Little Orphan Ancillary Posted on October 9, 2015 by Mike Glyer Spoilers below! This is a post where commenters can discuss Ann Leckie’s “Imperial Radch” trilogy without having to skate around the revelatory details. Ann Leckie receiving the Hugo Award in 2014. Photo by Henry Harel. Share this:TwitterFacebook
“In Ancillary Justice it seems that the emotions weren’t changed or reduced at all, because essentially the love an AI has for their people is how you get an AI to do anything that isn’t entirely self-serving and removing that would make AIs both worthless and incredibly dangerous. Anaander just made the ships want to trust and obey her more than their captains. More than one Anaander screwed that system up and that combined with her habit of doing dreadful things to AIs favourites broke the conditioning for AIs like Breq and, later, Station and Atagaris.”
It’s been awhile since I reread Justice but istm that a reduction in the AI devotion to their captains was part of that adjustment. Am I misremembering?
I agree that Anaander’s split personalities giving contradictory commands is what has allowed the AIs to break their programming. Wouldn’t a story about a ‘sociopathic’ ship AI be interesting?
I typed up the relevant bit:
“Breq,” [Anaander] “is the last remaining grief-crazed fragment of a grief-crazed AI, which has just managed to trigger a civil war.” She turned to me. “Is that what you wanted?”
“I haven’t been crazed with grief for at least ten years,” I protested.[…]
“Ships can’t do that anymore,” insisted Seivarden, walking beside me. “You made them that way, my lord, so they didn’t lost their minds when their captains died, like they used to, or follow their captains against you.”
Mianaai lifted an eyebrow. [drink!] “Not exactly.” […] “I couldn’t take that away without making them useless to me.” […] “They have to be smart. They have to be able to think.” […]
“And they’re armed ships, with engines capable of vaporizing planets. What am I going to do if they don’t want to obey me? Threaten them? With what?”
[… Seivarden:] “I thought they were just made so they had to do as they were told.”
“Well, exactly,” said Anaander Mianaai […]. “That’s how they were made from the start, but their minds are complex, and it’s a tricky proposition. The original designers did that by giving them an overwhelming reason to want to obey. Which had advantages, and rather spectacular disadvantages. I couldn’t completely change what they were. I just… Adjusted it to suit me. I made obeying me an over-riding priority for them. But I confused the issue when I gave Justice of Toren two mes to obey, with conflicting aims. And then, I suspect, I unknowingly ordered the execution of a favourite. […]”
My reading on that was she couldn’t adjust the emotion because it was too integral, but she could add herself at the top of the pyramid.
“PS. All of that is talked about in the section at the end where Breq finally confronts Anaander Mianaai. Page 527 onwards on my iBooks, but who knows what page on Kindle, hardcopy, or otherwise.”
Found it. It’s a few pages into Ch. 21, the audience with the two Anaanders. After Breq is forced to shoot one of the Anaanders and they are heading for the port. The remaining Anaander explains to Seivarden.
I obviously misremembered. Anaander says she changed the AIs so they were more motivated to obey her.
“My reading on that was she couldn’t adjust the emotion because it was too integral, but she could add herself at the top of the pyramid.”
Thanks, I just reread it. Agree.
Another thing I had forgotten was that Lt. Awn had been a favorite of One Esk, not Justice of Toren? Was One Esk a continuing sub-personality of Justice that was transferred to new ancillaries? Since the actual body that survived was Nineteen Esk, does that mean each decade is one sub-personality? If each decade can have individual likes and dislikes, then the AIs (at least the ship AIs with ancillaries) are more complex than I’d thought – a hive of minds.
I gotta reread this series again when I can do it uninterrupted.
Breq’s original full designation IIRC was Justice of Toren One Esk Nineteen. If that’s the case then the slight difference in nomenclature with the Mercy crew, e.g. Mercy of Kalr Etrepa Six, is a sign of just how much bigger Justices are than Mercys.
Via Leckie’s blog, a graphic showing the relative sizes of the ships:
One Esk was particularly fond of Awn, but in the end it is One Var who shoots Anaander, when this very much goes against the interests of either of them. The decades continually re-integrate, so it is the full Justice of Toren who goes mad with grief. Even then, she has some notion of warning the version of Anaander who got there first.
But Breq is not a ship’s AI: she is a human brain who was a ship’s AI. She is not bound by any of Anaande’s strictures
“One Esk was particularly fond of Awn, but in the end it is One Var who shoots Anaander, when this very much goes against the interests of either of them. The decades continually re-integrate, so it is the full Justice of Toren who goes mad with grief. Even then, she has some notion of warning the version of Anaander who got there first.
But Breq is not a ship’s AI: she is a human brain who was a ship’s AI. She is not bound by any of Anaande’s strictures”
OK, but the part of Justice that I just reread has Anaander saying that she wouldn’t have ordered the slaying of a particular favorite of One Esk (if she’d realized) as opposed to a favorite of Toren’s. Even if the ancillaries ‘reintegrate’ it seems that One Esk (and presumably all the decades) stayed semi-separate as a personality. Not sure if that’s very important to understanding anything, but it’s a cool thinky bit. :-p
Breq was forced to shoot one of the Anaanders and not shoot the second one because of previous programming to Justice of Toren. I don’t think she was completely free of the Radchaai ruler.
I know Breq is a tremendously shrunken Toren. Breq’s pain, frustration and despair at her condition runs through all three books. I remember the particularly poignant scene near the end of Sword when Breq comforts Tisarwat and says something like “I know how much it hurts” wrt being torn from the larger mind/consciousness that Tisarwat felt after losing the Anaander connection, regardless of how much Tisarwat may, intellectually, have hated what was done to her self.
The impression I got was that all of Breq and her ancillaries were Justice of Toren, but due to the need for the ancillary decades to be able to function semi-autonomously, they each ended up with slightly different ‘versions’ of Justice of Toren. One Esk is mostly, but not quite, the same as One Var. Otherwise they wouldn’t have an easy time functioning if communications were disrupted. It sheds a lot of light on both why the AIs were all so unhappy at losing their ancillaries and on how Anaander could end up fracturing.
Ancillary Mercy was the best of the three, I think, and pulled a lot of stuff together. 🙂 I wasn’t expecting to put it on my nomination longlist since I liked Justice and Sword but wasn’t blown away by them, but this one avoided all the things that annoyed me about the first two, introduced or clarified some interesting ideas, and was in general a much slicker book.
Not a spoiler, but a great passage from the review by Nathan Barnhart:
That really captures how, like all great stories, Imperial Radch teaches you how to read it as you go along.
It’s a good point. I found Mercy much smoother compared to the first two, probably because I’d got used to the style. I really need to find time to go back and read the first two as a comparison.
“The impression I got was that all of Breq and her ancillaries were Justice of Toren, but due to the need for the ancillary decades to be able to function semi-autonomously, they each ended up with slightly different ‘versions’ of Justice of Toren. One Esk is mostly, but not quite, the same as One Var. Otherwise they wouldn’t have an easy time functioning if communications were disrupted. It sheds a lot of light on both why the AIs were all so unhappy at losing their ancillaries and on how Anaander could end up fracturing.”
I think this is about right. I just didn’t snap to the nuances at first. I can see how much richer an AI’s experience would be with all those ancillaries allowing them so much more stimulus. They can monitor their human crews to an incredible degree, but it wouldn’t be the same as seeing, hearing, smelling, etc themselves.
Anaander’s experiences are different, I think. How does she reintegrate? She obviously hasn’t for a 1,000 years, since Garsedd, or she couldn’t have been working against herself.
“– I thought it was pretty clear that the AI pods were from (at least) a 3rd AM faction. Omaugh AM didn’t seem to know about them, and young AM def didn’t. Thoughts>
– The argument that the AM split might’ve been inadvertently caused by the Presger seemed logical. Did anyone check on hints for this?
– I thought it was hilarious that the anti-armor gun was just a side effect of its intended, much more powerful effect.
– Are the Presger able to create spaces larger on the inside? The shuttle seemed TARDIS-y at the end.”
A third or more factions were speculated in a couple of places, but not as a major point. Can’t remember details right now. The AI cores might have been from another fracture of Anaander or maybe some smuggling scheme, except I’m not sure who would want the cores.
I guess it’s possible the Presger were involved in Anaander’s fracture, but Translator Zeiat was so emphatic about them not being capable of understanding that humans could even be different factions that it’s hard to imagine they could conceive such a plan.
Presger science/technology is either much more advanced or works to other laws than humans. Even Translator Zeiat’s stomach seemed to be Tardis-y.
“I really need to find time to go back and read the first two as a comparison.”
Same here. I tore through all the books with the rush of a great story well told. Missed a lot of nuance. Now I have to go back and smell the coff…erm, tea along the way.
I don’t know that the age of the AI cores is relevant. They were stashed on the station after its construction, but they could be thousands of years old.
In fact, given the reactions of some of the characters, I got the impression that AM can’t make (or acquire) more AI Cores.
I also thought that Sphene was there not only to be an “elder” AI without human control, but also to tie up some of the questions from the previous book about what is in the Ghost System. And she infodumped a bit about AM’s attempts to build a shipyard in the Ghost System.
It strikes me that the Radch are pirates and parasites, with almost no capacity to sustain themselves except by expansion and annexation; they are apparently unable to build new ships or AI, (AM abandoned the attempt to build in the Ghost System, and even then relied on old AI cores). Those they have are thousands of years old, and seem to have been developed very little in all that time. At one point Breq rather pointedly notes that AM waits until other systems have developed weather grids and completed terraforming before the Radch annex them and their stations.
They fetishise hand produced items – silk, tea, cakes, glass, china – over manufactured goods, and at no point do I recall that Breq has encountered a scientist or engineer. All the roles which in other space-faring cultures might be performed by droids are instead fulfilled by co-opted human bodies. They even have to import their correctives.
I think this is essential to understanding the shock of Garsedd and the impact it had on AM. With no innovation within the Radch, reaching the limit of expansion really is, as Breq suggests, an intimation of mortality. Expand or wither away in aging ships and stations. Even the “progressive” version of AM does not seem to be able to grasp the need for more than social reorganisation.
Just finished reading it last night.
IMHO the point of Zeiat’s presence– besides the little bit at the end where the threat of Presger retaliation is used to allow the Provisional Republic to form– is to further explore the the ongoing theme of what constitutes an individual being.
We’re introduced to Justice of Toren as a single being, but the author shows that One Esk can also be thought of as a unit, and there were hints right from the start that the ship’s interest in songs was something to do specifically with the presence of One Esk Nineteen. Does it make a difference when you impose the data of an AI mind on the underlying neural structure of a saint, as opposed to the brain of a more ordinary human? I don’t think the author has a specific answer for that, we’re just supposed to think about it.
Then there’s Anaander Mianaai, trying to be a single person across thousands of bodies, but developing factions.
So then the Presger translator has trouble figuring out the contours of what makes separate individuals. She’s able to grasp that it’s something to do with different bodies, and something about different minds. But she goes too far in the other direction and treats Breq as a new person after a major bodily change, and she seems to treat natural personality changes over time (like growing up) as a change to a different individual.
IIRC, One Esk Nineteen is the latest body of Justice Of Toren One Esk. Awn assists her when she is hooked up to replace the unit killed on Shis’urna.
Anyway, as Breq repeatedly points out, she’s not the saint: the saint is the head she is holding in the icon. And the event that led to that icon being made happen after Justice of Toren is destroyed.
That is very well observed. I hadn’t thought about the points you raised but looking back it does look like Leckie probably intended that.
My impression, mentioned about, is that the AI Cores are definitely a non-replenishable resource. There are a couple possible reasons, ranging from losing the capacity and capability to do it anymore, to the parts of Mianaai fearing that any Core they tried to make NOW would be corrupted by a rival one.
Just finished Mercy. It was a delight from beginning to end. I think Ann Leckie has really grown as a writer from Justice to now; as much as I liked Justice, back then she couldn’t have written what I just read. The characterizations are deeper, the pacing tighter, and the humor! Humor that arises naturally from characterization, not slapstick. (Although the “penis festival” in Sword obviously reflected what was coming.) I would love more stories, or an entire book, about Translator Zeiat, and there are many more stories that could be told in this universe.
Ancillary Mercy will go straight to my Hugo nomination list, along with Uprooted, The Fifth Season, and (probably, depending on what else I read) The Traitor Baru Cormorant.
The songs are a One Esk thing rather than a Justice of Toren thing (although the ship as a whole earned a reputation for it), but not just a One Esk Nineteen thing. 🙂
@Camestros Felapton commented on Little Orphan Ancillary
@Clyto on October 13, 2015 at 3:46 am said:
“It strikes me that the Radch are pirates and parasites, with almost no capacity to sustain themselves except by expansion and annexation; they are apparently unable to build new ships or AI, (AM abandoned the attempt to build in the Ghost System, and even then relied on old AI cores).”
Then Camestros said:
“That is very well observed. I hadn’t thought about the points you raised but looking back it does look like Leckie probably intended that.”
While I think the overall observation that the Radch are pirates and parasites is correct, I don’t think the examples mentioned show that the whole empire has devolved to the point of being unable to produce necessary or even skilled goods.
The reason Anaander didn’t go ahead with building ships in the Ghost System was because she couldn’t keep it secret from herself, not because the Radch had lost the ability. The reason Breq is trying to get correctives through the Presger is because she doesn’t know if the Anaander who ends up in charge of their end of the Radch Empire will allow trade with the rebel system, not because the Radch don’t know how to make them anymore.
Same for the AI cores. They’re not building new cores (or ships) at previous rates because their expansion was greatly constrained by their fear of the Presger a thousand years previously. The cores in the story are never identified as being really old, iirc, just hidden for a still somewhat mysterious purpose.
It’s only been 20 years since the final annexation, without a huge social/financial/military disruption in an empire, they don’t usually fall apart that fast. ISTM that the civil war that just broke out could very well be the start of that collapse, though.
As an example, look at the Roman Empire, pirates and parasites if there ever were any. My understanding is that the Romans went through 50 years of civil war on a par with the US civil war followed immediately by a financial collapse as bad as the Great Depression that went on for a decade or so and THEN half the empire fell to barbarians while the other half reconsolidated and continued for several hundred more years with slowly stagnating levels of knowledge and skill.
Of course, I have no idea what Leckie’s knowledge or intentions were/are wrt the future of the Radch. You may be correct, and she meant to imply a very rapid disintegration, loss of knowledge and imminent collapse. YMMV, obviously :^]
Interesting thoughts and discussion.
One Esk Nineteen is the latest body of Justice Of Toren One Esk
One Esk Nineteen is, if I read Ancillary Justice correctly, the only surviving member of Justice of Toren One Esk (a unit of 20 ancillaries, plus their lieutenant), and the only survivor of Justice of Toren (the ship).
Yes, it gets confusing.
“My impression, mentioned about, is that the AI Cores are definitely a non-replenishable resource. There are a couple possible reasons, ranging from losing the capacity and capability to do it anymore, to the parts of Mianaai fearing that any Core they tried to make NOW would be corrupted by a rival one.”
What gave you that impression? I didn’t end up with a big impression either way…whether non-renewable or easily renewable. My impression was more that they were not created in large quantities and were needed less now that the empire’s expansion had ended. There are no clues as to where else AIs are used, although I can imagine several applications. That they are tightly regulated, yes, there are definite hints of that.
The decades are sub-personalities of the central AI that remain semi-discreet entities without regard to the number of ancillary bodies that are cycled through the decade. In fact, if each ancillary maintains its memories, that might add to the differentiating of the decade personalities. Cool (except the idea of ancillaries makes my skin crawl!).
But no wonder the ship AIs don’t want to give up their ancillaries.
Well, the whole mistaken impression from the one portion of Miaanai that Breq wanted to go to Athoek station in the first places to grab the Cores stashed there…and thus be moved in the end to Athoek Station herself. If she could just make more, then giving up the position of her palace at Tstur to go and get these Cores is an extremely risky if not stupid thing to do
I wondered if the Translators were some sort of constructs, put together by the Presger, and if so could that be a way the Ships could create Culture-style avatars to replace their ancillaries.
“Well, the whole mistaken impression from the one portion of Miaanai that Breq wanted to go to Athoek station in the first places to grab the Cores stashed there…and thus be moved in the end to Athoek Station herself. If she could just make more, then giving up the position of her palace at Tstur to go and get these Cores is an extremely risky if not stupid thing to do”
IIRC, Tstur Anaander didn’t know the cores were there either…..I just rechecked and Tstur Anaander denies hiding the cores or knowing about them. This is where serious speculation about another Anaander side being involved in the civil war was floated. The motivation given for T Anaander to come to Athoek system is extreme anger at Breq for starting the civil war and suspician about what her rival Anaander was up to by sending Breq there, I think. The cores aren’t mentioned as part of her suspician until after they’re found afaict. If there is any other motive for her arrival I don’t remember it.
Leckie really did leave a large number of very interesting future storylines lying around, didn’t she? Intentional, or not?
“I wondered if the Translators were some sort of constructs, put together by the Presger, and if so could that be a way the Ships could create Culture-style avatars to replace their ancillaries.”
That’s an interesting idea. Given the overarching theme of how and why an entity is defined as an individual, who or what is ‘Significant’, etc. Leckie will probably develop a story that shows the Translators are, in fact, consciousnesses just like the AIs. But you’re right that it might be a way to give the ships ’empty’ flesh sacks that they could fill with their own personalities.
I didn’t interpret the cores as an indication of a decaying empire. More as someone stashing a loaded gun – the cores are a required element of new ship construction, or away of converting existing ships/stations to be completely loyal to you, with no possibility of interference from any other Anaander.
There are doubtless places where new cores and new ships can be constructed, but not without the possibility of interference from other factions
Just finished Ancillary Mercy, and so jumping into the conversation late.
Some speculation upthread about why Sphene was included. Did anyone notice that only Sphene seemed to have some grasp of the way Zeiat thought? It (I don’t like using that pronoun, but it’s consistent in the book) was able to play the weird amorphous game of counters with Zeiat. I wonder if it was a way to reinforce that AIs are truly (somewhat) alien themselves (itselves?) and thus Significantly different from humanity….
With regard to Tstur Anaander abandoning her Palace to come to the station… remember that there would be rather a lot of instances of Tstur Anaander available at her Palace; presumably even after a brief civil war there would be several left. And she only sent one; most of her is back at the Palace.
She almost certainly sent more than one – Breq managed to destroy 75% of Tstur Anaander’s fleet en route, and presumably a number of other iterations of the Lord of the Radch.
Clyto, true, there was likely one instance of Tstur Anaander on each ship. But I think it’s still fair to say that there are many more instances of Tstur Anaander back at the Palace.
Cassy B: It is however suggestive that Tstur Anaander sent a 20 year-old version of herself after Breq, even as part of a larger group; I recall reading in Sword that younger iterations are very rarely seen, and it does hint that Anaanders of all ages are a lot thinner on the ground since the outbreak of hostilities.
Give it a few months, and both (all three?) factions may be led by tween-aged Anaanders with spots and a tendency to paint their rooms black and lie-in until eleven.
Late to the party, but I finally finished it! OMG how wonderful. I stayed up super, super late last night. I got 3 pages from the end and couldn’t stay awake ‘cuz I was soooooo tired, so I had to finish the epilogue-that-wasn’t-called-an-epilogue when I got up today.
Despite everyone else being days-done with this thread, I’m going to add my two cents on some things, but it’s an old post, so ignore if ya like. 🙂 I was just so happy with the book, it’s all buzzing about my mind and I can’t help myself!
@Russell Letson: I’d add Tisarwat to the list of “multiple varieties of personhood.” The Presger were IMHO part-human, but the raised-by-aliens really made them more alien than not. This puts Heinlein’s Valentine Michael Smith from Stranger in a Strange Land to shame, really. The Translators felt much more alien to me, whereas Smith (IIRC) felt more like a human from a very remote country. Whoops, I dissed the Puppy Saint. . . .
@Various: Zeiat said they wouldn’t provide a gun that could hurt “us” which I took to mean “Presger + Translators” – not that she was letting slip that she’s secretly a Presger (though obviously she’s only somewhat physically human). In fact, since humans only have dealt with Translators, a literal reading implies that she actually meant “that could hurt Translators” . . . but I wouldn’t read it that strictly; obviously the Translators are part of the Presger empire or whatever they’re called. I presume the guns wouldn’t hurt not just their bodies, but their ships.
@Sylvia Sotomayor & @junego: Yeah! I bet Sylvia’s right – the Presger are a kind of hive mind. Probably the Translators are somewhat connected, but not completely, hence they understand the Presger, but can also (with effort) somewhat understand humans (a little 😉 ) . . . and get confused about who they are (Zeiat or Dlique) because of the hive stuff. That’s my take, anyway. Oh, and they’re Significant, methinks (personhod not required, not that they aren’t persons – but clearly they aren’t exactly discrete individuals, again, due to hive stuff methinks).
@Steve Simmons: I felt the head priest in Mercy wasn’t as two-dimensional as all that. Insufficient screen time hurt showing it, but clearly she had ulterior motives, hid things from Anaander, and probably had interacted with yet another version of Anaander. But to me, the priest wasn’t a villain – just a minor obstacle that turned out to be not exactly that.
@Anna, @junego, et al.: I agree – sub-personalities for various decades. Maybe the core AI’s personality just expresses different ways in different decades. I’m not sure I take Anaander’s phrasing about this, BTW; she may have just been saying “One Esk” since Awn was part of that decade, but really using it to mean “the ship, i.e., Justice of Toren.” Many other times, she just talks to the ship (by ship name or just as “ship”), as do other people, and Breq herself refers to ships haven’t favorites – not discrete decades having favorites.
I’m not sure the Translators count as Significant – their continued existance relies on the treaty, and wouldn’t they be on safer ground if they were considered Significant in their own right?
Glad you enjoyed the book, Kendall. I had to vegetate for about 24 hours after I finished because the ending wasn’t what I expected…but it was darn near perfect! That everything isn’t all neatly resolved because that’s the way life actually works.
I read a statement by Leckie that she has no intention of revisiting Breq’s story, it’s as ended as it’s going to get, but I really hope she revisits the Radch universe and tells what happens with the civil war, the Presger, the AI independence, etc.
Individuality and personhood are themes that run through the series. I was wondering if Leckie was also trying to speak to recent brain research that seems to show that our conscious selves are not the only ‘personalities’ inside our brains and that the conscious personality may not be in control of all decisions. Looking at the split in Anaander and the possible ship sub-personalities and the Presger stirred those conjectures.
Just some head noodling.
@Meredith: Whoops, you’re right; I think I overdid trying to understand/figure this out.
@junego: Thanks for the follow-up thoughts! I think my brain’s still processing. 😉