Review: Provenance by Ann Leckie
At some point I will write a very blog post. A incredibly blog post — about how to translate things. I have a draft of the post. But right now it’s easier to just post a review of something else. Books! They’re fun. Mild spoilers below, and some speculation about the foundation of the Unites States of America.
Uncertain about what to focus on in the review. I admire the thematic precision implied in the title: everything that happens is so tightly wound around, so clearly fuelled by, the theme of provenance. Through the concept of ‘vestiges’ — memorabilia, essentially, of anything that happened and which accrue value — Leckie talks about how we make history and inject history onto objects. How the past is malleable: several or most of the vestiges pivotal to the culture of Hwae are actually fakes manufactured for various political purposes. History is just politics. The commentary is obvious, especially when it comes to the document of the Declar- er, the Rejection of Obligations. It’s a physical document that declares the independence of the planet of Hwae from an empire across the sea (the sea of vacuum). And it’s a fake. I think it’s pretty obvious what Leckie is implying: the United States Declaration of Independece is a big phony lie cooked up by liars and served with a side of lie, and science fiction is the only safe way to get this theory out there past the United States Goskomizdat.
Or, in a less facetious interpretation, assigning cultural sacredness to objects alters the perception of the events. Time warps the course of events. It’s stressed in the book that it’s the words that matter, not the paper they’re printed (written?) on. There are proper ways of remembering the past and respecting history. Like in the Ancillary trilogy, Leckie includes an undercurrent of social justice (although I hesitate to use that term because of how the internet works with its toxic tentacles poisoning words left right and centre). There are injustices, and they get addressed. Never solved, but they get airtime. There are never any quick solves.
Also there were aliens and intrigue and character arcs and such, that was cool too.