Exclusive Interview: “The Splinter In The Sky” Author Kemi Ashing-Giwa


Like a lot of people, Kemi Ashing-Giwa picked up a new habit during the pandemic: drinking tea. But unlike people who took up baking bread or working out or playing Animal Crossing, Ashing-Giwa translated her newfound love into a novel, a sci-fi space opera story called The Splinter In The Sky (hardcover, Kindle, audiobook) that — in the following email interview — she calls a, “spy thriller in space.”

Kemi Ashing-Giwa The Splinter In The Sky

Photo Credit: Ivy Tran


To start, what is The Splinter In The Sky about, and when and where does it take place?

The Splinter In The Sky takes place in the very far future, in a solar system quite distant from our own. It follows a tea specialist-turned-assassin who embarks on a quest to rescue her kidnapped sibling. But doing so, she soon discovers, might require taking down an empire.

Where did you get the idea for the plot of The Splinter In The Sky?

Is it cheating if I say the entirety of science fiction (that I have engaged with) inspired it?

Not at all.

Splinter is my love letter to the genre, and I think every piece of speculative media I’ve consumed has had some sort of influence on the book, from the fairy tales my mother read me as a child, to webcomics like Gisele Jobateh’s Star Trip. In many ways, it’s a synthesis of my favorite things within sci-fi.

As for the plot…that’s a much harder question to answer. During quarantine, I spent most of my free time after class reading the news and doom-scrolling through social media. Bad idea. I needed a healthy way to process my thoughts, and writing has always been a source of great solace to me. I’d also been wanting to write a character with a unique job in a far-future setting for some time. So that’s how I ended up with a tea specialist-turned-spy protagonist. Once I had an idea of the main characters, I just opened up a blank Google Doc and pantsed the whole thing. (Suffice to say, that style of drafting doesn’t work for me now.)

So is there a significance to Enitan selling tea as opposed to coffee or juice or something you don’t drink like fine chocolates?

I got really into tea over quarantine. I don’t particularly enjoy drinking plain water, but my desire to, well, stay alive requires me to find alternate sources of hydration. Hence: lots of tea, which grew into something of a passion. I can’t say I’m as enthused by juice and coffee. Chocolate, though…

And is there a significance to her name, Enitan, which means “person of story” in Yoruba?

That’s pretty much it. I’ve grown increasingly fond of the sorts of characters that typically sit on the margins of traditional epics: people left unnamed and unexplored to make room for the prophesied heroes, the lost heirs to interstellar empires, the prodigious sorcerers, etc. But the greatest conflicts affect everyone, not just whoever’s squabbling over the throne, and those hidden characters have stories worth telling, too.

As you said, The Splinter In The Sky is a sci-fi story. But I’m not sure if it’s space opera or space fantasy. Or both. How do you describe it?

I’ve been calling it a spy thriller in space. It’s a space opera in the sense that the focus is more on the characters and their fight to save multiple worlds, rather than on hard science. But I did try to keep the background details as plausible as possible.

The Splinter In The Sky is your first novel, but you’ve also written some short stories, as well as something else we’ll get to in a moment. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Splinter but not anything else you’ve written?

N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season was my biggest influence for Splinter. I read it during the middle of quarantine, and it’s one of the books that got me back into reading for pleasure. I don’t think I would’ve ever pursued publishing if it hadn’t convinced me there could be a place for my stories on shelves. Anyone who reads my debut will likely find my admiration for Jemisin’s work obvious.

Other major literary influences for this book include Rivers Solomon, Ann Leckie, Arkady Martine, and Nghi Vo.

My shorter fiction tends to lean more toward horror, and so my influences there are rather different.

How about non-literary influences; do you think The Splinter In The Sky was influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?

I grew up watching Star Trek: The Original Series with my family, and it’s what drew me to science fiction in the first place. Its influence is threaded throughout the entire novel.

Also, the Galactic Empire of Star Wars inspired a great deal of the aesthetics of Vaalbara in Splinter.

You studied evolutionary and organismic biology and astrophysics at Harvard, and are now a Ph.D. student in the Geological Sciences department at Stanford University. How did your scientific knowledge influence those aspects of The Splinter In The Sky? Like, did you ever have to choose between doing something interesting but factually incorrect and doing something less interesting but scientifically sound?

Generally, I try to remain as scientifically accurate as possible. If I feel like the science is in some way taking away from or confining a story, then I make do with vague descriptions. Or I just fabricate something from semi-scratch. Shameful, I know.

My biology concentration influenced the alien ecosystems in the story, as well as how the characters inhabit them (i.e., the “housepods” of Enitan’s hometown are padded with fungal mycelium, which far outperforms synthetic materials as an insulator). There’s also a section where Enitan travels through her solar system at a tenth the speed of light, and another where she lands on an asteroid in the process of being mined. My astrophysics secondary proved useful there. But I still feel like I’m just starting out as a student — there’s so much amazing stuff yet to learn — so Google remains my bosom friend. I think my science background is most handy for checking that my explanations at least sound plausible. (Whether I succeeded or not is another question entirely.)

Sci-fi novels like The Splinter In The Sky are sometimes stand-alone stories, and sometimes they’re part of larger sagas. What is Splinter?

It’s a stand-alone…for the time being. I could see myself returning to this world at some point in the future, but as of right now, I don’t have any concrete plans.

Now, along with The Splinter In The Sky, you also have a sci-fi novella called The World Is Not Yours coming out next year. What is Yours about, and when and where is it set?

Yours is about jealousy, rage, remorse, and a beautiful murderous world. It follows a highly dysfunctional group of feuding humans attempting to colonize a lush planet. Unfortunately (for them), their new home can and will fight back.

It sounds like The World Is Not Yours is more of a sci-fi horror story. Is that accurate?

Oh, yes.

Is The World Is Not Yours connected in any way to The Splinter In The Sky? Are they part of the same series, are they not part of the same series but are set in the same fictional universe…?

Nope, not at all. The novella is completely different, from the world to the characters to pretty much everything else. Because it began as a short story, and my briefer fiction is generally heavier on the horror and the science, the tones are also quite dissimilar.

Did you write The Splinter In The Sky and The World Is Not Yours either at the same time or concurrently? I ask because, if you did, I’d like to know how writing Splinter influenced World, and vice versa?

I wrote the first draft of Yours, I believe, while on submission for Splinter in 2021. They didn’t really influence each other directly. One of my goals with the novella was to challenge myself and write something that had nothing in common with my debut.

Going back to The Splinter In The Sky, earlier I asked if it had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But to flip things around, do you think Splinter would work as a movie, show, or game?

I’d be positively over the moon to score any sort of adaptation, but given that Splinter is a pretty self-contained story, I’d say a movie or a limited series would be the best fit. I don’t know if it would make for a particularly fun video game, as Enitan gets trounced in a number of physical confrontations. She’s a tea specialist by trade, not a professional wrestler, after all. But one might enjoy a game version of Splinter if they didn’t mind lots of tea-brewing and scheming built into the gameplay.

If someone wanted to adapt The Splinter In The Sky into a movie or TV show, who would you want them to cast as Enitan and the other main characters?

It would be awesome to have a cast full of as-yet-unknown actors. I haven’t thought much about facecasts, in all honesty. As far as dream directors go, though, I’m a huge fan of Jordan Peele [Us], Gina Prince-Bythewood [The Woman King], Taika Waititi [Jojo Rabbit], and Bong Joon-ho [Parasite], to name but a few.

So, is there anything else you think people need to know about The Splinter In The Sky?

While Splinter deals with imperialism, colonization, and police brutality, it’s not a tragedy. The focus here isn’t on pain and suffering. At its core, it’s a story about family, friendship, and the necessity of hope.

Kemi Ashing-Giwa The Splinter In The Sky

Finally, if someone enjoys The Splinter In The Sky, what sci-fi novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read while waiting for The World Is Not Yours to come out?

Anything by the authors I named earlier, if someone hasn’t had the chance to read their work yet. I’m also really looking forward to reading Ness Brown’s claustrophobic sci-fi horror novella The Scourge Between Stars [which you can read about here].



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *