Saturday, December 7, 2013

Ancillary Justice

My office, left-center

With the advent of my newly indentured servitude in the dusty and shadowed corridors at the Great Institute of Secret Learning and Ancient Knowledge, I've had plenty of time to catch up on my reading while crammed into the moldy dark of the commuter cattle cars with the rest of the plebeian laborers.

And so, I recently finished Ancillary Justice.

It's the first book by Author Ann Leckie. You might have heard something about it not too long ago. It was making quite a splash in the genre-fiction world, gaining the type of pre-release hype a debut author only dreams about. This is how I heard of it and ended up picking it up.

But for our desert island readers, here is what the back cover synopsis had to say:

"On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest.

Breq is both more than she seems and less than she was. Years ago, she was the Justice of Toren--a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of corpse soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy.

An act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with only one fragile human body. And only one purpose--to revenge herself on Anaander Mianaai, many-bodied, near-immortal Lord of the Radch."

Weird, huh? Kind of interesting though, right?

I certainly thought so.

So, maybe somewhat unsurprisingly, the synopsis has the long and short of it. The story is about Breq. Breq is a dead person filled with the last remnant of an AI which was once housed in a massive starship and the hundreds of corpses that made up its crew. Its only living crew members had been its officers. During this time, Breq was known as The Justice of Toren, part of a grand fleet on a continuing mission of annexing planets one by one for the galaxy-spanning empire that built her, all in the service of their nearly omni-present and conquering Emperor Anaander Mianaai. But then something happened--something bad, something blood-soaked--and now Breq is all that is left and she is consumed with a thirst for revenge on the Emperor she once bowed to.

So despite the initial odd edges and ideas, the book is actually a pretty basic set-up when you get right down to it, but also perhaps unsurprisingly, it's those odd edges that really make it stand apart. They are well-written and smart--if maybe somewhat light on the more exciting "action" descriptions, but that's really only a minor complaint. Ancillary Justice is a fun read, stuffed with ideas and coolness, but it moves at a quick pace.

The really interesting part about this book is that it's all written in the First Person. Okay, sure, that's not all that revolutionary at all, actually, except in this case the POV is from that of an AI that used to be a giant starship, and for a large part of the book, also inhabits multiple bodies simultaneously. It's a testament to Leckie's sure hand that the POV jump between the ship and it's many bodies (or Ancillaries... see what she did there with the title? Eh? Eh?) is not only smooth and easy to follow, but feels natural.

Another interesting aspect--very interesting actually--is that, as a result of being a spaceship in a human body, gender is a confusing idea to Breq, and not always readily apparent to her whenever she has to deal with other humans. It's a bit of an issue for her and she often worries if she's guessing right. And what's really great about that is that the default pronoun she uses in the story ends up being "she". Thus, gender is not only a bit opaque for Breq, but for the reader too. And, much like the multiple POV shifts between the same character in its multiple bodies, it feels very natural. In fact, it didn't take long before I didn't notice the lack of "hes" in the book at all. Really, despite Breq's confusion, the gender of the other characters is not only often easily distinguishable, but it quickly becomes apparent that it doesn't really matter.

It's all very well done. Very impressive.

In the end, I really enjoyed the book. The answer to what's going on and what happened to Breq and why she wants her revenge is interesting and fun. Some folks out there might complain that the book turns out to mostly be a prequel for a greater story yet to be told, but I didn't mind that at all. If that tale is ever shared, I will definitely show up for it. All in all, Ancillary Justice is worth the hype and worth the read.

Very recommended.

Buy it, read it,

1 comment:

Qlaudie said...

What a fascinating premise. I will check it out.