Ancillary Justice

Ancillary JusticeAncillary Justice is told from the perspective of an ancillary of the troop carrier Justice of Toren. An ancillary is a human body devoid of identity incorporated as an extension to an AI, typically on a space station or military ship. The AI controls many such bodies simultaneously. One Esk 19 is one such ancillary. It was the sole survivor of the Justice of Toren. Also known as Breq, this ancillary has plotted its revenge upon the perpetrator, a lengthy ordeal that takes close to twenty years to culminate in a showdown with the supreme leader of the Redchaai, the Redchaai Lord Amandar Manaai. Manaai has several bodily manifestations much like AIs do, but the Redchaai lord is split. For the last 1000 years it has been quietly plotting against itself as to how the Redchaai empire is managed. One half wants to continue along the path of constant expansion via military annexations, incorporating new cultures into its own (like the Borg). It believes this is the only course of action that will keep the economy and social fabric of the empire stable. The other half wants to cease the military conquests, halt the annexations, make peace with mysterious alien races (Presager) and promote a more meritocratic society (by relying on the aptitude results more than familial connections). In part this is due to the discovery of incredibly powerful alien weapons that pose a serious challenge to Redchaai hegemony. This split personality of the supreme Redchaai ruler occurred about 1000 years before when an annexed (human) culture fought back with alien technology and succeeded in destroying a capital ship. The first loss ever. The Redchaai completely wiped out the Garseddan’s as an example of the price of defiance. This genocidal act was the impetus of the split.

-1000 years Lt. Sievarden arrives age 17 on Justice of Toren
-1000+21 Sievarden promoted to captain of Sword of Nathtas
-1000+>21 Sword of Nathalas destroyed by Garseddai.
All humans to escape pods, but Sievarden missing in action.
Garsedd razed by Redchaai. Complete genocide.
-800 Shifts in Redchaai power (pg 213)
-500 Shifts in Redchaai power (pg 213)
-80 Justice of Toren at Valskaay where (reformer) Amander Manaai
(Redchaai Lord, pg 95, 214) installs backdoor
(pg 336) (like HAL in 2001 getting conflicting instructions)
-25 Events of Ime Station (pg 228)
Mercy of Sarrse is the human mutineer against (jingoist) Amaander
-24 Lt. Awn from Justice of Toren arrives on Shis’urna, resides in Ors city
-19 (jingoist) Amaander arrives on Shis’urna. Bloodshed at the temple.
Lt. Awn ordered back on Justice of Toren
Justice of Toren jumps from Shis’urna to Valskaay with (jingoist) Amaander
secretly on board
Breq/One Esk 19 ordered by Amaander to kill Lt. Awn. Lt. Awn executed.
Justice of Toren destroyed with all hands except Breq/One Esk 19
Breq no longer part of ship.
0 Breq finds Capt. Sievarden in snow on Nilt. Remembers her from -1000

Some criticisms:

There is a lot of gender confusion in this book. I was left with the impression that most of the characters in the story are female, though at times I wasn’t sure myself. In part this is because Breq was telling the story, and being an AI apparently had difficulty identifying the genders. However, it was also due to the fact that Redchaai society doesn’t disambiguate. This had an interesting effect of making Breq culturally conscious. Always careful not to insult by using non-gender specific terms whenever possible. Unfortunately at other times as a reader it was just plain annoying gender swapping characters in your mind. Left Hand of Darkness toyed with gender ambiguity much better.

The back story spans about 1000 years. Humans live up to 200 years. Capital ships like the Justice of Toren have memories of 2000 years, the oldest ship goes back 3000 years. The Redchaai leader itself has been supreme leader for at least the last 1000 years. The time spans seem excessively long, especially for technological things like ships and AIs. In fact the Radchaai had 24 of the 25 alien weapons for 1000 years and yet still couldn’t figure out how it worked. The culture also is too static, having the same basic setup of houses, system of clientage, same leader, same economic system for over 1000 years. Civilization just doesn’t stand still like that.

Ancillaries are not even considered people, but rather a piece of equipment. They may not touch and thereby defile religious offerings. But yet Manaai itself seems to use ancillaries to be present throughout the empire and even presides over these grand religious festivals. Granted, this is not explained in the book, but it does seem to be a bit of a cultural double-standard. Breq has been separated from the Justice of Toren AI for twenty years. To hear it from her own words there was an adjustment period, but over the decades I would think an independent identity would form (but then again, it’s only 20 years out of 2000). What disappointed me was there was never a yearning to discover her pre-ancillary life; none of her former humanity seemed to leak out. Human and machine AI convergence was handled better in Hyperion with the John Keats cybrid. Breq seems flat in comparison. Ancillaries and humans alike have implants that allow them to communicate and allow the AI to sense its surroundings through them. This allows for a lot of out-of-band/indirect communication between characters. This is a good idea, but done better in Rainbow’s End.

It took Breq close to twenty years to enact vengeance upon Manaai. During this time she(?) was able to amass fabulous wealth by doing “dangerous work”. The details are not specified, and apart from combat, sheer will and a long memory Breq doesn’t appear to have any other special abilities. The convenience of wealth allowed Breq to proceed apace with her plan, buying a plane, booking passage as a rich tourist, and buying the alien gun for a fantastic sum.

From the criticisms I’m levelling it seems like I didn’t enjoy this story. Far from it. This was a three day read for me. I had the time and I didn’t want to put it down. I guess I put the time into summarizing my criticisms because I felt with this book it’s worthwhile to make a good book even better. The “bones” of Ancillary Justice are solid. An interesting moral question was put forth by the annexed people of Shis’urna. Humans could be cruel and downright evil at times, they could also blow the whistle on corruption (events of Ime Station) and take a positive moral stance. In contrast ancillaries would enforce rules objectively and never succumb to corrupt behaviour, yet could be ordered to perform reprehensible acts with no moral repercussions whatsoever (such as the execution of Lt. Awn). The Radchaai culture of empire building through absorption by annexation. The system of clientage where more powerful houses act as patrons to lesser houses through commercial contracts. Where bare hands are taboo and tea is everywhere. The pantheon of gods (pg 33), which like the Romans, absorbed other belief systems into their own. The thought of ships and stations as separate characters in the story rather than props or settings. Even the title is great. Finally, telling the story from the perspective of Breq/One Esk 19/Justice of Toren. This mixing of first person and omniscient narrator without switching character is unique.

(Amazon) Ancillary Justice

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