Skip to main content

Paul McAuley - Four Way Interview

Paul McAuley won the Philip K. Dick Award for his first novel and has gone on to win the Arthur C. Clarke, British Fantasy, Sidewise and John W. Campbell Awards. He gave up his position as a research biologist to write full-time. He lives in London. His latest novel is Austral.


Why science fiction?

For one thing, I fell in love with science fiction at an early age, and haven’t yet fallen out of love with it (although I have flirted with other genres). For another, we’re living in an increasingly science-fictional present. Every day brings headlines that could have been ripped from a science-fiction story. Giant robot battle: Who knew a duel between chainsaw-armed mech suits could be so boring? for instance. Or, Roy Orbison hologram to embark on UK tour in 2018. And looming above all this, like Hokusai’s famous wave, are the ongoing changes caused by global warming and climate change, which is just one consequence of human activity having become the dominant force of change on the planet. So the genre’s common tool box is increasingly essential for capturing in fiction almost any aspect of these strange fractured times, whether by satire, extended metaphorical riffs, straightforward extrapolation, or even realism.

Why this book?

Like many other science-fiction novels, a number of my previous books have incorporated effects of climate change in the background hum of their near futures. But for quite a long time – ever since a trip to a research station in Sweden, above the Arctic Circle, I’ve wanted to write a novel that deals with climate change head on. And instead of a dystopia or awful warning, to write something hopeful, a novel about a world in which global warming had not only caused all kinds of disastrous changes, but had also opened up new territories in the polar regions. There have already been a fair number of novels set in a post-warming Arctic, and in any case, the territories around the North Pole are claimed by various national interests. So I turned to Antarctica, which by comparison is a clean blank slate. If the ice melted, what use might we find for the new lands? How would we live there, and how would living there change us?

What’s next?

I’ve taken a break from writing because of personal circumstances, but right now I’m trying to get back by mojo by writing a short story set in my Quiet War universe. After that, hopefully, a kind of samurai western set a few billion years from now. 

What’s exciting you at the moment?

I grew up with the Space Age, and I’m still excited by the ongoing exploration of the Solar System by robot pioneers, and the fantastic variety and dynamism of the landscapes they’ve found. Who could have guessed that Pluto was geologically active, with glaciers of nitrogen ice, possible cryovolcanoes, and mountains of rock-hard water ice rafting in a sea of nitrogen ice? Or that the best places to look for extraterrestrial life would be in subsurface oceans beneath the icy crusts of moons of Jupiter and Saturn? It’s possible I’m gearing up to write more about this, perhaps as the venue for all kinds of pocket utopias and ectopias.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The AI Delusion - Gary Smith *****

This is a very important little book ('little' isn't derogatory - it's just quite short and in a small format) - it gets to the heart of the problem with applying artificial intelligence techniques to large amounts of data and thinking that somehow this will result in wisdom.

Gary Smith as an economics professor who teaches statistics, understands numbers and, despite being a self-confessed computer addict, is well aware of the limitations of computer algorithms and big data. What he makes clear here is that we forget at our peril that computers do not understand the data that they process, and as a result are very susceptible to GIGO - garbage in, garbage out. Yet we are increasingly dependent on computer-made decisions coming out of black box algorithms which mine vast quantities of data to find correlations and use these to make predictions. What's wrong with this? We don't know how the algorithms are making their predictions - and the algorithms don't kn…

Infinity in the Palm of your Hand - Marcus Chown *****

A new Marcus Chown book is always a treat - and this is like a box of chocolates: a collection of bite-sized delights as Chown presents us with 50 science facts that are strange and wonderful.

The title is a quote from William Blake's Auguries of Innocence: 'To see a World in a Grain of Sand, / And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, / Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand, / And Eternity in an hour.' It would seem particularly appropriate if this book were read on a mobile phone (so it would be literally in the palm), which could well be true for ebook users, as the short essays make excellent reading for a commute, or at bedtime. I found them distinctly moreish - making it difficult to put the book down as I read just one more. And perhaps another. Oh, and that next one looks really interesting...

Each of the 50 pieces has a title and a short introductory heading, which mostly give a feel for the topic. The very first of these, however, briefly baffled me: 'You are a third mus…

How to Invent Everything - Ryan North ****

Occasionally you read a book and think 'I wish I'd thought of that.' This was my immediate reaction to Ryan North's How to Invent Everything. The central conceit manages to be both funny and inspiring as a framework for writing an 'everything you ever wanted to know about everything (and particularly science)' book.

What How to Invent Everything claims to be is a manual for users of a time machine (from some point in the future). Specifically it's a manual for dealing with the situation of the time machine going wrong and stranding the user in the past. At first it appears that it's going to tell you how to fix the broken time machine - but then admits this is impossible. Since you're stuck in the past, you might as well make the best of your surroundings, so the aim of the rest of the book is to give you the knowledge you need to build your own civilisation from scratch.

We start with a fun flow chart for working out just how far back in time you are…