Ancillary Mercy
February 25, 2018 3:08 PM - by Ann Leckie - Subscribe

Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie is the stunning conclusion to the New York Times bestselling trilogy and winner of the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel. For a moment, things seemed to be under control for Breq, the soldier who used to be a warship. Then a search of Athoek Station's slums turns up someone who shouldn't exist, and a messenger from the mysterious Presger arrives, as does Breq's enemy, the divided and quite possibly insane Anaander Mianaai - ruler of an empire at war with itself....

An Intergalactic Adventure Winds To A Close In 'Ancillary Mercy'
But amid it all, Leckie keeps a welcome focus on Breq; the ex-ancillary who uses her unexpected power to happily foment rebellion, whose love of a long-ago lieutenant sparked an unwilling quest, and who, after two books of being unerringly on the right side of history, begins to run up against her own failings. Leckie's understated prose never lets things get so far as navel-gazing — one imagines the Radch frowns on navels, as a rule — but in a series where the social parallels can sometimes be drawn a little thick (perhaps a thematic concession to a previous generation of political science fiction), it's satisfying to see the characters embroiled in the occasional unsolvable mess. It's an empire; nobody dismantles that clean, and some of the book's best beats are those in which a moment is put abruptly into scale — the width of a universe, the myopia of love.
Oh, The Humanity
So what happens when a people who believe themselves to be an “agent of order and civilization” no longer have anyone to civilize? What happens when resources become scarce? And how can the Radchaai reconcile their values of “Justice, Propriety, and Benefit” with their legacy of slavery and exploitation? When confronted by Breq, Anaander Mianaai admits the outcome: The Radchaai will inevitably fragment. “To stop,” she says, “will mean completely changing what we are.”
A Shining Light for Space Opera: Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie
But this is only tangentially the heart of Ancillary Mercy. The real core of this novel, what gives it its strength, lies in the relationships between the characters, and the willingness Leckie has to show us the… the virtues of her characters’ flaws, is the only way I can put it. Breq screws up, but the ways in which she screws up are uniquely hers. Her occasional obliviousness doesn’t take away from her near-painful resolution to do as much of the right thing as she can. (Although resolution isn’t quite the right word. It’s not something Breq consciously dwells on as much as it’s what she is: it seems Justice of Toren may have been well-named.) Seivarden screws up, but her ego and her problems with her addiction don’t take away from her loyalty and her determination. Tisarwat—depressed, anxious, medicated, manipulative—still volunteers for a very dangerous mission with every apparent expectation of carrying it off. (As someone who relies on medication to regulate my brain chemistry myself, this straightforward portrayal of mental issues as just one more thing that people deal with is incredibly gratifying.)
Book Review: Ancillary Mercy
At the end of the day, this might be a space opera in the depths of an Empire that has annexed and enslaved entire planets and also AIs in the name of civilisation but… against the backdrop of all of that, what this book is really saying is that the personal matters. Each person matters. Who you are matters. That personhood matters and that self-determination matters. And then… you put one foot in front of the other: and it’s a start. In the context of the universe, of love and death and the millions of years ahead: it is a start.
posted by the man of twists and turns (19 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Also, a bit of fanfiction: Reanimation of the Corpse Soldier, in which Bucky Barnes (The Winter Soldier) reads the Ancillary Justice series.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:12 PM on February 25, 2018 [4 favorites]

A great trilogy with some Banksian flavouring. A lot was made about the pronoun issue (default female pronouns), but it doesn't distract from the Space Opera after your subconscious figures that out.
posted by Marticus at 3:45 PM on February 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

I kept almost understanding the translator, and then ... straight into left field. But it never felt completely random.
posted by rmd1023 at 4:25 PM on February 25, 2018

What a blockbuster finale. The scene where Breq finally puts two and two together and realises how she's been using the crew of the Mercy of Kalr was heartbreaking, as was Tisarwat's struggle to maintain her identity in the face of... herself, kind of? Former self? Is there even a word for "the entity I was forcibly joined with at the expense of my individual identity but then got severed from"?
posted by tobascodagama at 4:26 PM on February 25, 2018 [4 favorites]

I really the trilogy and ate up all three books as soon as they were available in the library. I would say that Mercy was my least favorite* but only because of the three books, this was the one that felt more like a screenplay to me. I could see all the movie tropes and could see how it would look as a movie as I was reading.

*least favorite but still great. It’s least favorite like what’s my least favorite chocolate, I’m still going to really love and enjoy it.
posted by LizBoBiz at 6:50 AM on February 26, 2018

Ann Leckie:
Quite frequently someone at a reading will ask me if I’ll ever explain about that icon Breq is carrying. And the answer is, I already have.

Residents of Noage Itray could look up and see the ballcourt hanging ten miles overhead, four meters wide and fifty long from goal line to goal line. Stands stretched along each side, row upon row of seats slanting up and back. For the station's entire thirty-five-mile cylindrical length, buildings and gardens clung to its curving interior walls, bright with reflected sunlight. Noage Itray was the largest and wealthiest of the four stations in its Precinct—the second oldest of the four Precincts.

Under the ballcourt stands, proof of that antiquity, stood ranks of life-sized statues serving, crouching, springing to meet the ball. Elaborately painted wristguards, jewels on necks and arms, shimmered faintly in half shadow, each statue the result of the septennial elections decided on Noage Itray's Blue Lily ballcourt.

They were called the Hundred, though Her-Breath-Contains-The-Universe had counted three hundred and seventy-two of them. On game days flowers decked each statue. The air would be heavy with their scent and the muttered prayers of worshipers as they streamed past, into the stands. Today the space echoed coldly, the stale remains of incense barely perceptible, the Hundred staring into empty, silent space.
Sister Ultimately-Justice-Shall-Prevail

" is honored to reprint “Night’s Slow Poison,” a short story by Ann Leckie originally published in 2012 by Electric Velocipede." Night’s Slow Poison
The Jewel of Athat was mainly a cargo ship, and most spaces were narrow and cramped. Like the Outer Station, where it was docked, it was austere, its decks and bulkheads scuffed and dingy with age. Inarakhat Kels, armed, and properly masked, had already turned away one passenger, and now he stood in the passageway that led from the station to the ship, awaiting the next.

The man approached, striding as though the confined space did not constrain him. He wore a kilt and embroidered blouse. His skin was light brown, his hair dark and straight, cut short. And his eyes… Inarakhat Kels felt abashed. He had thought that in his years of dealing with outsiders he had lost his squeamishness at looking strangers in the face.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:42 AM on February 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

Oh I loved all these books, especially the way Breq pulls survival from the jaws of defeat in the last few pages with her impressive claim that AI's are a new sentient race and therefore entitled to protection under the Radch/Presger treaty.

And I still laugh out loud thinking of the scene where she is the only one who has the slightest experience with Presger "human" translators so that gives her the great "Picard on the Bridge" Darmok moment where the new translator introduces himself as Zeiat and Breq tells him he can't be Zeiat, he must be Dlique. (Or vice-versa, but that is kind of the whole point.)
posted by seasparrow at 8:14 PM on February 27, 2018 [4 favorites]

I really posted this because I wanted to talk about Zeiat, and the Presger, and Sphene.


The fuck? There's some seriously weird shit going on here. First indication is that the ship is just not big enough for Zeiat and accoutrements. Also, apparently susceptible to being convinced she's really Dlique. And then eating a bunch of things. And the fish sauce.

These translators are NOT HUMAN. And that's VERY WEIRD.

the Presger:

OK, after hanging with Dlique and Zeiat I can see why Anaander Mianaai is apparently insane of two minds about this whole issue. The Presger represent an unassailable external threat. A threat that can only be assuaged by utterly and irrevocably changing the nature of Mianaai's ambitions. Dlique is the flighty, weird nonsensical one, and Zeiat is terrifying. So alien that her mind moves in unpredictable ways, and just human enough to "get" exactly what makes her and the Presger so dangerous. She's almost gleeful with the "did you think we'd give you something that could hurt us" she snaps at Mianaai.


Oh Sphene. You answered SO MANY questions. You've gone a little nuts after seeing your captain executed and living alone for a few millenia - it's ok to be filled with murderous rage! I get it! And I appreciate not ripping Mianaai's heart out the first chance you get.
What was very revealing was Sphene's reaction to the people calling the Athoek System part of the Radch. It's not, no more than Hispania was Rome. Ruled by the Radch, sure. Containing many Radchaai citizens, sure. But the Radch is apparently a dyson sphere or other construct many, many light-years away. And this brings us to why - Anaander Mianaai, Lord of the Radch - why she had to split. The entire series of conflicts has been to secure dominion over the Radch, and then secure and maintain an ever-expanding bubble of territory, of imperial control, of colonization around it. Because as long as you have a border, you can be invaded. And the Presger have ended that - permanently. So if imperial conquest is the primary means of keeping the Radch safe, than ending that can only be a threat. But if ending the conquest is what's actually keeping us safe then Mianaai has to choose between utterly subverting her notions of what "safety" means, or attempting to attack an unassailable enemy.
I'm reminded of that famous line: "If we want everything to stay the same, everything has to change.“

So I guess the big question is who put the AI cores there? Who took advantage of the inability of empire to see certain things in order to hide a very, very valuable resource?

I purposefully left out some less-than-enthusiastic reviews, because they were mainly complaining that they wanted to see Fleet Captain Breq leading ships and soldiers in heroic galaxy-spanning space battles against the "evil" Mianaai and having Big Heroic Space Opera adventures, and in my estimate they fundamentally missed that Breq did not want to
be a tool of empire anymore, even an empire for "good." The Republic Of Two Systems - a planet, some people, a station, some ships - that's about as big a scope as Breq wants.

Another thing often missed is that Breq is not a reliable teller of her own experiences (being stuck in one body means you'll have hormonal reactions and sympathetic / parasympathetic nervous responses, no matter what kind of cybernetic enhancements that body has) and Leckie toys with some of this, mentioning Breq's stress reactions, heart rate and more. Blink, and you'll miss it.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:23 PM on February 27, 2018 [5 favorites]

the ship is just not big enough for Zeiat and accoutrements

I assumed it was due to some TARDIS-like alien tech, or it's got some kind of assembly gate tech like in Stross's "Glasshouse." In the same way they've got things that look human (but really REALLY aren't) to interface with us, they've got things that look like small transport ships (but really aren't) to visit us with.

And, yeah, "did you think we'd give you something that could hurt us" was just great.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:45 AM on February 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

Really, everything about the Presger gun was played off beautifully. "Yeah, sure, it pierces 1.5m into literally anything, but that's just a side effect. What it's designed to do is kill ships."
posted by tobascodagama at 6:56 AM on February 28, 2018 [3 favorites]

Everyone praises this novel and it sounds wonderful but I keep bouncing off of it rather quickly. For no reason I can identify. I don't know whats wrong with me but I wish it would stop because I very much want to enjoy this.
posted by Justinian at 4:35 PM on February 28, 2018

It would be difficult to read this one without reading the first two
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:39 PM on February 28, 2018

Yes, I meant I bounce off the series rather than this novel, sorry. I just really want to like the series.
posted by Justinian at 5:49 PM on February 28, 2018

Same Justinian :-( I have had a few goes at Justice and it's just never clicked. I guess not all things are meant for all people.
posted by turbid dahlia at 5:32 PM on March 1, 2018

It took me about 25% of the first book before it really clicked and I understood how the two narratives were related. I also admit it took me a depressingly long time before I stopped worrying about what gender everyone was based on the little clues and just accepted that it simply didn't matter, which of course is the point.

This book barely brushed on the question I had thoughout, which is "Why is Anaander Mianaai the only person who exists as multiple cloned bodies?" Cloning tech seems pretty common, ancillary-making tech is slightly less common but not impossible to get your hands on. It seems unlikely that nobody else would try to replicate Anaander's trick over the thousands of years. I have to assume she keeps her techniques well secret and makes anyone who tries to make their own variation disappear.

It's funny that cloning their own ancillaries doesn't come up until the very end, but it makes sense. Unlike what Star Wars posits, it's way simpler to draft syormtroopers from your conquered worlds than to clone entire armies.

The Presger translators were fantastic. It's not just language, they serve as a conduit between two hopelessly alien species. I have to imagine the Presger find them as unsettling and weird as we do, but for an entirely different set of reasons. The Rrrrrr and the Geck seem less unknowably alien than the Presger, I'd like to see what their translators are like (I am led to believe this happens in other Ann Leckie works). It's impressive how well she writes the human cultures as foreign but not necessarily alien, compared to the glimpses of alien cultures we see.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 10:07 PM on April 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

It took me about as long to really get hooked on the first book but then it had me.
posted by rmd1023 at 3:46 AM on April 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

I made a post for Leckie's latest book, Provenance
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:51 PM on December 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

1. the fact that leckie pantsed the ending to this is insane to me, I can't even imagine writing all the way through the third book of your trilogy not knowing how it will end and then pulling something so seemingly perfectly foreshadowed out of thin air. jaw-dropping.
2. this book is easily the most hilarious of the trilogy and its sooo frustrating not being able to read the jokes out loud because theyre so intimately context dependent on what was built in previous books. although the thousand eggs all nice and warm, i can testify, was funny contextless.
posted by Cozybee at 9:40 AM on October 15, 2019 [4 favorites]

Just finished this.

The possible third Anaander and the origin of the AI cores is definitely the biggest unresolved mystery. At one point I wondered if the AI cores might have been put there by Sphene. Sphene could have used what resources were brought into the ghost system to build it's own AI cores (or reprogram AI cores brought in from elsewhere, whatever). And Sphene has secretly been on the station for a while, so it seemed like they had the means by which to hide the Cores there.

So I imagined the a core being installed in Station and... it's a Notai AI which doesn't respect Anaander's authority or accesses. Chaos ensues.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 7:05 PM on December 9, 2022

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