Thursday, February 28, 2008


Phil asks some questions about The Quiet War:

i've read six short stories in the sequence, Second Skin, Sea Changes.., Reef, The Passenger, Dead Men Walking and Making History. are there others that i may have missed? are you planning on gathering them all in a short story collection? i noted a reference to Greater Brazil in one of them which would tie the sequence in with 400 Billion Stars and your earlier novels although i can't work out the chronology.

The stories published so far are, in order of first publication:
‘Second Skin’ (1997)
‘Sea Change, With Monsters’ (1998)
‘The Gardens of Saturn’ (1998)
‘Reef’ (2000)
‘Making History’ (2000)
‘The Passenger’ (2002)
‘The Assassination of Faustino Malarte’ (2002)
‘Dead Men Walking’ (2006)

Another story, ‘Incomers’, is due to be published in April this year, in an anthology of stories for teenage readers, The Starry Rift, edited by Jonathan Strahan. So far, there are no plans to collect them together, I’m afraid. And apart from sharing a country called Greater Brazil, neither the stories nor the novels have anything to do with my earlier future history.

Although it’s possible to fit these stories into a rough chronological order -- ‘Making History’ is somewhere near the beginning of things and ‘Reef’ and ‘Second Skin’ are towards the end -- I wasn’t cunning or foresighted enough to work up a proper future history from the start. That’s why, when I started working on the background for The Quiet War and Outer Dark, I realised that I wanted to take things in a slightly different direction. (If I was cleverer than I am I wouldn't make my life so complicated.)

So the stories should be considered as a loosely affiliated set of fictions in their own right, rather than spinoffs, sidebars, or episodes waiting to be stitched together in some kind of fix-up. Although the novels share some of the background and history (and even characters) of the stories, the novels start from a slightly different place, in a slightly different timeline. And it’s my hope that the novels will benefit from the recent avalanche of new information about the moons of Jupiter and Saturn from Galileo and Cassini probes. I couldn’t have done this without them, not to mention Pioneer 11, and the two Voyagers, and of course the teams of scientists and technicians who designed and flew them, and gave form and names to the fantastic diversity of moonscapes they discovered.

Monday, February 25, 2008


After I delivered the edited MSS of The Quiet War to Gollancz, I visited the row of little secondhand bookshops in nearby Cecil Court. It’s one of the few streets in London that still maintains the tradition of harbouring the workplaces of various representives of a trade cheek by jowl, and thus, for a bibliophile, it’s horribly full of temptation. Too much temptation: I came away with a first edition of William Golding’s The Spire.

I already have a paperback edition, signed by Golding just after he’d won the Nobel Prize for Literature and published his penultimate novel The Paper Men. He rarely did signings, and I had to queue for a fair while in Blackwells (on Broad Street, Oxford, just around the corner where I worked in those days) before I got my turn with him. A novice to book signings, having already bought The Paper Men in hardback, I purchased a couple of paperbacks at the till beforehand as the price of admission, and also had him sign my first of The Scorpion God, one of the first hardback books I ever bought, (at a much reduced price, in Bristol, a couple of years after it was published). I’ve been a fan of his work since school. Unlike many schoolchildren of my generation - I did the sciences instead of English Literature - I wasn’t taught The Lord of the Flies as a set book, but I read it anyway, and then read everything else of his that I could find. But despite his early popularity, and the Nobel Prize, he seems to have fallen out of fashion after his death; this and his early and enormous success with his first novel means that first editions of his novels (apart from The Lord of the Flies) are fairly plentiful and therefore fairly affordable.

One reason for his unfashionability may be that he never wrote the same book twice, thus resisting easy academic explication. And he is also, it has to be said, something of an old-fashioned writer, not only in his thorough grounding in the classics, but in his assumption of a God-like but detached, forensic point of view. Thus, he never explains or enters the minds or emotional states of his characters, except when the novel is narrated in the first person (and even though his ‘Tarpaulin’ trilogy is written in the first-person, it is in the form of a journal kept to flatter and impress the narrator’s rich and powerful uncle, so we’re kept at one remove from his real thoughts and feelings). Instead, emotion is conveyed only by its physical manifestation; yet this forensic detachment, married with limpid yet incredibly precise prose, conveys very clearly great emotions in a manner that’s both ironic and sympathetic, and on occasion tremendously moving: in The Inheritors, the discovery by the Neanderthal Lok of the bones of his murdered child is, for me, one of the most heartbreaking passages in English literature. It’s the evocative power of his extraordinarily concise, clear-eyed and accurate descriptive prose that first hooked me, and still enthralls me. All of which is a small part of the explanation of why the epigraph of The Quiet War is from Golding’s Free Fall: ‘The Herr Doctor does not know about peoples.’ For the rest, you’ll have to read the book.
Newer Posts Older Posts