Episode Number: 96
Episode Title: Surprises Everywhere (listen to this episode)
Transcript by: Susan the Great
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Renay: Hey friends, I’m Renay!
Ana: And I’m Ana.
Renay: And you’re listening to Fangirl Happy Hour.
Renay: Hello friends! We are here to talk about some feedback and updates, then we’re gonna discuss the Clarke Awards, and then Ana dubconned me into reading The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue.
Ana: I wouldn’t put it exactly like that.
Renay: She made heart eyes at me. A whole lot.
Ana: I’m so sick. I’ll have to apologize in advance. I might say things I’ll regret.
Renay: And we also have an interview that Ana did with Ann Leckie.
Ana: Yes! It was great.
Renay: I’m so excited about this interview, Ana.
Ana: It is the one where she’ll answer, once and for all, the cake or pie question. This will be settled. In a way that no one will predict.
Renay: And after that you’re gonna come back to us and we’re gonna give you some recommendations. I promise you that they will not have anything to do with cake or pie.
Renay: Time for feedback and updates! Over on tumblr, a few weeks ago, coffeecupandcorgi wrote a post about the book you recommended, When Dimple Met Rishi? You really liked it a lot and you recommended it here. Well, they read it and they were just like, “Eh…” But they did provide an alternate rec.
They said “If you’re intrigued by the book’s premise, Indian-American protagonists navigating the dissonance between Indian culture and mainstream American culture, between parental expectations and individual relationship and career goals, I recommend Rishi Reddi’s Karma and Other Stories instead, in particular her story “The Validity of Love”. So since we’re big on recommendations here, I thought it would be good to pull that out and recommend it in case people who happen to read When Dimple Met Rishi and don’t like it but still want the same kind of thing, they can try this. I know people who have read that book and have come away either super in love with it, or the exact opposite. So maybe it’s one of Those books.
Ana: Are you gonna read it?
Renay: I think I might. When my library gets it, I think. And recently Susan was transcribing some of our episodes, and as she transcribes episodes she will give commentary on our episodes on Twitter, and she’ll @ us. If you want to read really funny commentary about our transcriptionist commenting on our transcripts, Susan is really fun to follow. And one of the tweets she sent us was, “Googling Pon Farr doesn’t sound safe.”
Ana: Yeah, because it sounds like porn star.
Renay: I find all her commentary super funny.
Ana: I actually do agree with you on that and I was going to recommend people follow her on Twitter too, especially when she is transcribing us. I mean, not especially, because she’s awesome at all times.
Renay: I agree. And the last update we have: did you guys know that right now, on the internet, our very own Ana is running a kickstarter for The Book Smugglers.
Ana: Guys, it’s the most nerve-wracking thing ever.
Yes, it’s our first ever kickstarter that The Book Smugglers are running to raise funds for our next season of short stories. To be able to pay more to the writers whose work we acquire. To get paid contributors to the blog so that we can grow and expand. Everything goes toward our world domination plans, as you all know. And if you like what we do; if you like what have produced so far, your contribution would be very welcome. And there are really good rewards, too.
Renay: And if you can’t contribute right now, it always, always helps in the current internet media environment when you signal boost people’s requests like this.
Renay: If you see a tweet go by, give them a retweet. It really, really, really helps out.
Ana: And thank you.
Renay: The Arthur C. Clarke Award is a British award given for the best science fiction novel published in the United Kingdom during the previous year. It’s named after Arthur C. Clarke, who gave a grant to establish the award in 1987. The book is chosen by a jury; this is one of the genre’s and the UK’s most prestigious science fiction prizes. That’s a direct quote. Most people know about the Clarke Award because a few years ago there was a big hubbub online because the entire shortlist was men.
Renay: This year, the drama centred around the fact that a group of fans that called themselves the Shadow Clarke launched their own version of the jury.
Ana: Yeah, but I think it went a little beyond that, because it was supported by a university here in Cambridge, Anglia Ruskin University, which provided them the place and the website where to post the discussions. So I think it goes a little beyond fan discussion into more of an academic discussion?
Renay: I would agree. It was a fan academic discussion.
Renay: Which is different than a fan group discussion.
Ana: To me it had an appearance of an experiment run by the university. I could be wrong, but that’s the appearance that – that this how it appears to me.
Renay: And they had the cutest name.
Ana: Do they?
Renay: Because they shortened the Shadow Clarke to Sharke. [laughter] I loved it! I was so tickled, it tickled me to death, I was like, “This is the cutest thing!”
Any publisher can submit a novel to the Clarke Award, I assume as long as it’s published in the UK. The Clarke Award actually publishes the longlist of the novels they received, for transparency, and then the jury will, from that longlist, decide on a shortlist. I’m so out of touch with juried awards. I’ve been buried in the Hugos so long I’m like, “What – a panel? What?” And then they select the winner.
Ana: And from what I understand that’s exactly what the Shadow Clarke did, too. First they came up with their own longlist, but they then also read the official shortlist from the Clarke and wrote reviews about it.
Renay: The Clarke Award itself, the shortlist this year was A Closed And Common Orbit by Becky Chambers, published by Hodder and Stoughten. Ninefox Gambit by Yoon-Ha Lee, published by Solaris. After Atlas by Emma Newman, published by Roc. Occupy Me by Tricia Sullivan, published Gollancz. Central Station by Lavie Tidhar, published by PS Publishing. And the winner of the Clarke Award 2017: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, published by Fleet.
I was really happy with this shortlist when I saw it, because I thought it touched on a lot of the different groups we have in science fiction publishing right now.
Ana: Yes, different kinds of science fiction.
Renay: From all across the spectrum.
Ana: I mean I haven’t read Occupy Me and Central Station or The Underground Railroad, but I understand what you mean. For example, A Close And Common Orbit and Ninefox Gambit, which are the two that I’ve read, they have things in common but they are very disparate books.
Renay: The Shadow Clarke came up with their own shortlist. Their shortlist was The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead; Central Station by Lavie Tidhar; The Arrival of Missives by Aliya Whiteley; A Field Guide to Reality by Joanna Kavenna; Infinite Ground by Martin MacInnes; and The Power by Naomi Alderman.
Ana: Ooh, I’ve got a copy of that!
Renay: I know, I wanna read it too, because it sounded really good. The Shadow Clarke chose The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead as well.
Ana: So we really need to read this book.
Renay: I agree, we really need to read this book. So I remember when the Shadow Clarke launched. I read what it was about and I was like, “Oh, this is probably not for me.” And I kept trying to engage with their criticism because I really liked some of the things they wrote but I really disliked their attitude toward other fans.
Toward the end of the project I got really upset, because I had grown adults telling me, another grown adult, that I didn’t actually like the books that I liked. That’s what it felt like, and I’m not the only one who felt that way. And a lot of my feelings about the Shadow Clarke were compounded by the fact that their type of engagement leaves me feeling like I felt when I first went to university, and I didn’t have any critical analysis skills and I didn’t know how to engage with criticism, and nobody wanted to help me? And I just felt stupid and left behind? My readings of things were always wrong, my professors would single me out in class to tell me how the way that I interpreted something or the way that I read something was inaccurate. I didn’t wanna be told how to read a book. I didn’t wanna be told that things I loved were trash just because the person reading them was smarter than I was or more educated than I was. That is literally the feeling that I got from the Shadow Clarke. I just don’t know what’s good. Or worse, I do know what’s good, and I’m only saying that I like something because I wanna verbally fellate the publisher, or the author.
When they talked about the books themselves, they were fine, but as soon they got into how other people were reacting, and talking about, and loving some of these books, they became every single professor I had that treated me like I was stupid. And I know I reacted badly to them because of it, because it was like being thrown back to that place where I felt like I would never be good enough, I never be smart enough, I would never be educated enough to understand where they were coming from. To understand the points that they wanted me to understand. Although I follow some of the critics, other critics I had to step back from. I don’t know how you wanna make people love books, if this is the way you want them to love books.
Ana: Okay, my reading of the Shadow Clarke is less about loving books and more about appreciating them for their aesthetics and by elevating them. The problem with that is that whose idea of what makes a book “elevated” or “good” is not up for discussion. Whenever I read reviews and blog posts, it appears to me as an approach of objectivity that can’t and won’t exist in literature in any shape or form.
It’s a complicated discussion. I thought from an experimental point of view it was interesting and sounded like an exciting and interesting experiment. I’m not sure, like you, that it’s for me? Because I don’t think our… I wanted to say taste but I think it goes beyond taste?
Renay: It goes beyond taste for me.
Ana: Yeah, our approach to literature is different.
Renay: I can’t engage with literature in that way anymore. The Clarke Award itself has been changing a whole lot the last few years. They had that huge blow-up about the all-male shortlist, and since that blow-up it feels like the Clarke has started to shift more toward more conventionally popular books. I don’t wanna say commercial books because a lot of the books on the shortlist are doing okay, but I can walk into my local Barnes & Nobles and I can’t find a copy of ’em.
Renay: Although the Clarke is moving more toward like popular fiction inside the community, going back to what I said before about how the Clarke shortlist is sampling types of literature across the field—I really do think it’s a good representation of books. There is space enough to have popular fiction, small press fiction, quote-unquote “literary” fiction, which I guess is where The Underground Railroad is – where it would fit. I put The Underground Railroad into the Station Eleven category.
Ana: Which I think also won the Clarke.
Renay: So ultimately I’m really happy that the Shadow Clarke brought the Clarke Award out so more people could see it, and see what it was trying to do, and so they could show what they think that the award should do. Because I do think that as fans and members of a set of disparate communities that like and read books, we should be looking at the awards that go out and assessing them. So I’m glad that happened. I also think that the Shadow Clarke only really created a discussion space for certain types of educated science fiction fans.
Ana: Would you call it an elitist award? Or an elitist Shadow award?
Renay: No, I don’t think I would. I don’t think there’s anything elitist about being educated, but I also think that once you’re educated you have to realize that education takes time and resources and energy that a lot of people might not have. Due to circumstances beyond their control.
Renay: Do we want there to be other Shadow Juries for other awards?
Ana: Uhh… no. Let me rephrase that. I don’t think I care. I think if other people want to do it, fine, whatever. I wouldn’t follow it, I don’t think.
Renay: Not even if it was your favorite, the Hugo Award?
Ana: I don’t care. Maybe a Shadow Locus Award where we get to have actual YA entries in their YA category. How about you? Do you want there to be other Shadow awards?
Renay: I think I would want more Shadow awards that were more accessible to people who were at different levels of knowledge. About the field, about culture, so more people can take part.
Ana: Anyway, we should really read The Underground Railroad.
Renay: Space bees, since Ana apparently doesn’t care about Shadow juries: how do you feel about Shadow juries, space bees? I want to know. How you feel about the Clarke Award and what do you think of the winner this year? If you have thoughts on The Underground Railroad, which Ana and I will apparently read soon, we would like to hear about it.
Renay: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee was published in June of 2017 by Katherine Tegan books, and tells the story of Henry “Monty” Montague who is a peer of the realm, but is struggling a little bit because of the constant disapproval of his father. Monty is a bit of a rake, spending his nights gambling, drinking, or banging some ladies or some dudes. The books begins with Monty and his friend Percy and his sister going on his Grand Tour of Europe, and tells the story of all the adventures they have crossing the continent. Ana, you recommended this book and then I read it.
Ana: Oh my god! I thought it was delightful. I loved it. It’s probably gonna be on my top ten this year. Okay, go on, say it. What did you think of it. Just – just cut to the chase. Do it.
Renay: I liked this book. But I only liked it.
Renay: This was a story about mental illness, abuse, the complicated nature of family, choosing to be a better person, race.
Ana: Intersectional privilege?
Renay: This is a Regency YA novel that is one part adventure, one part misery, one part romance? Is that a good description?
Ana: It is a good description. It hides seriousness behind humor. When you start reading the book, it reads as something light, like the facade that Monty wears, right? Until it starts to peel off everything that he’s hiding, the pain that there is for him, but at the same time it’s about him confronting his own privilege as a white man that is rich. And healthy.
Renay: Monty is going on his Grand Tour with his best friend Percy, who is biracial, and his younger sister Felicity, who wants to study medicine and be a doctor even though women can’t do that. The book also deal with her limitations, it deals with the limitations of Monty and Percy’s friendship. There are thieves and there are pirates.
Ana: There is magic. Random.
Renay: I don’t even think of this as like a fantasy novel.
Ana: But it is.
Renay: It is, but it’s not.
Ana: To me the magical element was the only dissonance within the book.
Renay: Yeah, I would agree. Which is complicated because it’s the thrust of the main plot.
Ana: But it could have been just, “Well these people think they are going after a magical object, but of course magic doesn’t exist,” and they don’t find it. But then they actually do find a magical object.
Renay: It was an interesting part of a novel about social issues.
Ana: In my review I wrote that this could be the way, because if magic exists then it all—it is also possible to believe that these characters will find happiness.
Renay: Yeah, I agree.
Ana: Even though it was a little bit jarring it was actually maybe needed. To help me believe.
Renay: You went into this novel going, “It was fun, it was funny, it dealt with serious issues but it was kind of light hearted.” But for me this novel was one misery after another to the end of the book. I was like, “Is anything ever gonna go right for these poor kids?” Everything goes wrong. They’re also in disagreement, there are almost always fighting with each other, they seem miserable the entire time. I was confused! I’m like, “What am I missing here that everybody else is seeing as a good, fun, romp across Europe?”
Ana: That’s so fascinating.
Renay: Right? I know it has to just be me because multiple people have come and been like, “This is so much fun!” So I’m confused Ana.
Ana: I’m really confused.
Renay: Name all the fun parts without spoilers. That you liked.
Ana: Well I guess their interactions with each other and the way that Monty sees the world and narrates what’s happening to him. Because of course everything that is happening to them is really serious and he lets in some times that, “Oh my god I’m a coward, I just need to hide!” This is why I said it’s seriousness behind the tone. It’s the narrative that made it fun to me.
Renay: Right, whereas from the very beginning I was like, “This kid needs some serious therapy.” His mask that he wears, which is very obvious from the very beginning of the novel, and his behaviors that stem from his family life; I was just like “This kid is fucked up.” So I had a lot of trouble finding the humor, I guess, in some of commentary, because to me his commentary, while it’s clever, it’s kind of like this bleak kind of clever and I have a lot of trouble getting past it for the first half of the book. I’m like, “This kid needs help, this is awful, somebody give this kid a hug.”
Ana: I had the same reaction. I kept wanting to hug him too, and also sometimes give him a good shake because he was being so obtuse. But I wonder, because this is a romance novel. And I’ve read so many romance novels that are light and funny but they also feature these deeply scarred Regency rake character. And I wonder if it’s just something that is so familiar to me, that I know that there will be a moment of reckoning, that I can still see the fun in it whilst knowing the deep seriousness that is behind, and that’s it’s coming.
Renay: You know the book that would have been more fun for me? It would have been if this book had a companion novel written, with the same journey, but from Felicity’s perspective.
Ana: It’s the second book.
Renay: Is that really gonna happen?
Renay: I’m excited.
Ana: It’s The Lady’s Guide to Piracy and Medicine or something.
Renay: I’m there. A hundred percent.
Ana: I know! I’m so there too. I loved Felicity. She was a super great character. To me she read as asexual?
Renay: I’m very picky with – Ana, I’m very picky.
Ana: I know.
Renay: Well me, the ace person, did not see that, but I do not stand in the way of anybody else’s reading of a character.
Ana: She says at one point that she doesn’t feel like that toward people, so that was this one moment that I thought they might address that second book.
Renay: She is using the guy that she’s making out with. With those circumstances I’m just not inclined to say yeah, this is a canon fact? Unless the sequel comes out and deals with it explicitly.
Ana: Right, fair enough.
Renay: But, I am not Grand High Asexual. If other people who are ace wanna go, “Yeah, heck yeah, she is super ace!” go right ahead. Have a great time. I endorse your beliefs. Far be it from me to generalise anything for other ace people. I’ve learned from my mistakes, Ana, I’ve learned from them. But it would be really cool if in the second book she was.
So it’s time for spoiler tag! Please check our show notes for the spoiler tag times.
Ana. There was a lot of abuse in this book.
Renay: There was a whole lot that I didn’t expect! I thought okay, the dad’s abusive, but also uhhhh he gets punched around a lot and emotionally abused by other people!
Ana: And I think Percy as well, with how he gets treated with his mental illness.
Renay: Percy lies to him about his health because he thinks that Monty’s going to react a certain way when he finds out that Percy has epilepsy, and then Monty reacts that way just like Percy thought he would! But I’m like, “Did you ever think he might have reacted differently if he hadn’t learned about it when you guys weren’t penniless, on the road, away from home, under extreme stress? Do you think if you’d just sat him down and explained it, in a calm location, where you guys weren’t being chased by killers, then it might have gone differently? Sir? Would you give that a thought? No? Okay.” Monty doesn’t react well to Percy’s epilepsy.
Ana: Monty doesn’t react well to anything.
Renay: Percy doesn’t react very well to Monty’s mental illness, both things at that time there were probably very misunderstood, so I can see why it happens, but oh my god Ana it was awful.
Renay: And what I meant when I said that this book was one misery to another: they start out on this trip, the first thing that happens is that the trip is ruined by some chaperone who creates this really oppressive atmosphere. The thing in Paris happens, and Monty is a dickhead and steals something that gets them in trouble.
Ana: I just went through this book saying, “Monty, NO!”
Renay: And so they have to leave Paris in shame. and they get robbed by thieves looking for the thing that Monty stole, which they don’t realize. They lose their chaperone and all their money, they have to live on the road, then they go to where their chaperone is, take more money, but then go away from their chaperone again. Alone. On the road. To Spain. When they get there more bad things continue to happen.
Ana: These kids, I loved them so much, though!
Renay: I mean, they’re great characters.
Ana: I just wanted to hug them all!
Renay: The things they go through, are… Yikes. So the whole plot of this book is Monty steals this box that has a code.
Renay: It’s a little object that you can spin and put in a code and it’ll unlock and drop out a note. Or a vial. Inside the stolen cryptogrammy thing that Monty takes from Paris and is chased across the continent for, there is a key that will unlock the crypt of a woman who is… a… zombie…?
Ana: Yeah, there’s something to do with alchemy and the Elixir of Life, and they are looking to find a cure for Percy’s epilepsy.
Renay: And so they think that this lady’s heart—because apparently she’s dead, but her heart’s still beating? I didn’t really understand, Ana, I’ll be honest. The meat of her heart contains this cure. Monty wants this because Percy can get better and then he won’t have to go into an institution. There was a lot going in this novel, Ana.
Ana: It’s so much fun, Renay, you’re talking about it and I’m just remembering how much fun it was. And then Monty concocts a plan that would throw him in jail and he gets punched.
Renay: They end up stowing away on a boat, and they kidnapped by pirates who are not actually pirates, they are escaped slaves.
Ana: Which is a super great plot.
Renay: It’s kind of like a heist crossed with a kidnapping.
Renay: All these things that happens is just like constant misery. I feel so bad for these kids, can’t they just have a break?
Ana: Okay the end then. It all ends well for them. Percy and Monty decide to live out their lives on a beautiful Greek island because they’re in love with each other.
Renay: Although their relationship for me unfortunately fails my five minute test.
Ana: Are you sure you liked this book? Because I’m getting a certain vibe from you.
Renay: If your interpersonal conflict can be resolved by sitting down talking for five minutes, and using adult words, I find your interpersonal drama boring. And they could have definitely have sat down for five minutes without storming off or getting mad about their feelings, and resolved all their little romance drama.
Ana: But that would mean that Monty was a much more grown-up character than he actually is at the beginning of the novel. Monty’s just not there yet. Plus he grows up learning that being bisexual and liking boys is a really bad thing, so maybe he doesn’t expect Percy to actually be like him.
Renay: But he knows he is. Because they kiss in wherever they are.
Ana:Yeah at one point, yes. It was very hot.
Renay: And then at the end, when they have that ridiculous fight and Percy’s like no, I can’t see you for a while and storms off, I’m like, “No. This could be solved in five minutes. What the hell.” That’s the part that failed for me. Monty already knows how Percy feels at that moment. Percy knows how Monty feels, so a five minute conversation without storming off, without acting like a child, which I get they are children but they’re making a lot of adult decisions so why can’t this be another of the adult decisions that they make? I understand why it happened, the plot needed Monty to be all alone so he’d get kidnapped by the evil duke who wants the Elixir of Life for himself, that’s fine. Then I also had a problem with him getting hurt? I just had feelings, Ana.
Ana: And they seem like really bad feelings.
Renay: It’s a fun book.
Ana: You just said it wasn’t fun at all for you.
Renay: It’s not fun for me, no, because I went through this book like, “Oh my god, this character is miserable,” And it’s very obvious that he’s miserable and everybody around him is also miserable, because the world is miserable. But it’s a fun book if you like pirate adventures and mysteries and very out of place magic. Ana is so dubious right now.
Ana: I loved it. I really, really did.
Renay: I think maybe my feelings are complicated by the fact that every time Monty talked about his dad or we had to relive one of his scenes with his dad, I…
Ana: I should have thought of that.
Renay: Basically I was Monty going through this book. He was so miserable so I was miserable, because I knew exactly what he was going through.
Ana: I’m sorry. So in this relationship between the two of us, I am Monty. I am the clueless one.
Renay: Hey listeners, just so you know, Monty oftentimes talks about how his dad will beat the shit out of him for liking boys, being bisexual, and won’t let him cover his face, won’t let him protect himself. Like, imagine baby Renay in that same situation. Wink. I overidentified with Monty in this book.
Ana: So this is a failure of recommendation on my part. I’m so sorry. We’re giving myself minus space bees.
Renay: No we’re not, we cannot give minus space bees. And it’s not, because I knew going in that is was there, because you told me. I just think it’s a very visceral novel. It does not pull its punches. When we say that it’s got a lot of serious stuff going on behind the scenes, it’s all incredibly subtle and it sneaks up on you. But I do think that the relationships in these books are excellent. I really do like them. I loved Felicity so much. I loved the pirates.
Ana: So it’s about the pirates, the next book.
Renay: The next book sounds definitely more up my alley. And also I liked the reveal at the end. Monty finds out that his dad ruined a woman and then ran off and left her, and so him and his sister are probably not even legitimate children.
Ana: In my head, Monty and Percy will be able to stay in their lifestyle by blackmailing his father.
Renay: I hope so. That would be sweet justice.
Ana: Because I really cannot see Monty actually working.
Renay: I can see Percy becoming an excellent violinist.
Ana: Maybe then it’ll be enough to sustain them both.Yeah. Okay.
Renay: And then they’re going to make friends with pirates so they’ll get good deals on everything.
Ana: Okay, yes, you are right. Percy can totally make enough money so that…
Renay: They never have to go back to England.
Ana: Yeah, because I worry about that.
Renay: Also I thought it was interesting that Felicity didn’t understand Monty’s sexuality. She didn’t get it. She thought it was wrong. And I thought that was like a really nice touch. Not everybody is going to go, “Oh well, okay, sure.”
Ana: Yes. I agree.
Renay: Some people are going to have a learning curve and I thought it was a really nice touch.
Ana: No that’s true, and the other thing is that Monty goes through a process of understanding that he had a certain level of privilege for being white, for being a guy, and for being rich, and he’s still had moments of reckoning with both Felicity and Percy throughout the novel, but in the end he wasn’t still like completely woke. I thought that was very realistic too.
Renay: Agreed. Okay Ana, how many space bees are you giving this novel?
Ana: I’ll giving it four.
Renay: I’m giving it three, which I think is fair. I don’t think it’s a bad book, and I think if you like Regency adventure, if you like Regency romance, you should definitely check it out. It also has like bonus rando magic in it, if you need your Regency novels to have fantasy in them.
Dear space bees, have you read The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue? If you have please let us know what you think about it.
Renay: A few weeks ago, Ana got to sit down with none other than Ann Leckie.
Ana: It was super great.
Renay: Through some very determined training I got her to record the interview for us to air on our show.
Ana: My microphone was my phone and I actually carried tea-towels from home to make a soundproof environment.
Renay: Well, we did what we could.
Ana: Renay’s very proud of me.
Renay: I am, I’m very proud of her makeshift—
Ana: —recording studio. [laughter] At Orbit Towers in the UK, in London.
Renay: And Ann Leckie was very kind to let us air this, and we thank her very much, we totally want her to be able to come on our show soon! Hi, Ann Leckie, come on our show!
Ana: Then you can get to talk to Renay, too.
Renay: I gave Ana some questions to ask. Not only did she ask them, she started heavy. She went in from the very beginning. Everybody, enjoy Ana’s interview with Ann Leckie, author of the upcoming book Provenance.
Ana: Hello, this is Ana at Fangirl Happy Hour and I am interviewing Ann Leckie today. Welcome to the podcast!
Ann: Thank you for having me, this is wonderful.
Ana: It’s – it’s such a great opportunity, thank you so much. I’m sure that Renay is on the other side, just freaking out that she couldn’t be here.
Ann: Well we met though. I remember she came to a signing of mine at. St Louis.
Ana: Oh yes, yes, I’m pretty sure, I remember that too. That’s cool. I have a few questions for you. One of them is, there is a continuing issue, especially for women writers, for reviewers and critics to contextualize the work by comparing to men who write science fiction. They assume that the woman in question has read them, has written a book with the inspiration from that male writer’s work, even if they’ve never touched his stories or books. How do we push back against this trend?
Ann: I’m not a hundred percent sure, but I know exactly…yeah. And I think I’ve said before in other places: although it’s a huge compliment for my work to be compared to Banks, for instance—tremendous complement—I had not read Banks. Cherryh is who I would compare myself, if I would be so presumptuous, right, as to compare myself. And it’s interesting to me that it’s always Banks. And the best pushback I can do is saying, “No, Cherryh; no, Cherryh; No. Cherryh. No, Cherryh. Andre Norton. C. J. Cherryh.” And I don’t know any other way to push back on that other than just to keep saying over and over again.
Ana: It’s a question of visibility, isn’t it? The more you talk about the more people have to pay attention.
Ann: I certainly hope so. Because sometimes it seems as though women just keep dropping out of the conversation. The seventies were an amazing decade for science fiction writers, and people were talking about it, and then the eighties come along and it’s all,”Oh the seventies was so dreary, nothing important happened and now we’re having great stuff.” Then recently it’s been, “Oh look at all these women, isn’t this new and exciting?” and you’re like, “The seventies? The seventies.” Right?
Ana: It’s repetitions. The seventies.
Ana: The seventies. The seventies. Cherryh. Cherryh. Cherryh.
Ann: And I’ve kinda become of the, you know, you make a list of twenty great space operas and you’ve gotta have one woman on it, and very often it’ll be me.
Ana: You’re the token woman. Oh no.
Ann: Yeah, and on the one hand, yeah, I’m glad my book is on your list of twenty great space operas, right? That’s awesome. How come Bujold’s not there? How come C. J. Cherryh isn’t there? How come—? Yeah.
Ana: Kate Elliott as well.
Ann: Kate Elliott is someone who does not get any kind of critical attention.
Ana: I know. It’s unbelievable, to us. We at Fangirl Happy Hour just love her books to bits. We love her as a person, she’s just so smart and she writes really smart science fiction and fantasy as well.
Ana: Her Jaran novels are kind of like science fiction and it’s unbelievable that she’s not…
Ann: She doesn’t get the attention. And it’s weird that way.
Ana: It is.
Ann: It’s just one of those things. And there are guys who write fabulous things that don’t get to have that attention, but there are a lot more women writers who aren’t getting that, right?
Ann: And like I said I don’t know what to do except keep saying, “Look at these women writers, look at these women writers, look at these women writers,” and just say it over and over again.
Ana: Until it changes and becomes part of the conversation.
Ana: Yeah. What tropes or genres would you love to see take off in science fiction and fantasy?
Ann: Oh, I don’t know. I always kind of enjoy the surprise of a thing that comes up and I’m like, “Oh, that was a thing a while ago and I haven’t seen it in a long time and it’s cool to see it back,” or, “I haven’t thought of that,” so I’m not sure. Obviously I’m super interested in AIs, right.
Ann: That’s a thing that I like. Obviously I really enjoy adventure-y space opera, that’s a thing that I like. And I’ve been really glad that over the past several years that’s sort of come back into vogue while I was writing the trilogy. While I was writing that first book,I sort of despaired of ever selling it because it didn’t seem to me that it was very much like the stuff that was being sold. And now that’s sort of changing. I’m seeing a lot more things that I feel like are in a similar vein even though I know very often they were not written in response to my book. It’s not that they saw Ancillary Justice and said, “Oh, now we’re gonna write this” they were already working on it. So for a lot of us there was something in the air, we’re all thinking in that direction.
Ann: Which is kind of cool. I think that Yoon Ha Lee—I think he gets kind of annoyed at the number of people who say, “Obviously he read Ann Leckie.” Actually, he has read my books, but he’d not read them before he wrote Ninefox Gambit. So my books did not influence his books. But they do have some really cool similarities, and I love those books.
Ana: I sometimes do that on purpose. So for example, I read The Collapsing Empire. It’s just come out.
Ann: I haven’t read that yet.
Ana: It came out just this year and I thought it was fabulous and I said it was just like Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice because I want to take the book written by a man and compare it to you.
Ann: Yes. Yes.
Ann: I don’t mind that, but poor Yoon does deserves—
Ana: Yeah, because he was writing that book for a while as well.
Ann: He was!
Ann: He was writing that for a while.
Ana: But I sometimes like to just—to do that thing, right?
Ann: Yes, absolutely, absolutely.
Ana: It’s a really big book, too.
Ann: Collapsing Empire: I’m looking forward to that. I haven’t read it yet.
Ana: Yeah, it’s cool.
Ann: But yeah, you’re absolutely right because so often it’s the other way round, isn’t it?
Ana: So far in your career, what’s been one of your favorite moments?
Ann: Oh god, there’ve been a lot. Because I had such an amazing first year of the novel. But my first short fiction sale was amazing? Right? And actually, you know who bought my first short story, science fiction short story? John Scalzi.
Ann: For that special edition of Subterranean Magazine.
Ana: Right, okay.
Ann: Yeah, so he gave me my first sale. But the whole novel, the whole of Ancillary Justice, was just one amazing thing after another. And then the awards were like, incredible and awesome? And then people started writing fanfiction? Did you know—there’s like a hundred fifty pieces of fanfiction on AO3, that’s amazing.
Ana: That’s amazing.I saw like a video, a fan trailer—
Ann: [gasp] Isn’t that amazing!
Ana: That was just so cool! I loved that one!
Ann: It’s incredible. I sent a link to Nazia just last night because we were talking about it. That’s as good as a freaking Hugo award
Ana: Actually Orbit did—really good work with that, and it’s so cool—
Ann: No, no it’s a vidder and they just go—well, they did the Starships video? You know the Nicki Minaj—?
Ann: You haven’t seen the all-fandoms—? It’s fabulous. It’s fabulous
Ana: No, no I haven’t.
Ann: So if you go onto Youtube and you type in “Starships fandom vid” or whatever, it’s little snippets from all kinds of science fiction movies and television, with Nicki Minaj’s Starships and it’s a fabulous video. I don’t follow vidding fandom—
Ann: But somebody said, “Oh this video is fabulous,” and I watched it and it’s the same vidder who did that amazing trailer for Ancillary Justice. They’re obviously super talented and super skilled.
Ana: That’s amazing.
Ann: So that’s incredible. What can top that, right? And then I actually keep a pinterest board of fanart. All of the fanart is so amazing and that’s all like —
Ana: People who love you books, right?
Ann: Right? Because isn’t the ultimate dream is that because you write the thing and you enjoy writing it and you’re going to enjoy writing it no matter what, but to have other people respond and say, “Oh, this really grabbed me! This really engaged me! This meant so much to me that I had to draw a picture of the characters.”
Ana: And it gives more life too because it continues beyond the books. It’s out there and it’s people just continuing –
Ann: It’s the most amazing thing. It’s incredible. And it’s fully as good as if not better than the awards.
Ana: That’s fantastic.
Ann: It’s amazing, yeah, and I have the best readers. I have the best readers in the world, so.
Ana: It’s because your books are the best.
Ana: Moving away from cool things and going to the current political trash fire that’s going on in America. At Fangirl Happy Hour we always recommend people to get sleep, get plenty of water, and then call their reps.
Ann: Oh yes, please.
Ana: What is your self-care routine?
Ann: I have to monitor my Twitter usage because lately you go on Twitter and it’s like, “The world is on fire!” Because the US is on fire. The US is like one continuous dumpster fire. You do need, if you can, to contact representatives, folks who are US citizens. That’s super important but that’s also super stressful, so I kinda have to monitor how much time I’m doing this. Like okay, I’ve done this, I’ve sent the email; I’ve made the phone call; I’ve stood in front of my senator’s office one day this week
Ann: Because I’ve done that a bunch this year. I’ve got a Republican senator
Ann: Missouri has one Republican and one Democratic senator. I’ve done the standing in front of my Republican senator’s local office several times. So I ration it out. I did my thing today. I did my thing this week and it covered all of this week, so I know there’s still a trashfire going on but I have to step back and live my life. I have to write my book and I have to take care of my family and get my sleep and then I will think about that tomorrow.
Ana: It’s fair enough.
Ana: At least they killed the skinny repeal.
Ann: For the moment, for the moment.
Ana: Yeah, that was beautiful. I woke up yesterday here and it had just happened; the vote had just ended. And I was like, “Oh, it’s so good sometimes to wake up and something good has happened.”
Ann: Although, I mean as this has been something good. We didn’t die, rather than something actually good, we’re all like, “Hurray we’re not dying.”
Ana: And then as soon as you get happy, something horrible happens. And I think the conversation around that repeal vote as well, is kind of like a little bit weird because John McCain has been billed as hero where—
Ann: Oh I hate that! Collins and Murkowski have been voting no the whole time!
Ana: All the time and then nobody talks about them!
Ann: And then they say, “Oh well it was John McCain who rescued us from—” Hello! Collins and Murkowski!
Ana: And all of the forty eight Democrats too, of course. We need to keep talking about it, just like we need to keep talking about it in science fiction and fantasy because one feeds into the other, and it’s just kind of—
Ann: Exactly, exactly.
Ana: Because it’s the same conversation.
Ana: And now that we talked about that, let’s move onto the silly question. There is an ongoing conversation that we have been having at Fangirl Happy Hour, which is a very important conversation and we’d love your take on it. Is cheesecake a cake or a pie?
Ann: It’s not a question I’ve considered before, but for instance I am of the belief that a hotdog is in fact a sandwich. Having said that—
Ana: Someone said just the other day that a hotdog is a taco
Ann: Well a taco is a sandwich. I would buy that, a hotdog is a type of taco. It’s more related to a taco than a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Ann: But a taco is also a type of sandwich, okay. So you can already see that I don’t like to draw lines, I like to put things together and see how they’re related rather than see how they’re different. So I would also argue that pie is a sandwich.
Ann: Pie is a sandwich. Like a poptart, that’s a kind of sandwich, it’s also a kind of pie. Because you’ve got your crust and your crust. The crust is bread, it’s flour and you know, and flour and fat.
Ana: Oh my god, okay.
Ann: It’s bread.
Ann: So a pie is a type of sandwich.
Ana: I did not see that coming.
Ann: A cake, depending on what type of cake it is, could also be a kind of sandwich. A layer with frosting in the middle is a kind of sandwich.
Ana: Because it’s enclosed in something.
Ann: Right, because once again cake is flour and egg, and water and fat.
Ann: And it’s the difference between cake and bread is very much a technicality. It’s like science fiction and fantasy. We know when we see it. That’s cake and that’s bread.
Ann: And they’re very much the same type of thing, they’re just made with slightly different proportions.
Ana: Okay, yeah.
Ann: Depending on the kind of cake, you could argue that the cake is a sandwich. Now just a plain sponge cake, not a sandwich, right?
Ana: Okay, yeah. So cheesecake is often in a graham cracker crust.
Ann: But it doesn’t often have a thing on top of it.
Ann: But there is such a thing as an open-face sandwich.
Ana: That is true.
Ann: So I’m going to say that cheesecake is a sandwich.
Ana: That’s amazing.
Ana: That’s amazing. This is going to break Fangirl Happy Hour and everybody’s heads are going to explode.
Ann: No doubt! Every now and then I’ll say something—
Ana: I can say that I did not see this answer coming.
Ann: Well neither did I until I got there. But the other—you know a corndog? It’s a kind of tamale.
Ann: It is! Because a tamale is the corn wrapped around the meat stuff, and then you steam it. A corndog is basically cornbread around a hotdog. It’s a tamale on a stick.
Ana: I cannot argue with that. That is so true. This is incredible. Thank you so much.
Ann: I’m very much a lumper not a splitter, right?
Ana: Well thank you for indulging us with that question.
Ann: [laughter] Thank you for putting up with my outrageous answer, thank you.
Ana: Okay, so to wrap it up, could you just introduce your new book to our listeners?
Ann: Okay, so my new book is called Provenance. It’ll be out in the 26th in the US and 28th in the UK, and it’s set in the same universe as the Imperial Radch trilogy but it’s not in Racha’i space and it’s not the same characters and it’s a standalone. And the main character, Ingray, wants very much to impress her powerful mother and gets herself into some serious trouble trying to do that. Hopefully, it’ll be fun for everybody to read how she gets herself through her self-imposed trouble.
Ana: I can tell that I’ve almost finished the book, it’s fun, it’s light, and it’s hilarious and it’s fantastic as you only expect from one of your books.
Ana: Well done.
Ann: Thank you.
Ana: Thank you so for being here.
Ann: Oh, thank you for having me, this was a lot of fun.
Renay: It’s time for recommendations, Ana, what is your rec this week?
Ana: So I finally had the time to binge watch the latest season of Game of Thrones, season 7. It was amazing. I loved it to bits. It’s probably my favorite season so far of the show, we are left with characters that I love, and the things that are happening to them are more interesting to me? We went through a whole season without any sexual attacks of any kind toward a woman. We went through a season where there were no deaths I felt were gratuitous. It really reached the point I wanted it to reach. And the twist, oh my god. So you only have to watch six series to get to this.
Renay: I saw a clip—and I’m not going to spoil anything for people who have not finished it yet of the second to last episode I think—and it really upset me. And I was like, “Okay, mm, I’m never watching this show. Ever.” What I wanna watch is the new show from N. K. Jemisin, where they adapt The Broken Earth.
Ana: How are they gonna do that?
Renay: [whisper] I don’t know, I’m so excited.
Ana: So what’s your recommendation?
Renay: My recommendation is Defy The Stars by Claudia Gray. It is a book with a robot pal! Although eventually the robot pal becomes robot “I’m gonna make out with you” pal. It’s fine. It actually works really well. I was not upset about the romance in this book. It’s a YA novel, it’s going to be romance novel, I knew this going in. I was just dubious about it. But the book handles it very well.
The book is about Noemi Vidal who lives of a planet called Genesis. Genesis was a colony world of Earth before they rebelled so Earth couldn’t come and take over their planet, which is not dying like Earth and all the other colonies are? Noemi is part of a group of kids who are planning to go on a suicide run against one of the wormhole gates that connect the colonies. By going on this run, she and her fellow suicide runners can prevent Earth from coming to Genesis for a few weeks, to buy her planet some time to rebuild, repair some ships, etcetera.
But during a fight she finds an old ship that was invented by Earth called the Daedalus, and on it she finds a mech called Abel. Abel is a pretty special mech, because he’s not like all the other mechs, because they have mechs from A through Z, and she doesn’t recognize him as one of the models.
Abel has been abandoned on the Daedalus for thirty years, by himself. Noemi is the first human he’s seen since he was left behind. So Noemi realizes that she can use Abel by destroying one of the gates without having to go on a suicide run. That means her and her fellow squadmate don’t have to commit suicide. She can get a device, put it in a ship, and make Abel, because he’s a mech and has to obey her, fly the ship into the gate to destroy it, and so they go on a whirlwind trip of the galaxy through the gates to find the device that they need and save Genesis. But on the way, she learns way more about the world, and Abel realizes that he has a soul.
There are amazing female characters in this, I loved all of them. It ended up being super cute and there’s a lot of interesting thoughts about colonies and war and rebellion and sentience, and also the villain is super creepy and I highly recommend it if you like robots.
Ana: Who doesn’t?
Renay: Okay Ana, tell people what we’re going to be discussing next time.
Ana: Our next discussion episode is our August Vault episode. Like we said before, we are slowly catching up to our requests and we’ll be watching and discussing Alien and Aliens in a double feature about both films. Our Vault episodes are made possible by all the space bees that support us over on Patreon, and we appreciate you all very much.
Renay: Ana, thank you for recording with me.
Ana: You’re very welcome, Renay. I am very glad to be back.
Renay: If you have any thoughts, questions, or concerns, send them to us at email@example.com. You can chat with us on twitter at @fangirlpodcast, and we’re also over on tumblr and facebook, too.
Ana: If you want to support our show, you can support us on Patreon for as little as one dollar a month, at patreon.com/fangirlhappyhour. Your support helps us to create the show and keep giving out great recs.
Renay: And remember to stop by Kickstarter and help The Book Smugglers level up in their endeavor to dominate the world with diverse fiction.
Ana: Our show art’s by Ira and our transcripts are by Susan, which you can read at fangirlhappyhour.com. Our segment break music is by Chuki Beats and Boxcat Games.
Renay: Drink some water, call your reps, and US space bees: learn who your mayor is and their position on things you care about. That’s right! I’m giving you EVEN MORE civics homework. Enjoy.
Ana: Stay calm, carry on, we can all wait together for the season finale of Game of Thrones in 2019.
Renay: Thanks for listening space bees.
Ana: See you next episode.
Ana: What’s the shape of your pillow?
Renay: … What?
Renay: A Closed and Common ORDIT – ordit? Ordit? That’s a d, Renay. Make the b sound.
Ana: And it’s the seput— [hacks] Okay, I’m not gonna use this word. I will go with another word.
Renay: I’m not putting myself down. Look, I have the scissors here. [scissor noise]
Ana: Yeah, cut the crap Renay.
Renay: Bleck. Bleck.
Ana: Now with a preposition.
Renay: Thank you.