Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
Just finished reading Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. It would be easy to say I had mixed feelings about this but to be honest I don’t have mixed feelings at all – it simply, and bluntly wasn’t for me! And, that’s in spite of having some very original (to me anyway) concepts and from having what I considered to be a very good ending.
Set far into the future Ancillary Justice is a space opera of epic proportions. At the start of the story we follow Breq, currently residing on an unfriendly and largely inhabitable ice planet Breq comes across a former colleague, Seivarden, who has been attacked and lies dying in the cold – that is, until Breq intercedes. This is a strange relationship between two characters who have no liking for each other. Now, jump back approximately 20 years and follow the story of One Esk Nineteen of the Justice of Toren warship. One Esk is an ancillary, an AI, linked to many other similar AIs all sharing their thoughts and actions. I’m not quite sure how to describe ancillaries other than that they are simply shells of people that have been used to create armies to be used by the Radch Empire in it’s quest to rule the stars. Bear in mind at this point that these are not the only avatars being used in the story.
What becomes fairly quickly apparent is that Breq and One Esk are in fact one and the same character – except all One Esk’s former counterparts were destroyed along with the Justice of Toren about 20 years ago. Breq, the only survivor now seeks revenge upon the person responsible – the Lord of the Radch – Anaander Mianaai.
So, what did I like about the story.
Well, without a doubt, there’s a lot to comprehend. This is a story of revenge. It’s fairly involved given all the characters and different systems plus becoming familiar with all the names, back story and the way the AIs function plus trying to get a feel for Breq and Seivarden. It’s a book of politics that takes a look at issues of class and inequality. The measures to which some societies will go to impose their will upon those that they deem ‘uncivilised’ and in the act of doing so commit all manner of atrocities themselves. It is, without doubt a thought provoking book and whether you like it or not it will definitely make you sit and consider things.
I actually liked that the author has come up with a system where sexual identity seems to be left undefined. The dominant culture seem to use a language that uses primarily the word ‘she’ although sometimes with a scattering of the word ‘he’. In their language and culture this is acceptable but does lead to difficulties when conversing with people from other cultures. What I actually really like about this concept is that whilst reading the book I didn’t have any defined ideas of how a person should be acting because of their gender. In fact this was really a breath of fresh air. I wasn’t thinking about the dynamics of possible relationships between characters or whether a character was acting in a way that I thought they would or should because of any predetermined ideas based on their gender. I was simply concentrating on the story. Such a great concept. But, that being said, I didn’t like the way it was executed. In other words everyone described using the female pronoun ‘she’. Why? I think it was a little confusing to be honest. If you’re going to have a genderless society or at least – not genderless because clearly there are males and females but a society where ‘he’ and ‘she’ have become irrelevant somehow in terms of the language then why still specify one of these? It just seemed odd to me and jarred a little plus it just felt a little confusing (although I admit that could just be me and the fact that I’m such a newbie to sci-fi). I mean, I just don’t get it. Why would you ever reach a point where you drop one of these descriptors but not the other? If you’re trying to reach some sort of equilibrium it clearly makes sense to drop both altogether doesn’t it?
The other slight negatives for me – in a universe this size, how likely was it that Breq would have come across Seivarden – seems a bit too convenient a plot point – and yet, did Seivarden really add anything? Other than getting Breq a foot in the door towards the end probably not – although I concede that both Breq and Seivarden were having identity issues and their journey together seemed to alter them both – which was actually one of the more enjoyable elements of the story for me. Plus, whilst I did like the ending it felt a little bit too easy in parts. I can’t say more because I don’t want to spoil it.
Anyway, I can’t deny that there are parts of this story that were really good and I did become quite gripped towards the end but to be honest this wasn’t really for me and put simply it didn’t hold my attention the way I thought it would. Can a good ending redeem the book – sometimes, but in this instance I don’t think so. This book took a lot longer than I would have expected because I kept putting it down and finding it hard to pick up again. I’m clearly in a minority as it seems to be very popular so I certainly wouldn’t try and dissuade anyone from reading but I doubt that I will continue with this series. I must confess that I feel a bit grumpy with myself for struggling with this one and feeling like somehow I’ve missed something fundamental or just been too plain dense to ‘get’ it – I really did want to love it but it just didn’t happen and that’s just the way the cookie crumbles sometimes.
This is my first read for Sci Fi November 2014. Check out the details here.