Thursday, April 27, 2023

Ancillary Justice (spoilers)

 Ancillary Justice (2013) by Ann Leckie

Breq is a soldier. Breq is an AI in human form. Breq used to be a ship known as the Justice of Toren--she was both the entire ship and ancillary components of that ship. She operated as attendant to captains and lieutenants, serving as the eyes and ears for all events as the great ships brought "justice" to the universe. The ships and the soldiers served the Radch empire as it annexed worlds and its interstellar territory grew. The ships were created to serve and obey--to obey their captains and officers, but ultimately to obey the lord of the empire, Anaander Mianaai. 

But when a war within the empire breaks out, the Breq's lieutenant is killed and the Justice of Toren is broken apart. Breq is on her own and is on a mission--ships aren't supposed to have favorites, but they do. Lieutenant Awn was Breq's favorite and now, trapped in a human body, Breq is on a mission to exact revenge on those who conspired against the empire and who killed her lieutenant. She finds herself allied with a lieutenant she never liked and on a search for a weapon that can bring down anyone--even soldiers like herself with built-in shielding. 

There are a lot of things to like here--great world-building (universe-building, actually). The reader is gradually immersed in the new culture, so while it is a bit confusing at the beginning things do come together the longer you read. The concept of the ship's "hive-mind" is interesting--it takes the idea of Star Trek's Borg to a different level and I found it interesting to see Breq as an individual broken off from the rest of the ship. In the Trek world 7 of 9 started out human and when separated from the Borg had to work on relearning how to be human again. Breq is an artificial intelligence (more like Data) stuck in a re-animated human body. But even Breq is prone to human emotions--favoritism and the need for revenge.

I enjoyed watching the relationship between Breq and Seivarden grow. Seivarden recognizes what qualities he had that made the ships not like him as well as other captains and he works on those qualities. Breq has a difficult time accepting the changes and learning to trust Seivarden and those challenges make for an interesting plot line. Leckie's story also does what good science fiction should do--it addresses problems in our current world in the guise of space drama. Questions of gender and privilege are investigated. How to address citizens of the empire who don't recognize gender. How to determine when gender designations should be employed. Why have certain types of people been denied access to certain jobs or positions of authority? What are the consequences of questioning the status quo? All important questions to consider.

Spoiler Ahead!! Can't talk details about the rating without spilling the beans on the plot.

The thing that kept this from a higher rating was the mulitple Anaander Mianaai characters. It was challenging enough to wrap my head around the multiple ancillary components of the ships. But then to have dozens (hundreds??) of emperor clones (??) running around at war with each other was a bit much. I tried to keep them straight and to figure out which one (if any) was the true emperor and the "good" guy. But didn't succeed. And I'm still not sure that any of them was a good guy. ★★

First line: The body lay naked and facedown, a deathly gray, spatters of blood staining the snow around it.

Last lines: Choose my aim, take one step and then the next. It had never been anything else.

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