Gender, culture and religion. Mercy and Justice – mere moral codes or actual beings, ships that think, that have AIs (artificial intelligences), that love to sing and create and *gasp* have emotions and feelings – such as jealously, love and revenge.
The tale starts out rather slow and it is hard at first to know what’s going on.
The Ship, Justice of Toren, has multiple bodies (corpse soldiers, like John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War) and even likes to pick up songs sung by children from various planets and cultures (hey, isn’t that just like Anne McCaffery’s The Ship Who Sang?)
The ruler of this thousand year reign of terror and annexation of other cultures and planets is Lord of the Radch, Anaandar Mianaii, a being with a thousand bodies as well, fighting with herself for control of the galaxy.
But what motivates Breq/Justice of Toren? How did this Ship explode and die, only to leave one left, a being which has to think with only one brain, one personality? A being who searches for a gun, a gun that started a quashed revolution. A revolution that Breq, unknowingly even to him/her, wants to start again. Target: Anaadar Mianaii.
Interesting characters in this book, some of which we’ve run into in our lives, but given a science fiction setting. When run by a police state, you have to watch what you say: two such characters, Lieutenant Awn and her sometimes lover Lieutenant Skaaiat, on a backwater planet, one scared of her own rule and ability to involve herself with a strange culture, a culture that resents being “annexed” and yet has learned to live with them; and the other, Skaaiat, who has a great sense of humor that seems to make fun of anything.
Then there’s Seivarden, a captain awake from a thousand-year sleep, knocked out by “kef” (a drug that really trips you out!) who learns to be a liar and a thief, then a friend, then a companion to Breq, who really could not care less about his/her burden, then eventually comes around!
Planetary Cultures and Things:
The author really makes the planetary cultures, mores, and religious codes and traditions realistic and most likely draws from our own Earthly religious practices. Some odd, some make sense, and some remind me of my own religious thoughts. Interesting, provocative at times, and always entertaining.
Ships Who Sing:
“Justice” is not like other Ships. She/he desires to serve, but when his/her favorites that he/she has invested emotional support to suddenly end up dead for no apparent reason, being orchestrated by the very being she/he was made to defend, a human factor takes over.
It’s this human factor, this desire for vengeance and desire for “Justice” that really makes this tale roll.
The book is complex in plot and stance. Not everyone will push on and finish it. Not everyone will understand that there is way more social science than hardware science in this book. Nor will everyone “jive” with the pronouns! That’s what makes the book alive, interesting and curious. That’s what makes the story of an Empire falling, striking back and a single ancillary making certain reluctant decisions that will make or break the Radch, that makes the story so compelling.