By Anne Leckie
Image thanks to Wikipedia
Back to genre for me and reading. After spending some time in mystery and then in horror, and then in mystery again, it was time for me to dive back into scifi. Time to satisfy my itch.
I had high hopes for Ancillary Justice. I find that this is a bad thing. Could be simple human psychology. I remember watching The Matrix in the theaters. I was living in Japan then and was on vacation in the states. Finding myself with some free time, I wandered into a theater, saw that The Matrix was the only genre movie playing and said to myself, “what the heck.” I was blown away. The opposite was true of a more recent movie. I went into The Avengers (first one), expecting amazing things and thought, “meh.” Both are arguably great blockbuster movies.
Ancillary Justice took some time getting up to speed. I found it hard to care much about the main character, Breq, till the second half of the book. You could argue that the reason for this is that the character was becoming human, so your feelings come along for the ride. This is arguable. With the big reveal in the second half, the story comes together, the characters come alive, and the climax is satisfying.
It almost feels like two different books, to be honest. The second half feels fleshed out, the characters are full. I almost wonder if Ms. Leckie wrote the second half first, and needed more exposition in the first half for the complete novel.
The first half has three strikes against it from the beginning. I have biases that are admittedly unfair. The first is a lot of religious references. Priests and temples and pantheism hold no interest for me. It also didn’t seem to propel the story in any meaningful way. The second was intricate jewelry and ornamentation that holds significant meaning. Since the meaning is specific to the milieu, the reader cannot know the significance, so it must be explained. I dislike this kind of writing, since it forces exposition. I’d rather the author show me than explain to me. Thirdly, all gender pronouns in the book are female. The main character explains that the distinction is hard for her. The first explanation that satisfies isn’t until about page 250. I spent 250 pages thinking that an advanced being with computer processing power beyond imagination should be able to figure out if a human is male or female. At page 250 or so, the reason is, if not satisfying, certainly plausible.
That said, I really enjoyed the latter half of the novel. The character’s motivations, limitations, alien-ness, and familiarity, were endearing. And the premise was interesting. What would an intelligence made up of hundreds or thousands of networked humans whose brains had been wiped to serve an artificial intellingce be like? And what would happen if that being’s intelligences were fractured and separated, unable to communicate? If we modern humans have a bicameral mind, and there’s only one of us, what happens if a collective consciousness led by an artificial intelligence gets a split personality? Pretty cool stuff.
I just wish the cool stuff started a little sooner.