The following is an interview of Alex Harrow, author of Empire of Light.
Welcome, Alex Harrow, to empathyseries.com! Your novel, Empire of Light, is now available in ebook everywhere and in print from most major retailers. What’s this novel about, and why did you decide to write it?
Hi, and thanks for having me! Empire of Light is my debut adult queer science fiction novel, which I pitch as “Gay Firefly with Magic.” It’s about Damian, who works as an assassin for the Empire to keep his friends, and especially his psychokinetic partner and lover, Aris, safe from their persecution. But when a suave revolutionary named Raeyn kicks Damian’s ass and demands his help, Damian teams up with Raeyn to take down the Empire to protect his friends and save the guy he loves. It’s a book for those who love enemies-to-lovers tropes, fast-paced action scenes, an all-queer-cast, and gritty world building.
I started to write Empire of Light at a time when I desperately wanted to see an action-packed science fiction novel with queer main characters and since I had a really hard time finding any, I decided to write it.
Tell us more about the Voyance series as a whole. How many books do you see being in it, and how many of them have you written to date?
Empire of Light is the first in a planned three-book series and the only one that’s currently written and published, but the sequels have been living in my brain for years now and are dying to be written, so I’m really excited to finally do that. Beyond that, I have also written a couple of short stories in the same world, exploring supporting characters and my goal is to publish them in between the novel-length books.
The series centers Damian’s story and focuses on how he and his friends are dealing with the Voyance, its ramifications, and the changing political landscape around them. I really wanted to explore the idea that revolutions bring on consequences and that you can’t simply “fix” powers as deadly and complex as the Voyance, but that its users are often marginalized or exploited, so that formed the overall arc of the series.
What interested you in writing a series as opposed to a standalone?
I’m one of those readers and authors who gets really wrapped up in their characters, and after I finished Empire of Light initially as a standalone with series potential, I realized that the story of Damian, Aris, Raeyn, and the Voyance was far from over and would take additional books to further explore–and complicate, because I love to write twisty plots and the world of the Voyance is definitely one not easily contained within one book.
Are there any other authors or books that inspired you to create the world in which it takes place?
I love authors who manage to build complex worlds and intriguing supporting casts. In terms of world building, my all-time favorite is probably Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, because I remember reading it as a twenty-year-old and the way she treats gender and its fluidity in her world blew my mind and widened my scope as a writer.
Another writer I will never cease to admire is Seanan McGuire / Mira Grant as her world building, especially in her Mira Grant science fiction novels is so intensely plausible that it never fails to utterly entrance me. Really, I want to be her when I grow up.
Have you always written sci-fi, or have you worked in other genres as well?
I’m a dabbler in all things spec fic, but mostly science fiction and fantasy, as long as it’s queer and full of magic and explosions. Empire of Light as a whole actually toes the line between science fiction and fantasy, and I realized that this is just what this book is and that it might just not quite fit into standard genre expectations, and I’m okay with that.
Beyond that, I’m also working on more space opera science fiction, with a current project for an anthology that’s out in early 2020, which I’m loosely pitching as “Nonbinary Fullmetal Alchemist in Space,” and I’m also working on putting final touches on an alternative history fantasy set in an alternate 1946 Dresden, full of underground queer bars, people who activate abilities through trauma, and an agent who is determined to solve the murder of her partner before she takes the fall for it.
Would you say Empire of Light focuses more on character, classic sci-fi tropes and themes, or the world your characters inhabit? In other words, what really lies at the heart of this story?
Empire of Light is an equal mix of focuses on characters and world building. As an author and a reader, character relationships make or break a book for me, so those definitely take center stage. I loved exploring some of my favorite tropes in this book, but also subverting the hell out of them and people’s expectations in general. Beyond that, the Voyance and the world building surrounding the Empire are definitely at the pulse of this story with the Voyance acting very much like an autoimmune virus that inevitably kills its host, both physically and mentally. Empire of Light explores the different ways in which different characters are trying to deal with this, as well as the ramifications of their actions, because ultimately this is a book about consequences.
What makes this novel stand out from other science fiction reads?
Empire of Light is very much my answer to people who kept insisting that queer science fiction–especially science fiction that is almost solely populated with queer characters–doesn’t have a place in the market. It’s a very fast-paced read that subverts a lot of tropes (which is probably my favorite thing to do as a writer, but also the thing I stress a lot about!). It’s essentially a space opera set on an alternate near-future Earth. It’s space opera in a world where space travel failed, but it still plays on some of the ideas of soft sci-fi, found families, and action-driven plot that is integral to some of my favorite space operas and space westerns.
What do you hope readers take away from Empire of Light after having read it?
This might seem odd, but I actually like it when readers yell at me about “How could you do this?” Maybe I’m just a horrible person, but I really hope readers will identify with my characters, and root for Damian, Aris, and Raeyn, despite, or maybe because of, all their issues. I also wanted to create a story that doesn’t shy away from darker themes apart from the obvious shootings and explosions; I wanted to portray the cost of power, mental health and trauma, and love that is at once passionate and at times misguided. I really hope that this resonates with readers and yes, I’m expecting all caps texts, emails, and reviews. Sorry, not sorry.
What’s next for Alex Harrow, and where can readers find you online?
Right now I’m trying to get into the habit of juggling multiple projects at once, which is something that’s definitely pushing me in new ways. I’m currently working on an anthology piece featuring a nonbinary tattoo and con artist in space for Behind the Sun, Above the Moon, an anthology curated by Brooklyn Ray that’s out in early 2020, featuring exclusively stories by and about transgender and nonbinary people and authors. I’m also about to get my alternate history fantasy that I loosely pitch as “Queer Agent Carter with Monsters” ready for the query trenches.
You can find me online at alexharrow.com, where I update my blog on a twice-per-week basis, and feature interviews with different queer writers every Wednesday, and you can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at @alexharrowsff.
Thanks to Alex Harrow for joining me on empathyseries.com.
Check out the links below to get yourself a copy of Empire of Light!
Damian Nettoyer is the Empire’s go-to gun. He kills whoever they want him to kill. In exchange, he and his rag-tag gang of crooks get to live, and Damian’s psychokinetic partner and lover, Aris, isn’t issued a one-way ticket to an Empire-sanctioned lobotomy.
Then Damian’s latest mark, a suave revolutionary named Raeyn, kicks his ass and demands his help. The first item on the new agenda: take out Damian’s old boss—or Raeyn will take out Damian’s crew.
To protect his friends and save his own skin, Damian teams up with Raeyn to make his revolution work. As Aris slips away from Damian and his control over his powers crumbles, the Watch catches on. Damian gets way too close to Raeyn, torn between the need to shoot him one minute and kiss him the next.
With the Empire, Damian had two policies: shoot first and don’t ask questions. But to save the guy he loves, he’ll set the world on fire.
Alex Harrow is a genderqueer, pansexual, and demisexual author of queer science fiction and fantasy. Alex’ pronouns are they/them. When not writing queerness with a chance of explosions, Alex is a high school English teacher, waging epic battles against comma splices, misused apostrophes, and anyone under the delusion that the singular ‘they’ is grammatically incorrect.
A German immigrant, Alex has always been drawn to language and stories. They began to write when they realized that the best guarantee to see more books with queer characters was to create them. Alex cares deeply about social justice and wants to see diverse characters, including LGBTQ+ protagonists, in more than the stereotypical coming out story.
Alex currently lives in Utah with their equally geeky wife, outnumbered by three adorable feline overlords, and what could not possibly be too many books.Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexHarrowSFF.