Rogues have long been fan favourites in a lot of sci-fi fandoms, from Han Solo and Jim Kirk to Wydrin in The Copper Cat. We love these morally ambiguous trouble-makers at Breaking the Glass Slipper, which is why we are so excited to introduce you to Damian from Alex Harrow’s Empire of Light.
This week on the blog, we ask Alex Harrow why rogues are still so damn lovable, writing queer characters, and how romance and action go so well together.
Why do rogues in space continue to capture our imaginations? And who are your favourite thieving, mercenary characters in SFF?
Maybe part of me just never got over my ten-year-old self realizing that the universe is ever-expanding and I won’t ever be able to see all of it, but I sure want to try. After that realization prompted my first ever existential crisis (which would be one among many), I decided screw realistic dreams: I’m going to be a space pirate. And, like my determination to never grow up, that dream never quite died. I think there’s something universally fascinating about the vastness of space, with which comes a vastness of possibilities, discoveries, and a massive moral gray zone. That’s where space rogues, whether it’s my first sci-fi love Han Solo, found family captains like Firefly’s Mal Reynolds, or badass female warrior princesses like Xena or Dutch from Killjoys come in and make us remember those dreams and the idea that no one should tell you no, ever. They appeal to the parts of us who don’t believe in no-win scenarios, are non-compliant and make sure you know it, and not only get away with it but thrive. When I first started writing, I wanted my characters to do and be all of these things, but I also wanted them to be queer, because if space has no limits and anything is possible, queerness just means even more possibilities, facets, and shenanigans to get up to and that’s just too much fun to pass up.
Empire of Light has been described as a ‘wild ride’ and running at an incredible pace. How important is pace in action-oriented stories? How do you keep things moving quickly while retaining enough character depth?
Empire of Light very much started as a combination of my love of morally gray main characters, action movies, and queerness, all spun up into a futuristic world where my characters are constantly tested to try to keep themselves afloat for another day. In a place like Helos, life never gets boring and certainly doesn’t lack complications, and I wanted to show that in Empire of Light by having my characters both deal with outside conflicts that would have them on a constantly ticking clock, but weave that into all of the internal and emotional conflicts that go along with it. As far as pacing goes, I have a deep and unabiding love for the question “What’s the worst that could possibly happen?” — and then I make that happen. But to really make those punches land, characters also need to have the time to process and figure out what’s next, all while constantly moving forward. As a writer, this kind of balance both fascinates and challenges me and I am constantly learning, because hey, characters need to eat, sleep, and make space for sexytimes, too, and that’s often when the best emotional beats truly hit home.
Romance and action – whoever said they can’t go together! Why do these sub-genres play off each other so well? Why did you want to blend the two?
Romance with a heaping dose of action keeps things moving forward but it also gives characters–and readers–opportunities to form deeper emotional bonds by going through try-fail cycles, and by taking on seemingly insurmountable odds, which in turn tie everyone even closer together. For me, action is where romance and any type of relationship is really put to the test but also gets a chance to deepen and evolve. I love that action adds an often very physical element to romance and characters have to change–and decide which changes are worth it–to make things work. Ultimately, romance paired with action has characters go through so much together that it is bound to make or break (or a little bit of both?) their relationships and love for each other, and to me that’s one of my favorite combos.
Other than Empire of Light (obviously!), what are your favourite queer SFF stories?
I first started writing because I wanted to see more queer main characters in science fiction and fantasy and now, looking at both my reading list and my favorite SFF stories, I’m happy to report that I’m barely reading anything that isn’t queer and honestly, I couldn’t be happier. Personally I’m definitely one of those people who loves whatever they are currently reading and I’m typically reading a physical book, an e-Book, and an audiobook all at the same time, so here are some recommendations for all three categories:
If you’re into hella queer dystopian stories who are full of hope and queerness all across all the spectrums, I couldn’t recommend RoAnna Sylver’s Chameleon Moon any more than I already do. I love basically everything about this book: the hugely intersectional cast, the nuance with which they’re explored, and a dystopian novel that’s actually also full of hope and found families. If you haven’t read it yet, get on that pronto.
Speaking of people I can’t stop gushing about, one of my absolute current favorites is Brooklyn Ray who writes dark witchy novellas, all set in their shared contemporary fantasy world of the Port Lewis Witches. If you’re into the bloodier side of dark magic, disaster boys, and modern witchcraft, check out Darkling and the rest of the Port Lewis Witches books.
Let me finish up with an audio recommendation for fans of alternate history fantasy: Amberlough by Lara Elena Donelly and narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal is the morally gray anti-fascist gay spy story full of 30s burlesque and political intrigue we all need right now. Plus, the third book in the series just came out and finished the trilogy this year so you can binge-listen to all of them!
Why should we be reading Empire of Light? (Pitch us the story!)
If you’ve ever watched shows like Firefly or Killjoys and wanted all the found family shenanigans and thievery but much, much more queer, Empire of Light is here to scratch that itch. It stars gay disaster murder boys, smart-ass revolutionaries with daddy issues, found family, enemies-to-lovers meets lovers-to-enemies, and really, really bad for you magic that will most certainly going to kill you. If you’re lucky.
Empire of Light is very much my response to everyone who used to tell me “gay science fiction doesn’t sell”, or even better, that professor who advised me to “consider what might offend your audience” because she didn’t want to see “any of that gay stuff.” Empire of Light is all of that gay stuff, featuring an assassin turned reluctant hero, the guy with seriously bad magic he loves, and one rather snarky revolutionary, who throws a wrench into everything when he kicks Damian’s ass and demands his help. Oh, and feelings happen. Among lots of explosions.
Alex Harrow is a queer author of science fiction and fantasy with LGBTQ+ protagonists. When not writing queerness with a chance of explosions, Alex is a high school English teacher, waging epic battles against comma splices and misused apostrophes. Their debut science fiction novel, EMPIRE OF LIGHT, released on February 25, 2019.
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.