Title: Ancillary Justice
Author: Ann Leckie
Cover Artist: John Harris
Release Date: October 1st 2013
Publisher: Orbit Books
Series: Imperial Radch #1
I first heard of Ancillary Justice in Ann Leckie Interview: Episode 120 of the podcast Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (GGG). The interview explores the inspirations behind Leckie’s work, which include the Roman Empire, choral music, and tea. She talks about her experiences with National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), why music is often handled badly in fiction, and why she enjoys writing novels more than short stories.
What interested me the most was the discussion on how in the Radch Empire of Ancillary Justice, both men and women are referred to as “she.” I find the ambiguity of not knowing which characters are male or female quite intriguing.
“She was probably male, to judge from the angular mazelike patterns quilting her shirt. I wasn’t entirely certain. It wouldn’t have mattered, if I had been in Radch space. Radchaai don’t care much about gender, and the language they speak—my own first language—doesn’t mark gender in any way.” – Ann Leckie, Ancillary Justice
The author is the only person who knows the their true genders, and I can imagine the additional challenge she faced writing her novel with gender-ambiguous characters. How just one slip of a “he” could drastically change her story.
The novel does not disappoint. I found myself constantly switching the character’s genders in my head, to see how it would affect what the story meant to me. I also kept searching for clues that would lead me to the true gender of certain characters.
Interview with Ann Leckie, author of Ancillary Justice posted on YouTube by GGG host David Barr Kirtley
For example, I see Breq as female, possibly because of her interest in choral music. Maybe because of her innately altruistic nature. Perhaps because she was originally the spaceship Justice of Toren (a ship is generally referred to as “she”). I also enjoyed imagining her ancillaries singing choral music together in a female voice. No. Breq as a male character does not appeal to me at all.
Do ships have feelings? Breq’s transition from a somewhat omniscient spaceship that knew every little detail about her passengers, to a single—albeit genetically enhanced—humanoid being cut off from the rest of her former self was wonderful to read about.
“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.” – Ann Leckie, Ancillary Justice
Breq’s is more than just another story about ships or androids developing feelings and thinking for themselves. It is the refreshing and intelligent take Ann Leckie has on an increasingly tired science fiction trope that makes Ancillary Justice such a satisfying read.