We’ve Reached the End of Ancillary Justice, and We’ve Got … Thoughts
We made it, space travelers. Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice proved challenging in many ways—mentally, emotionally, grammatically. But like Breq of the pseudo-Gerentate, we’re stronger and more human because of it. Find our concluding thoughts below (spoiler alert, needless to say), and follow up with responses of your own and questions for Leckie in the comments. We’ll be talking to her next week.
So, Did Breq Go Crazy Over the Death of Lieutenant Awn?
Jay Dayrit, Editorial Operations Manager: I wouldn’t say crazy, per se, maybe just an identity crisis. I may be way off base here, but suppose that a ship’s human inhabitants provide a moral compass for the ship’s AI, however misguided that compass may be. Favorites, as Lieutenant Awn was to Justice of Toren, would be of greater influence on that AI’s learning, thus becoming more of a part of its identity than the less favored. A parental figure, in a sense. The premature removal of that parental figure initiates an identity crisis and an aimlessness that can only be resolved by … revenge! Ah, the plot of many a 1970s kung-fu film. In fact, I wouldn’t call Breq crazy at all. I’d call her focused and driven.
What Are Emotions?
Sarah Fallon, Senior Editor: Emotions are the thing that people now assume Breq to have when Seivarden gives her the little button with Awn’s name on it. I found that moment so touching. Not only because I know how much it must mean to Breq (Citizen Breq Mianaai now) but because it means that another human has ascribed love and sentimentality to a being that is supposedly not sentient. That’s so beautiful. Particularly because it’s so irrational to put memories and sentiment onto a little metal object. And yet we do.
Dayrit: There are inklings of Breq’s almost human interiority sprinkled throughout, as Sarah notes. But those times were few and far between. We know Breq struggles with appropriate external responses, a smile verses a look of disappointment, when to appear frustrated or pleased, but she does this in order to pass as human, to cloak her overly logical analysis of any given situation. So I wonder if she feels emotion at all, if every reaction, internal or external, is to pass. Her tone, even during the most action-packed sequences, is so tamped down and frankly rather dry. I found it hard to hang with for an entire novel. Seivarden offered a breath of fresh air here and there. The only thing that kept me going was the multiple perspectives of a singular voice. Nifty stuff!
Jason Kehe, Associate Editor: She certainly feels emotion—it often manifests in pauses. (An artificial intelligence shouldn’t have to … pause.) In fact, I’d go so far as to say Breq’s emotional intelligence is the book’s entire preoccupation. Now, I can’t tell whether her EQ is high or low, but it’s definitely prevalent. On the one hand, Breq needs emotions to survive; on the other, she’s terrified of them. She’s convinced her emotional responses will give her away to the Station AI—even though it’s Mianaai who eventually finds her out. In fact, Mianaai tells Breq she managed to fool Station. That’s odd. So you could be right after all, Jay: Breq may THINK she feels, be so convinced of it she’s ready to die, but maybe that’s just part of her programming. I find the idea terribly sad.
Lexi Pandell, Assistant Research Editor: But couldn’t you say that humans are “programmed” to feel through evolution? Maybe this is the thing that makes her most human of all.
What Do We Make of Anaander Mianaai?
Kehe: Confession: She’s my favorite character. I’m such a sucker for a scene like the one at the end, when the all-knowing tormented supremely wise probably corrupt ancient god-like being appears in the body of a child. And I don’t even like kids! I implicitly trust everything she says—which of course will get me killed. Gooooo Anaaaaaaander goooooo!
Describe Seivarden and Breq’s Relationship—If You Can.
Pandell: We get this really interesting reversal. Breq caring for Seivarden seems irrational throughout most of the book—until we discover that Seivarden is a pawn used to get into Radch Space. And, more importantly, to get in front of Anaander Mianaai. An AI always does things for a reason! But, by the time Breq is ready to discard Seivarden, the Lieutenant has grown rather attached to her, particularly because Breq risked her life in a rather un-AI-like fashion. Seivarden is so attached, in fact, that it seems we may have ourselves a loyal sidekick for the next part of this series. Maybe Seivarden is a bit in denial about Breq’s true nature?
Dayrit: Seivarden is an addict, and Breq is her sponsor. AA doesn’t work that way, I know, but maybe AIAA does. So why does Breq risk life and, literally, limb to save Seivarden on the glass bridge? Certainly not to adhere to any of Asimov’s three laws of robotics; we know Breq suffers no dissonance when shooting someone. Also, Breq is exactly a robot. Yeah, she needs Seivarden to get back into the Radch fold, but that drastic decision to save Seivarden seems to be fueled by so much more. I’d like to think that Breq, now a stand-alone consciousness, unencumbered by multiple bodies, is on a trajectory toward being more human, because, to quote the great philosopher Cher, “We all sleep alone.” I’m contradicting myself, I know. At one moment, I doubt whether Breq has emotions at all. In the next, I am arguing for her humanity.
Fallon: Right. Has Breq become a Real Boy/Girl just like Pinocchio? Because at the end, people are starting to treat her like she’s a human. What does this mean for the Radch? What does this mean for the potential for people to change their assumptions?
Can Someone PLEASE Explain the Importance of tea?!
Pandell: So I wondered if Leckie was talking about real tea, or some kind of freaky space blood-of-aliens brew. Intrepid reporter that I am, I Googled it. And turns out, according to Leckie’s blog, it’s just tea. Like, plain ol’ Earth tea. (Which, apparently, Leckie is crazy enthusiastic about. She even sells Ancillary Justice-themed blends through Adagio.)
Kehe: There’s a line near the end, “Seivarden offered the tea again,” and that’s what I’ve started calling this section: “the tea again.” Don’t get me wrong, I love tea, but Seivarden practically lives on it. Nothing is that perfect and nourishing. I guess I understand it to be something familiar about her past—but then Seivarden also seems to reject the kind of old-fashioned classism that tea, drink of the elite, would seem to symbolize. Help.
Pandell: As someone who is addicted to coffee and lives in the land of Bay Area coffee snobbery, I can relate. Do I like what a $5 pourover coffee represents? Not so much. Will I still drink it? Hell yeah. I chalk up the contradiction to her human nature. Plus, she does seem to have an addictive personality …
Dayrit: Yeah, well, the tea. I paid no mind to it. I saw the focus on tea—the quality, the taste, how it’s served—as simply another way to take something we are familiar with and make it otherworldly by adding a few tweaks. Sort of the same move with the guns, only far less riveting. Tea clearly had some cultural import, but I missed it. I don’t drink hot tea or coffee. I don’t get all the rituals and obsession around coffee. Who has time? To the larger point, I’ll be the first, maybe the only one, to admit I remain as confused as an Orsian trying to decipher Radchaai fishing rights. I couldn’t see the forest for the trees, so bogged down was I by the minor details, the diplomacy, the secondary characters, everyone’s gender that many a time I lost the plot. I can’t even recall why Anaandar Mianaai went all Cybil on us, which seems kind of important. Something to do with the Presger or the Rrrr, I think. No matter. I’ve got to hand it to Leckie for creating such a sweeping, fully developed world, even though much of it went over my head. I hope Hollywood makes a more accessible movie or Netflix series for people like me. Then I can brag I read the book first and act all smug.
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