SFX - - Contents - Por­traits by Olly Cur­tis

The top SF au­thor chooses his he­roes and in­spi­ra­tions, from David Bowie to Mount Kil­i­man­jaro. He’s an eclec­tic chap.

It’s safe to say that Peter F Hamil­ton has reached a stage in his ca­reer where he could sim­ply write about the fic­tional uni­verses he’s al­ready cre­ated and many of his fans would be im­mensely happy. But not the man him­self. “I wanted to do a dif­fer­ent style of nar­ra­tive struc­ture,” he says of new novel, Sal­va­tion, the first of­fer­ing in a new tril­ogy.

One part space opera to one part who­dun­nit, it fol­lows a team sent out to the site of an alien arte­fact, a team where one of the mem­bers, we grad­u­ally learn, is not whom he or she ap­pears to be. “It’s sim­i­lar to Dan Sim­mons’ Hype­r­ion in that you get the trav­ellers en route to their des­ti­na­tion and each of them tells their story, which builds up the back­ground,” says Hamil­ton, chat­ting over cof­fee on a sun-drenched day in Bath. “But of course Sim­mons took that off The Can­ter­bury Tales so I’m not par­tic­u­larly wor­ried that I’m go­ing to be ac­cused of copy­ing this now!”

So is Chaucer a di­rect in­spi­ra­tion for Hamil­ton’s writ­ing? Per­haps not. As SFX dis­cov­ers when we go on to dis­cuss his he­roes and in­spi­ra­tions, he’d mostly rather talk about mu­sic and SF lit­er­a­ture…


“I didn’t ac­tu­ally have to think about this one. I was a teenager in the ’70s. Mu­si­cally, David Bowie was streets ahead of ev­ery­body else. I liked the con­stantly chang­ing styles and he’s not ter­ri­bly well known for it now, but I re­ally liked the film he was in, The Man Who Fell To Earth. That was real science fic­tion al­though I think it’s classed as an art film. That was re­ally in­flu­en­tial on me. It was a re­al­is­tic por­trayal of what would hap­pen if some­body from a very su­pe­rior cul­ture came to us with the op­por­tu­nity for cor­rup­tion that our so­ci­ety gives him. Low was the first al­bum that con­nected with me, but I caught up fairly quickly with Ziggy Star­dust. Each sin­gle he brought out was dif­fer­ent too.

“He was into dance as well as his mu­sic, and style. He loomed large in a way that other rock stars didn’t. He wasn’t just a rock star, he was into other things. He’s also the rea­son I got such bad marks in my physics A-level be­cause I went to see him and it took me un­til four o’clock in the morn­ing to get home, and at nine o’clock I had my exam.”


“I walked up Kil­i­man­jaro 15 years ago. You start at the bot­tom in rain­for­est and you go up through ev­ery cli­mate on the planet. You wind up in an Arc­tic desert at the top. You don’t need to take oxy­gen, it’s not a climb, al­though you do need to take a day half­way up to ac­cli­ma­tise. I even had a nose­bleed at that point. It’s just an amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and it ac­tu­ally fea­tures in Fallen Dragon: mer­ce­nary Lawrence

New­ton’s walk at the end of the book where he goes up a moun­tain. It was very, very in­ter­est­ing, walk­ing through the world in two days.

“I just fan­cied do­ing it and as a con­se­quence I am now no longer in charge of choos­ing hol­i­days ’cos I dragged [my wife] Kate along with me. If you got ill or broke your leg when you were half­way up there then you were in trou­ble ba­si­cally. They will wheel you down on what’s al­most like a stretcher with bi­cy­cle wheels. I sup­pose you could get a Land Rover up there, but I wouldn’t like to drive it. You had to be aware of what you were do­ing.”


“He’s opened things up vis­ually for us. I ad­mired the way Aliens was struc­tured. It’s ac­tu­ally, and I hor­ri­bly over-an­a­lyse films these days, very, very sim­ple but very ef­fec­tive. And this was way be­fore CGI took off like it has to­day, but that film still stands up, the way he filmed it, this claus­tro­pho­bic world clos­ing in on the marines and Ripley try­ing to warn them. Peo­ple al­ways try to em­u­late it and they never suc­ceed. And then he opened ev­ery­one up to CGI with Ti­tanic. And then Avatar pushed it even fur­ther. I know a lot of peo­ple don’t par­tic­u­larly rate the story in that, but just the spec­ta­cle of that was quite some­thing. It was filmed with 3D in mind. He un­der­stood the vis­ual per­cep­tion of it, ev­ery scene was com­posed with the 3D ef­fect in mind.

“I’ve never met the man, I’m sure he’d be very in­ter­est­ing to talk to, but if he’s got some­thing to do, you wouldn’t want to stand be­tween him and it. Getting what you want to get done within the film in­dus­try is quite tough, and he sees things through from start to fin­ish. I’m con­stantly in pre-pro­duc­tion hell…”


“He wrote a kind of pas­toral SF that no­body does any­more. One of my favourite books is Way Sta­tion. There is one way sta­tion for galac­tic travel on Earth and it’s man­aged by one man. It’s a very gen­tle and very lovely book. When I read it, it res­onated a lot with me, and still does to this day. A lot of science fic­tion when I was read­ing it back in my teens and twen­ties was all prob­lems and con­flicts. Simack came at things in a com­pletely dif­fer­ent way from, say, EE ‘Doc’ Smith, who was also a big in­flu­ence on me, where ev­ery­thing is solved by another big­ger blaster.

“I al­ways say my es­cape out of Rut­land was the science fic­tion sec­tion of the li­brary be­cause Rut­land, love it dearly as I do, is the mid­dle of nowhere. A lot of Simack’s sto­ries were set in the mid­dle of nowhere – ru­ral Amer­ica ba­si­cally. That meant a lot to me, that peo­ple in these very ru­ral, very out-of-the-way places could be just as in­volved in the big things as the city dwellers. Phys­i­cally iso­lated didn’t mean iso­lated en­tirely. There is a di­vide be­tween coun­try life and city life, and that helped bridge it for me.”


“His ‘Known Space’ short sto­ries are beau­ti­fully crafted. His world-build­ing was a bit of an eye-opener to me as well, that he’s patched to­gether all these dif­fer­ent phys­i­cal lo­ca­tions like Mount Lookit­that and the phys­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment has shaped the so­cial en­vi­ron­ment, which was very in­ter­est­ing to me be­cause I do like to dwell on that as­pect of science fic­tion. But it was like old-fash­ioned science fic­tion in that ev­ery­thing was a prob­lem, and a com­pe­tent man comes along and solves it. Ev­ery­thing was an en­gi­neer­ing or physics prob­lem, and he did those en­gi­neer­ing and physics prob­lems very, very well.

“I only came across him in the late ’70s and early ’80s, by which time I was getting a bit tired of science fic­tion be­cause it was all Hein­lein/Clarke/Asimov, which was all that was printed back in the ’70s that I could get my hands on. Along with Ju­lian May’s ‘Saga Of The Ex­iles’, Niven pulled me back into science fic­tion. They were cer­tainly a sea change in science fic­tion and of course Ring­world is the clas­sic big-dum­b­ob­ject science fic­tion story. I think Banks said he took his or­bitals from Niven. I should men­tion Banks, but I’ll go with Niven!”


“Hawk­wind is Dave Brock’s band but ev­ery­thing else changes. Lemmy was the bass player for a while. This re­ally shows my age, when I saw Hawk­wind, Motör­head were in sup­port. It was the phase where Bob Calvert was the front­man, the singer, and the stage per­for­mance was like noth­ing else I’ve ever seen. He was com­pletely out of his head, or looked like he was. And then we hung around back­stage and got to meet him, and we were just a gag­gle of teenage boys. He came out, and

he talked to us and he was re­ally nice. He was on the Keith Moon level of the wild men of rock, and there are some fab­u­lous sto­ries about him mis­be­hav­ing and fall­ing out with the band.

“I al­ways re­mem­ber him dress­ing up in a space suit, and some­body had ob­vi­ously sprayed sil­ver paint on his clothes, per­form­ing ‘Un­cle Sam’s On Mars’, and out of that came my char­ac­ter Joshua Calvert in Night’s Dawn as the space­ship cap­tain, clearly and di­rectly in­spired by Bob Calvert, an ab­so­lute con­nec­tion. I must have been 16 or 17 when I saw them, never to be for­got­ten.”


“I’ve got to men­tion Pink Floyd, I’m of that age, sorry. Tommy came along and that was great but The Wall was the ul­ti­mate con­cept al­bum, surely? Pink Floyd are to this day un­ri­valled. You had a lot of prog rock bands, but no­body ever reached that height, no­body has ever man­aged to recre­ate that what­ever they had. I think the ten­sion in the band clearly helped pro­duce the mu­sic they did. The col­lab­o­ra­tive al­bums are great, then Roger Wa­ters kind of dom­i­nated, then he was ousted, it’s a fas­ci­nat­ing his­tory. Also, Med­dle is very good, the al­bum be­fore Dark Side Of The Moon. I saw them live on the An­i­mals tour. I did see the fly­ing pig in its orig­i­nal form, it was cov­ered in duct tape from what I re­mem­ber!

“I’m getting nos­tal­gic for the ’70s now. We had the Bea­tles in the 1960s, were just getting into prog rock, punk rock was com­ing along – Mo­town, north­ern soul, all of this was new back then. Even The Bay City Rollers, the first boy band, and disco was there, and it was all fresh and new and ex­cit­ing. And now I’m getting re­ally crotch­ety and con­ser­va­tive!”


“I watched it again re­cently with my daugh­ter who’d never seen it and she laughed all the way through. Old stuff she just doesn’t watch, but Fawlty Tow­ers, which is proper old-school slap­stick but clev­erly done, I think that still holds up to­day. The re­la­tion­ship be­tween Basil and Sy­bil is so well writ­ten. I think I’ve even got the scripts at home some­where, but I knew those so well. You can­not get away from Fawlty Tow­ers.I like Python, but I don’t think that’s dated nearly as well. There’s this thing about com­edy that once you’ve heard the joke it then be­comes de­creas­ingly funny. By the fifth time you’ve done the dead par­rot sketch it’s re­ally not that funny any­more. “But Basil fall­ing off a lad­der is al­ways funny. He was based on a real char­ac­ter. They stayed in Devon to film Python and met this manic ho­tel guy [Don­ald Sin­clair] – his fam­ily have been try­ing to clear his name ever since! I’m never go­ing to write slap­stick or par­tic­u­larly good jokes, but I can use com­edy as wry ob­ser­va­tion. I think that’s what some sci-fi lacks, don’t ask me for names.”

Sal­va­tion is pub­lished on 6 Septem­ber.

Hamil­ton loves the film The Man Who Fell To Earth.

James Cameron’s Aliens changed sci-fi for­ever. Hamil­ton saw rock band Hawk­wind live as a teenager. Climb­ing up Mount Kil­i­man­jaro was a huge mo­ment.

Hamil­ton was also a big fan of Pink Floyd.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.