“Inspirations and Influences” is a series of articles in which we invite authors to write guest posts talking about their…well, Inspirations and Influences. The cool thing is that the writers are given free rein so they can go wild and write about anything they want. It can be about their new book, series or about their career as a whole.
Hello everyone and happy Monday! Today, our guest is Ann Leckie, author of the most excellent space opera Ancillary Justice, which comes out tomorrow. We will be reviewing the book next Friday (spoiler: it’s top 10 material) and for now, we are super pleased to give the floor to Ann and her inspirations and influences and the (female) writers she read growing up.
Give it up for Ann, everyone!
I’ve loved science fiction pretty much ever since I started reading. My parents–diehard mystery fans–never quite understood why I loved it so much. They were convinced of SF’s inferiority, and even said the “this is good, so it’s not really SF” thing a few times.
But it was what I read, so they were going to support that. They would buy me not-quite-random genre books for birthdays or Christmas–it was my parents who introduced me to Stanislaw Lem, in fact. One year they got me an anthology edited by Brian Aldiss, called Space Opera. That anthology was eye-opening–it was the first time I realized that the kind of science fiction I liked best had a name. (It was also where I first read Jack Vance and Leigh Brackett, and I am eternally grateful for those introductions.)
I didn’t notice at the time that out of fourteen authors, only one was a woman. That was probably because I was about twelve at the time. But even given that, it’s kind of surprising I didn’t notice. The science fiction I was finding on the shelves of the library was mostly by women. Or it seemed that way, sometimes. Anne McCaffrey, Marion Zimmer Bradley, C.J. Cherryh. This was the mid to late seventies, so I was finding Suzy McKee Charnas and Joanna Russ, too (though at twelve I found both authors baffling and a bit frightening). And those are just the names I remember. At the time it seemed to me that science fiction was jam packed with women writers.
So it’s odd to hear, now, that historically science fiction has been a boy’s club. I mean, what about all those women’s names on book spines in the library? What about me and my girlfriends around the cafeteria table, talking Dune and Star Wars over our fish sticks and mac & cheese? What about C.L. Moore and Leigh Brackett and Andre Norton and Ursula LeGuin?
Reading Joanna Russ’s How to Suppress Women’s Writing was eye-opening. Oh! That’s what happened. They’re all there in plain sight–me and my friends, all those Star Trek fans who organized conventions and petitions, all the writers I loved–but when people say “Science Fiction” they draw a line around it that leaves all that out, pretends it never existed, or didn’t really matter if it did.
The effect of always drawing that line that way, as Russ pointed out, is to make women writers seem exceptional. Adrift. And community is actually very important to writers–science fiction, at least, often seems like one big, complicated conversation, books and stories building on and responding to other work. To a certain extent, you don’t get the full impact of a book if you’re not aware of its context, of the work it’s responding to and playing off of. So erasing the bit of the conversation a book is part of also erases much of its significance, dulls its effect.
(Getting the context that allows you to appreciate certain books is, arguably, the main function of literature classes. We don’t just naturally appreciate any good literature–we’ve been trained and educated to appreciate certain things. Or, for most of us in the case of science fiction and fantasy, we’ve trained ourselves, over long years of reading in the genre. We know the context, and when a book we’re reading alludes to another one, we can feel the resonance–but that resonance is inaudible, invisible, not there for readers who aren’t familiar with the same books.)
Thinking about this has led me to think some about lineage and descent. About what tradition I’m working in, who I’m responding to, who has furnished me with the basic materials I work with. And really, it’s people like Andre Norton and C.J. Cherryh. I think probably my foundational space opera is Andre Norton’s The Zero Stone (though runner-up would go to Vance’s Alastor novels). Cherryh’s Foreigner series has left an unmistakeable, indelible mark on Ancillary Justice.
I’m not fit to touch the sandal strap of The Left Hand of Darkness but there’s no question that it’s had a very direct and obvious effect on my own book. The conversation I’m in–the space opera conversation–is a conversation full of both women’s and men’s voices. Of books that are mothers and grandmothers and aunts to mine.
Thank you, Ann.
And now for the giveaway:
We have one copy of Ancillary Justice up for grabs! The contest is open to addresses in the US and Canada only and will run until Saturday, October 5 at 11:59pm (EST). To enter, use the form below. Good luck!