With Unconquerable Sun (Tor, July.) Elliott launches a space opera trilogy based on the life of Alexander the Great and following the political career of Princess Sun, heir to the Chaonian Republic.
How did you approach creating Chaonian culture?
When I thought who was going to be going out into space thousands of years in the future, I wanted this region of space to be realistic in reflecting diverse demographics. Because of the long journeys these cultures have taken from Earth, people begin to associate more with their ships. The connection to geographical places on Earth will begin to fade and become less important. But in some of these cultures, people have a strong connection to their ancestors and to a sense of continuity. I wanted to suggest that cultures that have more connection to family and community are going to do better in terms of survival of their cultural ways.
Why Alexander the Great?
I’ve always, always loved the Alexander story, to the degree that I have a son named Alexander. What’s even funnier is he’s a twin and with twins, if you’ve chosen names beforehand, you have to ask which one are you going to name what? But that was easy because Alexander the Great was well known for leading from the front. So we always knew that the first one through would be Alexander.
There are many complex mother-daughter relationships throughout the tale. What inspired the focus on this dynamic?
In the case of Sun and her mother, they’re gender swapped Alexander and his father, Philip. So to a fair extent, I was just riffing on everything I’ve read about Philip and Alexander. The relationships of men are the focus across so much of literature. One of the central elements of my career has been to instead center women’s lives. Often women are seen as, I like to say, wombs or vaginas in relationship to men. They’re not seen in relationship to other women; if you have three women in a story, they’ll be in three separate plot jars, relating to men. But when you put women together, they can have relationships that are, it turns out, just as interesting and important.
Tell me more about your decision to swap the historical figures’ genders.
We live in a world where there’s still so much push back to women as leaders. Women rarely get a turn in fiction—not to mention the real world—as truly charismatic, brilliant leaders with an unquestioned capacity to lead. We have stories about how women push past entrenched sexism to triumph, but I didn’t want to tell that story. Alexander the Great was the product of a society that assumed someone like him could do what he ended up doing. The only question was the scope of his conquest. So I created a society where a woman can have that same kind of status.