A note on Classical influences on two recent #2014HugoAward winners
In answer to a question about real world inspiration for the primary civilisation in her novel, L. replies with the following:
quite different. The Romans have provided a lot of writers with a model for various interstellar empires, of course, and no wonder. The Roman Empire is a really good example of a large empire that, in one form or another, functioned for quite a long time over a very large area. And over that time, there was all sorts of exciting drama – civil wars and assassinations and revolts and bits breaking off and being forced back in, even a pretty big change in the form of government, from Republic to Principate. There’s tons of material there. And they loom large in European history. It wasn’t so long ago that any educated Westerner learned Greek and Latin as a matter of course, and read Virgil and Ovid and Cicero and Caesar and a host of other writers as part of that education. But I didn’t want my future – however fanciful it was – to be entirely European. The Radchaai aren’t meant to be Romans in Space.
I thought this a more thoughtful answer than perhaps the questioner had expected. Clearly, the primary civilisation depicted in the novel are not supposed to be 'Romans in Space', are not a direct translation of the historical into a science fictive setting characteristic of many abortive, and lazy, attempts to write SF. Indeed, it would be easy to argue many other influences, conscious or unconscious, on the work, including Hindu religion, the Gothic, the experiences of the British Empire and subsequent de-/post-colonialisation period.
What is more, L.'s answer shows an evident level of understanding both of the history of Rome and of the subsequent afterlife of GraecoRoman culture in the West and its subsequent reception through the ages. Indeed, the mere use of the distinction between Republic and Principate shows an uncommon degree of historical knowledge, unfortunately.
You won't get 'Romans in Space', and it took a while for me to warm up to it fully, but Ancillary Justice is a good read.