Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Not Part of Its World

You ever admire the heck out of a book and not really like it? I grokked to the Hugo-award winning novel Ancillary Justice when it was lauded on my favorite podcast, Pop Culture Happy Hour. I can't recall which panelist was talking about the book, but the premise--the main character is one piece of a massive star ship's artificial intelligence that has lost its connection to the ship--intrigued, and an inter-library loan got me the book.

I just finished it yesterday, and here are a few of the thorny, interesting, complex, and just-damn-cool ideas it plays with:
  • Consciousness shared among hundreds of bodies and even space ships
  • "Ancillaries" - bodies re-purposed as beings that an AI can control
  • Galactic empires spanning thousands of years--and characters that, as AIs, are immortal and recall all of those years
  • All-powerful alien weaponry that can destroy basically anything
  • A consciousness split among hundreds of bodies that eventually separates and tries to sabotage itself, with one half at war with the other
  • A massive galactic empire that has no gendered words in its language--and a first-person narrator from that empire who keeps the reader at seas as to characters' genders.
But the thing is, the plot of the actual story never really grabbed me. That, coupled with the sometimes-impenetrability of this world, made it a hard novel to get comfortable in. Leckie does very little hand-holding, and a lot of the above-listed conceits (and many others), were opaque to me and took much longer than I would have liked to really understand. So, as much as I liked the ideas themselves, and really wanted to lose myself in this alien world, I just couldn't get there.

Now, of course, this is more a "me problem" than an "author problem," given the praise the book has received and the number of readers that flat-out adored it. I just wasn't one of them. If you suspect you might be one of those who would like it, be aware that the sequel, Ancillary Sword, just came out.

Until Whenever

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