by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky
As many of you already know, I am a big fan of both reading and writing about complex (and sometimes unreliable/unsympathetic) characters in possible-future worlds dominated by division, conflict, and revolution. It’s no surprise, then, that I love Kameron Hurley’s work.
And I’m not the only one – Kameron has not only won an adoring fanbase, she has also won some major awards – the Hugo Award, Locus Award, Kitschy Award, and Sydney J. Bounds Award for Best Newcomer. She was also a finalist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the Nebula Award, and the Gemmell Morningstar Award.
And, now, she is back with a new offering – The Light Brigade (released March 2019) – a mind-bending mash-up of time travel and military sci-fi that fans are calling “Starship Troopers meets Edge of Tomorrow” and “The Forever War meets 12 Monkeys”. (I know, freaking cool, right?)
Recently, Kameron took some time out of her hectic schedule to talk about her work, her philosophies, and her writing experiences – it’s a rare insight into a leading voice in speculative fiction; I hope you enjoy it.
Many readers (including myself) were introduced to your work with the Bel Dame Apocrypha series, but you also released a short story collection that same year, Brutal Women, where we get to see (across a number of distinct narratives), your long-held interest in conflict, loyalty, gender, power, and rebellion – themes that have permeated your stories since. If narratives are a way of making sense of the world, what do you think it is about speculative fiction that is uniquely qualified to help us make sense of brutality, inequality, struggle, and change?
Speculative fiction has the unique ability to force us to see the “truths we hold to be self-evident’ in another context. It’s easy to assume that the way we live now is normal, unchangeable, that’s it’s the only way for human beings to organize themselves. When we take human beings out of the cultures and societies we know, we are forced to re-examine our own societies. Physically traveling to other places can have this impact as well. It wasn’t until I lived and studied in South Africa that I was able to more objectively confront racism in my own country.
In the introduction to Brutal Women you wrote “Everyone of us is capable of great violence. Great mercy. Great kindness. Great despair.” Given the current political climate, particularly in the US, how hard is it to incorporate elements of great kindness and mercy into your stories? Do you find yourself less able to divorce the fiction from the reality, when the reality itself is surreal and bleak?
I have a sign up in my office with a quote from Paul Harvey that says, “During times like these it’s important to remember that there have always been times like these.” I often think about how much more horrifying the Regan era would have been if we had Twitter giving us the play by play.
Progress is not a straight line, and it’s hope that has to sustain us when everything looks dire. Mr. Rogers tells us all to “look for the helpers” during times of disaster, and I’ve been focusing a lot more on that, promoting the good instead of signal boosting the bad, in my life and in my fiction.
I love that you open your introduction to Brutal Women with “These are not particularly good stories, What you see here is what you get: a struggling writer’s juvenilia, from the first clunking story I published when I was 17…”. It’s a rare opportunity to see the progress of a Hugo award-winning author from ‘juvenilia’ to one of my all-time favourite opening lines – “Nyx sold her womb somewhere between Punjai and Faleen, on the edge of the desert.” What were the turning points and milestones in your writing life that helped you evolved as a writer? Was it a slow process of metamorphosis to get to where you are now, or was there a tipping point after which it all just kind of fell into place?
My first big milestone was attending the Clarion West writing workshop back when I was twenty. They say you can advance something like two years in your craft in those six weeks, and it was certainly true for me. Nearly dying when I was twenty-six also made me approach my work and my craft differently. I was less afraid about pushing the boundaries of the genre by that point. It turns out that almost dying helps you put things in perspective.
Partnering with my agent, Hannah Bowman, was a great level up as well. She is very active on the editorial side, and excellent with understanding and communicating structure. Writing The Stars are Legion and The Light Brigade with her editorial eye from the ground gave me a much better handle on structure and process than I’d had before.
A few years’ ago, you released a collection of essays, The Geek Feminist Revolution, that presented your views on (and experiences with) the three Gs – gender, genre, and geekdom. In a world where ‘feminism’ is a dirty word and stories are full of one-dimensional female characters – the “strong female”, the “stoic woman”, the “plucky girl” – and narratives that still fail the Bechdel test, how important is it for speculative fiction to challenge gendered identities? Do we need to introduce new archetypes or is it more important to do away with them altogether and create dichotomies and multi-faceted characters?
I’d point out that plenty of folks don’t think feminism is a dirty word. Certainly some cesspools of the internet would like to think of it that way, but unlike with my generation, I’m seeing more and more people in this new generation unafraid to use the word feminism when talking about progressive social change. They are leading the way on discussions of intersectional feminism and truly inclusive feminism that previous waves of white, cis feminism was loathe to confront.
I have always sought to create characters that are people first. The only way to breakdown a trope is to create and include diverse representations of people. That means you have to be willing to explore the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Both The Stars are Legion and your soon-to-be-released The Light Brigade feature protagonists with fractured minds and flawed memories, which is great for introducing tension borne of unreliability and ambiguity. What is it about this trope that you are drawn to?
Memory is a funny thing. The human mind is very malleable, and can be tricked and manipulated in both shocking and amazing ways. I’ve spent a lot of time studying psychology and sociology, and understanding how the brain forms memories, builds narrative, and interprets the world is endlessly fascinating to me. I read a lot about psychology and sociology, as well as how we perceive and construct both time and reality. It’s a lot more spooky and fantastical than we’d like to admit.
When did the idea for The Light Brigade come to you? What was the driving emotion behind it (i.e. what were you feeling as you developed the story idea), and did that emotion change as you were writing it?
The Light Brigade began as a short story for my Patreon backers. I loved the idea of turning human beings into literal balls of light to get them from one interplanetary front to another. I also found that I needed to channel a lot of my hope and anger into a story about someone unremarkable who is still able to drive lasting change.
How does The Light Brigade sit within your existing body of work – what are the common threads that connect them? And how does it break away from what has gone before to establish itself as new and distinct narrative?
Fans of my prior work will still get all the stuff they love: morally gray choices, cool worldbuilding, themes of war and revolution, badass characters, but in a world that’s easier to see as having been extrapolated from this one. This novel is set in a recognizable future, a few hundred years out from ours, at most. They’ve survived climate change at a rise of 4 degrees Celsius. I write about tough people making tough choices, always, but this one is certainly both more structurally complex than my other work and also more focused on a single protagonist.
In every book, there is a piece of the writer embedded in the narrative. If you could choose one sentence or paragraph from The Light Brigade that illuminates who you are (or were at the time of writing it), whatwould it be?
The Corporate Corps wants to break you, I know that. They want to break you down and rebuild you. They want to carve away all the softness, all the gooey bits, the fatty deposits that keep you warm and safe. They want to break you down to the bones, see glistening, gleaming muscle and pulpy viscera. As I labored on that black road, shivering, hallucinating, I had a moment of terrible fear. When they broke me apart, what were they going to find inside?
RELEASE DATE: MARCH 2019
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From the Hugo Award-winning author of The Stars Are Legion comes a brand-new science fiction thriller about a futuristic war.
They said the war would turn us into light.
The Light Brigade: it’s what soldiers fighting the war against Mars call the ones who come back…different. Grunts in the corporate corps get busted down into light to travel to and from interplanetary battlefronts. Everyone is changed by what the corps must do in order to break them down into light. Those who survive learn to stick to the mission brief–no matter what actually happens during combat.
Dietz, a fresh recruit in the infantry, begins to experience combat drops that don’t sync up with the platoon’s. And Dietz’s bad drops tell a story of the war that’s not at all what the corporate brass want the soldiers to think it is.
Is Dietz really experiencing the war differently, or is it combat madness? Trying to untangle memory from mission brief and survive with sanity intact, Dietz is ready to become a hero–or maybe a villain; in war it’s hard to tell the difference.
A worthy successor to classic stories like Downbelow Station, Starship Troopers, and The Forever War,The Light Brigade is award-winning author Kameron Hurley’s gritty time-bending take on the future of war.
Kameron Hurley is the author of The Light Brigade (March 2019), The Stars are Legion and the essay collection The Geek Feminist Revolution, as well as the award-winning God’s War Trilogy and The Worldbreaker Saga. Hurley has won the Hugo Award, Locus Award, Kitschy Award, and Sydney J. Bounds Award for Best Newcomer. She was also a finalist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the Nebula Award, and the Gemmell Morningstar Award. Her short fiction has appeared in Popular Science Magazine, Lightspeed and numerous anthologies. She posts regularly at KameronHurley.com
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