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Paul McAuley: Pinball Zeitgeist June 2002

Often classified as one of the new New Wave of British SF writers, Paul McAuley is a self-described "radical hard SF writer," whose work is a reaction against traditional "One Big Change" SF, instead developing complex characters and worlds that change continuously on many levels. His first books were non-traditional space operas: Four Hundred Billion Stars (1988), co-winner of the Philip K. Dick Award; Of the Fall (1989, UK title Secret Harmonies); and Eternal Light (1991). Later works include biotech-themed Fairyland (1995), which won the Arthur C. Clarke and John W. Campbell Memorial awards, and the far-future science-fantasy series "Confluence" consisting of Child of the River (1997), Ancients of Days (1998), and Shrine of Stars (1999). McAuley's most recent novels are near-future thrillers: The Secret of Life and Whole Wide World (both 2001). He spends most of his time in London.

Official Website

Photo by Beth Gwinn

Excerpts from the interview:

ĎĎOne of the big questions for a genre writer is: Do you keep writing the same book, or do you try to top what you did last time and try something else? Do you want to get better at the same thing, or do you want to get better? I tend to bounce around — like a pinball — ricocheting! Iím interested in finding out what I can do with a story. How I can tell it to its best advantage. Can I do it in a way that hasnít been done before? (Iím getting very interested in that.) If Iím using traditional narrative methods, how am I going to trip the reader up and try to keep him guessing? Thatís an important part of the game of storytelling.íí


ĎĎThe futureís not going to be simple. When cyberspace was a happening thing, people didnít think that their cyberspace access might suddenly go offline as they were trying to hack through the black ice into some drug lordís private bank account. In too much science fiction, technology is always on, always working. But technology doesnít always work, and the ways it doesnít always work are often interesting. When a new technology infiltrates society, thereís always something new that can go wrong, in ways you donít anticipate.íí


ĎĎNo technology has a single simple application; they all have all sorts of consequences and reverberations. And popular culture is just as complicated. Pop is no longer the monoculture we used to have, the rock íní roll culture. Thereís so much out there, in so many different little micro-niches, and who can keep up with all this stuff? Nobody can! Whatís the difference between New Metal and Speed Metal? I donít know, but somebody must! Iím shamefully ignorant about Hip-Hop and Rap and Garage, and they outsell every other kind of music. Years ago, youíd get your issue of Rolling Stone or Cream, and that was it; that would keep you plugged into the zeitgeist. Now the zeitgeistís just exploding. In science fiction, it was certainly possible to read every important thing that came out ten years ago, but now you canít do that either. Itís like some kind of supernova: weíve reached the critical point where the gas is expanding in every direction all at once. This is challenging when youíre writing about the future, trying to construct something plausible. We realize the future is not going to be this single linear culture where everybody, all over the world, is doing the same thing.íí


ĎĎIíve written two books in the present tense, Fairyland and The Secret of Life, both of which are about biology in the fairly near future. The third one — which Iím working on now — is also written in present tense, is also about biology. Three: thatís the number you need to make a stable configuration now, I guess. I hasten to add that theme is the only connection between them. Theyíre not set in the same future. Iím just interested in examining the various ways the new biology could affect the world. In Fairyland, biotechnology did work smoothly: you could make the constructs, the Ďdolls,í and you could remake them, and it worked. The Secret of Life was much more about current ideas in biology and where that would lead, and what it might mean. The next one, set in Africa, is about what happens if biotechnology goes seriously wrong, so itís kind of a post-plague novel, and itís also about gene hacking. I think itís going to be called White Devils.íí

The full interview and biographical profile is published in the June 2002 issue of Locus Magazine.


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