Interview with Ken MacLeod


In between Ken’s busy working schedule he has managed to put aside some time to answer these brief but informative questions. To date, his most notable works and contributions to the SF field have been The Cassini Division, The Star Fraction, The Stone Canal, The Sky Road, Cosmonaut Keep, Dark Light, Engine City, and Newton’s Wake. So, onto the interview:

Of all the characters you’ve conjured, which one did you most relate to and why?

Ken MacLeod: I think it was Myra in The Sky Road. She has a lot of baggage, a very long life’s load of knowledge and guilt, but she still goes forward and acts decisively.

What really sparked your interest in sci-fi?

KM: Rocket to Limbo, by Alan E. Nourse, which I read at the age of twelve or so. It had all the skiffy props: generation ships, FTL, a lost colony and psi powers.

What has been your hardest book to write?

KM: The Cassini Division. The writing didn’t flow at all; but I’m told it’s a very fast read.

Are you working on anything at the moment? Any details you’d like to leak?

KM: I’m working on The Execution Channel, a near-future novel about the war on terror and the war after that. Of course it’s a little difficult when you don’t know when the *next* war is going to begin, if at all.

Once and for all, fill us in on the history between you and Mr Banks.

KM: We met the year after our O levels at Greenock High School. We have different recollections of how we first got talking, but Iain remembers me asking him for a story for the school magazine. Both of us became part of a writing circle or more a discussion clique organized by our English teacher, Joan Woods. We’ve remained friends ever since.

How important do you think it is to read a variety of genres as an author? Could you be where you are now had you only read sci-fi?

KM: It’s very important to read other genres. If I’d only read SF I certainly wouldn’t have written the kind of stories I have. Apart from non-fiction – history, biography, science – the non-SF books I read tend to be spy thrillers or crime stories. The technical problems of these genres are quite similar to those of SF, and it’s interesting to see their solutions. Other SF writers get the same effect, I think, from historical novels, whether naval adventures or romances.

It must be an amazing feeling to know that so many people around the world read your work. Exactly when did the reality of your success strike you?

KM: There was the first time I saw The Star Fraction in a bookshop – my knees went a bit wobbly. Then there was the hand-written fan-mail from a hacker who thought from The Star Fraction that I knew a lot about hacking.
Could you fill us in on your working habits?

KM: Let’s just say they’re very bad, and I’m working on them.

Any authors/works that have had a huge influence on your writing?

KM: John Brunner, M. John Harrison, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein. These are the influences I’m conscious of, in the sense of wanting to do that sort of thing (different sorts of things, of course).

Have you considered using the name Ken ‘M.’ MacLeod were you to write in another genre?

KM: Yes. Kenneth Macrae MacLeod is my full name and I may use it.

Will you be taking a UK tour anytime soon?

KM: Not that I know of.

If one of your novels were to be made into a movie, which one would you like it to be?

KM: That nice Mr Whedon could probably do something with Newton’s Wake.

What are your forecast about intellectual property, and especially patent mess? Will it become worse before it will be better? Are we for long term situation where several patent holders could monopolize or tax research and development with broad and vague patents? Are there connection with degradation of privacy?

KM: I don’t have a forecast, myself, other than the suspicion that it’s going to get worse. Whenever I say ‘RIAA’ the words ‘wall’, ‘revolution’, and ‘first up against’ tend to be in the same sentence. In much the same way as ‘spammers’ and ‘baseball bats’ would tend to cluster in any analysis of my comments on that subject.

But the guys you should really ask are Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross, who know far more about these issues than I do, and who fight the good fight.

On behalf of sffworld we thank Ken.

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