I’m halfway through Ann Leckie’s Ancillary trilogy. Her treatment of gender, however noble, is awkward enough to be annoying. The idea of a future in which gender distinctions are lessened, both in language and role, is cleverly framed through the narrator’s primary language, Radchaai, which is not only not marked for gender in the traditional sense but doesn’t see the need for it. I especially like Leckie’s decision to use the third person singular female pronoun “she” as the default for both men and women, as opposed to the painful modern practice of using “they” in a singular context. Unfortunately she also feels the the need to have the narrator frequently step back, as it were, and provide commentary on these linguistic mechanics. In these moments it’s as if Leckie steps out of character and exchanges her otherwise subtle writing style for something more homiletical, almost patronizing. Each time it takes the reader out of the story, which is sad, because her goal could be better achieved precisely by leaving her in it. It’s exacerbated by the fact that, in other scenes, she’s able to let the reader see lexical subtleties almost seamlessly (e.g. the Undergarden child who runs for Breq after seeing revolutionary words painted on a wall, or the Presger Translator’s brilliant observation about the inadequacy of eggs).
The main character, Breq, however, is captivating. The question of what it means to be a person, to be human, intrigues me as much as the story.