A short note on why Ancillary Justice really annoyed me.

Ancillary Justice won just about every award going: Hugo, Nebula, Clarke, BSFA, Locus and Kitchie. Almost a clean sweep. It was criticallyAncillary Justice acclaimed pretty much everywhere.

Firstly, after reading this, I can confirm that I’m not a huge fan of far future space opera. I never got on with the Culture Novels, for example, although my favourite books include Jem, Hyperion, and The Sparrow. Maybe I should just stop reading this kind of book? Secondly, I thought Ann Leckie’s debut was original, imaginative and very well written. I thought the characters were interesting and I enjoyed getting to know them. I thought the gender politics were excellent. I thought the attention to detail and the deft writing were pretty much spot on. I thought the science was plausible enough. I never once thought ‘no way’. The universe Leckie created was one I bought almost completely, in terms of civilisation and politics, although the tea thing was a bit twee (and I couldn’t stop thinking about the Firefly episode Shindig for some reason).

I totally get why it was so critically acclaimed, up to a point. However, I think it was intrinsically flawed and therefore probably shouldn’t have won anything. The story is told in two strands early on, from the first person perspective of Breq (the ancillary) and from the Radch starship, the Justice of Toren One Esk. Necessarily, there is a lot of world building in the early chapters. This is where the novel falls down. The first person narration is wrong. The conceit is wrong. First person narration usually has some acknowledgement of its intended audience. The reader knows why the story is being told to them. As the end of Ancillary Justice approached I had increasingly hoped that the conceit would reveal itself, but it didn’t. So who was Breq narrating too? If it was us, the 21st Century reader, then how or why isn’t made evident. If Breq was narrating to someone in her own time, why all the description of politics, society and science. Why the narrated world building? Surely they wouldn’t need it?

Simply by putting Ancillary Justice into first person ruined it for me. It was never going to match the hype, and everything else about it was pretty much spot on, but Leckie’s choice not to write Ancillary Justice in the third person really, really annoyed me.


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