Four sci-fi authors—Charlie Jane Anders, Seth Dickinson, S.L. Huang, and V.E. Schwab—will appear in not one but two panel discussions. Riffing on the panel titles, we asked them how reality, identity, and fearless female characters influence their work.

Charlie Jane Anders

The City in the Middle of the Night, Jan. 2019

When I started reading about tidally locked planets, which have a permanent day side and a permanent night side, I became obsessed with the idea of someone living between these two extremes. In The City in the Middle of the Night, the main character, Sophie [who lives on the day side], discovers that there are intelligent creatures living on the night side of the planet, and figures out how to communicate with one of them.

The most important thing about my experiences as a trans and queer person has been community. This means that when I start creating a fictional world or a fictionalized version of the "real" world, I think about communities rather than just a handful of individuals against a backdrop.

Also, this is a book about relationships between women. All of the major characters are women, and their relationships are complicated and thorny. I'm interested in how we treat the people we love.

Seth Dickinson

The Monster Baru Cormorant, Oct.

When you live in a society with a lot of cruel, evil systems, how do you find success—and maybe even help make some change—without becoming part of that evil yourself? Baru knows the system she's part of is evil, but she's trying to stay undercover long enough to reach a position where she can make real change.

The inspiration for the series was the argument that certain kinds of people couldn't be protagonists in epic fantasy because they'd be "too oppressed." I wanted to write an epic fantasy about a woman who faces down every conceivable kind of prejudice and still tells an interesting and powerful story.

S.L. Huang Zero Sum Game, Oct.

It's intentional that I'm writing a pulpy action thriller with an extremely diverse cast, because I want people who look like me and love like me to get to play in escapist thrill-ride fiction. It's no fun if people of color and LGBTQ+ people only get to be portrayed in stories about prejudice or coming out. We should get madcap adventure tales, too!

Most of all, I just want the problems the characters grapple with to spark thought in my readers. If they walk away from my books arguing with each other about them, I'm happy. I don't so much want to dictate what people take away from the books as hope that they do take away something, even if it's just a rollicking good time. After all, I've always considered it one of the greatest compliments a writer can get when people tell me something I wrote made a bad day into a good one.

V.E. Schwab Vengeful, Sept.

While there's a supernatural element to the Villains series—the so-called superpowers—the heart of these books is an examination of power in a much more grounded sense: agency, identity, ambition, and perception. Every character is driven—sometimes to madness—by their want, and what they're willing to do to get it.

I suppose my identity affects the kinds of questions I ask, and the depths to which I ask them. It also affects the kinds of stories I like to tell and the characters I want at their center. I've always felt like an outsider, so much of my work involves recentering the narrative around characters often relegated to the narrative periphery.

Vengeful is an examination not only of power but specifically of the forms that power takes when given to—and stripped away from—women. It focuses on three very different female leads who have been erased from their own narratives in one way or another, and looks at what and how they're willing to take that space back.