When you talk to science fiction authors about their influences, some names come up all the time: Bradbury, Asimov, and, if the book is funny, Adams. But in the following email interview about her sci-fi space opera Liquid Crystal Nightingale (paperback, Kindle), writer Eeleen Lee drops names not usually heard in this context: Calvino, Levi, and Borges.
To start, what is Liquid Crystal Nightingale about, and when and where is it set?
Pleo Tanza, an asteroid miner’s daughter, wishes to run as far away as she can from Chatoyance, her homeworld, due to a double family tragedy. But she gets caught up in the age-old intrigues and machinations of a prominent Chatoyant family. Plus, there’s a threat to her home system from a resurgent alien enemy known as the Artisans.
Where did you get the idea for Liquid Crystal Nightingale and how did that idea evolve as you wrote this novel?
The novel began as an exercise: write about a few fictional cities, à la Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. As soon as I started written about a city that looked like a cat’s eye from space I couldn’t stop. The style and tone were initially very literary, reminiscent of Primo Levi’s The Periodic Table and the stories of Jorges Luis Borges.
Liquid Crystal Nightingale sounds like a sci-fi space opera. Is that accurate or is there a better way to describe it, genre-wise?
It’s a fair description. The novel as a space opera could be likened to a Venetian farsa, which was a short opera performed with some dance interludes. Compared to other weightier space opera tomes, mine is a little shorter. And just like a farsa, dance is included, but with lashings of noir and biopunk.
While Liquid Crystal Nightingale is your first novel, you’ve written a number of short stories. But are there any writers, or novels, that were a big influence on Liquid Crystal Nightingale but not on anything else you’ve written?
Yoon Ha-Lee, William Gibson, Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space novels, Tom Toner’s The Promise Of The Child, Ann Leckie, China Mieville’s Bas Lag novels, and some recent John le Carre. But I try not to crowd my canvas too much because as a writer you need space to work and play around.
How about non-literary influences; are there any movies, TV shows, or video games that had a big influence on Liquid Crystal Nightingale?
The gemological motifs owe some to my formative years in London: gazing into shop window displays and especially jewelry shop window displays. Portal for inspiring the weird guns in my novel, albeit they are more biomimetic. The films of Carlos Saura and Bruce Lee inspired the fighting art, fla-tessen.
The novel’s aesthetical inspiration came from the works of Syd Mead and Chris Foss. With the worldbuilding, I drew from 1970s science fiction concept art, and also how sensory it is. But for Chatoyance I visualized a lived-in, rundown environment, the sort of major city grappling with its past glory and uncertain future.
And this is my last question about your influences: You work as an editor. How do you think editing other people’s stories influenced how you wrote Liquid Crystal Nightingale?
Aided and abetted the process: I tend to pay too much attention to minor story details, sometimes to the exclusion of everything else. But for Liquid Crystal Nightingale I had two excellent editors: David Moore and Kate Coe, so I learned a lot from working with them.
Now, as you know, some science fiction novels are stand-alone stories, while others are parts of larger sagas. What is Liquid Crystal Nightingale?
It’s a stand-alone but with possibilities for a duology and a prequel left wide open. The reason for this depends on sales.
If that happens, do you have a name for this series?
The Gachalan Duology, after the sun in the novel.
Earlier I mentioned that you’d written some short stories. Are any of them connected to Liquid Crystal Nightingale?
Those stories are horror and weird fiction set in Malaysia, and unrelated to Liquid Crystal Nightingale. They were already collected in their own volume 13 Moons, published by Fixi Novo in 2014.
I also asked earlier if Liquid Crystal Nightingale had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or video games. But has there been any interest in adapting Liquid Crystal Nightingale into a movie, show, or game?
So far I haven’t heard of any interest. But a short and single-season TV show such as Westworld or The Expanse would be ideal. There’s quite some immersion needed on the part of the audience with the multiple characters and changes in Chatoyant locations.
As for a game, such immersion would work well on a smaller-scale. A sort of mini Eve Online, with various alien and human groups jockeying for power.
If Liquid Crystal Nightingale was made into a TV show, who would you want them to cast as Pleo and the other main characters?
I really would prefer a newcomer in the role of Pleo so there’s no previous baggage brought to the role. Then the other character roles could be filled such as: [Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker‘s] Oscar Isaac’s weathered infallibility for Senior Investigator Dumortier, [Crazy Rich Asians‘] Michelle Yeoh as his superior, [Hobbs & Shaw‘s] Vanessa Kirby’s grace shot through with dangerous charisma for Saurebaras.
Finally, if someone enjoys Liquid Crystal Nightingale, what sci-fi space opera novel of someone else’s should they read next and why that?
I recommend Derek Kunsken’s The Quantum Evolution series [The Quantum Magician and The Quantum Garden] and A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine, both of which convey that prerequisite widescreen impact of space opera.