Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Ancillary Justice Is A Good Book

Or why you should read Ancillary Justice
by Ann Leckie

Ancillary Justice is a novel about The Justice of Toren, a sentient troop carrier in the armed services of the Radch Empire. She is crewed by Ancillaries, enslaved bodies which are extensions of the ship and which are deployed ruthlessly during the annexations that grow Radchaai Space. Justice of Toren has served faithfully and diligently for centuries, but on her most recent mission, a turbulent and troubling assignment, she is betrayed and destroyed. Now only a single Ancillary, a segment of the platoon One Esk, has survived to avenge The Justice of Toren and her beloved human officers. Posing as Breq, a wandering ex-soldier, Justice of Toren One Esk is on a quest for the weapon she needs to kill the tyrant who destroyed her.

Ancillary Justice is kind of the perfect Sci-fi novel. The novel is constructed around an engrossing revenge plot and the mystery of what exactly happened to The Justice Toren and is written with this brutalist clarity that makes the novel accessible and readable. Built into this is the central conceit of the novel: a character study of someone inhuman composed of many human bodies and how that informs their views and opinions. It's a really well executed and fascinating thought experiment. The other interesting bit of speculative fiction is that Radchaai society doesn't discriminate based on gender, which leads the protagonist, Justice of Toren, to treat everyone with the same pronouns and really struggle when she has to operate in gendered situations. What's perhaps even more interesting is that the default pronouns Toren uses are feminine. It's such a small choice, but the way it constantly calls gender into question, makes every character a woman by default (where are all the men?!), is uncomfortable and weird. Which is crazy! We constantly use male pronouns as default human pronouns without thinking about it. By simply inverting this convention, Ancillary Justice really hammers home how messed up it is to us a gender-pronoun as the default since it erases half of people. It's this simple, constant, and biting analysis of gender in our society and it's great. Really, Ancillary Justice is just a great novel filled with a tense, smouldering plot, memorably characters, great Sci-fi high concepts, and really insightful contemporary analysis. It's basically everything I want in a Science Fiction novel.

I would recommend Ancillary Justice to anyone. It's won two of the most prestigious awards in genre fiction and seems to be critically acclaimed. It certainly gets my unreserved recommendation as a masterful bit of fiction. I think it's the kind of novel that transcends genre based on it's quality and is so accessibly written that I think anyone can read it and enjoy it. Regardless of your reading tastes, if you like fiction, you owe it to yourself to give Ancillary Justice a try.

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