Diversity Blog 004: Ancillary Justice
“And you don’t like me saying that, but here’s the truth: luxury always comes at someone else’s expense. One of the many advantages of civilization is that one doesn’t generally have to see that, if one doesn’t wish. You’re free to enjoy its benefits without troubling your conscience.”
Ancillary Justice Spoiler Free Review:
Honored Breq is hunting a weapon of legendary power when she encounters a former commander of hers. She knew Seivarden Vendaai a thousand years ago, before Seivarden disappeared mysteriously. Breq didn’t expect to find the missing captain here, dying in the snow of a cold world outside of civilization, and has no reason to particularly care about her. But for reasons Breq can’t quite figure out, she decides to bring the Captain with her.
Breq is the last remaining Ancillary of a former troop carrier, an artificial intelligence trapped in the body of a human being whose mind was removed and body pressed into service as a mobile “peacekeeping” force for use during annexations. Like all Warship AIs, Breq has her favorite officers (which Seivardan is not among), and an absolute loyalty to Anaandar Minaai.
This second loyalty becomes a problem when it turns out that not even Anaandar Minaai is entirely loyal to herself. The great leader of the Empire has spread her consciousness out among any number of bodies, similar to the way warships use Ancillaries, with the result of being at war against herself. And when Breq and one of her favorites get caught up in the middle of this civil war, lines are crossed that cause Breq to become a seeker for revenge.
A lot of these thoughts will be covered in the following sections, but this book was well written, exciting, and suspenseful. This book does what good science fiction should do — tell a great story while simultaneously addressing questions about humanity as a whole. Honored Breq is written as enough of an outsider to feel strange, but not entirely inhuman, despite being essentially a military corpse possessed by what remains of a destroyed armored personnel carrier.
I know it has already been stressed about the series in general, but Leckie’s use of “she” as the only pronoun in the book creates a drastic shift in the thought processes of the reader. I can see how this would be off putting for some. Leckie doesn’t create a universe that lacks male and female sexes, but she essentially removes the man and woman gender binary that pervades our modern thought processes. What is important in the book are the personality of the characters, and how they interact with the situations developing around them. Their secondary sexual characteristics tend to barely get a mention, when Breq can discern them as all underneath clothing.
Was the ending Satisfying?:
Yes — the ending makes this book. Similar to the second Terminator movie, this book has a rather dense middle, with lots of exploration of humanity from the view of an outsider with millennia of studying our species who still doesn’t understand us. There are times in the middle where I wondered where all this is going, if it was possible to wrap it all up, or if the book would finish with something that was unsatisfying by virtue of not wrapping up enough loose ends.
Then, somehow, Leckie pulls it all together. The last fifty pages are a beautiful push to collect all the threads and bring them into a chaotic tumble of resolution. And after that violent tumble through the chaos created by Breq’s quest for justice, Leckie treats the readers to a solid send-off and a setup for the sequel. Although I am not quite as hooked into the next book as I was for the sequel to Dawn or Akira, that is only because of the quality of books I am reading this year. In any other year I would be buying the sequel immediately. Sadly, it will probably have to wait until March or April, lest my reading list for the Diversity Challenge become entirely sequels.
Does it pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test:
Yes. Not only are a number of significant conversations about the security of conquered planets held between female leaders of military, industry, and religion, but “she” is the dominant pronoun. Dominant is the keyword here- since the main character is formerly a warship of an empire that places no relevance on gender, she uses the pronoun she for all genders.
Related to the comments above, there are a number of offhand references to skin color, cultural practices, and human obsessions that Breq makes, showing that human scattering across the cosmos has created a variety of cultures that are petty and magnanimous in a variety of measures. And then, on top of the human diversity, we are shown at least two alien races (albeit briefly) that are implied to have drastically different ideas about life, the universe, and everything. Interactions with these aliens have wide ranging effects on humanity, and as such are an important addition to the cultural diversity of the book, even if it is mostly in absentia.