Ann Leckie, “Ancillary Justice” (2013) – this is some pretty good, straightforward space opera. A renegade spaceship AI, once a servant of a galactic empire, enacts a long-term revenge plot against the empire’s ruler, which sort of happens but in a sufficiently ambiguous way to leave room for a sequel. This was Leckie’s first published novel, and suffers from some hiccups but by and large delivers the goods.
Leckie got caught up in “Puppygate” — a sort of lightweight gamergate sequel within the scifi community — because her book hit the big time when some scifi reactionaries were making a ruckus about contemporary scifi supposedly being too liberal, PC, and dull. This has led “Ancillary Justice” to have a reputation for being out there and cerebral which it doesn’t really deserve. As far as I can tell, the “puppies” hit upon Leckie because she was a woman, a successful new writer, and because her space empire denizens lacked gender and called most everyone “she.” Of course, if they bothered to read past the first 30 pages or so, they would see that this space empire is hardly a genderless utopia but in fact the force the characters were rebelling against. Leckie invents a rank system for the imperial space fleet that is a lot more confusing and gratuitous than the pronouns. The most interesting part was the depiction of the Radchaai empire- notionally meritocratic but also clan-based, polytheistic in a vaguely “eastern” kind of way (lots of meditating and tea), run by the many clones of a sort of quasi-divine emperor. An empire of “she’s,” practicing what sounds a lot like pumpkin-spice-yoga-spirituality and run by people placed via “the Aptitudes” test trained to relentlessly overtake and assimilate other cultures- at a time when people thought Hillary Clinton really was going to define politics for a while, you can see why this may have gotten some neckbeards triggered. ****