Alastair Reynolds is the author of twelve science fiction novels and over fifty short stories in the genre. A former space scientist, he moved away from studying astronomy and astrophysics at the European Space Agency in the Netherlands and decided to write science fiction which was informed by his research and work. His most recent novel, Poseidon’s Wake was published in early 2015 and is the final novel in his Poseidon’s Children trilogy. You can listen to an extract of the first novel in the trilogy Blue Remembered Earth this month. One Giant Read caught up with Alastair to find out what he loves about science fiction.
What inspires you to write science fiction?
Science fiction is an almost infinitely expansive form of literature. You can tell almost any kind of story within the extremely broad boundaries of the form, and many authors have done just that. I can’t see any way of becoming creatively exhausted or stale; there are simply too many possibilities. Others may disagree…
Science fiction offers the chance to explore imagined possibilities, can you say what role does science fact play in your writing?
I’m a fan of science, in the sense that I tried to have a career as a researcher and I still read the popular science press, and hope that some of it soaks in. But I’m not that interested in using SF as a means of communicating or elucidating scientific ideas – I think pure popular science is much better at that. Where I come at it is using science to find new metaphors for the age-old questions of human existence. Mortality, memory, identity, and so on. I try not to bend the rules of science too much, but at the same fiction must trump science for the story to succeed on its own terms.
Is there any particular writer who has impacted upon the way you write or think about the genre?
The writer who has probably had the strongest and longest influence over me would be Arthur C Clarke,
because his was the first SF I read in prose form, and his books carried me through well into my adult years. Although there was a tailing off in quality toward the end of his life, his books were never less than intelligent
and broadly optimistic, and the strongest of his works, I think, will continue to find readers for years to come.
Some of our readers are new to the genre, if you could give them one reason to try it, what would that be?
If you’ve never tried a particular genre, the most persuasive argument to give it a go is simply that you might find it fun and addictive. Science fiction can seem a bit remote and unapproachable at first blush, but generally if you stick with a book for a chapter or two – the good books, at least – things will fall into place and before long you’re just reading a story with all the usual narrative hooks, cliffhangers, mysteries, enticing characters, dastardly dealings, and so on, as in any thriller, crime or historical novel. And the best SF probes the human condition as exhaustively as the best literary fiction. Try it!
Tim Peake is on a mission to the International Space Station for six months. Can you imagine yourself exploring space on this kind of mission?
I’m fascinated by space exploration and I even sat at the same table as Tim Peake a few years ago. But
I’ve met enough astronauts to know that I fundamentally do not have the same “right stuff” as they do. The
demands of long-endurance spaceflight are quite extreme. I’d love to go into space, of course, but I doubt
very much that I’d have the physical or mental fortitude to cope with six months on the International
Space Station. I’ll content myself with waving to the space station as it passes over my house, which it
does many times a year.