WCB: In your first book, ANCILLARY JUSTICE, we met your protagonist, Breq, as a sentient starship named Justice of Toren, as a group of Ancillary soldiers named Justice of Toren One Esk, and as a single part of that group - One Esk Nineteen. For more on ANCILLARY JUSTICE, check out my interview with Ann here. In ANCILLARY SWORD she’s just Breq, or Fleet Captain Breq and her newfound loneliness is very apparent, painful even. As you wrote ANCILLARY SWORD, was it difficult for you to let go of Breq’s past selves and focus solely upon her?
AL: Not really. Since the events of Ancillary Sword pick up very soon after Ancillary Justice, I was really just continuing on with who she was at that point.
WCB: ANCILLARY JUSTICE & SWORD both touch upon themes of colonialism, worker exploitation and social injustice. In your books, the plantation is alive and well, but the workers pick Rachhaai Tea instead of cotton. What inspired these particular elements of your storyline?
AL: So, actually, I did some research into how tea is actually grown, in the real world. In fact, the folks who pick tea are in a lot of cases not paid much at all, and sometimes live and work in horrendous conditions. Try this http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/india/10634065/Abused-workers-toil-for-Tetley-tea.html which is from February of this year--months after I turned in AS. So, that's a real thing. Tea is the number one drink in the world, not counting plain water, and it's hugely profitable for the folks who sell it. Not so much for the folks who actually make it.
And of course tea is heavily tied into colonial projects. The Indian tea industry is a result of the British wanting to break the Chinese monopoly on tea. They tried sneaking plants out to grow in India, but most of the plants died. Eventually they found a variety of Camellia sinensis growing in North East India, and it wasn't long before the first tea plantations were up and running.
And the workers on those plantations? Check out David Crole's Tea: A Text Book of Tea Planting and Manufacture with Some Account of the Laws Affecting Labour in Tea Gardens in Assam and Elsewhere (1897). (http://books.google.com/books?id=IDFJAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false) In particular, check out the chapter called "The Coolie: His Ways and His Worth." Yeah. So, the "coolies" are the people who are actually picking the tea. And they've most of them signed contracts of indenture, committing them to several years of labor. Which supposedly those contracts have been carefully explained to them before they sign. But it becomes clear as the chapter goes on that the tea growers were absolutely not above misrepresenting the workers' obligations and/or rights under the law. And if the workers were unhappy and wanted to quit? They couldn't. Absent running away, which if the grower wanted, he could try to have them found and forcibly brought back.
When I was looking for information on tea culture, that sort of thing was impossible to miss. And it was very much part of what I was thinking of while I was writing.
WCB: Breq is always angry. In ANCILLARY JUSTICE, Breq was almost singularly focused upon exacting her revenge. But in ANCILLARY SWORD, her anger is more others-focused. Would you elaborate a bit on this, how Breq changes and evolves from JUSTICE to SWORD?
AL: Well, to some extent, the events at the end of AJ resolve some of Breq's anger. But not all of it, and I think the source of the anger is still there, and maybe the things that were easy to not think directly about when she wasn't in the Radch are staring her in the face at Athoek, and can't be dismissed or ignored. Or, Breq can't dismiss or ignore them--plenty of citizens in Athoek can and do.
WCB: Breq is fond of music and singing, and a "collector" of songs as you put it. Where did her love of music come from?
AL: Do you mean in terms of her as a character, or in writing terms? I love choral singing, actually, and when I was thinking about what it would mean to have so many bodies one of the first things that came to mind was that someone like that could sing choral music all by themselves! It was too compelling an idea to dismiss.
WCB: Radchaai technology is advanced; the alien Presger tech even more so. The Lord of the Radch and her many ancillaries couldn't exist without a mind-bogglingly complex, interstellar web of communications. Yet you spend little time describing how all of the tech looks or works. (A brilliant choice I think) What sold you on this approach?
AL: So, there are lots of different reasons for choosing that approach. On the one hand, I already had quite a lot of history and cultural information to convey, and only so much space to do it in. Something had to go. Plus, in real life, here and now, we don't actually spend much time pondering how the lights work or how our cars go, we just flip the switch, or get in the car and drive. When I talk about going to the grocery store, I don't generally spend time explaining the vast network of communication, transport, trade, and agriculture that makes the grocery store possible, or the make and model of my car, the road and signal system, or how the engine works. And of course, for some of the tech--ancillaries, for instance--I do have some basis for how it works, but large parts of it consist of Sufficiently Advanced Technology that, frankly, works because I say it does.
Which isn't to say that writers who do choose to focus on the details of the tech are making a lesser choice--it's a different one, and that sort of exploration is one of the things a lot of science fiction readers enjoy. So for some projects, it's the best way to go. But I didn't think it would be the right choice for these books.
WCB: Where did the idea for the Presger come from?
AL: Oh, I'm not really sure! Like a lot of things, they were just...there, and I decided to play with them.
WCB: You’ve said before that you wrote ANCILLARY JUSTICE in isolation. Few of your friends knew you were hard at work on it. But, ANCILLARY SWORD was written under intense speculation. Given that, would you share a bit about your process for writing SWORD? Was it hard to block out the praise and conjecture and just focus on the writing?
AL: I have to admit, it's been very distracting. Fortunately, Sword was nearly done by the time Justice came out. But writing Mercy is very, very odd. I try not to think too much about the various comments and speculation when I'm working on it.
WCB: What’s next in the Imperial Radch Series?
AL: I honestly don't know! Right now I'm focused on finishing Ancillary Mercy, and after that, well, at various points in my career so far, I would approach the end of a project and think "I don't have anything lined up next! What if that's the end of my having viable ideas, the end of my writing?" But it never was, something always came up. So, it'll be something, but I don't know just what, yet.
I'd like to thank Ann Leckie for this interview.
I'd like to thank you for stopping by. Don't forget to leave a comment below for a chance to win a free copy of ANCILLARY SWORD. Thanks for visiting.
About AL: Ann Leckie is the author of the Hugo, Nebula, and Arthur C. Clarke Award winning novel Ancillary Justice. She has also 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.
If you're looking for more compelling Military Science Fiction, be sure to check out UNBREAKABLE, and the forthcoming INDOMITABLE. iO9 and Kirkus named INDOMITABLE among the top speculative novels to look for in 2016.