On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest. Breq is both more than she seems and less than she was.
Years ago, she was the Justice of Toren - a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of corpse soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy. An act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with only one fragile human body. And only one purpose - to revenge herself on Anaander Mianaai, many-bodied, near-immortal Lord of the Radch.
©2013 Ann Leckie (P)2013 Recorded Books
I'd heard a lot about this book in the sci fi world and after hearing its premise--a woman out for revenge whose body used to be a corpse-solder inhabited by the AI of a sentient ship--I figured I could hardly go wrong. The results were not as riveting as I'd hoped.
First of all, if you're on the fence about this book, let me make one thing very clear: this is not a book for sci fi noobies or casual readers. If you're not an experienced hand at sci fi, I would not recommend this book. The author uses some very confusing (if interesting) concepts throughout the book, such as a language that does not differentiate between male and female. The narrator refers to everyone she meets as "she" regardless of their biological gender. It's interesting on the one hand, because it really shines a light on what a social construct gender is, but it's very disorienting at the same time, and there's no lead-up to it at all. It's ambiguous throughout the book if some characters are male or female...not that it matters, but it does help alienate you from the getgo.
Also, the book's other main weird gimmick is the use of what can only be described as "first person omniscient" perspective. I don't know if it's ever been done before, and it works fairly well here, but it can get rather confusing. The first half of the book is interwoven with a flashback, during which the protagonist was an AI distributed simultaneously among thousands of bodies. As such, she can see and hear multiple perspectives at once. It's an interesting concept and as I say, Leckie pulls it off as well as I imagine anyone possibly could. But it's another alienating hurdle to get over.
Those challenges to the reader would be fine, if they were the only barriers to enjoying this novel; sci fi is famous for challenging perspectives and ideas, and is one of the main reasons I read it. But this book has bigger problems. One of the criticisms sci fi often receives is that it sacrifices genuine characters for an agenda of ideas and concepts. I think this is a fair criticism in general, although there are numerous counterexamples. But with authors like Alastair Reynolds and Stephen Baxter, who write "hard" sci fi, based on actual science or at least theoretical science, what their stories lack in detailed characterization they make up for with a vast sense of wonder and awe. If you can't do wonder and awe, you'd probably better stick with characterization, then. Unfortunately, Leckie is adept at neither. The protagonist is, literally, a computer in a human's body. She doesn't feel, think, or act like most humans do, and yet little time is spent on just how she adapts to society around her. She is cold, hard to like, and inscrutable at times. The supporting characters are even worse. Lifeless, they speak in stilted dialogue that no living person would ever use. They're hard to tell apart, especially with the ambiguous gender issue.
Leckie also falls into the trap of doing more telling than showing. Many times Breq, the protagonist, simply KNOWS she knows things, without evidence. Leckie tells us such and such is so, and we're expected to take it as gospel. Characters don't show their emotions through their actions, but through adverbs. I felt throughout the book that the author knew what was going on with her convoluted, muddy plot, but didn't quite know how to explain it to anyone outside her own head, so she just had her characters explain it to themselves as best they could. It's not a good writing style; I felt like I was not a part of the reading experience. I had no characters I really cared about, nor any concepts that wowed me enough to draw me in; there WERE some interesting tidbits of the larger universe in Leckie's world, such as a group of posthumans living outside the xenophobic Radch empire, but we are only given fleeting glimpses of them. It seems like Leckie skipped the coolest parts of her world for the most confusing and uninteresting.
The first half of the book was a real slog. It picked up for me about halfway through. But the pacing is glacial. Entire chapters are devoted to single conversations between two characters, who argue philosophy and engage in more telling-not-showing. I found myself wishing in exasperation that the characters would just DO something already instead of thinking about it for hours and hours. The ending is...confusing to say the least, and sets up a sequel, so I expect this will be a series. If you're a sci fi buff, it might be worth your while just as an experiment, but I would hardly call it a book I enjoyed reading.
Now I must say something about the narration of this book. The narrator was absolutely god awful, quite literally the worst audiobook narrator I've ever heard. She has the oddest delivery of dialogue and speech rhythms. It feels like a recitation, not a narration. She tries to do male voices but ends up sounding like a cartoon character (see also her voices impersonating children). Is that what she thinks men sound like? Maybe I'm spoiled by the Steven Paceys and Frank Mullers of the world, but this lady stinks. I think her narration actually detracted from my ability to concentrate on the story and put yet another barrier between me and it, and there were plenty to deal with already. If I'd read this book on paper or kindle, I might have enjoyed it more. If you're still interested in reading it after all I've said here, I recommend avoiding the audio and reading it in your internal voice. And avoid anything this narrator does in the future, believe me.
I'm a Hard SF & Space Opera-loving, alien android from the future. I bring gifts of SciFi eBooks & accessories for your leader's Kindle. Take me to him/her/it.
A great character-centric space opera with central theme of split and conflicted identity. It explores the inward dilemmas we all face by extrapolating such a conflict into a society where consciousness can be distributed or duplicated across multiple bodies. Heavy tech and descriptions of aliens, spaceships, machines, and ray guns are all glossed over in favor of more person-scaled narrative. Leckie also weaves in some secondary themes of language and culture shock by dropping the protagonist, the human-embodied A.I. Breq, the product of a gender-neutral society, into a foreign setting where she (the default pronoun they adopt) needs to take the gender of the people around her into account when speaking their language. Breq’s quest and motivation are compelling, and the alternating past-and-present narrative timelines keep the pacing interesting, although I would have preferred to read little more about non-human societies and locales. One audiobook-specific comment I feel compelled to include (and I usually avoid doing so except in extreme cases), is that the narration is very dry and modulated. While there is a healthy effort made to differentiate character voices, and there were no instances of the em-PHA-sis placed on the wrong syl-LAB-le, I found myself too often pulled out of the moment when the emotion of the narration didn't match the contextual words.
Originally published at: A Girl that Likes Books
If everything that happens is the will of Amat; if nothing can happen that isn't already designed by God, why bother to do anything.
Why I read this book?
This was the November pick for the Sword and Laser Book club. It sounded like a very good book, so much that my boyfriend wanted to read it too, so we decided to get it with Audible and listen to it while driving to the lab.
What the book is about?
The book is told from the point of view of the Ancillary Justice of Toren a AI whose main "body" was a Radch spaceship and that also used to have hundreds of ancillary bodies, all connected to one same mind. Through the book we learn what happened to all of her bodies and to her as one episode describes us the present and the next the past until the story merges. This new single body, called Breq, is dealing with being a single identity, learning how to be human and getting all the way to get revenge.
Both my boyfriend and I really enjoyed the book!. At first it was hard to get used to the absence of genre distinction amongst the Radch, but before you realize it you stop thinking about the characters as a he or a she and just concentrate on the story alone; it was a nice twist on language and it accentuates the fact that genre doesn't really matter for the story.
Another good point is the struggle of the AI being one or several and how this unity could be fractured. I think it was an interesting take on how we are also one and several at the same time. Even more, the fact that most of people would consider the Ancillaries as just machines incapable of feelings or moral clashes.
The whole political situation of the Radch was very well written too, a nice critique I think to the belief that people are just civilized if they are doing stuff the way we do them. A continuous thought during colonization centuries ago and actually still around, sadly.
Also the position on religion, I found it very interesting how the author created the whole Radch mythology that would also absorb the basics of religions all over the planets they "civilized"
Celeste Ciulla, the narrator was amazing, not only doing the different voices but giving a "mechanic" voice to Breq while filling her sentences with full intentions.
If you are going to do something that crazy, save it for when it will make a difference.
Didn't make it there. I barely made it to two hours before I had to quit. The narration was probably the worst I've heard. I'll read the book one of these days but there's no way I'll subject myself to the droning voice of this narrator for another minute.
There was no emotion in the narrator's voice at all. Ben Stein could have read this better.
I would suggest no using this narrator.
Exploration Artificial Intelligence
It took me to unique cultures and gave me new things to think about.
Yes. She did especially well in characterizing non human, AI characters, making them feel "different."
This is science fiction at its best. It carried me to new worlds and has given me new things to think about.
reader, teacher, writer=happy person
Complex world, characters, and plot. Love the world that Breq inhabits-it feels as if the author knows more about the world that she is telling, very authentic. Tough getting used to the ancillary voice--"ancillary" is the name given to what we would call an android or artificially intelligent being. Breq is on a quest to revenge herself (?) for an act she committed against her will many years ago. Back then, she had 20 bodies as the consciousness of the Justice of Toren, a spaceship. Though she (she is the default here) had much power, she had no will. The story balances between the present and the past, and that means the reader has no more idea of who to trust than Breq does in the historical part of the story telling. And here is the central conflict:external and internal. What makes a being human? Is it the ability to have favorites? To choose among those favorites? Or to forfeit your life for a greater good? You will find yourself devoted to Breq even as her "humanity" comes under question. Lovely story. Want to read of Breq again.
There may be other books that have played around with gender pronouns with such mischevious fun, but this is the only one I've read. I love the premise that an artificial intelligence may have difficulty making gender distinctions, and wouldn't much care about them anyway. Add to that the fun of the A.I. using female pronouns whenever the gender is indefinate, and you have a very interesting subtext on gender as a social construct, at least for an A.I.
This story placed a heavy burden on the narrator who had to walk a line between sounding gender-neutral or gender-ful as the story called for. A tall order which I think she handled very well. One of the other reviewers was quite critical of the narrator's delivery being overly annunciative at times, but I appreciated that as an attempt to capture a gender-neutral A.I. attempting to navigate a gendered language. Several languages, actually. VERY entertaining and I'm sorry the second in the series hasn't been narrated onto Audible yet!
The first few chapters aren't the most exciting, but trust me, it starts to escalate very fast. I kept wanting to hear what happened next. I can especially relate to the AI main character since she loves music, and many of the songs here are goofy and funny.
There's many good quotes I could use..."Captain, now we have a REAL problem," for example. And "If I were me..."
There's some tense moments where a character doesn't want to obey an order, but disobeying might lead to death.
The narrator didn't have perfect intonation, but I always understood, and she did a very good job using a different voice for each character, and making certain parts extra funny using tone.
I would love to see this made into a movie. There's impressive imagery and unique alien fashion, which would work well for a movie.
Maybe the gimmick voice stops after a while, but I can't stay focused on the words for more than 5 minutes. I've entirely given up and am very disappointed. It's a real person trying to sound only a little like the voice of an AI or something. She does it by using incorrect inflection in almost every sentence. (Usually the sentence ends in un up-tone, regardless of whether that's how natural speech would sound.) It does a great job of making it not sound human -- too much so. My brain just can't accept it as speech and I find that I haven't been following the story after a couple minutes. Imagine having the "press 1 for english" voice read you a book. That's an exaggeration, but it is the direction they were trying to go.
Just a truly terrible idea for what sounds like an interesting story. I had wanted to listen during my commute, but now I'll have to read the ebook during dedicated time. I've liked some of Leckie's other work, so I'm really disappointed for her that the audio book was such a total failure.
To the narrator's credit... I really did wonder several times if it really was a synthesized narration.
I'm a big fan of SF/F/Horror, and all things in between and out.
A long time ago, Breq was part of a consciousness that made up Justice of Toren – one of the Radch Empire’s AI starships. She was one of many – an ancillary, a meat puppet, a single aspect of a collective. Then she was betrayed, stripped away from the rest of her consciousness, trapped in a human body, and stranded alone in the universe. Now, she’s a displaced and dysfunctional AI, and she’s out for revenge.
Wait, I said “she.” Here’s one of the fun things about this space opera – she isn’t necessarily a she. In the Radch Empire, all people are referred to as “she,” despite their gender. It’s a cool bit of world building, but more importantly – it defies gender conventions and defaults. There are a lot of interesting and fascinating characters in this book. And most of them, we have no idea what gender they are.
It’s smart and though-provoking, yes, but Ancillary Justice also manages to be a really fun ride. As an AI who is forced to become a fraction of herself, Breq is one of the most unique protagonists I’ve ever come across, and she’s a lot of fun to route for. The story is split over two timelines – one of Breq as a lone figure seeking out the means for her revenge, the other is her as an aspect of the near omniscient Justice of Toren occupying a conquered planet and people. Seeing how these two storylines crescendo is a blast. If you’re a fan of the Expanse books by James S.A. Corey, you’ll want to give this one a shot.
I’ll admit I was a little concerned at first with Celeste Ciulla’s narration. Initially, her delivery felt a bit stilted, almost forced. However, after an hour or two, I came to realize she was a really solid match for a displaced and dysfunctional AI.
Ancillary Justice has already been nominated for a Nebula, BFSA, and won a Kitchie for Best Debut Novel, and it’s easy to see why. I’ll be very surprised if it doesn’t get a nomination for the Hugo. Ancillary Justice is a smart, though-provoking thrill ride of a space opera. It’ll nuke your brain from orbit, then send its ancillary meat puppets planetside with blasters – just to make sure.
(Full Disclosure: Ann Leckie is a friend of mine who I’ve worked with for the past four years at PodCastle, and I first read this book before it had landed an agent or a publishing house. I loved it, so much so that I ended up buying the book when it came out in audio.)
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