Monday, October 19, 2015

SFF names #9: Justice of Toren One Esk Nineteen

This is just about Ancillary Justice. I haven't read the other Ancillary books yet; everything's probably all different there!


We could suppose that names are words that have the following special property.

If you take a normal word, the way that it conveys its meaning requires relationships with many other words: the word red can't mean red without blue, without communism, etc.

Pretty standard piece of semiotics, so far.

But names (we could think this) don't require quite that kind of relationality. Instead, names tend to be welded directly to whomever or whatever they refer to.

If you're being picky, you could say that names will still inevitably be contoured and trimmed by inescapable relations with various graphemes and phonemes in other words and names, as this Fry and Laurie sketch illustrates fairly well. A sound that is a bit like a /j/ will have to learn a lesson in solidarity, and settle for actually becoming a /j/.

But that is no major wrinkle for the basic intuition, that names and other words have very different methods or techniques by which they refer to things. The attachment of the name Winnie to the person Winnie does not seem to heavily rely or influence the attachment of the name Willie to the person Willie, or any other name or word to anyone or anything. It's like it does what it does all by itself.


One intimation of the truth of this intuition is the way that names tend to work quite well across different languages.

Again, if you're being picky, it's true that personal names are sometimes translated.

But again, I don't this offers much discouragement to the intuition. Such translations take place across a strange cross-hatched space, which mixes (a) pragmatic substitutions when close correlates for some of the sounds don't exist in a target language, a process resembling accented pronunciation, or polite substitutions when unfortunate connotations attach to that particular soundscape in the target language, and (b) those rather more baptismal substitutions and enlargements which are legitimated by shared etymologies: e.g. the Hebrew Yochanan ramifying into names such as John, Hans, Giovanni, Evan, so that someone who has always been just John might lay some kind of claim to being Evan in Wales. But I don't think a Welsh speaker wouldn't say Evan Le Carré for John Le Carré in the same way they would say llong ofod for spaceship.


By "names" and "other words," by the way, I sort of mean "proper nouns" and "common nouns."


In analytic philosophy, this intuition about how names work was elaborated by Saul Kripke into his causal theory of reference.

Well, we may or may not like that story about names. But whether or not we do, a name like One Esk Nineteen, from Leckie's Ancillary Justice, suggests that it can't possibly be the full story.

One Esk Nineteen is a name like the reels of a fruit machine. One Esk Nineteen is a name with movable parts, and if you wiggle them, they will generate new meanings.

So instead of being a special kind of word -- a word that kind of works in any language -- it's almost like the name One Esk Nineteen is a little language all of its own.

With a name like John, you can tickle, dishevel and disarray it, and not worry that some entirely new personality will step into the frame. John can become Johnny, and it is still the same person who stands before you. Compare if you like that earlier episode: Rumpelstilzchen / Rumpelstiltskin / Rumpenstünzchen etc. But One Esk Ninety is probably an entirely different entity to One Esk Nineteen.

Well, not entirely different.


The river Esk flows through Dalkeith, just southeast of Edinburgh. I worked there for a short time as a proofreader for a diary-maker. If you once had a diary with two Septembers, that was probably my fault.

I am writing this in October 2015. May your Autumns be long.

Back then, before it came to the right stop, my bus would cross North Esk and South Esk. So you could call the Esk three rivers.

It turns out there are also at least three other rivers called Esk in Scotland. What's up with that? Esk means water, that's what. It appears in the names of waterways and places in many forms: uisge, esk, usk, exe, axe, ash, ock, ouse, ose, wash, es, and ease.


When most people think "diary" I bet they think "posthumanity." Yes. The diary is a venerable and deep-rooted cognitive prosthetic. Telling someone, "Let me just check my diary," is massively show-ponying all about what a great cyborg you are. If you go so far as to tell someone that Tuesday is good for you, it is equivalent to jacking the datastream with your diamond filament claw-spine extrusion.

When most people think "river" I bet they think "personal identity." Every time you point to the Esk and say, "That's the Esk," you're pointing to different water. Over time, the course changes too, the contours that the river sits in. Not that it ever really sits. But every time you point and say, "That's the Esk," you're still telling the truth.

In Ancillary Justice, One Esk Nineteen is part of a warship. Ann Leckie was probably thinking of a ship, not a river, when she named her. Several British navy ships have been called Esk: the most famous is probably the one sunk by a Nazi mine during the Texel Disaster in 1940.

But: Esk, a ship that is also a river. A ship that flows, that splits, that is filled with and made of materials that are always about to slip away, and yet can be truthfully named with a single name.

Pretty good.


Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice just really struck a chord.

Transcending binary gender, that's a big part of it. Near future extrapolative political sf disguised as far future escapist space opera. "She was probably male, to judge from the angular mazelike patterns quilting her shirt" (Kindle loc. 60). Pretty good.

Perhaps also, something to do with Justice of Toren as fandom, and the euphoria of belonging to a digital mob, a guild pitted against guilds and the odd celebrity or super villain or scapegoat. Something to do with belonging to the ballet of the pile-on. And then maybe, apocalypse: being the last fan of the fen. Perhaps that's part of it, part of why it struck a chord.


One possible explanation for why names and other words function so differently would be that they are pointing to very different kinds of entity. A name -- Elethiomel's Chair, Dr Snaxx, Rachel Carson -- must entangle something unique, even if there are many unique entities called by that same name. You normally don't do any more grammatical narrowing down, once you've used a name. You normally don't talk about a Rachel Carson and the Rachel Carson, although sometimes you might.

Whereas other words -- chair, cat, biologist -- each catch a whole class of entities, any one of which can be differentiated out, if you really need to, by a definite article.

Of course, when the word for an entity is temporarily crowned by a definite article -- the chairthe catthe biologist -- that word may eventually swell into a proper noun. But perhaps that's because the entity itself is changing, or at least, the part of it is changing which exists in and among our minds.

Maybe you could even say that Kripke's "baptismal event" may not be an event so much as a probabilistic smudge, which constricts and settles to reveal whose knowledge -- the intimate knowers, the casual knowers, the knowers-by-precedent, the knowers-by-analogy? -- has been conveyed most forcefully outward into future language use. I'm not sure. Never mind.


Or perhaps names and other words function so differently not because they pick up sharply divided kinds of things, but because they hold things at quite different angles.

There's something about a proper noun that seems like, when it shows you whatever it shows you, it is asserting a kind of sacral value, a kind of uniqueness construable by omniscience.

Do you know what I mean? There are many biologists, yet if a group of scientists were standing in a row and only one of them was a biologist, of course you could say "the biologist" to uniquely identify her, and you would not really be raising her like Simba.

Perhaps if she left and a different biologist wandered in, they could seamlessly usurp her as referent. But in this case, the words "the biologist" would not be a name.

Whereas when Jeff VanderMeer writes a character called The Biologist in his Area X novels, she gets tilted to such an angle that something unique is exposed -- maybe her soul is exposed, and her birth and her death are exposed. And her childhood: even when she was a little girl, before she became a biologist, she was still, in a way, The Biologist. Something is exposed, anyway, something perhaps unique. Even when the story suggests that in a certain way she may be an imitation, we don't quite believe the story. Soon it is too difficult to ignore her name. Her name is The Biologist. The name offers her at a particular angle, at a particular vantage.

The name thrusts her out of one kind of flow into another. There is something we are supposed to be able to glimpse. Some part of her, or something that she'll do automatically, by reflex.


With my talk of holding up, grabbing and catching and pointing, and entangling and picking out, and lifting up and showing, and probably even butterfly nets before long, I troll philosophy.


There is a kind of performative contradiction implied by any assessment of uniqueness which draws its decisiveness first and foremost from the strength of public consensus, as Monty Python notoriously argued:

What is it that a name exposes on us, when it lifts us up into the universe's gaze? What is the soul or the serial number, or the one-of-a-kind genital, that the universe is supposed to see? Could it be that names are the sleights-of-hands of conjurers or confidence tricksters, that lifts up humans and puts them back down again so quickly, they get to tell us what we just saw and we have to believe them?

Are we unique? How are we unique? How unique are we?


Pedants are wrong to pounce on you for saying "how unique" or "very unique." They are wrong to say, "it's either unique or it isn't *licks own eyeballs* because uniqueness does not admit of degree."

Of course uniqueness admits of degree. Of course there are different kinds of unique, and the ascription of uniqueness is usually a bundle of approximations to several kinds of unique.

When we're talking about humans, I bet both loneliness and conformity tend to make you lose Uniqueness Points, or at least force you to make Uniqueness Saving Throws.

I think Theodor Adorno says something somewhere to the effect that history has found how to dovetail the individual and the collective so that they are not opposed forces, but rather work in a complementary way, side-by-side, spreading both loneliness and conformity, without contradiction.

Maybe that's part of how it struck a chord, then. The uniqueness thingy.

Are humans as unique as cities or as centipedes? Every one of us is unique, but perhaps not very unique. Perhaps only as unique as snowflakes.


Then there are pronouns. We know what bits they tend to submit for public scrutiny, don't we?

Pronouns are like syntactic dick pics. Sometimes they're like syntactic death threats.


Then there are titles and honorifics.


All of which brings us back to Ancillary Justice and Justice of Toren One Esk Nineteen. The thing is, Ancillary Justice runs three fruitful, mildly experimental stylistic conceits, simultaneously.

It really struck a chord. With three notes.

The first is about gender pronouns. The real heroes of Ancillary Justice are the pronouns! And the names, of course: I think Ancillary Justice blurs the distinction between pronouns and names.

Leckie's second conceit is about the emperor, Anaander Mianaai, who is both one and many -- or she is both "an aander mianaii," you could say? -- and who is at war with herself to boot. Shades of Dick's Bob Arctor? Or, ha, Ross Sutherland's double hadouken?

And Leckie's third conceit is about the multiple and distributed embodiment of the Justice of Toren.


I think these are separable conceits, though perhaps they are thematically united. The last two may appear especially close. With Anaander Mianaai, the focus is on a single legal identity, which many persons lay claim to, each of whom has a comparatively distinct and stable nexus of perspective, memory and agency. These persons are liable to sync and share and suchlike, but the degree of separation is far greater than in the case, for instance, of One Esk Eighteen and One Esk Nineteen.

Anaander Mianaai is like a constellation of pools of water: some pools may mingle and flow together when it rains, but they quickly shrink apart again. Whereas Justice of Toren is more like a realm of intricately interconnected waterways.


"Justice," by the way, designates a class of warship. It is  the sort of word warship classes do get called -- Iain M. Banks subverts it by having the Culture choose nasty words (Murderer, Torturer) to remind them that warships do nasty things.

In Leckie's universe, there are also Swords and Mercies and so forth. Justice is particularly smart choice though, because here in the mundane world the word is also sometimes a title or honorific (for a judge).


When writing science fiction, a good ear for names is more important than a good head for science.


I troll, I troll.

But I troll truly.

Let's get real. Who is Justice of Toren One Esk Nineteen?

The more-or-less single "I," who is distributed throughout many bodies, is called the Justice of Toren. Justice of Toren almost always refers to the intangible, the mind, although it is possible to imagine it could sometimes refer to the physical warship-qua-warship -- the actual space castle hunkering in orbit and bristling its torpedo tubes.

But for the most part, Justice of Toren is a mind, a mind fed by the senses of hundreds or thousands of bodies. The bodies, if we give them their full names, are called things like Justice of Toren One Amaat Four, or Justice of Toren One Amaat Five, or Justice of Toren One Etrepa Nine, or Justice of Toren One Etrepa Ten, or Justice of Toren One Esk Nineteen.

The lieutenants (such as Lieutenant Awn) and commanders and the captain of Justice of Toren are separate, not quite part of this consciousness, although it dwells in great intimacy with them.

Let's look carefully at each part of the name:

1. The Justice of Toren bit denotes a belonging-ness to the warship's mind. When talking about the bodies, the Justice of Toren bit would usually be dropped, albeit still implied. So the many bodies of Justice of Toren may be designated One Esk One, One Esk Two, etc.

2. The bit between the two numbers (the bit that says "Amaat" or "Etrepa" or "Esk" etc.) designates a kind of administrative division within Justice of Toren called a decade. Let's come back to the decades in a moment.

3. The second number uniquely identifies one of many "bodies" (reanimated corpse cyborgs, as it happens), that are also sometimes called "segments." (In the mundane world, segment is a word used of separable pieces of a whole, like the carpels of a citrus fruit fallen apart, or of divisions chosen along a continuous such as a flowing stream). These bodies are also called ancillaries.
"I'd have sworn you were a corpse soldier."
An ancillary, she meant.
[Kindle loc. 1063]
4. And there is another part to the name, the "One."

The only ancillary who survives the destruction of Justice of Toren, the one who also takes the name Breq, is One Esk Nineteen.


So far, this is all crystal clear. Multi-faceted, a little liable to dazzle, but crystal clear.

But one part of the name we haven't discussed. The front part, the One part. One Esk Nineteen, One Amaat Four, One Etrepa Nine.

That is a little less clear to me. It's almost always a "One." The only time this position is not occupied by a "One" seems to occur because of this: "most of Justice of Toren Esk went back to the ship, but Lieutenant Awn stayed, and I stayed with her as the twenty-ancillary unit Justice of Toren One Esk" (loc. 173. See note 1, by the way).

It is this splitting-of-forces which seems to produce a Two. And here's what we discover during the reunion:
In the approaching shuttle I felt the distance decrease, felt more forcefully the sensation of being the ship. One Esk became even more what it had always been — one small part of myself. My attention was no longer commanded by things apart from the rest of the ship.
Two Esk had taken One Esk’s place while One Esk was on the planet. Two Esk prepared tea in the Esk decade room for its lieutenants — my lieutenants. It scrubbed the white-walled corridor outside Esk’s baths, mended uniforms torn on leave. Two of my lieutenants sat over a game board in the decade room, placing counters around, swift and quiet, three others watching. The lieutenants of the Amaat, Toren, Etrepa, and Bo decades, the decade commanders, Hundred Captain Rubran, administrative officers, and medics, talked, slept, bathed, according to their schedules and inclinations. 
(Kindle Locations 2272-2278).

Mini-interlude. There is a notion here that merely elongating the links in a conscious network could eventually lead to the network budding into separate conscious perspectives (or even to parts or all of it going dark entirely), even where the nodes and the links are in a sense consciousnesses themselves.

Inscribing this spreading and budding off onto a backdrop of stars is suggestive of the hard limits that the universe -- say via the speed of light -- places upon cosmopolitanism.

I think of the way that, when you tap with a stick and shut your eyes, the end of the stick can feel like the end of your body, if the stick isn't too long. But I also think of Peter Watts's The Island or Charles Stross's Neptune's Brood, maybe. 

And you don't even need the "... in space!" bit, not necessarily. The rift-in-the-self feels like a metaphor for those cultural and historical distinctions which, quite rightly I guess, make it now next to impossible to speak, think, dream, build and fight on behalf of one-another's pain.


Now my brow crinkles. Why these incessant Ones, and so seldom a Two and never at all a Three, as far as I recall? What does "Two Esk had taken One Esk's place" imply? And what about "its lieutenants — my lieutenants"? These administrative distinctions are rather intricate and a little difficult to construe consistently. (For me they were anyway. See note 2).

The ranks "Decade Lieutenant" and "Hundred Captain" recall the decanus and centurion of the Roman Empire, but for some time I was not sure whether the number ten was important or not. There are certainly more than ten bodies, or ten lieutenants, or ten ancillaries, to each decade.

You could try to reconstruct it like this. If you were to wander onto the Justice of Toren you might see just over two hundred figures moving around. There are five groupings, called decades: Esk, Amaat, Toren, Etrepa and Bo. Each is physically located on a separate deck. Each decade consists of twenty human lieutenants, plus twenty ancillaries, plus a decade commander. So "decade" recalls "deck" rather than "ten." And in this novel, it also recalls "decadence." And "decay."

If you wandered into the right bits of the ship, you might also see many more replacement and/or back-up ancillaries in cold storage. Corpsicles. I supposed these would probably not associated with any particular decade, or only loosely and provisionally associated.


It does seem like rather an odd officer-to-grunts ratio, unless that's just how they do things in space.

I don't think it quite works. So let's reconstruct it a bit differently. This is the second attempt: there will be a third.

If you were to wander onto the Justice of Toren you might see just over two thousand figures moving around. There's a bit of guesswork there, but let's say that each of the twenty lieutenants in a decade commands -- commands isn't quite the right word, but go with it -- let's say that each lieutenant commands twenty ancillaries. Lieutenant Awn commands twenty, so it's a decent guess.

The Justice of Toren has five groupings, called decades: Esk, Amaat, Toren, Etrepa and Bo. Each is physically located on a separate deck. Each decade consists of twenty human lieutenants, plus four hundred ancillaries, plus a decade commander. Each lieutenant is assigned to twenty ancillaries. Awn is assigned to One Esk (One Esk One, One Esk Two ... One Esk Nineteen, One Esk Twenty). Some other lieutenant (e.g. the snobbish Lieutenant Issaaia -- I'm not sure who it actually is, though) is assigned to Two Esk, which is the next twenty ancillaries. Some third lieutenant is assigned to Three Esk. That goes all the way up to Twenty Esk. (See note 3).

Much more falls into place on this reconstruction. But it still feels difficult to reconcile with this sentence. "I had never lost the knowledge of my ancillaries, twenty-bodied One Amaat, One Toren, One Etrepa, One Bo, and Two Esk, hands and feet for serving those officers, voices to speak to them." Why not mention Three Esk, Four Esk? Why only mention a small fraction of the two thousand bodies moving around on the ship?

And it is very difficult to reconcile with this sentence: "Two Esk prepared tea in the Esk decade room for its lieutenants" (loc. 2266). Because if each tranche of twenty ancillaries (One Esk's twenty, Two Esk's twenty, etc.) is associated with only one of the decade's lieutenants, what does the novel mean by "its lieutenants"? How can Two Esk have multiple lieutenants?


But wait, what about this?
I was a troop carrier [...] sixteen decks stacked one on top of the other. Command, Administrative, Medical, Hydroponics, Engineering, Central Access, and a deck for each decade, living and working space for my officers, whose every breath, every twitch of every muscle, was known to me. 
[loc. 141]
Six named decks (Command etc.) out of sixteen leaves ten decks. Ten? This can be no coincidence, surely! Ten decks, "a deck for each decade" and presumably a decade for each deck: so is that why they're called decades, because there's ten of them? It's just that four of these ten decades are never named in the novel. At first we only hear of Esk, Amaat, Toren, Etrepa and Bo. Soon we also hear of Var. The other four are a mystery.

Is that right? But wait, what about this?
The lieutenants of the Amaat, Toren, Etrepa, and Bo decades, the decade commanders, Hundred Captain Rubran, administrative officers, and medics, talked, slept, bathed, according to their schedules and inclinations.
[loc.  2277]
"Hundred Captain" -- if we decide there are only five decades after all, and not ten, then the "Hundred" could refer to the total of one hundred lieutenants on board the Justice -- because twenty lieutenants in each decade, we are told that for certain.

Uh-oh, I think we'll have to learn to let go of that hypothesis. How would Var fit in? There must be more than five decades, and that probably means ten.

It isn't that there are some secret, silent decks whose function is not explained. It is that there are four secret, silent decades, never named.
Below Esk, from Var down -- half of my decade decks -- was cold and empty, though the holds were still full. 
[loc.  2275]
Full of what? Frozen ancillaries, presumably.

So if there are ten decades, what is the "Hundred" about? I suppose, just like "Decade Commander," it doesn't refer to anything under this captain's command, but rather to the fact that there are ninety-nine other captains of roughly equal status in this particular subdivision of the Imperial fleet.


At one point Breq mopes, "I had once had twenty bodies, twenty pairs of eyes, and hundreds of others that I could access if I needed or desired it." (Kindle Location 490).

Those twenty bodies are easy to identify: they are the twenty ancillaries that make up One Esk. What about these others though? It could be the bodies of other decades (Amaat, Toren etc.) that Breq refers to, although if we are talking about just twenty ancillaries per decade, that's still not hundreds. So she must be referring to entities like One Esk Two, One Esk Three, One Esk Four -- those entities never explicitly mentioned. And "access" involves a little more than logging in. It involves awakening them from suspended animation.


My brow proper furrows. As One Esk merges more fully into Justice of Toren, she reflects: 
[...] I had never really lost the sense of being part of Justice of Toren. My kilometers of white-walled corridor, my captain, the decade commanders, each decade's lieutenants, each one's smallest gesture, each breath, was visible to me. I had never lost the knowledge of my ancillaries, twenty-bodied One Amaat, One Toren, One Etrepa, One Bo, and Two Esk, hands and feet for serving those officers, voices to speak to them. My thousands of ancillaries in frozen suspension. [...] In the approaching shuttle I felt the distance decrease, felt more forcefully the sensation of being the ship. One Esk became even more what it had always been -- one small part of myself. My attention was no longer commanded by things apart from the rest of the ship.
[Kindle Locations 2268-2270. See note 4]. 
I like, by the way, how Leckie treads the line here between describing One Esk merging into Justice of Toren from One Esk's perspective and from Justice-of-Toren-minus-One-Esk's perspective. It raises some interesting questions about retrospective confabulation, too, as One Esk's memories become Justice of Toren's and vice-versa, acknowledging that they were never exactly separate in the first place. But put that aside.

As for the air of exhaustiveness which attaches to "lieutenants of the Amaat, Toren, Etrepa, and Bo decades," we will have to assume that the other five decades -- Var and the four unnamed ones -- are all in cold storage. Including, perhaps, any lieutenants.
To my dismay I found my thoughts slipping around the answer, which remained vague, invisible. That wasn't right. It wasn't right at all.
[loc. 2478]
Third time's the charm?

This is what I think's happening.

Let's say you were wandering around the Justice of Toren. You might see just over four thousand figures, on a busy day. The lunch time rush, or whatever. But actually, on a normal day you will most likely see no more than two hundred or so figures moving around. On each of the upper five decades decks, you will see twenty lieutenants and twenty ancillaries. Nineteen of those lieutenants command units that are currently in cold storage. Perhaps they haven't got much else to do except drink tea, gossip and plot.

I am not sure of the exact arrangements for the cold storage. Perhaps on each of the lower five decades decks, you will see seven-hundred-and-eighty frozen ancillaries in their pods. More likely, the lower five decades deck contain four hundred frozen ancillaries each, and the upper five contain three hundred and eighty frozen ancillaries each, plus twenty awoken ancillaries each.

Roughly half of the frozen ancillaries are assigned, in batches of twenty, to lieutenants that are wandering around on the upper decks. What about lieutenants for the rest? I think the novel omits to tell us. I don't think there are any Var Lieutenants. I also don't think the novel tells us why some decades have lieutenants and others don't. Or perhaps lieutenants can be frozen too. Why do you freeze some lieutenants and not others? I don't think the novel tells us why you freeze some lieutenants and not others. Am I missing something, or are these real lacunae?

My best reconstruction also does not sit altogether comfortably with those sentences which seem to talk about One Esk's lieutenants or Two Esk's lieutenants, rather than Esk's lieutenants. "[I]ts lieutenants — my lieutenants," for instance, at the moment of hand-over. But perhaps it's forgivable as a bit of bureaucratic synecdoche. Or perhaps you could say, they are not Two Esk's lieutenants in the sense that they belong to or command Two Esk, since actually these lieutenants are in command of Three Esk, Four Esk, Five Esk etc. They are "its" lieutenants more in the sense that they are its responsibility, its guests, the things with which it is immediately concerned. That is the best I can do with that sentence.

Why on earth am I going on like this? Ancillary Justice struck a real chord. If the novel's naming system involves certain contradictions, vagaries, or oblique moments requiring pretty strenuous sympathetic reconstruction to make sense of them, then it didn't seem to trouble the many readers who loved this novel. I guess that's what I want to show here: a lot of untroubled people.

Probably, I must add, there are also spare dead bodies frozen somewhere, bodies that cannot exactly be called ancillaries yet: when a tech medic replaces a lost segment of One Esk (loc. 2298) there is no suggestion that the segment has been borrowed from one of the other Esks (i.e. Eighteen Esk One, or whoever, has not been reassigned to become One Esk Eighteen) or from Var or one of the unnamed decades.

So there we are Justice of Toren One Esk Nineteen, that's it. That's the kind of name you are. Whatever it is you lift for inspection squirms, sports ancillaries, disguises them, fiddles the books, fails to be possible from all angles at once, hides itself, escapes, is torn apart by currents, demands resurrections, implies AWOL officers, sprouts unnamed masses and sleeping masses and beyond them all the watchful waiting masses of the frozen dead. Maybe not so different from normal names after all?


Toren sounds like the word torrent has been torn into the word torn by a torrent.

Breq sounds like "break," but also carries a faintly comic, faintly dangerous stolidness with it. A brick, a piece cemented into a larger structure, of course.

It could also be a watery word. You can maybe faintly hear the cries of Breq's copies, her accomplices, her co-auxiliaries, who have croaked: as in Aristophanes's Brekekekex, ko-ax, ko-ax.

Above all, it suggests that river again, the river in which the self is identical with the self, despite the disparate flux of its ingredients over time. Identical so long as it doesn't split, as in, BREQ: branch if not equal.


Ancillary. Extra, auxiliary. Mid 17th century: from Latin ancillaris, from ancilla ‘maidservant.' 1870–75; < Latin: female slave, maid, probably anc- + -illa diminutive suffix, by reanalysis of ancula  maid < *anquola, equivalent to an- (see ancile) + *-quola, noun derivative of a v. base *quel- turn about, hence “one who circles around”; cognate with Greek amphípolos attendant.


Bit by bit, I am learning that titles and, in particular, author's names, often occupy significant and thematically-charged positions within the soundscapes of stories.

Ann Leckie can be faintly heard in Awn Lieutenanty, of course. It seems like a bit of a stretch, although lieutenant is one of those words which can sound very different from the way it looks -- "loo-tenant," or "left-tenant."

I can also hear a reassuring "just us!" in the word "Justice," as if someone sat absorbing in some activity -- writing a novel, perhaps, including all the muttering and hand-waving and side-eyeing daydreams that can involve -- is suddenly startled by a foreign but benign presence. It's only me, the intruder might say. The intruder might be you, might be one of the faeries that foam on the peripheries of self. Don't be afraid -- "it's only me!" Or, "just us!"

Then there's ancillary.

Ancillary is not a common word. One corpus search ranked it as the 17927th most frequent word, with less than 5% of those hits from fiction. 17927th makes ancillary more rare than Perestroika. It makes it more rare than greenish. More rare than boneless. More rare than mink. It comes right after cystic, subdivide and maestro.

It is not an unusual type of word for space opera. Space opera is replete with vocabulary with this kind of fusty, bland, bureaucratic aura. Carefully used, they can neutralise the subgenre's silliness. Larry Niven's General Products, perhaps, or Iain M. Banks's General Systems Vehicles.

Anne Statutory Justice: The Statute of Anne in 1710 was a watershed in the history of copyright law, that is, law about what counts exactly as stream of text splitting into many, and what counts an an originary spring, or a lake into which streams of text flow and are mingled and indistinguishable. Histories of copyright often begin with the Statute of Anne. It is a rather meta origin: the origin of a ramifying system of thinking and practice about how origins and ramifications should be construed.

Ancillary echoes Ann Leckie. It is almost anagrammatical. Anncileke Justice, by An Lliacry.

But ancillary is one of the few examples which almost encloses the word "silly". But it is cancelled by the prefix an, meaning not or without, as in anaerobic.


An is also a special word in English. In predicate logic notation, ∃, the existential qualifier, does not distinguish between a and an. That would be silly. The expression ∃xP could stand for "there exists a friend that is P" or "there exists an enemy that is P" depending on whether x stands for friend or enemy. It is the only word I can think of that flows into the next in quite that way. I'm not quite sure what to make of that, right now.

SFF names #8: Ged
SFF names #7: Shevek
SFF names #6: Buhle
SFF names #5: Parva "Pen" Khan
SFF names #4: Beth Bradley
SFF names #3: Rumpelstiltskin
SFF names #2: Lucy
SFF names #1: Winnie


Note 1: Despite the fact that "every breath, every twitch of every muscle" of the lieutenants is known to Justice of Toren, the lieutenants are still other people: "I stayed with her." But this confuses me just a little: "The Justice of Ente Seven Issas were human, and knew I was not." And: "they would much prefer to replace One Esk with a human unit." It seems to imply that even ordinary humans, non-ancillaries, presumably not part of the flowing-and-separating-and-coalescing mind conceit which runs throughout the novel, would also be labelled with Seven Issas One, Seven Issas Two and so on? I begin to wonder if I've missed something major. Or would they be Seven Issas Tracy, Seven Issas Bob, etc.? As regards the question of whether One Esk is really a unit of twenty from a much larger grouping called Esk, this does not sit comfortably: "One Esk killed as many people as the soldiers of Justice of Ente's Issa" (loc. 242). Is it valid to compare, with such an air of arithmetic precision, the atrocities of twenty soldiers to the atrocities of perhaps hundreds of soldiers? Or is that the point?

Note 2: Is Two Esk a sort of new quasi-autonomous fragment of AI generated in the absence of One Esk, to be integrated back into One Esk on One Esk's return, and then into Justice of Toren at large? No, in the end, I don't think it's that at all. Rather I think Two Esk exists all along, whether or not One Esk is there, and the sense in which it has "taken One Esk's place" is to do with skeleton crew and perhaps ceremonial duties, rather than meaning "emerged to replace One Esk in the cognitive ecology of Justice of Toren."

The whole decades systems troubled me on a first and second and third reading. What threw me? Fwiw, this threw me a bit:

(1) "As I still had ancillaries, I could be in more than one place at a time. I was also on detached duty in the city of Ors, on the planet Shis’urna, under the command of Esk Decade Lieutenant Awn" (Kindle Locations 153-155). Here I thought perhaps a Decade Lieutenant was a rank. But no. All the sentence wants to convey is that Awn is a Lieutenant who belongs to Esk Decade, along with nineteen other Lieutenants.

(2) Also this: "most of Justice of Toren Esk went back to the ship, but Lieutenant Awn stayed, and I stayed with her as the twenty-ancillary unit Justice of Toren One Esk." (Kindle Locations 177-178). "Most" here must refer to the nineteen Esk Lieutenants other than Awn.

(3) And also this: "[...] I had never really lost the sense of being part of Justice of Toren. My kilometers of white-walled corridor, my captain, the decade commanders, each decade's lieutenants, each one's smallest gesture, each breath, was visible to me. I had never lost the knowledge of my ancillaries, twenty-bodied One Amaat, One Toren, One Etrepa, One Bo, and Two Esk, hands and feet for serving those officers, voices to speak to them. My thousands of ancillaries in frozen suspension." The word "officers" can only mean the lieutenants and commanders really, can't it? I was thrown into yet another a fruitfully futile & vice-versa line of speculation, but I get it now: the "those" of "those officers" is referring to the folks in the previous sentence.

Is in that sentence a pronoun or can we call it a name? Just as surely as stayed with Awn, left Awn behind.

(4) And also this: "As I still had ancillaries, I could be in more than one place at a time. I was also on detached duty in the city of Ors, on the planet Shis’urna, under the command of Esk Decade Lieutenant Awn." [Kindle Locations 153-155]. This early on, it is just as reasonable to assume that Lieutenant Awn is in charge of Esk Decade (and by extrapolation, that each lieutenant is in charge of a decade). Which would of course create problems later on.

Note 3: Is Breq including the non-One Esk ancillaries -- ancillaries such as Justice of Toren One Amaat Four and Justice of Toren One Etrepa Nine -- and perhaps also the human crew of Justice of Toren, such as Lieutenant Awn? Probably that's it.

Unless this "I" is limited to Esk? Which could imply the eyes of Two Esk, the eyes of a never-mentioned Three Esk, and so on?

Note 4: The word "officers" can only mean the lieutenants and commanders really, can't it? (I was thrown into a futile line of speculation, but I get it now: the "those" of "those officers" is referring to the folks in the previous sentence).

PS: "The characters do not live, they merely act," suggests Nina Allan. Portraying one mind in many bodies produces a bias toward acts. I sat on the sofa, typing, while I stood in the kitchen waiting to plunge the coffee. It is easily said and easily understood. But what did I feel? Sense? What filled the braided sensorium?

PPS: The etymology of Eskimo is uncertain. It probably comes from a word in the Innu-aimun (Montagnais) language meaning "snowshoe-netter," or "people who speak another language." Cf. Mailhot, J. (1978). "L'étymologie de «Esquimau» revue et corrigée," Etudes Inuit 2-2 pp. 59–70. The etymology from askamiciw ("he eats it raw") in Algonquian languages is generally considered false. There is a parallel universe where the label grime never really caught on, and that kind of music is called eski instead.


  1. This post had a rare effect on me: it made the decade I spent in academia feel retroactively worthwhile. What possible good from all that postmodern theory claptrap? Aha! The ability to see what's delightful _here_.

  2. THANKS! I am trying to be not interdisciplinary or postdisciplinary but just really really lacking discipline in this series.