Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Sword Review Round-Up
Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice was the runaway SF success of 2013, racking up an unprecedented number of awards: the Hugo, the Nebula, the Arthur C. Clarke, the British SF Association Award, the list goes on and on. Ancillary Justice read like a unique fusing of Iain M. Banks and Ursula K. Le Guin, and gave Leckie a great platform to explore complex issues of empire, gender, multiple consciousness, space colonization, and identity. Given the strong reaction to the book, this seems to have been exactly what the SFF community was hungering for in 2013: an ambitious, original novel that was equal parts hard SF and soft SF (in the most classic sense, as dealing with societies and sociology rather than the nuts and bots of physics/engineering).
Leckie is back with the sequel, and Ancillary Sword looks to extend the plots and themes of Ancillary Justice. As an awards contender, this is as close to a shoe-in as you’ll see in 2014. Both the Nebula and the Hugo are heavily repetitive: since the voters don’t tend to change much from year to year, they tend to nominate the same authors over and over again. Since Leckie was far-and-away the most popular awards-circuit novel of 2013, it would take disastrous reviews of Ancillary Sword to keep this novel from breaking into the Hugo and Nebula slates. Currently, I have her at the top of my Hugo and Nebula watchlists. Winning again, on the other hand, is a more complex question . . .
Winning the Hugo (or Nebula) twice in a row is well within the realm of possibility. It’s happened twice with the Hugo: first in 1986 and 1987, when Orson Scott Card won for Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead, and then again in 1991 and 1992, when Lois Bujold won for The Vor Game and Barrayar. The Nebula also boasts three back to back winners: Samuel R. Delaney in 1967 and 1968, for Babel-17 and The Einstein Intersection (to be fair, 1967 was a co-win with Flowers for Algernon), Frederik Pohl in 1977 and 1978, for Man Plus and Gateway, and then again Orson Scott Card in 1986 and 1987. It’s been quite a while since a “double,” and I don’t know if that helps or hurts Leckie’s chances. My sense is voters might want to share the awards around, but that’ll depend on the other contenders. We’re going to have to wait and see. Year-end “best of” list are going to be particularly important in tracking sentiment: is Leckie’s second novel seen as more exciting than The Martian or Echopraxia? Or is there a second novel dip? Middle books of trilogies are often the least compelling, as they lack a first novel’s giddy thrill of introducing a world or a final novel’s dramatic conclusion. Or is there a fantasy novel that can jump and capture the public’s imagination?
On to the book:
Book published October 7, 2014.
Initial Reaction (10/7/14): Not a ton of high profile reviews yet—no New York Times, no The Guardian, no NPR, no Entertainment Weekly. Perhaps a bit surprising given the success of Ancillary Justice, but maybe this is just showing the mainstream press’s bias against SF novels. There are reviews at places like Booksmugglers, etc., but you can use google just as well as I can. Chaos Horizon tries to use the same 6-7 mainstream sources every time, because that consistency gives us a better idea of how broadly the book is being promoted. Ancillary Sword, as of today, doesn’t seem to be breaking into the mainstream audience the way that The Bone Clocks did. I don’t think this matters much for Ancillary Sword‘s award chances: everyone in the SF community already knows about it.
Update (10/30/14): It took a few weeks, but more mainstream reviews appeared, including Entertainment Weekly, NYTimes, and NPR.
Initial Reaction (10/7/14): That was it for WordPress reviews. I don’t know why. I did the same search I do for every Review Round-Up: WorPress tag searches for both the author and the book, then Google searches for the book title and WordPress. Normally there are a good range of WordPress reviews available on Day #1. I don’t know why Leckie isn’t getting the same attention; perhaps review copies were not readily available to bloggers. I’ll revise this list in a week to get some more reviews up.
Update (10/30/14): A lot more WordPress reviews have come out, with some interesting mixed reactions. Some people think this was as good or better as Ancillary Justice, while others felt it fell pretty to “second novel” syndrome.
So, does Leckie have a chance at a historic double Hugo or double Nebula? Or will voters hold off to reward the third volume of the trilogy? Or will they go in another direction altogether?