The First Sister is an upcoming debut novel from queer author Linden A. Lewis. The first instalment in an epic space opera trilogy, this book has already received rave reviews and been labelled a must-read for fans of Ann Leckie, Margaret Atwood, Pierce Brown and James S. A. Corey.
Today I had the privilege of chatting with the lovely Linden about The First Sister and queer representation in genre fiction. Check out the book description and our conversation below!
First Sister has no name and no voice. As a priestess of the Sisterhood, she travels the stars alongside the soldiers of Earth and Mars—the same ones who own the rights to her body and soul. When her former captain abandons her, First Sister’s hopes for freedom are dashed when she is forced to stay on her ship with no friends, no power, and a new captain—Saito Ren—whom she knows nothing about. She is commanded to spy on Captain Ren by the Sisterhood, but soon discovers that working for the war effort is so much harder to do when you’re falling in love.
Lito val Lucius climbed his way out of the slums to become an elite soldier of Venus, but was defeated in combat by none other than Saito Ren, resulting in the disappearance of his partner, Hiro. When Lito learns that Hiro is both alive and a traitor to the cause, he now has a shot at redemption: track down and kill his former partner. But when he discovers recordings that Hiro secretly made, Lito’s own allegiances are put to the test. Ultimately, he must decide between following orders and following his heart.
With only a few weeks to go until The First Sister is published, how are you feeling?
Linden Lewis: Like this:
Could you tell us a little about where your idea for the novel came from and if you had any major writing influences?
LL: My inspiration always comes from things I’m reading but also from what’s happening in the world today, so while The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood was one piece of inspiration, the #MeToo movement was another.
The First Sister prominently features LGBTQIA+ representation. Was this difficult to write?
LL: It wasn’t difficult at all! It was, in fact, the most selfish thing I’ve ever written. I simply allowed myself to do whatever I wanted without worrying if it would sell! And honestly, I thought it might find love with a small group of readers, so I’m beyond thrilled that it’s had such a great reception so far.
There has been an increase in queer representation in sci-fi and fantasy over the last few years. Do you think this has a real-world benefit?
LL: Absolutely. I think the more queer rep we see in books and comics, the more we see on TV and in movies. The more we see in media, the more it’ll be accepted by people who have only ever seen queer people as “the other,” not to mention the benefit of young people who feel different than their peers finding themselves in this media. One of my first experiences seeing a queer character was Sailor Uranus in Sailor Moon, and I feel like that cartoon changed my life. What more can media do if it’s given the wide reach of blockbuster movies or an HBO series?
There are quite a few examples of non-binary and gender fluid characters in sci-fi specifically. Is there a risk that this will become a genre trope?
LL: Things only become a trope if they’ve been done to death, so if it does become a trope, that’ll be because so many people have written about it, which means there’ll be a ton of enby and genderfluid stories on bookshelves. I can only be excited about that!
Do you have any inclusive SFF book recommendations for readers?
LL: Oh Lord, so many. I’ll name a few of my favorite recent ones, otherwise we’ll be here all day: Micaiah Johnson’s The Space Between Worlds. Marissa Caruso’s The Obsidian Tower. Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea.
You mentioned on Goodreads that The First Sister explores the dangers of rape culture and sexual assault. Did writing the book lead you naturally to these themes, or was space opera your chosen format to discuss them?
LL: I had two themes I thought would be cool to work with. One: religion in space. Two: a religion where the priests/priestesses weren’t allowed to talk. Once I decided to combine these two elements, the world began to come together in an unexpected way. I asked myself a lot of “What if?” questions, my favorite thing to do when worldbuilding, and it led to the Sisterhood. The themes of rape culture came naturally from it.
Is there a key message or experience you hope that readers will take away from your book?
LL: I think that’ll be for each person to decide. At its most basic, I simply wanted to write a highly inclusive future where readers will feel seen.
I saw on your Instagram that you’re also a cosplayer and larper. Did either of these interests influence your writing at all?
I think my hobbies influence my writing in subtle ways, larping especially. I’ve started playing a lot of “bad guy” characters, which can be hard to do, but it has given me a lot of food for thought when writing the “bad” characters in my novel. I’ve found a lot of inspiration into their motives and what drives them, which I think makes them believable.
The First Sister has two incredible cover designs. Were you involved in the decision process at all, and could you give us some insight into the thought behind the design?
LL: For the US cover, I was asked my opinion at the concept stage and throughout the design process, but I loved what the publisher gave me and didn’t do much other than yell “Yay!” I was a graphic designer before selling this book, so I had a bit more to say about the interior typography. For instance, Hiro’s play button at the beginning of their chapters was designed and put into the original document by me, and it ended up going into the final version. For the UK cover, I only saw it at the end, and I loved it.
It might be an unfair question, but do you have a favourite cover?
LL: I love both my covers for different reasons, and they both have cool vibes, so I don’t really have a favorite.
Not to skip too far ahead, but can you tell us anything about where the trilogy will go next?
LL: I’ll say this without going into spoiler territory: the second book is very much “Lito’s story” out of the trilogy.
The First Sister will be published on 4th August 2020 and is currently available for preorder. Congratulations to Linden on an exciting debut, and my thanks again for participating in the interview!
Linden A. Lewis is a queer writer and world wanderer currently living in Madrid with a couple of American cats who have little kitty passports. Before becoming a full-time writer, Linden held many jobs, including playing a walker on the second-ever episode of THE WALKING DEAD. Tall and tattooed, and the author of The First Sister, Linden exists only because society has stopped burning witches.