Archives: Aurealis Interviews
Q: Thank you very much for taking the time to answer our questions for Aurealis magazine. Since 2000 you've published six novels (with a seventh on the way), a collection of novellas and two short story collections in 'Galactic North' and 'Zima Blue'. You're fast approaching the prodigious word count of Peter Hamilton in the area of epic science fiction. What is your general writing routine, and how do you maintain the pace?
ALASTAIR REYNOLDS: Until I gave up my day job, I was basically doing all my writing in the evenings, with a little bit on the weekend if I was lucky. Now I treat it more or less like a 9 to 5 job. I shut myself away in a spare room and get on with it. When I'm working on a novel, I aim
to write about 3000 words of new material a day, which is a rate I can sustain for a long time. I'm pretty disciplined with myself, since there's really no alternative if you don't want to miss deadlines. Having said that, I do still find that I'm still a little bit more creative in the evenings than the rest of the day. So I still do a bit of work after teatime, but without the pressure of achieving X amount of wordage. I work with music on, and take regular breaks to mess with my guitar, do some exercise etc.
Q: Many of your stories take place in the 'Revelation Space/Inhibitor' universe. You've mentioned in other places your love for the 'future history' style of SF such as Niven's 'Known Space'. Do you see yourself continuing with more tales from 'Revelation Space' in the future?
ALASTAIR REYNOLDS: For now, yes - but not for ever and ever. I surprised myself a bit when I wrote the three new novellas for Galactic North - I found myself opening up areas I hadn't thought about before, and I could begin to see the possibilities for other stories and novels. But I don't want to mine it until the last drop.
Q: The 'Revelation Space' universe is very scientific and rational in many of its extrapolations from the now. Do you feel any need to reconcile that rationality with some of the less rational and more speculative elements such as the Melding Plague, alien artefacts and the Inhibitors themselves?
ALASTAIR REYNOLDS: It gets called hard SF, even very hard SF, but I see it as being quite a bit softer myself. Yes, there is slower than light travel - but there's also time travel, paradoxes, and some very fuzzy made-up science. It's not really an issue for me, in all honesty. I find diamond-hard, rigidly extrapolated hard SF to be a bit boring and sterile; on the other hand I couldn't imagine not writing from a rationalist stance.
Q: To what extent does your field of expertise (Astronomy) affect your writing? And do you read up on other fields (nanotechnology, biological sciences, physics) to supplement your professional knowledge?
ALASTAIR REYNOLDS: I don't see myself as an expert on anything, really. My area of astronomical research was actually very restricted - it dealt with one very tiny area of modern astronomy. Get me onto galaxies, or comets, and I don't know any more than the average, reasonably well-read fan of popular science. I rely on books, magazines and that great and utterly infallible tool of the modern writer, looking up stuff on The Internet.
Q: The 'Demarchist' faction in the 'Revelation Space' universe has a link to Australia through the originator of the term,
John Burnheim (former Professor of General Philosophy at the University of Sydney). Do you have any other links with Australia? And, do the 'Demarchists' know of their Aussie origins?
ALASTAIR REYNOLDS: I don't have any Australian links, although I'm a great fan of the country. It's a really cool place. I was fortunate enough to visit it during my Phd studentship and came away with very positive memories, all of which were rekindled on subsequent visits. I like a lot of Australian and Kiwi rock music, though - I was introduced to some of it when I stayed in a student house in Sydney at the end of the eighties. I'm a particular fan of Midnight Oil and Ed Kuepper, for instance. As for Burnheim, no, I don't think the Demarchists are aware of their Aussie origins - although there is a Burnheim Bay on one of the colony worlds. I should mention that I'm far from the first SF writer to play with these ideas - credit should be given to Joan D Vinge, who talked about demarchy in her novel The Outcasts of Heaven Belt.
Q: Although your work is undoubtedly SF, you seem to have displayed a few different genre influences in your work. Most notably I would say Crime comes to the fore, especially in 'Chasm City' and 'Century Rain'. Do you have a preference for the style of SF you write, or do you write SF specifically because it gives you the freedom to mix and match styles and genres without too much restraint?
ALASTAIR REYNOLDS: I don't think about it too much, in all honesty. I tend to write the stories I think of - if I could think of others, I'd write those instead. There's a great Ed Kuepper song: All My Ideas Run to Crime. I just have to live with it.
Q: I've read you also enjoy spy-novels and this again comes out in many of your stories. "A Spy in Europa" (in 'Galactic North') is probably my favourite of this style of story. You intrigue us with a whole mess of espionage and double-crossing, only to turn
everything on its head for both the reader and the protagonist. There doesn't seem to be anything sly, or of pulling-the-rug on the reader about this. The ending is rational and logical, you just don't see it coming. Is this an effect you consciously set out to achieve when you write a story? The ability to surprise a reader just when they think they've got it all figured out?
ALASTAIR REYNOLDS: I guess that's the effect I'm striving for with that specific kind of story, certainly. Whether I hit the mark all the time, or any of the time, is another matter entirely. I know people who disliked A Spy... intensely, because they felt it was implausibly contrived. Again, you write the stories you think of. With that one, I got the ending nailed down pretty early and worked back from it. It was actually one of the easiest stories I've ever written: I think I started it on a friday evening, and had it done by sunday. Most times, my short stories take at least three to six weeks.
Q: There is also your love of Stephen King, HP Lovecraft and ghost stories. I personally love this dark aspect of your own work:
the Gothic decay of the Nostalgia for Infinity, the melding plague and those who lock themselves away from it in palanquins, the goth Ultras, the moving cathedral of Absolution Gap, the bleak future promised by the Inhibitors. Do you enjoy frightening your readers? Are you frightened by your own visions of the future?
ALASTAIR REYNOLDS: There's a certain strand of gothic horror that's always been present in SF, and which I've always responded to. Again, I can't articulate it better than this: I write the stories I think up, and I'm basically at the mercy of the story-generating part of my brain. I certainly enjoy *being* frightened as a reader, although I could never get spooked by my own work. It's like being a special effects technician; you're seeing the monster from behind, with all the plaster, wires and mechanics showing. But I love it when readers respond to something I've written. I was a great kick to write about the War Babies in Century Rain, and then find I'd pushed an emotional button in so many readers (judging by feedback).
Q: Does you feel science fiction is being swamped by epic fantasy writing? Or is it that the greater mass of readers aren't as interested in reading of bleak futures, preferring Edenic pasts instead?
ALASTAIR REYNOLDS: It's not something that keeps me up at night. I'm not a huge fan of epic fantasy myself (that's an understatement) but it seems to me that there's still no shortage of pretty good, core SF still on the bookshelves. I mean, how fast a reader are you? I struggle to read more than a dozen or so books a year, and only about 20 % of that is going to be SF. There's no way I'd ever run out of good stuff.
Q: Both "Century Rain" and "Pushing Ice" are set in very different universes to "Revelation Space". Did you enjoy creating and exploring these other universes, or was it difficult to move out of the comfort zone of the future history you already knew?
ALASTAIR REYNOLDS: I thought it was going to be easier than it was. The comfort zone factor was very strong. But once I'd got through the pain barrier, both universes felt like they were my "default" one after a while. I then had to go through another awkward transition to get back into writing about the RS universe.
Q: "Pushing Ice" has a very contemporary feel to it, with many references to products, appliances and people we know today.
Being set in 2057 I can see a lot of that sort of culture persisting, but we're also flying around the solar system, doing business and making money. Do you think we have a chance of achieving that level of space exploration and commercial exploitation within the next fifty years?
ALASTAIR REYNOLDS: It's not inconceivable. To give an example, the difference between Alcock and Brown making the first crossing of the Atlantic, and Neil Armstrong landing on the moon, is exactly 50 years, give or take a month. So you can do vast, incredible things if the
will is there. In PI I originally set the book in the 22nd century. Then I brought it forward to the late 21st, and finally I brought it forward to 2057. I'd have happily set it even earlier, but by then I think I'd really have had a hard time convincing people that
we could achieve so much. With the characters, though, I made a conscious decision to make them more or less contemporary in outlook. I expected to get some stick for the fact that they're still listening to heavy metal in 2057, but no one's picked me up on that. I listen to Vaughan Williams, so why shouldn't someone still listen to Ozzie Osbourne in fifty years time?
Q: And, lastly, you've left a lot of intriguing possibilities open at the end of "Pushing Ice". Are you interested in exploring this universe in future novels? I hope so, because I'd love to see what happens next.
ALASTAIR REYNOLDS: I'd really like to, one day. I don't think it'll be the next novel, but maybe the one after that. I'll see how it goes. I don't envisage an open-ended series, but maybe one more book.
Q: Thank you very much for your time and I hope you enjoy your visit to Australia.
I had a wicked time, thanks.
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