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Ancillary Justice (review)

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I really wanted to like Ancillary Justice (2013) (Kindle, Paperback, Audio) by Ann Leckie, but, alas, it was not to be. Let me rewind. I picked up the audio version of Ancillary Justice in early September of 2014. I had heard that it had won a Hugo, Nebula, and an Arthur C. Clarke Award and was curious about a novel that had won all three awards previously noted in one year by a debut author. Very impressive indeed. I was also intrigued by the idea of an AI main character that was a fragment of its original self. I started listening. And listening. I wondered what all the fuss was about. Honestly, if Ancillary Justice hadn't won the awards it did and I hadn't been listening to an audiobook, I wouldn't have made it past the first few chapters. Why had this book won so many awards? I was bored, but I persevered, hoping that I would stumble across a plot or find some reason to care about the main character. Or any character, frankly. The writing was good, at least a sentence and paragraph level, but it lacked the ability to engage me. I should note that I enjoyed the challenge of the non-gender pronouns. Ann Leckie handled the challenging issue of translating a non-gendered language into the gender-encumbered English form. The most interesting part of Ancillary Justice was the worldbuilding, and that was tepid at best. I reluctantly laid it aside and pursued other reading material.

15 books (one of which was a real door-stopper), 3 months, and several more attempts to finish Ancillary Justice later I forced myself to the end. The plot had wandered in at about the half-way point, and it was okay, becoming more intriguing as the glacial pace of worldbuilding caught up. Also, by the end, I was finally beginning to like the main character. Unfortunately, the climax wasn't much of a climax. It would have worked somewhere way back in the story, but it left me bereft of any sort of payoff for the 14 hours I had spent reading.

I spent some time thinking about what didn't work for me in Ancillary Justice. It was obvious that the lack of plot was off-putting (but not definitive, as I loved Among Others, which has less plot than Ancillary Justice). Certainly that lack of engagement with the characters was noteworthy (but I actively disliked the characters in Bitter Seeds and finished it despite that). No, in the end, it was because, dare I say it, there was a complete lack of sense of wonder to be had in the entire book. The worldbuilding, while well crafted, was ultimately a serious meh for me. The technology was SFnal but lacked depth (deliberately, I suspect) giving me the feeling that references to space-travel, FTL, AI's, augmentation, etc. were just there as hooks to hang things on. In a way, the story could have been told in a fantasy setting equally well. I'm not trying to trash fantasy for lack of technological depth, I have no problem with this, and am a fan of the Lord of the Rings trilogy despite Tolkien's predilection to use magic as an arbitrary plot device.

It's unlikely that I will read another book by Ann Leckie.

My good opinion, once lost, is lost forever.
—Mr. Darcy, Pride and Prejudice



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