Kameron Hurley is one of the more exciting authors to break into the science fiction publishing field in recent years. Her upcoming book, The Stars Are Legion is one of our most anticipated books this year, and we have an exclusive first look at it!
Here’s what the book is about:
Somewhere on the outer rim of the universe, a mass of decaying world-ships known as the Legion is traveling in the seams between the stars. Here in the darkness, a war for control of the Legion has been waged for generations, with no clear resolution.
As worlds continue to die, a desperate plan is put into motion.
Zan wakes with no memory, prisoner of a people who say they are her family. She is told she is their salvation – the only person capable of boarding the Mokshi, a world-ship with the power to leave the Legion. But Zan’s new family is not the only one desperate to gain control of the prized ship. Zan finds that she must choose sides in a genocidal campaign that will take her from the edges of the Legion’s gravity well to the very belly of the world.
Zan will soon learn that she carries the seeds of the Legion’s destruction – and its possible salvation. But can she and the band of cast-off followers she has gathered survive the horrors of the Legion and its people long enough to deliver it?
In the tradition of The Fall of Hyperion and Dune, The Stars are Legion is an epic and thrilling tale about tragic love, revenge, and war as imagined by one of the genre’s most celebrated new writers.
Needless to say, this is a book that we really can’t wait to get our hands on when it comes out later this year. We’ve dug her books, from Gods War to The Mirror Empire, and this foray into science fiction looks like it’ll be an exciting one.
We took some time to chat with Hurley about some of the inspiration behind The Stars Are Legion and space opera in general:
What was the inspiration behind this book, and how does it differ from your prior works?
I came up with the idea for this stand-alone space opera right after I finished my God’s War trilogy in 2012. Shortly thereafter, I switched agents, and when I handed the two proposals I had to my new agent, she took one look at this one – a gory, all-women space opera about two feuding families in a legion of living world-ships – and said, “Well, this is going to be a tough sell. Let’s do the fantasy novel first.” So we sold The Mirror Empire and the rest of the Worldbreaker Saga in 2013, and sat on this one. But I had a tough time giving up on The Stars Are Legion, because it was the craziest thing I’d come up with to date, and I wanted to see it out there.
I feel like I’m always writing things like five or ten years ahead of what the market is ready for. So I just waited for the market to catch up.
Then Ancillary Justice happened, and editors were looking for more space operas – especially space operas that weren’t the same old thing. And I’m certainly known for never writing the same old thing. Joe Monti asked to read my old proposal, and to my surprise, he actually wanted to buy it. Knowing what I know about this book, I don’t think it would have sold without Ancillary Justice doing well, and without an editor like Monti to champion it. After he’d made the offer he emailed my agent and was like, “Wait a minute… are there only women in this whole Legion of worlds? There are no men in this book?” and my agent was like, “Yes, Joe” and he was like, “That makes it even better!”
I’m always pushing the envelope when it comes to fiction. This is my most ambitious book yet.
What influences have you pulled in from space opera’s long history, if at all?
I’ve always enjoyed the politics of space opera, and ideas around how long-term space travel will change us and shape the way we organize our societies. My interest in space opera isn’t just about war and explosions and exploration – which are great, sure, and right up my alley – but also in how our societies will adapt as they move out beyond the edges of the solar system and beyond. I watched the first season of The Expanse recently, which is based on James S.A. Corey’s novels, and one of the things I loved about that series is how it worked in the different cultures of Earth, Mars and the Belt and showed why and how they were in opposition with one another. It wasn’t just a strategic conflict for resources, but also a cultural one. Each society’s environments have fundamentally changed them – not just culturally, but physically, and that’s where a lot of the conflict comes from. This is the appeal of shows like Star Trek and Babylon 5 for me, too. I want to know how people organize themselves in the future, and how their morals change. “Normal” is a matter of perspective, and I love that reading and writing science fiction can force us to re-examine what really makes us human.
Social dynamics fascinate me in all of my work, and in The Stars Are Legion I have the opportunity to do it in a setting that is both massive – a legion of ships as big as worlds – and intimate, as a great deal of the book explores how different societies navigate a single world against the backdrop of a civil war.
With all the focus on space and the pictures we’ve gotten in recent years, where do you think Space Opera is headed in the next decade?
If I knew, I’d probably be rich. It’s a funny irony that science fiction writers do far better at writing about a possible future than predicting one. At best, we can inspire the future. That said, I think we’re coming up out of the dark, grim era of the science-fantastic and swinging back around to creating more hopeful futures. I wasn’t surprised at all to hear that Star Trek was getting a new TV series installment; I’d been waiting for that announcement for a good year.
We’re also entering an era of renewed passion and awareness of issues related to civil rights and feminism as we slog out of the dark ages that was the late 1990’s and early-2000’s. If you live long enough, you start to see movements and economies circle back around. As NASA preps for a mission to put humans on Mars, we as authors will be feeding an increasingly hungry public with stories of both near and far-future space as it will look incorporating an actual representative slice of people on Earth, as opposed to a narrow subset.
I admit I’m enjoying a return to the days where we feel that we can dream of an actual future instead of predicting endless dystopia-style corporate apocalypses. Because if all we can imagine is apocalypse, that’s all we’re ever going to get. Bring on the better future.
Here’s the first chapter:
PART I: SURFACING
“They called the Katazyrnas the destroyers of worlds. But to us they are just another doomed people caught in the spaces between the worlds. Eventually the worlds will break them.”
-Warmaker Mokshi, annals of the Legion
I remember throwing away a child.
That’s the only memory I know for certain is mine. The rest is a gory blackness. All I have, then, are the things I’ve been told are true:
My name is Zan
I once commanded a great army.
My mission was to destroy a world that did not exist.
I’m told my army was scattered, or eaten, or blown apart into a thousand twinkling bits of debris, and I went missing. I can’t understand why I’d ever want to lead an army or break apart under the weight of some world, but I’m told I spent my life pushing hard to get to the rank and skill I attained.
And when I came back, spit out by the world or wrenched free of my own will, I came back wrong.
What “wrong” means, I suppose, is a matter of opinion. I have yet to understand what is meant by it, only that it’s also resulted in my lack of memory.
The first face I see when I wake each period in my sick bed is full-lipped and luminous, like looking into the face of some life-giving sun. The woman says her name is Jayd, and it is she who has told me all I know to be true. When I ask, now, why there is a dead body on the floor behind her she only smiles and says, “There are many bodies on the world,” and I realize the words for “world” and “ship” are nearly identical, and I’m uncertain now which she used.
When I wake next the body is gone, and Jayd is bustling around me. She helps me sit up for the first time, and I marvel at the dark bruises on the insides of my arms and legs. A broad scar cuts my belly in two, low near my groin, and there is something strange about my left hand; it’s clearly smaller than the right. When I try to make a fist, it closes only halfway, like a tortured claw. When I slide to the floor, I discover that the bottoms of my feed are mostly numb. Jayd does not give me time to examine them as she pulls a porous, draping robe over my shoulders. It’s the same cut and heft as hers, only dark green to her blue.
“It’s time for your first debriefing,” Jayd says as I try to make sense of my injuries. She leads me from the room, down a dark, pulsing corridor. I squint.
“You were gone for a half dozen turns,” she says, and sits me down beside her in what must be a waiting room off the corridor. I stare at my palms, trying to open and close them. If I work at it, I can get the left to close a bit more. The room, like the corridors, is a warm, glistening space that pulses like the inside of an organ. Jayd smoothes my dark hair from my brow with comforting fingers, the movement as reverent and well-practiced as a prayer. “We thought you dead. Recycled.”
“Recycled into what?” I say, but the wall blooms open, the door unfurling like a flower, and an older woman beckons us inside.
Jayd and I sit on a damp bench on one side of the great plain of a table, and the woman sits across from us. Patterns move over the surface of the table, though whether they are writing or purely decorative or something else entirely, I don’t know. The more I look at them, the more my head throbs. I touch my temple, only to find that my fingers come away sticky with viscous lubricant or salve. I trace my finger along the ridge of a long scar that runs from the edge of my left brow to curl of my left ear. I have still not seen my own face. I have encountered no reflective surfaces.
There is indeed something very wrong here, but I don’t think it’s me.
“I’m Gavatra,” the older woman says, her voice a low rumble. Her black hair is shorn short against her dark scalp, revealing four long scars like scratch marks on the back of her head. She wears a long, durable garment of shiny blue fabric, like something excreted from the walls. It’s all held together with intricate knotted ties. She peers into my face, and sighs. “Do you know who you are?”
Jayd says, “It’s the same as all the other times.”
“Other times?” I say, because how many times could one lose an army and get eaten by a ship and come back with injuries like these and live?
Jayd tangles her fingers in my hair. She gazes deeply into my eyes, desperately searching my face for something. She has a broad, intense face with sunken eyes, and a bold beak of nose. I feel I should know or understand something from her look, but my memory is a hot, sticky void at the center of the world. I intuit nothing. I flex my hands again.
“Eight hundred and six of your sisters have tried to board the Mokshi over the last ten rotations,” Gavatra says, tapping her fingers across the surface of the table. The patterns change, and she scrutinizes them as if scrying. “You’re the only one who ever comes out, Zan.”
“The Mokshi,” I say. “The world that doesn’t exist?”
“Yes,” Jayd says. “You remember?” Hopeful, or doubtful?
I shake my head. “How many times has this happened to me?” I say. My left hand trembles, and I gaze at it as if it belongs to someone else. It occurs to me that maybe it once did, and that chills me. I want to know what’s happened to my memory, and why there was a body on the floor in my sick room, and why I threw away a child. But I know they aren’t going to be pretty answers.
“You are blessed of the War God, sister-mine,” Jayd says, but she is looking at Gavatra as she says it. It’s like being a child again, stuck in a room with people who have a deep history between them; too deep and complicated for a child to fathom. Even more curious is that if Jayd is really my sister then the feeling that stirs my gut when she tangles her fingers in my hair is entirely wrong.
I lift my gaze to Gavatra, and firm my jaw. A grim purpose fills me. “Tell me what’s happened to me,” I say, “or I’ll wring it out of you myself.” And I can make both hands into fists now, and it feels far more natural than anything I’ve done so far.
Gavatra barks out a laugh. She swipes at the table, and pulls a nest of dancing lights from its surface and into the air. I watch them tangle above her, fascinated. She swipes them back onto another part of the table.
“You’re fulfilling your duty to your mother,” Gavatra says, “as do we all. But perhaps Jayd is right this time. Perhaps it’s time we retire you.”
“I want my memory,” I say.
“Then you must retake the Mokshi,” Gavatra says. “We don’t have it here. That ship ate it. It eats it every time. You want your memory, you take the Mokshi.”
“Then I’ll go on another assault,” I say.
“Mother can’t afford to risk another army,” Jayd said, “not with the Bhavajas lying in wait for us now. They’ve taken another ship since you’ve been gone.” This time I am sure she said “ship” and not “world” because taking an entire world seems impossible.
“The Mokshi has destroyed a good many armies,” Gavatra says, “and many of us. Your mother will make more. It’s what we do here. If Zan is ready to assault the Mokshi again, I won’t deny her.”
Jayd slumps in her chair, defeated. Was I something to be fought over and won? “This is a foolish enterprise,” Jayd says. “It’s just as likely that Zan will die as it is she’ll retrieve her memory. Some of it comes back without you going to the Mokshi, Zan. If you stay –“
“No,” I say. I press my finger against the long ridge of the scar on my face again. “I want to finish what’s been started.”
Gavatra waves her hand over the table, and the patterns of light fade, revealing the table surface revealed for what it is: a smooth, stitched-together canvas of human skin.
I jerk up from the bench. The trembling in my arm becomes a spasm, and I lash out and smash the wall. The wall gives under my grip, as if I’ve mashed my fist into a lung. When I pull my hand away, it is moist. My body begins to shake; my breath comes hard and fast.
Jayd wraps her arms around me. “Hush, it will pass,” she says.
I feel as if I’m watching my body from a great height, unable to contain or control it. The panic is a monstrous thing. My body is trying to fight or flee, and I can’t allow it to do either until I understand what’s happening here.
Gavatra snorts and stands. “She’s going to pop,” Gavatra says.
My heart hammers loud in my chest. A dark and twisted impulse seizes me; an uncoiling of everything I have held back while pushed and prodded in my sick room.
I leap across the table and take Gavatra by the throat. We collide with the wall and fall into a tangle on the floor.
Gavatra writhes beneath me, gasping like a dying woman, and perhaps she is, and as I straddle her and look at my hands I realize my left was not up to the task of strangling a woman to death.
I bare my teeth at Gavatra. “I want my memory back,” I say. “I want answers about what’s happening. I don’t believe a word of what you’ve told me.”
Gavatra twists my bad arm and pain rushes up, blinding my panic. She head-butts me in the face, so fast and unexpected that I reel back in shock as much as pain, clutching at my face as blackness judders across my vision.
Jayd rushes between me and Gavatra. She slides across the floor to wrap me again in her arms, as if I am a prize animal gone feral.
Gavatra uses the table to lever herself up. She rubs at her throat, and gives a wry grin. “Perhaps there is something of the old Zan in this one,” she says.
“My memory!” I say.
“You fool woman,” Gavatra says. “You have no idea what a gift that loss is, for you.” And then Gavatra smiles, her wrinkles deepening, her face cavernous in the dim light. “The truth is worse than you can possibly imagine.”
The Stars Are Legion will be published on Oct 4, 2016
You can follow Andrew Liptak on Twitter at @andrewliptak.