Read: Revenant Gun, by Yoon Ha Lee

Cards on the table: Yoon Ha Lee is, together with Anne Leckie, my new personal favourite authors. There are others, but these two are the latest additions to the list. I am slightly in love with Lee’s imagination and writing style; the flamboyant megalomania of a brand new universe, unlike anything else that I have encountered. The political caste-like system, the semi-magical science (semi-magical, because it seems like both scientific and magical), Lee’s writing style. Reading Ninefox Gambit I was thrown back to when I discovered William Gibson, Neil Stephenson and Jon Courtenay Grimwood, back in the mid-90’s, or later on, in the 00’s, belatedly finding Iain M Bank’s Culture novels.

No one should be surprised then that Revenant Gun, the third volume of the Machineries of Empire suite, felt a bit like a let-down. Still fantastic/al, but with a need for conclusion the story perhaps had to be reined in, and with that it stopped being sprawling and unpredictable, while at the same time being a bit too… implausible might not be the best word here, but I found it hard to find peace with how Lee handled his story ending.

In the larger picture this is such a minor objection: the book is still brilliant, still balancing a system that might be magical only because we can’t grasp the physics behind it, still written with an engaging and unique voice, still making use of the unseen “people” to tip the balance in a way no autocrat could foresee or expect.

I did like how Jedao/Keris balanced the different aspects of his/her combined personalities and experiences, being both broken and whole at the same time, and I appreciate both how he/she/they against all odds sets out to end a system that depends on terror and information control to survive, and the way they do it: by engaging the silent slaves.

Yoon Ha Lee is without doubt a valuable addition to the ranks of science fiction.

Go read his books, and buy them, so he can go on writing stories for us to read!

For those who lean that way there is a lore to dig into, provided by the master himself on his author blog (at https://www.yoonhalee.com/), and some short stories for those of us who can’t get enough of the hexarchate universe.

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Read: Provenance, by Ann Leckie

I really had intended to shave some books of off the more ancient layers of the To Be Read pile, but after a couple of weeks of picking up and putting down without much progress I decided to start Ann Leckie‘s Provenance instead.

It proved to be a good choice. The backbone tale is quite formulaic and centres around a young woman and her efforts to win the favours of her adoptive mum: a classic mother-daughter tale, and a classic theme in mainstream novels. Around this basic premise Leckie manages to weave a tale that makes the impression of being anything but formulaic repetition.

Through the experiences of Ingray – the daughter – and her interactions with those around her Leckie explores power structures and power balances, both on a personal scale and a societal one. As we first makes Ingray’s acquaintance she is in the middle of a transaction central to her plan to unsettle her main competitor – her brother – and to bring disgrace to their mother’s main political enemy.

The society Ingray is born into is one were personal prestige and personal image is central for those who aim to be part of the political power. When “election season” is coming up it gets important for the contenders to look good. As in all such cases looking good doesn’t inherently mean being good, and Ingray has learned from a young age to behave in a way that will further her mother Netano’s political career. She herself feel that her only value is in furthering her mother’s career.

Through the individuals that we encounter during the run of the story we get to see the impact of power and power structures: Ingray and Garal/Pahlad and their struggles with family, birthright, inheritance and privilege; military chain of command and futility, through Commander Hatqueban and Excellency Chenns and others. Or the Radch Ambassador to the Geck – Tibanvori, a victim of political infighting.

Sometimes we just get small glimpses, though enough to make the world believable, but most of all the characters themselves feel true: they are real within their respective contexts, and act in consistence with how they are brought up to see the world.

And as always that world is not so different from our own, even as we don’t share clothing styles or pronouns: because it is not what we wear that makes us human, but who we are.

Not as profound as the Imperial Radch trilogy but still a rewarding read. And I have now added Leckie to the list of authors that I keep track of.

While this is a standalone story reading the Imperial Radch books, starting with Ancillary Justice, first adds depth to this tale.

Read: Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie

Ann Leckie‘s “Ancillary Justice” was published just as my reading funk began, oh so many years ago. I remember people speaking favourably of it, and I remember thinking that maybe I should… but as other books piled up unread I didn’t get around to it, not until last week.

In some respects it is pretty standard fare. A macro-political conflict between different visions of what the world should be and a personal conflict based on revenge and perceived injustices, all played out against a backdrop of a future or faraway civilisation vastly different from ours, yet alike.

Not as far out as the kaleidoscopic fractals of Hannu Rajaniemi’s Jean Le Flambeur trilogy, nor as harsh and brutal as Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels, to name just two, but it sits comfortably on the same bench – not as loud, not as brash, stealth mode operational, but the AI is online and running, telling the story from her perspective.

The choice of protagonist is brilliant. Breq, formerly Justice of Toren One Esk Nineteen, was once both the AI of one of the mighty Justices and one of many interchangeable and expendable avatars – here called ancillaries – of that same ship AI. She – it is uncertain if she’s female or not but her culture, the Radch, doesn’t care for gender pronouns and uses “she” for anyone – has lived through thousands of years, caring for a succession of human captains and officers, assisting in carrying out annexation after annexation of neighbouring civilisations, expanding the Radch empire. Through her experiences we get to see events evolve over a long span of years and through different eyes, until events unfold and she is left alone, without extended presence, without the ability to see and hear beyond what any unaugmented human might see or hear but still in possession of her conviction to set things right, at any price.

(It also makes it abundantly clear that what hype calls “AI” today is machines capable of learning to sort, parse and react to a specific and limited set of data – to adapt, really, under specific circumstances, rather than to evolve and think and judge in any meaningful way. But that’s for another discussion.)

Leckie’s storytelling is straight-forward. Where other writers get at least partially lost in convoluted subplots of intricate phantasmagoria fed by the endless supply of space offered by software-enabled writing Breq’s journey never loses momentum. She never gets lost in mirrors reflecting and re-reflecting favourite words or favourite images, while in bywords and in passing offering opportunity to reflect on gender, power structures, religion, loyalty, prejudice, and identity.  Among other things.

I am holding my thumbs for the rest of the trilogy to live up to the expectations set by this first instalment. And this is the advantage of being a latecomer: the rest of the story is already published, no years of waiting involved!

Read: Convergence, by C.J. Cherryh

Eagerly anticipated Convergence is the 18th instalment in the Foreigner series, and while Cherryh has run out of -er words imagination has not.

Convergence is two parallel stories but bot starting with Bren, the dowager and Cajeiri as they return to the atevi earth after the kyo encounter. One story is Bren’s, the other Cajeiri’s, and Bren’s is, in some ways, rather in the background.

Circumstances has Bren and his aishid going to Mospheira, to present the human population and their representatives with both the kyo agreement and with Tabini’s demands on removal of the Reunion group from Alpha station. This story is not centre of interest for the book, though: that honour goes to Cajeiri and his solo trip to Tirnamardi – a gesture to show that the aiji still stands with the Atageini, despite a rather unfortunate turn of events in the search for a new Ajuri clan lord.

Convergence sees a upping of the tempo, but also a more concise prose. Some books back (Deceiver, Betrayer, and thereabouts) each of these two stories could well had taken up several books, and now they are both packed into this unusually short text.

This is not a bad thing, all in all. We get to see how the heir has grown up, despite his still young age, and how he comes to understand his role and responsibilities, and maybe, just maybe, a shift in focus from Bren, who is now a rather established personality whose journey is coming to an end, developmentally speaking, while Cajeiri is just taking off.

My only complaint is that the book is too short, not to mention the cliffhanger ending. As no. 18 it is the concluding book in the 6th 3-book Foreigner story arch but it leaves off at a place were you expect to turn the page and find out what’s next… and next up is another year in the future.

I think I need to pick up some other Foreigner book, in the interim, to ameliorate the abstinence.

Läst: 179 år av ensamhet – Tio röster från en manlig bastion, red. Jenny Lantz & Linda Portnoff

Efter tjugofem år som kvinna i en mansdominerad bransch – den sk. IT-branschen – har jag inte bara lärt mig var mina gränser går utan också vad priset blir när jag inte är lyhörd för min egen magkänsla.

Redan någon gång i mitten av 90-talet tittade jag på mig själv och vem jag var och bestämde mig för att a) inte kompromissa med det som är viktigt för mig – jag vill kunna se mig själv i spegeln både på morgonen och på kvällen – och b) att alltid dela äran med de andra som deltagit i  eller haft påverkan på arbetet.

Att leva efter det har inte alltid varit lätt och såhär långt kan jag väl ärligt säga att jag fortfarande misslyckas ibland. Vi är alla människor och vi har alla dåliga dagar, fattar alla ibland mindre bra beslut. Som senior har jag alltid sett det som en del av min uppgift att hjälpa mer juniora kollegor att känna att de har rätt att ha det utrymmet – att ha en “bad hair day” utan att världen rasar samman (även om jag själv alltid får ångest när saker inte blev som jag hade tänkt).

Jag har också försökt förmedla en strategi som egentligen var ett råd som jag plockat från en tidningsintervju med någon kvinna i ledande ställning, för så många år sedan att jag tyvärr inte minns vem hon var. Hon underströk att som kvinna fick man ALDRIG NÅGONSIN använda uttrycket “jag känner…”. Män kunde använda det utan urskiljning men som kvinna placerade det en i någon slags subjektivt känsloträsk där man inte behövde tas på allvar.

Insikten hon förmedlade var att män får känna hur mycket de vill, deras känslor är nämligen objektiva och därmed normativa, medan kvinnor som “känner” ses som om de är rov för hormonsvängningar och vad vet jag – kristallers inverkan, eller något.

För mig var strategin framgångsrik. För faktum är att “jag känner” egentligen används för att uttrycka det jag istället har valt att säga, nämligen “min erfarenhet är…”. “Min erfarenhet” väger enormt mycket tyngre än “jag känner”, och som kvinna behöver man all hjälp man kan få när man ska förmå andra att ta en på allvar. För trots “min erfarenhet” så väger jag som kvinna lätt mot munlädersmorda självbespeglande yngre män som utan att tveka och utan att ge kredd till någon annan än sig själv och sitt posse kidnappar min (och andra kvinnors – män ges alltid källhänvisning) kunskap, min under hårt arbete systematiserade erfarenhet, mina angreppssätt på problemet, och gör den till sin.

Antologin 179 år av ensamhet – Tio röster från en manlig bastion sätter ljuset på detta fenomen. Det är en samling på tio texter skrivna av tio kvinnor som alla har det gemensamt att de har bedrivit forskning inom ramen för Handelshögskolans verksamhet.

Handelshögskolan är allmänt känd, i alla fall i mina kretsar, som ett ställe där redan privilegierade män alltid har företräde. Därför föreställde jag mig att det som kvinnorna som kommer till tals i boken skulle berätta om skulle vara som en slags skräckhistorier. Visst kan man inte undgå de misogyna strukturerna men jag kände nog att jag både har bra kvinnligt nätverk och fungerande egna strategier. Och det kanske jag har. Mina har i alla fall, för mig, fungerat bättre än somliga av de strategier kvinnorna i boken berättar om har fungerat för dem, medan andra har varit till förvillelse lika. För liksom många av kvinnorna i boken är jag ofta den enda kvinnan i rummet och jag analyserar så gott som alltid maktfördelning/makttilldelning och spelet som sker i en grupp innan jag väljer strategi. Det är liksom bäst så – jag kan aldrig förutsätta att de jag träffar faktiskt respekterar mig och den kompetens jag står för och behöver därför veta hur jag ska gå tillväga för att få gehör. Om det ens är möjligt.

179 år av ensamhet visar med all tydlighet något som jag visserligen redan visste, nämligen att dessa mina erfarenheter inte är unika utan är en del av en struktur. Alla kvinnor behöver alltid tänka efter extra, alla kvinnor behöver vara extra hårdhudade. Sverige är ett samhälle där mannen ses som norm och där mannen har företräde, av tradition. Kommer många kvinnor in i en sektor sänks automatiskt sektorns status, i omvärldens ögon.

Jag hade hoppats att sånt som beskrivs i boken, exempelvis synen att som kvinna kan man alltid välja att bli försörjd av en man = du hade egentligen inte behövt vara här så du får faktiskt tåla att ta skit, eller att kvinnor inte gör karriär därför att de saknar kompetens (och underförstått förmåga), skulle vara helt passé. Men nej. Dessa forskare, docenter och professorer bedöms och poängsätts i kursutvärdering efter kursvärdering efter hur de klädde sig och ser ut – inte efter kvaliteten på deras undervisning eller forskning. De drabbas systematiskt av att deras studenter men även överordnade tilltalar dem med en “men lilla vännen, då”-attityd, som om deras rigoröst genomförda och kvalitetsgranskade forskning bara var deras egna privata fantasier. De drabbas systematiskt av att studenter och andra forskare tror att de är assistenter och sekreterare, inte huvudföreläsare och kursansvariga. Även andra kvinnor behandlar dem så. Kanske för att de vill framstå i god dager hos de män som kan påverka deras framtid, kanske för att de faktiskt tycker att sakernas tillstånd är i sin ordning.

Och det är ett av bokens bestående värden. Var och en av de händelser som beskrivs kan ses som engångsföreteelser och det är det de oftast betraktas som – en gammalmodig person, eller han var berusad (alltid godtagbar ursäkt för en man, aldrig för en kvinna), eller han skämtade bara, lite får man tåla. Men lagda bredvid varandra ser man ett mönster, en struktur, ett implicit regelverk, en kultur. En kultur som omhuldas och bevaras just i dess negligerande.

Väldigt få skolor har som uppgift att skapa förändring. Väldigt lite forskning bedrivs för att förändring ska kunna uppnås. Forskning finns för att svara på frågan om hur saker fungerar. Förändring baserad på nyvunnen kunskap är en bieffekt, inte huvudmålet. Och skolor, dom är till för att genom återförande av utvald kunskap, utvalda mönster och kulturer, bygga ett stabilt samhälle.

179 år av ensamhet visar med all tydlighet på vilket samhällsmönster som av somliga inflytelserika personer med mycket makt anses vara värt att bevara. Ett monokulturellt samhälle som med maktmetoder annihilerar alla som är oliktänkande. Har vi hört det förut? Känns det bekant?

Läs, fundera, och ställ dig själv frågan om det är det samhälle du vill ha, som du tror på, och vilket ditt ansvar är, som hon, han, den eller det, för vilken riktningen blir.

Read: Tracker, by C.J. Cherryh

I often think to myself that C.J. Cherryh must be one of the must under-appreciated authors of our time and surely the reason for this is that she writes in the SF genre, and that inside the genre neither conforms to archetypes or is part of the mainly libertarian stream that finds its roots with the now old cyberpunk cadre (many of whom I read and enjoy, even as I often don’t agree with their politics).

A running theme (and I’m not sure she’d agree with me in this but once a story has left the author the reader is free to interpret it in her own way) in all Cherryh’s writings is how macro-politics affect the everyday people. Her style – commonly described as “tight third person”, means we often get to experience things as we, figuratively speaking, sit on the shoulder of the protagonist – from the sidelines, but so close as to depriving us of knowledge of goings-on affecting but not known to the protagonist.

Bren Cameron, former paidhi, a minor official and one-person diplomatic corps, now Lord and sometime mediator for all and sundry, and a force in himself, is one such person. In this sixteenth book, first in the sixth three-book story arc, we find him on the last of his handful of days off. His near-future plans includes negotiating the finer points of the East – Marid treaty, among other things, and it may look like we’ll be treated to one more arc of downworld politics. Instead he finds himself faced with the delicate dilemma of an insular and entirely unreasonable Mospehiran stationmaster, up above, confounding the situation with 5000 unwanted refugees, co-inhabiting already crammed areas. And as this situation grows increasingly volatile a foreign spaceship suddenly makes itself known, days from reaching Alpha Station and the planet…

Reading Tracker without first having read the previous fifteen books might be possible, as in anything is possible, but all characters (except the Mospehiran stationmaster), all back story, and all interpersonal and interculture interactions and conflicts are long since established so appreciation of this book rests on pre-existing knowledge. That might, at this point, feel like too huge a commitment. I’d never the less encourage giving the Foreigner books a try.

Me, I’m looking forward to the next instalment, due in April 2016. Too far in the future for comfort, and looked at it that way coming late is a good thing – if you haven’t read these books before you have a year to catch up with the backlog before the next volume is due!

Reread: Merchanter’s Luck, by C.J. Cherryh

100% paranoia. And then some. That is the essence of the second (publishing order) Company War novel Merchanter’s Luck. It is set immediately after the Battle of Pell (Downbelow Station) and no one trusts anybody. Or anything.

For seventeen years Sandor has lived a life hiding in the margins, using forged papers and false names, and carrying whatever cargo he can find, to pay his living.  To survive he has become something of a con artist, but in the process fellow merchanters starts suspect he might be a pirate. Because how else can such a marginal ship survive, if not from black market trading, deep in space, far from stations and customs control?

He is running out of ports and is starting to despair, about life itself and the value of living it, when he is hit by the apparition of one Allison Reilly, off the huge and famous merchanter Dublin Again. A Name, as they say, whereas he has nothing. That night both his life and hers will change. Forever.

He has nothing, not even food enough, and hides his Name, not to put a bad light on the honour of the ship that once was. Still is, but now under false flag.

She has everything, but nothing too, in a different way. Dublin Again is affluent and its seniors can afford rejuv. They easily live for 130+ years. More are born than will ever be needed to run the ship and Allison has chosen the hardest track of all – that of Helm, which leads to Captaincy. The only problem is that as Helm 21 barring a grievous accident she will die without ever getting posted.

Allison get herself and her command – the three cousins in her team – onto Sandor’s ship, as crew. It is their one chance at command, at really doing what they have trained for.

Sandor, he has run the ship alone, guided by recorded messages put there by one of the three who survived the Mazianni raid on the ship all those seventeen years ago, when he was ten years old; and he starts to get afraid of the changes. He won’t accept to lose the voices he has lived with for all these years. As a result he starts acting suspicious. And Allison’s team aren’t slow to respond, adding their own suspicions to the pot.

What if there wasn’t any raid, what if the relics of a previous family they find in the cold and empty cabins really are traces of people Sandor hired and got rid of, in the dark corners of space?

Enter Alliance Force, the newfangled militia, led by ex-Fleet Mallory, with Mallory herself taking an interest in the small ship. Can she be trusted? What if she still is Fleet? Yet, their small ship has to accept what is offered – it is that or nothing…

Terse and claustrophobic prose that stabs straight at the heart… and then twists some. And some more.

If it was up to me the Company War books + Cyteen should be compulsory reading in school. Not as part of literature studies but as a way to discuss history, politics, economy, and the world we presently live in.

Go ahead!