Exclusive Interview: “Salvage Right” Co-Authors Sharon Lee & Steve Miller


Like many authors, the husband and wife writing team of Sharon Lee and Steve Miller have often let the story dictate itself, let it and its character decide where to go. Which is how we got their newest one, Salvage Right (hardcover, Kindle), the latest in their ongoing sci-fi space opera series, Liaden Universe®. In the following email interview, Lee and Miller discuss what inspired this new novel, as well as how it willed itself into existence.

Sharon Lee Steve Miller Salvage Right Liaden Universe

You guys previously explained what the Liaden Universe® novels are all about in the interview we did about Trader’s Leap, so let’s cut to the chase: What is Salvage Right about, and when and where does it take place in relation the previous book in the story, Neogenesis?

Sharon: The set-up is that Clan Korval has, through salvage right, come into possession of a space station called Tinsori Light, which is not only very old and in need of repair, it has for centuries been…spatially challenged. Which is to say, because of a Rift in Time and Space — we write space opera; Rifts in Time and Space are an allowed move — it was sometimes in the universe the characters inhabit, and sometimes in the Old Universe, from which the ancestors of those characters escaped (in Crystal Soldier and Crystal Dragon). Tinsori Light is an AI, an agent of the Great Enemy of the Old Universe; his ambition is to subjugate the new universe, and he has been thwarted in this goal by two light keepers: Lorith of the Sanderat (from the Old Universe) and Jen Sin yos’Phelium (of Clan Korval).

Events described in Neogenesis brought Tinsori Light fully into the new universe; at the same time the AI died.

Salvage Right is the story of redeeming the station and the light keepers.

Where did you get the idea for Salvage Right? What inspired its plot?

Steve: The idea’s kind of organic, I think, growing out of the “what had gone before” of other story arcs that still needed solving. It also goes all the way back to the phrase “Korval is ships” that’s been mentioned elsewhere over the major storylines — once Clan Korval has a spaceship — and by extension any major asset in space — it will what it can to hold on to it. Combining that basic need with the preceding and merging story arcs Salvage Right becomes a necessity.

Sharon: Tinsori Light, where Salvage Right takes place, made its very first appearance as an epigraph over Chapter 29 of Scout’s Progress, first published in 2001. The epigraph reads:

“Emergency repairs at Tinsori Light. Left my ring in earnest. The keeper’s a cantra-grubbing pirate, but the ship should hold air to Lytaxin. Send one of ours and eight cantra to redeem my pledge. Send them armed. In fact, send two. Excerpted from a beam letter from Jen Sin yos’Phelium Clan Korval to his delm, written in the first relumma of the year named Dalenart.”

Being an epigraph, it was meant to illustrate something in the chapter following, which it did, and you would have thought that, having done its job, and well, it would never trouble us again.

You would be wrong.

From time to time over the next few years, I wondered, as one does, what that whole business was with the ring and the pirate, and, in 2011, when we were on the train, traveling to the Reno WorldCon, I broke out my laptop and wrote a novelette called “The Space At Tinsori Light.”

You would think that, having gone from epigraph to novelette, Tinsori Light’s hash was well and truly settled.

And you would be wrong again.

When we were writing Neogenesis, this would be in 2017, it was suddenly revealed that the Lyre Institute, a thorough-going bad customer, wanted to subjugate Tinsori Light to their own nefarious ends. This was something of a surprise, but, we’re only the authors, you know?

Once, we had identified the threat, and gathered a bunch of characters on the Light to nullify it, we had to finish the story, and bring the characters closure.

So, Salvage Right is more than 20 years in the making.

As with all of the stories in the Liaden Universe® series, Salvage Right is a sci-fi space opera story. But are there any other genres at work in this story as well?

Sharon: Salvage Right is as pure a space opera as we’ve written in a while. It was fun to let all the stops out.

Steve: We also draw from regency romance and comedy of manners fiction; almost every time a character bows that’s tip of the hat to Georgette Heyer!

Are there any writers, or stories, who had a big influence on Salvage Right but not on anything else you’ve written?

Steve: I don’t think so; nothing recent, certainly, and with Salvage Right being a merge of story lines, it would be hard to filter one new factor in, I think.

Sharon: Harlan Ellison’s short story “I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream”; The Prestige, the novel by Christopher Priest.

How about non-literary influences; was Salvage Right influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?

Steve: We can’t give you much influence there unless we go all the way back to older things — say the start of robot intelligences in Robbie the Robot in Forbidden Planet (and later in Lost In Space), and maybe 2001 (which had a number of Clarke literary precedents anyway) and perhaps the computer in War Games. Can’t off-hand think of card games that might have affected the story, nor other games — we’re very literary minded and boringly unaware of a lot media things that happened after our move to Maine in 1988 until recently, so our universe became pretty solid decades ago.

Sharon: From Real Life: Abbie Burgess and the Mantinicus Rock Light Station. From film: The Prestige, directed by Christopher Nolan.

Now, along with Salvage Right, your publisher, Baen, recently released the 23rd novel in this series, Fair Trade, in paperback, as well as a Twentieth Anniversary Edition digital edition of the 6th, Scout’s Progress. Is there anything different about these new versions of Fair or Scout’s?

Steve: Neither the paperback Fair Trade nor that anniversary edition of Scouts Progress had any major changes from the originals — both the Baen staff editors and our own tyop hunters went over them, and we got a copyread, too, but all us ferrets were after correcting mistakes — there’s not a retcon in sight.

Sharon: Though Scout’s Progress does have a gorgeous new cover by Sam Kennedy, and also a new authors’ afterword.

Wait, did you mean to misspell the word “typo” just now?

Sharon: Actually, “tyop” is a Technical Term. No, really. If you look in the front of the book, you will see an authors’ acknowledgement, which reads in part: “Herewith, the roster of those heroes who rode in the Great Salvage Right Tyop Hunt.” These are the people who have read the eARC, and have found errors — missing words, wrong words, too many words — for us. We deliberately call it a “Tyop Hunt,” to reflect the reality that, no matter how many you find, there will always been one error that no one sees.

That’s clever. Anyway, as I mentioned earlier, Salvage Right is a sequel to Neogenesis. Obviously, Salvage works better if you’ve read Neogenesis, but do you think Neogenesis works as an entry point for this series, or do people need to go all the way back to the first book, Agent Of Change?

Sharon: No, people don’t need to go all the way back to Agent Of Change. (Unless they want to, of course.) For one thing, it wouldn’t do them any good. For the last 35 years, we’ve been writing stories set in the Liaden Universe®, which is less a series than it is a large piece of fictional real estate where more or less anything can happen. As long as it amuses the authors, that is. Life’s too short to write books you hate. There are recurring characters, sure, and narrative arcs, but not the same characters, book after book, having straight line adventures. Where would be the fun in that? So! Readers can start with Salvage Right if they want to; it ought to make perfect sense, because of how books work. (Books work by explaining the story as it unfolds.)

Readers who want some background may want to read Neogenesis first. In addition to the novel itself, the story that spawned this arc, “The Space At Tinsori Light,” is included in the back of the book.

Steve: We’ve been careful to make multiple entry point to the universe and stories, and in fact there are some late-coming readers who think that the stories began with Theo Waitley and her early books of Fledgling and Saltation because those books made a splash when we first wrote them week-by-week on the internet — and they were many books later than the initial books appearing from Del Rey. If you want the whole Liaden experience you should read Agent Of Change, but Agent is not essential to a fun and enjoyable reading of the Salvage Right storyline.

Sharon: To kind of illustrate How We Do This “whole universe” storytelling,” here’s a list of the existing books in arc and publication order.

Given all of that, if someone has read all of the Liaden Universe® novels in order, what will they get out Salvage Right that other people won’t?

Sharon: The warm feels of meeting up with a whole bunch of characters who haven’t been in the same place for quite some while, Universe-time. The giggles from understanding the in-jokes (which are not necessary to the plot. The characters are a snarky bunch.)

Steve: We hope what they’ll get is a sense of wonder and realizations of how what has gone before has lead — inevitably — to the story in hand. They’ll see details connected to prior events in more complex ways than people who come to the book without that background.

So, is there anything else you think people need to know about Salvage Right?

Steve: It is a good book; they should enjoy it.

Sharon: It’s a really fun read: exciting, well-told, satisfying, full of drama and dry humor. (I am paraphrasing the reader reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.)

Sharon Lee Steve Miller Salvage Right Liaden Universe

Finally, if someone enjoys Salvage Right, they’ll probably go back and read the rest of the Liaden Universe® novels, if they haven’t already. After that, though, they’ll probably want to read something different. So, what sci-fi space opera novel, novella, or series of someone else’s that’s nothing like what you do would you recommend they check out?

Steve: We’ll hope they catch up with all our Liaden novels and the short works too, but yeah there are other writers and we’ve been suggesting Janet Kagan’s Hellspark, forever, and of course there’s C.J. Cherryh’s Pride Of Chanur novels and the on-going Foreigner series along with the Union-Alliance books — hard to go wrong with any of those. Also, I’d guess as a change of pace Samuel R. Delany’s Babel-17 / Empire Starcombination. Also there’s Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet stories — a strongly written series not to be missed, I’d say.

Sharon: Elizabeth Moon’s Serrano Legacy and Vatta’s War series; Tanya Huff’s Valor series. Going further afield because, while the best genre, science fiction is not the only genre — Patricia Brigg’s Mercy Thompson series, The Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner; Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik; Agnes And The Hitman by Jennifer Crusie; the Psy-Changeling series by Nalini Singh. Why check them out? Why not?



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