In 2013, Ann Leckie published Ancillary Justice, the first book in her RADCH EMPIRE series. The book swept the 2014 awards, garnering a Nebula, an Arthur C Clarke and a Hugo award for best novel. In 2014, Leckie followed it up with Ancillary Sword, and the final book of the trilogy, Ancillary Mercy, came out this October, and landed on the New York Times best-seller list. Leckie keeps a busy schedule with writing, book promotion, managing a family, and occasionally beading. She took a few minutes out of her day to chat about Ancillary Mercy, distributed consciousness and working on a surveying crew. One commenter with either a U.S. or Canadian address will win a copy of Ancillary Mercy.
Marion Deeds: You captivated me from the early pages of Ancillary Justice with the idea of distributed consciousness, and by depicting it in a way that was deceptively simple, (a first-person narrator experiencing input from numerous sources at the same time) rather than getting more stylistically convoluted. What sparked this idea for you, and did you do much research on distributed networks before you attempted it?
Ann Leckie: I first had the idea of a character who had many bodies and could therefore be in lots of places at once. I didn’t actually do much research into distributed networks–most of my research was into human psychology and neurology, and then working out what problems (or advantages!) might arise from sharing information (or more than information) over large distances.
Seivarden Vendaii is a character who is, in some ways, as bereft and isolated as Breq. The difference is that her roots are in the aristocracy, and she has always had a slight air of condescension and entitlement. In this book, that creates some issues for her and she has to deal with the consequences. Was any of that based on the numerous current discussions about privilege?
I have certainly been listening to various discussions of privilege, and thinking about how I have (or haven’t) seen that operate in my own life. I didn’t, though, set out with any aim to depict privilege or teach anyone anything or “say” anything about it–it’s just, those thoughts were part of my set of potential choices when writing my characters. And honestly, a certain amount of the discussions I’ve been listening to have left me going, “Oh, yeah, right, I’ve seen that happen a lot, and now I have a name for it.” So, Seivarden’s various difficulties weren’t a direct response to any of the discussions surrounding privilege, but of course those discussions have informed some of what I think about how people behave in certain situations.
All three books tantalize us with mention of non-human species, the Garseddai, the Rrrrr and of course the Presger. You never show us any of them. (We might see a Presger, actually.) Do you think the story loses anything by skipping the non-human or non-post-human species? What went into that decision?
Most of the aliens aren’t onstage because they don’t figure in the story, not directly. (The Garseddai are human, incidentally. I suspect you mean the Geck.) And the Presger, well, they’re powerful and utterly alien–if I brought them directly onstage they would probably be sort of cut down to size so that I could fit them on the page–they’d be reduced and demystified. So I decided it was much better not to have them seen directly.
This question goes in a completely different direction. What was it like working on a surveying crew?
A lot of fun! But also cold or hot depending on the weather. And on construction sites, particularly in the winter, the mud would suck the boots off our feet if we weren’t careful.
Brrr! That sounds… brisk, and unpleasant.
It could also be a bit weird when we were doing what was at the time called a mortgage inspection report (at least in Missouri, and I forget what they’re called now)–a very basic survey required by a lender when someone bought a home. You can’t do a survey of a lot in isolation–you have to tie it down to other nearby points that you can say “look, they’re on this plan here, that’s in the county’s records, and the lot in question is in just this place in relation to those points.” So depending on how the subdivision was laid out (and how old or new it was) we’d sometimes have to go crawling around in neighboring yards to find markers other surveyors had set, and often dig down a bit to expose those markers so we could measure off them, and sometimes homeowners would find this disturbing, and get a bit confrontational about it.
You seem pretty busy, finishing up the books, publicizing the current book, maintaining a blog… and then last year you had to go to all those award banquets. That must have been terrible. Seriously, though, what is an average writing day like for you?
Ideally, my average writing day is me seeing everyone else off to their daily obligations, starting the dishwasher, and going into my office where I write a few thousand words, break for lunch, and the go back over the morning’s work. In reality, I often get sidetracked doing the things that are easiest for me to do because I’m free on weekdays (various appointments, some shopping or cooking, etc). And when I’m in the planning stages of a project I ideally spend my day reading–but, you know, sidetracked a lot. This is why a lot of writers go to the coffee shop or the library, actually–all the things you need to be doing around the house aren’t there to distract you.
FanLit likes to ask our authors about a favorite beverage. It can be alcoholic or non-alcoholic. Do you have a signature beverage you would care to share with us?
Tea! At this point, nearly everyone associates me (and my books) with tea. Right now I’m really enjoying trying different sorts of oolong, though I’m basically up for trying any sort of tea I can get my hands on.
Thank you for your time.
U.S. and Canadian readers, comment below for a chance to win a copy of Ancillary Mercy.
Thank you. Wonderful author.
First! And a contest entry.
Loved Justice and Sword. Looking forward to reading Mercy.
I’ve really enjoyed the first two book and am eagerly anticipating Mercy.
I just picked up the second volume, so winning the third would round out my week very nicely.
Re: surveying. My ex-brother-in-law is a surveyor, and he’s had angry property owners point guns at him more than once.
Tom, I believe it! (About the property owners.) Feelings run high around land ownership.
This is one of my all time favorite series and I really need to finish it.
This trilogy has been one of my favorite finds this year. I’m a gigantic fan of Ursula LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, and Leckie’s fiction is wonderfully evocative of that kind of world- and character-building. Now I’m convinced that my favorite genre of fiction must be “cold gender-nonbinary aliens.”
What a difference one pronoun makes. Turns the universe on its side.
I’m looking forward to reading a completed trilogy. I like her reasoning on the depiction of the alien species. Nice interview (and the more tea plugs the better)!
I know what you mean–it’ll be nice to read a book and know I’m ending a series! (But a little sad, too.)
Great interview, Marion! I was really looking forward to this, and you definitely didn’t let me down. :D
This is exactly the kind of science fiction that interests me, and it would be great to be able to finish the the trilogy.
I loved Ancillary Justice, and just began Sword. I love the mystery of it all, you tell us just enough. Such a great representation of a colonial empire from the inside, where the horrors are muted by the culture itself.
I’ve already read the ebook and loved it! It would be great to win a physical copy.
Marion, I’m so glad you asked about surveying job! I was wondering about it, because I work in a connected field (GIS) and have some theoretical surveying knowledge.
I was so curious myself, I couldn’t have skipped it.
Thank you for the interview.
I enjoyed Ancillary Justice very much and look forward to reading the rest of the series.
Loving this series, definitely plan on picking this book up!
Kevin Ramirez, if you live in the USA or Canada, you win a copy of Ancillary Mercy!
Please contact me (Marion) with your US address and I’ll have the book sent right away. Happy reading!