By Ann Leckie
I made up my mind to read Ancillary Justice when I saw Kameron Hurley tweet that her book The Mirror Empire (which I read and loved last year) would never have gotten published if not for the success of Ancillary Justice. The author of the weirdest and most innovative fantasy of the past decade is tipping her hat to this book? I’m in.
One of the first things that anybody will mention about Ancillary Justice—at least, the first thing that everyone has mentioned to me about it—is the way gender is treated. Or rather, the way it isn’t treated; throughout the book, the narrator simply refers to everyone using feminine pronouns. As becomes clear fairly quickly, this is because she is an artificial intelligence, and moreover one that was created by a society where gender differences aren’t recognized. It makes for an interesting tension in spots where she has to interact with people who do care about gender, but the most impressive thing about this choice is how little it ends up mattering for most of the story. That is, I was forced to look at how my biases color my perceptions when everyone in the book is a “she,” but in terms of the arc of the story, it mostly doesn’t factor.
Ancillary Justice is a far-future space opera and revenge tale, told from the perspective of a person who used to be a spaceship. Now, that sounds completely bonkers, and I suppose in some ways it is, but accepting an AI as a protagonist turns out to be a lot less mind-bending than dealing with the central premise, which deals with the concept of a consciousness being spread out over many individuals. In this universe, you see, a huge space empire (reminiscent of Rome in many ways) has been conquered using sentient spaceships who control large groups of “ancillaries,” which are essentially human bodies whose brains have been connected to the ship’s AI. But the ancillaries are not only controlled by the ship, rather, the ship’s awareness and “self” is spread across all of those bodies simultaneously. This leads to a few scenes—including some of the most tense and exciting ones in the whole book—that become a little difficult to track, as the narrator speaks of an “I” that is both singular and multiple.
Indeed, the whole motive force behind Ancillary Justice’s plot comes from this idea of multiplicity, and author Ann Leckie explores some really intriguing ideas about identity and consciousness over the course of the story. Moreover, she does it in a way that’s not only intelligent, but also highly entertaining. The whole thing is just really well done, which ought to be obvious of a novel that won both the Hugo and the Nebula in its year. Despite the fact that the pile of books on my nightstand is still quite tall from my Christmas haul, I couldn’t resist running out and picking up the sequel, Ancillary Sword. I can’t wait to find out what happens next.
Started: 12/17/2014 | Finished: 1/14/2015