There are three reasons why Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie probably took first place on io9’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books of 2013 and why it deserves to be at the top of such a list. Even if you don’t care for io9 and their selection, this is a book that you should give a chance for the following reasons (they’re the same reasons Leckie’s work topped io9’s list).
One – Ancillary Justice is a novel of manners set in space. That’s not to say it’s Pride and Prejudice with the Bennet sisters talking about Mr. Darcy will sipping space tea in their space manor. Leckie is such a capable author that she has been able to distill the fundamental issues with cultural clashes into a piece of genre fiction. Don’t take that to mean there aren’t guns or spaceships, because there are plenty of those. But in a galaxy-spanning series the human race is not going to be a homogeneous entity, and Leckie has a keen eye for the plethora of differences that can arise across such a distance. Leckie is admirably compared to Iain M Banks for her depictions of an intergalactic culture and what that would be comprised of, along with the scope and scale of the story itself. And it’s nice to see a story where misunderstandings abound, traditions are not those of the modern United States, and violence isn’t the immediate answer.
Two – It’s a story of revenge, but not as you know it. Ancillary Justice is not a simple story of a human seeking to right a slight or see their family name restored. It’s about a singular spaceship wanting to bring down the very empire it’s a part of. That’s right; a spaceship is out for revenge – not its crew, or captain, but the AI that runs the ship. Where the idea that this book is a novel of manners may have put you off, the fact that it’s also a revenge story will keep you reading just to find out how the ship, Justice of Toren, gets its revenge. And because it’s a story of vengeance that means there are fights. Some are with words as various forces maneuver through the complexities and minutiae of social strata, while others are with fists and guns. The beauty of a story like this is the advanced nature of the society, the characters involved and the technology make it so a gun, knife or vial of poison aren’t always the most immediate answer when conflict resolution is needed.
Three – Gender biases have been thrown out the airlock in Ancillary Justice. Gone are the proscribed roles of modern, western culture. Gone is the predominate use of the masculine pronoun. Gone is any real sense of gender in the book. That’s not to say gender isn’t a factor at times, but given this is a novel of manners it requires the main characters to navigate through the murky cultural associations that locals ascribe to different genders such as roles, physical attributes and behavior. Leckie has replaced most pronouns with she and her, illustrating wonderfully how easy it is to use another gender at no loss to the story. Leckie herself may be trying to make a point about the biases of science fiction and in doing so adding significantly to the discussion on gender issues within the genre; regardless, she has managed to create a supremely convincing culture where it seems only natural to refer to everyone as a she.
Ancillary Justice is a book that should be read. Not just because it’s building on the discussion of modern issues, but because it’s an entertaining read that anyone, regardless of gender identification, would find hard not to enjoy. At three hundred some pages for the e-book edition, Leckie has turned out a superb space opera that has opened a whole new universe. Anyone in the need for a good read should pick up Ancillary Justice or gift it to a friend who’s never read any science fiction to show them the possibilities the universe holds.