IDENTITY IS SYNCHRONIC, INDIVIDUALITY IS DIACHRONIC
Identity is synchronic, or belonging seamlessly to a larger collective; individuality is diachronic, or narrative, differentiating. That’s the lesson of the book for me.
Leckie has written a very gripping book, despite certain flaws (above all, too many useful coincidences). I think the double narrative (present day and flashbacks) is quite effective not only in advancing the world-building, but also of what might be called “history-building”. This use of history is a very adroit way of giving depth to a character who is supposed to have a zombie flatness to her. After this individuality present behind the hive-mind has been established, the final part of the book can proceed in linear fashion and we will feel the depth to the encounters that Breq has with various figures from her past. “Breq” is well-named, a part that fate “breaks” from a collective mind, a shard from the former Ship hive mind. Her nemesis the emperor Anaander Mianaai,contains a fatal flaw that is the key to her own more complex than was foreseen subjectivity. Anaander to me evokes otherness (ander) and also the bliss of loss of ego in Brahman (ananda). Miannai (pronounced me-an(d)-I in the audiobook) evokes a personality divided against itself. So we have several signs of the theme of a questioning of identity, of its reality and of its legitimacy. The Big Coincidence at the beginning when Breq comes across Seivarden (“severe” and “ardent”) is no doubt very useful to the advancement of the plot towards the end. However we need more than half the book to understand why Breq (who is constructed as a sort of emotionless soldier) unthinkingly saved, and later risked her life for, someone who she had never liked and who has become even more unlikeable. We come to understand that Breq is capable of empathy, and in several different ways. Seivarden is not just a souvenir from her distant past when she was a Ship, his condition as a human out of his time and shorn of his status makes him a shard like her. I think the history-building is very deftly handled. Leckie recounts two events, the genocide of the Garseddai and the rebellion of Ime, that resonate through the book and give depth to Breq’s motivations. Slowly we begin to see Breq as not an emotionless zombie, but as someone exceptionally gifted for empathy because of her situation as shard tragically ripped away from her captain and her Ship mind.