Ann Leckie (ann_leckie) wrote,
Ann Leckie

Ten Interview Questions for the Next Big Thing

I'm supposed to be writing today. But yesterday's words took the story in a direction that I see I laid the groundwork for, but I'm not sure if that's the best turning to take. I have to think about that. So I could be cleaning up previous chapters instead of forging ahead, but somehow it's all very Friday-like in my brain instead. And then I saw that rose_lemberg had tagged me in this cool "talk about your current wip" thing (so cool to read about her Birdverse, go take a look!).

So I can cat vacuum while still talking about my wip! What could be better? So!

Ten Interview Questions for The Next Big Thing.

1. What is the title of your book?

Ancillary Sword.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

This is a difficult question to answer. The universe is one I've been playing idly in for at least ten years--more, now I think of it--just, you know, the way you play around when you tell yourself stories for fun. It was, at first, composed almost entirely of standard sci fi/space opera tropes along with anything else that struck me as shiny at some point. Over time it grew more and more complicated. Then I decided to do NaNoWriMo in--sweet Mithras, was that 2003?--and actually writing a story down in that universe forced me to start making it all go together in some way that made sense.

That novel is still in a drawer, but at its periphery was another story that I'd have written if I'd thought I was up to it. I was pretty sure I wasn't, and might not ever be. I made several false starts at it over the years, and finally finished an actual novel last March. That novel, Ancillary Justice, will be out in the fall of 2013 from Orbit. (I can't even believe I just typed that.) Ancillary Sword is the sequel to that, and there's a third, Ancillary Mercy. that I haven't started on yet. Of course, because Sword isn't done yet.

I don't know where the idea for ancillaries came from. I think they're really just a version of a fairly common space opera trope. Like most of what's in the Radchaai stories. I see shiny stuff and grab it and put it in my Shiny Stuff box.  

Ancillaries are human bodies slaved to AIs. They're mostly made from prisoners of war, and once they're hooked up, they have no identity of their own, they are the ship. They're the infantry of the Radch, the cannon fodder, pretty much completely disposable. You lose one, you pull another body out of suspension and hook that up. They're alive when it's done to them, though some peoples outside the Radch call them "corpse soldiers."

The main character is an ancillary. Human but not human, Radchaai but not Radchaai. A disposable piece of equipment.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

Space opera. Definitely space opera.

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

No idea. :)

5. What is a one-sentence synopsis of the book?

I'm terrible at things like that. Here's what got submitted to Publishers Marketplace:
Ann Leckie's ANCILLARY JUSTICE, a far-future space opera in which a ship's ancillary A.I. or "corpse soldier" uncovers a dangerous secret at the heart of a galaxy-spanning civilization.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

It's under contract! Sol Invictus!!!

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

This is a tricky question! I made so many false starts with Ancillary Justice and then set it aside despairing of ever being able to write it at all, that using that number would be very, very different from the year or so it took me to actually finish a draft once I saw a way to do it.

I'm currently about 25K into the first draft of Ancillary Sword and I've been working on it for about two months. Three if you count September, when I didn't work on it at all but read a whole bunch of hopefully-helpful non-fiction instead. Which is more or less how I usually work: write write write, get stopped, read nonfic until I've read whatever I needed that will let me move forward, write write it all again.

8. What other books would you compare this story to in your genre?

Um, I don't know. Fans of CJ Cherryh will definitely see a strong streak of Foreigner running through it, though not, perhaps, plotwise. Other people have mentioned Ian Banks but I really don't think there's much similarity there, if any at all.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

It's hard to say. Obviously something about this character really interested me, and one of the most obvious things that makes her distinctive is the question of her identity. (Is she the ship Justice of Toren? The twenty-body ancillary unit Justice of Toren One Esk, who likes to sing? (Twenty voices! You could sing choral music all by yourself! How awesome would that be?! Not sure I'd take the rest of the trade, though...) Or is she just one segment of that ancillary unit? Or all three? And how does that work?) And there was something that interested me in the similarity and difference between ships like Justice of Toren (or units like One Esk, or unit segments like Breq, not her real name but the name she takes rather than going around calling herself Justice of Toren One Esk Nineteen) and the Lord of the Radch, who is herself many-bodied but (maybe? maybe not?) quite entirely different. Certainly one is a piece of equipment and the other is just short of emperor of the galaxy.

And there was something about the whole idea of identity to begin with--is any of us just one whole person? Why are we who we are? Do you know, if the right part of your brain is damaged, you'll believe very surely that you're dead, or that you don't exist, or that your right arm isn't actually part of your body even though it's clearly attached? How fascinating and scary is that? Not that any of these books are heavy on the neurology, but still, wow. You start asking what makes you who you are, and who are you anyway? It's not like any of this is terribly philosophical, really it's just space opera, but that sort of thing, it makes you think, doesn't it. I put it in a box where I was keeping shiny stuff, and shook it up, and this is what came out.

Mostly I think this grew out of the pile of shiny things I'd thrown in the box. Religion? Shiny! Language? Shiny! Here's a bunch of anthropological stuff--ooh, shiny!

And all those shiny things, they came from the real world, and once I started building something out of them, I saw they weren't just random things, but things that had real world effects, real world implications. And cultures, languages, religions, they don't exist in a vacuum, they have histories, and they only exist because people build them, live in them, negotiate them, change them or recreate them. I tried to think about those, when I was building my story and my characters. Whether I succeeded in conveying the complexity of the things humans do--culture and religion and such as real, complex human activities--is a whole other matter, of course. It strikes me as unlikely, given I've written an old school space opera adventure, but I gave it my best shot.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

There's some relatively mild genderfuck that I was afraid would make it unsalable, but I decided was too intrinsic a part of the worldbuilding to backpedal on. Radchaai is a language that doesn't use gendered pronouns, or mark anything for gender. Presumably the narrator is telling the story in Radchaai, so when it's translated the sentences aren't carrying any sort of information about the gender of the characters. Unless, of course, she's speaking in a different language, which she does for parts of Ancillary Justice. Now, in the real world, non-gendered pronouns don't necessarily translate into not caring much about gender, but for the Radchaai it does. Gender exists, for them, but it's kind of like, oh, hair color. It's real, it's there, you notice it sometimes, but there's no obligation to put it in one category or another, colors that aren't clearly blond or clearly brunette or red or whatever don't cause any disturbance or distress because hey, hair color is like that, and it's not something you need to know about someone, or spend much time thinking about unless you want to.* I thought for a long time about how to handle that, including the really obvious ways that could be fail, and in the end I made the default pronoun "she" and used the main character's best guess for the times she has to pick one. There aren't many characters in the book--either book--whose actual gender is stated, and it's entirely possible to read them as being populated almost entirely by women, if you want to read it that way.

What else might be interesting? The Radchaai are not based on the Romans, but oh my goodness does the Roman Empire make a nice, big, read-aboutable example of a large empire that functioned fairly well for quite a long time considering (longer, in fact, than they usually tell us in school when they say the Empire fell in 476. The Eastern Empire went on quite a bit longer) despite large distances and resulting slow communications. Which explains my strong interest in them for the last couple years. The Roman attitude towards religion has particularly interested me, and that shows as well, though as I said the Radchaai are not Romans In Space and their theology is not particularly Roman. But some things about them? Yeah, I totally stole from the Romans.

*This is, of course, not a perfect analogy for various reasons.

Include the link of who tagged you and this explanation for the people you have tagged.

I was tagged by Rose Lemberg, who answered these questions for her own work here. She was tagged by Mike Allen, and his answers are here.

Most of the people I'd want to tag have been tagged in one of those two posts, so consider yourselves tagged again. I'd also add Rachel Swirsky (but only if you feel like it!), Athena Andreadis, Dave Thompson, and Katie Sparrow. And, um, anyone I'm going to go "Oh, I meant to say them, too!" after I post this. You too.

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    So, lately all my posts here (or nearly all) are mirrored from, and crossposted over on Dreamwidth. The recent LJ user agreement…

  • Cover Reveal: PROVENANCE

    So, as it happens, I have a book coming out this year! Also as it happens, it turns out I lied a little when I said folks who didn’t follow…

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    So, as it happens, I have a book coming out this year! Also as it happens, it turns out I lied a little when I said folks who didn’t follow…