All this is inextricably intertwined with science fiction. My love of SF fed off my obsession with space, which in return, watered the thirst for knowledge about real other planets and stars. So I eventually pitched up at university, did astronomy along with my geology, took geophysics units along with the fossils, and went on to do a PhD dealing with the formation of meteorite parent bodies in the early solar system. It’ll become relevant in about a hundred years time…
The writing thing? Never even occurred to me, until I suddenly started noodling a high fantasy epic at the same time as I was writing up my thesis. It … wasn’t completely awful. And I finished it. Naturally, I started something else, and that something else turned out to be Heart.
So, time for a story. I’d just written a near-future Sfnal thriller, and bagged an agent on the strength of it. While he was hawking it around the publishers, I had, taking my own advice for once, started something else straight away. It was very different: I was going to write an SF book using fantasy tropes. So I’d lined up my Paladin, and my Wizard, and my Princess, and I was five chapters in. My agent showed those five chapters along with the completed novel he was touting – and it was those five chapters that sold.
Who’d have thought it? Not me, for one. And of course, having sold a whole novel on the basis of a few thousand words, I now had to finish it. I had the money in the bank and the deadline on the calendar. What I didn’t have was an outline of what happened next. It’s the way I write – no plan, no synopsis, no vague idea even. I just sit and keep going until I’m done. I think it took me about another eight months to get it all sorted, about 125,000 words in all. I was very pleased with the result, and fortunately so were the publishers.
Cargo sets the whole tone for Petrovitch – he’s amoral, sarcastic, smart, and yet… he can’t help doing good, despite himself. Having worked in a university research department also helped – I’m not saying it’s a direct lift from the stuff I used to get up to, but I hope it’s recognisable to anyone who knows that kind of environment.
And Petrovitch himself is undecided about the nature vs nurture debate. He’s the sort of guy you’d want on your side, but you probably wouldn’t want him to marry your daughter.
Afterwards, though… everything you know has gone. As an author, you’re free to redraw virtually the entire map: geographical, social, economic, scientific, religious, political, you name it. You can tweek one thing – like PD James’ Children of Men – and just extrapolate a whole new society from the ashes of the old. Or you can have an old-fashioned global catastrophe where only one thing remains.They’re popular with readers for the same reasons: on top of which, they’re the ultimate in wish-fulfillment. Of all the people to succumb to the ravages of whichever disaster it might be, you’re not going to be one of them. You – and your plucky band of survivors – are going to have to kick start civilisation. And you’ll make a better job of it than last time round, too.
HG Wells – The War of the Worlds (1898)
George Orwell – 1984 (1949)
Frederick Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth – The Space Merchants (1953)
Ray Bradbury – Fahrenheit 451 (1953)
Frank Herbert – Dune (1965)
Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle – The Mote in God’s Eye (1975)
Joe Haldeman – The Forever War (1975)
William Gibson – Neuromancer (1984)
Orson Scott Card – Ender’s Game (1985)
Greg Bear – The Forge of God (1987)
Mary Doria Russell – The Sparrow (1996)
Michael Marshal Smith – Spares (1996)
I picked stories that made the most impact on me, so they’re necessarily all personal choices – but they are all recognised as classics of the genre. I’d add a couple of more recent ones – Ken Macleod’s Learning the World is just fantastic, and Boneshaker by Cherie Priest is full of steampunky goodness.
You may visit the author at his website