Thursday, April 02, 2009

Eternal Return

The new reprint of Eternal Light is published today, along with nine other titles in Gollancz’s space opera promotion.

It was first published in 1991, although I began working on it a couple of years before that - about twenty years ago, in fact. It still means a lot to me. I’d already published two novels and a short-story collection, but Eternal Light was a big step up: far more ambitious and, although nowhere near as long as the 600 page epics routinely turned out these days, fairly hefty for its day. I wrote it under fairly difficult and depressing personal circumstances, and in the middle of the first draft moved from Oxford to St Andrews, Scotland, to take up my first and last proper full-time job. So much of the writing was done in a corner of a dismal university flat, which I shared with a tribe of trilobite-sized silverfish, in the middle of my first Scottish winter, while grappling with teaching and trying to re-establish my research programme. Still, I persevered, typing away on my very first, and fabulously expensive, PC. I was fiercely ambitious, then, and the writing flowed, as Robert Frost put it, on its own melting, propelled by Mahler and Robert Johnson.

I wanted to write a new kind of space opera, punkishly incorporating and reimagining all the tropes from the various kinds of old space opera I’d loved to read as a teenager, starting in excavated ruins on an alien planet with a storm coming on, moving halfway across the galaxy to the supermassive black hole at its heart and stranger regions beyond, and returning to a transfigured Earth. Whether or not I succeeded isn’t for me to say, but rereading the first pages I detect a promising if not altogether refined vigour:
It began when the shock wave of a nearby supernova tore apart the red supergiant sun of the Alea home system, forcing ten thousand family nations to abandon their world and search for new homes amongst the packed stars of the Galaxy’s core. Or it began long after one Alea family had slaughtered most of the others and forced the rest to flee the core, when a binary star came too close to the black hole at the centre of the Galaxy. Or perhaps it began half a million years after that, when Alea infesting asteroids girdling the red dwarf star BD +20̊ 2465 destroyed a Greater Brazilian flyby drone as it shot through their adopted system. That’s where it began for Dorthy Yoshida, for instance, although it happened a dozen years before she was born . . .
Eternal Light was the first of my novels to be nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, it was on the short-list for the BSFA award (it lost both times, hey-ho), and it was my first US hardback. Twenty copies of the British hardback were numbered and signed before publication, although I don’t think they’re worth much more than ordinary signed editions; an unknown number were bound upside-down (again, nothing especially valuable), and there’s a rare alternate dust jacket - I have one, and gave another away in a competition: these may be the only survivors. And now it’s back!


Anonymous Sergey said...

Great, Paul!

April 03, 2009 7:38 am  
Anonymous Nathan said...

Re-read 'Eternal Light' recently- it still proved to be a damn fine piece of SF- exotic locales, edgy characters, a sense of a galactic secret history, BDOs and weird human cults- fantastic!

April 03, 2009 10:07 am  
Blogger Keith Ferrell said...

Wonderful to have it back in print: all best for its successful revival.

I believe I'll mark the occasion by starting Dorthy Yoshida's story at the very beginning, "ass-backward out of orbit."

Nice image that, so early in your own orbit, and one that can be applied to so many things.

April 03, 2009 6:02 pm  
Anonymous Martin Wisse said...

I remembering discovering Eternal Light in the local library amongst the English language books, not knowing much more about it than that it had the little squiggly sign the library used to denote science fiction, picking it up and immediately being engrossed in it. Reread it three years ago and it held up nicely (review here). One of the rare books that keeps its sense of wonder even on reread.

April 03, 2009 8:53 pm  
Blogger PeteY said...

Well, I haven't read it. Off to Forbidden Planet, I suppose.

April 04, 2009 1:49 am  
Anonymous James Davis Nicoll said...

So, uh, how did they come to be living around a red supergiant anyway? Those live about as long a minority government in times of economic turmoil.

April 08, 2009 9:29 pm  
Blogger Paul McAuley said...

Their homeworld orbited a brown dwarf that had been captured by a red supergiant in the crowded regions around the central black hole. I think. It's been a while, and the ouija board to my younger self has a low bit rate.

April 09, 2009 11:49 am  

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