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Plundering The Abyss
An Interview with Alastair Reynolds

conducted by Sandy Auden

© Alastair Reynolds
Alastair Reynolds
Alastair Reynolds
Alastair Reynolds was born in 1966 in Barry, South Wales. He spent his early years in Cornwall, moved back to Wales and on to university in Newcastle, doing Physics and Astronomy. Then it was on to a PhD in St Andrews, Scotland. In 1991, he moved to Holland, where he met his partner Josette, and worked as ESA Research Fellow before his post-doctoral work at Utrecht University. At present he works at ESA as a contractor.

Alastair Reynolds Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Century Rain
SF Site Review: Absolution Gap
SF Site Review: Turquoise Days
SF Site Review: Redemption Ark
SF Site Review: Revelation Space
SF Site Review: Chasm City
SF Site Review: Revelation Space

He may be a new kid on the SF block, but Alastair Reynolds has made a name for himself in a very short time. His debut novel, Revelation Space, sent impressive ripples through the SF community and his second book, Chasm City, won the British Science Fiction Association Best Novel Award.

Set in the same universe as Revelation Space, his second book had its roots sunk in some very unusual places. 'For Chasm City, I wanted to move away from a story that was based on the life and death of civilisations and the end of life as we know it.' Reynolds says. 'It just takes one man's story. He has an interesting past which is unravelled and elucidated on through the course of the book. Various truths become apparent, although some of them are not what they appear to be, and it's more influenced by crime fiction than Revelation Space. I've worked in some of the tropes and typical, almost clichés of crime fiction -- the femme fatale and private investigator feel. The central character is on a quest to find someone, he wants to avenge the death of a woman. He goes to quite some lengths to track this guy down and he's often seen wandering through the rain in a long coat in a 40s, black and white, Sam Spade style. But it also has some hard SF sub-plots coming in there. It's an attempt to do something that's a bit darker and more human focussed than Revelation Space.'

Being more human focussed was important to Reynolds with Chasm City. 'If I have to point to a flaw in Revelation Space, it's that the characters weren't particularly likeable and people picked up on that. What I wanted to do this time was introduce one or two characters that people could root for. There's a clear villain and a clear good guy in Chasm City, but both have some deeper subtleties. It's often said that hard SF doesn't have strong characters, that they're all cardboard. It's often taken for granted that you can't have well rounded characters in hard, nuts-and-bolts SF stories because by the time you've put all the science in, there's no room for characters. I just don't see that as the case. And there's been plenty of good books over the years that have bucked that trend.'

'In my case, I'm using a character that I've already developed through a couple of short stories. I'm picking up on him a few years after the shorts and, in my mind at least, he's already a well rounded character -- I know what he looks like, how he speaks, what he's likely to do in any given situation. To me, he's a sympathetic character with some troubles and complexities but he's basically a character I can root for and I want him to succeed.'

Characterisation isn't the only change that Reynolds has incorporated. 'I wanted Chasm City to be very different. I wanted to draw a line to show that I'm not just going to do big space operas about super civilisations and comic weapons and cyborgs. I think I can do a little bit more. And I think you have to push yourself as well. One of the things I like about writers like Stephen Baxter, is that they always seems be going off on a weird tangent with their books. He'll do a couple of books in one direction and then he'll go off and do something else. It's good for writers to stretch themselves and explore new areas. It keeps it fresh.'

'And there's one other thing I've included,' Reynolds adds, expressing an opinion that is implicit in all his fiction. 'I don't like picking up a book in the shop and finding it's the second part of a trilogy. Especially when you can't make head or tail of the second one without reading the first one. Now, my books are related and set in a complex consistent future, but I'm striving to make them independent. The first two are definitely capable of being read independently and once you've read one, you don't have to read the other one. I've tried to do the same with the third book, Redemption Ark, but it'll be technically trickier because it picks up and refers to events that have happened in the first book. I've made sure that it doesn't assume too much familiarity by the readers. There maybe some things that aren't entirely clear if you haven't read the first one, but I'm hoping the story will be coherent enough that it won't really matter.'

(This interview first appeared on Sci Fi Channel Europe.)

Copyright © 2005 by Sandy Auden

Sandy Auden is currently working as an enthusiastic reviewer for SFX magazine; a tireless news hound for Starburst magazine; a diligent interviewer/reviewer for The Third Alternative and Interzone magazines and a combination of all the above for The Alien Online. She spends her spare time lying down with a cold flannel on her forehead. Visit her site at The Auden Interviews.


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