Written by Sophie
Oh, how joyous! A new book by Ann Leckie!
Everything I’ve read by her so far – 5 novels and 2 stories – I’ve found to be so interesting, and thought-provoking, and funny, and emotional, too. So it was with both excitement and trepidation that I started Translation State, set in the world of the Radch empire.
I needn’t have worried: this is another excellent book. If you know/loved her previous Radch books (Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword, Ancillary Mercy and Provenance), this latest ties all of them together, with delicious roles for several characters from the latter three. Tonally it comes closest to Provenance, and it is again fun to meet up with Radchaai in a space where they are not ruling or even very much liked.
Translation State follows three separate folks: Enae, a mousy, overlooked member of a rich household sent kindly but deliberately away by the new heir; Reet, a rather prospectless repairman on a space station, trying to cope with his irrational urges; and Qven, an alien juvenile unsure of what the future holds in store. Their stories all interconnect somehow, and all three will discover a great deal of character they never realised they had.
An exciting part of this book for me is that the Presger Translators play a significant role. Through all the Radch books the Presger have been a terrifying alien presence, entirely unknowable. It’s not often I’ve come across science fiction where aliens are truly incomprehensible (beyond a basic recognition of their sentience or intelligence) – I can think of only three or four other books like that – and I’m always so intrigued by an author’s ability to think outside the human box! The Presger Translators are made of bits of Presger and bits of human, and look human. But they are very much NOT. I thoroughly loved getting to know the Presger Translators, and all their foibles. Even though I very much hope to never meet one, and definitely not a full-on Presger!
Another reason for loving this book is its kindness, although I must also warn for some in-your-face scenes of physical violence. But a basic question that runs through all of Leckie’s works is “what makes someone human? Sentient? Significant?” and the answer always lies in kindness, and treating someone respectfully, and realising there are so many gradients in emotions and beings. A strong suit of science fiction for me is its ability to present worlds where ideas of partnership and family and gender/sexuality are so varied and so accepted and ingrained into the culture. Here, too, there are new pronouns to consider, and how different ways of having progeny affects the ways parents and children interact. It really is that easy to accept someone else could be different from you.
So, all in all I loved reading Translation State. It manages to be quite fast-paced although it won’t feel that way, and it can zag where you thought it might zig. In other words, Ann Leckie has managed to write another book to make you think, filled with quirky humor and a bit of body horror and loads of charming personalities. As well as literal space-bending, denialist fanatics intent on blowing things up, and yet another fictional soap opera that proves both addictive and illuminating.
P.S.: First published on Instagram