Cover image of "Ancillary Justice," a peculiar book.

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie was the first novel ever to win the Hugo, Nebula, and Arthur C. Clarke Awards. I’m trying to figure out why.

Let’s see if we can suss out what’s going on in the story. For starters, every character is referred to as “she” or “her” regardless of whether they have male or female characteristics (or both). This makes it exceedingly difficult much of the time to figure out who’s saying what to whom. It caused me to reread whole pages not just once but many times.

The protagonist — or, as it would appear at the outset, two protagonists, each relating “her” story in the first person — is either Justice of Toren (a troopship holding thousands of soldiers) or one segment or “ancillary” of “Ship,” the artificial intelligence (AI) that sees all, knows all, and enables telepathic communications among all its thousands of ancillaries on board and in action on the ground. And, by the way, those ancillaries are “corpse soldiers,” human beings who were stashed away in cold storage for as long as a thousand years before being thawed out and linked through implants to the AI. There are also human soldiers, but that’s another story. And they’re all under the command, though not the control, of human officers, practically all of whom are Lieutenants.

Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch #1) by Ann Leckie (2013) 266 pages ★★☆☆☆

Winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards

This is a very peculiar book

Now let’s talk about the Big Picture Ann Leckie imagines. Human space, dominated by a people known as the Radchaai and covering countless star systems separated by impossible distances measured in light-years, is ruled by a ruthless entity called Anaander Minaaai. Minaaai was originally a single person but in some unstated way “multiplied” herself three thousands years ago. There are other races with which the Radchaai often clash, including the Rrrrrr (not a typo) and the Presger, who are apparently more advanced than humans. Anaander Minaaai holds forth from thirteen regional palaces because — get this — there are now three thousand of “her,” all genetically identical, at different stages of life.

Is this a cockamamie story, or what?

Trust me — I was halfway through this peculiar book before I figured out even this much. It was a real struggle. And I haven’t said anything yet about the action in the plot, which is often confusing in its own right.

As in much of far-future science fiction, Leckie spends an inordinate amount of time in digressions to explain all these complications. She would have done better to be a little less imaginative and a lot more concerned about building credible characters and moving the plot forward.

But who am I to complain? After all, Ancillary Justice won the three top awards in science fiction, and it’s just the first of at least three books in a series — with no end in sight. I don’t think I’ll be reading the others, though.

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