These are my first impressions after reading Ancillary Justice (Ann Leckie; 2013) in August 2014. I will be discussing Ancillary Justice in a future essay.
At one time, the artificial intelligence Justice of Toren was the brain of a massive starship as well as of the crew members on-board and the security forces keeping peace on a conquered planet, inhabiting the bodies of human prisoners-of-war, called ancillaries, whose brains have been wiped clean and repurposed. But now the AI, called Breq, is confined to just one of her ancillary bodies, as she doggedly pursues revenge against the one who betrayed her while becoming embroiled in a complicated struggle for power over the galactic empire.
Ancillary Justice brings a new and unique flavor to the sub-genre of space opera. The story jumps great distances in time and space as it comes together, which may leave the reader feeling untethered at first–but stick with it. Leckie is building a complex empire, and she takes her time with it, allowing us to gradually become immersed. By the time Breq’s ship is destroyed, a heart-stopping moment, I was enthralled and couldn’t wait to keep turning the pages.
Beyond all the political machinations, the betrayals and conspiracies, I enjoyed this book for its interesting take on gender and for its completely unique point of view. Breq, the narrator, is at one point the mind for many bodies as well as a spaceship that can observe everything happening on-board. As such, the point of view is nearly first-person omniscient, which I don’t think I’ve seen done before. After the spaceship is destroyed and the AI is confined to only one body, Leckie continues to thwart narrative norms. For instance, Breq was created in a gender-neutral society where everyone is referred to as “she,” so she cannot distinguish between the genders and uses the same pronoun for everyone she meets, male or female. The effect on the reader is disconcerting, and leads us to question some of our assumptions about gender, especially in science fiction. This is just one of the many interesting questions Leckie raises in this multi-faceted novel.
I always enjoy it when a skilled writer takes overly familiar tropes and tries twisting them in new ways.
Ancillary Justice won the Nebula, Hugo, Arthur C. Clarke, and Locus awards.