RogerBW's Blog

Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie 27 November 2018

2013 Hugo- and Nebula-award-winning science fiction. Breq is less than she was; she has memories of being the AI controlling the huge troop transport spacecraft Justice of Toren, and of being one of its "ancillaries", human bodies with personalities overwritten by said AI and used as soldiers. But she still has a job to do.

This is my first re-review; Ancillary Justice was the tenth book I reviewed on this blog. Then I saw the book mostly as a consideration of various forms of loss; this time what struck me most was was the way in which the culture of the Radchaai deliberately sets them apart from others. Civilised people wear gloves at all times, non-Radchaai don't. All Radchaai are "she" and if you're brought up there you basically don't regard gender presentation as important; non-Radchaai get all offended if you mis-gender them, which you do all the time because who cares really? It's reminiscent of the theory that the laws of the Israelites were intended at least in part to prevent intermarriage and the consequent dilution or merging of the tribe: if you can never share a meal with someone, you're a lot less likely to marry into their family or vice versa.

The viewpoint is Breq's, and as an AI constructed to serve the Radch she simply doesn't notice things (like the process of making ancillaries) that the reader is likely to find both horrible and horrifying: that's just the way things are, and she is even more compliant with her upbringing than most people tend to be. Even when she starts to rebel against elements of that upbringing, it is a rebellion that is consonant with the rest of it.

There's some splitting of timelines, with events that happened twenty years ago described in some detail, and events of a millennium ago mentioned where they're significant. This is a time-binding civilisation that's been going for thousands of years, and if there's a failure it's that Breq doesn't feel like someone with those thousands of years of memories and lived experience (not that I necessarily know what such a person would feel like) – and nor does Anaander Mianaai, the immortal and many-bodied ruler of the Radch. A person like that shouldn't be as easily relatable as they are, even if they can put up an effective façade of humanity.

But this works. It's still one of the best books I've read.

Reread for Neil Bowers' Hugo-Nebula Joint Winners Reread. The other nominees for the 2014 Hugo were Charles Stross's Neptune's Brood, Mira Grant's Parasite, Larry Correia's Warbound, and The Wheel of Time nominated on the basis of Brandon Sanderson's continuation of the series after Robert Jordan had died. (Which bit of rules-lawyering led to the Best Series Hugo.) The only one of those I'd even consider reading is the Stross, and I'm not enthusiastic.

The Nebula nominees are completely disjoint from the Hugos apart from this book: they consist of Karen Joy Fowler's We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Charles E. Gannon's Fire with Fire, Nicola Griffith's Hild, Linda Nagata's The Red: First Light, Sofia Samatar's A Stranger in Olondria, and Helene Wecker's The Golem and the Jinni. I've read and enjoyed (and reviewed) First Light, though this book is certainly better by my lights, and I've heard negative things about Olondria, but I know nothing of the rest.

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See also:
Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie
Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie
The Red: First Light, Linda Nagata

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