoyable.

I’m sorry I waited so long to read this.   The Doomsday Book won virtually every major SFF award in 1993, and with good reason.  If you’re like me and hesitant to read something that looks like it’s going to be depressing, take a leap of faith.  This is a great book.

The Human Division #13: Earth Below, Sky Above, John Scalzi

The Human Division #13: Earth Below, Sky Above, John Scalzi

The Human Division #13: Earth Below, Sky Above, John Scalzi

And we’ve come to the end of line with John Scalzi’s The Human Division. “Earth Below, Sky Above” is the final episode and I’m going to say that Scalzi mostly stuck the landing. If I this were a gymnastics competition, imagine that I am the East German judge and I’m holding up scorecards that read “6.9”. A diving competition would probably be a better metaphor considering what happens here but I can’t be bothered to look up how they score diving. And yes, I know, the gymnastics scoring system has changed and it’s no longer a 10 point scale but it’s not like East Germany’s around anymore either.

Anyhow.

This is mostly successful. Tons of great stuff happens in the episode, characters are put in peril, there are heroics and giant space explosions and technology so advanced that it’s more or less magic.  Lots of really wonderful narrative tension. Basically everything that is great about space opera.

However, there is no resolution of what’s been driving this whole thing–to wit, the mysterious conspirators who have been stealing spaceships and wreaking havoc on the CDF’s clumsy attempts to patch things up with Earth are still mysterious at the end of it all.

Which makes me a bit cranky because I am not a fan of unresolved plots in novels, especially one as big as this one; in fact, one could argue that this is the central plot of the text and to leave it hanging is sub-optimal. In my not very humble opinion.

So it comes as no surprise, then, to see an announcement of a “second season” in which, it is to be devoutly hoped, that there’s a bit more resolution.

That said, how did the serial format work? From a story-telling perspective, I don’t think The Human Division holds up as a coherent work–however, Donna has plans to read it in its entirety sometime soon, so she’ll be able to weigh in on that front. I think as a marketing ploy, though, it was brilliant. I don’t know if Tor would have been able to pull this off without an author without the social and commercial capital that John Scalzi has. I suspect not–and I suspect that they wouldn’t have been willing to risk it, either.

And I’ve discovered that I rather enjoy reading shorter pieces of fiction and serial novels, so I’ll be seeking out more of those for myself. I’ve said for years that I don’t have short story brain, but it seems that may be changing.

First up will be David J. Schwartz’s Gooseberry Bluff Community College of Magic, which has four parts out and of which I’ve read two so far. And there’s oodles of short fiction online, too: Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies. And that’s just for starters.

And so, I close out this series with one last image of Ivanova. I present Ivanova with a fantastically dubious look on her face. And a sex toy (do not click this link if you are at work or otherwise subject to internet filtering). I am, for the record, endlessly amazed that they were able to get this item on television uncensored. YOU ARE ALL WELCOME. I am to educate, after all.

This is used...where?

This is used…where?