The Null Set is supposed to have a little SF sprinkled in between its coverage of anime but I’ve been neglecting that promise of late. Sure, I discussed the classic era of the TV series Doctor Who back on March 24, 2014 but one has to go back to April 5, 2013 to find the last time I talked about print SF (a review of the March 2013 issue of Asimov’s SF Magazine). So, being semi caught up with anime I decided to cast around for something SF to discuss. I remembered reading a review of a book that I’d just finished that rubbed me the wrong way because I thought it did a great disservice to the book and now here we are.
The book is Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie.
Having been introduced to print SF through its shorter length stories, I believe that in general science fiction is at its strongest when it’s written at shorter than novel length. Therefore, I read far less SF novels than what a normal print SF fan typically does, preferring, instead, a fat anthology or the monthly Asimov’s. Case in point, I hadn’t read a single novel on either of this year’s Nebula Award or Hugo Award best novel nominee list until I happened to see Ancillary Justice at the library after it was announced that it had won this year’s Nebula award for best novel. I picked it up without knowing anything about it and proceeded to fall in love with this most excellent novel. Superbly crafted world building, stellar characters and character building, finely plotted across multiple narratives told in parallel, and storytelling that keeps one aching to turn the next page to see what happens next – Ancillary Justice definitely is deserving of its best novel award. I highly recommend this novel.
Fast forward a month and voting for science fiction’s other big award, the Hugo Award, is occurring and Ancillary Justice is up for best novel. If it wins it’ll join an elite list of novels that have won both the Nebula and Hugo Awards. I read this post why he was voting for Ancillary Justice and it really ruffled my feathers.
He basically dismisses the entire book and focuses solely on the protagonist’s use of pronouns. To be fair this bit of world building is a very novel part of Ancillary Justice; however, this sales the book very short. (Compare that post to this review of the book.) I probably wouldn’t have ever picked this book up if I had read that post beforehand. I strongly dislike –ist works/people that propound an –ism at the sacrifice of everything else and he makes Ancillary Justice sound like such a work. And it doesn’t matter if I agree with or disagree with the –ism. The problem with this mindset is that everything becomes about how something helps or hinders the propagation of the –ism, even when that something has nothing really to do with the –ism. Not every –ist falls into this category but it happens often enough that I loathe it when I see it.
In the case of a fictional work it needs to tell a story before all else. If it doesn’t tell a good story then it fails as a fictional work. Ann Leckie might be an –ist (I don’t feel like figuring out which –ist exactly) that intended Ancillary Justice to espouse a specific –ism but she doesn’t stop there; she builds a really good novel that just happens to include that concept woven into its fabric. This is why, incidentally, the anime Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei is a failure, not because it espouses a specific –ism but because it has created a very bad story trying to push that –ism.
So, to recap, Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie is a great science fiction novel that showcases the strength of the science fiction field and deserves any and every award it receives. I hope the author writes a sequel or at least another novel set in the universe of Ancillary Justice because it’s just too interesting of a universe to be done with it.