How did “The Waiting Stars” come about?
I was writing a story for Athena Andreadis’s and Kay Holt’s The Other Half of the Sky, which had to be mythical space opera focused on a female protagonist. So I naturally turned to Vietnamese myths: There is a particular one, the legend of My Chau and Truong Thi (bit.ly/1SpACPB), that has always resonated with me. In it, a princess betrays her own people to her husband, and has to watch as her city is invaded. I wanted to write something that had that same resonance of unwitting, internalised betrayal, but set in a space opera setting.
The Dai Viet world resonates so much in this one. Do you take your inspiration from any particular struggles of oppressed peoples?
I drew on residential schools, both in Australia and in Canada (for Aboriginals and First Nations), as a model for the institution where Catherine and Johanna are educated—I knew about their existence, but had naïvely assumed they were further in the past than that, and found out this was very much not the case. The way in which the Galactic and Dai Viet rub against each other (and profoundly misunderstand one another) was drawn from real-life interactions in colonial Indochina. Again, I didn’t have to dig very much to find some truly heartwrenching stuff.
The ending was breathtaking—the two storylines came together in such beauty—what were the challenges of making this narrative structure work?
The main challenge was making Jason work, actually! I originally had him much more aware of what he was doing and why, and following some crits from beta readers I realised that what I really wanted was a “benevolent colonial”: He had to seem perfectly reasonable to the reader (I would even say reasonable enough that a Western reader could identify with him), until the moment when you realise what, exactly, he’s been complicit in, which was meant to be a major flip in perspective—of the damage that you can unwittingly do, even as you’re sure you’re in the right (which to me, was a big part of the colonial mindset and one that I feel gets under-explored). The other difficulty in making Jason sympathetic was that Catherine’s love story had to be tragic: I wanted her to genuinely love him, and him to genuinely care for her—but in a way that made it impossible for the relationship to continue, once she was aware of the truth.
How has your vision for the Xuya universe evolved since first building out that world and its stories?
I think it’s not so much evolved as expanded? I thought I would run out of ideas related to this universe quite fast, to be honest, and I’m always rather surprised that I keep coming up with ideas in that setting! Having a Galactic Empire is handy, in the sense that there’s quite a wide range of planets and technologies—and different time periods as well. It’s moved from being merely stories of the birth of mindships to families and how they cope with having AI members—and to solving technological challenges such as epidemics, food supplies, etc., which has had me do a ton of interesting research (and hopefully come up with a few extra ideas, too!).
Any new projects you want to tell us about?
I’m working on The House of Binding Thorns, a sequel to my novel The House of Shattered Wings (post-magical-war Paris with intrigues, backstabbing, entirely too many corpses, and bonus Vietnamese mythology). And I have a story out in Yanni Kuznia’s A Fantasy Medley 3 which is set in the same universe and which I’m inordinately fond of, as it focuses on the actual magical war and its cost for ordinary people, something I didn’t have the time to do in the book.
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