Sunday, January 24, 2016

Bookworming: Ancillary Justice

Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie, ***
This is a science fiction novel examining individuality and identity. That's not actually the plot, but that's what drives the book, at least for me. Our point of view is provided by the titular Ancillary, a human altered to be a tool for and extension of a starship's artificial intelligence. The first thing that jumps out at you is the use (or lack thereof) of gender. The society that created the ship, the Imperial Radch, de-emphasizes gender, and all the various cultures the ship encountered over its existence expressed it in a variety of ways, leading the AI to be bad at telling the difference between men and women. In addition, many parts of the story involve the ship seeing and acting through multiple ancillaries at a time. Both of these factors could be considered confusing. I think Leckie did an amazing job of keeping the multi-viewpoint clear through the narrative. And having a mostly gender-less cast leads to some interesting questions about gender assumptions for the various characters as the story unfolds. The world building is deft, slowly building from tight focus to the situation in the wider galaxy. In all, there is much here to commend. The book is a slow burn, structured somewhere between quest and unfolding mystery with a great deal of philosophizing mixed in. While it is a space opera of sorts, it falls much more on the Star Trek examination of philosophy and identity side of the spectrum than the Star Wars action and adventure side. For science fiction fans, I think trying this one out should be an easy decision. (If all the awards didn't already give that away.) For a wider audience, I expect mileage may vary by taste and expectations.

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