Dear Mr. Hamilton,Let us begin by thanking you for taking some time off your undoubtedly busy schedule to kindly answer our questions.
Q: Without giving anything away, what can you tell your fans about The Void Trilogy, and The Dreaming Void in particular?
The Dreaming Void is set in the same Commonwealth universe as Pandora’s Star and Judas Unchained, about 1,300 years after the close of the last book. Some old characters crop up, as well as some interesting new ones. The Commonwealth as a society has of course moved on, there are now several different types of human, with the Highers and Advancers being the two largest and most vociferous groupings. Highers enhance themselves with biononics, while the Advancers follow a route of genetic modification to ‘improve’ themselves.
Q: Will you be touring during the course of the summer and the fall to promote The Dreaming Void? If so, are there any specific dates that have been confirmed as of yet?
I’ve been told by my editor at Del Rey to leave a space in my diary for April 2008 for a possible visit to the US. No specific dates and cities yet.
Q: Will it be necessary to have read The Commonwealth Saga, which takes place in the same universe, prior to reading The Void series, or is it completely stand-alone?
I wrote the Void with the intention of it being completely stand alone. It was one of the things I was very conscious of while writing it, and kept asking my agent if there are too many unexplained references to things which happened before. He and the editor didn’t think there were, so hopefully it’s just writer’s paranoia. For myself, I feel the references to events from the other two books give it a nice sense of a universe with history.
Q: Your fellow SF author Justina Robson has described her admiration of the highly disciplined way you write, planning the details of chapters ahead of time and so forth. How would you describe your own writing process?
That was very kind of her. Spending time working out plotlines and location notes is essential for me. There are some authors who can sit down to a blank page, and simply start writing a novel. I’m not one of them.
Q: What do you feel is your strength as a writer/storyteller?
With reference to the above answers, adding a decent amount of depth to the worlds and places I create.
Q: With authors such as yourself, Alastair Reynolds, Richard Morgan and Neal Asher, British SF seems to be flourishing at the moment compared to a general downturn in the genre, particularly in the United States. Why do you think this may be? And have you been tempted, as so many SF writers have, to switch to writing Fantasy?
That’s a question that you’ll have to ask the publishers’ marketing departments. The number of readers certainly hasn’t declined, so why SF popularity is falling I don’t know. As to writing fantasy, there are sections in The Dreaming Void which are set in a world very reminiscent of a medieval magic society. So far the response I’ve had from the few people who’ve read it was very positive about those parts, so who knows. But I don’t want to write anything just because I think it will sell. If I have a story that would benefit from being set in such an environment, then so be it.
Q: Were there any perceived conventions of the science fiction genre which you wanted to twist or break when you set out to write those different series?
Not specifically break, no. However, there are definitely some horror elements in the Night’s Dawn trilogy, which were fun to blend in to a hard SF setting. And with the first Commonwealth books I enjoyed the thriller and detective elements. Now the Void has some sections which verge on heroic fantasy. All these make for interesting concepts when mixed together and given a good shake.
Q: With a renaissance in screen SF underway, particularly on television, has there been any more interest in adapting your works for the screen? I could imagine Greg Mandel working as an ongoing series, for example. Would you consider writing something for the screen if asked, such as for the new Doctor Who series?
I’ve had a few inevitable enquiries from producers, which also inevitably lead to nothing. As for screenwriting, it’s a very different skill to novel writing, and at the moment I don’t have the time. But I’m sure it would be fun to give it a go one day.
Q: Death, as a force that humanity is trying to defeat or avoid, seems to be a major theme in Night’s Dawn, Misspent Youth and the Commonwealth books. Was this a conscious choice at the outset for these stories?
Not so much death, but I am interested in the theme of where medical science is supposedly taking us. As a species we’re just not psychologically adjusted to living for more than a century, yet billions are being poured into research that leads to increased life expectancy. Suppose it works out, and we can live for three of ten times longer than today. That’s the kind of question which SF exists for.
Q: A Second Chance at Eden collects together your short fiction from the Night’s Dawn universe. Are there any plans to collect your short fiction from outside that setting?
My short story output is incredibly small and slow. I did do a couple of stories between books this time around, mainly because I have a tough time saying no to Gardner Dozois. At the current rate I should have enough for a collection in another five years or so.
Q: Misspent Youth is a prequel to the Commonwealth and Void books. Did you come up with the Commonwealth universe first and decide a prequel was necessary first to lay the groundwork, or was the Commonwealth universe a natural outgrowth of the ideas explored in Misspent Youth?
The Commonwealth was a progression from Misspent Youth. I’d define it as a very loose prequel. Again, it’s a stand alone.
Q: The Night’s Dawn Trilogy and its associated books certainly made you a recognised name on the world science fiction stage. Do you plan to revisit that universe in the future?
Let me put it this way: I haven’t said I won’t. If I have a story or theme that fits then of course I’ll write it. As of this moment I don’t have anything I can use. If I did go back, it would be after the events of Night’s Dawn.
Q: What advice would you give a younger Peter F. Hamilton concerning his writing career? Looking back, would you have done anything differently?
I don’t think so. So far I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve done, even the less successful stuff.
Q: M. John Harrison recently wrote this post on his blog:
“Every moment of a science fiction story must represent the triumph of writing over worldbuilding.Worldbuilding is dull. Worldbuilding literalises the urge to invent. Worldbuilding gives an unneccessary permission for acts of writing (indeed, for acts of reading). Worldbuilding numbs the reader’s ability to fulfil their part of the bargain, because it believes that it has to do everything around here if anything is going to get done.
Above all, worldbuilding is not technically neccessary. It is the great clomping foot of nerdism. It is the attempt to exhaustively survey a place that isn’t there. A good writer would never try to do that, even with a place that is there. It isn’t possible, & if it was the results wouldn’t be readable: they would constitute not a book but the biggest library ever built, a hallowed place of dedication & lifelong study. This gives us a clue to the psychological type of the worldbuilder & the worldbuilder’s victim, & makes us very afraid.”
Needless to say, a multitude of people disagree with Harrison’s postulation. What’s your take on Harrison’s post and the concept of worldbuilding in general?
As every story is its own length, so every story and novel has its own style and its own internal structure. The ones I write tend to have a degree of worldbuilding, which I as the author believe they require in order to function as a coherent unit. Every book is different as is every author. There are no rules as to what should be written, or how to write, which is what makes reading such a joy. Diversity is life.
Q: Cover art has become a very hot topic of late. What are your thoughts pertaining to that facet of a novel, and what do you think of the various covers that have graced your books? Do you have a personal favourite?
I’ve been lucky to get some very good cover art on a lot of my books. But my personal favourite is the UK version of Naked God. I actually visited Jim Burns when he was painting it, and even half finished it blew me away. I now have a very good copy hanging up on the wall at home.
Q: How would you like to be remembered as an author? What is the legacy you’ll leave behind?
It would be nice just to know that a) people enjoyed the books, and b) what they read occasionally made them think about things they might otherwise have ignored.
Q: Honestly, do you believe that the speculative fiction genre will ever come to be recognized as veritable literature? Truth be told, in my opinion there has never been this many good books/series as we have right now, and yet there is still very little respect (not to say none) associated with the genre.
Frankly, who cares what the ‘literary’ circle thinks. They can’t stop SF from being written, published, and read. I prefer to be judged by readers, ultimately they’re the only ones who count.
Q: Speaking from your own experience, do you feel that there is a difference between European and North American fans?
Never noticed one. They both throw great room parties at conventions.
Q: Anything you wish to add?
I think we’ve covered it, thanks.
Many thanks again for accepting to chat with us. We wish you continued success with your writing career and best of luck with the upcoming release of The Dreaming Void.
Interview by Patrick