Sunday, 13 January 2019

Ancillary Justice - Ann Leckie (2013)

Rating: Admirable

Ancillary Justice has the reputation of being one of the best science fiction novels of the last decade. It won the Hugo Award, Nebula Award and the Arthur C. Clarke Award, among others. Leckie has also been compared to the late, great Iain M. Banks. These are certainly high accolades, however the novel left me feeling slightly disappointed. The plot was good enough, as were the characterizations and the various settings. The problem was with the novel's pacing coupled with Leckie's particular writing style. Perhaps this is because the principle protagonist, Breq, is in fact a remaining fragment of a vast spaceship's A.I. consciousness; giving the writing style a sense of coldness or distance that then results in difficultly fully engaging with the story (at least it did for me). In terms of the novel's pacing, narrative tension lags during the parts of the story where there is a great deal of talking, often whilst the characters are in one location. This does work well in terms of establishing characters and further plot extrapolation, however because this happens quite often the novel sometimes flirts with dullness.

Despite these criticisms Ancillary Justice is quite a good science fiction novel. It is appropriate that Leckie is compared to Banks, as he is my yardstick for great modern science fiction. Leckie, like Banks, has created a far future human galactic civilization, the Radch, which like Banks' Culture civilization has highly advanced technology, including A.I. spacecraft, but also coupled with the same moral failings we've always contended with. However where Banks' writing sparks with ideas and verve, Leckie is a bit more pedestrian in comparison. Despite this I still recommend Ancillary Justice (I nearly gave it an excellent rating, and besides, Banks is a hard act to follow, even he struggled in the end...) and I will read the other two books in the trilogy,  Ancillary Sword (2014) and Ancillary Mercy (2015).