Starting the next book

Fantasy, Fiction, My fiction, Science Fiction

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…

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