north americaeurope
alastair reynolds

interview 04:05

[DGN] Speaking of which, it seems recently the majority of the really groundbreaking new writers in the science fiction genre seem to be coming from the UK. In general, do you feel there's a cultural or stylistic difference between British and North American science fiction?

[AR] I don't know really. People say there is. My influences have always tended to be what I read for most of my life American science fiction. It was just an accident really. I would say it's dictated by the books you can get your hands on, rather than the books you should be reading. I used to get most of my science fiction from my friends and my school library. My school library had lots of stuff by Philip K. Dick, so we all read Philip K. Dick books. If they'd had John Christopher books, than we would have read John Christopher books. It's just historical. I grew up reading a lot of American SF, and that became the default voice for me, the style of SF that felt most natural to me.

Lately I've broadened my taste a bit. There's a lot of good stuff coming out of the UK and a lot of good stuff that came out of the UK in the last thirty years that didn't perhaps get the attention it merited. When you write SF, you move in SF circles and you get to meet people you haven't met before and this encourages greater catholicism in your reading. I've been exposed to books I'd have never dreamt of reading a few years ago and I'm really enjoying it. My tastes are changing. There's a lot of good stuff coming out of the UK now, there's no question about that. Authors such as China Mievellle and a resurgence of interest in writers such as Mike Harrison and Christopher Priest. You've also got writers who made names for themselves in the 90's, such as Paul McAuley, Stephen Baxter, Iain Banks, Ken McCloud, Gwyneth Jones. All these writers are doing really good stuff, excellent and innovative. In my mind, there's also good work coming out in the Sattes as well that hasn't had the attention it merited. I don't know how to explain that really. Whether it's just a commercial issue or whether people are just more interested in focusing on the British work at the moment. Writers like Robert Reid for instance, he's a really good writer. It think his work is as expansive and epic as anything coming out of the UK. Even with this idea of the new weird in the UK the idea of melting genre boundaries. There's been a lot of that going on in the States and Canada as well. Writers like Jeff Vandemere, all these writers called 'Jeff' basically. They're all doing interesting work.

[DGN] (cue unprofessional laughter)

So I just step back. It doesn't matter which country has more interesting work, there's a lot of really cool writing coming out of a number of different markets. Let's just enjoy it.


[DGN] In general, do you think science fiction today is more accessible to the mainstream reader than it was maybe a few decades ago?

[AR] I don't know. One of the things that happened recently was this discussion on one of these internet forums. It was all about the new weird and these genres that are cropping up and genre boundaries breaking down and all that. One of the things that came up during this discussion was the idea that certain modes of science fiction are very off-putting to the casual reader. I was very interested in this and started thinking about it. If you begin a novel with a spaceship orbiting a planet, that's going to push a lot of buttons for science fiction readers, people who've been steeped in the genre since they were tiny. At the same time however, it's going to be instantly off-putting for a lot of otherwise intelligent readers. If you look at some of the classics of science fiction if you go right back to Wells, Stapleton, and the writers that came after they didn't put those barriers in. They tended to begin somewhere in the real world and there wasn't that immediate sense of estrangement. I think that's the fact that really kicks a lot of people out of science fiction. I think most of the people who read science fiction have read it most of their lives. It's very unusual to find someone who just picks it up randomly and likes it. It's almost like some sort of avant-garde music - you have to really train yourself to like it and that takes years and years of practice. That's good in a way, you can achieve things. As a writer you can make all sorts of references to bodies of work in your writing and the connoisseurs will get it. But at the same time you're excluding a vast readership. As a result of this discussion, I think a lot of us writers see this as good and bad in different ways. It's not a bad idea to take a step back from what you're working on and see if there's some way to open it up to a more general audience. Well, not a more general audience, that sounds demeaning, but an intelligent literate audience who wouldn't necessarily want to read hard SF.


[DGN] Do you think you're taking a step in that direction with 'Century Rain'?

[AR] A think a step in that direction, in some respects. Just because of the way the book's structured. At the moment it begins in the classic mode of the crime novel, with an unsolved murder and a detective on the case. Gradually it opens up into a large scale hard SF adventure with all the trappings. I've tried to bring those things in organically throughout the novel, rather than slamming the reader into the heart of it from the start. I mean, I really love that sense of dislocation when you get thrown into a bewildering future environment for me that's one of the big kicks of science fiction and it's not something I would ever throw out. Perhaps in the next book I'll dive back into a galaxy-spanning space opera, plunging right into it on page one. For those of us who like science fiction, that's one of the greatest gifts the genre can give us, the sense of vertigo you get when you're hit with all these different concepts and impressions straight away. At the same time, you have to remember that's very off-putting for a lot of people.


[DGN] Were you at all surprised by the critical success your first novel, 'Revelation Space', met with?

[AR] Yes. I wasn't expecting anything. I had been writing and selling short stories for over ten years when 'Revelation Space' came out and pretty much to zero effect. That sounds like I'm moaning about it, but I'm not. That's just the way the world of writing and selling short fiction in a science fiction market works. You're never going to see your name in lights. It was kind of like throwing pebbles into a lake you don't even get a splash. You just keep doing it. If you don't enjoy the actual writing, then there's no point pursuing it. I enjoyed writing and selling stories to magazines but it was amazing the kind of culture shock I got after that book came out. You go from having almost no contact with your readers to having a lot more overnight. People were very generous with it and I was grateful for that.