Isn’t it always the way: You finally get to retire, only to have something screw it up. I hate when that happens. But as cliché as it may be to have your dreams dashed just when they’re coming to fruition, there’s nothing cliché about how the characters in Cat Rambo’s sci-fi space opera military fantasy hopepunk novel You Sexy Thing (hardcover, Kindle, audiobook) have their life plans derailed. In the following email interview, Rambo explains what inspired and influenced this genre-mashing novel, as well as their plans to further screw with her characters plans.
Photo Credit: On Focus Photography
To start, what is You Sexy Thing about, and when and where does it take place?
You Sexy Thing is the story of a group of soldiers who’ve retired and started a restaurant on a space station. Just as they are about to have a famous food critic visit them, a mysterious package arrives, things start exploding, and they’re forced to steal an intelligent spaceship named You Sexy Thing. The ship itself is less convinced that it wants to be stolen, and even more complications start piling up, including a former lover, an angry pirate king, and a lot more explosions.
Where did you get the idea for You Sexy Thing?
I was testing out a new writing process, which was pretty intensive, and I decided to just have fun with it. I love novels of found family, full of banter and hope and people doing their best for one another, and so I went with an ensemble. A friend, Ann Leckie [author of the Imperial Radch series], had said during a class that she’d love to see a space opera in omniscient point of view, and that was the other point of inspiration. Other than that, I just sat down to write each day and looked to see where the writing took me, which turned out to be a place I enjoyed enormously. These characters are more alive to me than any others I’ve written, and they feel like old friends. I can’t wait to see where and why and how they go in future volumes.
And is there a reason Niko and her pals opened a restaurant and not a book store or a pet store or something?
Part of it is that I am a bit of a foodie and love cooking, so it seemed like it’d be a lot of fun to come up with futuristic cuisines and dishes. But more importantly, running a restaurant really requires teamwork, with different members fulfilling different roles, in a way that something like a bookstore (in many of which I have worked, so no disrespect) does not and that seemed to me to map onto the way a military unit operates as well.
You already touched on this, but it sounds like You Sexy Thing is a sci-fi space opera story. Is that how you’d describe it?
Labels like that are often more about what the marketing department wants to do, I think, than the author. When I was writing this, I thought of it as military fantasy, actually, and I wanted to go with that genre because I think it’s one that has a lot to say about issues of power and diplomacy. Spare opera works well too, though. I’d like to think there’s some of the cinematic elements that good space opera needs. I also think of it as hopepunk, which is a newish genre label for stories that tend to be more optimistic than some of the recent grimdark stuff.
You Sexy Thing is not your first novel. Are there any writers, or maybe specific stories, that had a big influence on You Sexy Thing, but not on anything else you’ve written?
I actually would point to the novels of Dorothy Dunnett, which may seem a somewhat bizarre leap, but in which I love the banter and back and forth and the fact that often the characters are saying so much beneath the words. I love the long, slow-burning romantic arc of her Lymond Chronicles, and I have one planned that I hope is just as satisfying to readers.
How about non-literary influences; was You Sexy Thing influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games? Or maybe a certain British soul band from the ’70s who appreciate warm, sweet beverages…
It’s very influenced by one of my favorite science fiction television series, Farscape, which is also set aboard a living ship, and I’ve tried to give it that Farscape feel of a big and confusing universe in which humans are very much not the dominant species but just part of the pack. But I’m an avid sci-fi fan, and so there are bits and pieces of a lot of different series in there, and a number of little Easter eggs for other science fiction fans.
A moment ago you referred to their being “future volumes.” What’s the plan?
I have it planned as a ten book series. I’m contracted with Tor for the first three books, so we’ll see what they say about that, but so far my excellent editor, Christopher Morgan, hasn’t flinched at the notion. Why? Because I love long series. I love how they build on each other and how they can create a hell of a punch when they deliver something that’s been building for book after book. I’m finishing up the next book right now and handing it off to Tor mid-October; book three has a very rough draft.
Is this series going to be an ongoing thing, like James Bond novels or whatever, or is it a 10-part series like The Lord Of The Rings?
I think of it as a ten part series, with a very definite destination at the end. I’ve been calling the series Niko And Her Crew.
As you are probably aware, there are people who — upon learning that You Sexy Thing is the first book of a decalogy — will decide to wait until all of the books are out before reading any of them, and some will go further and decide to not only wait, but read all of them back-to-back when the time comes. But do you think people should wait?
I’d say buy it now because there’s no way it’ll actually hit ten books if everyone’s waiting for the whole line, and also because that’s an awfully long time to delay gratification. I’ve tried not to leave anything agonizing hanging at the end of book one, but there’s definitely stuff that they can see rolling down the timeline towards them.
As I said, I love long series, and I am always happy to find an existing one to merrily binge. But I’m equally happy to start a series and wait for the next volume to come along. It’s lovely to have books to look forward to.
Now, along with You Sexy Thing, you also recently published Exiles Of Tabat, the third novel in your Tabat Quartet. For people who haven’t read the first two, Beasts Of Tabat and Hearts Of Tabat, what is this series about and what kind of world is it set in?
The Tabat books are set in the city of Tabat, a fantasy secondary world that depends on intelligent magical creatures — minotaurs, unicorns, dragons — to drive its economy through their servitude and sometimes their own physical bodies, which are used in spellwork. At the time Beasts opens, the city is in the middle of an enforced political change, which is complicated when the magical beasts begin to question the order of things. A country boy, Teo, comes to the city and is swept up in the life of a gladiator who is one of the city’s most important figures, Bella Kanto. His fate and hers become bound as unknown forces attempt to bring Bella down. Hearts overlaps with Beasts somewhat chronologically, and focuses on Bella’s best friend, Adelina, and the two men she is romantically entangled with.
And then what is Exiles Of Tabat about, and how does it connect, both narratively and chronologically, to the previous book, Hearts Of Tabat?
Exiles returns to the figures of the first book, who find themselves forced out of the city, and must journey south to find out more about the forces menacing Tabat before they can return. The final book, Gods Of Tabat, wraps up the storylines and lets the full chaos that’s been brewing emerge.
Do you know when Gods Of Tabat will be out?
Tentatively, it’s June 2022, but that is pretty vague still.
My understanding is that the Tabat books are fantasy stories. But are they epic fantasy, urban fantasy, barbarian fantasy…?
They’re secondary world fantasy, with a certain amount of political commentary. They’re also more literary, I think, than You Sexy Thing.
Having said that, do you think that people who like You Sexy Thing will also like Exiles Of Tabat and the rest of that series?
I think opinions may well be very mixed there, because I think the writing’s very different, and because sometimes sci-fi lovers don’t care for fantasy. I’d suggest people look at some of the existing Tabat stories (there’s a number up on Beneath Ceaseless Skies, for example, the most recent being “Every Breath A Question, Every Heartbeat An Answer,” and see whether they like the flavor of them. There’s links to find plenty of them on my website.
Earlier I asked if You Sexy Thing had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But to flip things around, do you think You Sexy Thing could work as a movie, show, or game?
I’d absolutely love to see it as an episodic television series, mainly because I love long-running episodic shows.
As to who would play the various characters, I’ve tried to avoid doing that in my head somewhat, but I think Whoopi Goldberg [Star Trek: The Next Generation] playing it straight would make an amazing Niko.
Finally, if someone enjoys You Sexy Thing, which of your other books would you suggest they read next and why that one?
I’d suggest they try one of my collections in order to get a sense of the span in which I write, actually. Near + Far focuses on science fiction, Neither Here Nor There focuses on fantasy, and Altered America is all steampunk. Or if they’re a fellow foodie, they might like the cookbook I co-edited with Fran Wilde, Ad Astra: The SFWA 50th Anniversary Cookbook.