Today’s book is actually two books, both part of the same series and both books I read over the Christmas holidays (I read a LOT of books in that 2 1/2 weeks).
I first heard about “Ancillary Justice” by Ann Leckie when my partner Sam told me about it. The winner of a plethora of science fiction awards, including the Hugo, Nebula and Arthur C. Clarke awards, Sam had come across it in a blog post condemning the Hugos for being too politically biased (namely, towards left-wing authors). If by chance you want to read a huge tirade by the jilted author, here it is. Based on some of this author’s book excerpts, I highly doubt that his personal failure to win a Hugo has much to do with his political affiliations.
Anyway, back to “Ancillary Justice”. Sam bought a copy, but neither of us had gotten around to reading it yet, so he suggested I take it with me on my trip to the UK. Not only did I whip through it on the flight over, but I bought the sequel while I was in London and read that on the way back.
I would describe “Ancillary Justice” as a post-gender space opera about the limits of artificial intelligence and consciousness. Without giving too much away, the story follows the spaceship and AI Justice of Toren, who is able to divide its consciousness between human bodies known as ancillaries. The novel focuses particularly on One Esk, one of Justice of Toren‘s ancillaries, and switches between present time and flashbacks.
This book has two layers of complexity which I found quite challenging to get my head around at first. The first is that the Radchaai, the principal race of the novel, do not distinguish individuals by gender and the main character refers to others indiscriminately as “she” and “her” in the Radchaai language, and often mistakenly guesses the gender of other characters in other languages. At first I found myself frustrated and constantly trying to guess myself what gender characters were, but as the novels progressed and I became more immersed in the story, I found myself caring less and less.
The second feat of intellectual gymnastics I found myself performing was keeping track of all the different consciousnesses (say that five times fast!) of Justice of Toren. Many of the scenes are written from multiple perspectives and it can at times be a little hard to follow. However, like the treatment of gender, you start to get used to the concept and the story becomes easier to understand.
“Ancillary Sword”, although picking up directly where the first left off, is almost a different genre entirely. One Esk has mysteries to resolve, relationships to build and politics to play. I won’t say too much about “Ancillary Sword” except that while it was not even close to being a repeat of “Ancillary Justice”, and was very interesting in its own right, it did feel a little rushed and not as carefully edited. This is hardly surprising given the release schedule of one book per year with the third installment planned for 2015.
Anyway, if you enjoy science fiction, space, a novel premise, books about gender or even just ruminating about the meaning of consciousness, I would recommend this series. It is engaging and challenging, and I’m looking forward to seeing what Leckie does with the third book.