Alors aujourd’hui ‘Crashing Heaven’ est lancé en France comme ‘Station: La Chute’. C’est une merveilleuse édition de Denoël, magnifiquement traduite par Florence Dolisi et avec une belle (et très précise) couverture de Manchu. Donc, tout d’abord, bienvenue lecteurs français au monde de Jack Forster, Hugo Fist et tous les autres.
With Waking Hell coming out I thought I’d do a couple of ‘making of’ posts – two bookumentaries, if you will. One of them’s on the music that inspired the book – it’s up over on the Gollancz blog.
And this is the other one, about four of the films that helped inspire it. So now sit back, grab your popcorn and relax as I make like Alex Cox and introduce you to… WakingHellodrome!
Night of the Demon
When I started writing Waking Hell, I had one very definite ambition for it. I wanted it to be a very pure science fiction book that also worked as a horror novel. So, I went back to some of my favourite horror movies for inspiration.
I’ve always loved Jacques Tourneur’s The Night of the Demon (also known, as in the trailer below, as Curse of the Demon). Its hero, Dr John Holden, is a strict rationalist who falls prey to an entity that forces an entirely new world view on him. His antagonist, Julian Karswell, is at once a boisterous clown and a terrifyingly effective black magician.
I was fascinated by how the film mapped and explored those contrasts. And I loved the sense of mysterious, remorseless pursuit that suffuses it. Both fed very directly into Waking Hell.
Oh, and Night of the Demon is based on M. R. James’ story Casting the Runes. James too was a big influence on Waking Hell. In particular, there’s something oddly intimate about many of his hauntings. So much of his horror peaks late at night, in bedrooms. One of the book’s key scenes contains an oblique nod to that.
This is a film that – when I first saw it as a teenager – blew my mind. It’s a profoundly odd movie, its characters deeply absurd, its settings (for the most part) a series of brilliantly used late night Paris locations. It’s shot through with a very strong sense that – with the world asleep – anything can happen. Those who remain awake no longer live within our city, they’ve fallen into its dream of itself.
That was something I wanted to capture in Waking Hell, that sense of being trapped within a city that has suddenly become completely other, no longer a home but rather a trap. Buffet Froid was the film that most directly inspired that, but I also drew on a long line of ‘estranged in the night’ movies – The Warriors, Round Midnight, Subway and so on.
As you read Waking Hell, hopefully you’ll see how all these percolate through into its heroine Leila’s adventures. She too is overthrown by night; the darkness both hides the world she’s always known and reveals a new one, more complex, more dangerous but potentially also more rewarding than any she’s known before.
Le Frisson Des Vampires
This is a very strange film indeed. On the one hand, it’s a 70s exploitation horror movie, with many of the flaws that that implies. On the other, it’s utterly engrossing and original, shot through with genuine surrealism and driven by three of the most peculiar vampires on screen. Watching it feels like spying on someone else’s dream.
The first vampire we meet casually unsqueezes herself from within a grandfather clock. She has two male companions, who slowly but surely take over the film. I found them an utterly hypnotic presence. They’re all over this trailer, too:
On the one hand, they’re a completely absurd duo. They’re given to nonsensical pseudo-intellectual lectures on occult history, they’re pretty ineffectual and their fashion sense is astonishing. Drawing on an apparently inexhaustible wardrobe of early 70s hippy finery, in every scene they look like they’ve dressed up as several members of the Monkees at once.
But on the other, I found in them a profoundly unsettling sense of menace. At first, that seemed utterly bizarre. I couldn’t work out why they spooked me so much. Understanding why these 70s relics had such a hold over me helped me define some of Waking Hell’s key bad guys – the Pressure Men.
Quatermass and the Pit
The past and the future have one thing in common – they contain everything. Science fiction normally looks to the everything of the future for inspiration, but Quatermass writer Nigel Kneale took the opposite tack. In Quatermass and the Pit, he wrote the past as if it was the future.
In the world of the film, a fully SFnal Martian invasion is already ancient history. His characters’ challenge is to deal with it not as a thing yet to come, but as an undeniable, ineradicable fact that radically changes their sense of the past and with it the very nature of their present. For them, memory plays that role that SF usually gives to foresight.
This was a huge inspiration for Waking Hell. I was fascinated by that recasting of SF as a tool to not just look backwards and explore memory but to understand it as the one thing without which the present and the future can’t exist.
A month or so ago, I had a really interesting chat with French genre maven Gromovar Wolfenheir, about Crashing Heaven and a whole lot of other stuff – he asked some really thought-provoking questions. He put the interview up on his website, having beautifully translated it into French – you can read it here. I thought I’d put the English version up today to celebrate the paperback publication of Crashing Heaven. Happy reading!
Hello Al and thank you for your time.
First, can you introduce yourself to French readers ?
Thank you, it’s lovely to be here! And, hello – I’m Al Robertson. I’m a British science fiction writer who lives and works in Brighton. It’s a particular pleasure to be on a French website as I grew up in France, living just outside Paris until I was about six then returning regularly since then.
Can you tell us of your writing activities before Crashing Heaven ?
I’ve been writing for a long time. The first book I wrote was about Zorro, when I was about six. It was very short. As I grew up I ended up writing a lot of poetry, then working in film script development for various London production houses.
But one day I realised that what really excited me every month was getting the latest edition of “Interzone” or “The Third Alternative” (now “Black Static”) and racing through them. I thought I’d have a go at writing some stories for them, and everything went from there.
I spent about ten years publishing short stories before “Crashing Heaven” came out – mostly fantasy and horror rather than science fiction. There are some up on my website if you want to check them out.
There’s also an unpublished novel that will never see the light of day. It’s about what would happen if somewhere a little like Narnia had massive oil reserves, and someone a little like George W. Bush or Tony Blair found out they were there. Of course, we’ve invaded the magic kingdom and destroyed everything.
Oh, and I’ve also been a corporate writer and comms strategist for the last ten years or so. I’ve worked with many different kinds of companies, writing just about everything imaginable for them!
Can you tell us of your love for SF ? Which authors are your favorite ones ? What are the other genre you like ?
Well, I’ve always been very deeply into SF. I remember watching “Space 1999” and “The Prisoner” dubbed into French when I was tiny, maybe four or five – they blew my mind. Partially because the imagery was so powerful, partially because I didn’t really understand what was going on. So I started trying to invent stories that would explain it all to me – I think that was one of the moments when I really started to become a writer.
Later on, the big influences were the British New Wave writers – Michael Moorcock, J. G. Ballard and M. John Harrison. Moorcock’s been a constant presence, his work – quite apart from being great fun to read – is a huge, endless education in the possibilities of genre writing, for me in particular as satire. Ballard always seemed to be so alien – there’s something very clinical about his writing, it often feels far more like very acute analysis rather than fiction. I think his experiences in Shanghai during the war moved him far beyond our conventional senses of society and humanity, and he never quite came back again. And M. John Harrison’s grasp of the literary uses of genre, of the way that the unreal can in very sophisticated ways reflect and comment on the real (inasmuch as we can even begin to grasp that very slippery concept) is an endless inspiration.
And there’s H.P. Lovecraft. He was a huge obsession when I was a teenager. As I’ve grown older, I’ve realised how problematic he can be – but what I always enjoyed was how he’s absolutely a science fiction writer, but one utterly horrified by all the things that usually excite SF writers. Aliens ? NOOOO! New planets, dimensions to explore? I’M GOING MAD! Vast gulfs of interestellar time ? LIFE ITSELF IS MEANINGLESS!! Time travel ? AAAAARRGGH!!! And so on. He’s also a very nostalgic writer, but his nostalgia is so broken. All those backward looking characters you feel he’d most want to be – all those repressed New England academics and historians – are the ones shown by his stories to be most completely wrong about the true nature of the universe.
Oh, and there’s Iain Sinclair – I started reading him at about the same time as Lovecraft. A remarkable writer, he’s someone I’ve come back to again and again over the years. Partially for the way he blends a crazed pulp-fuelled imagination, a very sharp critical mind and a brilliant prose style, partially for all the other writers and film makers he very consciously and very generously leads his readers to. I felt some of him come through in China Mieville’s early work, too. China’s sense of the weird was very important – my initial response to it was to go and start a cabaret night in a bar in Brixton, but it’s also been a big influence on how I think about genre fiction in general.
And poetry’s always been a big presence. Partially for the more genre-relevant stuff – poems like Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market”, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Christabel”, James Thomson’s “The City of Dreadful Night” have all haunted me, over the years – and partially for the ways it shows you how you can tell non-realist stories in ways that can have very deep resonance. I was deeply into William Blake for a while, for example. His shatteringly powerful, deeply sophisticated myth-making is a very useful antidote to a realist tradition that insists that only literal transciptions of reality can have any sort of aesthetic worth.
Though of course, having said that I’ve learned a huge amount from that kind of writing. Epic, tub-thumping 19th century novels are magnificent! They contain so much and they tell their stories with such ferocious, unputdownable verve. The Bronte sisters, Charles Dickens, Balzac, Zola – all essential. Balzac in particular – the Comedie Humaine as a whole is a great lesson in how to write multiple books set in the same world, all crossing over with each other in complex, fascinating ways.
Crashing Heaven, your first novel, is out since June 2015 at Gollancz. Can you tell us how you got your Publisher ?
Through my agent, Susan Armstrong at Conville and Walsh. I signed up with her in 2012 and then spent a year or so rewriting Crashing Heaven off the back of her thoughts on it. We took Crashing Heaven out to auction in 2013, and Simon Spanton at Gollancz came in with a pre-emptive offer. I’ve always been a huge fan of both him and them, so I was very pleased indeed! I signed up, and that was that.
Let’s talk about Crashing Heaven. What’s the plot of the novel ? What are the main factions warring inside ? What is at stake ?
Well, Crashing Heaven is about Jack Forster, an accountant of the future, and his sidekick Hugo Fist, a very heavy duty military AI that manifests as a virtual ventriloquist’s dummy. As the book begins, they’re just returning home to Station, a giant space station orbiting the Earth where most of humanity now lives. They’ve been battling the rogue AIs of the Totality on behalf of the Pantheon, a group of sentient corporations that are worshipped as gods.
One of the Pantheon starts persecuting Jack and Fist – they have to find out why and do something about it. Which annoys the hell out of them, their real motivations are much more down to Earth. Jack wants to find and be reconciled with Andrea, the great love of his life who’s mysteriously gone missing. And Fist wants to turn into a real boy. Some dodgy software licensing means that he’s going to inherit Jack’s body in a couple of months time, wiping Jack’s mind in the process. So really he just wants Jack to do nothing dangerous whatsoever.
CH happens after an AI war that destroyed Earth. Can you give us some details ? What could we see if we were on Earth at this time ?
Well, you get to find all that out in the next book, “Waking Hell”! It’s coming out this October. It’s difficult to talk about without giving away massive spoilers, so it’s probably best if I leave it to the book to reveal it all…
The strong character in Crashing Heaven is the puppet AI Hugo Fist. Can you describe him ? Where does such a strange character come from ?
He’s a psychotic virtual ventriloquist’s dummy and he took me totally by surprise. When I was planning the book, I was imagining the Jack Forster / Hugo Fist relationship as a kind of Faust / Mephistopheles one. Jack was going to be much as he is now, but Fist was going to be a dark, spooky silhouette, a kind of demonic digital familiar. But when I started writing him, he marched into the book as a ventriloquist’s dummy. The scene where the reader first meets him is also the scene where I first met him! It was quite a surprise.
Though of course, he does have some very definite inspirations. I’ve always loved possessed ventriloquist dummy movies – one of my favourites is ace 40’s portmanteau horror movie “Dead of Night”, in which we meet the dummy Hugo Fitch, a very evil little presence. He was a big influence. There’s a lot of Jan Svankmajer in there too. His “Faust” was very inspiring – partially as a Faust myth retelling, partially for its general imagery, and partially for how it shows humans and puppets interacting with each other.
And there was one film that I only saw when the book was pretty much done – Nina Conti’s “Her Master’s Voice”. She’s a wonderful ventriloquist, but at one point was feeling very disillusioned with it all and on the point of quitting. She was about to tell her ventriloquial mentor, Ken Campbell, this, when he – very sadly – died. And in his will he left her all his puppets and declared that she was his ventriloquial heir. The film’s about how she deals with all this. It’s hysterically funny, sometimes very spooky and – most importantly – profoundly moving. Watching it was a shatteringly powerful confirmation of how strong the human / puppet bond can be, in real life as much as in fiction.
There is also the pacifist human Jack. What do you want us to learn from his defection out of his war ?
Whatever you find resonant in it! Writing a very heavy handed fantasised satire on the Gulf War helped me realise that nobody wants to be ranted at. I don’t think fiction’s there to draw conclusions for you – I think it’s there to give you an open field in which you can think through certain situations and possibilities for yourself. So a good story is both defined enough to suggest certain areas to think about and open enough to let you do whatever you want with them. So, really – whatever meaning you find in Jack’s defection is the right meaning.
Jack was an accountant before the war, then an investigator. Did you have Eliott Ness in mind when you created him ?
Not at all – in fact, I’ve never seen “The Untouchables” or dug too deeply into gangster history. But of course, if you as a reader find interesting resonances between the two of them, that’s wonderful. For me, that’s the book doing its job – helping the reader go in directions they set for themselves.
As for where the accountancy in the book comes from – really, it comes from my experiences of the corporate world and my sense that accountants are the secret masters of the universe. Being able to read a set of corporate accounts is a tremendously powerful thing – it gives you so much insight into how a company works, what it’s doing right, what it’s doing wrong.
The recent fascination with corporate tax avoidance is a really interesting manifestation of this. It’s proper militant accountancy – people picking apart internal and external money flows, understanding their social and political implications, then taking action.
Can you describe to us the buddies pair made by Hugo Fist and Jack ? How does the pair evolve during the story ?
Again, I wouldn’t want to talk about that too much because spoilers! I hope their relationship evolves in a way that’s both interestingly unpredictable, and coherent and truthful.
There is too a beautiful and tragic character in CH, the jazz singer Andrea. Did you have a model in mind for her ?
Quite a few! There are elements of many different people in there. First of all, there’s her as a musician – in my mind, she sounds a bit like some combination of Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell (particularly on their last album, “Pygmalion”), My Bloody Valentine’s Bilinda Butcher, Lana Del Rey and Jesca Hoop. And anyone who’s ever sung in a David Lynch movie, blended with Miles Davis’ soundtrack to “Ascenseur pour L’Echafaud”.
Her films were very much inspired by Stan Brakhage – the way he explores and plays with memory and perception was a huge help as I wrote and came to understand her. There’s a bit of Proust in there, too – I was reading my way through him while doing the last two, very major edits on the book.
Oh, and since writing the book I’ve been listening to a lot of Holly Herndon. She’s a remarkable musician. I think that Andrea would be fascinated by her work, they have a lot in common.
And I could of course be quite wrong about any of that. Your version of Andrea is equally if not more valid than mine!
In CH, nearly everything is virtual and need to be paid on a duration basis. Yet, the Internet now is mostly free or all-included. Do you really think that it will change in the future ? Do you think that a always-augmented world is at hand ?
I’d disagree about that – I think very little of it is free, we pay for most of it with data about ourselves. We just don’t have any understanding of the true value of that data, and no current way – as individuals – to access that value. But the tech giants of our day do very well off it.
And more generally, as I was writing and rewriting “Crashing Heaven” various software and content companies were trying to move to a model where you subscribe to a service rather than buy a product – Adobe moving Photoshop to the cloud, Microsoft pushing Office 365 and so on.
Looking at companies like Netflix and Spotify, something similar seemed to be going on – you no longer buy a piece of music, film or whatever and own it outright, you subscribe to a service and enjoy it as part of that service. Or you just go to Amazon Prime and pay a one-off rental fee.
At the moment, these services are the exception rather than the rule. They have non-subscription competitors ; I can still go and buy a DVD, for example, and completely circumvent Netflix, Amazon or whoever else.
But when that sort of competition no longer exists, when the only choice is content leasing services of one kind or another, then there’s a commercial logic that says these kinds of companies will take advantage of their market dominance. And we’ll all suddenly find ourselves paying much more for much less.
You see it now for example in the way Monsanto sells seeds to farmers. Seeds should create plants which create seeds which farmers can reuse. Of course, this isn’t profitable – when you sell a farmer one year’s worth of seeds, you’re really selling him a lifetime’s worth of crops. So you just turn off the seed production gene in whatever you’re selling him, and hey presto! Guaranteed annual income.
Incidentally, in this context it’s both interesting and a little worrying watching technologies like blockchains, smart contracts and the internet of things develop. On the one hand, they have genuine utopian possibilities ; on the other, taken together they also make it so much easier for any kind of product usage to be very precisely monitored and therefore monetised. A future in which – for example – we pay a software levy to boil our own kettle, then pay again for mug usage because someone holds the rights to the groovy design on it it is both closer and far easier to get to than we might think.
In CH, the inequalities are huge in the Station. Don’t you think that we’re going to a future of post-scarcity as in Banks’ Culture ?
Again, I’m trying to reflect rather than predict – in fact, I see “Crashing Heaven” as realist or documentary rather than predictive SF. So, from that point of view – we live in a very unequal world and I wanted to bring that out in the book.
I do think that the Culture is a profoundly utopian society – particularly in the way that it elides any sense of how it arose from the kind of wealth-and-power-concentrating economies we live in now. Nobody ever gave up that sort of wealth and power without either a fight or some kind of profound, externally imposed destabilisation.
That kind of upheaval might in the end lead to very good things, but not without a fair amount of trauma for pretty much everyone involved along the way. The Culture is wonderful and I would love to live within it, but surviving the journey to it might be quite a challenge.
In CH, the world is mostly contractual as in Ayn Rand or in Kress’ Beggars in Spain. What do yo uthink of this kind of world ? do you think that it’s close at hand ?
I think I’ve answered this above!
Can you tell us of the “gods” that rule the Station ? Where do their names come from ? What are their powers ?
Their names vary. Some communicate relevant meaning, some are randomly chosen. I looked at how corporate entities are named now and tried to reflect that. Some – like Virgin, for example – communicate very specific meaning in an evocative way. Others, like Samsung, have no innate meaning. Our understanding of them comes from the action of the entity they describe.
And as for what they can do – each has a specific sphere of influence, so for example Kingdom is concerned with physical infrastructure, East with the media, Grey with corporate efficiency and strategy, and so on. But in essence, like all brands, they all share a combination of practical and emotional power.
Practically, they sell you things or provide services that do something concrete for you. Emotionally, they make you feel like a certain sort of person when you acquire those things. They want to extract profit from their relationship with you, so they make sure that you give them more than they give you. The effectiveness of their branding makes you feel good about this.
In CH, the powers that be lie and manipulate the people. Is it how you see politics in our world ? Or do you think that AI politicians will be structurally manipulative ?
Certainly in the political worlds I’m closest to – the UK and US. For example, there’s David Cameron, our current Prime Minister. He’s a career politican. The only real world job he’s ever held is as Director of Corporate Affairs at media company Carlton Communications. In effect he was their PR head, managing public perceptions of the company and presenting its point of view to the world.
I feel that’s what he now does as head of the Conservative party. He seems to be very tactical, more concerned with selling individual policies than enacting any grand vision for Britain. And those policies are often brutally harmful, but are hardly ever seen as such by those who vote for them – individual MPs, the electorate in general. It’s a very effective piece of perception management.
As for AI politicians – that’s an interesting question! It depends I think on how they’re coded. It’s very easy to see our current, fundamentally manipulative and extractive version of digital technology as the only possible option. In fact, it’s the result of a series of assumptions and choices about how we want it to work. If we start making different assumptions and choices, then we’ll be able to build IAs on different foundations.
There is a preemptive war in CH. Won’t we have learned nothing from the War on Terror ?
Sadly, I don’t think so. After repeating itself first as tragedy, then as comedy, I think history recurs for a third time as novelty, restarting the whole cycle. It’s been doing that for a long time and shows no signs of stopping.
In CH, the dead continue to communicate virtually with their living relatives. Do you think that these kind of apps will soon appear in our world ? If your answer is YES, how do you think it will change our world and our lives ? What will be the pros and cons ?
They’ve already appeared, although as yet they don’t seem to be very effective. For example, a site called Eter9 offers to learn about your through your social media posts, then mimic your voice and start talking to the world on your behalf. It will of course keep on doing so after you pass on. A while back, Virtual Eternity offered a very fetch-like service, but it didn’t take off and the site closed. Perpetu helps you manage your online presence post-death. And so on.
And of course, the dead already persist in ways they never used to. Facebook’s already asked me to wish friends who’ve passed on a happy birthday, and I occasionally get updates from their accounts, as people leave messages for them or friends and family post on their behalf.
More generally, the combination of digital tech (photos don’t fade any more) and the internet’s storage facilities has made the past a lot more present and persistent than it used to be – and the dead live in memory, so our relationship with them has also changed.
This is both a good and a bad thing, I think. On the one hand, I hugely enjoy having the past more present in my life. Many good things happened there! On the other, it can be more difficult to escape past traumas – Facebook’s recent decision to thrust memories from the past at people seems to have been problematic for some, for example. And I think there’s a risk of a certain kind of stasis. Forgetting the old makes room for the new. When the past persists, there’s much less room for novelty.
Oh, and more specifically – “Waking Hell”, the next book, has a fetch as a heroine and is very much about the pros and cons of fetch existence, how fetch society will evolve, how the living and the dead will relate to each other and so on. In short, I think it’ll all be pretty complex!
Were you influenced by Gogol’s Dead Souls when you wrote ?
Not really, no. I read it years ago but it hasn’t really stuck with me – which is a shame, as I love Gogol’s short stories. I should go back and try again!
If I had to pick Russian books I hope I’ve learned from, I’d probably go for Turgenev’s “Scenes from a Hunter’s Album” and Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”. Turgenev for his mastery of mood and subtle telling detail, Tolstoy for his marvellous ability to balance complex personal stories and the great, epic sweep of history.
Oh, and I think Hugo Fist would love “Notes from Underground”.
Your novel reminded me of Neuromancer (Gibson) and The Quantum Thief (Rajaniemi). I thought that it could be a missing link between those two great novels. Would you validate this assumption ?
That’s difficult for me to say! I can see how it might act as an interesting bridge between those two books – and I both love and am very flattered that you’ve seen it in that light – but I didn’t consciously write it to do that.
Are there some novels that you’d say influenced the way that CH is ?
Yes. Key specific inspirations were (in genre) Leigh Brackett’s planetary romances, Charles L. Harness’ “The Paradox Men” and Barrington Bayley’s “The Zen Gun” and “The Garments of Caean”.
Each combines a wonderful sense of playful imagination with a very serious aesthetic intent. They’re hugely enjoyable, constantly surprising reads, but they also cover some very important ground.
There’s also a fair bit of film in there. “The Third Man” was a big influence – a broken man returns to a broken city and discovers that an old friendship is not what he thought it was. There are some very specific nods to the film in the book.
And of course “Orphee” hangs very heavily over “Crashing Heaven”. A broken world in which reality and illusion have equal weight, the gods walk casually among us and the dead rise again with offhand ease – it was a huge inspiration.
The films of Powell and Pressburger were very important too, in particular “A Matter of Life and Death”. Again, it shows us two worlds – the real and the unreal, the living and the dead – negotiating a sometimes troubled, often dangerous, always fascinating co-existence.
In CH, you mix cyberpunk with singularity and noir. What are your favorite works in this genre ? How did you balance the mix in your own novel ?
I haven’t read a great deal of singularity fiction. Most of what’s in “Crashing Heaven” comes from just looking around. I think the singularity has already happened and it’s transnational corporate entities. They are independent intelligences in their own right, their needs and goals entirely separate from and often deeply inimical to humanity’s. It’s just that their scale of presence, thought and action is so different from ours that we haven’t really noticed. And we certainly haven’t developed effective ways of communicating with and managing them. I tried to dramatise my sense of that in the book.
And as for noir – again, it’s more of an atmosphere I’ve picked up over the years so it’s hard to point to single works. As I said above, “The Third Man” has always haunted me. Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, of course. There’s a fair bit of Julian Maclaren Ross, Derek Raymond and Gerald Kersh in there as well, those great, dark, undeceived London mythmakers – again, experts at showing broken people moving through a broken city, trying to make some provisional sense of the parts of their lives they feel they can control.
The way that noir’s mutated into occult detective fiction was also a big inspiration – early “Hellblazer” hit me like a sledgehammer, for example. There’s something very cyberpunk about it – the way that John Constantine deploys street-level occult technologies to enforce his will on vastly more powerful supernatural entities. And there’s such sharp contemporary satire in there too.
Stepping back from individual works – I think the great lesson that noir has to teach is that you can solve crimes but you can’t solve people. That’s something I definitely tried to reflect in “Crashing Heaven”.
Will CH be published in France ? Will it be adapted on screen ? If it’s not secret…
I’d love to see “Crashing Heaven” published in France, but alas there are no current plans for anyone to do so. If anyone reading this is interested, do get in touch! And I’d be fascinated to see it adapted on screen. At one point we did get quite close to selling TV rights to it, but nothing concrete’s yet emerged.
What is your next project ?
I’m deep in final edits on “Waking Hell”, the loose sequel to “Crashing Heaven” that I’ve already mentioned. The past attacks and only the dead can save us! It’s coming out this October.
After that, there’ll be the final Station novel, “Purging System”. “Crashing Heaven” is about Station’s present, “Waking Hell” reveals its past and “Purging System” will show us its future.
And then there’ll be a bit of a change of pace, something a little more contemporary. I’m tossing round some ideas in the back of my mind, but I’m not even sure about them myself!
Crashing Heaven is hitting the streets tomorrow. To celebrate, I thought I’d write a bit about some of the sounds that helped me write it. Finding the right soundtrack was very important – it helped me pin down the mood I was after for Jack and Fist’s adventures and imagine the world they were moving through.
So, here are some of the most important musical inspirations for Crashing Heaven. It’s just general soundtrack stuff – there’ll be more on some specific character related music in a bit. Oh, and it’s the music that worked for me as I was writing, but it’s definitely not the only possible CH soundtrack. If there’s anything completely different that’s in your mind as you read it, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
John Foxx / My Lost City / The Garden
John Foxx’s “My Lost City” was a very big inspiration. There’s something hauntingly elegiac about it. That resonated very strongly with Jack’s feelings as he returned to a place that was no longer his home. It’s also a very numinous album, shot through with choral tones that hark back to Foxx’s childhood. I felt the distant presence of the gods in it.
“The Garden” was very important too. As soon as I heard the album, I knew that I’d found a very important part of the book’s soundtrack. “Europe After The Rain” and “Swimmer 2” stood out in particular. Both of them are wonderfully propulsive, but both also have a deep undertow of dream, sadness and loss. Their very 80s synth sound also give them a lovely retro-futuristic feeling.
The Black Dog / Music for Real Airports
The Black Dog’s wonderful album was mostly composed in transit. It captures the bland anonymity of modern non-places perfectly. They’re the kind of places that Jack and Fist spend a lot of time exploring – industrial estates, corporate lobbies, customs facilities, transit stops, shopping malls and service corridors.
In particular, I often had “Wait Behind This Line” on repeat play, hammering at the keyboard in sync with its slow, stately, droning build. It nails the sense of vast, impersonal power that suffuses Station. The strings that grow through it add something achingly human. It helped me imagine Jack and Fist’s fraught, determined progress towards the truth.
Brian Lavelle / Fallen Are The Domes Of Green Amber
A few years ago, Brian Lavelle put out this lovely album. It’s made up of two long, slow, stately drones, both rich with evocative majesty and uncluttered enough to set your imagination working hard. It’s great to write to. Unfortunately, it’s not available online.
So, instead, here’s “Suburban Electrification”, which is also a very evocative listen, though in a slightly different way:
Slowdive / Pygmalion
I wish I’d picked up on Slowdive’s majestic album when it first came out, back in 1995. As it is, I only came across it while I was editing “Crashing Heaven”. Listening to it was an amazing experience – it’s a wonderful soundtrack for late night in Docklands, when the gods are dormant, the spinelights have dimmed almost to nothing and the hard rain has managed all but the most determined nighthawks off the streets.
Much excitement at Allumination Towers as Interzone 235 has just come out. It includes my novella ‘Of Dawn’ – more details / buy a copy here. The story’s been rather beautifully illustrated by Richard Wagner, he’s caught its mood perfectly. Alas, this is the biggest version of it I could find; to get the full effect, snap up your copy of Interzone!
And of course, there’s a lot of music in the story. Some of the sounds that helped inspire it are name-checked in the story, but there’s some other very important stuff that (in the end) its protagonist Sarah didn’t run into. I thought I’d share some of it here…
That’s ‘Rattler’s Hey’ by Belbury Poly, from their album ‘The Owl’s Map’. They’re one of the Ghost Box roster of artists – strange and wonderful music from a strange and wonderful label, and a big inspiration for the story.
Brian’s hypnotic, evocative music is all too easy to lose yourself in – I’ve tried and failed to write about it directly, the best thing to do is just open up your mind and listen. Check out more of his work here at his website.
And finally, that’s ‘The Pheasant’ from Matt Berry’s mighty ‘Witchazel’ (imagine Ronnie Hazlehurst’s great lost pyschedelic soul album, and you’re part way there). For more, here’s his MySpace page – plus my ramblings about ‘The Badger’s Wake’, one of the album’s key songs, in a previous blog post.
Well, it’s been an exciting few weeks from a writerly point of view. I’ve finished a first draft of the next novel (working title ‘Crashing Heaven’, but I suspect that will change), drafted a novella, had a wonderful – and very productive – time at this year’s Milford Writers’ Workshop, and have the launch of ‘The Immersion Book of SF’ (with my story ‘Golden’ in it, plus fiction from Tanith Lee, Lavie Tidhar, Aliette de Bodard, Chris Butler and others) to look forward to on Friday.
More later on Milford, and hopefully you’ll see both novella and novel in print sometime soon. Instead of going into detail on them, I thought I’d write a little about ‘The Immersion Book of SF’, as some comments that editor Carmelo Rafala makes in his introduction have been resonating with me quite deeply.
He describes wanting to put together an anthology ‘where each story was so vastly different from the other, that I felt like I’d visited a dozen or so different worlds by the time I’d put the book down’. In doing so, he hopes that he’s put together ‘a collection… as varied and entertaining as those I’d read when I was a youth’.
I grew up reading both the more formally recognised classics, and whatever pieces of genre mayhem I could get my hands on. The latter came to me in a variety of ways, often quite accidentally, and usually in anthologies of one kind or another. As Carmelo says, they were a great way of reading very widely, very quickly, and thus discovering just how many different subjects genre fiction could cover, and how many effects it could achieve within them.
My junior school library had stacked issues of 50s educational mag ‘Look and Learn’, buried in boxes. Each one contained a couple of pages of astonishing comic ‘The Trigan Empire’, plus various other marvellous bits and pieces. 2000AD was basically a weekly compendium of wondrous (and highly intelligent) weirdness.
My local library was well stocked with vintage fantasy and SF compilations. I found my favourite book of horror stories (a huge, superbly edited anthology from the 60s) in a jumble sale somewhere. It cost me 50p, and gave me at least ten years’ reading pleasure, if not more. And of course there were the various OUP and Virago ghost story anthologies – Christmas presents from my folks (thank you!).
Anyway, all this vaguely Proustian recollection has a point. I owe my passion for genre fiction as much to this slightly random collection of anthologies as to any more formal reading plan. And so it’s hugely exciting to think that a story of mine is going off into the world in a modern version of one of those collections; and that someone might come on that anthology, either buying it new, or pulling it off a library shelf, or in a jumble sale somewhere, and find in it the kind of formative thrill I found in all those books, all those years ago.
And of course, if you want to explore those strange new worlds yourself, you can pick up your own copy of ‘The Immersion Book of SF’, right here… Happy voyaging!
Another quiet month on the blog, as ever because it’s been very hectic elsewhere. I’ve started a really fascinating project for Counterpoint, the British Council’s thinktank – more details over at my Disappearing blog, or at the project site itself – and I’ve begun writing the next novel, which is what this post is about.
So far, I’m about ten thousand words into it, and it’s becoming clear that it’s at once a bit of a departure, and a logical progression, from what I’ve been writing over the last few years. On the one hand, it’s very much science fiction, rather than fantasy or horror; but on the other, as I write, I’m slowly realising that it shares a set of obsessions with previous, more fantastical stories.
I don’t want to go into too much detail, because I’m still working it all out myself! But, first of all, it shares a common set of inspirations. It’s basically ‘Faust’ crossed with ‘The Third Man’, in space. As I write it, I realise I’m getting a lot of texture from sources that have previously driven the more purely weird fiction, including Julian Maclaren Ross’ louche Soho memoirs (which very directly inspired London fictions like ‘Sohoitis’ and ‘Golden’), and elegantly restrained English horror movies like ‘Dead of Night’ and ‘The Innocents’ (which have sat behind pretty much everything I’ve ever done). It’s a lot of fun dropping these kind of influences into a fully science fictional environment, and watching both bend out of shape as they accomodate each other.
Secondly, it shares an understanding of how we interact with technology, and what that means in fiction. There’s a fair amount of talk about how science fiction writing is a subset of fantasy, because it too is set in and deals with invented worlds (albeit worlds based, or aspiring to be based, on actual science). Alternatively, people argue that fantasy is a subset of science fiction, because, through its scientific content, science fiction engages with actual reality in a way that fantasy refuses to. As I write the new book, I’m beginning to think that they are actually equivalent at a deep level. Both posit invented tools for dealing with a particular world, or invented components of a given world, and then explore the impact of either or both on the people who engage with them. Whether those tools and components are technological or fantastic in nature is immaterial.
Given that, switching from writing fantasy and horror to science fiction has been easier than I thought it would be. And in doing so, and in writing about in particular information technologies that very much mirror what we’ve got now, I’ve realised that we tend to overlay the science fictional elements of the world we live in now with fantasy. And, of course, there’s the fact that, by living in a consumer culture that’s constantly presenting with us with novelties, we live in a world built on the kind of exploration of and reaction to newness that’s central to these two kinds of genre fiction. These are both thoughts I’m still pondering, and just beginning to explore in the book – it’s going to be interesting to see what kind of argument develops from them as I write.
So, that’s what I’ve been up to, and that’s the new book. Oh, and there’s a new short story, too – but it needs a little editing before I submit it anywhere, so more on that another time…
A quick post, as there’s much news at Allumination Towers this week. First of all, even as we speak the new Black Static is hitting the streets, with my story ‘De Profundis’ in it, plus much other groovy stuff. You can order it from the TTA Press website, and it should also be available in Borders any day now.
As ever I shall be on vocals, performing over ambient metal mayhem with (after this week’s rehearsal) possibly a bit of Fall fuelled Renaissance blues heaviosity too. I think we’re on at about 9.00pm – alas, won’t be too big a post-gig night for me as I’ve got to be up at 6.30am the next day to help row Henry VIII from the Tower of London to Hampton Court Palace.
And finally, interesting conversations happening this morning about a possible multimedia event in August. No final detail as yet, but it looks like it could be very cool indeed. Watch this space… (and, as ever, KEEP WATCHING THE SKIES!)
<EDIT> Black Static 11 is now in Borders Islington, which I assume means that it will also be in Borders across London and elsewhere, shelved with Interzone.
Good morning all! And first of all, apologies for disappearing for a bit – it’s been a hectic few weeks of settling into the new place, and generally getting things sorted out. Secondly, much excitement, as new stories have hit the streets.
Online, my story ‘Fallen’, which is a stonepunk mini-epic that implicates the Mayans in the development of city-sized macroprocessors, and ponders just what that might mean for a bored young archaeo-hacker.
It’s available here, along with other stories from the Science Museum Writer’s Workshop and Tony White’s groovy steampunk piece, which both resurrects James Colvin and re-imagines South Kensington as Albertopolis.
Tony also talks about his time as Writer in Residence at the Science Museum, and describes the process by which he brought other writers together to workshop stories into being.
In print, ‘Fishermen’ is out in Interzone, with a bang-on illustration by Geoffrey Grisso. And it’s a fantastic issue in general, well worth picking up, with stories from Bruce Sterling, Matthew Kressel, Paul M. Berger and others.
Oh, and if you’re a BSFA member, you’ll have had ‘Sohoitis’ in the post, reprinted in the Postscripts BSFA sampler special along with work from Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Gene Wolfe, Ramsey Campbell, Joe Hill, and more
Well, I’m off to Devon and beyond for my summer holidays over the next week or two – with H, of course – so there’s going to be an August hiatus on the blog.
But, before I go, first of all some great news – Black Static have picked up ‘Changeling’, my story of homecomings, marital discord and fairy hunting. Very exciting! More news of exactly when it’ll be in print as I get it. There’s also another *interesting thing* on the go, but for the moment I’m going to keep quiet about that…
And in salute to the season, (and to come down a bit after last post’s more than a little manic X-rant), here’s the summeriest thing I’ve heard in a long time, courtesy of mighty South London dub inflected rapper Roots Manuva. Enjoy, and happy Augustitude!
And I couldn’t resist putting this up too – a classic tune, and a great video where Roots returns to his – erm – roots by hitting his old school’s sports day…