Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Mad Scientist's Guide to World Domination

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Nonfiction

Author Spotlight: Alastair Reynolds

What started “At Budokan”—the dinosaurs, heavy metal, or was it something else?

I don’t keep a notebook of ideas, but I am in the habit of opening files on my computer and entering notes or story fragments into them. Sometimes they are just stories that didn’t work out but which I may return to. In the case of “At Budokan,” I’d opened a file called “Monsters of Rock” quite a few years ago, which contained the germ of “At Budokan,” but all I had was the conceit: I had not worked out how to tell the story. When I heard about the Shine anthology, which was supposed to about optimistic SF stories set on Earth and in the next 50 years, I wondered if I could get something out of those story fragments. So I dived back in and wrote “At Budokan” fairly quickly.

The narrative adopts an aspect of shaded optimism filtered through Fox. Was this intentional for “At Budokan,” or did you feel this method allowed you to explore the world in a more visceral way?

The original problem for the story was that I didn’t know how to tell it, but once I had the idea of focusing on the PR/management team, I found a way into it. Fox’s world-weary cynicism seemed to fit the character, and of course, there’s a hint of wry optimism there at the end. I think it is quite an upbeat piece, in that it presumes a future in which there is still enough of a global economy to support stadium rock acts, which is by no means a given.

The path you’ve created to the future of the music industry with Morbid Management and the introduction of dinosaur-based cover bands is satirically hilarious and captivating. What was the approach you took to envisioning this type of future? What cover band would you like to see, and in what format?

I had quite a bit of fun with imagining the backstory of Morbid Management—the idea being that a dinosaur-based rock act would only be the latest in a string of epically tasteless ideas that have all gone wrong in one way or another. Oddly, though, once I started thinking about robot cover bands, I wondered why someone hadn’t already done it in real life. And then (long after the story) I found out about Compressorhead, the all-robot Motorhead cover act! They sound like fun.

That said, I’m not all that bothered about cover acts myself—you either see the real deal, or live with the fact that you can’t, in my view. I’m off to see Bruce Springsteen for the sixth time shortly, but I couldn’t imagine getting excited about a Bruce cover act.

How do you approach the aspects of science fiction that are harder to grasp, like worldbuilding and technological progression? Does the character come first, waiting to use the technology—or does the device sit around waiting to be used?

I take a very organic, iterative approach to writing, so I might begin with the character one day, or an idea the next, or both at the same time on the third. But the process of writing the story is always to creep my way to a finished piece with a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, going back into the narrative and ramping up or dialing down this or that as the needs of the piece evolve in my head. I very rarely see the shape of the story in clear, diagrammatic terms at the outset—just a vague sense of which direction I need to be headed in. I think people imagine that, because of my science background, I must have a very logical, formulaic approach to fiction, but it couldn’t be farther from the truth. I’m massively intuitive and a lot of it—why it works and why it doesn’t—is still a total mystery to me.

Through your Twitter account (@AquilaRift), you recently expressed an interest in producing more short fiction than in recent years. How is this developing? Is there anything you would like your readers to know?

I do like to keep the short fiction output up, since it helps keep my profile out there and also (I’d hope) gives me the scope to try out some fresh approaches and strike off in new directions. There’s no hard and fast rule, but in a good year I might get out four or five new pieces, whereas in a lean year I might only manage one or two. I didn’t feel that 2012 was a particularly productive year, but on the other hand I wrote two novels, so perhaps it’s only to be expected—it’s not as if I wasn’t writing. That said, I did crank out a few short stories too. But in 2013 I’d like perhaps to produce a couple of fairly long, substantial pieces, and I’m into one of those at the moment, which should end up being a 25- or 30,000 word novella. We’ll see how it goes. I’ve got quite a few things simmering gently on the backburner, which is nice.

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Patrick J Stephens

Patrick J Stephens recently graduated from the University of Edinburgh and, after spending the entire year writing speculative fiction, came back with a Master’s in Social Science. His first collection (Aurichrome and Other Stories) can be found on Kindle and Nook.

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