Translation State
June 20, 2023 8:49 AM - Subscribe

The mystery of a missing translator sets three lives on a collision course that will have a ripple effect across the stars in this powerful novel from Hugo, Nebula, and Arthur C. Clarke award-winning author Ann Leckie. Standalone set in the Imperial Radch universe.

Qven was created to be a Presger translator. The pride of their Clade, they always had a clear path before them: learn human ways, and eventually, make a match and serve as an intermediary between the dangerous alien Presger and the human worlds. The realization that they might want something else isn't "optimal behavior". It's the type of behavior that results in elimination.

But Qven rebels. And in doing so, their path collides with those of two others. Enae, a reluctant diplomat whose dead grandmaman has left hir an impossible task as an inheritance: hunting down a fugitive who has been missing for over 200 years. And Reet, an adopted mechanic who is increasingly desperate to learn about his genetic roots—or anything that might explain why he operates so differently from those around him.

As a Conclave of the various species approaches—and the long-standing treaty between the humans and the Presger is on the line—the decisions of all three will have ripple effects across the stars.
posted by odd ghost (14 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I liked this one, but I thought the choice not to actually include the story of the Translator who escaped two hundred years ago was kind of strange. *That* Translator had a lot more agency than Qven - and a much darker story! After all, they presumably merged with some poor human, as did their children, and their children after them, and so on. And why did this Translator eventually die or disappear? There’s a very cool, gothic, Interview With The Vampire Meets The Blob story to be told here, and Leckie was like “nah.”
posted by Mr. Excellent at 8:54 AM on June 20, 2023 [3 favorites]

I liked it too, but it did feel weirdly personal. More like Provenance than the Raddach trilogy.
posted by triage_lazarus at 10:27 AM on June 20, 2023

I liked that it was a personal story like Provenance, but also that both of those "small" stories had big repercussions for interspecies relationships - Garal Ket is able to claim Geck identity, which helps set the precedent for Qven and Reet to be emancipated from the Presger, which seems like it might end up forcing Translators to be recognized as another Significant species, like the AIs in the trilogy.
posted by moonmilk at 4:28 PM on June 20, 2023 [1 favorite]

I inhaled this book pretty fast and will be rereading it soon.

Lifespans in this universe are much longer than ours - and who knows how long Presger translators live? - so it might have been only one generation between the 200-years-ago escapee and Reet. I was actually expecting some sort of "The Schan were actually rogue Presger translators" thing, given how the Schan were described by Nadkal from the Hikipu society, and given how Tzam seemed imply that more than one Presger translator had escaped in the past, but both of those people had agendas they were supporting with those statements. Or maybe I read too much into them.

I also noticed that the translator we knew as Zeiat from the third book in the trilogy was referred to as Dlique in this book. I guess Dlique and Zeiat in the trilogy were matched, and that's why they confused themselves with each other?
posted by expialidocious at 6:11 PM on June 20, 2023 [4 favorites]

I read this the day it was released. I liked it quite a bit (not as much as some of her other books), but it felt a bit like a prelude to something bigger.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:54 PM on June 20, 2023 [1 favorite]

I've pulled on my gloves and prepared tea.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 12:47 PM on June 21, 2023 [8 favorites]

Quite enjoyable from start to finish, and it was good to have a little peek behind the curtains into Presger-adjacent territory.
posted by Marticus at 8:51 PM on June 21, 2023 [1 favorite]

If I were a human in the Ancillaryverse, one thing I'd very much want in a treaty with the Presger is forbidding them from bioengineering my species. Good lord, the poor Translators are made of spliced genes and trauma.

I suspect, however, that no such treaty clause exists, because "keep the Presger from utterly destroying ships and shipping" was (reasonably) a higher priority. (Perhaps, indeed, no one knew about the Presgers' bioengineering until after the treaty was signed.) Given the AIs' steady march toward Significance, perhaps the question might be renegotiated... and I am reeeeeeeeally wondering whether the Geck's indifferent "they're just biomechs" holds up under scrutiny.

I do like that this book entwines the stories of three misfits who address their situations not with assimilation, but with "doing my own thing now, Deal With It." And I was happy to see Sphene and the Radch ambassador to the Geck again.
posted by humbug at 5:27 PM on June 26, 2023 [1 favorite]

I liked this, and I'm always here for Ann Leckie examining the issues of identity, personhood, and belonging. But yeah, there was a lot at the end that made me go, "Wait, but what about...?" (e.g., the Schan just, what, happened to also eat people by coincidence?)
posted by kyrademon at 4:14 AM on July 5, 2023 [3 favorites]

I liked this one a lot, and it made me go back and reread the Imperial Radch trilogy too, because it's been a while and I was like "wait, is this supposed to be a familiar character?"

Translation State helps make a bit more sense out of some Presger stuff in the trilogy. I forgot how much fun Dlique and Zeiat were.

Overall I feel like the trilogy was more about racism and colonialism, and this was more about trans identity. I could be reading more into than it was meant. But I kind of want a "I'm a princex in disguise" button :)
posted by Foosnark at 6:54 AM on July 25, 2023 [1 favorite]

I liked this a lot, though I felt it didn't quite stick the landing -- the pacing sort of fell apart, so that plot/character elements that were highly predictable got strung out to the point of becoming repetitive, while other things going on that I was also interested in were rushed to a conclusion, abandoned, or solved offstage. I also found that our (lovable!) new viewpoint characters became somewhat less distinctive and interesting as the things that made them challenging and peculiar faded into the background of what we saw of them. I was delighted to see Sphene and the Geck ambassador again -- but one effect of bringing them back into the mix was to remind me that Enae, Reet, and Qven were all seeming kind of... edges-rubbed-off and samey by that point in the book.

Still, even if it was only 2/3 of the book I felt like it could have been, 2/3 of a great Ann Leckie is still a very good read. I really loved how the new information about Translators and matching made genuinely surprising new sense of the Dlique/Zeiat situation, and yes, surely there is a strong implication that that the Schan were also the product of some (other) Translator escape situation. I would love to see more Sphene + Dlique situations in future stories.
posted by redfoxtail at 1:50 PM on July 25, 2023 [2 favorites]

I finished it last night. I really enjoyed it.

For all the Translator talks about how dangerous juveniles are (and they are), it does seem like they never actually *tried* to get them not to vivisect each other. Reet does just fine once the expectations of society are made clear to him, and I'm not sure I believe that he's particularly exceptional. It'd be harder if there were multiple kids with the same instincts, the social dynamics could reinforce and make it more likely they'd act. But it doesn't seem like it's as impossible as the adult Presger Translators think, they just never actually tried.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 12:53 PM on July 31, 2023 [3 favorites]

Adjoa Andoh is AMAZING in the audiobook version of this. Her voicework makes an already empathy-rich novel overflow with emotion.
posted by lalochezia at 7:52 PM on August 7, 2023 [3 favorites]

I just finished it - another fantastic exploration of identity, sense of self vs others' perception of yourself, gender, what it means to be human, what it means to be an alien, cultural bias and bigotry. One thing I particularly liked was the twist in my own perception of the gendered pronoun "she", especially when used by the Radchaii. In Ancillary Justice, the use of "she" as the default pronoun in a non-gendered culture was novel and exciting. In Translation State, when the Radchaii use "she" is it explicitly shown as mis-gendering. So this pronoun that I had been so excited to see used universally in one novel becomes an insult and micro-aggression in another novel. That is really excellent writing, IMO.
posted by Illusory contour at 11:24 AM on September 28, 2023 [5 favorites]

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