Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice is an absorbing interplanetary adventure starring an AI unit who had for thousands of years been just one segment of a sentient military spaceship. Now, One Esk Nineteen is the only surviving ancillary of the Justice of Toren. She is on a mission of personal revenge.

Seivarden Vandaii is an officer of the Radch empire who had once served on the Justice of Toren before being promoted to another ship. She later spent 1,000 years frozen in an escape capsule before being found. Seivarden had difficulty adjusting to the monumental cultural and political changes that occurred during her absence, and turned to drugs. On the remote planet of Nilt, One Esk Nineteen encounters Seivarden, nearly dead, and the pair become mutually mistrustful companions.

Leckie does a wonderful thing with language in Ancillary Justice, always using the pronouns she and her. It's written in the voice of One Esk Nineteen: "Radchaii don't care much about gender, and the language they speak--my own first language--doesn't mark gender in any way."

When One Esk Nineteen communicates in other languages, her errors tend to be that of misgendering people. "Cues meant to distinguish gender changed from place to place, sometimes radically, and rarely made much sense to me."

We know that One Esk Nineteen appears female, because a Nilter says to her: "Aren't you a tough little girl." But pretty much everyone else in the novel, including romantic partners, are of unknown gender, all called she. Foreigners to Radch space are unnerved by the ambiguous gender-expression of the Radchaai.

Leckie also expounds on the difference between thought and action. One Esk Nineteen is no believer in the power of wishful thinking.

"Thoughts are ephemeral, they evaporate in the moment they occur, unless they are given action and material form. Wishes and intentions, the same. Meaningless, unless they impel you to one choice or another, some deed or course of action, however insignificant. Thoughts that lead to action can be dangerous. Thoughts that do not, mean less than nothing."

"If you're going to do something that crazy, save it for when it'll make a difference, Lieutenant Skaaiat had said, and I had agreed. I still agree."

One Esk Nineteen is a being of action. She's determined, honourable and loyal, using her superior strength and intelligence for higher good. Her quest is heartfelt. Ancillary Justice is thrilling, complex and intellectually stimulating. I loved it.

Readalikes: Dreamships (Melissa Scott); Artifice (Alex Woolfson and Winona Nelson)

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