By Ann Leckie
Ancillary Justice has won more awards this year than any book before it. Not only that but the awards it has won are most of the major ones in science fiction. The Hugo, the Nebula, the BSFA, the Arthur C Clarke and the Locus award (for first novel).
It's clear to see that the science fiction genre is changing, and much of that change is positive. Women, much under-represented are beginning to finally gain some greater visibility and recognition. It would however be a huge mistake to think that Anne Leckie received such accolade for her gender. Ancillary Justice is the right book at just the right time. It is a product of the now and deals with the topics that are most relevant in the 21st century. It's a bold, moving book that deals with gender, religion, persecution, discrimination, justice, artificial intelligence and the idea of non-human intelligence. The main theme though is that of Identity.
The book is narrated through the eyes of a most unusual protagonist.
Breq is thousands of years old and at one time was the Spaceship "Justice of Toren" with a shared identity that comprised of thousands of soldiers. She now exists in a singular form and lives for vengeance, to Anaander Mianaai, the lord of the Radch. A task that could be seen as follow, impossible given that the consciousness of Anaander exists in a countless number of bodies. What works in Breq's favour though is that these joined minds are not all working in harmony and war with each other, with the added complexity that each knows what the other is thinking. It's this fracturing of a collective conscious along with Breq's role in it's journey that forms the main plot - moving between the present and journeys into the past as we learn what happened to the Justice of Toren.
One of the ways the book shines is that through the eyes of Breq we see a very different universe. Although she is over a thousand years old she is socially naive. She can speak many languages but is unused to gender pronouns and so assumes everyone is a "she" unless told otherwise. Gender then is very fluid, much more than I have read in a book before. It's written in such a way as to appear entirely natural too, not contrived or forced to fit. She also clearly sits outside the human race and the author does a miraculous job of describing such an observer, untied by prejudice or discrimination.
The vision of the Galaxy told in Ancillary Justice is simply incredible, worlds are annexed and life snuffed out - the people killed or enslaved to become another zombie soldier in the vast Empire.
The result is a book that is unique, bold and daring. It's a book that takes you places you've never been and allows you to see humanity from a different angle. It's a book that turns the idea of Identity on it's head then plays with it as a cat would a mouse. It's a book that defines our time, our current social understanding (or lack thereof). It's a book deserving of all the praise been given. Refreshing, rewarding, remarkable.
Written on 12th December 2014 by Ant .