Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Book Review: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Pros: fascinating premise, thought provoking, hard SF

Cons: Seivarden’s personality changes a lot

Twenty years ago she was Justice of Toren, the artificial intelligence of a Radchaai spaceship with thousands of ancillary units at her command.  Now she is simply Breq, a single ancillary.  Her mission: to destroy the entity that reduced her to her present state.  

This is a fascinating novel.  It’s predominantly told in chapters alternating between Breq’s present and what happened 20 years ago when One Esk was stationed in the newly annexed city of Ors.  

I liked the idea that the Radchaai language had no genderization (he/she), so Breq finds it difficult to determine the genders of people when speaking other languages, often guessing wrong.  The use of ‘she’ in the book for everyone made me question my own preoccupation with gender, as I first tried to figure out what gender all the characters were, with some difficulty.  As the book wore on, I finally gave up, even though the correct genders for several characters were stated.  Once I got used to the idea that the character’s gender didn’t matter, I found it oddly liberating not caring about what gender everyone was and simply appreciating the characters for their actions.

There were several quotes that spoke to me in the book, like this one by Breq about the actions of her ancillaries and officers who participated in a genocide:

“It’s easy to say that if you were there you would have refused, that you would rather die than participate in the slaughter, but it all looks very different when it’s real, when the moment comes to choose.” (p. 114, ebook edition)

The book definitely makes you think about identity and choices.

While there are jump gates to facilitate and speed up space travel, the book is hard SF in that it still takes a long time to get places.  While you won’t find detailed explanations of how the ship and station AIs work, there is enough information about it to create a good backdrop for the rest of the book.

While there is a plot, it’s the character of Breq/One Esk that carries the book.  She’s such a fascinating figure that you read on just to find out more about her and her past.  

I’m not sure I believed the extent of Seivarden’s transformation from highborn snob to what he becomes at the end of the book, but I did appreciate what he went through and could see how such events would change a person a lot. 

The ending was exciting and satisfying given what’s happened in the story.  It’s open enough for the coming sequel but does stand on its own.

I highly recommend this book.

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