This is book 3 of the Imperial Radch trilogy As such, given how much I enjoyed the last two, and was engaged with the universe Leckie created, I continued with this one (and, let's be real, the next one, too).
Much as the previous two, this book has a society commentary aspect wrapped inside the science-fiction part of the world. In particular, this commentary is about power, the use of power, the corrupting influences of power, and the collateral damage of power. Standing up to power, saying the right thing, doing the right thing, it puts one at a complete disadvantage. One needs to have an entire acceptance of one's small part of this universe, to have acceptance of the meaninglessness of everything, and to have acceptance that, well, this is going to hurt, this standing up for one's ideals.
It's an ugly, nasty mess. Most people lose.
Some become the monsters they fight.
I vaguely recall that Susan and Rob didn't like this book as much as the first. If this is the case, and I am not sure it is the case, I would guess the lack of world building is part of the reduced excitement compared to the first book. This book starts two weeks after the last book ended, so the first book is needed to understand what is happening in this book.
This book doesn't nicely wrap up everything in the book, but it does wrap up some parts of the origins and destinations of some characters. The universe created is definitely one that can linger for a good one or two dozen books.
I personally enjoyed this book, both for the science-fiction part and the power play part. Again, recommended.
“Military matters no doubt. And Citizen Raughd. Such a nice, well-bred young person.” Raughd Denche had attempted to kill me, mere days before Captain Hetnys’s untoward behavior. “Surely they’ll have had reasons for what they did, surely that should be taken into account!"
The Pigeon Hole Principle: we place people into categories some time during the first part of knowing someone. This placement is dependent on the person, what we know about the person's history, and our history. Once a person is in that category, we forgive what we believe is good about them, and hate what we believe has wrongly happened to them, even if the good and the bad are independent of reality.
Happened in ultimate all the time. "Oh, he had a bad day." No, he wasn't a good player any more. "Wow, she played above herself!" No, she's become a better player.
That, and the bringing to bear of the daily omen casting. I had met quite a few priests in my long life, and found that they were, by and large, like anyone else—some generous, some grasping; some kind, some cruel; some humble, some self-aggrandizing. Most were all of those things, in various proportions, at various times. Like anyone else, as I said. But I had learned to be wary whenever a priest suggested that her personal aims were, in fact, God’s will.
“Lieutenant,” I said, “I would hope that you would realize that I have no desire to govern here. I am perfectly happy to let the Athoeki govern themselves.”
And so will the Xhais, truth be told, but let them get the idea that any Ychana has somehow ended up with something she doesn’t deserve…”
“Sir,” said Tisarwat. “I understand—I think I understand—why you don’t want me to use them, even now. But, sir, she won’t hesitate to use them.”
“That’s a reason to use them ourselves, is it?” I asked.
“It’s an advantage we have, sir! That she won’t know we have! And it’s not like our not using it will spare Station anything. You know she’ll use those accesses herself! We might as well get there first.”
I wanted to tell her that she was thinking exactly like Anaander Mianaai, but it would have hurt her, and besides, she mostly couldn’t help it.
“May I point out, Lieutenant, that I am as I am now precisely because of that sort of thinking?”
“Lieutenant,” I replied, “I cannot possibly describe to you how unpleasant it is to have irreconcilable, conflicting imperatives forcibly implanted in your mind. Anaander has surely been before you—both of her. You think Station wants
“But since you mention it, do you think you can perhaps arrange things so that Station can’t be compelled by anyone? Not Anaander Mianaai, not any of her? Not us?” “What?” Tisarwat stood confused in the scuffed gray corridor on Athoek Station. She genuinely had not understood what I had just said. “Can you close off all the accesses to Station? So that neither Anaander can control it? Or better, can you give Station its own deep accesses and let it make whatever changes it wants to itself, or let it choose who has access and how much?” “Let it…” As it became clear to her what I was suggesting, she began, just slightly, to hyperventilate. “Sir, you’re not seriously suggesting that.” I didn’t reply. “Sir, it’s a station. Millions of lives depend on it.” “I think Station is sensible of that, don’t you?” “But, sir! What if something were to go wrong? No one could get in to fix it.” I considered asking just what she thought would constitute something going wrong, but she continued without pausing. “And what… sir, what if you did that and it decided it wanted to work for her? I don’t think that’s at all unlikely, sir.” “I think,” I replied, downwell, watching Translator Zeiat, now leaning precariously out the window, “that no matter who it allies itself with, its primary concern will be the well-being of its residents.”
“Have you thought about it? I mean, really thought about it. This wouldn’t just change things in Radch space. Sooner or later it will change things everywhere. And I know, sir, that it’s gone all wrong, but the whole idea behind the expansion of the Radch is to protect the Radch itself, it’s about the protection of humanity. What happens when any AI can remake itself? Even the armed ones? What happens when AIs can build new AIs with no restrictions? AIs are already smarter and stronger than humans, what happens when they decide they don’t need humans at all? Or if they decide they only need humans for body parts?”
Will you fight the tyrant with weapons she made, for her own use?” “We are weapons she made for her own use.” “We are. But will you pick up every one of those weapons, and use them against her? What will you accomplish? You will be just like her, and if you succeed you’ll have done no more than change the name of the tyrant. Nothing will be different.” She looked at me, confused and, I thought, distressed. “And what if you don’t pick them up?” she asked, finally. “And you fail? Nothing will be different then, either.” “That’s what Lieutenant Awn thought,” I said. “And she realized too late that she was mistaken.” Tisarwat didn’t
She drew in a shaking breath and then cried, “How can this be happening? How can there be any benefit at all? She tells herself that, you know, that all of it is ultimately for the benefit of humanity, that everyone has their place, their part of the plan, and sometimes some individuals just have to suffer for that greater benefit. But it’s easy to tell yourself that, isn’t it, when you’re never the one on the receiving end. Why does it have to be us?” I didn’t reply. The question was an old one, and she knew its various conventional answers as well as I did.
“As of three minutes ago. And I’m off meds. I told Medic I didn’t need them anymore.” “You realize”—I still kept a bit of attention for Tisarwat, herself cross-legged on her own bed, eyes closed, accessing the relay through Ship—“ that it’s the meds that make you feel like you don’t need meds anymore.”
“This isn’t new,” I said. I didn’t think she heard me, though. Blood was rushing to her face, she wanted to flee, but of course there was nowhere she could go and be away from herself.
“And so what’s the point, sir? What’s the point of talking about training and promotions as though it’s all going to just go on like it always has?” “What’s the point of anything?” “Sir?” She blinked, confused. Taken aback. “In a thousand years, Lieutenant, nothing you care about will matter. Not even to you—you’ll be dead. So will I, and no one alive will care.
“And that thousand years will come, and another and another, to the end of the universe. Think of all the griefs and tragedies, and yes, the triumphs, buried in the past, millions of years of it. Everything for the people who lived them. Nothing now.”
I smiled. “The point is, there is no point. Choose your own.” “We don’t usually get to choose our own, do we?” she asked. “You do, I suppose, but you’re a special case. And everyone on this ship, we’re just going along with yours.”
I said, “It doesn’t have to be a big point. As you say, often it can’t be. Sometimes it’s nothing more than I have to find a way to put one foot in front of the other, or I’ll die here. If we lose this throw, if we lose our lives in the near future, then yes, training and promotions will have been pointless. But who knows? Perhaps the omens will favor us.
“When you’re doing something like this,” I said, “the odds are irrelevant. You don’t need to know the odds. You need to know how to do the thing you’re trying to do. And then you need to do it. What comes next”—I gestured, the tossing of a handful of omens—“ isn’t something you have any control over.”
“It made so much sense.” She sniffled. “It seemed so obviously the right thing, when I thought of it. And now it seems impossible.” “That’s how these things go,” I said. “You already know that. Are you sure you don’t want tea?” “I’m sure,” she said, wiping her eyes. “I’m on my way to the airlock. And I hate having to pee in my vacuum suit.”
“Don’t be like that, Amaat,” I said. “I’m one soldier. Not even a whole one. What do I weigh, against all of Athoek Station?” And I had been in more desperate straits, and lived. Still, one day—perhaps this one—I would not.
“I’ve survived worse odds,” I told her.
“Someday you won’t,” she said.
“That is true of all of us,” I said.
Entertainments nearly always end with triumph or disaster—happiness achieved, or total, tragic defeat precluding any hope of it. But there is always more after the ending—always the next morning and the next, always changes, losses and gains. Always one step after the other. Until the one true ending that none of us can escape. But even that ending is only a small one, large as it looms for us. There is still the next morning for everyone else. For the vast majority of the rest of the universe, that ending might as well not ever have happened. Every ending is an arbitrary one. Every ending is, from another angle, not really an ending.