Translation State is a standalone story in the (beloved) universe of the Ancillary Justice series. You don’t need to have read those first, but they are wonderful, so if you haven’t — do so now! Leckie’s universe is populated by any number of richly delineated alien species along with numerous human based cultures, far flung across the universe. In this story, three completely unrelated characters are drawn together through a bizarre set of circumstances and manage to have an impact on the way things have always been done. Enae — the reluctant diplomat tasked with tracking down a fugitive from 200 years ago; Reet, an adopted mechanic who struggles with intense (and definitely unacceptable) urges that he doesn’t understand; and Qven, a juvenile form of a manufactured species designed to translate between humans and the mysterious Presgers — absolutely necessary to preserving the fragile peace between the two races.
I love the way Leckie writes rich interior (alien) lives while simultaneously illustrating the complexity of multiple, variegated, worlds. I loved her description of the process for “raising” the translators — as alien as you can get and described from Qven’s very nuanced and real perspective. This story includes a fully fleshed out description of how to challenge cultural expectations when some aspects of the problem are (currently) immutable while others are simply rigidly accepted ways of doing things. The teasing apart of the situation and dawning awareness of what solutions are possible is brilliant and a skill that I wish would be more developed in us all.
As an aside, Leckie has a great time playing with pronouns. While occasionally single characters are referred to as “they” (which I hate), there are several other labels (sie, e, he, she) which I admit I couldn’t always differentiate but were meaningful to the characters — more importantly though, there was a wide range of pronouns which people sometimes had to correct but never got strident about.
Ann Leckie may well be my favorite current science fiction writer — in addition to writing engaging stories populated with realistic and diverse characters, she doesn’t insist on dwelling in constant dystopia and darkness as so many of today’s SF writers do.
Thank you to Orbit Books and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on June 6th, 2023