Quick Book Thoughts – Ancillary Justice

This blog has been pretty quiet for a while. There are things I keep thinking I should write up, but never get round to. One of those things is my thoughts on the books I’ve been reading since January, and for some reason right now – while I’m sitting on the metro on my way to a Tabletop Day event – felt like the time to start. So here are some quick thoughts on Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie.

Ancillary Justice has already seen a lot of hype around the net. It’s almost guaranteed to win some awards this year, and deservedly so. It’s an entertaining space opera based around a massive space empire, the Radch – a militaristic, expansionist empire only recently forced to give up expansion by the threat of an alien enemy.

The main character is a space ship. More accurately, she’s the ship Justice of Toren’s last surviving ancillary – humans whose minds have been wiped clean and are controlled by the ship’s AI. Leckie brings up interesting questions of identity and humanity through this ancillary, named Breq. Separated from her ship, to the reader Breq seems to have developed a very human personality, but is pretty unaware of it.

Breq also brings up moral questions. As an ancillary, she is in the body of a human who was forcibly taken to have their memories wiped, their body put on ice, and linked into the hive mind of a space ship to serve as expendable footsoldiers. As the Justice of Toren, she has participated in the annexation of dozens of worlds, usually involving mass killings and the creation of ancillaries from a large portion of the population.

Finally, there’s the book’s treatment of gender. The Radchaai language has no gendered words – the sexes are fully equal. Leckie represents this through the use of female pronouns for all characters, and by Breq incorrectly guessing the gender of people she meets when outside of the Radch. Personally, this aspect really brought out inherent biases in my thinking – it drew attention to the places where I assumed the gender of a character. It also made me notice how I latched on to information on a character’s gender and continued to think of them that way for the rest of the book, even though, as the usage in the book makes clear, it was irrelevant.

Anyway, this has gone on longer than intended (and I’m now finishing it on the train home), so I’ll leave it at this: Ancillary Justice is a very good book – original, interesting, and entertaining. Check it out.

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