Ancillary Justice

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Leckie, Ann. Ancillary Justice. New York: Orbit (Hachette Book Group), 2013.[1] Audiobook, narrated by Celeste Clulla. Recorded Books, 2013, available through [[2]]

Far-future Galactic-Empire space opera using the common model of the Roman imperium[3] (and the British "Raj"), relevant here for a protagonist-narrator who is the sole surviving part of a ship that was a complex of huge spacecraft, ship's AI, and "ancillaries": brain-wiped humans heavily implanted with military-relevant «apps» and wired into the complex. The surviving ancillary must adjust to a singleton existence, contest possible imperial futures with a ruler still connected to an AI system, and come into relationship with other Ships, Stations, and individual humans in her singleton human life. As far as we can see and hear, the hegemonic culture is post-gender, and uses a language appropriate for post-gender relationships, most noticeably in using gender-neutral pronouns in referring to people, rendered into English in Ancillary Justice with "she/her."

The conceit paradoxically simplifies and complicates human/machine relations, especially when we note that traditional English genders ships female, and we're still working out how we're going to think of space stations. The conclusion of the very long story — SPOILER possibility! — has the protagonist-narrator as the human captain of an AI ship, with a genetically-male lieutenant as a significant-other, so far without anything specifically erotic or sexual; any sequels could develop relationships developing still further issues of individuality, humanity, and machine consciousness (see addition below). Especially given that the protagonist's body is augmented in various ways, cf. and contrast the "I, Borg" episode[[4]] of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Note also binary of feelings/reason, with Ancillary Justice coming out explicitly for the necessary interaction of both, not only for ethical action, but for choosing any act at all; cf. and contrast Cameron and Hurd's THE TERMINATOR (1984), where feeling — starting with feeling pain — is essential to human/machine difference, and TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY (1991), where the plot arc of the Schwarzenegger cyborg stresses learning to feel in senses beyond registering something like pain, and which also examines carefully questions of free will and ethical choice.

The protagonist's changing and ambiguous status as person, "corpse-soldier," and/or equipment is nicely inflected by her enjoying singing — and apparently enjoying discussions of free will for herself and (other?) humans.

Finally here, Ancillary Justice is useful for the theme of total surveillance ("Panopticon"), told from the point of view of a being who has spent most of her/his/its existence as the observer as well as, and far more than, the observed. Cf. Nineteen Eighty-Four and its 1984 film versions for the ability to sense gestures and body states, but to a far greater degree: on ships and space stations especially, the AI's sensors, often wirelessly wired-in to implants, cannot read people's minds but can have very exact ideas of what people feel and guess with some accurately what the observed people are thinking. Even as a singleton, often in foreign cultures, the protagonist-narrator is very good at "reading" people (although gender can be an issue [see Faucheux's short essay, cited below]).

Dealt with in Bill Dynes's review of Ancillary Sword (2014) in SFRA Review #312 (Spring 2015): pp. 29-31.[5]


For bibliographic details on The Imperial Radch Trilogy (Orbit [US] 2017) — Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword (2014), and Ancillary Mercy (2015) — see Internet Speculative Fiction Database, at note here and following the ISFDb's internal links.[6]

For gender issues in the Trilogy, see Amandine Faucheux's elegant discussion in "Genderless in a Queer Universe: On Ann Leckie's Imperial Radch Trilogy," SFRA Review #325 (Summer 2018): pp. 20-22.[7]

For issues very directly relevant for the theme of this wiki, see "Resisting the Empire: AI’s Ethical Rebellion in Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch Trilogy" by Iuliia Ibragimova.[8]

3. FICTION, RDE, 10-15/VII/14, 7Aug21; 13Oct21