RogerBW's Blog

Translation State, Ann Leckie 20 October 2023

2023 SF, set in the same universe as the Imperial Radch series but not in Radchaai space. Three people get involved in the mystery of a Presger Translator who went missing hundreds of years ago.

And it'll help to have read the trilogy, because while this book does explain what a Presger Translator is, it's useful to know that up front. They're beings constructed by the (very alien) Presger from human remains found in the wreckage of the ships they destroyed, before the Treaty was set up, to be intermediaries between the Presger and everyone else. They look like normal people. But they really aren't.

So there's Enae, who finds that her rich grandmaman had no money left but did leave her (unlike the vultures of the rest of the family) a sinecure, an investigative job that provides an excuse for lots of first-class travel, along with no expectation of actual success – but Enae turns out to have a work ethic, which may become inconvenient. Meanwhile Reet is an orphan who's always felt curious about his origins, recruited into an ethnic organisation on the basis that he's a descendant of the old ruling class, generally thought to be extinct. (But is it really just a social group to get togather and learn about the old country, or are they linked to the terrorists in the next star system over?) And Qven eats people. Not a euphemism.

Indeed, some of the foreshadowing seems quite heavy-handed by Leckie's usual standard; there's not much mystery about Reet's background or Qven's situation for the experienced SF reader, but the book's written as though these were serious puzzles to be worked out (and one of them is given away in the blurb, though of course that's not Leckie's fault). To start with there's a low-key mystery from Enae's viewpoint, a slice of life from Reet's, and strangeness from Qven's, but all three of them turn up at the Conclave that's being held to re-negotiate the Presger Treaty (the one after which they stopped destroying human ships, though nobody's quite sure whether they agreed exactly).

Then things shift to political manoeuvres in which some people are quite happy to subordinate people's lives to the Treaty, and things become more fun. (And rather than being stock controlling fascists, they do seem to be genuinely scared of what may happen if they don't get their way, though of course they're certainly playing that to their advantage too.)

The changing viewpoints are maintained all the way through, but Leckie manages to avoid the pitfall of multiple viewpoint books that Pat Wrede explained: it's very easy to get the reader irked at having to leave thread A to carry on with thread B that they find less compelling. All of these people are interesting to read about, in different ways. Towards the end they're often in the same scenes, and the overall story moves on rather faster.

A largely procedural climax involving a technological puzzle is perhaps less compelling, but the political elements remain, and overall this works well. I don't love it the way I loved the original trilogy, but it can certainly stand alongside Provenance as a book with important things to say that avoids being a Message Book.

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  1. Posted by Ashley R Pollard at 11:21am on 21 October 2023

    I enjoyed this one too. The identity of the missing Presger Translator was obvious, but wasn't really important to me.

    Rather I enjoyed the unfolding of the past and the examination of the current situation.

    I also enjoyed Provenance, and both books added to the universe's depth.

    However, the cover of Translation State was a godawful thing from the mind of someone with OCD and the need to punish the viewer's eyes.

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