“The Light Brigade” has a very distinct narrative voice, one reminiscent of the “every man/woman,” a voice immediately identifiable as someone the reader may well know. How do you feel an author’s choice of narrative voice affects overall story structure and its impact on readers?
I wanted this story to have a very accessible point of view character—someone we could recognize and empathize with whether they were male, female, or other. Choosing the right narrator—and right distance from that narrator, whether it’s first person, third person, close third person, or omniscient—changes the overall emotional effect of the story, so I think that’s key. I’ve changed first person stories to close third person and third person stories to first person after I’ve gotten a few chapters in and realized I was either too close or too distant from the narrator. Sometimes this has to do with the kind of person they are. I had an especially brutal heroine in my God’s War novels—which started out as first person—but my heroine was so belligerent and ruthless that I felt I needed more distance from her, so I switched to third person and broke up the narrative with other point of view characters, too.
That said, this story started and ended in first person. I nailed the voice pretty early on, and they carried me through to the end.
There is just enough scientific theory to provide a solid foundation for your story. What inspired “The Light Brigade”?
This question is terribly funny because the answer is: World of Warcraft. There’s this way to port between places in the game that turns you into a globe of spinning light and I was like, “What if you were aware and conscious when this was happening? Wouldn’t that be a great way to get troops to a battlefield, since they couldn’t be shot down?” And the story just took off from there.
I did see the same idea (with different results) used in a book I just read called Dark Orbit, where they use “lightbeam” transfer to move people from ships to the surface of planets, so it’s certainly a thing; a spin on transporter technology. The time travel aspect was all mine, though, and happened organically as I was writing the story. It wasn’t until I’d written it that I realized I could spin this as science fiction instead of fantasy. But it’s like that for all my work—I consider myself a speculative writer walking on the SF/F tightrope.
The story touches on the intimate horrors. Many critics say that we should not dwell on the grittier, darker side of war, that we need to focus instead on the big picture. Others feel that shedding light on the true nature of combat can serve to promote better support systems for combat veterans. When writing, are you conscious of any social message the story might convey?
I’m not sure who those critics are, but I come from a long line of war and military veterans, and was raised on war stories from WWII where my grandparents met in Nazi-occupied France. One of my grandfather’s tasks while overseas was to fill up and drive away trucks full of bodies from concentration camps. My uncle was in the Air Force, and had stories of flying weapons to both Iran and Iraq during the Iran/Iraq war. Those personal stories are all part of the bigger picture, and I’d say you can’t understand the real impact of the big picture without those personal stories.
I also try to be very aware of what I’m putting down on the page, and the text and subtext of every story. As someone surrounded by war and military vets who also has an academic background in the history of conflict, I certainly have both my opinions about conflict and an interest in exploring different ways we could resolve conflicts without resorting to conflict. It’s a grim sandbox passion of mine, imagining how we could achieve the creation of a world without violence. I know what violence does to people, and societies, and it doesn’t make us better, no matter what propagandists say. It absolutely makes us worse; it’s designed to bring out the worst in us to achieve what it considers success.
“The Light Brigade” is also subtly subversive: the matter of gender; the casual mention of Spanish vs. English when the narrator approaches the aliens; how the aliens themselves are human yet never identified specifically as such. Are there any particular examples of subversive fiction that appeal to your as both a reader and writer?
I admit I’m sad that stuff like default-Spanish and non-specified genders are considered “subversive” these days, but I recognize that we’re swinging back around from a pretty substantial backlash in both fiction and our wider culture (I’ve likened our current revival of subversive work with the work of the New Wave in the ’‘70s and maybe even the New Weird in the early ’‘00s). As far as recent subversive fiction goes, I’ll have to recommend Elysium by Jennifer Marie Brissett. It does some astonishingly brave things with narrative and point of view that are worth studying.
Your essay “We Have Always Fought” became a much needed center point for the ongoing struggle of representation of women writers in genre fiction. Given the recent conflicts in the field of SF/F/H, what, if anything, would you add to the article today?
Not a thing. It all still applies, and will for a good long time, I expect. Alas.
What’s next for Kameron Hurley? What can readers expect from you in the coming months?
My essay collection, The Geek Feminist Revolution, will be out from Tor books in May or June of 2016. And my first space opera, The Stars are Legion, is coming from Saga Press in October of 2016 as well. I’ll also have an original story in Jonathan Strahan’s Meeting Infinity anthology, which is out this December.
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