Is Ann Leckie the Next Big Thing in Science Fiction?
"It's not every day a debut novel by an author you'd never heard of before derails your entire afternoon with its brilliance," raved Tor.com's Liz Bourke in her review, ranking the book among the best space operas ever written.
The Gawker-owned science and science-fiction blog i09 dubbed it the "mind-blowing space opera you've been needing," and the Guardian called it "thrilling, moving and awe-inspiring."
Four months after its release, the book began collecting award nominations. Then it started winning. First, in March, it won the 2013 Kitschies Golden Tentacle award for best debut novel. Next it took the award for Best Novel from the British Science Fiction Association. From there, Ancillary Justice was off to the races — and the Nebulas.
The effects of last summer's SFWA shake-up couldn't have been more clear than at the Nebula ceremony on May 17, 2014. The emcee was a woman — something many of the authors in attendance took note of — and she wore a tuxedo. The event was layered with milestones: SFWA named Samuel Delany its 30th Grand Master, the first black and openly gay recipient of the honor. Frank M. Robinson, another openly gay science-fiction writer whose résumé includes penning speeches for Harvey Milk, was also honored that night. Then the female authors began to win.
"There are certainly going to be those muttering darkly about a 'feminist cabal' that voted en masse to make a point," says Scalzi. "I think that is stupid and not actually what happened. I think what actually happened was we had a lot of excellent writing this year by women in science fiction and fantasy. All the women won because they deserved to win."
At the tail end of the night, the audience sat quietly and expectantly in the darkened ballroom. Stan Schmidt, an elderly, dour-looking editor made his way to the podium. Schmidt edited Analog Science Fiction and Fact from 1978 to 2012. In 2007 he penned a rejection letter addressed to "Mr. Leckie." This time, from the podium, he got her name right.
"The Nebula for a novel goes to Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie," he read, launching the crowd into thunderous applause.
Hugging her Clarion friends and fellow female winners all the way, Leckie — dressed in a shimmering red gown — ascended the stage and took the block of transparent Lucite, embedded with a spiraling glitter nebula and gemstone planets.
"It's an astonishing thing to find that something you've written has connected with other readers," she told the crowd. "I am beyond delighted and amazed. Thank you all so, so much."
Today, Leckie is back in St. Louis and writing full-time. Last week, she sent her editors the final proof of the second book of the trilogy, Ancillary Sword. It's slated to be in bookstores in October. She'll travel to London in August for the Hugo Award ceremony.
She says she's as surprised by her own success as she is by the fact that it occurred in conjunction with so much controversy about gender and the treatment of women in sci-fi.
"It's part of the reason I was so astonished at the novel's reception, because I knew about all these conversations and arguments," she says, leaning back in the orange wingback chair in the Webster University library, her old rejection letters in front of her.
She says she hopes at the very least she can inspire other science-fiction authors to think differently about the role of female characters and about gender in general.
"What I hope is that publishers and editors say, 'Well, Ancillary Justice did pretty well, maybe we can take a risk.' And what I really hope is that a bunch of writers look at my book and say, 'She didn't go far enough.'"