Saturday, March 29, 2014

Ancillary Justice: Review

Or, well, not exactly a review.

I have just finished Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, and was going to review it, but Alix over at The Other Side of the Rain said everything I wanted to say, very brilliantly.

My favorite graphs from her review hit on some of my favorite bits from the novel:

Leckie also has a gift for clarity. She’s writing in first person for a being that is simultaneously a single individual in the present, a ship’s AI in the past, and hundreds to thousands of additional human-like bodies called ancillaries. In an individual scene, from one sentence to the next, the action might move from an ancillary serving tea on the deck to an ancillary listening to treason on another floor to the ship’s knowledge of each human’s medical status and back to the ancillary serving the tea. And it’s not confusing.Writing like this has none of the lyricism or juicy embellishment of a Valente or a K.J. Bishop, but the clean, elegant bones of it are just as gorgeous to read.

And the other has to do with what's probably been the most talked about aspect of the novel, Leckie's use of pronouns (the Radchaai don't distinguish between genders, at least linguistically; in the text, Leckie demonstrates this by having all those who are Radchaai use only the pronouns "she" and "her" and "hers"; everyone is referred to as "woman" or "daughters" or "girls," regardless of gender).

First and most obviously, the confusion of character gender challenges the reader by making them abruptly self-aware of their near-obsessive need to know a character’s gender. That, I assume, is what makes people react so strongly to Ancillary Justice—realizing their own dualistic social constructions makes them feel tricked, irritatingly uncertain. If a character is crying, for instance, do we interpret it as a man showing himself to be emotionally vulnerable? Or a woman in hysterics? Or, god helps us all, a human experiencing a powerful emotion? It also, of course, neatly combats the baseline assumption of masculinity that has plagued science fiction (and the rest of fiction, and real life) for so long.
But it also does that thing so fundamental to good science fiction: It plucks us out of our constructed culture, and plops us down uncomfortably into someone else’s. It makes the Radchaai feel alien and inscrutable, and the process of getting to know them—through their gods and philosophies, their uniforms and client-based romances—is the process of immigrating to a foreign world.

Read the whole review: it's excellent.  And read Ancillary Justice.  It's probably the best new SF novel I've read in a long time.

See this review as well, by Liz Bourke over at Tor.

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