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Alastair Reynolds: Possibility Space August 2003

Alastair Reynolds spent his childhood in Cornwall, England and Wales, before earning degrees in astronomy from England's University of Newcastle (1988), and a PhD from the University of St. Andrew's in Scotland (1991). He sold his first story to Interzone, "Nunivak Snowflakes", in 1989. His notable short fiction includes "A Spy in Europa" (1997), "Galactic North" (1999), and "Great Wall of Mars" (2000) -- which prefigure the future-world space opera of his "Revelation Space" universe, the setting of novels and novellas Revelation Space (2000), British SF Association Award-winner Chasm City (2001), Diamond Dogs (2001), Redemption Ark (2002), Turquoise Days (2002), and Absolution Gap (due October 2003 in the UK and 2004 in the US), which concludes the Inhibitors' story arc of Revelation Space and Redemption Ark. He lives in The Netherlands, where he works for the European Space Agency, and lives with longtime partner Josette Sanchez.    
Photo by Beth Gwinn

Alastair Reynolds Homepage

Excerpts from the interview:

“I'm not a very analytical writer, and I often don't have much of a clue what I'm writing about or what I'm trying to say until after I've done it. Sometimes you don't really know until people start talking about your work. They say mine is dark and noirish, but I don't see that myself. I'm just trying to write a fusion of hard SF and space opera, subservient to Einstein's laws, and also to bring in a bit of Lovecraftian horror (since I like that as well). I'm interested in the whole question of human destiny and the future in space. Are we going to go out into the universe, and if so will that change us? Can we go out there and still stay human, or is it necessary for us to become something else just to survive in the universe? Or will we just stay cooped up on planet Earth?

“I'm not as interested as some of my peers in information technology, computers, the AI revolution; or I'm passively interested, but it doesn't really engage me. I'm not slagging off people who are fired up by this whole Singularity thing, but it just doesn't excite me as a writer. It's not what pushes my buttons. In that sense I'm probably a more traditional writer, more along the lines of Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov, the writers I read when I was growing up. I'm happy to read books and articles about gene technology, but it doesn't grab me as something I want to write about.”


“Are we alone in the universe? I change my opinion weekly. When I started writing science fiction in my teens, I never questioned the idea there might be other intelligent life out there -- I just accepted it as part of the standard SF scenario that we'll eventually go into space and meet all these other different space-faring cultures, like Niven's 'Known Space' universe with all these alien species interacting at different technological levels. It was only when I started reading people like Gregory Benford that I started thinking maybe there's a bit more to it than that -- maybe it isn't an automatic assumption that there's intelligent life out there. Over the last ten years, science itself has started engaging these questions. The Anthropic Cosmological Principle by John D. Barrow and Frank J. Tipler is full of ideas you can mine for science fiction stories as they tackle this big issue: 'Are we really alone?' The more I've thought about it and the more I've read all these articles, the more I've come 'round to the idea that we probably are alone.”


“People say science fiction is a mirror on the present. I agree with that up to a point, but I think it is also fiction about the future. One way to look at the SF field at any point in time is as a series of thought experiments, where writers are thinking about the space of all possible futures. We're not trying to predict what the future will be like, but mapping the possibility space, all conceivable futures that might branch out from the present. If you look at the fiction of the '40s and '50s, no one writer predicted every element of our own time, but you could pick elements from lots of different stories and novels that foresaw things of the present-day world, and assemble a picture of the present from the fiction of the past. One function of science fiction is to do that for our future, so we can begin to think and talk about where we might be going. Not necessarily the most likely future, but the future we could end up with given a set of contingencies.”

The full interview, with biographical profile, is published in the August 2003 issue of Locus Magazine.

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