Kameron Hurley, author of the new epic fantasy The Mirror Empire, took part in a rousing AMA over on Reddit! Hurley is a two-time Hugo Award winner, a Kitschy Award-winner for Best Debut Novel, and a Sydney J. Bounds Award-winner for Best Newcomer. Her other novels include The God’s War Trilogy, a science fiction noir series. She’s a fan of great scotch, Chipotle, bad 80’s action movies, and books about war and genocide!
The Mirror Empire is available now from Angry Robot. You can read an excerpt from the novel here on Tor.com, plus two reviews from Liz Bourke and Mahvesh Murad. You can also listen to the Rocket Talk podcast episode featuring Kameron Hurley. And of course, check out her AMA responses below!
Elquesogrande: Congrats on just winning two Hugo Awards! One for your Best Related Work on “We Have Always Fought” and another for Best Fan Writer. What is it about “We Have Always Fought” that seemed to connect so well with people? Message, delivery, timing, other?
KameronHurley: Message, timing, and delivery. There’s a magical thing that happens when stuff goes viral, and this goes for book sales, too. Everything has to be just right. I don’t expect to ever hit that magic lottery button ever again. We Have Always Fought came in at just the right time, and has been linked many times in gaming articles talking about the lack of representation of women in games, and it’s a conversation we’re having about films and in books as well. It’s become the go-to piece to end all those “BUT REALISM!” arguments from folks who think dragons and faster than light travel are awesome, but women with guns or doing science are too incredible to be believed.
As for what’s changed, there was certainly a shift once I was nominated, and I got a ton of emails after I won. There are some… things happening that I’ll hopefully get to talk about later, but basically, the awards helped remind people that there’s a shift going on in the fanbase, in the readership, and that maybe all the ranting I do on the internet isn’t just some niche thing that four people care about, but represents work that there may, in fact, be a large readership for. First week sales of The Mirror Empire have also helped with that. Ha.
The_Zeus_Is_Loose: Why should I read The Mirror Empire? What makes it different from other books in the genre?
KameronHurley: …blood mages, sentient plants, satellite magic, energy infused swords spouting out of people’s wrists, two worlds coming together for a fight to the death… I could go on, but I think you get the idea.
Ncbose: Is there an audio version coming any time soon? Loved the Bel Dame [God’s War] series, the narrator was great.
KameronHurley: It’s coming! I just approved a narrator this week, so it’s delayed a little more than I thought, but it’s in the works!
benbos had a “Linguistics nerd” question: How much have you thought about the fictional languages in The Mirror Empire? How does gender get marked in the different languages (only on third-person pronouns? All pronouns? All nouns/adjectives? Verb forms?)
KameronHurley: The Saiduan have a third gender that uses the ze/hir pronoun when I’m writing from a Saiduan point of view. I eased into it with this book—it’s used very sparingly, but one of those third gender characters becomes a POV character in Book Two, and my hope is that I’ve prepared enough readers for that over the course of the series to prepare them for that. For the Dhai genders I just use he/she/they—there’s no marker for passive/assertive here in the first book. Again, I was working hard to make it super easy for readers to get into these books. It becomes more of a thing later, and I start tagging he1/he2/she1/she2 a little more in conversations, but like the third gender pronoun in book two, I keep it all pretty subtle. This is the biggest trick of the sort of thing I write: creating fun, powerful stories with tons of interesting stuff going socially and culturally that doesn’t overly confuse the reader. Balancing act.
philthedrill1 asked about tone: Based on your interest in 80s movies and describing your fiction as “Thundercats,” do you ever see yourself writing a novel with a lighter mood?
KameronHurley: No, probably not. But! Folks who enjoy lighter fare should check out Patrick Weekes’s work. His novel, The Palace Job, is super fun, and he’s also done a Dragon Age tie-in novel, The Masked Empire. He’s one of the senior writers at BioWare responsible for some of your favorite characters.
TFrohock: What’s your favorite bad ’80s action movie? I was always a Mad Max girl, myself, but I saw the original Mad Max at a drive-in 1979.
KameronHurley: You know, I tried to watch the original Mad Max again recently and it was soooo booooring. Thunderdome is still the better movie. As for the best ’80s action movie, I’m going to be predictable here and say Die Hard. I watch that movie at least twice a year. Perfect script.
VincentGrayson: I’m curious as to what prompted you to use Islam as the basis of the fantasy religion in God’s War (if indeed that was your intention). It seems like most fantasy novels that use religion in major way are pretty clearly anchored in Judeo-Christian traditions (if obfuscated by their own unique terms/gods/etc), so it struck me as an unusual (and enjoyable) choice, especially given the way Islam is often looked upon in the 21st century.
KameronHurley: That was indeed one of the primary reasons, simply because one does not see it much, though I must point out that it’s not at all Islam in the book, but a mix of many religions, to the point where the two primary countries not only have their own unique religions, but a diverse number of sects and interpretations, just the way religion works here. There is work that portrays more-like-real-world-as-it-exists-Islam from folks like G. Willow Wilson and Saladin Ahmed, though, which I highly recommend for folks who want good stories without having bigoted religious hatred spewed at them.
UbiBlargmonster: What is it that interests you about war and genocide?
KameronHurley: People. People interest me a lot: why we are kind, why we are cruel, how we learn the difference, what makes us act in ways contrary to those we’ve been socialized with. When I first started writing I told people I wrote “sword and sociology” stories, because whereas a lot of people only got caught up in the magic system or the technology and geeked out over it, I really geeked out over the ways people interact with each other. How do we decide what’s appropriate behavior? How and why does that change across time and cultures? What would the future look like, or life as we know it, on another planet? I’m incredibly interested in what makes us human. If you pick us up and put us somewhere else, so the environment completely changes, what parts of us are still recognizably human? I often think it will be fewer things than we think. Mass killing has interested me for a very long time. How do you justify the obliteration of people? We’re watching it happen on the news, even today, all the time. How are those folks justifying it? That interests me.
MichaelRUnderwood: Like many others in recent years, I’m trying to actively seek out fantasy and SF by women to compensate for years of reading biased toward almost exclusively reading works by men. What are some works by women you’d recommend, especially works that have inspired and challenged you along the way?
KameronHurley: Honestly, this is one of those questions where I just want to post a list of 300 names, but instead I’ll point to just a few I’m reading right now: Elizabeth Bear’s Range of Ghosts, Lauren Beukes’s Zoo City, Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s Scale-Bright, and my re-read of Candas Jane Dorsey’s Black Wine, which is fabulous, is a good place to start. Also, hey, I do have a list of cool stuff, women and others, here!
SkyCyril: Do you have a favorite Chipotle order?
KameronHurley: Fajita burrito bowl, no rice, no beans, half steak, half chicken, xtra fajita veggies, mild salsa, sour cream, cheese, guac, lettuce. Call it the Kameron Hurley Special.
Tomolly: What’s your favorite board game? Favorite sport? Which superpower would you pick?
KameronHurley: I really like playing Elder Signs, which is the cooperative board game where you hunt down Cthulu monsters while trying not to go insane or get eaten. It’s great. I like boxing. Superpower… the ability to pick up on social cues better than I do. Extroversion. Yeah, being extroverted would be a great super power.
Ristea: Kameron, can you talk a bit about when you knew that you wanted to be a (fiction) writer and what steps you took to make that a reality?
KameronHurley: I think the Persistence post really answers this best. Being a writer, writing for a living, is one long persistence game. Everyone wants you to quit. Quite often, you want to quit. You get kicked down. You come up swinging. You keep going. Either you are committed to it, or you aren’t. You either want it, or you don’t. I chose to keep getting up. That’s the trick to anything, really: keep getting up until you’re dead and you’ll live an interesting life.
iDontEvenOdd: Is there any plan to revisit the God’s War world? Either in form of back story, side story or just compilation of short story. It just feels the world is too rich not to explored further.
KameronHurley: I wrote a novelette set in that world called The Body Project in January, which you can pick up on Amazon or read for free at the Del Rey UK blog. As of right now, I don’t have any plans to write more books unless some nutty thing happens, like HBO picks it up as a series. We’re just not seeing a huge market for it. I’d love to return to it, and I do have a partial outline for a three book series taking place in that world 25 years after the end of Rapture, but right now, publishers are looking for other type of work from me. That said: publishers! Want more Nyx books? Call me!
MosesSiregarIII: Also, I would like to know your favorite bad action movie from the 90s. Yep, that’s right. Curveball, Hurley!
KameronHurley: Easy, my friend. Neon City. It juuuuuust squeezes into that decade, having come out in 1991, but has all the delicious cheesy sci-fi goodness of a fine bad 80’s post-apocalypse movie.
Witthehoid: How does The Mirror Empire approach and explore your views on feminism?
KameronHurley: Everyone’s work says what they think of the equality, or not, of particular types of people. It’s in how we decide to construct our fantastic societies, and whose stories we choose to tell within those societies. What I believe comes across in the types of stories I write, the heroes I focus on the, the cultures they come from, just as it does for any writer.
UbiBlargmonster: Since writing “We Have Always Fought,” have you seen any improvements or changes in the narrative about women in books/movies/games? Are there any authors you would recommend as good examples of challenging the common stereotypes?
KameronHurley: Oh, you know—same as it ever was. What is changing is people’s awareness of these issues. The thing is, when you see the same stories over and over again, they become normalized. You go your whole life seeing people eat babies’ brains and you think, “Oh, that must be totally normal” and then you get people saying, “You know, we haven’t always eaten babies’ brains. In fact, that’s kind of a horrible thing.” And people freak out because eating babies’ brains just looks and feels so normal to you in your society: you’ve got it on TV commercials, people eating chilled brains on movie posters, and you’ve got those easy-twist-off to-go containers of same at the story and it just looks so… normal. But the reality is that cultural behaviors are all constructed. I work in marketing and advertising, and the reason it pays well is because it works. Marketing makes people do things, and the best part about it is that it makes people do things while they actively think they are not affected by it. It gives people the illusion of free choice. It makes them think the behaviors that the marketing taught are totally “normal.” Look up the history of wearing deodorant in the country, or brushing your teeth, or washing your hair once a day. These are highly weird behaviors, and the reason they’ve been normalized, and so many people adhere to them, is because we’ve normalized it through marketing. The stories we tell are no different. The only reason the world of The Mirror Empire looks so weird to people with its consent cultures and polyamory and various genders is simply because we don’t see it in most of our mainstream stories. If everyone was writing what I write, it’d look normal, the way so many broken behaviors we exhibit look normal to us because we present them as such in media.
Feministfireball: What sort of lessons did you take from Nyx’s journey in the Bel Dame books that made The Mirror Empire a better novel?
KameronHurley: I think every writer has their strengths and weaknesses. My strength has always been character and worldbuilding, so I spent a lot of time figuring out plot. The Nyx books were a study in how to write a simple smash and grab plot, and I think I got much better at plotting by the end of the third book. Turns out that was a fabulous thing to figure out before writing Mirror Empire, which is epic in every sense—tons of point of view characters, two worlds coming together, tons of political intrigue and individual characters arcs. What I took away from the God’s War books was a better understanding of how to make plot run, instead of just writing endless travelogues of cool worldbuilding and interesting characters. Great epics are about great stories, and my goal was to pull that off in Mirror Empire on a far grander scale than I’d ever done before.
And finally, as in all good AMAs, we come to liquor:
Jdiddyesquire: Hey Kameron, how does it feel to crush me beneath your heel in the Hugo Balloting? Do my tears taste like Macallan 25?
KameronHurley: Your tears are tasty, Justin. So much cheaper than Macallan, too!
But it was MichaelRUnderwood who came in with the most important question of all: What are your stand-by scotches? And what’s the scotch you’ll buy when you hit the dump trucks of money status in writing?
KameronHurley: I had a fan bring me a bottle of Laphroaig at a signing at Gencon. BEST FAN EVER. THIS IS THE STANDARD BY WHICH ALL OTHER FANS WILL BE JUDGED.
Kameron Hurley fans, take note!