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By Chris (2007-11-12)
Well, I finally decided that I would stop re-writing questions, and get them out to you, so I'd like to welcome you to my blog :) Refreshments are always served, but the first of our never-ending annual lunches is on you... :P
A: Yes of course, but I insist that that you buy the meal in the pizza place on Mars - bear in mind that the cost of transporting fresh ingredients from Earth is going to be exorbitant!
(Oh... I think I'll stick to offering people cookies in future!) Just to get people tearing at their calendars for January 2008, could you tell us a little about your science-fiction début, Debatable Space?
A: I wanted to write a space opera, with intergalactic battles and weird aliens and a rollercoaster narrative…it’s the kind of stuff I’ve always loved. Ringworld was a big influence on me; there’s something magical and special about the Pierson’s puppeteers, and something indefinably glamorous about Louis Wu. And the way Niven creates alien worlds that you can visualise and believe in is so extraordinary.
So that’s where I started – with a childlike zest to write an all-action story set in space. But at some point in the writing process, quite early on in fact, I was ambushed by a desire to explore all the nooks and crannies of this world I was conjuring up. Instead of just proceeding from battle to battle, I began writing sections from the POV of all the important secondary characters. And Lena, who was supposed to be the hapless victim of an evil space captain, turned into the story’s protagonist. Lena then took over her own sections of the book, as she narrates her thought diary. And, frankly, I was rather amazed at where the story ends up. I hope that the book’s readers will be too….
Orbit have bought the rights to two other SF novels from you – could you tell us a little bit about them, and what their relationship is to Debatable Space?
A: Tim Holman is my editor at Orbit – he’s British, but is in New York at the moment setting up and running Orbit US. Tim asked me to lunch to talk about Debatable Space, which he wanted to buy; and prior to that he’d asked me to pitch an idea for a second book. So I had it all prepared – the further adventures of Flanagan and Lena, in a story called, I think CIRCLES OF HELL. So my agent John Jarrold and I met Tim for lunch – a great lunch, by the way, all the better for being paid for by Orbit – and Tim said Don’t write more Flanagan and Lena, write a totally new story set in the same Debatable Space Universe. So I thought, oops, wasn’t expecting that.
But then, quick as a flash, I immediately pitched him an idea for a ‘Russian novel’ set in space. I was thinking of big books like War and Peace and Crime and Punishment which create a whole textured and to non-Russians ‘alien’ world in which the main, exciting narrative takes place. So that kind of vibe and scale and scope, but on an actually alien planet.
Tim liked that idea so I then had to think of a story to back it up…and I came up with a yarn about Dolphs – genetically engineered human beings who can swim in the water like dolphins – who feature briefly in Debatable Space. This has grown into an ambitious epic novel called Ketos. For the etymologists among you, Ketos is the name of the planet on which the Dolphs settle – it’s a Greek word from which the word ‘cetacean’ is derived, and it also means ‘sea monster’. (And it is, in my view, a great and scandalously under-used word, so I thought I’d give it some limelight.)
I’ve just seen the cover for KETOS which is amazing…with a blood red sea and jagged, angry letters.
I have a storyline for the third book, but haven’t pitched it to Tim yet. So that one’s still at the ‘Will we try for a baby?’ stage.
But the moral of that whole story about the meeting with Tim is – I was all set on going for the easy option, a simple sequel to the story I’d written. Tim – well, he didn’t push exactly, he coaxed, he encouraged, he inspired – but damn it all, he basically succeeded in forcing me to test my own limits, to go out of my ‘comfort zone’. And I’m glad he did.
People tell me Debatable Space is ‘strange’; Ketos is even stranger. I guess that suggests I am, deep down, a pretty strange individual.