Science Book a Day Interviews Ann Leckie


Special thanks to Ann Leckie for answering 5 questions about her recently featured book – Ancillary Justice

Ann Leckie has published short stories in Subterranean Magazine, Strange Horizons, and Realms of Fantasy. Her story “Hesperia and Glory” was reprinted in Science Fiction: The Best of the Year, 2007 Edition edited by Rich Horton. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri, with her husband, children, and cats. – Adapted from Ann’s Homepage

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#1 – What was the impetus for Ancillary Justice?

I’m not sure there was any particular impetus. Just playing with worlds and characters in my head.

#2 – The concept of an conscious ship, with its mind now in the mind of a being is unique. How did you come up with this idea?

I started with a bunch of pieces–I’d put them down in a pattern, pick them up, lay them down another way until I got an arrangement I found compelling. One of those pieces was the idea of ancillaries, of human bodies slaved to an AI. Or, a version of that–the basic idea went through a number of permutations as I contemplated it.

There are a number of things you can do with that idea, once you’ve got it. But the thing that kept coming up, as I played with the pieces, was an ancillary as a main character. Which doesn’t make much sense, if its just part of a ship. Still, that kept turning up, even before I had more than a whisper of actual plot. All I had of that was some background information in the first (still unpublished and likely to remain so) novel I ever wrote–the disappearance and return of _Justice of Toren_ was an ultimate, precipitating factor in the events of that novel, but I hadn’t worked out more than that, it wasn’t necessary for that story. And that tells you how long I’d been arranging pieces–I wrote that novel in 2002, and I had been contemplating bits of that universe/plot for at least five years before that. I saw, in that small bit of background, the potential for Ancillary Justice but it still didn’t contain the “ship in a human body” element. That came much, much later after lots more thinking and digging into how the whole idea of ancillaries might work to begin with.

So, I kind of feel like it emerged out of the universe I was working in, as I was working on it.

#3 – Your book is billed as “an absorbing thousand-year history”. Why look at this time-frame for a story?

Well, you know, I’ve always been a fan of space opera. I mean, I love all kinds of science fiction, but space opera has always been especially shiny to me. And one of the shiny things about space opera–certainly not the only one! But definitely one of them–is the potential for Epic Hugeness. Vast territories, vast stretches of time. Ginormous constructions. And after all, space is unimaginably big. Plenty of room for Epic Hugeness! When I began writing Ancillary Justice I had no real expectation that it would ever sell, so I figured I might as well go for broke. Go big or go home, right? So covering such a timespan is really just part of that.

#4- Your book has been nominated for a number of science fiction awards. How do you feel about the reaction the book has received?

I am, frankly, flabbergasted. I wrote and sold short fiction for several years before _Ancillary Justice_ sold, and I always felt that what most of the magazines were buying wasn’t the kind of thing I was writing. That’s just my (probably neurotic) perception of it–actually I sold a fair amount of short fiction and it did pretty well, considering, some of it turning up in Years Best anthologies, which is really fabulous. But my work never got a huge amount of buzz, I was never terribly visible on the short fiction scene. I figured I just didn’t write the sort of thing that got lots of attention, or got nominated for awards, and I was fine with that. I mean, in the end there are way more fabulous stories and books than ever get famous or nominated for things (let alone win them), and if I was going to pin any hopes on that sort of thing, I knew I was bound to be disappointed.

And most of my short fiction has been fantasy. I’ve only sold a few science fiction, but had a great deal less trouble selling my fantasy, so I’d begun to concentrate on that. When I finally got up the nerve to attack Ancillary Justice I figured it would be as unlikely to sell as my short science fiction had been. It didn’t help that it seemed to me that it was, in some ways, fairly old-fashioned. In some ways it’s not–but those are things that didn’t strike me as terribly popular, or in style.  Of course, none of those things stopped me from actually writing it, or from sending it out!

So I was astonished enough to actually sell it. Astonished at the initial, very positive reviews, astonished at all the talk about it. I’m not sure there’s a word in any thesaurus strong enough for my surprise at its turning up on awards lists. I am, of course, delighted. Though it’s odd to now be writing while I can occasionally see people on twitter talking about what they anticipate or hope for in the very book I’m working on. That’s very strange.

I’m also delighted by the discussion it’s seemed to spark–discussions about identity or gender, for instance. Some of the interpretations of various bits of the book are…a bit alien to me? And it’s very interesting to see where the assumptions of some readers–obviously smart, good readers who enjoyed the book–diverge from mine, leading to takes on the novel that surprise me. But that’s how it works, once it’s out there, a reader has their reaction to the book, and their reaction is what it is. And no matter how people interpret the book, I’m tremendously pleased that people are talking about things, thinking about them, turning ideas over.

#5 – Are you working on any new projects/books that you can tell us about?

I’ve turned in revisions for Ancillary Sword, and now it’s in the hands of my editors. Next up is Ancillary Mercy. Arguably, that’s all one project, just the conclusion of what I’ve started with Ancillary Justice. I don’t know, yet, what will come after that. Something fun, though! I don’t see the point in putting lots and lots of work into something I’m not having a good time with.

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