At this time last year, I’m not sure I’d heard of Ann Leckie. At the latest by the summer and the WorldCon, I’d heard quite a lot about her and about Ancillary Justice – the multiple-award-winning novel that starts off her Imperial Radch series about artificial intelligence in human form. I tend to be suspicious of fads – too often they don’t pay off – but I finally decided to find out for myself what all the fuss was about.
And the answer is…a decent, well-plotted space opera with military overtones. It takes a somewhat novel approach by combining AI and hive-minds, and by deliberately confusing genders – both done quite well. What the book doesn’t do as well is to establish its world clearly. The narrative jumps back and forth between several distinct times, but their exact temporal location and sequence aren’t well established. Terms and hierarchies are noted without much explanation, and the plot is scattered for quite some time. It needed an editor with a firmer hand for the basic structure.
Once our feet are somewhat planted (I never did get the timeframe straight), things move better. Leckie’s writing is confident and smooth, and mostly works. The characters feel genuine and sympathetic. The wide-spread culture is largely credible. It feels a bit like Orson Scott Card, though without the same depth of character. Despite the fact that it’s got a toe firmly in the political fiction pool, it’s effective, but not compelling.
At many points in the book, and from the very start, protagonist One-Esk-Nineteen acts without knowing why she does. I tend to distrust that in most stories, and if it happens more than a few times, there had better be a good reason. In Ancillary Justice, there never is, though there is the possibility it will come out in some later book. I only have this one, though, and I found it dissatisfying, especially when there are things the character has hidden from herself. The very first ‘unknowing’ thing she does, and that shapes the entire book, is never explained. When an action hijacks 300 pages, a vague hint isn’t enough.
I’m glad to have read the book. It’s good, and Leckie handles the innovations well. I don’t see why it’s been such a big hit, but I enjoyed the book and see why others have. I don’t feel compelled to buy the sequels.