Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie

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Three stars, read in February 2016.

Intriguing from the first pages, this is science fiction that you don’t have to be an avid science fiction fan to appreciate. Breq, the protagonist, is an ancillary—an AI in a human body. At the beginning of the book, she is only that one body, but twenty years ago she was Justice of Toren—a starship and hundreds of individual soldiers, nearly two thousand years old, all functioning independently of each other, all sharing the same mind. The betrayal that causes this separation is the mystery of the first half of the book, and the call to adventure of the second half.

This is the kind of ambitious science fiction that has the potential to require a lot of the reader, a significant willingness to suspend disbelief, but Leckie doesn’t require such generosity from her audience. Questions like how Justice of Toren‘s consciousness works are answered comfortably. Common sci-fi themes of class, race, and gender are approached in a way that feels natural to the world, not just thinly-veiled comparisons to our own. I know some people were a little unsettled by the use of female pronouns regardless of the characters’ gender, but I got used to it quickly, and actually it was fantastic to have the option of picturing everyone as a woman if I wanted to.

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.

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