Some of this knowledge she used for pre-professional purposes, writing little fictional, mostly fantastic, stories based on her favorite books and movies. Chambers’ mother introduced her to Tolkien; Star Wars and Star Trek were the mainstays of movie nights; she was obsessed with Sailor Moon. When Chambers was 12, Contact came out of. Exploring the unknown, meeting aliens “through a female protagonist,” says Chambers, “it grabbed me hard.” After that, she started reading Carl Sagan, the start of her fascination with space.
Looking up and out, however, distracted Chambers from having to look inward, at the “absolute absence” she felt at the center of her young life. “Who I was, where I was, what kind of life I could expect,” she said, “and there was just nothing there.” Then, at age 13, Chambers met a girl in science class whose older sister had a gay best friend. “I was like, oh, is that an option?” Chambers remembers thinking. “Well my whole life has meaning now. It would take her several years before she felt comfortable enough to date her parents. When she did, mom was wonderful; Dad, not so much. “It was really bad at first, you know,” she said, closing herself off a bit. Although he “comes around a lot,” Chambers says, she still doesn’t like to talk about it.
In Chambers’ books, people – the word she uses not only for humans but for all species that are members of her so-called Galactic Commons – don’t come out. They just don’t have to. “I don’t have terms for gay, straight, etc.,” she said. “People are who they are and they bring home who they’ll bring home and they love who they love.” In The long way, Rosemary, a human female, develops feelings for a reptile-bird female alien named Sissix. Rosemary “leaned inward,” Chambers writes in a pivotal scene, “running a smooth finger along one of Sissix’s feathers.” When I tell Chambers that a colleague of mine (straight and male) who read the book doesn’t believe humans would actually want to have sex with giant lizards, she is dismayed. Has he even been on the Internet?
The internet is where the college-aged Chambers met his future wife, Berglaug Asmundardottir. On a Star Trek role-playing forum, to be exact. Asmundardottir is not, to our knowledge, a lizard-man; she is simply Icelandic. When Chambers talks about her, the lighting in the room seems to brighten and mellow at the same time. In the thanks section of each of the Wayfarers books, Chambers thanks his wife in a new way. Record of a bit of Spaceborn: “Berglaug the incredible.” A closed and common orbit: “The best part of every day.” The Galaxy and the Inner Ground: “If a piece of my writing survives me, I want it to be the one that says I loved it, and so I’ll write it wherever I can.”
Upon graduation from university, Chambers moved with Asmundardottir to Edinburgh. The plan was to find work in the theatrical scene there – that’s what Chambers studied in school – but nothing big came to fruition. A few years later, they moved to Iceland, where Chambers worked freelance for American publications, while also writing dialogue and scenes for an untold story about queer misfits in space. For a long time, Chambers didn’t think “this was a real book,” she says. “I was like, no one is going to want to read this. It’s not a real story. There are no exploding planets. The tension, in other words, was internal. It came from the characters.
When I suggest to Chambers that the stories in her novels reflect the exit process – a lot of tension, very little intrigue – she pauses. “I think… I think it’s fair,” she said. “It’s not one of those conscious things, but I really think it’s right.” Either way, the story resonated. With the help of a small number of people she had formed as a freelance writer, as well as the interest of a handful of outsiders, Chambers was able to fund herself on Kickstarter the novel that became A long way to an angry little planet. Among other positive reviews, io9 called it “the most delicious space opera” of the year.