In 2012, Ann Leckie, who had by that time published several short stories yet remained relatively unknown to many readers, was putting the finishing touches on her debut novel, Ancillary Justice. After Orbit released it in 2013, Leckie achieved the science fiction equivalent of the Triple Crown. The novel, a far-future space opera, is the first to win the Hugo, Nebula, and Clarke awards.
“I’d expected to maybe, if I was lucky, pick up a few readers,” she says of her thoughts pre–Ancillary Justice. “I didn’t ever imagine, except in the most idle, obviously wish-fulfillment, ego-gratification fantasies, that anything I wrote would ever win awards, let alone so many. And now suddenly it feels like everyone is watching me to see what I do next.”
Ancillary Justice started as an outline written during NaNoWriMo in 2005, and Leckie worked on it for several years. The final version, she says, “has a very strong core of similarity” to her early drafts, and the basic plot outline is the same, but, she adds, her worldbuilding benefited from the long gestation period. She created a universe in which humans share a communal consciousness; the book follows one of those humans, an “ancillary,” as she gains autonomy. Leckie describes her earlier drafts as more simplistic in their view of her society; when she began to play with gender pronouns, deciding to only use the pronoun “she,” no matter the character’s gender, she found the new language emancipating.
While Leckie is grateful for the accolades her first novel received, she says she’s trying not to feel pressure from the increased attention on her sophomore effort, Ancillary Sword, which is out October 7. In fact, her immediate goal is to turn in the manuscript for the concluding novel in her trilogy. After that, she isn’t sure what form her writing will take. “Probably more science fiction, though most of my short fiction was secondary-world fantasy, and that might be fun, too,” she says. “I haven’t thought seriously about it yet, and probably won’t until I turn in Ancillary Mercy.”
Leckie says her promotional plans for Ancillary Sword include “appearances at what seems like every library in the St. Louis metro area,” including the spot where she built the foundations of her career: St. Louis Library’s Carpenter branch.
Leckie’s interest in science fiction dates to her childhood, when she spent nearly every Saturday at the Carpenter branch library, reading and looking for material to take home, beginning with Andre Norton and moving on to Lloyd Alexander, Larry Niven, and C.J. Cherryh. Leckie knew from an early age that she wanted to grow up to be an author (either that, or, like many science fiction readers, an astronaut). She began writing when she was very young, according to her mother, but Leckie has no recollection of her earliest juvenilia. “After about fourth grade, I do remember borrowing my mother’s old portable Olivetti and typing stories out on the back of photocopies of journal articles,” she says. “Anyway, I don’t have any of that. I’m kind of grateful that’s the case.”
Leckie’s first published work appeared in True Confessions. She “read, like, a dozen issues of the various True publications until I just couldn’t stand it anymore, and then I sat down and kind of vomited it all back up. And to my surprise, it sold. But the truth was, I hadn’t actually liked reading the stories, and writing something I didn’t enjoy wasn’t very pleasant.” However, Leckie says, the experience taught her two valuable lessons. “One was, yes, I could in fact write a story people would pay me money for. The other was, there’s not much point in writing something I didn’t like very much, even if it sold.”
She began publishing science fiction with the John Carter of Mars homage “Hesperia and Glory,” which Subterranean published in 2006, and which was included in Science Fiction: The Best of the Year, 2007 Edition. She also began to work in genre fiction in an editorial capacity, joining fantasy podcast PodCastle in 2008 as an assistant editor, and SF/fantasy webzine GigaNotoSaurus in 2010 as an editor. She left both positions in 2013, as her novel was being published, but her editorial experience has stayed with her. “The lessons of slushing and editing build up over time,” she says, “and you’re not necessarily thinking about them while you’re working, but they’re in the back of your mind, probably influencing your choices.”
Reflecting on the changes and successes of the past year, Leckie remains a bit in awe of the attention she’s received. “Really, it’s very odd—wonderful but strange.” Fans might say the same of her award-winning fiction.