12 July 2020

Approaching Pavonis Mons by balloon: “A long-form interview with Reaktor magazine”

Reaktor: If you woke up in one of the settings or worlds you have written about, which would mean a “whoa, cool!” awakening and which would be an “oh no…”?

AR: I think there are bits of both in all the settings and worlds – places and times where it’s fairly comfortable, bordering on utopian, and others where it’s very much the opposite! Although I’m very content with the time and place into which I was born, I could see the attraction of living in the epoch of galactic civilisation depicted in House of Suns, in which a group of relatively happy-go-lucky humans are given this awesome technology of interstellar travel and basically just told to go out there, explore, learn things and have fun. On the other hand, although I really love writing in the setting, I’ve never had any desire to live in the Revelation Space universe. It’s like the Dark Ages, with plagues, madness, and apocalypse at every corner.

Alastair Reynolds

In other words, basically living in 2020

Interesting question though! If I had to choose from the work of Alastair Reynolds exclusively, I would most likely settle on other examples of ‘best’ and ‘worst’ futures – after all, Revelation Space has its share of utopian settings, as in Aurora Rising – another reason why he is a such a good and versatile writer. The worst future in my opinion is depicted in Permafrost, where the last remnants of humanity are struggling to survive in the frozen Russian wasteland – maybe because it is closer to us in time and more likely to happen. The best bright path, also in a relatively close future, I consider to be Blue Remembered Earth.

Looking at other authors and recent books I have read, Blindsight and Children of Time also fall into the category of ‘places I would not want to live’, despite how much I loved the concepts and deep existential questions in Blindsight. As for the brightest future, Pandora’s Star still holds that special place in my eyes, more than a decade after first reading it – the idealistic post-scarcity society of Star Trek combined with almost unlimited life-spans and exciting space exploration via wormholes! Sign me up, please!

Could I ever write an out-and-out fantasy novel? No, I don’t think I’ve got the right narrative toolkit for that; it would just keep bending back to science fiction. Even watching “Game of Thrones” I keep asking myself pedantic, world-breaking questions such as: do they have a science of alloys? Do they have magnetic fields? Does anyone do astronomy? Are they really on a colony world, and are the White Walkers really nanotech zombie robots left over from the first explorers? That sort of thing.

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