Peter F Hamilton needs no introduction, but for the sake of the small minority of SF readers out there (and especially in South Africa) who have not heard of this giant of the genre or read any of his work, perhaps an introduction may be necessary. J And who better to give that introduction than Peter himself?
First off, thank you for giving up your time for this interview, Peter, and welcome to the South African SF-reading public! Would you please tell us a bit about yourself? What led you onto the SF path and the novels that announced you in the genre?
I started writing SF because it was the genre I enjoyed the most when I was growing up. I was born in Rutland, England’s smallest county, which is a fairly rural area. SF was great escapism back in those days. Reading EE Doc Smith and Asimov and Clarke was a lot of fun; when I started writing those were the kind of themes and settings I wanted people to enjoy the way I had. I started by writing the Greg Mandel books, he’s a psychic detective in the near future. Then I moved on to Space Opera in the grandest EE Doc Smith tradition, firstly with the Night’s Dawn Trilogy, and more recently with my Commonwealth books.
Taking into account that you may have mentioned some of your influences in answer to the question above, are there any authors, both in the genre and out of it, whose work you follow?
There are too may to keep current with, especially as I now have kids. But I do try and read Richard Morgan and Justina Robson, Al Reynolds, Dan Simmonds, John Meany and many others.
How, in your opinion, has the Science Fiction genre changed and grown through the decades, and do you think it has changed for better or worse?
Hopefully it’s improved a lot in literary terms. I’m generalizing, but the so-called Golden Age of the 40s and 50s tended to concentrate on ideas at the expense of characters. I don’t think that’s the case any more.
Your novels are filled with many different themes and concepts, with storylines encompassing a vast cast of characters and settings – were there any that were more challenging than most to explore?
Each of the big ideas has its own difficulty when it comes to setting it down on paper in terms of explaining it and making it believable for the reader. If I can just get them all to tie together in the end I’m happy. But some characters are a lot more fun to write than others, and easier, too. The more I write about someone, the better I know them, which makes them easy to follow.
How much time do you usually spend on the process of putting the details where they are needed before diving into the process of writing the novel?
For something like the Void trilogy I’ll spend between 6 and 9 months getting all the details of the universe sorted out to a point where it fits together in a logical fashion, and I’ll also do a lot of worldbuilding as well. Then when that’s in place I’ll start to develop characters.
On your website you have a section where you talk about the beginning of your ‘Night’s Dawn’ trilogy – I was curious what the reactions of your agent and editor were upon seeing the size of the manuscript? J
I think total shock is the most accurate description. There had been a few books of similar size, but not many, and a trilogy of that length was just about unheard of.
Your novels feature artwork by the incredible Jim Burns – were you ever included in the process of getting the covers done; perhaps you and Jim had many discussions regarding the covers?
The way it works is that I send Jim some sections of the manuscript which I think will make good visual images. Then while he’s painting them I’ll get calls and e-mails asking about colour and shape and all sorts of background detail, half of which I have to make up on the spot.
Will you please share with us the spark or collection of ideas that led to the creation of the Commonwealth Universe?
The whole travelling between worlds on a train came from a trip on the channel tunnel to France. The rejuvenation theme was developed in my earlier novel, Misspent Youth, which followed the first person every to have the treatment; I wanted to see how a culture as a whole would deal with the concept and adapt to accommodate a population who basically didn’t die.
When you began writing Pandora’s Star did you already know how large the tale of the Commonwealth would become?
No, I was just focusing on that story. The whole Void notion came later.
Were any of your novels influenced by real-world events that happened concurrently with writing the novels?
Occasionally, yes, I tend to reflect what goes on in the world within my writing.
If Hollywood ever comes knocking (assuming they haven’t already) would you open the door?
I’d be happy to. However, given the scale of the books there would have to be a lot cut out to make one filmable.
Many believe that the event termed the ‘Singularity’ is approaching – what views (if any) do you hold concerning the ‘Singularity’?
Well we’ve just survived (so far) the black hole doom which some were predicting when they switched on the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. I’m not sure if a singularity is possible, or if so how far ahead it is (or behind us and it’s keeping quiet about itself). There are always apocalyptic views about such events; I’m rather more pessimistic myself. I don’t see it as a threat.
Finally, once you’ve finished with the Void Trilogy, where will you be taking us, and yourself, next? Any titbits for us?
Provisionally I’m thinking of doing a Young Adult trilogy which will be more fantasy based, and after that a stand alone SF novel again. That’s about as much as I know for sure.
I extend my heartfelt thanks to you, Peter, for giving up your time for this interview, and for taking us with you into the incredible worlds you’ve created! J