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416 pages, Paperback
First published October 1, 2013
“And you don’t like my saying that, but here’s the truth: luxury always comes at someone else’s expense. One of the many advantages of civilization is that one doesn’t generally have to see that, if one doesn’t wish. You’re free to enjoy its benefits without troubling your conscience.”This novel won the science fiction Grand Slam in 2014, earning Hugo, Nebula, Locus and Arthur C. Clarke Awards. So no wonder it aims high, tackling a whole bunch of important and even existential questions and themes. Like what it means to be a person — even if you are not thought of as quite human. And the oppressive horror of a culture founded on the idea of conquest and forced assimilation as well as the fallacy of relying on one’s social origin as a proxy for worth. And even how a new whole can arise from the shattered remnants of something else.
“On one level the answer is simple—it happened when all of Justice of Toren but me was destroyed. But when I look closer I seem to see cracks everywhere. Did the singing contribute, the thing that made One Esk different from all other units on the ship, indeed in the fleets? Perhaps. Or is anyone’s identity a matter of fragments held together by convenient or useful narrative, that in ordinary circumstances never reveals itself as a fiction? Or is it really a fiction?”
“Nineteen years, three months, and one week before I found Seivarden in the snow, I was a troop carrier orbiting the planet Shis’urna.”
“I had once had twenty bodies, twenty pairs of eyes, and hundreds of others that I could access if I needed or desired it. Now I could only see in one direction, could only see the vast expanse behind me if I turned my head and blinded myself to what was in front of me.”
“Imagine. Imagine your whole life aimed at conquest, at the spread of Radchaai space. You see murder and destruction on an unimaginable scale, but they see the spread of civilization, of Justice and Propriety, of Benefit for the universe. The death and destruction, these are unavoidable by-products of this one, supreme good.”
“When you grow up knowing that you deserve to be on top, that the lesser houses exist to serve your house’s glorious destiny, you take such things for granted. You’re born assuming that someone else is paying the cost of your life. It’s just the way things are. What happens during annexation—it’s a difference of degree, not a difference of kind.”
* Apparently the elephant in the room is Breq’s use of “she” as a default regardless of gender, as Radchaai society has a gender less language and apparently does not distinguish people by gender or pay any attention to it. Gender discrimination is apparently one of the few sins Radch is not guilty of, and actually is pretty easy to get used to after a few pages. But it does seem a bit overdone — not in the idea but in neverending struggles of Breq to pick up cues in gendered societies. It’s been nineteen years, Breq, use your observational powers to read the cues!
But focus on the pronouns above all does serve as a reminder how obsessed with duality society is. And yet The Left Hand of Darkness did it better half a century ago. Good thing this book does not depend on this gimmick alone. And at least for me, it was the smallest part of the story.
“If you’re going to do something that crazy, save it for when it’ll make a difference. But absent near-omniscience there’s no way to know when that is. You can only make your best approximate calculation. You can only make your throw and try to puzzle out the results afterward.”
“It’s easy to say that if you were there you would have refused, that you would rather die than participate in the slaughter, but it all looks very different when it’s real, when the moment comes to choose.”
have at least one character you care about
have intelligent commentary
include some aliens who are really alien, or,
include some humans who are not quite human and
leave you with something really knotty to think about.
“that,” i said, “is why i hate you.”ancillary justice tells the story of one lone soldier of the radch empire on an almost insurmountable quest of vengeance. why? this soldier was once many; an artificial intelligence controlling a warship called justice of toren and dozens of human bodies called ancillaries.
she laughed, as though i’d said something moderately witty. “if that’s what you’re willing to do for someone you hate, what would you do for someone you loved?”
i found i was incapable of answering.
“or is anyone’s identity a matter of fragments held together by convenient or useful narrative, that in ordinary circumstances never reveals itself as a fiction? or is it really a fiction?”i could believe how breq was interconnected and how her identity weaved in and out of being one and the same to being multiple instances whenever her ancillaries and ship fell out of sync. the utter dread at suddenly no longer having access to certain information and this idea of dozens of ancillaries suddenly diverging was very palpable and interesting.
“you’re the ancillary, the non-person, the piece of equipment, but to compare our actions, you loved her more than i ever did.”both timelines eventually strive to paint a picture of breq beyond that of a monolithic, unemotional, non-involved AI. there’s emotional growth here, even though it is subtle, and won’t fully come to fruition until the main motivation for breq’s vengeance and the antagonist are revealed.
“the gender thing is a giveaway, though. only radchaai would misgender people the way you do.”so yes. i found that aspect annoying, even though it doesn’t really affect the actual story; so perhaps it’s the acclaim for this part of the novel that annoyed me the most, to be truly honest.
i’d guessed wrong. “i can’t see under your clothes. and even if i could, that’s not always a reliable indicator.”