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16 May 2016 @ 07:53 pm
Ancillary Justice  
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie won just about every award going in 2013/2014. It was also the centre of some controversy based on its use of pronouns and so became one of the contentious points in the current brouhaha surrounding the Hugos* (I notice that one of the factions involved has now become more reconciled to the series which doesn't entirely surprise me since, pronouns aside, I would have thought Ancillary Justice if not precisely thoughtful action-oriented military SF is close enough to that genre to appeal to its fans).

To be honest, Ancillary Justice reminds me a lot of Iain M. Banks' Culture novels. It lacks the sense of a wild imagination running amok that some of those novels had and the overtly socialist agenda, but it does have a galaxy spanning civilisation, ships governed by AIs, murky politics and set piece dramatics. It tells the tale of Breq, an ancillary part of a ship AI, who is out on her own beyond the fringes of the Radch Empire in search of a weapon with which to kill the Lord of the Radch. Along the way Breq picks up Seivarden who used to be an officer of hers. In another move reminiscent of Banks' work (though it is a common enough device) the story starts in the middle and works both forwards from the point where Breq stumbles across Seivarden and backwards through her memories explaining how she got to where she is and why she is seeking to kill the Lord of the Radch.

The world-building is excellent. It has nice touches including, for instance, genuine thought given to the issues of communicating across vast distances (though there is still implicit faster-than-light travel, just not so fast that all distances become trivial), distributed intelligence (both natural and artificial) and interesting thoughts about the nature of empire while working hard not to be simply an analogy for, say, the Roman Empire. Then there are the pronouns. Breq, when thinking in her native language, thinks of everyone as `she' because the Radch civilisation is uninterested in gender. The constant reminder that all these character are largely androgynous in appearance is surprisingly disorienting and makes the civilisation seem genuinely different. I don't think its an effect that could have been achieved by using `he' as the default pronoun. I liked it, once I had go used to it. I thought it was a clever idea and a nice use of prose to convey world detail.

Obviously, I'm always a bit of a sucker for good world-building but there is a genuinely gripping story here, even without all the details. I wanted to know why Breq was on the quest she was and I wanted to know how it would work out. The only weakness, I would say, is that it is a massive coincidence that Breq happens to stumble across Seivarden when she does. I know it is generally felt that stories can get away with one massive coincidence and the world building is at least constructed so that Breq and Seivarden consider the coincidence to be a manifestation of fate, rather than something completely random but I'd have liked there to be a more coherent reason for Seivarden to wind up where he/she did.

There are sequels and, as with a distressing amount of my recent reading, they have gone on my Amazon wish list. I must try to get more stand alone novels on my to read pile.

* If you don't know about the current brouhaha surrounding the Hugos then I wouldn't recommend looking into it unless you feel sufficiently divorced from written SF, social justice arguments and authorial egos of various stripes to enjoy it for the popcorn-munching value. It must be said that last year it had extremely high popcorn value, but less this year I think, since most of the arguments are the same as last year and are just repeating themselves. On the other hand, this year, with the appearance of Chuck Tingle** on the ballot, one could argue it has achieved some kind of bizarre performance art status in its own right.

** TBH, if I thought high concept comedy gay dinosaur erotica was remotely my sort of thing I would be checking out Chuck Tingle because the way I've seen his body of work described makes it sound rather wonderful, but I suspect I would have to skim an awful lot of porn to get to the interesting bits. At the moment my plan is to get fredbassett to read it for me.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/192085.html.
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Mrs Darcyelisi on May 17th, 2016 08:34 pm (UTC)
I hadn't heard of Ancillary Justice before, thank you for the rec!

(Although goodness knows when I'll have time to read. But. I shall put it on my list...)
louisedennis: bookslouisedennis on May 18th, 2016 06:58 pm (UTC)
I have both a to read pile and an Amazon wish list that is ever threatening to get out of hand. Too many books! too little time!
philmophlegm: Traveller Adventurephilmophlegm on May 24th, 2016 06:50 pm (UTC)
My to-read pile (or rather shelves) now numbers a little short of 150 books*. One of those is Ancillary Justice. And, partly on this recommendation, it's going to be my next book. I've seen so many wildly differing opinions, that I really have no view on whether I'm going to love it or hate it.

I love space opera**. I hate fancy lit tricks like telling the story out of order or faffing around with pronouns especially if it's done to win awards or 'because patriarchy' or whatever. Quite a few people whose opinions I value thought it was overhyped rubbish. But then quite a few people whose opinions I also value really liked it.

So don't know. But here we go.


* Yeah, like you I really should read some standalones rather than the first in a series to reduce the pile!
** Although I'm guessing that this isn't exactly Travelleresque in its setting.
louisedennis: bookslouisedennis on May 24th, 2016 07:05 pm (UTC)
Mileage May Vary. In the end I thought the pronouns were a genuine and clever attempt to convey the thought processes of a different society not 'because patriarchy', if only because the rest of that society is clearly deeply and rigidly hierarchical and classist so it's hardly being promoted as some kind of leftist utopia.

It's odd in that a lot of it feels like military SF to me but it isn't because the emphasis is more on the culture of an empire that was expansionist and has yet to really adapt to a change of direction, rather than on the military per se or military action (though a large part of the novel is set in a world that is transitioning from occupied to integrated and so has a strong military presence). All the key characters are military though, which I suppose explains that sense of where the novel might otherwise sit.

Not very Traveller, I would say. It doesn't focus much on trade and what one does get to understand of it suggests it is governed fairly heavily by feudal-patronage style mechanisms.