Author Interview: Karen Osbourne
Big corporations are often the bad guys in science fiction stories. There's Wayland-Yutani in the Alien movies, Umbrella in the Resident Evil games, and now the Aurora Company in Karen Osbourne's new sci-fi space opera novel, Architects of Memory (paperback, Kindle). In the following interview about it, Osbourne explains what inspired and influenced this epic tale, and why Architects is only half the story.
Let's start with a plot overview: What is Architects of Memory about?
Architects of Memory is set in a future where corporations, not governments, have colonized space — and they run it like a business.
Indentured salvage pilot Ash Jackson is threading a very thin needle after the alien war that killed her fiancé and ruined the company she hoped to join as a citizen. If her new company finds out she has a terminal illness, she'll be tossed out of the program, and won't qualify for the health care that might lead to a cure for her condition, and she'll never see her new love, her ship's captain, ever again. But that's nothing compared to what happens after she uncovers a strange alien weapon in the wreckage of the Tribulation battlefield. Every company wants it and — after it threatens to turn Ash into a living weapon — every company wants her.
It sounds like Architects of Memory is a dystopian sci-fi space opera story.
I tend to think of it as a fairly classic space opera, but you could absolutely say it's a dystopia in the same way as we're living in a dystopia today, when CEOs of massive corporations make per hour what their frontline employees make in six months.
Aurora Company, the corporation to which Ash is indentured, made it through the war with the Vai because they had a solid financial plan: they didn't overleverage, they built smart, they did all the right things corporations need to do to survive disruption. They have massive starships and huge planetary supply chains. They're very well positioned in the market and they could absolutely pay everyone a living wage. But they don't. And that puts most of their resources in the grabby hands of the very few.
It also sounds like Architects of Memory may have been somewhat inspired by current events.
I actually started writing Architects during the second Obama administration, when we were a few years into the Affordable Care Act. All my non-insured friends were finally getting insurance and seeing doctors and dentists, and I wondered if a story about what happens when you don't have health insurance might be out of date. Can you imagine?
No, not at all. So, what writers do you see as being a big influence on Architects Of Memory?
I love Elizabeth Bear's early space operas, like Hammered and Pinion, which showed that you can have a deft hand with language and still tell an exciting, fast, high-octane story. Other (spiritual!) influences include C.J. Cherryh's Cyteen, Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice, and Kameron Hurley's The Geek Feminist Revolution, which is not a novel but a killer collection of essays. There's also Nnedi Okorafor's Binti, Becky Chambers' The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, and The Expanse series by James S.A. Corey. I can also include so much short fiction from places like Uncanny, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Strange Horizons, Escape Pod and more — way too much to get into detail with here.
How about non-literary influences; do you think Architects Of Memory was influenced by any movies, TV shows, or video games?
100% yes! I'm a huge fan of crew-based SF. I'm a massive Trekkie and a huge fan of Stargate, The Expanse, and Babylon 5. No matter how old I get, there's always going to be a character-hungry, television-gobbling nineties teenager somewhere in my work remembering what it was like to watch Jean-Luc Picard match wits with Romulans or Xena step forward with her iconic scream or Delenn confront the Grey Council for the first time.
Speaking of while, along with being a writer, you are also a filmmaker. Why did you decide to tell this story with words instead of pictures?
I've primarily made documentaries and shorter films, so I don't really have the experience to do a blockbuster myself. Or the money. Or the connections. On top of that, novels are my first love. I can write anything, go anywhere, and meet anyone I like in a novel. All I need is my laptop or AlphaSmart. I would absolutely love to get my hands on a Hollywood project at some point, but right now I'm concentrating on prose.
Now, Architects of Memory is the first book of two. Do you know what the other book will be called and when it might be out?
I've already written the sequel, Engines of Oblivion, which currently has a release date in the first quarter of next year. It concerns the direct fallout of the events of Architects of Memory in the galactic market, and it's wild.
Finally, if someone enjoys Architects Of Memory what sci-fi space opera of someone else's would you suggest they check out while waiting for Engines of Oblivion to come out?
I think people would really enjoy Elizabeth Bear's Ancestral Night, Marina Lostetter's Noumenon, K.B. Wagers' Indranan War and Farian War trilogies, and Arkady Martine's A Memory Called Empire and A Desolation Called Peace. I would certainly recommend anything by C.J. Cherryh and Ann Leckie. I also highly enjoyed recent work by Derek Kunsken and Valerie Valdes. I'm also going to spend a ton of time pushing classics like Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan books. If it's new, and it's in space, read it!
Paul Semel has been writing about books (and video games, and music, and movies...) for more than twenty-five years. For more of his author interviews, visit his website, paulsemel.com.