Science fiction is about ideas, and Ann Leckie has a lot of them in Ancillary Justice. It’s an exciting debut novel and earning a lot of praise. It’s ambitious in its scale and in challenging the way you think.
I’d read a lot about Ancillary Justice before I picked it up. Most notably the exclusive use of the female pronoun. I found it distracting, especially at first, to find everyone referred to as “she”. It did, however, make me think. What were my expectations of how someone should speak or act or think or feel based on their gender? How does separating those thoughts or action from gender motivations affect the story? It did make me look at the story in a fresh way.
Ancillary Justice is also the story of a fractured consciousness, once living in thousands of bodies and ships simultaneously, now residing in a single body. The book explores from several angles the dependence and integration of biology and artificial intelligence as well as what it means when a mind is divided against itself. It looks at how a world dependent on conformity looks at those who are different.
This book is also an examination of the sort of atrocities that get overlooked, both by individuals and by social institutions because they have existed for a long time and because people are uncomfortable with the changes that would come about with a change to the status quo.
Ancillary Justice throws you into the deep end and only gradually explains itself as the book progresses. I found it slow in the beginning but it gradually picked up the pace. None of the characters are particularly likable and their motivations are not always fully explained, at least not in this first book of an intended series.
I wish the book had been a little more exciting or had more engaging characters. That being said, I can’t remember the last book that’s made me think this much or been as rich in ideas and concepts. You could fill at least another book with theories and exploration of what this book means. Ann Leckie has been richly and rightfully praised for this debut novel, and with a Hugo nomination, more acclaim may be in her future. If you enjoy “the big idea” and novels that make you think, Ancillary Justice is a must. It’s an excellent choice for book club or other discussion. Highly recommended.
I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.