The conversation that sparked this post is pretty old by now, and was not ever at any point directed to my attention–which I appreciate–and so I will not be linking to it. And honestly, it was a perfectly fine conversation that I had no objection to. But I just wanted to grouse a little bit, about one small thing.

And I want to say up front, I have no problem with any reader having any opinion of my work that seems good to them. Even less problem with people discussing my work. If I run across such conversations I generally try not to get involved, unless I’m tagged in, or someone says something like “I really would love to hear Ann Leckie answer this question!” And even then I might not answer unless directly addressed. So, discuss away, I take no offense.

But every now and then I get a little irk on. And in this conversation, it was asserted that in order to really understand Ancillary Justice it was important to understand its antecedents–the works it was descended from. So of course one had to know how it related to Iain Banks.

Now, Banks was a great loss to the field. And I can see why people compare my work to his. But Banks’ work was not the direct ancestor of mine. Before I finished AJ I had only ever read Consider Phlebas, and that after a fair amount of foundational work had already been done for my own book. (I’ve now also read The Hydrogen Sonata, and want very much to read more of his work.) Banks was not someone I felt I was in conversation with while writing the Ancillary books.

If you want a direct ancestor to AJ, you want to be looking at the work of C.J. Cherryh. And I can’t help but notice that though some folks have pointed this out, it doesn’t seem to stick.

Maybe the people who keep not mentioning Cherryh haven’t read her. If that’s the case, I urge them to remedy that ASAP.

Thank you for listening to my tiny moment of annoyance.

22 thoughts on “Ancestry

  1. May I link?

    If you have not read Cook’s The Dragon Never Sleeps, you may find it interesting.

    1. Ann says:

      You absolutely may link. And I’ll check that out–I read one of the Black Company books a while ago and enjoyed it. I really ought to read more Cook.

    2. D
      David says:

      Although I’ve read The Dragon Never Sleeps, I’d say Cooks best works were the Starfishers trilogy and the related “Passage At Arms” which is a very good take on Das Boot (in space).

      I really can’t tell you how many times I’ve read these over the years, I still have the original copies from the 80’s but they’re falling apart now. Fortunately, they were recently re-released in both print and e-book formats.

      Sadly, I could never get into the Black Company books and The Dragon just didn’t do much for me.

      p.s.: Also a huge fan of Banks, Asher, Morgan, Reynolds, and Erikson (Malazon books).

  2. n
    nm says:

    Which of Cherry’s works, or which set of them, would you say were influences on the Ancillary books? I have only read in her Alliance/Union world, not any of the other sets/series.

    1. Ann says:

      First answer to that question is always Foreigner.

      1. Fade Manley says:

        Foreigner is the right answer to many excellent questions, I find.

        1. Ann says:


          1. Kiri Morgan says:

            I want to be Ilisidi when I grow up.

          2. Ann says:

            So do we all!

    2. n
      nm says:

      I’ll have to go read Foreigner, then. I’ve been reluctant to venture outside of the area of her work that I’ve read, because there’s So Much of it, and I’m not going to make that kind of commitment to a writer whose style can sometimes wear on me. (Her POV characters can all start to sound the same.) But I’m struck by her world-building.

  3. Jenn says:

    I can certainly see Cherryh just in the vastness of the universe. Few writers even try to do this, but it is so lovely not to feel like you will fall out of the world if you get to close to its walls.

  4. It’s kind of funny that you mention Banks. I’ve been steadily making my way through his books. I’m trying to finish Look to Windward, before Ancillary Mercy comes out. I reached 34% while at lunch today…too many other books and hobbies to juggle!

    I had only read Consider Phlebas, before he passed away and decided then and there that I would read them all and have enjoyed them immensely…such scope, depth and character development.

    1. J
      JK says:

      If you like Banks’ Culture books you might also like The Algebraist. While I adore the Culture books and their vision, in many ways I find The Algebraist to be more exciting. It certainly has the most entertaining alien society ever in my opinion.

      I’ll also plug Feersum Endjinn. Not nearly as vast or epic as the Culture or Algebraist, and has dialect/spelling that has some people recoiling in horror, but it is perhaps my favorite Banks book. There is a bit that is so understated it just takes my breath away.

  5. Way way way too many of the big-deal critics and opinion leaders of the SF field have never given Cherryh the time of day, and don’t realize that hers is one of the great serious bodies of SF work, every bit as important as Banks. The Girl Cooties Theory of Literature is, alas, alive and well.

    This is not a slam on Banks, a writer of surpassing importance for me. But I’m amazed and bemused at how persistently invisible Cherryh is.

    1. Ann says:

      Yeah, I’m beginning to be a bit amazed at it myself.

    2. NelC says:

      I’ve gone off Cherryh latterly, for reasons that would be boring to recount here, but I never got the memo that she was supposed to be invisible. Why don’t publishers put this vital information on the covers?

      1. Ann says:

        Yeah, I find it kind of weird actually. Plenty of people read her! And yet.

      2. g
        guthrie says:

        I thought the point was that she is invisible to people who critique and discuss SF/F, especially in the media, usually for money.
        Actual SF fans and readers have been buying and reading her books in bulk for decades.

        (I’m happy a couple of weeks ago I found in a charity shop the first 2 of the Faded Sun trilogy, having gotten the 3rd one all by itself maybe 10 or 15 years ago)

  6. T
    Tony Cullen says:

    Just as a person with a hammer sees every problem as a nail, if you’re a big fan of a particular author, you begin to see their ‘influence’ everywhere. Banks was definitely writing sf in the seventies and eighties – he just couldn’t get any of it published until after The Wasp Factory in 1984. It’s not impossible that he read some CJ Cherryh at the same time, which caused perhaps a smidgeon of influence.
    The point being that your reader was not picking up a Banks influence in Ancillary Justice, but a Cherryh influence in both Banks’ and your works.

    1. Ann says:

      I suspect (but don’t know for certain) that Cherryh isn’t as well-known in the UK as in the US. My evidence, I admit, is pretty much confined to the printing of AJ that included a quote from Elizabeth Bear saying I was “heir to Banks and Cherryh” on the US edition, but in the UK only said “heir to Banks.” Also, of course, Banks is sadly not as prominent in the US as in the UK himself. That’s changing somewhat, fortunately.

      I suspect there’s some convergent evolution going on–ships-as-characters have been a thing for quite some time, and it’s hardly surprising if more than one recent writer decides to explore that territory. It would be easy for things to look similar but have arrived there by very different routes.

      That said, I do like the idea of Banks having read Cherryh, and hope very much that he did, rest his soul.

      1. g
        guthrie says:

        My completely anecdotal evidence re. Cherryh in the UK, based on 20 years of buying 2nd hand books from 2nd hand shops and charity shops, as well as browsing new book shops, is that she wasn’t as well known in the UK as USA. Despite being a fan for those 20 years, it has taken that long to end up with a decent selection of her work, and some of them are American editions either dumped here by an American who was over for a while, or specifically imported for sale. Her books are pretty rare finds.

        Mind you back in the late 70’s/ early 80’s she must have been popular or on some sort of list because the Science Fiction Book Club was printing her works over here, i.e. the Faded Sun trilogy.
        So I suspect, absent actual evidence of sales, that her popularity was high at that time, dropped in the 80’s- 90’s, and has picked up again. Given the timing Banks might have read some of her works before he started getting published, but having read most of his SF, I’m don’t think there is a particularly visible influence.

  7. James says:

    Thanks for the recommendation of Cherryh. As a UK reader Banks has long been top of my list, and whether influenced or not your books have some common ground. Cherryh wasn’t otherwise on my radar here, so I look forward to reading her.

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