Thursday, June 05, 2014

Nebula Update: Ancillary Justice

Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch, #1)Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this book in one sitting on a cross-country plane flight. It was the first time I had read a book in one sitting in several years, so I'm very glad I got to read such a good book.

Despite the good reviews this book has received, I had avoided it for a while. I had found the description a bit off-putting -- particularly the fact that the protagonist was formerly a starship AI. I find a lot of science fiction about non-human, meta-human or post-human beings fairly tiresome.

But since Ancillary Justice won the Nebula Award for Best Novel and has been nominated for the Hugo Award, I decided to give it a try. In the best of circumstances, when I read a book based on awards, it forces me to look beyond my first impressions and find an unexpected gem. This was the best of circumstances.

So what did I like? First of all, I thought the politics of the book's universe was really thought-provoking. The Radsch, the main political unit in the book, had built its structure around continual expansion and now has to confront the end of the expansion; I think there are interesting analogs to Earth, particularly in American history. Second, the way in which the AIs spin copies of themselves off (and other characters do too) raises interesting questions about the extent to which, say, we are the same person across time and experiences. Finally, all of the mind-shifting is done really cleanly without either boring exposition our annoying mumbo-jumbo, resulting in a cleanly-written story that was a pleasure to read.

This year, the only other Nebula Best Novel nominee I read was The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Ancillary Justice was better. I read it the day after it won the Nebula; I have now read 42 of 50 winners. I am now diving into the Hugo reading list. By the time I am done with that (or, more likely, the voting deadline has passed), I will have built up several other books I'm itching to read. So I probably won't get to any of my final eight until late this year.

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