Yesterday I finished reading the second book in Ann Leckie’s series, ANCILLARY SWORD. I really enjoyed this book, and it was in this volume that her use of only the female pronoun “she” was revealed to me in all its true genius. I was suddenly aware of a subtle bias in myself that I had hitherto been completely unaware existed.
HERE IS A SMALL SPOILER *********************BEWARE***********
One of the sub-plots is about the heir of a house or “daughter of the house” as they are called who has been preying sexually on field workers in the tea plantation.
Because everyone in Leckie’s universe is referred to as she you have no idea of the actual gender of the person unless she gives you a physical hint which she almost never does. When the plot revealed that this character was a sexual predator I immediately assumed the character was male. Then I discovered the victim was a young man of 16, and I realized this person demanding sexual favors by dint of their position of power could just as easily have been female.
My bias had been revealed in the most stark way, and I loved it. It made me stop and consider societal norms and the danger of assumptions.
That’s what good, ambitious books do. Bravo to Ann Leckie. I’m really looking forward to the next book.
As I indicated on my Facebook page I really liked this book. Primarily because it was a character study and I read for the people not for the problem. Katherine Addison evokes the insecurities of an 18 year old who is suddenly thrust into the role of ruler when his father and half-brothers are all killed. The elven/goblin culture is fascinating with a mix of swords and airships and there is enough touch of archaic language to ground you in the world without making it difficult to read.
There are two things in particular that I truly appreciated in this book. The first is Maia’s acceptance that he must marry and he must marry a woman of appropriate birth and rank. The search for a bride is handled by his secretary without any sentimentality. Addison is willing to ignore modern conventions and attitudes when presenting her culture and the duties of a ruler.
I also loved the fact that the big win in the book is managing to build a bridge. That’s it. The kingdom is not threatened by a great evil, the world isn’t about to end if Maia doesn’t get up to speed and become a warrior king. There are threats against the emperor because he is viewed as unworthy and unprepared (which is true), but he doesn’t save himself by turning into an action hero. In one instance he is clever and in the other he is saved by his guard.
Ever since Thor: The Dark World I’ve become ever more disgusted with the need to ramp up the stakes to outlandish levels. In The Dark World the Dark Elves want to destroy the whole damn universe. So where do you go from there? Would it be so terrible to tell a small, simple story with deeply personal stakes that doesn’t require New York, the planet, the galaxy or the universe to be threatened?
Yesterday I went off to see the new Mad Max film with Len Wein and Chris Valada, her sister and son. It gave me exactly what it promised, and I happen to really like the Mad Max movies though I realized last night that when I think Mad Max I’m really thinking about the second movie — The Road Warrior. I often forget about the first film, Mad Max which didn’t have the sheer wonder and bizarre world that was presented in Road Warrior.
In some ways this recent film was an even more frightening look at the world. Back in the 1970’s Road Warrior was a meditation about oil, a reaction to the recent oil embargo. This one had much more of a general and terrifying environmental apocalypse feel with the soil “soured” as it’s phrased in the film, massive dust storms, rain that falls too fast and too hard and in the wrong places. The marsh visual was one of the creepiest in the film for me. And finally the lack of potable water. Considering that we are already starting to see the result of drought — war in Syria and many countries in sub-Saharan Africa — this to me was one of the most disturbing things about the film.
It’s a fascinating script as well given that there is almost no dialog. I’d be curious to know just how many words Tom Hardy actually uttered as Max. Thirty? Fifty? It really is Furiosa’s movie and Charlize Theron’s intensity just burns off the screen. The action was stupendous and virtually all of it practical which gave it far more power then the endless CGI battles that have become a staple of summer movies.
It was also weirdly comforting to me as regards my current book series. I’m writing about a culture where women have once again been into very limited roles in society because of the inherent dangers involved in colonizing new planets. I had worried that that would seem quaint today and that such a societal change could never happen (though even today there are many cultures in which women are grotesquely curtailed and oppressed). Watching FURY ROAD just intensified my belief that when times get tough it may be that women will again only be valued for their ability to breed. So yeah, I case the angry little Men’s Rights guys were right that this was a deeply feminist movie. That’s one of the things that gave the film it’s power. So deal with it, boys.
First let me say upfront that I find starting a book to be the most difficult part of the process. What drives that? Stone cold fear. Fear that I can’t possibly do this. Fear that this will be the project that verifiably proves that I have no talent and I have just been fooling publishers, editors and readers all along. I’m like a dog or a cat circling the pillow trying to figure out if they will lie down and in what position they will do so. Once I type that beginning sentence and once I get to the first paragraph down I’m generally fine.
As I’m getting rolling on EVIL TIMES the second volume in my Imperials saga a couple of things have presented themselves. First my male protagonist is a really angry guy and it’s not much fun to write him. I feel like I’m sipping his anger and it’s affecting my mood in the real world.
Second, that the first part of this book really seems to want to be about my female protagonist which is very different structure then I had on book one where I pretty much alternated scenes between Tracy and Mercedes. For the moment I’m going to go with the flow and see how this works. That’s the great thing about writing — the rewriting. Or as I sometimes say — “I’ll fix it in post.”