Tuesday, June 24, 2014

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler

Karen Joy Fowler writes very literary speculative fiction--heavy on character development, speculation to enhance it.  This is the pattern in We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves as well. 

The narrator, Rosemary, takes us through her life, which is challenging but not particularly extraordinary until she reveals that her sister was, in fact, a chimp.  Taken in as her psychologist father's experiment.  Her complex relationship with her sister and mostly absent brother carries us through the book.

We get to know Rosemary awfully well.  She's not a particularly colorful person--not close to anyone, not violent, not...really very much.  Her life is a reflection of the people (and primate) around her, and she pretty much knows it.  Rosemary seems a familiar sort--a rather dry person who simply never expects to be happy, and made peace with that a long time ago.

It's pretty challenging to make an interesting story out of such a person, with no gunfire or magic to sustain it, but Fowler manages it pretty well.  The book is entertaining and satisfying in a personal sort of way.

I'm not sure how I feel after finishing--not exhilarated, or bored, or intrigued.  Just there.  Rosemary and her ape sister Fern make their animal rights point fairly gently and move on.  Read this as an interesting side track.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie

Distributed consciousness is probably an underutilized  trope in SF--it's a lot of fun if done well.  The best example I know of is Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep, which included a doglike species where an individual was a pack. Ancillary Justice is centered completely on this concept, taking it to another level and exploring it thoroughly.

The novel is pretty much straight up space opera.  There's some interesting social speculation here--the protagonist is a citizen (sort of) of the Radch, a galactic civilization that until recently was completely devoted to expansion.  They are pretty ruthless about the process, but direct and fairly honest.  At the time of the novel they have been stopped by the Presger, and our protagonist is working on the last colonizing "annexation".

The protagonist herself (gender is not a factor in the Radch, the default is "her") is an Ancillary, a person whose individuality has been removed and is now part of a group consciousness, usually a part of a Ship.  Our protagonist is the sole survivor of this Ship's disaster.

I'd say the work is a little subdued for a space opera, but the exploration of distributed consciousness and imperialist social structures is worth the read.  Have fun and think a little.  Three stars from me.