Review: Ancillary Justice by Anne Leckie
The promotional copy, from goodreads:
On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest. Once, she was the Justice of Toren – a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy. Now, an act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with one fragile human body, unanswered questions, and a burning desire for vengeance.
There are some rather intense speculative set pieces underlying Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, the first novel in a trilogy. The grand idea of “an artificial intelligence linking thousands of soldiers” is first explored in unique narrative sections where multiple viewpoints are offered by a single viewpoint character. It’s handled well. However, it’s later revealed that these Ancillaries of the ship are prisoners of war who have had their consciousness completely override by the ships artificial intelligence. The practicality and horror (interesting reading this right after zer0es) of this practice colors the narrative but isn’t explored too deeply.
The lack of gender in the language of the Radch has been a major discussion point for this book. I particularly like this piece about translating this series into other languages. The exclusive use of female pronouns by the narrator requires the reader to think a bit more deeply about default character assumptions. However, I’ve heard less discussion of the concept of clientage. As I read it, it’s basically a contract like marriage, except with an explicit one way power dynamic and no concept of monogamy. Filtered through the lack of gender distinctions, the concept of clientage offered me plenty to think about with respect to our current views of relationships, contracts and privilege.
There’s a running dialog with religion throughout the novel. The integration of local deities into the pantheon worshiped by the Radch, the devout worship of Radch soldiers, and Breq’s personal icons all contribute to a rich view of religion in the universe Leckie created. The exclusion of Ancillaries from worship and Breq’s view of religion as superstition and simply part of her disguise are in conflict with the comfort she finds at important moments in the Radch reliance on fate and chance. The opening passage of the book offers a shorthand translation between our religious concept of grace and service and the Radch religious concepts of serendipity and chance.
From the good Samaritan opening to that action’s fate like importance to the resolution of the climax, this novel explores deep issues in the trappings of a traditional space opera. The multiple literal interpretations of a mind struggling against itself resonates with my personal struggles with depression. The protective buffer of empire and fear of other resonates with my white male American privilege. Neither of these are ideas I enjoy confronting, but experiencing them in the medium of science fiction (particularly science fiction done this well) is a starting point for some great self reflection.