Valkyr, a woman raised to seek revenge against the aliens that destroyed Earth, must reckon with her prejudice in Tesh’s space opera debut, Some Desperate Glory (Tordotcom, Apr.).
What inspired Valkyr’s arc?
The origin of this book started in 2016–2017, and there was a lot of political upheaval happening around the world. I think of it as quite a British book. There’s a little bit of Brexit in there. There’s the rise of authoritarian populism in there. I felt that there were things to say—not just that we should resist, that’s a no-brainer; “I think space Nazis are bad” is about as far as you need to go. What I was actually interested in is what would lead a person to destroy themselves for a cruel and hateful ideology that doesn’t love them back. That’s true of Kyr’s story; she’s dedicated to a world that is consistently abusing her. It’s the emotional trap of authority and charisma. The emotional safety of what you’ve always known, what you’ve believed in, and how difficult it can be to change your mind.
How did you approach creating alien cultures?
I wanted to make aliens that didn’t work like humans and I wanted them to be the opposite of what Kyr supposes they are. They are not one group; they’re not one federation like in Star Trek. The reader might assume they are, because that’s how Kyr frames them, at first. They are sentient beings living in harmony with each other.
The characters grapple with concepts of justice and revenge and how—or whether—they should be enacted. Would you consider this an anti-revenge narrative?
That’s there, but it’s not central to the story. I think what’s centered in this story is why you would buy into an ideology that hates you, and that is through grievance, being wronged. Kyr, her brother Mags, and her frenemy, Avi, all have a genuine grievance: their world was taken from them before they were even born. They’re in this objectively awful situation, and it’s clearly someone’s fault. They have good reason to feel wronged, and the question is what do they do about it? What do you do with the legacy of an unjust past, when you’re left holding the bucket with all the problems in it?
How did you balance the—literally—cosmic and personal conflicts?
I prioritized the ones that mattered, which is the individual ones. In a way, Kyr turning the cosmic into the individual is her growth story. At first, she only sees the big picture—right and wrong, these people killed our world—when in the end it’s about the people in front of her. It’s about seeing people and not the big picture, because often the big picture is a lie.