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text 2016-10-04 19:41
Ancillary Justice - Ann Leckie

Reread–I noticed this time through how much of this book is about surviving after trauma. “Choose my aim, take one step and then the next. It had never been anything else.” And obviously Breq’s particular trauma is VERY particular, but, yeah. (We also see it in Sevendai, in Skaaiat, even in the altar server. Different reactions, different lives, different roads.)

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review 2016-09-19 09:10
“Any measures are justified in the name of civilization.”
Ancillary Justice - Ann Leckie

Ancillary Justice

by Ann Leckie

“If you’re going to make a desperate, hopeless act of defiance you should make it a good one.”

Given its many accolades, I thought it would be impossible for Ancillary Justice to live up to its reputation. It surpassed it.

It's a little hard to describe Ancillary Justice. I've seen it called a space opera, and I suppose it is. I've seen it called a dystopia, and I suppose it is that as well. But to me, it came across primarily as a love story. Not a romance, mind you, but a love story, a tale of devotion and perseverance and friendship and heartache. Or maybe two love stories, and unusual ones at that. Love stories packed into a complex and imaginative far-future world and imperialistic alien culture.

This book is perhaps most notorious for its use of pronouns. Esk, the narrator and an ancillary body of a ship's artificial intelligence, comes from a culture that doesn't have a concept of gender. She simplifies matters by speaking of everyone with female pronouns, even when she is speaking of cultures who do care about gender, although she occasionally makes a blind guess when speaking to others:

Since we weren’t speaking Radchaai I had to take gender into account—Strigan’s language required it. The society she lived in professed at the same time to believe gender was insignificant. Males and females dressed, spoke, acted indistinguishably. And yet no one I’d met had ever hesitated, or guessed wrong. And they had invariably been offended when I did hesitate or guess wrong.

It is disorienting at first, and is as good as an implicit bias test at demonstrating our many preconceptions about gender. Then it just becomes part of the story. The issues of identity experienced by the main antagonist are equally pointed, but no less effective for it.

 

 

I had real trouble keeping track of which Mianaai was which, but I think that was the point. As Esk 19 points out,

"How are we supposed to tell them apart when they’re all the same person?”

As she also says:

“It doesn’t matter whose side anyone is on. It doesn’t matter who wins, because either way it will be you and nothing will really change.”

 

(spoiler show)

I think your experience with the book will depend on how well you deal with the pronouns, whether you like flashbacks, and how much you warm to the characters. Personally, I found myself empathising deeply with Esk; apart from anything else, she has a subtle sense of humor I thoroughly enjoyed. But the core of this book is its ideas.

Apart from gender, the story explores dehumanization, and civilization, and righteous certainty. Esk's world is made up of people who believe they are doing the right thing, even if perhaps this is because they don't look too closely at the ramifications of their actions. The Radchaai are an imperialistic culture; they invade to bring civilization--the very word "Radchaai" means civilization-- to other worlds.

“Any measures are justified in the name of civilization.”

And, of course, the Radchaai are so invested in their culture that they cannot see the inherent injustices in the system.

"Here's the truth: luxury always comes at someone else’s expense. One of the many advantages of civilization is that one doesn’t generally have to see that, if one doesn’t wish."

I don't think anyone would call the story subtle, but the way it explores these issues is multifaceted and nuanced.

Ancillary Justice is a beautiful book. For me, at least, it fully deserved every last bit of the hype. On to Ancillary Sword.

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video 2016-08-13 14:48

Someone made an Ancillary Justice book trailer!

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review 2016-04-29 13:33
Ancillary Justice - Ann Leckie
Ancillary Justice - Ann Leckie

I enjoyed Ancillary Justice quite a lot, although not as much as the hype made me think I would (which is, obviously, not the book's fault).

 

The book follows Breq, a character who used to be the Justice of Toren, an enormous space warship with thousands of ancillaries, human bodies robbed of personality and turned into avatars for the ship AI. Some calamitous event has stripped Breq of her thousands of extra bodies, the ship she embodies and the crew she once looked after, and left her stranded in a single ancillary body. Part of the book, told in flashback, concerns how Justice of Toren became Breq; part of it, told in the present, concerns her quest for revenge.

 

I think what I enjoyed about Ancillary Justice was the fact that Leckie takes pains to imagine a human culture that is sufficiently alien. Justice of Toren was a ship serving the Imperial Radch, a society based on expansion and annexation, conquering inhabited planets, with all the suffering and appropriation that entails. The book never shies away from the unpleasantness of its main characters, the murder they make possible in the name of "civilisation". But Ancillary Justice is not, as a novel such as, say, Isaac Asimov's similarly imperial Foundation is, a story in which humans are the same in space as they are on Earth, today. The Radchaai language, for example, doesn't differentiate between genders; the default for all Radch citizens is female (even if they're biologically male). It's interesting that the internet (read: the Puppies) has made such a fuss about this, because it's not really the point of the book; it's a detail, a reminder that we are exploring alien skies. The meat of the book really lies in its exploration of Radch politics, its conversations about the nature of power and consciousness and the interfaces between cultures.

 

The irony about Ancillary Justice and the Puppies, really, is that this is essentially exactly the kind of book they claim the Hugos exclude: military SF full of blood and violence and upheaval and even some slightly skeevy science. I wouldn't call it groundbreaking - or, at least, I wouldn't if sexism weren't so deeply ground into us all that we're surprised when a novel treats all its characters as female until proven otherwise. I enjoyed reading it, but it didn't make my head explode with awesomeness as apparently it did to the rest of the internet.

 

I will probably read the next one, though.

 

 

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url 2016-03-24 03:46
Ancillary Justice in French (plus a little about the German translation)

Translation choices are fascinating.

 

Which reminds me, one more book and I lose the ability to compare Eugene Woodbury's Twelve Kingdoms fan translations to licensed translations. Sad...

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