Few novels have made such an immediate impact on the science fiction landscape as Ancillary Justice. Anne Leckie’s debut novel won a host of awards including the Hugo, Nebula, BSFA Arthur C. Clarke and Locus Awards as well as being named on our list of best science fiction novels ever written! We also reviewed and analysed the novel here.
As well as being a compelling space-opera, Ancillary Justice has a lot to say on a range of issues. We’ve picked these seven quotes as our favourite because they each hammer home one of the novel’s key themes.
“Luxury always comes at someone else’s expense. One of the many advantages of civilization is that one doesn’t generally have to see that, if one doesn’t wish. You’re free to enjoy its benefits without troubling your conscience.”
This is the ugly truth at the heart of any privileged society. For one person to live in comfort at ease, it probably requires another to endure hardship.
“And it’s so easy to just go along. So easy not to see what’s happening. And the longer you don’t see it, the harder it becomes to see it, because then you have to admit that you ignored it all that time.”
Again, a big part of living a comfortable live in a privileged society is ignoring the plight of those less fortunate. This isn’t something most of us acknowledge, but it is something most of us are guilty of. We have a voluntary blind spot when it comes to others pain, poverty and misfortune.
“Thoughts are ephemeral, they evaporate in the moment they occur, unless they are given action and material form. Wishes and intentions, the same. Meaningless, unless they impel you to one choice or another, some deed or course of action, however insignificant. Thoughts that lead to action can be dangerous. Thoughts that do not, mean less than nothing.”
Leckie’s talent for uncovering a simple truth most people ignore shows itself again. This quote challenges us to consider how many thoughts we have wasted due to inaction.
“Or is anyone’s identity a matter of fragments held together by convenient or useful narrative, that in ordinary circumstances never reveals itself as a fiction? Or is it really a fiction?”
A key theme in Ancillary Justice is the idea that the image we have of ourselves may not actually be accurate. Our idea of self being nothing more than a story made up from incomplete memories, a story that may fall apart at the slightest test.
“It’s easy to say that if you were there you would have refused, that you would rather die than participate in the slaughter, but it all looks very different when it’s real, when the moment comes to choose.”
This is one of those test that would reveal our perception of ourselves to be a lie. Under pressure, how many of us wouldn’t join in the slaughter to save ourselves or our loved ones?
“In a thousand years, Lieutenant, nothing you care about will matter. Not even to you—you’ll be dead. So will I, and no one alive will care. Maybe—just maybe—someone will remember our names. More likely those names will be engraved on some dusty memorial pin at the bottom of an old box no one ever opens.” Or Ekalu’s would. There was no reason anyone would make any memorials to me, after my death. “And that thousand years will come, and another and another, to the end of the universe. Think of all the griefs and tragedies, and yes, the triumphs, buried in the past, millions of years of it. Everything for the people who lived them. Nothing now.”
Ancillary Justice is a novel that takes place across planets and years. On that sort of scale, it’s hard for any human problems seem important. Ancillary Justice shows us that human and emotions don’t become irrelevant in the face of time. A surprisingly positive message hidden in a bleak novel.
“It’s the people without the money and the power, who desperately want to live, for those people small things aren’t small at all.”
Breq is a remnant of the star-ship Justice-of-Toren. The person she wants revenge on doesn’t even know she exists and she fully expects the culmination of years of planning and work to be futile. Yet she persists with her plan because she is a small person, and all she has is her revenge. Which doesn’t seem small to her at all.
“We have a saying, where I come from: Power requires neither permission nor forgiveness.”
Another truth we chose to ignore. We all live our lives thinking we can reason with the powers that control us, be it bosses or the government, but the truth is we are at their mercy.
If you liked Ancillary Justice, you may also want to take a look at our list of best space-opera novels. And if you like science fiction quotes, you may want to check out all of our articles on science fiction quotes.