Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
They made me kill thousands, but I only have one target now.
The Radch are conquerors to be feared - resist and they'll turn you into a 'corpse soldier' - one of an army of dead prisoners animated by a warship's AI mind. Whole planets are conquered by their own people.
The colossal warship called The Justice of Toren has been destroyed - but one ship-possessed soldier has escaped the devastation. Used to controlling thousands of hands, thousands of mouths, The Justice now has only two hands, and one mouth with which to tell her tale.
But one fragile, human body might just be enough to take revenge against those who destroyed her.
Winner of this year’s Arthur C Clarke award, Ancillary Justice is Ann Leckie’s debut novel, and as you can imagine after receiving such an accolade, an impressive one. The Justice of Toren, formerly a vast warship AI, is betrayed by its maker, but its consciousness lives on in an ancillary body and it is on a mission to correct the injustice done to it and its captain.
A 20-year search for a weapon to destroy the all-seeing, thousand-bodied leader of the Radch, Anaander Mianaai, brings Justice, or Breq as it now calls itself, to a frozen planet where she finds lying unconscious and near to death her former captain from a thousand years ago. Seivarden, lost in space for a thousand years in suspended animation, woke up in a world vastly different from his own with his entire family and assets gone. Seivarden’s unexpected re-entry into Justice’s life prompts the gradual unveiling through flashbacks of the series of events which led to Justice’s destruction and its realisation that treachery led to the very heart of the empire.
I thought Justice was a fascinating and sympathetic character and it was interesting to see a vast AI confined to a human form with its limited abilities. Leckie could have written Justice as a cold, calculating and emotionless machine consciousness, but instead she gave it a level of warmth and humanity, which engaged me and made it a far more relatable character. Vast in scope, but tightly written, I found this book effortless to read and I was charmed by Justice’s struggles to appear human whilst navigating the social cues of different human societies, as well as impressed by the character, and other characters’, depth.
An interesting point I found was the way the Radch do not have male and female pronouns and the author uses ‘she’ or ‘her’ for every character, with it being a first person narration by Justice. This leads to amusing moments where Justice gets annoyed at the lack of obvious male or female indicators in societies where the language requires male and female pronouns, but it can also get confusing. For the most part it didn’t make much difference but it can make characters difficult to visualise, and there is no description at all of Justice’s features. However, I found this is an interesting way of re-evaluating as a reader how I build a character in my mind, particularly when a person who I thought was female, like Seivarden, actually turns out to be male.
A sequel, Ancillary Sword, is out in October and I very much look forward to seeing how the action and world expands.
Cat Fitzpatrick, 9/10
Science fiction books have, for the most part, resided somewhere between overly realistic and overly fantastical, dismissing the implicit assumptions made by a genre titled science-fiction. Recently we’ve seen authors like Peter F. Hamilton and the pseudonymous James S.A. Corey (among others) step into the gap, writing science fiction that is based in the realistic without sacrificing the fun.
The question, however, is whether there is room for the more fantastical type of science fiction. Ann Leckie has answered that question with a resounding ‘YES’ with her stellar debut, ‘Ancillary Justice’.
Set in a human-alien populated universe, there is nothing easy about stepping into this book. Varying-personal pronouns are thrown out the window, favouring instead a simple female-pronoun for every character despite their gender, and with very little reason why. Millennia-old space vessels are the norm, replete with a hold-full of human bodies waiting to be linked into the massive AI that powers each vessel, again with very little explanation as to how or why.
And none of it is a barrier to entry, as long as you are willing to be swept up by the story and carried along. If you just have to know why what is why, how, and when, then you might be a little frustrated by this book, but I encourage you to dismiss your preconceptions and perceived necessities, and just let the wonderful story and brilliantly imaginative world Ann Leckie has created lull you into one of the more impressive stories 2013 is going to hold.
Our perspective is that of an ancillary, one of the aforementioned human hosts to the ancient space-faring ship AIs, giving us insight into one of the most complex and fascinating point-of-views I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. Combined with the story’s ‘hook’ – left unsaid for this review – the back and forth of this book is breath-taking, leaving me reading deep into the night, night after night, wanting to find out what happens next.
The characters are all beautifully rounded, fleshed out and given the opportunity to be bad, good, morally ignorant, or morally bankrupt. There is character growth, great evil, and great sacrifice for good, and it all leads to civil war.
There is really nothing I can say bad about this book except to say – in what may sound like a backhanded compliment – that I cannot wait to see Ann Leckie grow as an author with each subsequent publication. There are surely significant heights ahead of her, and I stand ready to enjoy them the moment they become available to me.
Joshua S Hill, 9.5/10
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