Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Vestiges of Identity: Provenance by Ann Leckie

After reading Ancillary Justice and now Provenance, I think Ann Leckie may be one of those authors that just doesn't click with me.  Something about her writing style feels ... murky to me, like an impressionist painting.  Leckie seems to be one of those authors who take their writing teachers' "show don't tell" rule way too seriously (although even the showing is a bit murky).

I understood the overall plot (I think?), but a lot of the details (especially with the levels of political intrigue) were opaque to me.  I also rarely like the trope of "protagonist is a young person from a rich and powerful family," and I honestly never warmed to the main character.  And I never really figured out the whole deal with the vestiges.  Overall, it was hard to be interested in or care about the plot because it was never entirely clear what was at stake.

This isn't to say this is a bad novel.  As with Ancillary Justice, I love what Leckie does with pronouns and gender in this one.  I also liked the Geck aliens, and the vast far future space opera setting is always cool.

The Philosophy Report

There are some interesting things to think about with regard to personal identity, citizenship, and punishment.  Who is Garal really?  He claims not to be Garal, but it turns out the situation is ... complicated.  Without giving spoilers: how much do legal, political, and social factors determine who we are at a very basic level?  What does it mean to be a citizen or part of a group?  Who gets to say?  Are there humane ways of punishing people who break the law? (These questions seem quite topical these days given issues of immigration, the refuge crisis, and prison reform).

Others might click with Leckie's writing style more than I do.  Obviously this must be the case, since she's a Hugo-winning author.  In fact, I admit the main reason I read Provenance is because it's a Hugo finalist this year.  It won't be my #1 pick, but I wouldn't be upset if it wins the Hugo. Not everything is for everyone, and a lot of my fellow SF fans seem to love Leckie even if I'm not entirely sure why.

Rating: 81/100

See also my Goodreads review.

(Stay tuned for my Hugo ballot picks coming soon to this blog!  And if you want to vote for the Hugos, you can do so by buying a Worldcon 76 supporting membership before July 31st.)

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