Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice swept the science fiction awards this year, winning the Arthur C. Clarke, BSFA, Hugo and Nebula Awards among others, an unprecedented feat. It’s also one of my favourite novels, and one I like to share with people as much as possible, for its scope and scale, its approach to gender, its fast-paced writing, and, well, general wonderfulness. But it’s not an isolated example; here are some books you might like if you enjoyed Ancillary Justice:
Tanya Huff’s Valour series of military science fiction have many elements in common with Ancillary Justice, not least the fast-paced writing and the sheer joy in science fiction taken. It goes deeper than that, though; both deal with, on some level, the traumas and crimes of war, the difficult decisions, and the idea of comradeship. Huff doesn’t deal with gender to the same extent as Leckie, certainly not with a full on attack on the standard gender paradigm, but gender stereotypes are out of the window. Furthermore, not only has the Voice of God declared all characters bisexual unless stated otherwise, but they actually are bisexual – that is, we see all sorts of configurations of various sexualities, as well as open relationships, polyamory and more, in a fantastic way. My review of the first book, Valour’s Choice.
Jacqueline Koyanagi’s Ascension is possibly the most diverse novel I have ever read. Koyanagi’s cast includes chronically ill, trans, non-neurotypical, variously sexually queer characters, many of whom are people of colour and a large proportion of whom are not male (female, genderqueer, etc). This isn’t a matter of comment for Ascension, although some of the more unexpected representations – Otherkin, for instance – are, while normalised, still questioned by the protatonist. Koyanagi’s debut isn’t without its problems, including some very rocky prose and poor plotting, but that’s not to say it’s not worth your time despite this.
Melissa Scott’s Shadow Man is one of the most famous works of science fiction to have really questioned the gender binary, and one of the earliest to do it well. The clash of cultures between a five-gendered and a binary-gendered society still has problems related to essentialist assumptions, even while challenging binarist thinking, but it at least opens the discussion up in an interesting way, similar to the questioning of our understanding of gender the Raadch of Ancillary Justice provokes. Like Ancillary Justice and, more so, Ancillary Sword, Scott’s Shadow Man also tackles issues of colonialism and the relationship between dominant and nondominant cultures, and ethical relations between them, in a brilliantly done and never overstated way. My review of Shadow Man.
It’s impossible to talk about Ancillary Justice without also talking about Iain M. Banks and the Culture, despite the lack of direct influence from one on the other. That’s in large part because the Culture and the Raadch have a number of features in common, including the prominence of AIs – treated very similarly by the writers, but very differently in their worlds – and the non-binarist approach to gender. It’s also something deeper, though; both the Culture novels and the Raadch address issues of cultural colonialism and the homogenisation of culture by a dominant force, albeit using different kinds of force. They’re also both extremely good writers, Banks famously so; and the combination of fast, fun romp with very serious issues and a certain degree of tragedy that both achieve is very notable.
So, those are the four big recommendations I’d make to fans of Ann Leckie and Ancillary Justice… but now it’s time to throw open the comments to the floor! Why am I wrong? What have I missed? What would, or wouldn’t, you recommend?