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Paul McAuley - Four Way Interview

Paul McAuley won the Philip K. Dick Award for his first novel and has gone on to win the Arthur C. Clarke, British Fantasy, Sidewise and John W. Campbell Awards. He gave up his position as a research biologist to write full-time. He lives in London. His latest novel is Austral.

Why science fiction?

For one thing, I fell in love with science fiction at an early age, and haven’t yet fallen out of love with it (although I have flirted with other genres). For another, we’re living in an increasingly science-fictional present. Every day brings headlines that could have been ripped from a science-fiction story. Giant robot battle: Who knew a duel between chainsaw-armed mech suits could be so boring? for instance. Or, Roy Orbison hologram to embark on UK tour in 2018. And looming above all this, like Hokusai’s famous wave, are the ongoing changes caused by global warming and climate change, which is just one consequence of human activity having become the dominant force of change on the planet. So the genre’s common tool box is increasingly essential for capturing in fiction almost any aspect of these strange fractured times, whether by satire, extended metaphorical riffs, straightforward extrapolation, or even realism.

Why this book?

Like many other science-fiction novels, a number of my previous books have incorporated effects of climate change in the background hum of their near futures. But for quite a long time – ever since a trip to a research station in Sweden, above the Arctic Circle, I’ve wanted to write a novel that deals with climate change head on. And instead of a dystopia or awful warning, to write something hopeful, a novel about a world in which global warming had not only caused all kinds of disastrous changes, but had also opened up new territories in the polar regions. There have already been a fair number of novels set in a post-warming Arctic, and in any case, the territories around the North Pole are claimed by various national interests. So I turned to Antarctica, which by comparison is a clean blank slate. If the ice melted, what use might we find for the new lands? How would we live there, and how would living there change us?

What’s next?

I’ve taken a break from writing because of personal circumstances, but right now I’m trying to get back by mojo by writing a short story set in my Quiet War universe. After that, hopefully, a kind of samurai western set a few billion years from now. 

What’s exciting you at the moment?

I grew up with the Space Age, and I’m still excited by the ongoing exploration of the Solar System by robot pioneers, and the fantastic variety and dynamism of the landscapes they’ve found. Who could have guessed that Pluto was geologically active, with glaciers of nitrogen ice, possible cryovolcanoes, and mountains of rock-hard water ice rafting in a sea of nitrogen ice? Or that the best places to look for extraterrestrial life would be in subsurface oceans beneath the icy crusts of moons of Jupiter and Saturn? It’s possible I’m gearing up to write more about this, perhaps as the venue for all kinds of pocket utopias and ectopias.


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