He studied the ring ship’s familiar contours and landmarks as they grew closer. Spars and tethers anchoring the motor pod in the centre of the ring ship’s Möbius strip. Cubical modules and domes of various sizes scattered over the surface. The two big rectangular hatches of the starboard garages. The cluster of dish antennae where he’d done his first work on the ship’s skin, helping Nabhoj swap out a frozen servo. The workshop blister where he’d assembled much of Dr Gagarian’s experimental apparatus. The hatch for the garage that housed his utility pod, 09 Chaju, a tough little unit with pairs of articulated arms either side of the diamond blister of its canopy. The hours he’d spent in the couch that took up most of the pod’s cramped cabin, ferrying and assembling components, welding . . .From Evening's Empires.
They are an unfashionable trope in science fiction right now, but at this late stage in my career, when I should probably know better, I'm still writing about spaceships. Despite early consumption of much science fiction steeped in the romance of the Great Out There, I'm not really interested in the sky-filling giants and naval manoeuvres of old-style space opera and default SF. If I'm interested in them at all, if they're something more than a convenient mode of transport to actual landscapes revealed by actual spacecraft, the equivalent of the plane that takes the protagonist of a contemporary novel from London to New York, it's as a place where people work, where they live and make their living.
My father was in the Royal Navy, a sailor from the ship-building town of Belfast. Because my family lived in land-locked Stroud, in the Cotswolds, I didn't see him that often. And after he and my mother divorced I didn't see him at all. But there were always reminders of his work about the house. Postcards and aerograms from ports in post-colonial remnants in the British Empire. Carved giraffes and elephants from Kenya. A gaudy lamp from Hong-Kong, whose shade, decorated with sampans, revolved in the heat of its bulb. A weighty book about the sea and ships: I have forgotten its title, but can still recall its wine-dark cover and grainy photographs. I still have my father's hardback copy of Graf Spee, an account by Michael Powell of the World War 2 battle which he and Emric Pressburger filmed as The Battle of the River Plate; a film in which my father, who served on one of the frigates that stood in for the British WW2 ships, makes a blink-and-you'll-miss-it appearance. I remember watching him lay delicate gold leaf on the boat badge for the bridge of the ship on which he was serving. One year, when he was stationed at Portsmouth, my family lived in a rented bungalow in Portchester, hard by the shore, and I would watch the great grey ships across the water, fossick in the low-tide estuarine mud, and bring back shards of electronics from an unfenced military dump.
Hari, Gajananvihari Pilot, the hero of Evening's Empires, was born and brought up in his family's ship. It's the only life he knows until it is taken from him. When his family's ship is hijacked, and his family is kidnapped, or worse, Hari escapes. Stranded on a barren asteroid, he swears to get back everything he's lost.
Where do we get our ideas from?