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Interview: SL Huang on “The Million-Mile Sniper”

Tell us a bit about “The Million-Mile Sniper.”

What would assassinations look like if they took place over planetary distances?

“The Million-Mile Sniper” asks that question, but with a twist. I played with my background, which is working professionally in movies and television, to warp that narrative through storytelling and conspiracy and romanticism . . . all far, far in the future.


S L HuangWhat was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?

I’m a weapons expert and former firearms professional, and now I’m a science fiction author. Naturally, it kept circling around in my head to wonder about how I could adapt riflery over planetary distances.

I had the title before anything else. “The Million-Mile Sniper” is such a great title—I had to write something to fit it!




Can you tell us about any of the research you may have done for “The Million-Mile Sniper?”

Less research, more math. Which was fine with me, as I do a lot of math for my books in the Cas Russell series, which are about a superpowered math mercenary. For “The Million-Mile Sniper,” I wanted to make sure to do enough of the calculations to make sure I was in the ballpark for realism on the sniper shot.

But I did also do a fair bit of digging into rail guns and reviewed my knowledge of astrodynamic rendezvous from college, when I wrote a paper on it!


Can you tell us anything about your writing process for this story, or more generally?

I write short stories very fast—all in one chunk. Of course, that’s only after I have an idea, and I’d been knocking this one around in my head for a while. Then I wrote the story all at once one evening. I checked the math and science afterward and filled in some details, but the story was essentially written in one gulp.

That’s very typical of how I write shorts! Novels, sadly, are a much more cumbersome process for me. I wish I could write those all at once, too.


Why do you write?

A question I’ve navel-gazed about a lot recently.

I think the answer I’m coming to is that I write to explore, and to create a thing I’m proud of.

Which doesn’t bode very well for my career, honestly! I like poking at new things, and my sense of reward is from the completion of the piece, not the paycheck… especially when I feel like I’ve achieved a piece of writing that was previously outside my comfort zone. Which means I have a lot of trouble writing toward marketability or personal branding, no matter how hard I try.

I kind of wish I could say I wrote for the money. That’s certainly a consideration—I’m a full-time writer, so it’s my income, and what people will pay me for does impact what I work on. But I feel like I tend to make non-optimal career decisions in favor of chasing something shiny.

If I could convince myself only to worry about the money, I could probably brand myself a lot better. On the other hand, right now my brand seems to be math, swords, and women and queer people who shoot at things, which I feel pretty good about.


Who do you consider to be your influences?

Ooo, this question is always so hard for me to answer, because the people I’ve read who have influenced my writing . . . well, there’s an endless number of them, to be honest.

So I think I’m going to try to answer this question a little differently—I want to talk about the people I’ve met who’ve really influenced the kind of writer I want to be, in the sense of how helpful and giving they are, and how as they achieve success they reach back and boost others. The Big Name Authors I want to emulate, if I can, as I start to build more success. Ken Liu is such a model of this I feel—I can’t count the number of people I know, including me, whom he’s helped out in some way, even with his incredibly busy schedule. He’s one of the kindest and most generous authors I know (and his writing, of course, is incredible! Read Ken!). Seth Dickinson is another one—just such an excellent human. When I was brand new I had a signing with Seth and of course his line was out the door and I, being new, had almost nobody, and literally every person who came up to him, Seth said to them, “And you should check out Zero Sum Game by S.L. Huang!” and also directed them to me. I’ve never forgotten that. I tucked it away as something I hope to be able to do for someone else someday. And so many other people—Charlie Jane Anders, Kate Elliott, Jim Hines, Chuck Wendig—oh wow I could really go on and on here, too; SFF is full of such wonderful human beings. There are just so many good folks who I consistently see helping newer authors, boosting people, blurbing tons of debuts, running events, speaking up for folks with less of a platform, and so many other heartwarming things.

They’re the type of authors I want to try to model myself after as I move forward in my own career.


What are you working on now?

I have a book coming out at the end of April—CRITICAL POINT, the third book in my scifi thriller series about an antiheroine whose superpower is being able to do math really, really fast. She uses it to kill a few too many people!

I’m super excited about CRITICAL POINT, as we get a lot of character development for my miscreant cast . . . and also a lot of explosions. Many, many explosions. My editor and I work hard to try to make the books stand alone, but for readers who want to start at the beginning, ZERO SUM GAME is the first book in that series.

Next, I have a fairy tale retelling coming out this fall. BURNING ROSES is a remix of Chinese and Western folklore, in which Hou Yi the Archer from Chinese mythology teams up with Red Riding Hood. In my version they’re both middle-aged queer women, and to match Hou Yi’s bow and arrow skills, Red Riding Hood is an expert with a rifle. The two of them team up and go on adventures while angsting about their families.

Also featured: Goldilocks as an abusive con artist, Beauty from Beauty and the Beast as an escaped human trafficking victim, and birds made out of fire.

Of course, those books are done! I would tell you what I’m on sub with right now, but I don’t think I’m allowed to talk about it yet. I do feel I can give away that the new work contains some number of the following elements: swords, queer women, people at shooting at things, or queer women wielding swords and shooting at things. Or all of the above!

Yeah, maybe I have a brand after all.


“The Million-Mile Sniper” appears in the March/April 2020 issue of F&SF.

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You can find SL Huang’s website by clicking on her photo.  On Twitter: @sl_huang


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