This is the guest of honour interview from ConFuse 98. It has been transcribed by Tommy Persson and slightly edited by Hans Persson and Tommy Persson.
Hans Persson: Right. It is time to find out who you really are. I understand from another interview that you have been writing for a very long time; since you were a teenager at least. Why?
Paul J. McAuley: Why not? I don't know. I cannot actually remember why. I do remember deciding to do it properly and borrowing my neighbor's typewriter when I was about fourteen. So I possessed some vague notion of what you were supposed to do as a writer. In other words not write in longhand. I cannot remember what the impulse was really.
Hans Persson: At that time did you write science fiction?
Paul J. McAuley: Guilty. Yes. Not all actually, some wasn't science fiction, some was satirical pieces about the small town where I lived, but most of it were science fiction. Very heavily influenced by what I had just read, usually. As is always the case, I think.
Hans Persson: So you had been reading science fiction obviously then since an early age?
Paul J. McAuley: Yes, quite an early age. I am not sure if these names will mean much to you, but I was reading very early juvenile novels by Patrick Moore who is an amateur astronomer who is very famous in Britain because he has the longest continuously running television program called The Sky at Night. It has been going for approximately 35 years now. He used to write juvenile science fiction, he doesn't know. I read some of those. I read some that I recognized as very dreadful, even at that early age -- possibly as I read Patrick Moore who knew something about astronomy -- by Captain W. E. Johns who wrote the Biggles books and who also wrote some science fiction stories. I remember he had some very interesting views about how the solar system was constructed. There was a very dense wall of rocks with the asteroids. When you are beyond that there is stars and then Jupiter. Even I knew at that age that something was wrong. Maybe then I thought: Hmm, if he could do this ... Which is not the right attitude to start writing, by the way.
Hans Persson: It is not?
Paul J. McAuley: No.
Hans Persson: Since we are already on this: Name three of your major influences?
Paul J. McAuley: Not guilty. I do not know. People are always asking me who are your major influences. It depends really. It varies an awful lot. A very early one is H. G. Wells. I am not saying that just to be flash or smart. I did came across Wells very early when I was eleven when I went to grammar school, moved up from primary school to junior school, and they had a complete set of H. G. Wells in a cheap Everyman edition. And I read all of them. I couldn't understand Tono-Bungay and The World Well Lost and the rather despairing novels the he wrote when he was much older. Even, you know, Kipps or The History of Mr Polly I could emphasize with. In The Time Machine and so on he actually invented most of the stuff we are still using today. So he is certainly an influence. Another one, certainly one I have admired a lot, is William Golding. He even won a Nobel prize for writing a science fiction novel although they did take the science fiction out before it was published. That is Lord of the Flies which started off with a very long prologue about world war in about 1999 I think. But they cut all that out and just had the plane crash on the island. That is why the plane is very strangely constructed and has a passenger tube which is ejected so the passengers can parachute safely to the earth while the plane crashes. It is science fiction. The third one I do not know. Television probably, or movies or the rest of the media. There is a lot of stuff and it is very difficult to pick out what your influences are.
Hans Persson: To get to modern times: Some favorite writers that you like to read now?
Paul J. McAuley: There are so many. We are lucky because there are so many writers. Do you mean science fiction writers or do you just mean writers?
Hans Persson: Not necessarily. Both.
Paul J. McAuley: I am a great admirer of Cormac McCarthy. I have just finished reading the last volume of his Border trilogy which is very good. One of the great American writers in the tradition of Hemingway but not Hemingway. John Updike, a lot of American writers. When I ran out of science fiction to read -- I read faster than people could write in those days, it is amazing to believe but there was a time certainly in Britain when it was possible, they couldn't publish science fiction fast enough -- I started reading mainstream writers and I got very interested in American writers because it was a strange country. It gave the same sense of estrangement that I got in science fiction (which is american anyway). I then realized that a lot of the stuff that I thought was very strange in American science fiction wasn't meant to be strange, it was normal stuff. So that was an education. Philip Roth, a lot of American contemporary writers like that as well, Saul Bellow,
do I need to go on? Greg Egan is very good on the mindboggling quantum science stuff. He is the only one I know who can manage to actually make quantum mechanics more mysterious than it actually is. I like Stephen Baxter for his good old-fashioned gosh wow stories. I am sticking to some brits here, loyally. I like Kim Newman, he is a friend of mine anyway but I like his stuff too. It is not science fiction, it is much more horror or satire. There are just so many that it is very difficult to choose.
Carolina Gómez-Lagerlöf: I thought about this you said about science because I have noticed the gene technology in your book. I thought you could talk a little about that because you are actually a professional biologist.
Paul J. McAuley: I was, but not now. So now I can write about it. If I get it wrong it doesn't matter. If I got it wrong before it was very embarrassing.
Carolina Gómez-Lagerlöf: What were you researching?
Paul J. McAuley: I was researching biology but not in genetics so I had to do a lot of research just to find out what this stuff was just like everybody in biology does now. The thing is that the molecular biology is very very important and I think we all recognize that. It is actually becoming recognized in news papers so it must be important. I just thought that there is a lot of stuff which is being ... not badly done ... I sort of very arrogantly thought maybe I could have a go at it and try doing it in a way that would be a bit more realistic rather than just the Frankenstein experiment that always seemed to end ... Whenever you say genetic engineering you hear the echo ''Baron Frankenstein'' coming back at you. Frankenstein is always the one that is quoted in news papers. When Dolly the sheep came out all the references were to Frankenstein which is a bit silly because I believe Dolly was actually born, not sown together. Frankenstein was surgery, not genetics. I thought there were a lot of great stories to be had from there. The other point is that I didn't actually realize when I was submitting a collection of short stories that all but one of them was about genetic engineering, my editor
pointed that out and took the one that wasn't about genetic engineering out. And he said ''There you are'' and that is the The Invisible Country collection. I didn't realize that half of the stories I had been writing were about genetic engineering in some form or another. But a lot of my stories actually are about biology anyway, they might be about ecology or something like that. Not the foreground of the story but in the background of the story I have been thinking about the ecology of whatever place I am writing about.
Carolina Gómez-Lagerlöf: You haven't written anything about what you were researching about?
Paul J. McAuley: No. Mainly because it was about a little animal called green hydro, I do not know if you know it, it's a polyp.
I have now written stuff about coral reefs but they are coral reefs in space and I have done some research on coral reefs and I just transferred that into thinking about how an organism might survive in vacuum and how things cooperate together and this makes a nice metaphor. Unfortunately that one is not published yet because it is in an anthology that Greg Bear is editing with George Zebrowsky I think it is called Habitats now, its title keeps changing. It was supposed to be published last year and then it was supposed be published this year and that's 1999 and I keep seeing it just disappear until it is published when the story is set which is three hundred years from now.
Audience: Harlan Ellison's Last Dangerous Vision.
Paul J. McAuley: It's a bit like that. I am getting that feeling now. I am beginning to emphasize a lot with everybody in Last Dangerous Vision. It is actually the publishers rather then the editors, they keep rescheduling. It is supposed to be a big picture book about how to live in space and it is supposed to come out when the space station is launched and so on. If they are not careful, they will have built the space station and it will have burnt up in the atmosphere by the time the book comes out so it can be a commemorative volume. But I was asked to do an original short story for that and Steve Baxter was asked to do an original short story for that as well. And we did and this is coming out. The story is called ''Reef'' and it is about reefs in space which is not terrible original because after I had done it I suddenly remembered that Fred Pohl and Jack Williams had written books about reefs in space many years ago. But that is where it came from. It is a very long winded way of saying yes I have.
Carolina Gómez-Lagerlöf: In lots of your books you have written about viruses of different kinds. As actually carriers of knowledge and so.
Paul J. McAuley: Viruses is the thing that has come up in the last bit of the twentieth century, isn't it, because obviously we have the horrible AIDS virus and the AIDS plague and other nasty viruses.
But also computer viruses too, viruses are nasty things. I just thought, well not necessarily, they are just information, it is not their fault, they are just information carriers, because all they do is make more information, there just has to be more viruses unfortunately and they have an unfortunate method of reproduction usually involving the death of the cell in which they are replicating. If you know a little bit about molecular biology you soon learn that people actually use viruses to insert DNA into cells so viruses actually can be good. The worse disease a virus produces the better it is in getting inside cells, therefore the more useful it could be so we may have a scenario where actually the HIV virus, the one that causes AIDS, could actually, if you can get rid of the tendency to do the immune system in when it replicates, be a very useful carrier to getting more useful genes, and doing gene therapy. So I thought I'd just turn it around and look at it a little more hopefully which I think is one of the things about science fiction: not to think about how things are now but try to go that step beyond.
Carolina Gómez-Lagerlöf: In Fairyland the virus was a drug which was a very funny thing.
Paul J. McAuley: If you can tailor viruses exactly they can go for very specific neurons in the brain, very specific ones, you have very specific drugs. At the moment any drug you take is like being hit over the head repeatedly with a large hammer, frankly, from alcohol onwards. As we all know if we drink too much alcohol we know what happens the next day, well it is like being hit over the head with a large hammer isn't it. And it is the same with all other drugs virtually, their effect is to close down or do in in some way or another bits of the brain to get you in a very strange state but I thought it might be
much smarter to have very smart drugs which would do very specific things which would have absolutely no side effects. But I was also thinking about memes as well, the Richard Dawkins idea of cultural viruses, you know like the shave and two haircuts [knocks on table] knock [someone in the audience supplies the last two knocks] Exactly, there we are. It is an idea that replicates or the annoying little tune you hear in a corridor and later you hear yourself whistling it, you've caught it, then you passed it on maybe to somebody else, that's Dawkins' idea. It's complete rubbish but never mind, it is a nice idea, and a lot of people in science fiction are using this meme idea, so I thought if you put the two together you can actually have a physical thing transferring ideas and infecting people with ideas and the worst thing you can think of is having a loyalty plague where a dictator infects the entire population of the country. Well, we have just been through that in Britain actually, we are better now but I do not know if the cure is worse than the disease.
Carolina Gómez-Lagerlöf: Are you influenced by other writers about these popular themes. You have written a book about Mars and at that time it was a lot books about Mars published.
Paul J. McAuley: The whole Mars thing. We all wondered ''Where did that come from?'' Actually the first time I tried to write a novel it was actually set on Mars, believe me this
was when I was about fifteen. I didn't get very far because I didn't now how to finish a novel for a start. It is easy to start a novel but then you run out of steam halfway through it, you do not know how to develop stuff. But it was set on Mars. People forget that there were a rush of Mars novels in the early seventies, there were four or five. Lately, there were four or five novels which came out within I think four years of each other so there was about one a year which just happened to be set on Mars. It seems to have slowed down a bit now. I talked to Stan Robinsson about it and as far we could make out we were both influenced by similar things which was the two orbiters that was making maps of Mars and sending many pictures back which were published by the US geological survey department and I think we both saw them more or less at the same time but unfortunately he had a much better idea than me. But the fact is that they made Mars a real place. It has a canyon where your rover could go down and get chased by the cowboys -- my bad idea -- or in Stan's idea it's the canyon where the green Martians will hide out from the red Martians. It become a place, rather than just this horrible boring cratered plain, it was actually a place full of wonderful geology, spectacular mountains, huge canyons, and so on. It just made it very interesting again. That is the reason. If you ask the other people who were writing Mars books they may well say the same thing.
Carolina Gómez-Lagerlöf: So none of these authors ...
Paul J. McAuley: There was no conspiracy.
Carolina Gómez-Lagerlöf: I thought that they had read each other's books. You wrote about Mars that was going down and the others were building up Mars.
Paul J. McAuley: Mars going down is a very old theme, one that has been used many times and it is Burroughs, isn't it, and Bradbury too. Being British of course I always look on the gloomy side. And of course the history of British engineering products is such that I would of course think that half way through they would run out of money or willpower to do it or get diverted into something else so I just thought it was kind of interesting to have it sort of halfway succeed and then start falling to pieces again because I thought that makes it a fairly interesting milieu.
Hans Persson: When you write novels, do you normally start with the background or the plot?
Paul J. McAuley: I usually start with a picture in my head, somebody in a strange landscape and then I try to figure out what the landscape is and what they are doing there, that is how it works usually. But I do try to detail a lot of background -- probably too much because I do not use an awful lot of it. To me it is important that I know what is behind that corner even if I am never going to show it, that I know what is in the next room even if it is not going to be particularly useful. Although I am never going to say it, it is quite useful to me. I like to think that the more details you put in, obviously the more real it is and I want to try to make it as real to me as possible so I try to visualize it myself and then I have to try to get that across without using too many words and over-visualizing and then I start taking stuff out which I think is unnecessary and that is sort of how I work. So I take all the detail out except the bits which I hope are useful, but I hope in a kind of vague, mystical way that the ghost which isn't there still is there, somehow.
Hans Persson: When you are starting the book do you know how it is going to end?
Paul J. McAuley: Yes, I usually have the last sentence but I am not quite sure how you get to the last sentence which is where all the fun starts, really. I usually have the first few scenes and I usually got some crucial bits in the middle and I got the last sentence.
Hans Persson: Do you actually use it once you get there?
Paul J. McAuley: Almost always, sometimes it is pointed out to me gently that I have missed a couple of chapters trying to get there in a hurry. So I put them in. Obviously when the editor tells you to do something you do it. I knew the ending of Fairyland all along, the last scene anyway, not the last sentence in that. In Red Dust I knew the last sentence. In Four Hundred Billion Stars I knew the last word had to be stars. I had to work out a way of doing it. Some people just say they discover endings, but I can't discover endings, the ending is implicit in the beginning and it is certainly true of what I am writing at the moment but I can't tell too much about that because I haven't finished the last book yet and unfortunately it is the kind of plot where if I tell you even vaguely what the ending is it just ruins the whole thing.
Hans Persson: We have talked about research and science. When writing science fiction, do you think the science or the fiction is the most important?
Paul J. McAuley: Oh, fiction. Otherwise it would just be a scientific paper wouldn't it? And not a very good one because you hadn't done any research, you just made it up, so nobody would publish it. Oh, Analog would.
Hans Persson: You can write good science fiction even though the science in it is mumbo jumbo?
Paul J. McAuley: You can as long as you make it convincing and lots of people do, goodness gracious me. I mean most science in science fiction is mumbo jumbo, frankly. All the stuff about warp drives and hyper drives, it is not real, is it? Time travel, I mean time travel is now theoretical valid, or is it, or it was, maybe it is again. I try to make it convincing to me so I always start off with a sort of true bet and even if I have to stretch it a bit I try to stretch it in believable ways or at least consistent ways. Even if you might not think they are believable I try to make them consistent. Consistency is definitely important and the easiest way of being consistent is making it real and use real science. But when you are thinking about what is the next step in physics, Dirac, [mumbled name], you know Einstein or
whoever, you can't guess what the next step in physics is but you can imply some shadowy kind of physics beyond quantum mechanics and people have done that. Greg Bear is very good at doing this for instance, he is very good at making up mathematics that seems real and consistent and very plausible, yet made up, and also using these plots, damn him. So it is possible, it is one of the functions I think, it is playing a game, isn't it, but it is playing a game within rules, but if you take away the rules then what have you got, you haven't really got a game have you?
Hans Persson: You've got fantasy.
Paul J. McAuley: No, you haven't even got fantasy because even fantasy has got rules. You have to restore the land at the end. The dark lord will get his.
Hans Persson: So implicitly from this you are saying that science fiction should be judged and reviewed from the same point of view as normal mainstream fiction.
Paul J. McAuley: Yes, because otherwise you get lazy science fiction, you get lazy fiction and who wants to read lazy fiction, badly written fiction. I think it should be well written. Everybody says ''Oh it is much more difficult because you have to invent all this other stuff'', I think it is just as difficult to be observant and see what is going on and put that down as it is just to say this is how it should work rather than this is how it does work, it is the same kind of process and it should be judged in the same way I think. If it doesn't fly it is not working.
Hans Persson: You have been writing a lot of reviews. You have been writing reviews for Interzone for what, ten years?
Paul J. McAuley: Is it?
Hans Persson: I don't know, I haven't checked it.
Paul J. McAuley: I can't actually remember to be honest. Sometimes it feels longer than that. It is a large number of books, I know that. It is only every two months.
Hans Persson: How does it work, do you choose ''I like to review this'' or do you get a stack of books?
Paul J. McAuley: I like to review three or four good books every time I do a review column but this is not always possible. To start you are limited by which books have been published, sounds like a silly point to
make, but it is quite important. Secondly it depends which ones David Pringle pushes my way and then it depends on how hard I fight against ones I don't like and are being pushed towards me when I think there is another one hiding behind the corner being much better, and so it is a lot of give and take. It was much more ''Oh these are the books you are going to review'' when John Clute was doing the lead column, but now he is busy doing lots of other things as well, he only does very irregular columns for Interzone. I get a bit more choice because of that because obviously John being so far much better than me, it makes much more sense for him to have first pick so he can have a go at the books he thinks are either very important good book or a very important bad book. And sometimes there are very important bad books. Now, luckily I can choose a bit more. Usually there's more science fiction than fantasy because I do not read enough fantasy. Certainly I do not read enough of this sort of trilogies heroic fantasy to judge what is good or what is bad because I am fairly ignorant about it.
Carolina Gómez-Lagerlöf: You are now actually writing a trilogy which I thought is a little more like fantasy, it is science fiction but it has a little essence of fantasy as well in it, at least in the first book which I have read.
Paul J. McAuley: Yes, the idea behind that was to try a trilogy in which the first book seemed like a fantasy and the second book seemed like a science fantasy like Jack Vance and the third one seemed like hard science fiction which explained the fantasy in the first book. So that is the game I am playing, the ''sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic'' game. Of course I am cheating because I know how it works. I do not know if it does work, I know what I want to do but I do not know if it is going to work. It is an experiment.
Carolina Gómez-Lagerlöf: I know it wasn't fantasy because there was no map in the beginning.
Paul J. McAuley: There is a map which I did describe, I just didn't have a map. There is no list of characters either. I have a list of characters but it is not revealed in the book. I have to because there are more than a hundred and I need it to keep track. If you are writing a very big book of course you have that kind of list unless you have a very good memory. It is just whether or not you are publishing it. There seem to be a convention now that a lot of people publish lists with their characters, who they are and what they do. I don't.
Carolina Gómez-Lagerlöf: When I read your books I noticed a lot of big differences between the books. There is always a new world and a new setting and a new culture.
Paul J. McAuley: When I started out I was writing a future history. Oddly enough at the same time when Stephen Baxter was starting out, so was he. This doesn't imply any conspiracy on the part of the British science fiction community to write future histories, I think it's because we have a lingering influence of sort of Larry Niven and sort of Robert Heinlein. Heinlein did the first future history. I abandoned mine. Mine was much less consistent then Steve's. I did write a novel which sort of vaguely tied bits of it up and implied how it was going to go, but because it implied how it was going to go I didn't get very interested in writing the next book because I thought it very obvious. That is the way it has always been, you end a book and then the story continues, blah blah blah. You could write about the princess and the prince living happily ever after and their kids getting into whacky trouble and having adventures of their own. Time to move on, bad attention span I am afraid actually, this is my problem. I get bored very easily even with my own books. In The Invisible Country there are several associated stories with the background from Fairyland including one novelette.
Hans Persson: Did these originally come from the novel and were cut out?
Paul J. McAuley: No, it is just other stories in the same setting. The problem is if you work in the stupid way I do which is to try to work out the setting as thoroughly as possible you then think what stories can I set here, how does a story closely unfold in this setting. Sometimes you get more than one idea. in fact the first story was published several years before Fairyland and I didn't think that I was setting out on writing a novel when I started writing that story, I just wanted to write a story set in Holland, not many people have. And then I wrote another one set in Holland as well, and it built from there, really. And one of them sort of implied adventures that Alex had offstage between part one and part two of the book. You see this is a very stupid way of working. But he was all kind of there, I just didn't want to repeat it. Now the story that was the genesis of the Confluence trilogy is slightly different. What happened with that was that Greg Bear, bless him, asked me to contribute to New Legends which is this book he was doing, an anthology of new stories on old science fiction ideas, essentially the standard science fiction ideas, the really important ones, aliens, time travel, blah blah, space travel, and so on and so forth, could you come up with fresh notions about them. So I wrote a story called ''Recording Angel'' which is about the last human that comes back to a world where the servants of all the other humans -- who have now left -- were living which turned out to be Confluence and this again was lifting the corner of a very big ... I realized when I had done the story that there was a lot more to it than that so that is how the trilogy came about. That story is actually going to be incorporated in the second novel but it is going to be told from the woman's point of view so I am retelling the story from a completely different perspective. It is interleaved through a lot of other stuff which is done from someone else's perspective, he is reading it in a book actually, so I did reuse that slightly but even so my conscience tells me I can't just drum this stuff in I have to redo it and give extra significance so what you thought what was happening in the story ''Recording Angel'' was not actually what was happening according to this woman in the novel. Again if you are following me you see this is why I get headaches at night. That is the fun and I hope it means people don't feel cheated when they come to a chapter and go ''Wait I have read this''. I read this thirty years ago and now he has just put it as a chapter in his book, which has happened in science fiction. If you get a good idea, you know, use it.
Carolina Gómez-Lagerlöf: You have taken bits and parts from different cultures. In Red Dust it was more like Asian and it was sort of a mixture with the cowboys ...
Paul J. McAuley: Herding yaks across the red plains of Mars as I keep trying to sell it to the films. They go ''What?''.
Carolina Gómez-Lagerlöf: I thought Child of the River was a bit Mediterranean, I thought about Egypt or Greece when I read it.
Paul J. McAuley: It has bit of the Ganges in it, certainly. It has bits of various rivers in it, actually it is the great rivers, it is all rivers. Bits and pieces from various places. Certainly some of the names are Greek and Roman actually, Adele is Roman and it means a specific thing which is why I use that word. I am actually very careful using words that meant what they meant and unfortunately some of them was Greek or Roman. And there is a reason for that actually because the Greeks and Romans just used the specific name for something as that word and we have carried those names over because they just happened to mean that thing. The Greeks, if somebody is a road maker they call him the road maker and we then use the Greek for road maker, Spartan I think is the name for those people. That is how it works.
Carolina Gómez-Lagerlöf: How do you know which culture you are going to put in to a book. In the beginning or ...?
Paul J. McAuley: I wanted to transpose the Tibetan situation on to Mars, because it is quite obvious. If you look at pictures of Tibet and pictures of Mars together, rocky landscape, one has got snowy mountains in the background and the other hasn't. That's about it. One has got craters and one hasn't as far as you can see. And one has got yaks in it and one hasn't. You can transpose them, you go craters-yaks, snowy mountains-rocks, rocks is still rocks, that is how it worked, really. And then I thought ''What is the story behind this then and how did it get to be like this?'' One of the things I thought was if you have terraforming who is the construction crew and what happens to them. So I thought if the Chinese did it who would they use, well they got Tibetans, OK so they used Tibetans, and what happens to the Tibetans afterward? That is where that came from. Confluence is a much more magpie kind of book. I use whatever fits. But there is a kind of pattern behind it. There are quite a few origin stories, creation myths, because these people know that their world was created by their gods. They know this because the gods left a sign in the sky into which they retreated and they can see it every summer. It raises about the edge of the world and they can see it every night in the summer so they know it was created so every bloodline has its own little creation myth and they also know that they are raised up from animals by these gods. So their creation myths embodies something that tells you something about where they came from although I never actually tell you where they came from. So that is how that works.
Hans Persson: Most of your books are normal science fiction, it is set in space or at least in the future somehow. Except for Pasquale's Angel which is an alternative history in Italy in 1600 something I think.
Paul J. McAuley: 1519. For some reason publishers think it is in 1521 but I do not know how they arrive at that.
Hans Persson: Is it very different to write? Which gives you more freedom do you think, writing in history where people know things about the background or writing in space where you have presumably more freedom.
Paul J. McAuley: I do not know. There was a tremendous amount of research for Pasquale's because I wanted to try to get a feeling of what it was like to be living then. Even though it is an alternative history the division point wasn't very far back so I wanted to make it as closely as possible. So I did an awful lot of research for that. That was rather different for me because I spent about six month just doing loads and loads of reading rather than loads of just thinking and making stuff up. And it is actually very different and then you have to decide from all these facts which ones you are going to use. Now you can begin to see that my method actually worked quite well for doing this historical research because instead of me having to make everything up and then choosing which bit I am going to use somebody else had gone and found it out and then I had to find all this stuff out and decide which bits I am going to choose. So maybe not so different in my case.
Hans Persson: Did you decide to set it in Italy or did you want to write about Da Vinci and Machiavelli?
Paul J. McAuley: I didn't set out to write about Machiavelli, he kind of wandered on the stage and took the novel over. He was just supposed to be in a couple of chapters, he was just an enabling device for the murder scene but he stayed. I couldn't get rid of him. The original intent was to write a novel about Leonardo Da Vinci. And you can see how well it worked out because he doesn't appear until the end of the novel so obviously I went rather badly wrong. There has been quite a few novels about Leonardo Da Vinci, including one in which Leonardo Da Vinci was kind of a cross between Errol Flynn and P. T. Barnum and Phileas Fogg come to think of it. It was a novel called The Medici Cannon written by a couple of hack journalists in Britain, not a very good novel actually. I didn't know that Leonardo Da Vinci could fight so well with a sword. And there has been a couple of others as well about Da Vinci. A couple of very serious one and a couple of more lighthearted ones including one in which he was a time traveler by L. Sprague de Camp. But I actually wanted to write one about Da Vinci, this whole thing about this divide between being an artist and being an engineer was apparent in Da Vinci and it was never apparent before because there was no divide before. People didn't realize that it was a difference between being an artist and an
artisan. It was all the same thing, they didn't have mass production so it was just as valid to be working at making picture frames as it was making the picture itself, just an important piece of art. And if you look at the very old picture frames that frame renaissance art you will see what I mean. In fact it was part of the artist's job to learn how to do that. We have since specialized and Da Vinci epitomizes, which is why I think we are interested in him, the first kind of modern dichotomy between art and science.
And obviously being a scientist who is also a writer that was kind of interesting to me too. One of the questions I always got asked when I was a scientist when other scientists found out I wrote was ''Do you write under your own name?'' Gosh, that is a very demeaning thing to do, writing, so you must hide yourself away from it. There is the famous C. P. Snow's two cultures which he diagnosed as being one of the problems in Britain that people with arts education, liberal education, run the country but they know nothing about the science and engineering and technology which is the most important thing in the twentieth century which is why Britain is in such a state. To some degree this is true but not totally, it is not quite so clearcut as that. So I was always interested in Da Vinci from that point of view. It kind of got away from me and I ended up writing about this miserable little artist apprentice instead, the underdog as usual.
Hans Persson: Perhaps we should let the audience have a few words.
Audience (Tommy Persson): Most books seem to be divided into parts. What is the reason for that?
Paul J. McAuley: There is a reason in Fairyland, they are three distinct books, it is a secret trilogy in one book. In Eternal Light the structure is problematic because there is one part which happens outside the universe which divides the book in two, which is called part zero I think. I am not sure what the American have called it but the intention was to call it part zero which is the interzone, borrowed from Burroughs, rather than the magazine. They just tend to fall into scenes or acts like plays rather than being like a very fast action plot which goes bang bang bang to the end. Maybe it is because I keep things in computer files, you do not want make them too big in case you lose one, that is not true actually, I seem to remember I typed my first novel.
Audience (Britt-Louise Viklund): When I read Pasquale's Angel I was thinking about Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes, Umberto Eco and The Name of the Rose. Is that intentional?
Paul J. McAuley: The Sherlock Holmes definitely is, and if you think of The Name of the Rose it is because that is also influenced by Sherlock Holmes. I can say it is not influenced by The Name of the Rose because I have never read The Name of the Rose. Maybe I am unconsciously influenced by the film which I have seen but I doubt that very much because none of the characters look or sound like Sean Connery.
Audience (Britt-Louise Viklund): The relationship between Machiavelli and the boy Pasquale is like between the characters in The Name of the Rose.
Paul J. McAuley: It is a relationship between apprentice and master and part of what the book is about is actually Pasquale trying to find a real master so he can finish his master piece, because his original master that he is apprenticed to is not much good as we found out. So he has got a secret master, that crazy guy that is a real painter, and he sort of latches on to Machiavelli in the same way as well because he is a very intensively curious boy in more ways than one. That is why, I think. That is the way education happened in those day unless you could afford to go to university and be a student and spend many years wandering around the countryside which is what the students did, from university to university. Their equivalent of a degree was much more what a doctorate would be now than a BSc or a BA. If you didn't have that you were apprenticed to somebody and learned a trade. So maybe that is why. He happens to be an apprentice. At the end he paints his masterpiece. It is up to you to figure out what the masterpiece is, but it is a real painting, it is just that he didn't paint it in this history, somebody else did.
Audience (Britt-Louise Viklund): Is the Conan Doyle reference intentional?
Paul J. McAuley: Once Machiavelli kind of crashlanded into the plot I had to do something with him. He starts out as a journalist which oddly enough he was, sort of, in his lifetime among other things, he is most famous for writing The Prince of course, but he was actually a diplomat, he ran the defense of Florence until he lost the crucial battle when he got tortured, he gets tortured in the book in the same way, and so on. So the parallel is there. He was a journalist and journalists go everywhere. I used him to get Pasquale to the scene of this murder and then unfortunately I couldn't get rid of Machiavelli. I did for a bit of the book actually, I got him tortured, but he came back again. He is one of these annoying characters that sometimes happens to authors. And people saying: Are you in complete control of your book? No, obviously not, because characters wander in and they wont go away again and they start to take the damn book over. And this is what happened with Machiavelli the cunning swine. So he then became kind of not only journalist but he was also being employed by a certain lady to find some stuff out so he sort of became ... I give a big broad hint that he was Sherlock Holmes because at one point he mets Pasquale and measures his absinthe factor at 6% solution and anybody that knows about Sherlock Holmes will know that this is a hint to a book which is not written by Conan Doyle but by somebody else about Sherlock Holmes. I was having a little jokey. But that is about as far as it goes, really. He doesn't smoke a pipe, and doesn't wear a deer stalker hat, he doesn't play a violin. He is also a bit like Edgar Allan Poe because he is a bit of a drug addict and Poe was a drunken journalist, so was Machiavelli. Maybe I should write a book in which Poe is a detective as I was discussing earlier. I am sure somebody has.
Audience (Britt-Louise Viklund): The murderer is also ...
Paul J. McAuley: That is why the murder is like that. I didn't make the murder like that because we have Edgar Allan Poe in the novel. I wasn't particularly interested in the murder, as you might have imagined from the book, it was a red herring all the way through. Everything is a red herring throughout the book. Not that that should stop you reading it of course. Expect for one thing, one thing isn't a red herring, which is the painting that Pasquale gets to paint at the end, so it is really a book about how Pasquale paints his masterpiece, which is why it is called Pasquale's Angel and not as it really was going to be called Devices and Desires which was going to be the book about Leonardo Da Vinci. Anyway that is a very nice title which comes from the English book of common prayers, pinched by another writer, P. D. James, so I wrote another book. You see I do not plan very well so my explanations get very very long.
Audience: American authors are supposed to be optimists and British authors are supposed to be pessimist. So what about you, are optimistic or pessimistic?
Paul J. McAuley: It depends which day it is. If it is a rainy day like today and I am not soaked, optimist obviously. It is difficult. And the reason being that the Americans are still making their empire and we lost ours. Though we never lost the war in Vietnam. I do not know. There are some very optimistic British writers now, Peter Hamilton is extremely upbeat, Stephen Baxter is fairly upbeat, I am sometimes upbeat, all my characters have happy endings, they all usually get what they want, they might not know they wanted it in the beginning of the book but they know they want it in the end. Quite often they retire to a cottage by the sea which is you know what we all want to do, or by a lake which we all want to do, that's fairly upbeat. If you look at cyberpunk, for instance, which was the last big science fiction movement to come out of the states it's quite pessimistic in a way, it is very dark, the fact is there is at least a future there. That can be said about all science fiction: there is at least a future there. If you look at American apocalyptic novels they are so much more apocalyptic then British ones which have been characterized by Brian Aldiss as cosy catastrophes. The really nasty things happens, the middle class survive, to carry on the middle class pursuits.
Hans Persson: No more questions? I think our time is running out. Thank you!