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Miles Cameron interview

Photo by Lawrie Photography
Miles Cameron is a full time writer who lives in Canada with his family. He also writes historical fiction under the name Christian Cameron. His latest novel is Artifact Space.

Why science fiction?

I've been reading Science Fiction since I got a copy of Starship Troopers when I was twelve, and I can remember watching the PILOT for Star Trek with my parents.  I had to go to bed before it was over... So I love the genre.  But in a more general way, I think Science Fiction is our attempt to tell the history of the future, wether by way of warning or by way of prediction or sometimes just in hope.

The book is set in what feels like a neo-feudal society - what made you pick this social setting?

It wasn't meant to be Neo-Feudal, but based on the Republic of Venice --  in space.  The DHC (The Directorate of Human Corporations), the trade bloc that trades with Aliens and has become a defacto interstellar government) is a word play on the 'Dieci' or the Ten, the council that directed foreign policy in Venice.  I think Venice is underrated as a successful mixed oligarchic/socialist/aristocratic government.  And it was the Venetian Great Galleys that inspired my great ships.  I loved the idea of a future society that was essentially held together by periodic and predictable visits of great trading vessels. And an essentail sub-plot to the world-building is that the outer fringes are slipping away as humanity expands to rapidly for any single culture or government.  It is another of my (historical) jokes that the characters believe they're socialists (and in some ways they are) because definitions of 'socialist' and 'capitalist' and so on have slipped.  After all, it's 800 years in the future.  What Venetians meant by democracy in 1400 we'd no longer call democracy...

In a couple of ways I thought I felt the influence of Robert Heinlein - in a small way in the reference to line marriages (as featured in The Moon is a Harsh  Mistress), but also the idea of someone who doesn’t officially qualify getting onto a ship in a junior position, then saving the ship pretty much single-handed is reminiscent of Heinlein’s Starman Jones - is a this a conscious influence?

Definitely Robert Heinlein, as some of my fondest memories of High School were sitting with my two best friends reading Time Enough for Love.  But... there's a great deal more of Alistair Reynolds than Robert Heinlein, and if I had to name one huge influence that tipped the scales on certain elements of the story, it's the Downbelow Station/Merchanter's luck series by CJ Cherryh.

The Heinlein novel is from the 1950s and runs to about 50,000 words - Artifact Space (along with many modern science fiction novels) is a whole lot longer than this. What would you say are the pros and cons of very long novels?

I tend to write the story that satisfies me; I write long because I read long. I'm a huge history nerd and I like to try to show complexity because my own experience, especially as an intelligence officer, is that people and events are complex and nuanced. Also, I wanted to take the time to let the reader understand the sheer boredom of a really long voyage.  I was a sailor myself, on a nuclear aircraft carrier; just 45 days at sea is enough to fray social interactions and wilt all the vegetables, and I wanted to try and get across the boredom of routine, the endless training cycles, AND the excitement of discovery, trade, and combat.

As someone who’s written a book on quantum entanglement, I was interested to see you bring it into your explanation of how the ship’s drive works - in the end the ‘fiction’ part is central to good SF, but do you think it’s important to try to be as close to what’s potentially scientifically feasible as possible?

In a word, yes.  I don't know as much about quantum entanglement as I do about carrier operations, but I did want to evoke possible futures. When writing space opera, the writer is immediately presented with a choice; FTL or not FTL.  I considered both and tried to outline a non-FTL version, but the time dilation would have completely ruined the surprise (no spoilers) in book two, Deep Black. Having made that decision, I spent some time (and I love research) looking at various fictional and (at least vaguely) science-based theories of possible FTL solutions. 

Because the series has a theme, which is the haunting effect of the past on the future, I immediately fell in love with the notion of 'Relic particles' left over from the Big Bang (actually from the milliseconds immediately after) and 'Artifact Space' as a dimension they inhabited. It seemed to me that someone else had invented concepts that perfectly matched the theme of the books.  That said, I tried to keep other elements, from zero-g combat to spacecraft maneuvering to knowing that nuclear weapons in space don't have an atmosphere to transmit a shock wave, as authentic as I could.  My alien race (races, actually) are also based on careful... well, I won't call it research, but let's say, examination of current scientific speculation. 

So in summation, yes,  I think it's important to try and keep within the possible.  And that's not just with science; I am frustrated in other SCiFi environments that spacecraft don't seem to have callsigns, IFF transponder codes, automated landing sequences... all of the things that make an airport function. And I hope that's all interesting and believable in fiction.


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