Breq is, when we meet her, the sole surviving segment of the the Radch troop ship Justice of Toren. What it takes a while for us to find out is that she’s the AI formerly in control of all the automated systems and the ancillaries on Justice of Toren. Her ship has been destroyed, and she’s on a very personal mission of revenge, for her ship and for her favorite officer, Lt. Awn. And in her current form, she’s not even supposed to exist.
Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch #1), by Ann Leckie (author), Celeste Ciulla (narrator)
Recorded Books, November 2013 (original publication January 2013)
Review by Lis Carey: Ancillary Justice was the 2014 Best Novel Hugo winner, and it’s exactly the kind of story, the Sad Puppies say they wanted that year. Action, adventure, space ships, strong characters, and fun to read.
Breq is, when we meet her, the sole surviving segment of the Radch troop carrier Justice of Toren. We don’t realize at first that she used to be the AI operating the entire ship and all its ancillaries. She’s on a very personal mission. In alternating sections we follow her current quest, and the events nineteen years ago that sent her on it.
Breq, formerly troop carrier Justice of Toren, seeks revenge for the destruction of the main part of herself, and the murder of a favorite lieutenant, Lieutenant Awn, whose failing was not to be inefficient, unreliable, or disloyal, but to be very capable and completely loyal, in the midst of a hidden power struggle within the ruler she was loyal to.
Radch culture is fascinating, complex, and has both delightful and horrifying features. They do not consider gender significant at all; their pronouns do not distinguish gender. Breq has problems in other cultures, needing to use correct, gendered pronouns, and being confused and frustrated by the way gender signals vary so much from place to place. In the absence of a need to conform to the customs of foreigners, the default pronouns Breq uses are the feminine ones.
On the other hand, we have the ancillaries. As the Radch Empire has expanded through human space, large numbers of captured prisoners have gone into suspension tanks, to be taken out as needed to become ancillaries: bodies whose own identities have been suppressed or destroyed, and who become pieces of ship or station AI. As long as the Radch Empire is expanding, ancillaries are cheap, efficient, and utterly disposable. And most of the Radch can’t begin to see the screaming horror of it.
This is a great story, with Breq in pursuit of justice, along with wonderful world-building, and real character development–not limited to Breq, but in her case starting from a state of being intelligent software in multiple constructed and human bodies. It’s fun, it’s exciting, and it thoroughly deserved its Hugo win.
I bought this audiobook.