The Big Idea: Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

The great thing about Sharon Lee and Steve Miller is that they give true value for your reading time. For example, in this post about Necessity’s Child, the latest installment in their celebrate Liaden Universe series, they are not content to give you just a single Big Idea — no, they give you a whole smorgasbord of ideas. Let’s dig in, shall we?


The ideas that ganged up on us and finally produced Necessity’s Child come in several sizes — Huge, Big, Medium, and Small.

The Big Idea came from Sharon’s maternal grandmother, who was wont, when she was particularly exasperated with her granddaughter’s elementary school self, to exclaim: “If only you would be stolen by the gypsies!”

That actually sounded kind of cool. Unfortunately, though the wish was frequently repeated, the Rom of Baltimore clearly knew better than a funny-looking gadje kid who read better than she talked; Sharon remained unstolen

On one particularly. . .strained. . .day, the wish having been reiterated several times, with feeling, Sharon thought she’d take matters into her own hands. Whereupon, she put the question — subtle-like, you understand: “Where do the gypsies live, Grandma?”

Grandma was reading a magazine. She answered without looking up from the page

“They live hidden.”

Oooh, that was even cooler, though it posed a potential problem.


Grandma beamed a look of disdain over the top of her half-glasses.

“If I knew where, they wouldn’t be hidden, would they?”


Since there didn’t seem to be any way to pursue this line of investigation without opening herself up to even more grandmotherly scorn, Sharon abandoned the topic. But, had she only known it then, she’d already gotten the gold.

They live hidden.

Face it — there’s a reason why so many fantasy and science fiction stories want to talk about the Land Beyond the Wall, and Those Beautiful People, and The Slans, and The (various) Secret Societies of This ‘n That.

They live hidden? That’s not just a Big Idea; it’s a Huge Idea.

It’s certainly an idea to which we’ve returned many times, because, in fact, we all live hidden; we’re each of us more, or other, than we show ourselves to be — and often more than we, ourselves, know. You could write a million riffs on they live hidden and learn something new, every time.

For Necessity’s Child, we decided to take the Huge Idea more literally than we often do. We not only wanted to find out what-or-who, specifically, was hidden, and why, but what would happen when (1) it-or-they were revealed, and (2) what was hidden over here intersected with what had been hidden beneath our feet.

So, we met three characters in our shared headspace, as we do; three people from very different circumstances, each of whom lived — or had lived — hidden.

First, we met Kezzi of the Bedel, apprentice to the kompani’s grandmother. Kezzi glories in the hidden life and despises Those Others, the gadje.

Syl Vor yos’Galan Clan Korval has until recently reluctantly lived hidden from Korval’s enemies, learning survival skills that no little boy should ever need. Reunited now with his mother, on a strange world, he’s struggling to re-adapt to open living.

And, last, we met Rys, a man so deeply hidden that he’s even a cipher to himself.

So, what do we have so far?

Huge Idea — they live hidden; Big Idea — Sharon’s unrequited romance with the gypsies; Medium Idea — what will happen when the lives of three very different people intersect; how will they change; and what will we learn, this time?

Which brings us to the Small Idea.

The Small Idea is, well. . .awfully prosaic.

You see, this month, February 2013, marks the Silver Anniversary of the Liaden Universe®. The first book in the series, Agent of Change, was published by Del Rey, in February 1988. Necessity’s Child, available, well. . .right now, from Baen, is the sixteenth Liaden Universe® novel.

When you’ve been writing in a particular universe for twenty-five years, it’s only fair to those readers who may want to sample your work, but who are understandably hesitant to commit to sixteen novels — it’s only fair to give those readers a door into the Universe; a book they can read without any prior knowledge of the series, or of the ongoing characters. We’ve previously written several Liaden portal novels. . .and it was time to write another.

The challenge in writing portal novels is that they have to be satisfying to both new and existing readers of the series. There should be new characters, new situations, and hooks into the rest of the Universe so readers who have been with us since 1988 will find a fresh and exciting narrative, characters that catch their hearts, and a story that enriches the existing canon.

In addition to all of that — because who doesn’t want an exciting story and engaging characters? — a portal book needs to do scene-setting, and lay deep background, for the new folks, so that when they, hopefully, step through the door to explore the rest of the Liaden Universe®, they’ll feel right at home.

Portal books ought, also, and ideally, be fun to write. That’s true of all books, really; life is too short to write stories you hate. But it’s especially true of portal books, which allow authors to leave the straight narrative pathway, and chew up the scenery a little — or, OK, a lot.

Necessity’s Child was enormous fun to write; it was like giving ourselves two weeks at the ocean in high summer, with unlimited roller coaster rides.

We hope you have just as much fun reading it.


Necessity’s Child: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|IndieBound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit Sharon Lee’s Facebook page. Visit Steve Miller’s Facebook page.

37 Comments on “The Big Idea: Sharon Lee and Steve Miller”

  1. I have a copy of this already on order. But I would have gone out and bought one from this description anyway. So looking forward to this.

  2. Doing a Liaden re-read right now! I read the story of the Tree on a train and found it as numinous as I remembered. Sadly, what I hadn’t remembered was to take enough hankies for the floods of … um.

    Anyway, I’ve had this on the wish list for a while. The original read had big gaps between books — they used to be so hard to find! Much better now with ebooks and Baen, Thanks, Sharon and Steve! Carry on the good work.

  3. “stolen by the gypsies”
    “unrequited romance with the gypsies”
    “gypsies” compared to elves and fae and secret societies

    …………I feel dubious about this.

  4. I think it should be illegal to post information leading readers to discover that there is a new Liaden Universe novel during the work week, as it hurts productivity.

  5. Thanks- this post reminded me to check Vroman’s to see when my copy comes in. I’ve been saving a holiday gift card for this.

  6. These two are some of the best SF writers in ANY universe. I’ve devoured their work ever since that day in B&N when the title, Partners in Necessity, jumped at me from the shelf. Wow! An amazing universe peopled with characters I grew to consider best friends. I return to Liad as often as possible.

  7. Lee and Miller write some of the best character-driven SF out there. Space opera, romance, intrigue. It’s all there. I read and reread these books frequently. I’m eagerly awaiting my copy from Uncle Hugo’s. Don’t hesitate, new reader. Jump in now!

  8. I love it when Authors are Repeat Offenders. 25 years is quite the record. Thanks for all the joy.
    Note to those who have not yet read anything Liaden: these characters will haunt your brain and take you to wonderful places.

  9. sojournerstrange: I was thinking the same thing. Pretty much every time gypsies turn up in fantasy (which is a heck of a lot, from Nesbit to Pullman) it’s, oh, boy, here we go again. I suspect there are people who live half their lives under the impression that gypsies are a stock feature in fantasies and don’t exist in the real world.

  10. I read lots of Liaden novels when I was a younger lass, but haven’t picked up the last several. This might be a good re-entry point. Thanks!

  11. I… had not heard of (and therefor had not read) this series. I will be recitifying that shortly! It’s always nice to find a new (LONG) series to help satisfy my reading habit.

  12. Thanks so much for posting this — I went to check on my pre-order, and realized I hadn’t placed it! So now that’s rectified and the reading can begin.

    Sunidesus: This is a great series, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do! It sounds like this particular book should be a good entry point into the universe. You can go to for a list of all of the books; the “Correct reading order” link explains how they’re all related so you can figure out what you want to read next.

  13. I LOVE Sharon Lee and Steve Millers Liaden Universe novels, and having read them all, was thrilled to find a copy of Necessity’s Child at Foolscap this past weekend. What a joy! Now I just have to find the time to read it, because, inevitably, there are 20 other things I need to be doing that are going to keep me from this delicious novel all day and into the night. Still, I will find time, even if it is at 2 am! Sharon and Steve’s stories are worth it. I agree with Saruby, there are few writers who build such complete worlds and solid, fascinating characters. I think Lois McMaster Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan books are in the same category, but there are few authors who are up there breathing that rarified air, IMHO.

  14. sojournerstrange and HelenS? Necessity’s Child is a space opera. No elves or fae, no fantasy. Although the gypsies do seem to have a certain touch with tinkering…

    Try it. I think you’ll enjoy it. The excerpt is actually nine chapters, which will give you a pretty good feeling for the book before you even buy.

  15. Hurrah! New Liaden book, can’t wait to read it.

    Glad to see a new portal book to bring people in. Fledgling was my portal, and it’s still one of my favorites. And as much as I love the usual Korhal crew, it’ll be fun to get some new blood.

    And I have to second all the previous comments’ praise. Lee & Miller are up there with Bujold as my favorite character-driven, wondrous-world, beautifully-written scifi. (I guess Scalzi’s all right too ;) )

  16. Just from the description, the “Gypsies” thing makes me a little twitchy – given how much discrimination and distrust that the Romani face in the world today.

  17. “Face it — there’s a reason why so many fantasy and science fiction stories want to talk about the Land Beyond the Wall, and Those Beautiful People, and The Slans, and The (various) Secret Societies of This ‘n That.”

    No one’s saying all those things are in this particular book, but yeah, the authors absolutely did say that gypsies fit right in with all these cool tropes. And you can hardly say that something’s problematic if it’s been done to death in fantasy but totally fine and new if it’s over in science fiction! (Besides which, I’m of the camp of folks who think that science fiction is a subset of fantasy anyway.)

  18. given how much discrimination and distrust that the Romani face in the world today.

    Be at ease. These aren’t exactly the Romani, and (among other things) don’t steal babies.

  19. @serenitylost Thank you for the link! That’ll be helpful.

    The comparisons to Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga are making me want to bump this up my “to read” list. There should really be some kind of law that bookworms don’t have to go to work when their “to read” list gets to a certain length. Just until it gets down to a manageable length of course.

  20. Liaden isn’t quite up there with Vorkosigan, though it is enjoyable. I liked the first (long) series, but I found the origin novels and both Fledgling and Saltation to be sub-par. They got all wrapped up in filling holes in the long story that just didn’t need to be filled. I hope they get back to straightforward storytelling instead of getting tripped up in their own web of worldbuilding. The early novels are really well balanced crossovers between romance and space opera.

  21. My sincere congrats to anyone who is just now discovering the Liaden series via this post. You have a great ride ahead of you. (And personally, I think it is *way* better than the Vorkosigan series, just to provide a contrary opinion to Walt’s…:)

  22. I wouldn’t compare the Liaden books to the Vorkosigan universe too much – among other things, there’s not nearly as much of an “interstellar star nation” environment, and while there are definite military aspects (Yxtrang and ill-defined counters to them, mercenary companies and the far-back-in-history Crystal Soldier books) it’s not a focus area. For the Liaden side, Clan is the overriding structural entity; on the Terran side it’s less clear but seems to vary by planet with some level of corporations and guilds.

    I’d suggest that in terms of the “feel” of the universe it bears more resemblance to some things in Poul Anderson’s Polesotechnic League (Nicholas van Rijn) books where trade is the driving factor, though it’s been a very long time since I read through those so I may be wrong.

  23. wow, 25 years since I picked up Agent of Change? It was an Ace paperback with a pretty cool cover as I recall (I actually still have it). I remember how sad I was when I though the series had ended with the third book, Carpe Diem. But then it came back! With Local Custom and Scout’s Progress. I was extremely happy to see them. And since then, Liaden has been going strong. Congratulations on the 25th Anniversary, Ms. Lee and Mr. Miller.

  24. HelenS you are letting prejudice color your views. these “gypsies” aren’t the only ones having “mystic powers” (which are not very mystic, more the genetic manipulation from another race in a previous universe from which human race managed to flee). Lianden Dramliz (“wizards”) and their Healers are basically psychics that can manipulate matter (the most powerful amongst them) to “read” the events that happened around items. Healers heal the mind, not the body. These, healers, dramliz, and several other brands of human psychics are the result of the tinkering of other race, as I said before. Most have forgotten their origins after the migration to this Universe. These are not the Rom, and there are other human groups that are wandering travelers within this universe. In fact, in the book they are never called “gypsies” or Rom The only link is THEIR use of words like kompani or Bedel or gadje. No outsider use these words in the book. It’s the reader who makes the link. Now it’s your choice to judge the book as anchored to the usual tropes without reading it… There’s nothing “usual” here, it’s definitely a new take…

    As for the rest, yeah, the Liaden Universe is right there with Bujold’s books for me. Actually, I prefer the Liaden books.

  25. The thing is that context matters. You don’t just get to say Ooh, shiny cool stereotype, I can do something with that, and act as if no one had ever done this before in a zillion different exploitative ways. They didn’t have to link it with gypsies at all, despite the origin of the cool “live hidden” phrase. They especially didn’t have to pitch it as “a steampunk Liaden story, with space gypsies.” (Direct quotation: see There is no reason to do that EXCEPT to benefit from the stereotype. Why not just make up something new and NOT GO THERE?

  26. I am crazy about these books. They are part of a coherent whole, full of inspiring yet likeable and human characters specially the tree! The stories are fast paced and never boring. I can’t believe it took me so long to find them. The published ones are all read, just waiting for the next one. Can we have more please.