Synopsis: A warship’s AI, inhabiting a human body, seeks revenge upon the ruler of a galactic Roman-esque empire.
Book Review: Fascinating! For starters, I absolutely love everything about this setting. From the extremely-Roman empire, to the opt-in procreation (yay for default-on contraceptive implants for everyone!), to the genderless society. In addition, I loved the protagonist, she was portrayed extremely well as a multi-bodied AI, and you could feel the panic and confusion whenever she was reduced to single-body-operations. Moreover the lack of emotional attachment to her body(ies) was well-portrayed. They were just vehicles, to be used up when the situation required it. The passages describing her losing her hands, arms, and feet were akin to someone describing a tire going flat. It was delicious! The themes the book explored were exactly the sorts of things I love to see explored, but I can’t really go into those without major spoilers, so I’ll be writing another post right after this for those who’ve already read the book. And finally, the plot had the sorts of political intrigue and subterfuge I had just been talking about a few weeks ago that I enjoy. On top of all that it’s very well written.
On the downside, it’s very hard to feel like you should cheer for the protagonist. She’s written with a bit of emotional distance that makes sense, but also makes her harder to relate to. Without a very deep emotional investment it’s much harder to excuse what she ends up doing to get her revenge. Also, there is absolutely NO technological advancement over a 1,000 year period. None. That was like nails-on-chalkboard for me. There really should have been some authorial effort spent on giving an in-universe reason why that is.
Still, an amazing book. Highly Recommended.
Book Club Review: If you’ve heard one thing about this book, it’s probably that it’s basically genderless, and the “she/her” pronouns are applied uniformly to everyone. For a genderless AI that controls hundreds of bodies, existing in a gender-neutral society, this makes plenty of sense. Sure, it’s a thing the author did on purpose for whatever reason, but so is everything else in a novel. This is just one of the many themes in the book, and frankly it’s a minor one. Determinism, Ends-Justifying-Means, and Classism are all far more central to the story, and receive far more attention. And yet during our book club meeting there were almost more words spoken about the genderless thing than the other three put together.
I wasn’t sure quite what to make of this, because there isn’t all that much to say in the first place. The impression from several members was that all the characters have gender, and that a character’s gender tells you a lot about the character and helps you relate to them, and this information was withheld from the reader, and they felt cheated and annoyed by that. Of course the genders different readers mentally assigned for the same characters where all over the map, which suggests that maybe the gender really doesn’t tell you all that much, and what it does tell is likely due in large part to roles that society has assigned to them rather than anything inherent in the person, but I digress. Please note that aside from this well-publicized aspect of the book, there is also a lot of political commentary, morality commentary, and philosophical speculation. Astute readers will NOT be lacking for things to talk about in a book club setting!
(Although, in fairness, while there is commentary on these matters, the author never seems to take a position on either side. She simply lays out some events and doesn’t do much judging as to how things should be. This, again, makes it hard to get emotionally invested in the themes. Why take sides on an issue when the author herself doesn’t have a stake in the matter? Perhaps this is why those other themes were overlooked in favor of the genderless one by most of our group.)
Again, Highly Recommended.