north americaeurope
alastair reynolds

interview 02:05

[DGN] As for the writing process – do you operate by a measured discipline where you sit down and make yourself write, or do you like to write whenever the inspiration strikes you?

[AR] I've had to be really disciplined since I've started writing seriously. It's been crammed into evenings for me after work. I didn't used to be disciplined and I found I just didn't produce anything. There's always something I'd rather be doing than writing, like watching 'The Simpsons' or something. I have to actually get of my ass and write, and I've found unless I've set myself a concrete target, a few thousands words or so per session, then I would never finish anything. Certainly a novel requires a large measure of discipline if you want to finish it in a reasonable length of time. I tend to sit down at the computer and work during set hours in the evening. All that's going to change actually, as I've just stopped my day job now. I have the days to write as well.


[DGN] You're writing full time now?

[AR] As of this week, actually.


[DGN] As you've worked at the ESA (European Space Agency) and with your PhD in Astronomy, you seem very suited to this type of material. Did you have to do any extra research for these novels?

[AR] Well, the thing is a lot of people think that because I'm working with the Space Agency and I'm doing space science that I must be trolling my work for ideas and importing those into the books. To be honest, most of the stuff I put in the books just comes from popular science magazines. Basically the same sources everyone else uses. The area of astronomy I work in – I'm still doing a bit of work for ESA even though I've stopped working full time – is very focused and specialized on little details and I've never found any of that particularly useful for fiction. I get all these science mags like New Scientist, Nature and Scientific American. I read those and I watch documentaries on the telly, read the newspapers, surf the web and now and then an idea strikes you and you think “Oh, that's a good one for a story.” Then you sit on it for a few years, until you get another idea that makes it more interesting. That's the way I work. I've always been interested in space. In a way I think my interest in science fiction predated my interest in being an astronomer. I gravitated towards that, but I think I would be still doing the same type of stuff, from a writing point of view, no matter what job I had.


[DGN] Speaking of science again, there's plenty of technology and science in you work, as one would expect from this type of sf. For the sake of your readers, do you ever find it necessary to restrain yourself concerning how much detail you go into?

[AR] Not just for the sake of my readers. My bottom line when I'm writing is to try and write what I think I would be entertained with myself. Basically I am my reader. I try not to condescend to my readers – most of them are more clever than me anyways. If I'm bored by it, then my readers will be bored by it as well. What I put in is what I believe is interesting. If anything, I tend to feel there's not enough of that sutff in it, to be honest. I always think at the eleventh hour “my God, there's not enough science in this one,” or “there's not enough detail.” The instinct is always the opposite – I feel like I'm not putting enough in. I certainly don't feel that I'm reining myself in. I think in the last book there was some stuff I put in and I sat down and said “Look, this is boring, isn't it?” I'd have time to think about it and decide it wasn't needed. Most of the time I just stick with what I think is interesting.


[DGN] Your writing isn't strictly science fiction, but has several different elements in it, such as suspense, mystery and horror, to name a few. Have you ever considered writing a book that wasn't strictly science fiction?

[AR] Yes, but it's a pipe dream, I suppose. Whether I'll ever do it or not, I don't know. I'm obsessed with science, space, space travel, human destiny in the universe, and you should always follow your obsessions. That's what gets the old fire in the belly going, it's what really puts passion into the work. I like reading a lot of stuff other than science fiction. Science fiction is not the main bulk of my reading diet. I read a lot of mainstream fiction, including lot of crime. I think to go into that, you've got to be really good. Particularly a crime novel, you've got to do something new and different, otherwise what's the point? There's tons of competent crime novels out there, and there's not much reason to add another one to the pile. The book I'm writing at the moment has more crime and mystery elements than any of the other ones, but it's also got plenty of hard SF in it as well.


[DGN] That's called 'Century Rain'?

[AR] Yes.


[DGN] Is it set in the same world as ‘Revelation Space'?

[AR] No, this one is in a different universe. At this point I felt like I needed a change and I had an idea brewing for a while that I wanted to do for the next novel. It seemed like a good time to try something different.


[DGN] Do you enjoy the change, or do you miss writing in the world of your previous novels?

[AR] To be honest with you, I'm enjoying it, but I had this optimistic idea that I would just blaze into it and slap down thousands of words without a problem. However, it's a completely new break for me. Not just a new universe; one of the themes of the book toys with alternate history, so there are a lot of scenes set on Earth in the past. These have needed a lot of research, far more than I anticipated. It was a bit of an eye-opener for me, how hard the first thirty thousand words were. If I'd just gone and done another novel in the 'Revelation Space' universe, it would have been easier. I've already got all that stuff in the back of my head. I wouldn't have to research it and I could have blazed on with that. It's been good though, I am enjoying it. I think it's important to try something different.