An Interview with Best-Selling Science Fiction Author Alastair Reynolds
We discuss futurism, astrophysics, philosophy, his upcoming novel 'Elysium Fire,' and what's in the space opera pipeline.
A long time resident of Wales, Alastair Reynolds is a best selling science fiction author, specializing in a form of space opera that is peppered with dark noir and gothic influences that still possesses a sense of optimism. He earned his PhD in Astronomy from the University of St Andrews (Scotland) in 1991 and went on to work for the European Space Agency. While there he became more focused on writing, working on short stories and eventually turning his attention to his first novel, Revelation Space, which was published in 2000. Due in much part to the Revelation Space series and his masterful storytelling, he was soon elevated to one of the new generation of science fiction masters. In 2004 he left his astronomy career behind to pursue writing full time.
In 2009 he signed an unprecedented 10-book deal with Gollanz worth an advance of £1 million. Since that time, he has been delighting science fiction fans with the fruits of his labor. To date he has published 15 novels, and well over 60 stories/novellas in various short fiction outlets.
Neal Ulen: Mr. Reynolds, thank you for taking time out of your schedule to answer these questions. As much as I'd like to take the role of selfish fan and ask all the questions I would like answers to, I've curated some of these from fans on various science fiction communities. I’ve divided them into two sections. I hope we can have some fun while delving into the themes that drive your imaginative stories.
Alastair Reynolds: Hello readers! I look forward to some very stimulating questions, and thanks to Neal for kindly curating them. And as always I appreciate the interest in my work.
(Note: While publishing this article I've added a short topic descriptor, in italics, at the beginning of each question to help readers navigate to topics that might be of particular interest.)
Themes: Futurism, Astrophysics, Philosophy, and the State of the World...
On Artificial Intelligence—Great! Let's jump right in. The development of artificial intelligence (AI) is a recurring theme in your works. Do you think AI could be a benefit to humanity, a danger (as many believe), or something slightly more... ambiguous?
I’d have to draw a line between what’s likely in the next few decades, and what might happen in a few hundred or thousand years. I’m rather skeptical about advances in AI in our immediate future, although I try to follow the field and I’m interested in the different strategies being pursued. But I don’t think we’re going to see a human or super-human level machine intelligence any time soon. I think what we’ll have is basically an extension of what we have today — lots of algorithms that can do rather impressive and useful things, such as voice recognition, face recognition, remote diagnosis, behaviour tracking, and so on, but which are only as beneficial or counter-beneficial as the intentions of the people deploying them.
On The Singularity—Following up on that question, what are your thoughts on the “technological singularity” as popularized by Vernor Vinge and how it’s interpreted today? Do you believe humanity will ever enter a state of hyperbolic advancement from which there’s no return? And if so is there a way to avoid this theoretical singularity?
I like Vernor’s work very much, but I’m a little skeptical of the whole idea of the singularity. I get the reasoning, but I don’t feel we’re on that particular track. I’m typing this on a fifteen year old Dell PC which provides everything I need in my non-internet-enabled writing office. I have a much more recent and powerful laptop in the house which I bought last year, and which — according to the prognostications of 15 years ago — ought to be some sort of quantum-optic supercomputer with a holographic keyboard and flawless voice recognition. But it’s not. It’s just another Windows PC, exactly as useful and stupid as the Dell, and it doesn’t even feel particularly faster or more powerful, because the software it’s obliged to run is much more bloated. For efficient word processing, I much prefer using the Dell.
Even if there is something like a singularity on the horizon, I think we’ll have plenty of warning as we approach the cusp, time enough to back off and consider our options. It’s not a groundless concern but I’d suggest that there are several dozen more pressing problems we need to be focusing our collective intelligence on. However, it does provide a very good story-generating trope for science fiction.
On Existence—In a similar vein, what are your opinions on the fairly old theory (but one that has gained immense popularity lately) that our existence is merely a simulation in a computer? A theory supported by many influential people including Elon Musk who says that the chances we're not living in a simulation are “one in a billion.”
It’s not a theory I took very seriously the first time round. As far as I understand it, it’s predicated on the idea that at some point in the future of the universe there will be near-limitless computational resources, allowing the simulation of a virtually infinite number of possible histories. Taking the idea of the principle of mediocrity, which says you shouldn’t presume a privileged viewpoint, since those simulated histories will vastly outnumber the one real history preceding them, it’s much more likely that we’d find ourselves in one of the simulations.
But we know so little about the future fate of matter and energy in the universe that we can’t begin to speculate about future computational resources. Or rather, we can certainly speculate, but we should be extremely cautious about going further than that, and most certainly not be making bold, unprovable assertions, which then get picked up and taken seriously. I doubt that Musk really believes it, deep down. If he truly believes that we are in a simulation, that we are merely figments in the mind of some form of AI, then doesn’t that render all his other preoccupations moot? Why worry about battery farms, hyperloops, colonising Mars, or the outbreak of AI, if we’re already in a simulation? I think we’re in danger of being a little too over-awed by Musk. He’s a clever and energetic man, to be sure, and he’s done spectacular things with rockets — but they’re still rockets. It’s not as if he’s invented anti-gravity or something. He isn’t a philosopher, a cosmologist or a mathematical physicist, and we should be careful not to attach undue weight to his pronouncements.
On FTL Space Travel—Okay, let's move away from the topics of machine intelligence. One of the themes in your stories is the use of subluminal space travel. While this mechanic does set up some limiting, but extremely interesting, story elements, do you believe humanity will ever achieve FTL technology? Do you believe it’s even possible, or do you believe there are some fundamental aspects of physics that we still don't understand that will eventually lead us to a breakthrough?
I don’t think it’s possible, no. I think the universe is strongly hard-wired against it, so it’s much more difficult than just facing up to a set of engineering challenges. We’ve also seen no evidence of anything in nature that hints at the possibility of faster than light motion, whereas we already knew that birds flew through the air and planets moved through space, long before we had powered flight or rockets. Usually nature gives us a gentle hint when something is possible, but not this time. That said, I’m open-minded enough to be very interested in any results or speculation that hint at the opposite, although I would be very doubtful that any of then will come to anything.
On Tabby's Star—Do you have any opinions/theories on what might be occurring around KIC 8462852 (Tabby’s star)? And, generally, do you think there's any significance to the hunt for extra-terrestrial intelligence in the face of the lack of evidence of any detectable civilizations in the Milky Way or beyond?
I’d be surprised if it turns out to be aliens. That said, given that all of the off-the-shelf astronomical explanations seemed to struggle to fit the data, I think it was reasonable to at least raise the possibility that there might be intelligent activity behind the strange light curve. If we do ever detect signs of extraterrestrial intelligence, I think it might well be in some distant astronomical phenomena which doesn’t fit the usual picture, especially since (if we think about the likely timescales involved) any aliens out there are likely to have been around for a lot longer than we have, and so might have begun to manipulate planets, stars, even entire swathes of their galaxy.
Recently I’ve seen speculation that the Tabby’s Star data might be due to a large ringed planet passing in front of the star, with the tilt of the rings changing with the orbital aspect. I don’t know if that will turn out to explain everything but my guess is that the ultimate explanation will have a similarly “mundane” origin — and it shows how blasé we’ve come, in that merely detecting the presence of alien planets is considered somewhat unexciting. As for SETI, I’m all for it — it doesn’t cost much, and it pushes our technology in interesting ways. The potential pay-off is certainly worth the investment, and we shouldn’t be unduly deterred by the lack of detections so far.
On the Fermi Paradox—The Fermi Paradox is the underlying theory which gave rise to your Inhibitors in the Revelation Space stories. What are your personal thoughts on the Fermi Paradox? Putting aside entertaining and fictionalized explanations... where is everyone?
The simplest explanation — and the one that definitely fits the facts — is that they’re not here because they’re not there either — they just don’t exist. Some people have a real problem with this explanation because they feel it smacks of arrogance, to presume that we are in some way unique. To which I just shrug my shoulders. Perhaps we are indeed unique, and so what? Someone has to be the first, and it may well be us. They counter that the universe is vast, and so it would be absurd to imagine that there couldn’t be another civilisation like our own. But the universe needs to be old as well as vast, and it isn’t. The evidence of our own planet’s history is that intelligent life is a rare event that only happened after four billion years of single-celled organisms doing not very much... and even multicellular organisms are a relatively recent innovation.
But really, we are not yet in a position to have a firm viewpoint on Fermi. When we discuss the likelihood of life in the universe, we are arguing on the basis of a single data-point, which isn’t really good enough. Once we’ve explored the solar system a bit more, and got some better data on the surface conditions and chemistry of a good sample of exoplanets, we’ll have a little more intellectual ammunition. We should also have a better grasp on the feasibility or otherwise of interstellar travel.
On Global Space Science—Do you believe some nations of the world are forgoing space science by myopically focusing inward too much? What affect might this have on positive scientific advancement?
I don’t know. The larger, richer nations do have space initiatives, as well as being partners in international organisations. As well as that, they support private ventures which are moving in interesting ways at the moment. As a space enthusiast, I’d obviously like it if more money was spent on science and exploration. But governments have to make tough decisions. My feeling is that we’ll need to wait a few decades before we know if we’re currently in a trough or an up-surge. Lots of plans could crash and burn (hopefully not literally) in the next few years, as various bubbles burst. Equally, promises could start to be delivered. I think there’ll be a very significant backlash and collapse of confidence if they are not.
On Faith vs. Nihilism—Your stories always seem to have an underlying layer of optimism (except perhaps Diamond Dogs, one of my personal favorites), but always do a fantastic job painting an opposing, pessimistic view. What are your thoughts concerning the dichotomy of faith and nihilism? What if existence turns out to be meaningless? Should that change us being kind to one another, or negate any sense of morality? Does it matter?
I’ve always regarded my stories as reasonably optimistic, so I’m a little surprised when I’m described as a pessimistic or dystopian writer, because it doesn’t really chime with my own perceptions. I’d argue that any story that has humanity in it, and is set in the future, is by its nature making quite a positive statement, even if the characters have to go through some travails as part of the story, or the immediate circumstances are a bit bleak. Generally, I try to use contrasts. I don’t think the hero can get the boy or girl and save the world, both at the same time — at least, that’s not satisfying to me. If things pan out reasonably well for the foreground protagonists, I like to situate their fates against a more ominous backdrop. On the other hand, if the ultimate catastrophe has been averted, it has to be at some considerable cost to the heroes, perhaps even death.
As for the dichotomy of faith and nihilism, I tried to work out my feelings in the writing of the Poseidon’s Children books, which build to this stark realization that the universe is not only intrinsically meaningless, but has a built-in destruct setting, so you can’t even have the consolation of knowing that kind and considerate deeds will be remembered down the ages. I tried to find a counterpoint to that, a way to keep living a moral life — at least, it’s what the characters struggle to come to terms with, and in some sense they succeed, mainly by agreeing to keep being nice to each other.
It was all very sincerely considered, but at the same time I’d hate anyone to think I walk around in a permanent cloud of cosmic gloom, fretting about the ultimate futility of existence. I mean, on some level I do, in that I don’t think you can fail to think about these things if you attach any significance to cosmology and physics, and you have to follow the arguments to their logical conclusions, which can be bracing. But I’m also perfectly contented, cheerful and grateful for my span of existence on this planet.
On Human Space Travel—What are the implications of extended, long-ranging space-travel on humans in a philosophical context? Do we need to leave Earth to survive as a species as some scientists believe? Do you believe biological humans will ever leave our solar system?
Long-range space travel (including going beyond the solar system) will require us to become something other than our current definition of “human,” I feel — either because of radical genetic manipulation, or an increasingly symbiotic relationship with machines. Taking the long-term view, I think the distinction between robotic and human envoys will become so porous as to be meaningless, with our machines gaining so much autonomy and independence that we’ll have to consider them as possessing some basic, inalienable rights and by the same token, people becoming increasingly reliant on machine systems for survival and augmented cognition.
Do we need to leave Earth to survive? Not if we up our game and accept wise custodianship of our planet, tailoring our activities to a level that the planet can sustain. If we can move beyond war and inequality, and defend our planet against asteroid impacts, solar weather events, and so on, I see no reason why we couldn’t build a sustainable human civilisation on just the Earth alone. Of course, I’d like to see a human presence elsewhere in the solar system but I don’t see it as essential for our survival. I don’t necessarily buy the “all our eggs in one basket” argument. To my mind, whenever we’ve achieved a step-change in the means of moving many human beings from one place to another, we’ve also achieved an equivalent scaling-up in our destructive capability. I don’t see that process as necessarily having an end-point.
Taking the longer view, I can envisage a time when we might have the potential ability to achieve interstellar travel, but we choose not to deploy it. We might feel that remote observations have already told us as much as ever want to know about other solar systems and worlds. Or we might have outgrown the “colonizing” imperative, relegating it to a childhood fancy that no longer holds any interest for us. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you always want to.
On Invented Technology—Of the technologies invented in your stories, what would you most like to see become reality, and which one would have the greatest positive effect on humanity?
My favorite “plausible” technology is the immersive telepresence in the Poseidon’s Children sequence, as well as some other stories. I started thinking about what you could do with robotics, implants and VR, and it seemed to be that there were no technological or biological limitations to being able to jack into another body, either mechanical or biological, anywhere else in the world. I don’t mind travel, but when it’s a meeting in London that requires eight hours of journeying for two hours in the city, a robot body becomes attractive. I really think someone should get in fast on this one, providing rentable telepresence robots in major cities and destinations. They’d be weird to start with, but then so were Segways and Uber cars.
As for “greatest positive effect” — I’m a little wary of even mentioning this one, but I also like the basic concept of the Mechanism in the same sequence of books, a kind of internet-of-things taken to the extreme, in which everything from people to pencils to wild animals are tagged and tracked. There’s no possibility of theft, so no one needs to put locks on anything any more, and the system can detect and negate acts of violence before they escalate, as well as providing seamless translation and immediate intervention in medical emergencies, accidents and so on. A world without crime and violence and war, in which there are no barriers to understanding and where we can just get on with being decent to each other? I’ll take that. Of course, you’re being watched every second of your life, but if it’s just an algorithm watching you, would you mind all that much? Yes, controversial, this one, I realise — but then I grew up believing that the Welfare State was actually a good thing, and I still do.
Themes: Books, Writing, Storytelling, and What We Can Expect Down the Road...
On Elysium Fire—We are approaching the release of your new novel Elysium Fire (a sequel to The Prefect) in January, and fans are extremely excited to once again explore the Revelation Space universe. Without spoiling, what can you reveal to us about Elysium Fire? Does it take place around Yellowstone? Is the Clockmaker involved? Is Aurora involved? Or will we see an original Panolpy emergency with a new cast of characters? So many questions!
Yes to all of the above, really. I think it’s fairly obvious from The Prefect (which we’re re-titling Aurora Rising in the UK) that I meant it to be the start of something. My model for it was the TV series 24, so I thought I’d do a “season two” before long, once I’d identified an emergency which was big enough for a novel, but didn’t cause any problems with the downstream timeline of the future history. The trouble was it took me nearly ten years! Actually it was more a case of me being distracted with other stuff. Then, when I realized that I wanted to return to that universe, I forced myself to sit down and brainstorm a crisis that I felt would work. Without giving too much away, though, while Aurora (and to a much less extent) the Clockmaker cast a shadow on the action, it’s not about them this time. The book concerns itself with two dramas playing out in parallel, taking place a couple of years after the first book, with the same main cast as before — Dreyfus, Sparver, Thalia etc. The first problem is a spate of seemingly random deaths which have an unexplained origin, but which has something to do with malfunctioning neural implants. It’s nothing to do with the Melding Plague, which is still nearly a century away. Scarily for Dreyfus, the numbers are creeping slowly upward, on a steepening curve. Then, as that plays out, there’s a kind of populist demagogue stirring up trouble, stoking anxieties and promising that life will be much, much better if only the citizens of the Glitter Band listen to him and vote the way he says. He’s trying to force Panoply into an over-reaction, and he ends up getting under Dreyfus’s skin in quite a serious way.
On The Prefect—Sounds great! I look forward to visiting the Glitter Band again! What was the impetus for changing the title of The Prefect for upcoming editions? Can we expect more “Prefect Dreyfus Emergencies” in the future after the publication of Elysium Fire?
It’s complicated. The US version of The Prefect will remain The Prefect, because it’s with another publisher. The initial suggestion to change the title was mine, since I felt that the possible titles we were considering for the new book didn’t sit particularly well with The Prefect... and the truth is that it wasn’t among the favorite of my titles, anyway. But yes, the other rationale was to establish a naming pattern that could be carried forward into other “Prefect Dreyfus Emergencies.” I hate to talk about books that don’t yet exist (and I’m notorious for going off-script) but I have tentative plans for three more Dreyfus titles, with an arc that would eventually take him beyond Yellowstone, and then back again. But it’s all very tentative, and will depend to an extent on the reception to the new book.
On Near Term Writing Plans—Now that Elysium Fire is mostly wrapped up, if you can share, what specifically are you working on next or near term?
This will address the question below as well, but I’m currently working on a follow-up to Revenger. I’m about 75,000 words into it at the moment, so a good chunk already done.
It’s a direct continuation of the first book, but told from a different point of view and hopefully illuminating and deepening some aspects of the world. If all goes well there’ll be a third one, too. I dare not call it a trilogy as that wasn’t ever the intention, and I’d probably want to keep the door open to another book at that point, as I like the universe so much.
On... Revealer?—Several online bookstores are listing Revealer as being available in early 2019. Is this a sequel to Revenger, or a tale that takes place in another setting, or simply an error (or red herring)?
That’s the working title for the follow-up, but it’s too soon to say whether it will be the actual title. I hate being pushed into titles until I’ve got a solid draft nailed down, but these things do tend to escape into the world.
On Writing Full Time—Why did you decide to leave a career in astronomy to write full time? Do you ever miss working in the field of astronomy? Do you still keep up with trends and breakthroughs in the field?
My decision was leave was taken in 2003, but I stayed on for a while to help a new member of the team get up to speed with our project, finally leaving in 2004. The decision wasn’t taken lightly, and only after a great deal of discussion with family, as well as my wife and I looking carefully at our finances and deciding whether or not it could work, even if my books stopped selling. Practically speaking, I was finding it hard to balance a day-job with writing, as the demands on my time had gone through the ceiling once I committed to a novel contract. It was all right for a few years because for a while all I was doing was refining and editing existing material, but it got sharply harder once I had to come up with something totally new. I felt my energy levels were dipping during the day, and I wasn’t bringing my best to the scientific work. On top of that, the project I was on had run into some technical delays, which meant we were a long way from getting new data to work with... and I felt I’d had a good run, worked with some very talented people, and seen the world (Chile, Australia, the Canary Islands and so on).
I knew I’d miss aspects of it, such as the social buzz of going to work and being involved in a team, and indeed I did, but I also didn’t miss the hours, the organisational politics, and the lack of a social life that came with trying to balance two careers at once. As for the science, there was a period of a few years where I had to get away from astronomy, but eventually I drifted back to it in an amateur capacity, which is where it had all begun for me anyway, just being out on cold winter nights with a telescope and a mug of hot chocolate, at one with the stars and being kept company by our local owls and foxes. I keep up by reading the popular science press, and that’s about it these days. But I’m blessed to have had the best of both worlds, really, and even now I get to visit universities, institutions and so on in my capacity as a science fiction writer who was once a scientist, which is always a thrill.
On Long Term Writing Plans—Fans are always starving for more information. Obviously without making any commitments do you have a general writing roadmap you can share? What can fans expect in the long term? A possible Revenger trilogy? A wholly new series? More Prefect Dreyfus books? Some short stories? Etc.
I’m not one for detailed road-maps but a few of the things I’d like to get around to, and probably will (I’m slow, but I do get there in the end) include the Revenger follow-ups, a new Dreyfus emergency, and a book which would dovetail around Absolution Gap, for which I have a title, the protagonist and the hazy sense of a story arc. I’ve also said that I’d like to return to the universes of House of Suns and Pushing Ice, if the will is there. In the longer run, as much as I enjoy revisiting established settings, I obviously hope to be forging ahead with fresh, standalone books that owe nothing to any predecessors and also trying to challenge myself by working in different modes.
The one thing I would say is that I’m nowhere near feeling burned out or creatively exhausted with space opera, and I still feel excited when I think about books I might one day make a start on, even if all I have in mind is a scene or a character. I still don’t think I’ve written a really “big” multi solar-system space opera yet, with the scale and depth of Dune.As for short stories, there are always a few new ones in the works, either waiting to be published or due to be delivered. In the last year I’ve done short stories in both the House of Suns and Revelation Space universes, which are a good way of rebooting those imagined worlds in my head, getting back into the narrative mindset which would allow a novel.In the longer term, I’ve been writing these “Merlin” stories since about 2000 and there’s 80,000 words of them now. The current thinking is I could do a few more and then cobble the lot into some sort of novel-shaped book, which I’d very much like to do.
I rarely think very far ahead, though. I’d certainly like to do a Dreyfus short before long, as I feel that could be a good way in to the longer books, if I can come up with an idea.
On Book Piracy—Writing can be a difficult career, especially the work required to become a successful and proficient writer. Personally I’m still a huge fan of printed books, but what’s your opinion on people who illegally download copies of your hard work (either in ebook or audio format)?
I wouldn’t do it myself so I wish they wouldn’t. I suppose there’s an element of hypocrisy in that during the eighties I was quite willing to lend and borrow vinyl records for the purpose of home taping. But at least one person had made a legal purchase that way, and I almost always ended up buying the record anyway, since I was a sucker for the album artwork and the accompanying sense of ownership — still am!
On Recent Reads—What is the last science fiction book you read, and how did you like it? What was the last non-fiction book you finished?
My fiction reading has been very sporadic lately. The last science fiction book I finished was Austral, by Paul McAuley. It’s an excellent post-climate change novel set in Antarctica, a hundred or so years from now — very keenly imagined, and with a great sense of landscape. Mostly, though, I’ve been binging on non-fiction, which I find easier to consume when I’m in an intense phase of my own writing. I just finished On the Move, the autobiography of Oliver Sacks. I’ve read nearly all of Sacks’ popular writing. This was a bittersweet read as Sacks died shortly after the book’s publication, and I presume there will be no more from him. His death marks the silencing of one of the wisest, most humane voices of recent decades.
On Potential Sequels—I know you hinted this above, but I will ask officially. Will we ever see sequels to House of Suns, Pushing Ice, or Terminal World?
I’m in the “firmly intending” camp when it comes to the first two. I think a sequel to Terminal World is unlikely; it was a difficult book for me because of many factors and I’m not at all sure that there’d be great demand for a follow-up. It was never really intended to be the start of anything, anyway, as I think it more or less supplies the answers to its own mysteries. I’m very grateful to the readers who enjoyed it, nonetheless, and I’m still fond of it. And as mentioned, there’s a new House of Suns short story (“Belladonna Nights,” in a new book from Subterranean Press which should be out soon) so I am trying to keep those flames alive.
On Self Improvement—Having published a number of excellent books, is there a pressure to get "better" with each successive book? If so, does this pressure come primarily from yourself, your fans, or your publisher? And as a writer what steps do you take to try to become better with each successive novel?
I think any writer worth their salt wants to get better over the arc of a career, and that’s difficult enough, but it’s a considerably harder thing to sustain that progression from one book to the next, like clockwork. I know I haven’t come close. You always have two choices, it seems to me. Having written your previous book, and presumably being suitably cognizant of its flaws, you could attempt the same thing again, only this time striving to rectify the bits you got wrong. You won’t write a flawless book, but you might get asymptotically nearer to some imagined ideal — the perfect space opera, the perfect alternate history, or something. Or you can say, no, I’ll strike out for pastures new, attempting to create something fresh, while being fully aware that in the process you’ll make many new mistakes, but at least you’ve hopefully dodged the hazards of creative stagnation. I regard both approaches as equally valid, each with their own share of attractions and risks. Patrick O’Brian spent the larger part of his career writing exactly the same type of book over and over, but they’re much loved stories and it would be a shame if they didn’t exist. Equally, I value the writers who are creatively restless. What I liked about Iain Banks was that he had it both ways; he could return to the Culture universe every few books but with the intermediate ones you rarely sensed which direction he was going to take.
The pressure, as far as I’m concerned, comes from the writer, rather than external factors. Publishers understandably want books that keep selling — preferably more than last time — and I don’t think it’s too controversial to suggest that that’s not necessarily the same as wanting a book that’s objectively “better.” We can all think of writers who have put out a book that may not have not done very well initially, or been misunderstood, but over time has come to be considered among their better works, or quietly subversive or influential.
A writer’s readership is a diverse constituency and the writer probably only engages with a narrow, self-selecting sliver of it (those readers who choose to email, choose to post online reviews, choose to come to signings and so on). Some want you to do the same thing over and over. Some want you never to repeat yourself. Many want some variation of the two. You’d go mad trying to triangulate their opinions, however well-meant, so the best thing, in the nicest possible way, is to block them out completely and just follow your creative star — even if it occasionally leads you onto the rocks. At least you’ve made your own shipwreck.
On Social Media—An creative analogy to live by! Not too long ago you shut down your Twitter account. Will you ever consider reopening a direct window to easily connect with fans?
I’m not sure that fan interaction on that frictionless level really benefits either the writer or the fans. I’m not saying that writers ought to live in ivory towers, but I’m not convinced that opening your mind to the world on a daily basis (and being buffeted by the world’s helpful opinions on your work) is a very productive thing. Certainly there are some writers who have made very effective use of social media for the purposes of brand-building and awards promotion, but I’m not keen to join that game. Other writers cultivate an online persona, acting out a sort of character which may not be all that close to their true selves. That sort of performative act always struck me as tapping into the creative energy that ought to flow into fiction, so I’ve resisted it.
If I sound like some miserable shrinking wallflower, I’m not — I was on Twitter for five years, I really enjoy interacting with readers, and I’m profoundly grateful to those who’ve stuck with me over the years. I very much miss many, many of the people I followed. But I don’t crave that interaction all the time, and most certainly not when I’m deep in the creative slog of novel writing.
On SciFi in Gaming—The gaming industry now brings in more revenue and has larger audiences than both the film and book industries. Science fiction is a popular genre within the game industry. How familiar are you with some of the game franchises (Mass Effect, Destiny, etc), and have you ever considered writing for the industry? If approached by a developer to be a writer for a game, would you take the job?
I keep well away from games, not because I look down on them, but because I got quite addicted to arcade games during my student years and know I could easily get sucked in again if I were not to be careful. I only know of these franchises through reputation, never having seen or played them myself.
I’ve been approached once or two to add some creative input to an existing franchise, but that’s not really of interest to me and most of those nibbles of interest didn’t progress to a serious conversation. I’d have to be involved from the very outset for me to feel that it was fulfilling, either coming up with a concept from scratch or helping to adapt one of my properties. But those discussions haven’t happened. The truth is gaming is a whole universe that I never think about unless someone mentions gaming. If I have a spare hour in my day, I’d much rather pick up a guitar or a brush than sit staring at another screen.
On Closing—Is there anything else you’d like to say to readers, or announcements to make that may not have been covered above?
Only to thank them for their questions, their attention spans as readers, and to wish them many good hours of reading ahead of them. I’m taking a short holiday now, and when I get back I’ll be diving into the Revenger sequel, as well as proof-reading Elysium Fire. Then onto new stories, I hope!
Well, we’ve run out of time. Once again thank you for making time to take our questions, as well as the candor of your responses. I’m sure I can confidently speak for all fans when I say we look forward to reading Elysium Fire and whatever adventures you send our way in the future!
Here's where you can find Alastair Reynolds on the internet: