Book Review: Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie

cover of Ancillary JusticeEvery where I turn, people are talking about Ancillary Justice.  It’s been nominated for a Nebula Award and a Hugo, and now that I’ve finally read it I can see why.  This book plays with points of view cleverly to tell a complicated story in a deceptively simple way.

Once upon a time there was a vast empire that conquered hundreds of worlds.  With each conquest, the empire took people, wiped their minds, and had artificial intelligences implanted into these bodies.  A starship, such as Justice of Toren, would have an artificial intelligence running the ship and thousands of linked bodies that could be deployed both on and off the ship.

Our story begins with one of the bodies, severed from contact with the ship and with other Ancillaries.  Breq is seeking justice and vengeance upon the leader of the empire.  She struggles with functioning as an individual and with functioning within a variety of alien cultures.  Through a series of flashbacks, we find out what launched Breq on her mission, while in the present Breq navigates political and cultural hurdles on her way to her goal.

Two elements of that struggle are of particular note: her need to deliberately shape her face into facial expressions to convey or conceal emotion, and her struggles with identifying gender in different cultures.  Breq shows no interest in sex, but she is very much interested in getting what she needs from people, and that means using language properly and avoiding offense, and THAT means keeping track of how gender is identified and discussed in different languages.  In Breq’s native language, there is no gender, so in the book, everyone is described as “her” unless Breq has to specify.  This has a fascinating impact on the reader.  In our culture, the “norm”, the baseline, is white male.  In Breq’s world, the baseline is neutral, but as a reader, I read it as female because she uses “she”.  This means that I found myself picturing almost all the characters as female – a truly liberating experience.  It turns out that the concept “women are people” is a lot easier to grasp when all people are identified as women until further notice.

Because Breq can (initially) see many different things at once, she serves multiple roles as a narrator.  She’s an almost omniscient narrator, able to report on many different events at once.  She’s a personal, first person narrator and her character is amazingly relatable.  She spends so much time with another character that the other character, Lieutenant Awn, serves as the soul of the book until Breq is able to fill that function herself.  And due to political schemes, she’s an unreliable narrator.

I love it that even though this is Space Opera, it’s ecumenical.  It’s not 1000 pages long.  It is planned as a trilogy, but not a never-ending series.  It uses simple language but is complex in its discussion of music, gender, religion, culture, colonialism, war, ethics, and friendship.  There have, of course, been other stories about hive minds discovering individuality, and sentient ships, but Ancillary Justice doesn’t feel like anything else.  It feels fresh and new and interesting and emotionally compelling.  There’s been a lot of buzz about this book and it’s all deserved!


This Just In: Sci Fi and Fantasy Romance Titles in October

This just in (text next to pile of books)Welcome to a new feature:  “This Just In”.  Once a month I’ll be letting you know about some of the new science fiction and fantasy romance titles being released each month.  So – whassup in October?

Carina Press

Well for starters, Carina Press is listing so much new science fiction and fantasy romance as coming out in October that I’m just going to send you over to their page instead of typing out every title.  Carina Press is a reliable source for digital only genre romance reading.  Most books they publish are short (novella length or slightly longer).  The quality is uneven.  Some Carina books are clunkers, but several have earned ‘A’ grades from me.  If you are looking for “Romance with a capital R”, and you want it to be in a science fiction, fantasy, steampunk, or paranormal setting, this is the place to start looking!  Click here for the list of goodies:

Tor Press

Tor is another publishing house that has tons of romance coming out this month:  This link takes you to a list of paranormal romances.  It seems that October is THE month for paranormal romance releases – gosh, I wonder why?

Everything else!

October 1:     Hero, by Alethea Kontis

October 29:  After Dead:  What Came Next in the World of Sookie Stackhouse, by Charlaine Harris

Happy Reading!

Donate Blood: Save a Life on Your Lunch Hour

Real heroes donate blood – not just when disasters strike, but every eight weeks, health permitting.  My thanks go out to Bloodsource, which has centers with fairly reasonable hours all over the country and sends me a reminder call when I’m eligible to donate again.  My heart is in the right place, both literally and metaphorically, but without that call I’m sure I’d never remember to go out there and get the job done.

Whenever there’s a disaster, whether human-made or natural, a lot of people rush to donate.  According to the Red Cross, Boston has plenty of donated blood right now, so if you are in that area, consider waiting a couple of weeks and then donating to replenish their supply.  According to my bank here in Sacramento, they immediately shipped blood to Boston when the explosions happened, so they are low and want me to come in this week.  I’d suggest you check with your local center to see if they need donations this week or if they’d rather have you come in towards the end of the month.  Most importantly, if your help permits, make this a regular part of your schedule.  Our hospitals need blood supplies all the time, not just in moments of national crisis.

Science fiction has conclusively shown that donating blood is heroic, but characters sure go about it in some odd ways.  Here’s three shout outs to blood transfusions in sci-fi:

Most bizarre technology:  Thanks to a tip from Sun, Jack performs a blood transfusion on Boone using a sea urchin spike for a needle in Lost:  “Do No Harm”.  Sun, you are a total badass for coming up with a way to perform an intravenous procedure using sea life, but don’t try this at home.

Most unbelievable cure for vampirism:  A veterinarian performs a complete blood transfusion (two, actually), in his garage, in Near Dark.  Long before she was collecting Oscars, Kathryn Bigelow made this movie about vampires who are truly scary.  It’s a great movie overall, but its finest moment is most certainly NOT a bleary Adrian Pasdar drawling, “Daddy, y’ever transfuse a person?”  Look at these far more interesting characters from the same movie – they can’t believe it either:

cast of Near Dark


Most touching blood donation:  Wash donates blood to Mal in Firefly:  “Out of Gas”.  Mal:  “Y’all gonna be here when I wake up?”  Yep, we’ll be here long after Fox tries to take away our Jayne hats.