Leckie, Ann: (01) Ancillary Justice (spoilers)

This post contains book-destroying SPOILERS for Ancillary Justice. The non-spoiler post is here.

Really the main thing I wanted to say behind spoiler space was OMG the body Breq has—names and descriptions are so difficult when talking about this character—is the segment we saw being added after Ors, the one with the voice that the medic picked just to be annoying! I don’t know why I found that so stunning, really, but I did.

I desperately want the story about Breq’s time with the Itran Tetrarchy, where she got a ludicrous amount of money as payment on a favor and ended up on a religious icon.

I also strongly hope that Breq remains asexual and aromantic. I don’t know the nature of Seivarden’s feelings for Breq (besides that moment of tongue-swallowing when Breq gets new clothes), but it’s really hard for me to imagine Breq in anything sexual or romantic. Plus I believe it’s strongly implied that ancillaries have many of their physical emotional reactions modified; there’s a comment about ships experiencing different emotional ranges when they have human troops.

Finally, this is probably too on-point, which is why I didn’t quote in the main review, but I want to put it here for reference anyway.

It seems very straightforward when I say “I.” At the time, “I” meant Justice of Toren, the whole ship and all its ancillaries. A unit might be very focused on what it was doing at that particular moment, but it was no more apart from “me” than my hand is while it’s engaged in a task that doesn’t require my full attention.

Nearly twenty years later “I” would be a single body, a single brain. That division, I-Justice of Toren and I-One Esk, was not, I have come to think, a sudden split, not an instant before which “I” was one and after which “I” was “we.” It was something that had always been possible, always potential. Guarded against. But how did it go from potential to real, incontrovertible, irrevocable?

On one level the answer is simple—it happened when all of Justice of Toren but me was destroyed. But when I look closer I seem to see cracks everywhere. Did the singing contribute, the thing that made One Esk different from all other units on the ship, indeed in the fleets? Perhaps. Or is anyone’s identity a matter of fragments held together by convenient or useful narrative, that in ordinary circumstances never reveals itself as a fiction? Or is it really a fiction?

Yes, exactly.

I’m going to miss Readercon’s book club on this, vex, so let’s do it here. What did you all think?


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  1. I think it is a terrific book, but I hope future installments will feature a bit more character development than everybody, absolutely everybody, reacting with a single eyebrow raised.

  2. Sherwood, oh no–I didn’t notice, but I bet I will on re-reads now, it’s the kind of thing you can’t un-see!

  3. I totally didn’t notice that Breq was supposed to be that particular body. What was the clue? Or did the book outright state it and I somehow missed it?

  4. Chapter 12:

    The voice wasn’t the sort I preferred, and it didn’t know any interesting songs. Not ones I didn’t already know, anyway. I still can’t shake the slight, and definitely irrational, suspicion that the tech medic chose that particular body just to annoy me.

    Chapter 21:

    “Begging my lord’s indulgence,” said Seivarden from the floor, voice tentative. “Surely there’s some mistake. Breq is human. She can’t possibly be Justice of Toren One Esk. I served in Justice of Toren’s Esk decade. No Justice of Toren medic would give One Esk a body with a voice like Breq’s. Not unless she wanted to seriously annoy the Esk lieutenants.”

  5. The whole musing on selves/societies/fragmentation put me strongly in mind of Marvin Minsky’s Society of Mind, which is artificial intelligence theory from–[googles] 1988, although I have no idea whether Leckie intended such.

    The thematic thing I liked a lot was that Seivarden was addicted to a drug that nulls out emotion and promises clarity, which turns out to be a lie–and then Breq herself says she used to know why this was a lie, and then later we find out that, indeed, emotion is what guides her even in her (to me) rather infuriating “I don’t know why the hell I’m doing shit, I’m just doing shit” state.

  6. That is an excellent point about Seivarden’s addication, thank you!

  7. I, too, noticed Sherwood’s repetitive device, but I handwaved (heh) it away as another culturally significant gesture in a culture (collection of cultures?) that clearly assign significance to gestural components in their language and communications.

    I think you can probably backup/confirm that Breq/One Esk-Nineteen is the just installed unit (which I also came to assume was the case) by going back and checking to see what the number of the member that was killed in the Upper City was. I am too lazy to do so at the moment, but I may try to later.

  8. Skwid, you can’t; the number of the dead segment isn’t stated, and there are several numbers that are not mentioned during the time when communications were down or before the new segment was installed, so you can’t use process of elimination. (Yes, I checked.)

  9. \”…is anyone’s identity a matter of fragments held together by convenient or useful narrative, that in ordinary circumstances never reveals itself as a fiction? Or is it really a fiction?\”

    At the dusty substantial age of an anciano, I\’d say you have a point. Perhaps it\’s not just a fiction, but as you say a useful if incomplete narrative- one that provides a continuity to their experience when so many of the intervening episodes are forgotten or submerged; maybe to be remembered at another time as part of a different narrative thread.

    Having been through three major careers, two marriages and long periods solo, it feels like this sometimes.

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