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By Patrick St-Denis (2008-03-31)
- Without giving anything away, what can you tell your fans about House of Suns?
It's a standalone novel, set in a universe which I've only written about once before, in my novella Thousandth Night. It takes that story as a starting point, but messes around with some of the assumptions and characters. The plot is totally different. The book takes place (mostly) around six million years from now, at a time when humans have colonised and re-colonised the galaxy many times over. The main protagonists (there are two first-person narrators) are clones, members of an extended family of starfaring "shatterlings" who left the solar system around the year 3000 and have been travelling ever since, apart from reunions where they get to exchange memories. The book deals with the aftermath of an attempt to wipe out the shatterlings, and the reasons behind that massacre. It's a somewhat looser and more fantastical book than the others. There's a lot of unexplained furniture in it - magic spacedrives, force fields, tractor beams and stasis devices. I've always loved far-future SF ever since reading Clarke's The City and the Stars at an impressionable age. I wanted to get across something of the same feelings of vast stretches of time that I got from that book.
- How would you describe your work to someone who hadnít tried your books before?
Intensely bleak, but with an underlying cheerfulness? Cheerful, but shot through a streak of intense gloom? I don't know really. Readers who like my stuff tend to like a constellation of vaguely similar writers - people like Banks, Vinge etc. It's hard SF but not too hard, and I try and emphasize the characters over the hardware. Not, of course, that I don't like to indulge myself with some deliciously cool hardware now and then. If I meet someone who hasn't read any of my books, I try to point them towards Century Rain as it can be read on the level of a detective thriller, for at least a good chunk of the novel.
- Will you be touring during the course of the spring/summer to promote House of Suns? If so, are there any specific dates that have been confirmed as of yet?
Nothing very much so far, but I'll be signing at Forbidden Planet in London on April 12th. A week or two after that, I may be doing some events in Sweden - but that's still to be firmed up.
- After working for the European Space Agency for more than a decade, you finally made the transition and became a full time author? How difficult was it to make that decision? What prompted it?
I didn't have much choice, really - either the job or the writing had to go. I'd managed to combine both for a number of years, but ever so slowly it was starting to catch up on me. I do feel that you can hold down a day job and be a writer, but perhaps not a book-a-year writer, and certainly not a big-book-a-year writer who also likes to do short fiction. I'd really enjoyed my time at ESA, though, so there were many aspects to the job that I knew I would miss in the long term. Writing is a very antisocial occupation, whereas working within a team at ESA was the exact opposite. I missed, and still miss, the social interaction. But there are good things about being a writer, too.
- What do you feel is your strength as a writer/storyteller?
It would be awfully presumptuous to say, I suspect. I think I'm not bad at creating a sense of atmosphere - that's something I hear from my readers over and over again. They like the creepy bits. And I think I can do the nuts and bolts hard SF stuff, and the dreaded world-building (I'm kind of with M John Harrison here, though, when he spoke of the great clomping foot of nerdism). I think I'm good at texture and depth, creating a sense of a lived-in, slightly broken-down and squalid future. I'm less good at plotting, although that's not to say I don't take it seriously. Dialogue and characterisation, room for improvement - but again, I do take them seriously and sometimes I think I hit the mark.