I'm always thrilled when Melissa Scott has a new science fiction novel coming out and this time around, it's the first book of a trilogy. Finders is due out from Candlemark & Gleam in December of 2018 and is based on Melissa's stories in To Shape the Dark and The Other Half of the Sky. No cover art yet, but looking forward to that as well!
• You have a new science fiction novel, Finders, coming out from Candlemark & Gleam in December 2018. Can you tell us a little about it?
Cassilde Sam is a barely solvent salvage operator, hunting for relics in the ruins left by the mysterious Ancestors—particularly the color-coded Elements that power most of humanity’s current technology, including the ability to navigate through hyperspace. Cassilde is also steadily fading under the onslaught of Lightman’s, an incurable, inevitably fatal disease. She needs one last find big enough to leave a legacy for her partner and fellow salvor Dai Winter.
When their lover and former colleague Summerlad Ashe reappears, offering them a chance to salvage part of an orbiting palace that he claims contains potentially immense riches, Cassilde is desperate enough to take the gamble, even though Ashe had left them both to fight on the opposite side of the interplanetary war that only ended seven years ago. The find is everything Ashe promised. But when pirates attack the claim, Cassilde receives the rarest of the Ancestors’ Gifts: a change to her biochemistry that confers near-instant healing and seems to promise immortality.
But the change also drags her into an underworld where Gifts are traded in blood, and powerful Gifts bring equally powerful enemies. Hunted for her Gift and determined to find Gifts for her lovers, Cassilde discovers that an old enemy is searching for the greatest of the Ancestral artifacts: the power that the Ancestors created and were able to barely contain after it almost destroyed them, plunging humanity into the first Long Dark. Haunted by dream-visions of this power whispering its own version of what happened, Cassilde must find it first, before her enemy frees it to destroy her own civilization.
• Your stories, “Finders" and “Firstborn, Lastborn " in the anthologies The Other Half of the Sky and To Shape the Dark are, on the surface, very different from each other. One is about tech scavengers searching for scraps from an ancient interstellar civilization, while the other is about AIs at war with each other, using humans as pawns. You've mentioned that they inspired your new novel - can you talk about these stories and how they relate to the novel?
The novelette-length version of “Finders” that appeared in The Other Half of the Sky was very much a direct inspiration for the novel—the first three chapters are essentially a reworking of that story. (Keeping the novelette anywhere near Athena’s word limit for the anthology was like wrestling an octopus into a very small tin can. It could be made to fit, but there were lots of waving tentacles and much effusion of ink. The version that is in the novel is nearly double the size of the original novelette.) It also finishes the story, which by the time I’d finished the novelette I was determined to do. I’d gotten very fond of the characters, and I wanted very much to work out what happened to them after the events of the novelette.
“Firstborn, Lastborn,” on the other hand, was a very late submission to To Shape the Dark—I think it went in literally on the last possible day. I had been poking at the idea for a while, wrote a draft in a frenzied 3 days, and then looked at it in despair and decided I’d have to tell Athena I wouldn’t have a story for her after all. However, I was too tired to write that email at that point, and when I looked at the story again the next morning, it was better than I’d remembered. I poked at is some more, and sent it in and was delighted to have it accepted. But the characters kept nagging at me, and I started making notes on the larger story of the relationship between the two women and between them and the AI. As I worked on it and on expanding Finders, I realized that the world of “Firstborn, Lastborn” was in fact the world of Finders’ mythical Ancestors—that “Firstborn, Lastborn” was the “real” story behind one of the foundational myths of the salvage culture
• Will Finders be part of a series?
I sincerely hope so! As I said above, the short story “Firstborn, Lastborn,” turned out to be the non-mythical past of the Finders universe, and there is a third book, Fallen, that deals with the intermediate culture, the Successors, that lies between the two. I’m actually writing them in reverse chronological order, with Finders coming first and set in the last iteration of this society, when most of the ultra-sophisticated, AI-mediated technology of “Firstborn, Lastborn” has been lost and the survivors have rebuilt their society by scavenging the wreckage of the Ancestral worlds. Fallen, which is the next book I hope to work on, jumps back to the Successor period, when the Gifts that are so rare and mysterious in Finders are the commonplace basis of a glittering and terribly fragile society. And then the third book, Firstborn, chronologically the earliest, will tell the “real” story of Anketil and Irtholin and the AI War—the myth that underlies both the previous novels.
• Does Finders have any relationship, such as setting or time period, to any of your earlier work?
There’s no concrete relationship, though I think Finders touches on many of the same themes as my other work—like them, it’s about working people with jobs and lives who choose to get involved in something bigger than themselves. A couple of the early readers have commented that it reminds them of my early Silence Leigh trilogy (Five-Twelfths of Heaven, Silence In Solitude, and The Empress of Earth), and I can see that. Both deal with a peculiar technology that often acts like Clarkean magic, and both involve a complicated three-way relationship.
• Most of your work has LGBT or Q protagonists; is this true of Finders? As a writer, can you talk a little bit about why queer protagonists are important to you?
The main character of Finders, Cassilde Sam, is involved in a longtime polyamorous relationship with her two working partners, Dai Winter and Summerlad Ashe. The men are certainly bisexual, and in my head, Cassilde is as well, though there’s little chance to show that in the novel.
I suppose I write queer characters for the simplest and most fundamental of reasons: I’m queer myself, and want to read and write characters who share that core nature. On a broader level, though, SF/F offers opportunities to tell queer stories that aren’t necessarily about today’s immediately contested issues. It’s possible to imagine a world in which queerness is not an issue, for example—to draw a picture of what we might want society to become. This is not to say that stories that draw directly on contemporary conflicts aren’t valuable and important, but SF/F lets us tell both, and I think it’s important to take advantage of that.
And also… As we progress (and as a society the US has made enormous progress in the last 30 years, despite the recent setbacks), I want to celebrate and retain the things that I loved about the old queer community. They were things forged by oppression, virtues by necessity, and yet they made a world that gave me a home when I most needed it. The playfulness, the multiple masks and names and costumes, the acknowledgement of sex as a legitimate and valuable choice even in the face of AIDS, the willingness to act to protect each other—all of these things shaped me and my writing, and I want to carry them forward as part of what it means to be queer
• What else are you working on?
Let’s see… I seem to be incapable of sticking to any one project or even one type of project! Besides Fallen, I’m very nearly finished with a medieval fantasy, Water Horse, about the queer king of a beleaguered kingdom and his struggle to twist free of his prophesied fate. I’ve just finished the fifth Points mystery, Point of Sighs, and have started plotting the next, Point of Graves; I have an on-going space opera serial on Patreon with Don Sakers, The Rule of Five, and Jo Graham and I have begun plotting the next book in our 1930s occult aviation adventure series, Fire Season (The Order of the Air). After that, I have some thoughts about rural cyberpunk in a world after the seas have risen; bootleggers and the fae in Depression-era Arkansas; and manmade monsters fighting Martians in a steampunk AU. And, with a bit of luck, I may have a new project in an entirely new genre!
Weblinks: blog melissa-scott.com
Astreiant Patreon patreon.com/astreiant
Rule of Five Patreon patreon.com/ruleof5
Melissa Scott was born and raised in Little Rock, Arkansas, and studied history at Harvard College. She earned her PhD from Brandeis University in the comparative history program with a dissertation titled “The Victory of the Ancients: Tactics, Technology, and the Use of Classical Precedent in Early Modern Warfare.” She has published more than thirty original novels and a handful of short stories, most with queer themes and characters, and is known for her expansive and effective world-building. She has also written authorized tie-ins for Star Trek: DS9, Star Trek: Voyager, Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis, and Star Wars Rebels.
She won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 1986, and Lambda Literary Awards for Trouble and Her Friends, Shadow Man, Point of Dreams (written with long-time partner and collaborator, the late Lisa A. Barnett), and Death By Silver, written with Amy Griswold. She has also been shortlisted for the Tiptree Award. She has won Spectrum Awards for Shadow Man, for the short story “The Rocky Side of the Sky,” Death by Silver, and Fairs’ Point.
Lately, she has collaborated with Jo Graham on the Order of the Air, a series of occult adventure novels set in the 1930s; the fifth book, Oath Bound, was published at the end of 2015. She has also continued the acclaimed Points series, fantasy mysteries set in the imaginary city of Astreiant, most recently with the forthcoming Point of Sighs. In addition, she and Amy Griswold have begun a series of gay Victorian fantasies with murder, starting with Death By Silver, and continued in A Death at the Dionysus Club. Her most recent short story, “Firstborn, Lastborn,” is in the Athena Andreadis-edited anthology To Shape the Dark, and she is co-author, with Don Sakers, of the serial space opera The Rule of Five, which can be found on Patreon. She is @blueterraplane on Twitter.