This is book 2 of the Imperial Radch trilogy As such, given how much I enjoyed the last one, and was engaged with the universe Leckie created, I continued with this one (and, let's be real, I'll read the next one, too).
This book starts up a couple weeks after the previous book ended. I like the continuity in the books and the world Leckie created. As with the first book, there is an element of social commentary in the book. The style is reminiscent of Heinlein, actually but a bit more towards the way I think about power and its corrupting power, so perhaps that's why I'm noticing it and paying attention to it in these books.
I love how Leckie weaves the attitudes of privilege into works, but in such a way you know these aren't the "good" people, even if the words you read are words you've heard from your own friends (or own mouth, to be honest).
The plot isn't anything twisty, the universe didn't have any aspects that were new. This book was a continuation of the previous book so much that it could have been a Part 2 of the same book and no one would have blinked (except maybe Leckie, "Write how much in one go? Uh... no." but I'm projecting there).
I personally enjoyed this book, both for the science-fiction part and the power play part. Again, recommended.
When I had first met her, a baby lieutenant of seventeen, she hadn’t thought ships’ AIs had any feelings in particular—not any that mattered. And like many Radchaai she assumed that thought and emotion were two easily separable things.
“And over three thousand years she’ll have changed. Everyone does, who isn’t dead. How much can a person change and still be the same?
“I gave an order, Medic.” Isolated as we were in gate space, my word was law. It didn’t matter what my orders were, no matter how illegal or unjust. A captain might face prosecution for giving some orders—her crew would without fail be executed for disobeying those same commands. It was a central fact of any Radchaai soldier’s life, though it rarely came to an actual demonstration.
"Get some rest. Kalr will bring supper to your quarters. Things will seem better after you’ve eaten and slept.”
“Really?” she asked. Bitter and challenging.
“Well, not necessarily,” I admitted. “But it’s easier to deal with things when you’ve had some rest and some breakfast.”
Still that expressionless face. “Water will wear away stone, sir.” It was a proverb. Or half of one. Water will wear away stone, but it won’t cook supper. Everything has its own strengths. Said with enough irony, it could also imply that since the gods surely had a purpose for everyone the person in question must be good for something, but the speaker couldn’t fathom what it might be.
To Captain Hetnys, standing beside me, I said, “That story strikes you as plausible, does it?” One ruler for the entire system. They surrendered right away. In my experience, no entire system ever surrendered right away. Parts, maybe. Never the whole. The one exception had been the Garseddai, and that had been a tactic, an attempt at ambush. Failed, of course, and there were no Garseddai anymore, as a result.
Obvious, in retrospect. Obvious before, you’d think. But it’s so easy to just not see the obvious, even long past when it ought to be reasonable.
“Well, as to that,” said Fosyf, “I’d say it’s the educated Samirend who give us the most problems. The field supervisors are nearly all Samirend, Fleet Captain. Generally an intelligent sort. And mostly dependable, but there’s always one or two, and let those one or two get together and convince more, and next thing you know they’ve got the field workers whipped up. Happened about fifteen, twenty years ago. The field workers in five different plantations sat down and refused to pick the tea. Just sat right down! And of course we stopped feeding them, on the grounds they’d refused their assignments. But there’s no point on a planet. Anyone who doesn’t feel like working can live off the land.”
It struck me as likely that living off the land wasn’t so easy as all that. “You brought workers in from elsewhere?”
An example of that privilege thing.
So many questions I could ask. “And the workers’ grievances?”
“Grievances!” Fosyf was indignant. “They had none. No real ones. They live a pleasant enough life, I can tell you. Sometimes I wish I’d been assigned to pick tea.”
Imagine this conversation happening in the 1850s in the South in the United States of America, and you'd get similar if not the same words.
“Tourists!” said Raughd. “They want to be robbed. It’s why they go there to begin with. All the wailing and complaining to Security.” She waved a dismissive, blue-gloved hand. “It’s part of the fun. Otherwise they’d take better care.”
Yeeeeeep. Blame the victim.
And if expansion stopped, what to do with all those ships and ancillary soldiers? The officers that commanded them? Keeping them was a drain on resources, to no purpose. Dismantle them, and systems on the periphery of Radch space were vulnerable to attack. Or revolt.
Questions that need to asked about the American Military Complex, tbh.
But I had never noticed that anyone profited from needless spite, and besides I suspected that the entire Undergarden was already in a dire state, as far as ritual uncleanness went.
"To you, of all people. And it’s so easy to just go along. So easy not to see what’s happening. And the longer you don’t see it, the harder it becomes to see it, because then you have to admit that you ignored it all that time. But this is the moment when it’s laid before you, clear and unambiguous."
“You disagree,” Sirix said into my silence. “But isn’t justice the whole reason for civilization?”
I came to see her strangely serene manner as both a sign of just how much she expected to get whatever she wanted, and also an instrument by which she managed to do that, plain persistent saying what she wanted to be true in the expectation that it would eventually become so. It’s a method I’d found worked best for those who are already positioned to mostly get what they want.
“But they could still grow them here,” Tisarwat argued, “and still sell them themselves. So I don’t know what the problem is.”
“For my part,” I replied, “I find forgiveness overrated. There are times and places when it’s appropriate. But not when the demand that you forgive is used to keep you in your place.
“Do you even know,” she said, and I could tell from the sound of her voice that she was about to cry, “can you even imagine what it’s like to know that nothing you can do will make any difference? That nothing you can do will protect the people you love? That anything you could possibly ever do is less than worthless?”
I could. “And yet you do it anyway.”
“Most esteemed Queter,” I said, “idealist that you are, young as you are, you can have no idea just how easy it is for people to deceive themselves.”
The magistrate turned to Queter, who had stood straight and silent this whole time. “Is this what you wanted, Queter? All this heartache, a family destroyed? For the life of me I don’t understand why you didn’t put your obvious determination and energy into your work so that you could make things better for yourself and your family. Instead, you built up and fed this… this resentment, and now you have…” The magistrate gestured, indicating the room, the situation. “This.”
Very calmly, very deliberately, Queter turned to me. “You were right about the self-deception, Citizen.”
Again, blaming the victims with this one.
And yet, isn't this a similar example for the Ivy League swimmer guy who raped a woman? He destroyed her life, but people were still asking for leniancy for the guy, who received it.
"Citizen?” I replied with my own question. “Where did justice lie, in that entire situation?” Sirix didn’t reply, either angry or at a loss for an answer. Both were difficult questions.
“We speak of it as though it’s a simple thing, a matter of acting properly, as though it’s nothing more than an afternoon tea and the question only who takes the last pastry. So simple. Assign guilt to the guilty.”
“Is it not that simple?” asked Sirix after a few moments of silence.
“There are right actions and wrong actions. And yet, I think that if you had been the magistrate, you would have let Citizen Queter go free.”
“No sympathy for Queter? Raughd acted from malice and injured pride, and would have destroyed more than me if she had succeeded. Queter was faced with an impossible situation. No matter what she did, things would end badly.”
A moment of silence. Then, “All she needed to do was go to the magistrate in the first place.”
I had to think about that for a few moments, to understand why Sirix of all people thought Queter could or should have done that.
“You do realize,” I said finally, “that Citizen Queter would never have gotten within a kilometer of the district magistrate without my having explicitly demanded it. And I beg you to recall what generally happened in the past when Citizen Raughd misbehaved.”
“Still, if she had spoken properly she might have been listened to,” Sirix replied. Queter had been right to expect no help from the district magistrate, I was sure. “She made the choices she made, and there’s no escaping the consequences of that. I doubt very much she’ll get off lightly. But I can’t condemn her. She was willing to sacrifice herself to protect her sister.”
“There’s been some complaining outside the Undergarden the past few days, about residential assignments.” Ostensibly calm, only the barest trace of her feelings in her voice. “There are those who think that it’s not fair the Ychana are going to suddenly have luxury quarters, and so much space, when they don’t deserve it.”
“Such wisdom,” I observed dryly, “to know what everyone deserves.”
“And when you want something,” the governor remarked, her voice sharp, “you say so, and you expect to get it.”
“So do you,” I replied. Serious. Still calm. “It comes with being system governor, doesn’t it? And from where you sit, you can afford to ignore things you don’t think are important. But that view—that list of important things—is very different if you’re sitting somewhere else.”
“A commonplace, Fleet Captain. But some points of view don’t take in as much as others.”
“And how do you know yours isn’t one of them, if you’ll never try looking from somewhere different?” Governor Giarod didn’t answer immediately.
“When they behave properly, you will say there is no problem. When they complain loudly, you will say they cause their own problems with their impropriety. And when they are driven to extremes, you say you will not reward such actions. What will it take for you to listen?”
“Everyone is potentially one of those people, Governor,” I replied. “It’s best to learn that before you do something you’ll have trouble living with.” Best to learn it, really, before anyone—perhaps dozens of anyones—died to teach it to you. But it was a hard lesson to learn any other way, as I knew from very personal experience.
“Not mad,” I corrected. “When you’ve lost everything that matters to you, it makes perfect sense to run and hide and try to recover.”
“How are you feeling?”
“Better,” she said. “I think Medic has me dosed up. I can tell because I’m not wishing every ten minutes or so that you’d thrown me out the airlock when you found me.”
“But then, people can look very strong on the outside when they’re not, can’t they."
“Mostly. I think. To be honest, Fleet Captain, I feel like… like everything I thought I could depend on has disappeared, like none of it was ever true to begin with and I’ve only just realized it, and now, I don’t know. I mean, I thought I was safe, I thought I knew who everyone was. And I was wrong.”