Author: Ann Leckie
Publisher: Orbit Books
Where I Received the Title: NetGalley
There has been a lot of positive publicity about Ann Leckie’s debut novel and to be honest, it is a large part of the reason why I picked up this book. But popularity isn’t the my biggest attractor. Of the broad spectrum that makes up SFF, futuristic science fiction has the greatest appeal for me. Add philosophical elements and great ideas and I’m hooked. On the premise alone, Ancillary Justice had me half-way reeled in before I made it past the first page.
Ancillary Justice alternates between two different timelines. The present tells of a woman named Breq who is the remnant of an AI-controlled hive mind. Each body is an appendage, known as an ancillary, but Breq has been disconnected from the collective (are they dead?) and now hides her identity. Her mission is to assassinate the leader of the Radch, an empire she once served under.
The second time line takes place nearly twenty years earlier when Breq is but an ancillary of the mother ship, Justice of Toren. She serves the empire as a ship with many extensions, finding problems in the way the empire is being controlled, eventually leading up to the events that destroy her collective consciousness.
Like many reviewers before me, I found this novel to be a fresh and welcome read. Where many authors paint green skin on a human mind and call it alien, Leckie fully immerses us in a foreign culture. Language assumptions are a large part of what makes the Radch culture alien. In Western society, we take much of our language for granted. Many latin languages assign male or female articles to objects and until recent decades, male pronouns in English were assumed to be inclusive of their female counterparts. In Leckie’s novel, Breq struggles with many assumptions the Radch language makes about gender and other terms, forcing her to choose her words carefully to avoid causing offense. Her struggles reward the reader with the study of how we use words and left me pondering some of the linguistic themes days after I had finished the book.
The technology is also interesting. Leckie crafts futuristic armor and weapons, delving into the popular theme of body manipulation, which other reviewers have likened into the Culture world of Iain M. Banks. She also touches on the themes of collective consciousness, individualism, and the sentience of artificial intelligence.
I am typically not a fan of parallel timelines, but it actually works fairly well in this novel. The events that are separated by two decades are interrelated and as we progress through the novel, we gain an understanding of how Breq was created and why she wants to kill the leader of the Radch. If there is any fault to the format of the novel it is in the manner information is given to the reader. At the novel’s beginning, Breq’s background is withheld from the reader, making the first third of it a bit confusing. As I progressed through the novel, this information was given in droves and it often felt over-explained.
My criticisms are minor in what I found to be an excellent work. For anyone looking for intelligent science fiction, this is an absolute must read. Judging by the high level of praise it has received, I won’t be surprised to see it up for (or winning) awards next year. While the novel is far from perfect, its praise is deserved and Leckie has delivered one of the best far-future science fiction novels I’ve read in a while. I look forward to reading the sequel in what is planned to be a loosely-tied trilogy.