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So, out today is an anthology called Future Visions: Original Science Fiction Stories Inspired by Microsoft.

Check out the authors involved! Elizabeth Bear! Greg Bear! Jack McDevitt! Seanan McGuire! Wait, who’s this Ann Leckie person?

It’s me!

Yes, there’s a new, by me story in this anthology, which you can download starting today. There should be direct links to the various places you can download it, if you click on that link above. And, I know it says “near future” but honestly, near future isn’t really my preferred playground, so that’s not really what I gave them. But, you know, I had a good time writing it and I hope you enjoy it! And I don’t doubt you’ll enjoy the other stories.

Incidentally. While I was working on my story, I had my usual problems with titles. I finished the thing and was still casting around for a good title, and a friend of mine said, “Hey, why not look through Elise Matheson’s stuff!” Because Elise makes lovely jewelry and often gives it wonderful names. The names are half the fun, really–I’ve done a couple of her Haiku Earring Parties at Wiscon, where you pick up a pair of earrings off the table and Elise gives you a title. Grab an index card, write a haiku that fits that title, give that to Elise for her approval and the earrings are yours. It’s great fun.

Anyway. I scrolled through Elise’s shinies page. And I came across a pair of earrings called “Everything a World Can Hold.” Lovely title, right? Lovely earrings. It didn’t quite fit the story, but it was the best I could do. So I typed that across the top of the ms and sent it in, with a note that I wasn’t sure about the title and would be more than willing to entertain other suggestions.

The editor replied that he couldn’t wait to read the story, but he thought it was a fabulous title! Which it is, of course. Just maybe not for that particular story. The editor, once he’d read the story, admitted as much. After some discussion, we arrived at “Another Word for World.”

Oh, and I bought the earrings.

Anyway. Future Visions: Original Science Fiction Stories Inspired by Microsoft. Check it out!

This is partially a writing advice post, and partially the beginnings of an answer to several questions I frequently receive about my work.

So what I want to talk about is word choice. One of (several) common problems I saw in slush, back when I was reading slush, was iffy word choices. That is, words that are dictionary-correct, but wrong for the context.

At least some folks will take issue with my having said that. “Ann, if the definition is correct then how can it be the wrong word?”

Obviously the wrongness of the choice doesn’t lie within the dictionary definition. But what a word means isn’t confined to its dictionary definitions.

The thing is, we mostly don’t learn our vocabularies by reading dictionaries. We learn words by hearing people talk, and by reading. When we were babies, we learned by hearing others around us talk, and watching what they did while they were talking, and by repeating things and discovering that particular words would elicit particular reactions. So one of the ways words mean things is by their associations–with real objects, with other words, with the circumstances in which we first heard or read those words, or the circumstances and context in which we often or nearly always hear those words. For most of the words we use on a daily basis, and quite a few others we use a bit less often, the most painstakingly accurate dictionary definitions are nothing more than schematics of our experience of their meaning. Indeed, the dictionary definitions are derived from those experiences and associations, not the other way around.

This is one of the reasons, by the way, that incautious use of a thesaurus can lead a writer astray. There aren’t actually any real synonyms–that is, you can’t just freely replace any instance of “purse” with “receptacle” even though the thesaurus lists them as synonyms.

Anyway. For most of us, we don’t experience words as distillations of their dictionary definitions, but as a set of associations. If I say “table” you’ve got some idea of what a table is, formed either by your personal experience with tables, or ideal cultural images of tables. Or, more likely, both. If I say “operating table” you get another very specific image, likely formed by movies or TV unless you work in the medical profession or have a lot of experience with healthcare.

Let’s imagine I’ve written a story with, oh, science fictional tables that do things. Like, oh, a Star Trek kind of replicator table. Or, really, it doesn’t matter. What matters is, in this scene there are several tables, but only one of them works. Now we write this sentence:

She put the tray of tools on the operating table.

Let’s even grant that context has been sufficiently established–yes, the reader understands that we’re in a table repair shop, and that all the other tables in the room do not, in fact, work. Still, that phrase, operating table is going to pull up associations that are entirely inappropriate for the scene. I’m not trying to associate my replicator tables with surgery (I might want that, on another occasion, but not this time).

The dictionary definition of “operating” will not help me here. I need another word. Or another set of actions. (Even “working table” might not be best–is it that the table works, or that it’s a table for working on? Dictionary definition says “absolutely correct.” Actually reading the sentence says “ambiguous meaning.” You can spend quite some time settling on the best sentence to describe this action. Personally, I think one ought to spend that time, and personally I aim to reduce that sort of ambiguity wherever I find it, or make sure that when it’s there, I mean it to be. Your work, though, your call.)

So, it’s extremely important to be aware of the associations words have, because your reader is going to be experiencing those as they read. And you can get a lot of mileage out of choosing the word with the right association. If our table story were, say, a horror story in which a character was going to be disassembled by a replicator table, then “She put the tools on the operating table” might be exactly the sentence I want, to set some associations ringing right away. Or maybe not, right? Maybe that would still be clumsy. The only way to know is to think about how it might or might not work for me, if I were the reader.

Which brings me to my next point. Our ideas about what words mean, and the associations words have for us, are all a product of our personal histories–our families, our families’ in-jokes and private conversational tics, where and how we went to school, the version of English that dominated where we grew up, the books we read, the shows or songs we’ve seen and heard, the kinds of things our friends talk about. There is no universal experience of a word. You can mostly (mostly) rely on really common words, that most of us use every day. Most people will have the same (or same enough) set of associations with the word “table.” Being aware of those common associations, paying attention to them and choosing words accordingly, will get you part of the way, keep you from the clumsiest of missteps.

But you want more than that. Right? The problem is, not all your readers will have the same set of associations.

The most obvious example of this is one I tried explaining to my daughter, years ago, when I was telling her that words are like plants–the word itself is leaves and flowers, but its roots under the soil are entangled with other roots, and you can’t pull on the flower without also tugging on those other plants. In the right circumstances, you can say one word and your listener will hear some of those others more or less faintly in the background. “In the right context,” I said, “if you say the word spice to a science fiction reader, they will instantly think of sandworms. ” She was dubious.

A while later, we were walking somewhere and were talking about water and rain, and walked past a bakery, they must have been making fruit pies, or cinnamon rolls, or something, because there was a delicious waft of cinnamon and cloves, and I said, “Ooh, I smell spice.” Without meaning it to happen, the memory of Dune came to my mind. And my daughter said, “Mom! That thing with the words, it just happened!”

Of course, she’d read Dune. If she hadn’t, she wouldn’t have had that same experience I’d just had. I could have said “Ooh, I smell spice!” to my mother-in-law, and (lovely mother-in-law though she is) she would have had no reaction, or only thought about food.

So, this is my point–the language we speak isn’t like a programming language, where definitions are set and meaning follows an absolutely logical sequence and there’s some perfectly logical way to decode the meaning of any word or sentence. (No one has actually died in the shower from not being able to exit the loop on the back of the shampoo bottle. Indeed, the joke is funny because it never has and never would happen, because human languages don’t work like computer languages.) The dictionary definitions of words are only the surface of what they mean–but what’s below that surface is different from person to person, even if some meanings are common to some groups of people.

As a writer, your work is to some extent made more difficult by this. But if you turn it around and look at it as a tool to be used, you can get some really cool effects from it. Just, not every reader is going to be in a position to experience the effect. But that’s all right, that’s just life. That’s how it is.

The writing advice here is, think very carefully about the resonances and associations of even common words, while you write. Be sure the echoes of your words are the ones you want. Always remembering, of course, that some readers won’t hear them at all or will hear different ones, but that can’t be helped.

The answer to the questions about my work? Well, if a dictionary-correct word isn’t producing the set of associations I want, I’m going to either try to manipulate the context so that it’s closer to what I want (by, say, using other words in immediately previous sentences to prime the association I’m after), or choose a different one. So if you’ve wondered why I chose one word and not another, that would be why.

First up–a really nice writeup of the Ancillary trilogy at Slate:

The protagonist of the series calls herself Breq; she was once an ancillary and is the sole survivor of the destruction of the Radchaai ship Justice of Toren. Breq is One Esk Nineteen, a single segment of Justice of Toren, but she also is the A.I. Justice of Toren—its last remnant. If that seems hard to wrap your head around, well, that’s rather the point: At the heart of Leckie’s series is a profound grappling with the way identity—our very sense of self—is imagined, is regulated, and shifts over time.

And at Interfictions, “Translating Gender: Ancillary Justice in Five Languages“:

After reading a comment by the Hungarian translator, Csilla Kleinheincz, posted on Cheryl Morgan’s blog, we wanted to know more about this. We invited the translators of the novel into Bulgarian, German, Hebrew, Hungarian and Japanese to discuss the process, with particular interest in the translation of gender. What emerges is an insight into the work of translators and the rigidity and versatility of grammatical gender in the face of non-standard demands. Where necessary, translators turned to innovative and even inventive ways to write their languages.

And last–a link to my Etsy store. I have ordered another batch of Awn pins, plus a batch of Spoiler pins. I still have some Translator Dlique pins left. Once the Awn pins arrive here, I’ll start listing them again (and the others as well). I’ll do the same thing I’ve been doing–I’ll list them in batches of twenty, I’ll combine shipping if you order more than one pin, and I’ll leave a listing up a day or two before I tweet or blog or tumbl about it. In the past, they’ve gone really quick once I’ve tweeted! So if you’re one of the folks who keeps just missing them, favorite the shop and check back regularly probably starting in about two weeks.

So, that was an eventful couple of weeks! I’ve been thinking “I should totally write a blog post about this/that/the other thing” and then realizing that actually I just want to not do anything for a while.

Which means that I’ve got kind of a list of things to share. Which, okay. List!

1) I have a Facebook account, but I pretty much never use it. Lots of people want to friend me on Facebook lately, though! Which is nice and all, but.

So, I made an Ann Leckie page on Facebook. I will try to remember to post things to it. But that’ll be better than my actual Facebook account, which I basically ignore unless someone tags me or sends a friends request.

2) Last week, Ancillary Mercy hit the New York Times Bestseller List! Only for the one week, and it was the very bottom of the list, but it counts! I am now officially a best-selling author, and AM is a bestseller. Which is kind of super awesome.

3) You may have noticed there are a number of songs in the trilogy. A few of them are real, existing songs, but many of them aren’t. The always awesome Foz Meadows has set “It All Goes Around” to a tune of her own, and then that kind of started some stuff. I’d give a bunch of links here, but Abi Sutherland at Making Light has gathered them all together, including a link to Foz’s tune, so I’ll link to that.

4)For those of you keeping tabs on my Etsy store, well, I ran out of Awn Elming pins halfway through my tour the other week. I’m ordering more today, but it will take a couple of weeks for those to come in. Once they do, I’ll probably start listing batches again. And the Translator Dlique pins, and the Spoiler pins as well.

5)Big thanks to Subterranean Books and the University City Library for hosting my Ancillary Mercy release party. Cookies were eaten, wine was drunk, books were signed, and it was a great evening.

I think that’s it, actually. Well, I went to ICON40 and had a fabulous time, but that really ought to be a post of its own. Maybe not today, though, so let me just say that ICON was a great time and I really appreciate all the hard work of concom and all the volunteers to make it such a wonderful weekend.

Wanna come meet me? Maybe hear me read a bit, maybe ask me a question or two? Wanna buy a copy of Ancillary Mercy and have me sign it?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, consider coming to the University City Library at 7pm this evening.

Subterranean Books (not the publisher, the St. Louis bookstore) will have copies for sale, and if I get my act together there will be cookies.

See you there!

So, over on Tumblr–where I mostly just do silly stuff, so you’re probably not missing much if you don’t follow me there, unless you’re into the silly stuff–over on Tumblr, as I was saying, there is this thing about cinnamon rolls. It started, I do believe, with this Onion story: Beautiful Cinnamon Roll Too Good For This World, Too Pure.

Know Your Meme tells us that it “subsequently became an exploitable catchphrase used on Tumblr to describe adorable, charismatic or otherwise sympathetic fictional characters.”

So. Also over on Tumblr, user oneesk19 posted this.

Yes, folks, that is cinnamon roll flavored vodka. And I wanted to reblog it and say something so badly. But I could not. Because nobody would get it. And maybe nobody will get it now, but I don’t care.

As it happens, cinnamon roll flavored vodka is in fact readily available in my area. So, yeah.

2015-09-28 13.12.35

So. Turns out, cinnamon roll flavored vodka tastes pretty nasty. It’s really sweet, and then there’s this sudden wave of fake vanilla and you wonder why you ever thought drinking it would be a good idea. The company’s website cheerfully advises having it with orange juice. I have made the experiment, and while (somewhat mysteriously) it tastes noticeably more like an actual cinnamon roll that way, the actual cinnamon roll taste in question is still pretty horrible. I’m not sure what I’ll do with the rest of the bottle, honestly. But it was too amusing not to try it out, anyway.

So, the tour was a thing that happened. In fact, it was an awesome thing that happened!

Along with Greg Bear, I hit five cities in five days. I was really glad to be sharing the tour with Greg, since he’s done this book tour thing a few times before and knew what was what, and he was generally just great to travel and hang out with.

I met a lot of fabulous people, and signed a lot of books. I was given fabulous gifts–the artist who made this:

Ors Diorama

was at one signing, and actually gave me the amazing original. Really, amazing is an understatement.

(And now I see that when I pin stuff from a tumblr search, it links back to the tumblr search page, and not the artist, which means I need to maybe be more conscientious about adding comments or tags to credit people, hmm. Sorry about that, didn’t realize until now, though I probably should have.)

Another artist gave me this:

2015-10-14 08.02.53

Yes, that would be a picture of Brother Her-Breath-Contains at his daily devotions to She-Commands-Me-And-I-Obey. Awesome, right?

And yet another has produced embroidered Emanation bookmarks:

2015-10-14 08.02.47

And that’s just the art! I also got delicious pumpkin bread, tea cookies, and some tea the giver told me was Daughter of Fishes, which from the (mmm delicious) flavor is some kind of oolong.

It was an absolute delight meeting everyone who came to the various signings.

It was also completely exhausting. I was basically on an airplane every day. Most stops I wasn’t even at for a full 24 hours. I got home Monday night and collapsed in a heap, sat on the couch staring for a while and then went to bed. Spent Tuesday recovering. Today I have errands to run, and then…I’m off again! This time to ICON. Which I am looking forward to–not only will I be in the same place for more than a day or so, but I’ll be there in the company of a lot of fabulous folks.

Some folks asked me about the etsy store–I probably won’t be listing things until after October. Partly because this October is incredibly busy for me, and partly–a more recent development–because I have in fact run out of Awn Elming pins. I still have some Translator Dlique pins and some Spoiler pins for giving out at ICON, and I’ll have badge ribbons with me (unless something goes awry in my packing). But it takes a couple of weeks to get pins, even if I order them right away. So those won’t be available for a bit. But when things calm down, I’ll be listing what pins I have. So if you really want a Dlique pin or a Spoiler pin and don’t have a chance to get one in person, I do intend to make them available on etsy.

Anyway. Thanks again to everyone I met during the tour–it was a pleasure and a delight to meet you. And I’m looking forward to seeing folks in Cedar Rapids!


Regular readers will know that I used to mostly write short fiction. Which I’ve kind of missed since starting in on the novel thing, actually. But as it happens, there will be some new short fiction from me very soon!

Basically I have a story in a new anthology called Future Visions: Original Science Fiction Stories Inspired by Microsoft, coming out on all major eBook platforms for free on November 17th. Authors were given inside access to a Microsoft Research lab; the visits served as inspiration for new short fiction.

The book features eight award-winning, acclaimed writers of science fiction, and also includes a short graphic novel and an original illustration for each story.

To learn more, go to and/or follow the hashtag #FutureVisionsBook on Twitter.

And look for online news from Blue Delliquanti in the next few days about her contribution to the anthology!

It’s Book Day! Ancillary Mercy should have downloaded to your device by now, if you pre-ordered the ebook, and bookstores should have the paper version on their shelves.

This post is visible due to the magic of WordPress scheduling–I myself am not home right now. I’m in Seattle! If you are too, you could come to University Temple United Methodist Church The Sanctuary, 1415 NE 43rd Street, Seattle, WA at 7pm to meet me, and also Greg Bear, who has a book coming out today too–Killing Titan.

Actually, quite a few people have books out today. Ferrett Steinmetz’ The Flux is out, the sequel to Flex. I enjoyed Flex quite a bit, but haven’t had a chance to read The Flux yet.

Also, Kameron Hurley’s Empire Ascendant, sequel to The Mirror Empire.

And probably other books–books tend to come out on Tuesday.

Anyway! If you’ve been waiting for Mercy, you should be able to get it now! I hope you enjoy it!