Alastair Reynolds - science and science fiction

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Formative years

Early influences - for better and for worse...

I'm sometimes asked what it was that started me writing. The truth is, I don't know: it seems to me that I've been creating stories since about the time I could read and write. Almost from the beginning, I was obsessed with anything technological and scientific. I remember being taken to the cinema in Truro by my dad to see a double-bill of "From Russia with Love" and "Goldfinger" (both films would have been less than ten years old at the time), and then writing and illustrating a story in school the next day that had a big laser in it. I think it's fair to say that big lasers have been a recurring theme in my work ever since. I created my own books, stapling together little ten or twenty sheets of paper. I still have one of them - it's about a computer on the moon, which prints out too much paper. Must scan it in one of these days...
 
Growing up in the early seventies in Cornwall, I absorbed Pertwee-era Doctor Who, Joe 90 and UFO (other Anderson shows such as Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet did not seem to be shown on Cornish regional television) and, of course, Star Trek. Early filmic influences included "The Time Machine", "Fantastic Voyage" and, of course, more James Bond, and spy films generally. I would have been eight when I first encountered written SF, in the form of Clarke and Asimov short stories reprinted in the boys pictorial magazine Speed & Power. S & P was later absorbed by Look & Learn magazine, which I found somewhat more worthy and dull, but it did introduce me to the wonderful British SF comic strip "The Trigan Empire".
 
We moved back to Wales in the mid seventies and my influences shifted to Baker-era Doctor Who and Space: 1999. By then I was reading "proper" Clarke novels such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, but that was about the only adult fiction entering my world, with my wider reading being more likely to include the heady delights of Doctor Who novelisations, Action Man (the British equivalent of GI Joe) adventure books, Roald Dahl (Charlie and Great Glass Elevator was a particular favorite), Space:1999, Doctor Who annuals, Dalek annuals, and so forth. I was also a keen reader of Enid Blyton, something I have never regretted. Later I was in that wave of impressionable British boys (and girls, one presumes) whose minds were forever warped by early exposure to 2000AD. I did not start reading it at Prog One, but my mate Dave did, and so it wasn't hard to catch up. The first Judge Dredd story I read was the one with the killer car on the moon. Later I followed the exploits of Joe and his sidekick Spikes Harvey Rotten (including the episodes that were subsequently deleted for legal reaons) as they raced across the Cursed Earth. My mate Dave and I developed an obession with the 2000AD artist Kevin O'Neill, to the extent that we developed our own top secret methods for drawing pictures of robots and spaceships and making them look like they'd been done by Kevin O'Neill (in particular a kind of stippling effect on lines we called "Oneilling"). Dave's still a mate - he was best man at my wedding.
 
I continued to write stories right into my early teens, and started a novel in 1979. Amazingly (to me now) I did actually finish it, nearly three years later. It was called UNION WORLD. It started off being influenced by prevalent media SF of the time such as Battlestar Galactica and the early Star Wars films, but by the time I finished it (endless painful rewrites later) it owed a more obvious debt to written SF such as the Known Space stories of Larry Niven. I wrote more fiction in the same universe in 1983, creating my own version of Known Space, and in 1984 started and finished a second novel, DOMINANT SPECIES. DS was a sequel to the first, but a much better book - in my opinion - and this time my influences were Pohl, Benford and Joe Haldeman. I even went to the extent of making my own "faked" documents to include in the book, in the style of Haldeman's MINDBRIDGE. But by the time I finished DS I was dissatisfied with many of the underlying assumptions of the universe and decided my next book would be proper serious hard SF with no faster-than-light, tractor beams etc. There would be no cosy aliens with similar technologies to our own. It took me another ten years to finish that third novel, which was effectively the first draft of REVELATION SPACE, completed in 1994.
 
My first two novels will never see the light of day, but elements of them - locations, character names, some technology - occasionally appear in the published books. Which is another way of saying that bits of the RS universe, at least in my head, have been floating around for nearly thirty years now...


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