As I was reading Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie last night, I came across a familiar-looking song that Breq, the protagonist, sings to herself as she ventures off on a daring mission:

Oh, have you gone to the battlefield
Armored and well armed?
And shall dreadful events
Force you to drop your weapons?

It struck me immediately that this was a paraphrase – as though it had been translated into Breq's native tongue and back into English – of Clamanda, from the page 42 of the Sacred Harp:

Oh, have you ventured to the field
Well armed with helmet, sword, and shield?
And shall the world, with dread alarms,
Compel you now to ground your arms?

I was intrigued. Does Ann Leckie know of the Sacred Harp? It would not be surprising. Certainly she seems to be a lover of songs and choral music: her main character sings to herself continually and is fond of collecting songs from the societies that she visits. Leckie also has a music degree from Washington University in St Louis, Missouri.

It turned out that my intuition was right! The book's postscript includes an interview with Ann Leckie in which she reveals that she is a shape-note singing aficionado, and tells the reader that the song quoted above is indeed from the Sacred Harp, as I had suspected. She even gives a plug for shape note singing:

… I wish people felt freer to sing, and freer to enjoy people around them singing.

It's one of the things I love about shape note singing—there's no audition, no question of whether or not your voice is good enough, or whether anyone has talent. You love to sing? Come sing!

In the book, Breq is described as having a not especially nice-sounding voice, and that some of those around her are annoyed by her constant humming. She doesn't mind.

In general, I really appreciated the specific cultural details that Ancillary Justice shows in its depiction of characters and of societies; Breq's love of songs is an example of this.