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INTERVIEW Alastair Reynolds

We celebrate SFX ’s House Of Suns giveaway offer by talking to author Alastair Reynolds himself!

Well, now. In the latest lovely issue of SFX – on sale today, fact fans! – 4,000 of you lucky readers can blag a free copy of Alastair Reynolds’ magnificent sci-fi epic House Of Suns . Simply snip out the coupon on page 99 of the latest issue, get down to your nearest participating Waterstones , and prepare for some mind-bending word-thrills. We gave the book a fat four stars in issue 169 and highly recommend it – and in honour of this fantastic giveaway, we got Mr R on the blower for a good old natter. Behold! The high priest of space opera speaks…

SFX: Why choose House Of Suns for this giveaway, Alastair?

Alastair Reynolds: I guess it’s the most recent one out in paperback, and it’s standalone, and you don’t have to have read any of my other books to get it! It doesn’t come with any extra baggage so it’s easy to give it a shot – and if you like it, you like it, and if you don’t, you don’t!

SFX: It’s a book full of big ideas that are quite dizzying; it deals with vast stretches of space and time…

AR: There’s a tradition of big, epic science fiction novels, of course, going back to Clarke and City In The Stars , that kind of thing, where you have a giant galactic panorama. Enormous vistas of space and time! And I always wanted to do one of those. It’s my attempt to connect with very far future galaxy-spanning science fiction.

You remember those Chris Fosse paperbacks? This is something Adam Roberts picked up on – there are scenes in House Of Suns that feel like a Chris Fosse cover. Which is exactly right. As a kid I’d buy novels with these magnificent Chris Fosse covers which showed an enormous contraption hovering over a planet, and you’d always think “Where’s that going to come in?” And it never did! It was always slightly disappointing when the contents of a book never lived up to the cover.

So I thought why not try to write my own Chris Fosse cover? And that’s what House Of Suns is.

SFX: It’s full of fascinating details, such as the way civilisations eventually always crumble due to the vast spaces they end up operating across, or the “Inhibitors”, which curtail progress. It all seems like an exquisitely mapped out exploration of a particular far future.

AR: I’m glad it looks that way! But I don’t operate on that level and work that far in advance. I just start writing and in the process one hopefully comes up with ideas and solutions and explores all the little nooks and crannies. I don’t try and put every invented detail in the book either, and like to leave some stuff to the reader’s imagination. Some people like that, some people don’t! But if the overall effect is that the book appears to be considered and plausible, then that’s great, that’s what I’m shooting for.

When I was writing House Of Suns there were a few writers I had in mind as role models, the main being Gene Wolfe. At the time I was re-reading Book Of The New Sun . I come back to it every ten years and always find something new in it. And it starts in the very far future, and I wanted to re-read with that in mind and learn from it. All the way through that quartet, there’s a sense of buried history. There’s a bit in the second book where the guy climbs down a cliff and finds exposed geological strata, but they’re actually different historical periods that have become geological, if you like. I like that sense of density and time, and I was hoping to get that effect in House Of Suns .

SFX: Is this to do with what you call “industrial archaeology”?

AR: Actually, I think that’s something different, and it’s something readers picked up on in my earlier books; it was all a bit rusty and used, and a counterpoint to the usual gleaming technology that works properly.

In the Revelation Space books the spaceships are a bit old and rusty, and things go wrong, and they don’t work quite how they’re meant to. And people asked why I did it this way, and groping around for an explanation, I said that I grew up in Barry, this post-industrial sea town full of rusting infrastructure. Old docks and cranes that hadn’t worked for years, you know – and that kind of thing imprinted quite strongly on my imagination. I wanted to convey that sense of crumbling futurity.

It’s the same thing that Gene Wolfe’s done; the future isn’t so shiny and new, it’s tarnished and running down. And you can trace it all the way back to Star Wars , all lived in and used. It’s just shorthand, I think, for conveying a sense of history. It’s not a society that’s just been put there on the page; it’s got a past.

SFX: Where does House Of Suns stand in terms of your own favourite books?

AR: If I’m pushed, it’s probably in my top two. I’m very fond of Century Rain , which may be a perverse choice; but it was a very personal book when I wrote it, and tapped into all sorts of things that I liked; black and white movies, old music, noir and so on. Some people got it, some people didn’t, but I’ve always been fond of it.

And House Of Suns just made me feel really enthusiastic and exuberant all the way through it. It was like playing with a very colourful palette, which was exciting after writing lots of books full of rust and failure! And I was also trying to get away from the perception that I was just a miserable sod! And the book I’m writing at the moment is all about optimistic science fiction, and is different from anything I’ve done before.

SFX: It’s the first in a trilogy, isn’t it?

AR: Yes. The first book is about the next 200 years and where we’ll be in terms of space exploration, and also looking into the 22 nd century. It’s an attempt to sketch an Earth that feels plausible; it’s come through climate change and various crises in the coming years, but it’s also about coming through unscathed. So it’s sort of a counterpoint against what I see as the prevailing, dystopian trends in science fiction at the moment.

Interview by JES BICKHAM

For more details on the giveaway offer, click here .