An Interview With Peter F. Hamilton.

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Face to Face Interview Auckland New Zealand August 1999.

A long long time ago in a country far far away Anthony and myself had the pleasure of interviewing of the one of Britain's top sci-fi writers; his name is Peter F. Hamilton author of the Mandel series and the Night's Dawn Trilogy. Mr Hamilton visited our shores late August 1999 to promote "The Naked God" the last book in the brilliant Night's Dawn Trilogy.

Q1: What inspired you to write?
A: I've always read the stuff; science fiction, if you asked when I started I would say early 70's. I'm a teenager of the 1970's which is giving away for a start my age. That day you did not have video, computor games , whatever. Escapism was science fiction, mainly books. As well, we had Dr Who, Star Trek on tele, and that was it that was your lot, so a kid growing up in the 70's in a quite surdate, basiclly boring little country town; "escapism was science fiction", I think the first one I ever read was John Christpher's Tri-Pod trilogy. I could properly date that back as the first pure SF I read, and there on up, I went to the classics Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, Niven, from there that was the start of it the early 70's.

Q2: Is it a fair asumption that the main modern British sci-fi writers are Doctor Who writers?
A: Have you ever heard of Steve Baxter? Steve Baxter is very hard SF. He's frieghtning he knows quantum theory. I can just read it and vaguely understand it, he actually gets into it. No there has been a resurgence lately from Interzone. It is our one good SF magazine; people like Steve and Paul came up through that in the early 80's, as Asimov and Heinlein used Astounding, and Analog in the 30s and 40s to get into SF. Theres not alot of us; but there are more than Doctor Who writers. Like I said Steve, and Paul, Ian McDonald people like that, we are sort of coming up; the new generation following on from Chris Priest and people like that who are 70s and 80s. It did get probably a well deserve reputation being fairly downbeat in the 70s and 80s. British science fiction today it's not a consensus thing but we are certainly writing space operas, writing hard SF, alternate worlds; kind of stuff it is breaking away from the school of repression.

Q3: Would you class your work as space oprea?
A: Thats a fair assumption for The Night's Dawn Trilogy. The earlier stuff the Mandel books were detective science fiction.

Q4: The N. D. Trilogy was set in huge universe where did the ideas come from that?
A: You start with a basic idea the possessed emerging. Then I started looking at what sort of universe would stand a chance against these guys. You have a background that competes against them. I've always like space oprea dating back to the Doc Smith books the Lensmen Series. So that was my setting from which you start to work out what characters you need. You gradually build backwards in these things. I've gone into quite a level of notes on planets, and technology, and histories, and societies, and this type of thing. So with all the background detail, then you plot out the chapter outlines. I never thought it would be this big. I thought the Nano Flower; the last Mandal book I wrote was about 600 pages in paperback. Like I thought the Reality Dysfunction would be about the 700. It's the classic author nightmare of characters taking over. One of the real things I wanted to do was this which is what space oprea certainly in the past is guilty of which is just concentrating on the hero and villan. If you have a galaxy wide culture, then you know I want to see what effect a conflict of this magnitude will have on it. I draw always the equivalent of World War Two. Where you have the fight between the Axis and Allie powers. The affect it had on society afterwards; where women were allowed into factories to work. This sort of social effect which came afterwards was huge in this centuries history. So I wanted to portray that kind of thing; which is why the Confederation is politically bordering on the stagnant. Theres a fine knives edge between stable and a stagnant society it's a very comfortable society (the Confederation)it's mainly middle class people doing well getting on with their lives, but as I say it's verging on the stagnant. The only thing that can change in such an inbreed system where there is no incentive to move on and look for new ideas and new frontiers, is an external threat. And it has to be on a very very large scale, which is ofcause what prosessen is. Out of ths and you will see this at the end of third book; whatever the outcome there has to be change. Which is again a major theme in science fiction. We sort of exaggerate technologies and see what effect it will have on society. It's not just about fancy gimmicks, and technology, it's what effect it has on people. That is what I think is one of the roots of science fiction; what it does best at.

Q5: Did you have a problem with the size of the Night's Dawn Trilogy with your publishers?
A: They were uncomfortable to start with. I think it surprised everyone. I hadn't actually let on how big it was. When I finally delivered it; it came as a bit of a shock, it came as a bit of a shock to me, when I totalled up the word count. they were surprised but the editor read through it, took a gamble and brought it, and we all lived happy ever after. It is edited down wether you beleive it or not; about 20, 000 words were cut from the last volume, and the same for the second one. I can't remember, about the first one; yes it was edited down.

Q6: Would you release a unedited verison at some stage?
A: No I don't think so; it was good editing. I don't have a problem with my editor. We sort of augue about what bits should be cut and why, and that sort of thing. No I would say the published stuff is the definitive stuff. I don't see the need to back to the file and put back in. I'm happy with the way it came out.

Q7: Did you have a theme for your short story collection A Second Chance At Eden?
A: How the collection came about? It was published between volumes two and three because I was taking a long time to write The Naked God. It was a sort of stop gap for the readership. Which is a bit unfair "no" I mean that stuff was written before I started the Night's Dawn Trilogy. Three were written for the collection; the rest I altered slightly to fit into the Confederation timeline. Wasn't so much a theme to it. It finishes off and the main story starts. It was of a history of how the Confederation and how things got started. Basically how Edenism got started. I was quite interested in showing how the infinity band effected life and this kind of thing.

Q8: Do you see genetic engineering playing an important roll in the future?
A: Oh yes the possibilities are openning up. I've read a couple of articles here in the newspapers about genetic engineered crops, and trans-genetic animals, the protests have been starting in the UK. Greenpeace have been chopping down fields of GN maze. There is alot of concern about it. That stuff you alter will cross pollinate with the natural maze. But again because it has this potential; if you read the brochures it's coming out wonderfully. It will help the third world; we will have more food in the world. We can't be annoyed by it because we are worried at the moment because of this cross-pollination; it might not work out. But planting a field of GN crops in the middle of other fields is not the way to go about testing. If you are going to test them then do it in a sealed greenhouse or something. It should be tested. But they have gone about it wrong. The genetics in humans is a very ethical dodgey field. Again it has much potential. To use the classic example cystic fibrosis. If you could cure cystic fibrosis in the embryo that would be a wonderful thing. But that technology also gives you the ability to make sure "for" blokes that our hair doesn't fall out when we hit thirty. From there you sort of go "well maybe we can..." like plastic surgery at pre-birth at which point you really wonder where to draw the line. But should you not research it because of that, should you not have the ability to cure cystic fibrosis because people are going for designer kids. The temptation is there.

Q9: Like the movie Gattica?
A: Yeah which has gone to the extreme. So it's a big ethical question which I'm properly not quailified to answer.

Q10: Will you deal with this issue in your new books?
A: Oh yes I see no reason to avoid it. Certainly the next few books will have it in. It is something that won't go away; therefore the best way to do it on a writers point of view on is almost head on. Looking at effects. So what will happen when we all live to 200, alot of people are living to 100 because of better diets, and better health care. When you start feeding in genetics as well you could live up to 200. What kind of effect will that have on society. In Europe we have the problem at the moment that the population is aging. Therefore poeple my age (the younger generation) have to work to keep the older generation in petitions and there is fewer and fewer of us. When you've got people living up to 200 years old you will have a working life of up to 150 years. No bodies going to stick out a job for 150 years. So what kind of effect will you have on people. Are you just going work for a job for 30 years then go back to university. Because everything has moved on so much, people today kind of stick through a job or at least a profession, and maybe take one adult education course. Companies send you on refresher courses but given how other things are changing. This is all the kind of effect we've got to look at. As I say it's great fun doing it in science fiction, because we get to do it first.

Q11: What about the politics of the future.
A: I don't how deverse your politics are over here. In the 80's in the UK there was a hugh devide between the lift and the right. It was going very very polerize. Thats what the Mandel books came out of (the background for it not the detective plots). The background I set it in was based on Thatcher and in opposition we had Kinnock I don't know if you heard of him but they were the right and left and they were pretty wide apart. These days we have Hague and Blair fighting over whose best at holding the middle ground and we've got Europe which is trying to accommodate everything all into one nice stable bureaucratic govern world. Politics the ideologies if you like the old extreme ideologies are almost forgotten. The root cause for change these days is technoligy and some degree economics. As I say we look at the way technology changes our life;the internet breaking down barriers breaking down frontiers and those kind of things. I think from a personal point of view I would say that is going to be more of a bigger factor in the future shaping the world than politics.

Q12: Have you plans for your next set of books
A: I've got plans for the next book. It's going to be a one off. It will be considerlly shorter than the last lot of books. It deals with the tail end of a nasty little war in space it is almost a corperate war where they raid each otther planets. It will be deal with a pretty burnt out worn down platoon on their last mission as I said at the tail end of this war and these guys get sent down to the planet as part of a police force army (we've got shades of Vietham) and basically all they are to do is stay alive and get back home afterwards and they come across the alien object on the planet and it is set up as pretty much focussing on the dilemma of ethics who do they turn this thing over to their side, the people who object really belongs to or make something out of it for themsleves. So we sort of follow them through the problems and conflicts of the war and then get to this alien and see how they react to that. Thats not much to go on but thats all I got, thats the outline of how it exists at the moment.

Q13: Whould you want your works turned into films.
A: Oh yes who wouldn't. But the problem with Night's Dawn I don't know if you ever saw Dune the film and that was alot smaller than Night's Dawn Trilogy you can't do it all at once who wants to see a 25 hour film. If you are going to film any of it I say you would have to take one character and one storyline and just follow that all the way through. I think the shear size of it acts against it. I think it is unfilmable in it's present from.

Q14: With the way CGI effects are today could you see your work turned into a mini-series?
A: Yeah thats a possibility. My agent gets the occasional phone-call from producers pacifically from America who show a great deal of interest cause the book has done quite well in America and I think they sort of read through the top 100 books, and, try, and, track down that, one and, that one and, then when they actual know what they are dealing with they fall silent pretty quickly.

Well that was pretty much it. Peter did mention looking forward to seeing Peter Jackson's verison of Lord of the Rings and that writing for him is very much a full time job, and with the Night's Dawn Trilogy his fan following has grown and finds it all flatering. On a personal point of veiw this is one clue up guy (this guy knows his stuff) and it was a plessure to interview him a ture professinal.