Astra asked Ann Leckie:

How do you feel when you hear people describe your book as challenging? Are you glad you stretch people's comfort zones or do you regret that some readers may find Ancillary Justice "too hard"? (I for one, found it a fascinating read.)

Ann Leckie This is a really good question! I've been sort of surprised to hear the book described as "challenging," since I didn't start out to write a challenging or a difficult book--I had my ideas for a story, and where I wanted to go with it, and I chose the best ways I could think of to write that story.

But one of the things I've learned--not just with the publication of Ancillary Justice, it was something I'd noticed before, but seeing people react to my own book has driven it home--one of the things I've noticed is how incredibly individual a person's reaction to a book is. It seems obvious when you say it, I guess, but everyone comes to a book with their own history, their own expectations and assumptions, and their own particular catalog of resonant themes or images, their own notions of how story works. So nearly any book is going to have some readers who find it challenging/interesting/subversive/what have you and some who find exactly the same book to be simple or dull, and a whole spectrum of reactions in between.

Sometimes I see advice for writers that advocates trying to reach the widest possible audience--which includes not challenging the reader too much because not everyone wants to be challenged, or is up for a whole lot of work when they're reading. But I find I can't really agree with that advice, as its commonly conveyed. I think quite a few readers are willing to put a bit of work into their reading, at least some of the time, and I don't see the point of undercutting the thing you really want to write for the sake of some vague, lowest-common-denominator idea of a "General Reader." Readers will appreciate what you're doing, or they won't--but myself, as a reader, I'm far more willing to work at appreciating a writer who's clearly committed to what they're writing, and clearly doing it well, than a writer who maybe wants to do something ambitious but is afraid I won't understand or tolerate it, so they've watered it down or undercut it. That's where I come from as a reader, I can't really speak to anyone else's reading experience.

As a writer, I don't always set out to stretch comfort zones (though I have set out to do that deliberately, once or twice), but even when I haven't, I'm more than happy to discover that I've done so! At the same time, of course I wish that the folks who've found AJ unappealing or too hard of a read could have had a different reaction. But the fact of the matter is, there's no work of any sort that's universally loved. And since reactions to books are very individual, very personal, I think it's important to respect that. I'm grateful those folks gave the book a go. I hope their next read will please them better.

Ann Leckie

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