Women in SF&F Month Banner

Today’s guest is science fiction author Kemi Ashing-Giwa! Her novel coming out July 11, The Splinter in the Sky, is described as “a diverse, exciting debut space opera about a young tea expert who is taken as a political prisoner and recruited to spy on government officials—a role that may empower her to win back her nation’s independence.” I’m excited she’s here today to tell us more about it and the role of family!

Cover of The Splinter in the Sky by Kemi Ashing-Giwa

The Splinter in the Sky is a space opera spy thriller about a tea specialist-turned-assassin who embarks on a mission to save her sibling and avenge her fallen lover. It’s a story that examines the far-reaching effects of imperialism and colonialism, as well as the simultaneous commodification, absorption, and erasure of culture. It explores how systems of oppression—and the beliefs sustaining them—rise and fall. But most importantly, The Splinter in the Sky is a story about family.

I am a child of immigrants. My mother is from Trinidad, my father is from Nigeria. My mother’s mother moved from Grenada, and her father sailed to the Carribbean from China. (The “Ashing” in my surname comes from Hua Ching, which British officials found too difficult to pronounce.) My extended family is collectively fluent in five or six languages. (Not I, though. My first language was actually Spanish, but I lost all fluency because everyone spoke English to me after I was about five. Alas and alack!) At home, wooden statues stand between porcelain vases in glass cabinets; carved masks hang above inlaid folding screens. Despite living in a veritable melting pot, being multiethnic in America is certainly an experience. (For example: for most of my life, demographics forms allowed for the selection of only a single race.)

When I was querying my debut, I didn’t quite know how to explain that while I certainly drew from Western African influences while weaving a far-future world, I pulled from East Asian ones as well. My story isn’t exactly Afro- or Africanfuturistic, and it’s not silkpunk either. (On that note, there’s a lengthy conversation to be had about the literary propensity to lump every single science fiction or fantasy book written by African- and Asian-descended people into these categories.)

Many authors who write about their own cultures, or whose secondary worlds are inspired by their own cultures, feel a great deal of pressure to be completely “authentic.” To be “correct” in their representation. And it’s exhausting. A hard lesson to learn as a writer is that you simply cannot please everyone. All you can really do is try to please yourself. I gave up trying to write the Perfect Multiethnic Space Opera a few pages into the first draft and instead did what I actually wanted to do, which was to toss in bits and pieces of my own melange of an upbringing whenever and wherever I pleased.

I’m sure some will find that odd. But The Splinter in the Sky truly feels like it’s mine, in every sense of the word. It feels like it’s my family’s. And if I’ve failed at everything else with this book, at least I’ve succeeded in being authentic to myself.

Photo of Kemi Ashing-Giwa Kemi Ashing-Giwa was born and raised in sunny Southern California, where she grew up on a steady diet of sci-fi and fantasy. She enjoys learning about the real universe as much as she likes making ones up. A recent graduate of Harvard University, where she studied integrative biology and astrophysics, she is now pursuing a PhD in the Earth & Planetary Sciences department at Stanford University. Her debut novel, The Splinter in the Sky, will be published by Saga Press/Simon & Schuster in summer 2023. Her debut novella, This World Is Not Yours, will be published by Tor Nightfire/Macmillan Publishers in 2024.