“Chronicles of Alsea” Review & Author Interview: Celebrating Women-Centric Sci-Fi
March 2, 2018 at 11:02 am
A kick-ass spaceship captain. A fearless and compassionate world leader. An anthropologist fascinated by the cultures of other worlds. A strong, honorable warrior with a soft spot for cats. A wise religious scholar with a gift for guidance. A passionate caste leader with seemingly supernatural abilities.
And they’re all women. Welcome to Alsea.
In Fletcher DeLancey’s Chronicles of Alsea series, I not only found the type of story I’m always longing for in science fiction, but one that would become my all-time favorite before I had read through book six—and leave me eagerly awaiting future installments.
The series is something of a hidden gem in the world of sci-fi novels, though many of the books are highly acclaimed and award-winning, for a simple reason: Women-centric sci-fi, and specifically sci-fi featuring romance between women, still tends to function as a “niche” genre. And oh my stars, are these books ever so beautifully and boldly women-centric and romantic! In a series overflowing with merits, from the immersive world-building and masterful plotting to the engrossing suspense and romance, women characters are the driving force at the heart of consistently stunning stories. (Men do exist in the world of Alsea and also appear as compelling characters, but women get the majority of starring roles.)
Not to be dramatic, but reading this series felt like discovering something I’d spent my life waiting for.
The first book, The Caphenon, begins with a riveting first contact scenario, initially from the point of view of inhabitants of the alien planet—Alsea, a world that has not yet developed space-faring technology, but is surprisingly advanced in other ways. Enter Lancer Andira Tal, Alsea’s highest leader—a badass lady, supportive friend, and amazing “politician” (for lack of better term) who I would vote for in an instant. When an enormous spaceship crash-lands into Alsean soil, offering sudden irrefutable proof that they’re not alone in the universe, Lancer Tal meets Gaians (Earth-like humans), including ship captain Ekatya Serrado, who enters the story after making a decision that saved the planet (twice), and her girlfriend Dr. Lyhn Rivers, an anthropologist who has studied Alsea from afar for years. As the story unfolds, these women connect with each other in fascinating ways, with twists and surprises I never anticipated. But as their relationships are evolving, a storm awaits on the horizon—or, well, in space—as a sinister alien race known as the Voloth plans an invasion and bureaucratic red tape seems to stand between the Gaians and aiding Alsea…
And that’s just the beginning of this brilliant, wild ride. (Note: The author reports that a revised edition of The Caphenon will be available soon, and I’m excited to re-read!)
I won’t attempt to delve into the premises of the following five novels, but additional wonderful characters include Lanaril Satran, a wise and compassionate religious leader, Salomen Opah, a passionate caste leader who changes Lancer Tal’s life (and Alsean history), Fianna Vellmar, a sword-throwing extraordinaire who instantly won my heart, and Rahel Sayana, a ferociously brave girl who refuses to compromise on her dreams. As the series progresses and these characters’ journeys intersect, the women grow stronger together, forming lasting friendships and compelling love stories that made my nerd heart soar.
You know how you get excited when two of your favorite characters interact (whether it’s because their relationship is growing or they’re finally meeting each other)? This series evokes that feeling all the time.
Sometimes, when I review great sci-fi, I use phrases like “a breath of fresh air” and/or “dessert.” This series is both of those things and so much more. It’s difficult to properly articulate how meaningful it is to me, personally, to find a fascinating sci-fi/fantasy adventure with women, women’s love stories, and compassion at center stage. What’s more, as an aspiring novelist, I not only learned a great deal from Chronicles of Alsea, but I came away inspired to be more fearless in my own storytelling. What a gift!
In an email interview, I had the pleasure of asking author Fletcher DeLancey a few questions about her writing process and the wonderful world she has created.
AK: One of the many things I love about Chronicles of Alsea is how unapologetically women-centric the stories are—the books are so full of amazing women characters that it’s impossible for me to choose a favorite! What’s your approach to character creation?
FD: First, how fabulous that you can’t choose! Music to a writer’s ears.
I have three wildly differing approaches.
1) Creative kaboom: when a character springs out of my head fully formed, as if they were just waiting for their chance to hop onstage. Lead Templar Lanaril and Lead Guard Vellmar are good examples. They began life as minor characters I needed for a specific plot purpose, but promptly stole their scenes, compelling me to increase their roles and let them grow. I can’t take any credit for this — it’s all them.
2) Careful crafting: when I create an entire backstory in order to understand a character’s motivations before I start writing them. This is what all writing coaches tell you to do. I do it about one-third of the time.
3) Getting to know you: the method I use most often, in which I start out with the bare bones of a character and let her show me who she is as the story progresses. Once the first draft is done and I have a complete feel for that character, I’ll go back through and change dialogue or little bits of motivation to deepen the portrayal from the very beginning.
The most important approach to character creation, I think, is to get out of the way and let your characters grow naturally, without forcing actions or decisions on them in the service of the plot. We’ve all read books where a character does something ridiculous so that Event X can happen, making us smack our foreheads and say, “But she wouldn’t do that!” Adjusting the plot is harder than adjusting the characters, but it’s the only way to stay true to them and make them real.
AK: It’s so exciting and refreshing to read a sci-fi series with multiple F/F romances, particularly because they’re all so compelling and fully realized. Could you describe your process for integrating wonderful love stories so seamlessly within the overall narrative?
FD: Would you believe I’ve never thought of it as a process? It’s more of an outlook, perhaps: in real life, our stories don’t begin and end with romance. I write the same way: romances are part of these characters’ lives, but life doesn’t end with consummation (unless one is an octopus or praying mantis). In fact, it’s after that bit that things start getting really interesting, because love gains power with time. The love in Without A Front: The Warrior’s Challenge changes the course of history. In Catalyst, love enables an impossible act of salvation. Outcaste doesn’t have a typical romance, but it has several different relationships of enormous depth. It reminds us that romantic love isn’t the only kind there is, and that the love of friendship can be powerful enough to change lives and fates.
AK: I noticed that your published fiction began with a series of Star Trek novels. One of my favorite things about fanfiction is how self-indulgent it allows us to be, both as writers and readers—and even though COA isn’t fanfic, it still often feels like reading something written especially for me. Do you find that your original fiction is strengthened by embracing some level of self-indulgence?
FD: Yes, definitely. Because I’m writing what I want to read. I’m not writing for a market. If I wanted to make real cash from my books, they’d be half as long, have men in most of the starring roles, focus more on action and less on character interactions/development, and not concern themselves with long-term themes such as the importance of family and friendships. And I wouldn’t spend time weaving in those intricate layers and between-the-lines meanings. But I’m not running a business; I am putting my heart and soul into storytelling. I believe that shows in the richness of the stories.
AK: Your series beautifully combines both science-fiction and fantasy elements. How do you determine the balance between the sci-fi and fantasy aspects of your storytelling? Is it a challenge to avoid leaning too far either way?
FD: Thank you for that lovely compliment!
This is probably related to the previous question, in that I’m simply writing the stories I want to tell without worrying about which genre they’ll fit into. Wait, let me take that back. I do want to fit into a genre: Literature. I want to write stories that are so good and complex and have such depth that they qualify as literature. Except without the tragic angst and impenetrable prose that we so often associate with that name.
Besides, much of fantasy is simply science that hasn’t yet been properly explained, yes?
AK: Your world-building is absolutely incredible, and the extent to which we’ve been able to explore Alsea through different adventures and perspectives has stunned me at every turn—plus, the glimpses elsewhere in the galaxy have been equally engaging. While I can’t get enough Alsea, I’m wondering: Can we expect future installments to take us to new planets in this fascinating universe?
FD: You can! I’m planning two different series in the near future. One will be a young adult series, one book for each caste, taking place on Alsea. The other will be a series featuring one of our current main characters aboard a new ship, starting the Alseans’ first explorations of the universe around them. Lots of scope for new planets in that one. I’m also thinking I might want to explore the home world of the Voloth Empire…
To see an ultra-nerdy bonus interview question, head over to my blog!