An Interview with Alastair Reynolds
On September 8, 2005, two of our very own, Ernest G. Saylor and Joseph W. Dickerson, managed to arrange an exclusive interview with Alastair Reynolds, who currently resides in the Netherlands. Mr. Reynolds is an accomplished and leading edge science fiction writer with six novels under his belt. Much of his work has been nominated for various awards; however, his novel Chasm City won the British Science Fiction Award for Best Novel, and his novel Redemption Ark won a Chronicle Award for Best Novel. His seventh novel, Pushing Ice, is due to be released in the U. K. in late October. Presented below is the transcript from that interview. You can find out more about him at his official website, located at the following URL: http://members.tripod.com/~voxish/index.html
Aberrant Dreams: When I was young, I distinctly remember reading Clarke Aston Smith’s Master of the Asteroid (1932), Donald Wandrei’s The Red Brain (1927), and H. P. Lovecraft’s Shadow out of Time (1936). Those were very important short stories in their own turn, but they impressed me in a big way. As a successful short story writer, what are some of the earliest ones you remember reading, and how have they influenced you as a writer and a person?
They all stuck in my mind to one degree or another, but the one that really blew me and set me on a course for life was A Meeting with Medusa, which was Clarke’s story [written in] about 1970. This was actually a recent story at the time when I read it, which was about ’73 or ’74. It was just this mind-blowing trip about this astronaut that goes into Jupiter, and he meets all sorts of weird Aliens and things like that floating in the atmosphere, and it’s just a blast. At the end of the story, we find out that he’s kind of a cyborg, because he had this horrible accident right at the beginning, which Clarke is very coy about right at the start of the story and doesn’t tell you exactly what happens. That had a big impact on me.
The same magazine started running Asimov’s early short fiction. In particular, they did the whole sequence of the early robot stories, like Robbie (1940), Runaround (1941), and things like that. Those obviously stick in my mind. They also ran some of Asimov’s early space operas like The Weapon Too Dreadful to Use (1939), which I think is one of his very earliest stories. I also found that one very disturbing when I read it. So, yeah, for me it was Clarke's and Asimov’s. It was only when I was a bit older that I started heading to the school library and reading other writers like Phil Dick and people like that.
Aberrant Dreams: My son, of whom we spoke, is majoring in geology, and Asimov is his main man. He is an avid hiker and outbacked pieces of the Appalachian Trail several years back, and he toted in his backpack one of those bonded leather editions of the Foundation Trilogy everywhere he went.
Aberrant Dreams: That’s true. It’s like H. G. Wells. Many of his most famous novels are just a few hundred pages or so.
Aberrant Dreams: While you mention Dune, I have frequently heard that Frank Herbert, once he started Dune, was almost trapped by it because it was one of the first big, best-selling science fiction novels, and the publisher kept pushing him for more.
Aberrant Dreams: Have you been asked in any way to continue the Revelation Space series?
Aberrant Dreams: None of us can believe that you don’t have a hard cover collection of short stories out there somewhere. What’s the deal on that?
Aberrant Dreams: That wouldn’t be Jim Turner’s old publishing house [Golden Gryphon], would it?
Aberrant Dreams: I have followed Arkham House for many years, certainly throughout the Jim Turner phase, when many people were saying, “Is this guy crazy? What’s this guy doing to Arkham House?” when he was publishing Greg Bear and Michael Bishop. They seem to forget that Derleth published Slan (1946) as well as Throne of Saturn (1949). Arkham House had already published a lot of science fiction, so I didn’t understand what all of the complaining was about.
Aberrant Dreams: This is more of a question in regards to the business side of the craft. Virtually, every writer that you speak with has his or her own personal horror story as to the number of times they have been rejected, and they pretty much guarantee that it is a part of the business. My question to you is, when you first started out, how were you able to keep yourself motivated and persistent enough to make your first sale?
I tried writing stuff for comics, but I never got into that. I gave that up after a while, saying, okay, I am just not cut out for it. That dream has died, as far as I’m concerned, and I have no intention of ever doing it again. But with fiction, the reward came in a few years of me starting to sell a few stories.
Aberrant Dreams: Have you published any scientific articles relating to astrophysics or other related areas?
Aberrant Dreams: It’s been theorized that when humanity has advanced far enough, he will cease to make war upon himself. Yet, in your novels, the society of humankind is as turbulent as ever. I understand that a novel about two old ladies playing cards and talking about their flowers probably isn’t going to sell very well, but when developing your stories, how do you balance action and intrigue with scientific speculations such as this?
Certainly, when you’re sitting down, you’re groping for any kind of source for conflict, because that can animate the narrative and give you lots of interesting plot possibilities. I do tend to feel that either we’ll wipe ourselves out or reach some state of enlightened pacifism. I do many stories that I see as counterpoints to the Revelation Space stuff, which is very dark and pessimistic in some respects. Every now and again, I need to cheer myself up, so I do a more optimistic story in another universe or something, in which not everybody is trying to kill each other all the time.
I’m not particularly interested in war per say, as a writer. I don’t know anything about it. I’m not interested in battle strategies [or] tactics, so I don’t read about it. People have commented that the space battles always tend to be in the background. Often I don’t even describe the battles; they simply happen between chapters. I guess that’s partly because of my basic lack of interest in battle scenes, though I am interested in espionage and things like that.
Aberrant Dreams: One of the amazing things about the Foundation Trilogy is often that when they would get together about their conflict, as soon as one figured out that he could best the other, then that was the end of it. That happened a lot in Asimov’s stuff. For the battles, there are scant descriptions at all.
Aberrant Dreams: I understand you have read and enjoyed some of the work of H. P. Lovecraft, whose literature, while classified as supernatural, is riddled with aliens, and was, certainly in his day, quite avant-garde. What inspires your aliens?
With my aliens, a lot of what I write is, to some extent, a reaction against what I see as a certain trend in science fiction, which I would characterize as a Star Trek mentality, where aliens are simply people in funny suits with funny foreheads. I always felt that the aliens that really stuck in my mind and struck a cord with me were always quite weird and unsettling in some way. So, that’s the kind of [picture] I’ve always been aiming for. Plenty of writers have done excellent aliens, but I’ve always been drawn to the more esoteric, spookier kind of alien.
Aberrant Dreams: It’s funny you should mention that about Lovecraft. He was very critical of his contemporaries at the time because he said that, basically, the Martians and the aliens weren’t really aliens. All they were was just people with weapons. If they were truly aliens then they would be vastly different from us, and that’s pretty much what you’re saying.
Aberrant Dreams: Yes, he did The Martian Odyssey and The Red Peri. He died very young. (Weinbaum died of lung cancer in 1935. He was only 33). He also wrote one of the best Superman novels ever, The New Adam (1939).
Aberrant Dreams: I don’t know if it is true in Europe, but in the U. S., there has been a great resurgence in Edwardian, British science fiction. I was caught up in some of that myself, specifically Harry Collingwood and authors such as George Griffith and the Honeymoon stuff and Fenton Ash, which is a pseudonym for Frank Aubrey. These things are hard to get a hold of, especially in good condition in the first edition. Have you read much, yourself from that, and do you think there’s a grass-is-greener mentality in this regard?
I’m always a bit dubious about that, because a lot of the stuff I read is American and always has been. So, I’m always a little bit cautious about being pigeonholed as a writer working in an exclusively British tradition. I read a lot of American science fiction growing up, writers like Joe Haldeman, John Varley, and Harry Harrison, who were rocking my world, to some extent. Now, I haven’t lived in Britain for fourteen years as well, so I kind of see myself as a bit of an outcast living in the Netherlands . So, I’m always a little bit unsure of what position to take on the whole British SF thing.
Aberrant Dreams: First, I’d like to say congratulations, because I understand that you’re a newlywed. The question is in what way, if any, does your wife participate in these writing endeavors? Is it solely you, or is it kind of a partnership?
At a very early point, she started getting involved in actually helping me prepare stuff for submission. She would take my stories, format them for me, print them, and send them off. So I never had to worry about that. Also, very early on, I started getting her to read stuff in draft form before I would submit it to anyone. We had to go through a period where she was somewhat reluctant to criticize anything I’d written, but we got over that pretty soon, and she quickly became an honest critic with my stuff. I really value that now. She doesn’t pull any punches; she says, “Well, that just doesn’t work,” or “that’s boring.” She’s certainly a valuable part of the team.
She’s a science fiction reader herself, I should say. It’s really funny, but we didn’t meet through mutual interest in science fiction. Actually, we met because we were both interested in climbing, and it was only after we got to know each other, via our climbing club, that I found out she was really keen on science fiction. Then we found out that we had a lot of books in common, as well. That was when we really knew we had something special going on.
Aberrant Dreams: Chasm City is an incredible novel, and certainly an exercise in obsession. What was the basis for Sky Haussman? I was never able to guess ahead of time what that rascal was going to do. In my mind, he was similar to Captain Ahab. Would you resurrect him again, do you think?
The whole genesis of Chasm City was very messy and unpleasant. It’s like one of those stage fronts. It looks fantastic from the front, but then you go behind the scenes and it’s all rubbish. It’s quite a long story, but if I have time, I’ll tell you.
I wrote Chasm City, which was originally called Shadow Play, before I had a deal with my publisher to buy Revelation Space, and it was a relatively short novel. It didn’t have any of the Sky Haussman stuff in it. It had only the foreground story about Tanner Mirabel pursuing this killer in Chasm City , and digging into his own memory, you find that he is actually Cahuella, the guy he’s been set to avenge. The whole extra layer of stuff about Sky Haussman was dropped in later after I had the [book] deal for Revelation Space, because my publisher’s requirement was that my next novel would be of comparable size to Revelation Space.
So, I had this thing called Shadow Play, which was about half the size. I then thought, can I do anything to this book? Can I enlarge it in any way without it being padding? I didn’t want to pad it, but I wanted to see if I could deepen it and make it larger. So I went away on holiday with a notebook, and I just sat and thought about it. There had been a throwaway reference in the first draft of that book about generation ships on their way to Sky’s Edge. I thought, can I do something with that? Can I make that a sort of narrative thread? So, the whole thing became three-stranded rather than two-stranded.
By the time I got back from holiday, I had a notebook full of ideas about what was going to happen on those generation ships, and how I could tie that in to the foreground story in Chasm City. So, as I say, it was a kind of messy genesis that involved it being taken apart and reassembled with an extra plot strand in it, which is where Sky Haussman came in.
Even that was going back a few years now, so it’s difficult for me to remember exactly what my thought processes at the time were. I knew I wanted him to be a nasty little shit, basically. I suppose that’s as far as it got.
Aberrant Dreams: Another one of your characters I hated to see go was the mad doctor in Diamond Dogs. That guy was cool too.
The funny thing about that novella is that I wrote it upon commission for PS Publishing. They published it as a chapbook, but when Peter Crowther took delivery of it, he read it, and he liked it. He said, “You know, you could make this even darker if you wanted. You could make it even nastier.” So, he gave me license to go away and darken it. I’d almost put a hopeful ending, but Pete didn’t think it worked. He thought it needed an even sicker, more twisted ending, so that was what I went away and did.
Aberrant Dreams: You know, it’s another look at obsession.
So, I started thinking about that in science fiction terms. I started thinking about a traditional sci-fi story of exploring a dangerous alien artifact. The other thing that came in was a book I’d read a long time ago, and really enjoyed, called Rogue Moon by Algis Budrys, which is a story about a guy who is forced, time-and-again, to go back and explore deeper and deeper into an alien artifact on the moon.
Aberrant Dreams: Isaac Asimov wrote that modern science fiction is the only form of literature that consistently considers the nature of the changes we face, the possible consequences, and the possible solutions. He further comments that it is the branch of literature that is concerned with the impact of scientific advances upon human beings. Do you feel your work exemplifies that perspective, and what do you personally look forward to in regards to scientific advancement?
For me, there’s nothing inherently ignoble in speculating about the future, and in order to do that, you have to think about scientific progress and technology. I see science fiction, taken as a whole, as a collective thought experiment, where we’re looking into the future and mapping not a future, but the space of all possible futures. So yes, I’m genuinely interested in what the next hundred years is going to hold for us, and you can’t think about that sort of thing without speculating about where science is going to go.
Right now, as a science fiction writer, there are certain things I don’t want people to discover. You know, I really would be pissed off if tomorrow there was a big headline in the papers about scientist discovering intelligent aliens in Barnard Star, or something like that, because that would just kill what I was writing. There’s a conflict.
I’m very interested in the whole notion of intelligent life in the universe and inhabitable planets. I think what I really find very exciting over the next three or four decades, if budgets stay online, is that NASA and the ESA have expectations to put large telescopes in orbit that should begin imaging planets around other stars. That, for me, is really fascinating; it’s not something I ever expected would happen in my lifetime.
I am aware that as we sharpen our knowledge of our local neighborhood in the galaxy, then things, for instance, like the Revelation Space books will become increasingly obsolescent, because many of the data in those books will be contradicted by what we’ll discover. So, it is with mixed emotions, I suppose, that I look forward to that kind of development.
Aberrant Dreams: Well, I think you also answered the next question. It sounds to me that if you could solve the Fermi Paradox, then you wouldn’t.
I’m not the only writer who is intrigued by this whole issue. There are plenty of other people operating in the same arena. There’s Steve Baxter, Paul McAuley, Greg Egan, and Robert Reed. As soon as you start thinking seriously about what it would really mean to have contact with aliens, you get into some really interesting speculative territory. I just think it is endlessly fertile, and that there is no shortage of ideas to be mined and used science fictionally.
I’m perfectly happy to take one stance on the Fermi Paradox in one book and then come back and take another nibble at it in another book from a different angle. They might be mutually contradictory, but for me, it’s just a springboard for ideas.
Aberrant Dreams: Several people I have spoken with have mentioned how your stories have so many threads within them, but I now understand this much better after hearing about how Chasm City was developed. Do you have different short stories ahead of time, even if their only in your mind, and then weave them into a novel?
I think, as I get older with each new book, I’ve certainly been making a conscious effort to simplify things a bit, because, with the first few novels, there were so many different subplots going on that, for me, it was a question of keeping too many balls in the air at the same time. I’ve tended to feel that that level of complexity can also be a sign that you do not have a clear grasp on narrative.
So with Century Rain, I really tried to strip it down and have a simple, fairly linear storyline going on. Some people like that, and some people don’t. It’s something I’m sort of fiddling around with in each book, groping towards some sort of optimum state, I suppose. I certainly don’t plot in advance; I just thread the things gradually through.
You rely on the old subconscious to some degree. It’s often amazing to me how, right at the end of a book, you suddenly realize there’s an almost implicit story there, lurking in the background, that you weren’t really aware of when you were writing it, but now you can just bring it out a little bit.
Aberrant Dreams: For me, there is an encumbrance issue with novels like Greg Bear’s Eon. Although that one is a tremendous novel overall, one has to keep up with so many characters, and it’s a bit taxing as a reader.
Aberrant Dreams: While I can’t put my finger on it, your style sometimes reminds me of A. E. Van Vogt. When I mentioned this just prior to arranging this interview, you indicated you had been told that before. Would you be inclined to cite him as an influence, and if so, which of his works inspired you the most?
I didn’t really connect up to Van Vogt’s novels, however. I tried reading The War Against the Rull (1959) when I was a kid, but I could never get into it. I guess he has always been there in the back of my mind as an influence. I think it was M. John Harrison, the British writer, who did a review of my third novel, Redemption Ark, in The Guardian, and he used this quote: “Alastair Reynolds occupies the same frenzied, imaginative space as A. E. Van Vogt and Philip K. Dick.” My publishers thought that was a good line, so they used it on the covers of the books ever since.
I have this book by Damon Knight, a collection of critical essays, and Knight really trashed Van Vogt very publicly. He was really damning. Do you think his career ever really recovered from that?
Aberrant Dreams: Yes, but also Van Vogt was involved with a couple of other things that tarnished him a bit. One, he was very much involved with L. Ron Hubbard before the founding of the Church of Scientology . He was interested in Semantics, and he was serious about that side of it. Then when Hubbard decided he could make more money by making it a religion, they parted, but the association, nonetheless, compromised his credibility. Second, in the sixties, he did a lot of slap dash stuff where he took many of his stories and fashioned them into a novel. Some worked; however, many didn’t. The term fix-up novel comes from this technique of his.
Aberrant Dreams: The best description that I know of for Van Vogt’s writing was in John Clute and Peter Nicholls’, The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. In this, Clute writes that a key to reading and understanding A. E. Van Vogt is to look at everything as though they were dream sequences. They are images that will fit together, but they are not necessarily coherently one against the other. If you can do that, then you can come away with something. Your point is most accurate about him having fans. Damon Knight must not have been correct because Van Vogt still sells like crazy. He just won the 2005 Hall of Fame Prometheus award for Weapon Shops of Isher. So, apparently much of his work still does it right.
Aberrant Dreams: I noticed that your work is always categorized as hard science fiction. Do you think that is accurate? Also, since you have been interested and a part of it, how have you seen hard SF evolve?
If you are scientifically numerate--if you can put scientific ideas together in an imaginative way, and you can structure stories around them--then you have this enormously beneficial aspect to your writing. But, at the same time, it is assumed that you have a passing interest in characterization, that you are not particularly interested in prose, etc. I find I’m just as interested in prose, metaphor, character, and plot as I am in making sure that the planet goes around the right orbit.
So, I’m okay about being called a hard science fiction writer, but I always want to make it clear that many of my favorite science fiction writers are not remotely hard SF writers. I’m a big fan of writers like Jonathan Carroll, Tim Powers, and Gene Wolfe, people like that, people who are operating on the margins of science fiction and fantasy. So yeah, it can be a little bit limiting.
The good thing about hard SF is that it sells. All the editors will tell you that they never get enough of it, and if you can write a halfway decent hard SF story for a magazine, then you have a damn good chance of selling it. That certainly worked well for me, because when I was beginning my career, I had these cool credentials. I could say that I’m a scientist working for the European Space Agency, and that seemed to carry a lot of weight. People would take my stuff seriously on that basis.
If I get something wrong in my books, then it’s a capital crime because I’m an avowed hard SF writer. You have this sort of double responsibility to make sure you do all of your calculations correctly, and that can get incredibly, bloody tedious at times. I mean, you say, “I just want to get my characters from point A to point B. I don’t really care if it takes five days or eight days.” It’s completely irrelevant for plot purposes, but you still have to do the sums, work out the math and then put it in the story. So, it works both ways.
Aberrant Dreams: Well, you got to go to WorldCon this year. Tell me about it .
My only sort of problem with it was that I signed up to do many program events. I was sitting in on a lot of panels; I was doing readings and signings. All that stuff was good fun, but I actually didn’t participate, in any way, as just an audience member. It was about halfway through the convention that I realized that I was missing a lot of good stuff, really fun looking discussions that I couldn’t go to because I was doing something else. So, that was a little frustrating. When I got back, and I started reading all the post mortems about the whole convention, it seemed that all the really exciting stuff was happening when I was someplace else, but it was good.
Aberrant Dreams: Have you read the novel that won the Hugo, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and how do you feel about a definitively fantasy novel winning?
I guess the Hugo is okay, in a sense, because, formally, it is the award for best science fiction or fantasy novel, so you can’t really complain if a fantasy novel wins it. Where I do moan on occasion, is that there are some specifically science fiction awards, where an awful lot of what I would say is categorically fantasy, gets into the awards’ short lists, but the reverse never seems to happen. You know, you never see avowedly science fiction books in fantasy short lists. I generally feel that there are only a couple of awards set up to recognize specifically science fiction, and I feel it is a shame to dilute that by letting books that are clearly fantasy in on the same awards short lists when they also have another bite at the cherry, because there are plenty of specifically fantasy awards as well.
A lot of people say it is very hard [classify a] book as fantasy or science fiction. I say, “No, no, I can tell you! I know!” I’m a little bit fascist about it. I tend to feel that the slightest whiff of fantasy in a book makes it fantasy. Even if your book has many science fictional trappings, if there is magic in there somewhere, that automatically damns it as fantasy.
Aberrant Dreams: We are really excited about Pushing Ice. What about it excites you, and how many first edition copies are you going to print?
I wanted to do another book that was about space exploration and first contact, but I wanted to do it in a distinctly different way than was possible in the confines of the Revelation Space universe. I had been thinking about some different angles on the Fermi Paradox and about first contact. It was also the sort of book I wanted to write, which was harking back to stuff like Larry Niven’s Known Space books, where you have a whole bunch of different alien cultures interacting at more or less the same technological level: you can have trade and even warfare, whatever you like, between these different species. Not one of them is massively more advanced than another, so there is no prospect of one culture completely annihilating another.
But, when you start looking at it from the whole Fermi Paradox standpoint, it doesn’t really hang together in any logical way, because if we go out into the universe, and we happen to meet another stellar civilization, chances are that they will have been out there for millions of years, and they are going to be millions of years more advanced than us. We won’t have a lot of common ground. For fictional purposes, however, that is quite dull in my opinion.
In some respects, I suppose it’s a bit like Star Trek, where you have the Romulans and the Klingons and all those other alien factions, bickering over who gets control of the galaxy. I always thought that would be a fun premise if you could work up to it in a hard SF sense without ignoring the Fermi Paradox.
On one level, the whole point of Pushing Ice was to write myself into a position where I had that [premise] set up and established, and that’s more or less the ending of the book. Having gotten there, I’m thinking, what can I do with it now? So, there is some possibility for doing a sequel if I feel like it in a year or two.
If I was going to start with a new universe, which was going to be different from the Revelation Space books, I wanted to do it as different as possible. I didn’t want it to have any whiff of gothic, creepy darkness, or twisted imagery that’s in the Revelation Space books. I wanted to get away from that for Pushing Ice. So, I decided to make it a more contemporary book in that sense. It starts in the very near future, and a lot of the space hardware and politics is recognizably derived from the present.
Aberrant Dreams: That sounds very good. Do you think it’s going to be released on time?
Aberrant Dreams: Why did you change the title of the book?
There’s a space ship out there, hopping from one comet to the next, attaching a mass driver onto each comet, so it can chug its way back home. The crew of this ship gets an emergency request to abandon their current mission and go chasing after Janus, which is one of the moons of Saturn. What’s happened is that Janus has suddenly left its orbit and is heading out of the solar system. Everybody realizes that it was, in fact, a sort of alien monitoring machine of some kind that just happened to be disguised as a moon.
On this mining spacecraft, Rock Hopper, they have a bit of a debate, and then agree to go for it. They decide to chase after Janus and get some imagery and data before their fuel constraints mean they have to turn around and come back home.
I called it Chasing Janus, because that’s what happens, but as I got more into the story, the chasing bit only occupied the first third of the book. So I thought, this isn’t really doing the plot justice. Then I hear some rumbles from the marketing department, who said they could not really make Chasing Janus work. I don’t know what they didn’t like about it, but there is an actress in Britain named Samantha Janus, so there may have been some room for confusion there.
Not for the first time, I had to come up with another title. This is sort of standard operating procedure, and I’m perfectly okay about it because sometimes I have a title, but I’m not satisfied with it. I’m perfectly happy to sit and rethink until I come up with a title that seems to work for me as well as for my publisher.
Aberrant Dreams: Often times, books by the same author are made to look very similar, and many of your books also bare this trait. How was the cover for Pushing Ice selected, and do artists bid on opportunities like that?
It takes me about ten months to write a book, so I usually start [writing] about a year before the book is due to appear. That’s when I’m asked to give cover art input, because the artist needs to have time to [create] it. So, the question that usually comes through is, “What does the space ship look like?” even before I said there was a space ship in the story.
With the exception of Century Rain, where we didn’t have a space ship on the cover, they used a British artist named Chris Moore, who’s a very long-established British science fiction and fantasy artist. When I was a kid, I used to buy big coffee table books full of paintings by Chris Moore. For me, it was a big kick to get a Chris Moore cover, even though they used his artwork in the not so traditional way that one would normally use Chris Moore artwork. They essentially just stripped out the space ship and superimposed it on a planetscape. As I said, they made it very minimalist and bleak, but that’s obviously an arrangement that works well for my publisher, and I’m a fan of his work anyway. I’m also a fan of dozens of other science fiction artists, so I’d find it difficult not to be a happy camper.
Aberrant Dreams: Well, the next one might be somewhat difficult, but do you feel Pushing Ice is your best novel to date?
At the same time, I feel that I’m trying to strip out anything that resembles padding, because I felt a sort of tendency towards bloating and padding in my earlier books. Not that I was consciously doing it at the time, but when I go back and read them, I feel that they’re somewhat long winded. With Pushing Ice, I wanted to write a story that kicked in on page one and didn’t slow down for the whole book. It’s basically just action and dialogue driven all the way through.
For me, that was what I aspired to do at the time I started writing that book. I felt that I had kicked that box by the time I had finished it, because when I went through and proofread it, it felt very lean compared to the earlier books, which is what I was aiming for. Really, though, I’m not the best judge. All I know is that they all seemed to involve about the same amount of hard work.
Aberrant Dreams: It doesn’t get easier as you go along?
But, then, a lot of other stuff that I certainly wasn’t concerned about five years now occupies my time when I’m writing. I start thinking about thematic and character issues that I was only remotely concerned about when I was writing Revelation Space. One thing that I really tried hard to do in the last three or four books is to work hard on character, because I felt that, even though a lot of people did respond to the characters in the first couple of books, in my view, they were more grotesques than real characters. So, I tried to think hard about character.
That will work for some people, but it won’t work for others. You know, some people are perfectly entitled to respond to the fact that they like those grotesque, over-the-top kind of characters from Revelation Space. I would say that the characters in Century Rain are far more fleshed out and human, but the bottom line is that it is a personal reaction by the reader.
Aberrant Dreams: Well, with Century Rain, because it occurs a little bit in the past, you’ve already developed, in many cases, a perception of people and things that occurred. In the future, you are sort of in the learning mode.
The characters at the start of the book watch CNN, they watch football, they listen to music on MP3 players, and that sort of thing. It’s more grounded in the present day, but they’re out in space aboard a spacecraft, but they’re essentially... You know, if they were making a film of it, they wouldn’t need futuristic costumes. They would just be wearing everyday outfits. They’re just people with everyday viewpoints that we have today.
Aberrant Dreams: Well, maybe Spielberg will give you a call about this one.
Aberrant Dreams: I am eagerly looking forward to it, and I hope it is a success for you in a big way. I think the thing is that you have already proven that you are not one a one-hit wonder. You are somebody we can rely on. You know, if your name is on the book, we can be sure it will be pretty doggone good.
That would have been the easy option, but I wanted to do a book set in Paris , and that turned out to be enormously harder than I thought it would be. I just suddenly realized, God, I’m going to have to do some research. That was just completely terrifying, and it really held me up for months, being sort of stymied by this huge black hole in my understanding of what had actually happened. With Pushing Ice, again I thought, let’s try to take things in a different direction. We’ll do a space novel, but let’s not make it another carbon copy of the first four books. Having said that, I am going to do another Revelation Space book, but I want to do it in a significantly different way than the first four books.
Aberrant Dreams: When do you plan to come to Atlanta and meet some of your fans?
Aberrant Dreams: No, it is not. Well, I guess this is the last one. Is there anything you would like to add?
Aberrant Dreams: Well, you were a wonderful person to interview. On behalf of Aberrant Dreams, I opportunity to do this would like to thank you for the interview.
Aberrant Dreams: Is this the first one you’ve done about Pushing Ice?
Aberrant Dreams: I certainly hope Pushing Ice is a success for you and that is receives it due accolades.
Editor’s note: Alastair Reynolds was an absolute joy to interview. He was very well-read and spoken, but also possessed an edge of humility that belied a man of his credentials and level of success. If at any time you meet this man at a convention, feel free to speak with him. His level of knowledge and his light-hearted nature will surely win you over as well. Join us in the next issue as we present a full review of Pushing Ice