This is a transcription of the interview with Peter F. Hamilton held at ConFuse 96. The interview and transcription was done by Hans Persson. The text has been edited by Hans Persson and Tommy Persson to make it more readable.
Hans Persson: Unless you haven't noticed, this is Peter Hamilton, British science fiction author, and this is Hans Persson who is supposed to interview him and this is the audience of ConFuse 96. Welcome!
Hans Persson: Why did you become an author?
Peter F. Hamilton: Why in hell? This is a good combined question. I've always read science fiction since I can basically remember, I mean very early teens, probably pre-teens and loved it and loved the escapism it gives to young kids of that age, it follows on basically from fairy stories as far as I was concerned so it was deeply appealing to me. I lived in a very small, very boring market town where two cattle markets a week is the action. So, you know, to be reading about people having adventures on other planets was wonderful.
Why I started to write? Briefly, my mother was very ill and I had to sort of stay at home to help look after her so I had to get a job literally down the street very close by or do something at home. So, rather arrogantly, this is in 87 when I was 27, having read science fiction for getting on for two decades I rather arrogantly assumed that well I can do better than this. Boy did I learn fast. But I did, I gave it a go and I had nothing to lose at the time. There is actually in The Early Asimov collection, which again I liked primarily because he used to write little intros to each story, an introduction where he wrote that at the start of his career he was not quite in the same circumstances, he was a Jewish man growing up in New York and the pulps had just started. John Campbell had just started editing what is now Analog.
Hans Persson: Astounding.
Peter F. Hamilton: In it he said that he typed out his first story and thought ''Now what do I do?'' and basically he handed this in to Analog and he said in the thing ''And I wasn't struck by lightning.'' He was seventeen when he did this and if he could have the courage to type up something and take it into these mysterious publishing houses -- I didn't know what goes on inside publishing houses, some magic process, you know a big conglomerate away in London -- if he could do that when he was seventeen then surely me when I'm twenty-seven can do at the very least the same thing. So, in effect, what Asimov said gave me a little bit of courage to start off in this field. Give it a go. And I did.
Hans Persson: OK. So ...
Peter F. Hamilton: Yes. I started off with a manual typewriter. I thought I'm not buying a word processor from scratch, I couldn't afford it and if I can't write, what am I going to do with the word processor? So, I started off with a manual typewriter and typed out stories for something like two years until I sold to the small press magazines. At this point I thought right, I am basically literate at this level, I will go up one, got a word processor, it was a very primitive device, an Amstrad, I don't know if you've heard of them here, basically they're just glorified electronic typewriters. I got this, sat down with it, worked out how to use the program, thought why on Earth did I ever bother with a typewriter? And subsequently going up to a PC, ''Why on Earth did I ever bother with the Amstrad?'' I did sell a few stories to the small press, went up and started selling to slightly more professional magazines, almost all of which have now folded. I sold to Fear, which I think I told most people last night, I sold to Fear which promptly folded two issues afterwards, I sold to Far Point which I think limped along for three issues, I sold to The Gate which didn't even get along to publishing my story before it folded. But that was the start, that's how it started.
Hans Persson: You've been in Interzone?
Peter F. Hamilton: I've been in Interzone, actually, Interzone never published me until after I published a novel. I did keep sending stuff to David Pringle who owns Interzone and runs Interzone. And I was bombarding him with these stories for years and he was very kind to me, tell me what's wrong with them or what have you. The first time I ever met him was at a convention where we all wear the badges and I sort of plucked up my courage to walk over the room to see him, stuck out my hand and he before he even shook it, he just took one look at my badge and said ''Oh yes, the best known name on our slush pile.'' So there were a lot of short stories in that period.
Hans Persson: Apparently they were reading the stuff at least.
Peter F. Hamilton: Yeah, they were at least, well they read the title page so if nothing else, they knew who I was, yes.
Hans Persson: They do read anything that comes in.
Peter F. Hamilton: They do read. Yes. Within reason, I mean if the first two pages are dire, then it probably won't go further.
Hans Persson: OK, perhaps they don't read everything of it, but...
Peter F. Hamilton: Oh yes, they will look at anything. There's a lot us who started in that way of my generation, I'm thinking in terms of Steve Baxter, Eric Brown, to some degree Paul McAuley. We were started basically the same route, through Interzone. It's been an absolute boon to to British science fiction writers.
Hans Persson: It's a very good magazine.
Peter F. Hamilton: Yes.
Hans Persson: The few issues I have read. I know you have told us at least in some panel before, but how did you get to Pan?
Peter F. Hamilton: Very briefly, that was the Fear story had a little biography at the bottom, define your life in five lines, and I put that I was writing a novel. They read the story, read the biog, and just wrote to me and said can we see it please and it turned out to be Mindstar Rising. That was in late 1990 and they bought it within three months and published it two years later. Publishing houses -- I've subsequently found out what goes on in publishing houses -- go through editors at an astonishing rate. I had four editors between being bought and being published. One, Cathy Gale bought the book, I think her replacement was somebody called Martin Fletcher who wrote to me a very nice letter introducing himself saying ''I've read the manuscript, I think it's lovely.'' He wrote me another letter, a year later, saying ''I'm leaving.'' That was the total correspondence we had in a year. Then Simon Spanton took over after somebody I never even met and finally got this damn book out. By the time Simon took over I was looking for another publisher before I had even been published. It was that bad.
Hans Persson: When Pan first got the manuscript, how finished was it? Were you finished with it? Or did you think you were finished with it?
Peter F. Hamilton: Yes. It was reasonably complete and they sent it back with a list of editorial comments and I wound up rewriting the first eighty pages and doing just little alterations to the rest of it. The first eighty pages didn't quite gel the way I'd written it first. I think that's the biggest rewrite I have ever done. Subsequently it's just editorial comments on the whole thing, you sort of swap a line.
Hans Persson: More line editing.
Peter F. Hamilton: Yes.
Hans Persson: To get back a little bit, what's your background, what's your education? Do you have a science background?
Peter F. Hamilton: I didn't go to university, I did science at school up to age eighteen, I stopped doing English, English literature, writing at sixteen, I just wasn't interested in those days. I kept up the science insomuch that I subscribed to New Scientist, I'm very keen on aviation, certainly in the early 80s, I was planes mad in those days, I would get magazines again for that. Some technical stuff out of the local library, not that there's much in there but I certainly kept up an interest in technology from that point of view but, no, no university.
Hans Persson: You have no formal studies.
Peter F. Hamilton: I have no formal studies.
Hans Persson: Popular science, that kind of thing. OK. Could you list some favorite authors, favorite books. What has influenced you the most?
Peter F. Hamilton: It's a fairly standard list. Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein.
Hans Persson: Fairly standard, yes.
Peter F. Hamilton: Heinlein's earlier stuff shall we say, before the unfortunate later years. Niven, again his stuff in the 70s, Niven is a very technically-based writer if you've read Neutron Star, it's a perfect combination of fiction and science, that kind of stuff really impress me. He's moved sideways I suppose you could call it since then. Certainly that was a good inspiration. Silverberg I liked Lord Valentine's Castle, I think the rest of the Majipoor series sort of went down a bit, suffered from sequelitis if you like. Majipoor, we'll come to this later, but the world of Majipoor was so well thought out, I felt. I'm sure if now, knowing what I know now I could probably go back and pick holes in it, but when I read it I was deeply impressed by the way he had constructed this huge world and given it a working biology and a society which eventually led to this monstrosity here [points to The Reality Dysfunction]. It was a source of inspiration for that. More recently, I'm reading basically the people I know which is Baxter, Eric Brown, Paul McAuley, although in the early eighties, mid eighties I think she was writing it, I loved Julian May's Saga of the Exiles. I thought that was excellent. It is slightly a combination of science fiction and fantasy. Basically, magic is called telepathic powers in this world but it was a lovely idea. I really was impressed with the way she did it.
Hans Persson: We've already started to slide into my next question. Why do you think setting and background are so important as you apparently seem to do?
Peter F. Hamilton: Believability. There are so many science fiction stories that are almost, if you like, disconnected, they're just about the characters and there's no background world. Conventional thriller writers have it easy because they're setting it in this world and we know this world and we know it's big and we know how it works. SF authors, when they are building worlds, they often tend to ignore the details which make these world, how the technology would affect the economy, something we have magnificently ignored for some time. Nanotechnology for instance, a world with working von Neuman machines at a nanonic level would almost be impossible for us to describe because it would be so different, therefore we steer clear of it. I cheat, I use nanonics in there, but I probably haven't gone into the full depth of how it would develop. Energy is the one I always use as a good example. So much of this world's industry is based around extracting and using energy. If we developed fusion power and I think in the Mandel books I use this gigaconductor, this perfect battery system, if we had fusion and that, then a third of the world's industry would vanish and there would literally be a case of ''may you live in interesting times'', trying to adapt to this, what would everyone who does work in this energy industry do, what would they do next. There would be huge unemployment. Whereas it would be good for the human race overall, the people who are involved in this would have a terrible time. So that's the kind of background detail you gotta look at. If you introduce fusion, are you taking this into account? What kind of society would spring up behind that? This gives you a foundation.
Hans Persson: It seems to me you're saying more or less the same kind of thing that we heard here three years ago but one a more general level. Three years ago Nancy Kress was sitting here complaining about all these science fiction novels that have these wonderful new societies. They have children in them but we never know where they come from and where the day care center is and why don't the heroes have to run off and change diapers and this kind of thing?
Peter F. Hamilton: Yes.
Hans Persson: There's all manner of things missing in the background.
Peter F. Hamilton: By the time I get to the level of technology in this novel which is set five-six hundred years from now, they don't go to schools, they just imprint the knowledge directly, so they have to give kids day centers. Instead of being under mom and dad's feet all the time, they pass them off to day care centers where they learn interactive skills, they learn what you learn in school today, in relation to other pupils, how to interact with other people. If you're sitting at home typing, there's this idea of the Internet where everybody stays at home and just types, how are you going to learn to act in a social environment? So they shove them off to these day care centers where they can play games and develop as citizens if you like, that, again is background detail that you makes that kind of world more advanced. I didn't believe in the world six hundred years from now you'd still be going to school, opening primary books.
Hans Persson: How do you create this stuff? Do you start by thinking out ''this is the way everything works'', then you start writing the novel or do you start plotting things and then thinking, well, there should be a background to this as well, how does it look, or does it come at the same time?
Peter F. Hamilton: I went into this briefly on the writing panel, I do have the main idea and then I look to see what sort of world it can be set in. The very fundamentals of this world, for this one it was a world that stood a chance against a particular kind of threat I came up with. From that this is what science fiction writers do, we extrapolate, we build up this future from that level.
Hans Persson: At least on the level of futurity that you're on. Fifty to five-hundred years in the future you have to extrapolate. If you're a number of thousand years in the future, you don't have to extrapolate because anything can happen.
Peter F. Hamilton: Exactly, yes. I set it at a time which I hope is still recognizable. I think possibly Clarke's other law applies here, that we're optimistic in the short term and pessimistic in the long term, I think the future would actually be better than that but to make it interesting I cheated and made it not quite a grungy future but hopefully a gritty future, a realistic one, from that point of view.
Hans Persson: It's quite down to earth in The Reality Dysfunction, colonists going down and actually doing stuff.
Peter F. Hamilton: Yes. It's not a perfect world but it's a world that could work.
Hans Persson: Yes. Before digging into the actual novels, I think we should do some general stuff. What do you think about SF: should it be judged according to the same criteria as other literature, as Real Literature?
Peter F. Hamilton: As proper literature, yes. Shoddy writing should not be excused because it's SF. A lot of the early pulps, which I suppose is where the association came from that it's kid stuff is because in the pulp time it was frankly quite badly written. There were ideas there but people didn't know how to do them. Today, authors have no excuse. If you're publishing a professional book it has to be of a professional standard, the prose must be a certain level, there's no way out of that at all. The fact that we're not judged on the same level as ordinary literature is not, frankly, our problem. It is the prejudice of not so much of the reader, as of the reviewer, of the people who are in charge of drawing up newspaper review pages. We're not put on the same pages as other people but that's not our fault.
Hans Persson: So you don't agree with Isaac Asimov who's written a piece called ''The Tin God of Characterization'', he feels that science fiction has so much concern with ideas so that it can't concert itself with characterization as well because it's just too much.
Peter F. Hamilton: No. I think that's a cop-out. Possibly for short stories, yes, and Asimov was very good at short stories. You really don't have time to go into the detailed characters' background, but I think for a novel the same rule applies to us as it does to everyone else. Why shouldn't we provide you with good characters?
Hans Persson: You have to do the same thing as everybody else, plus some.
Peter F. Hamilton: Plus we have to do the science, yes. I don't think there's any excuse for badly written SF novels. And hopefully mine don't come into that category.
Hans Persson: You say for short stories, it would be OK. What's your favorite length?
Peter F. Hamilton: Novels or short stories?
Hans Persson: Yes. Nancy Kress was here in 1993, she told us if she could survive on it, she would write short stories or novellas. I see your books getting thicker.
Peter F. Hamilton: They are getting thicker and after I finish volume three, they will rapidly be getting thinner again. As I said, I started off writing nothing but short stories. They are actually very difficult to write, they either have to have the idea perfectly laid out or they finish out on a sting in the tail which it quite hard to do.
Hans Persson: You mean twist endings and similar kinds of things?
Peter F. Hamilton: I think possible the ideal length of novel I would like to write is probably about A Quantum Murder length which I think is about three hundred pages.
Hans Persson: A novel, anyway.
Peter F. Hamilton: Yes. I have written very few short stories recently. Funny enough the last two have been collaborations with Graham Joyce. We wrote ''Eat Reecebread'' which I think was in Interzone two years ago and won the Interzone poll.
Hans Persson: Wasn't that nominated for the Tiptree Award?
Peter F. Hamilton: It was also nominated for the Tiptree Award. If you don't know what the Tiptree Award is, it's the best gender-bender SF of the year. I'm not quite sure if we were pleased we didn't win or not. But anyway. I haven't actually come up with a short story for about three years. Graham and I have a very creative process. We both had a short story which didn't work and we know each other quite well. We literally just swapped them and said ''Don't worry about my feelings, do whatever you have to, to make the story work.'' And we basically played ideas football from there on, we coined this term ideas football, where I would look at Graham's and say ''Oh, that needs doing and this needs doing''. It's one of these experiences when you read short stories sometimes and you think ''Oh now, he's wasted that idea, I can do it so much better.'' And this time I actually had a chance to do that.
Hans Persson: It wasn't already published and you could actually get a hand in.
Peter F. Hamilton: A marvellous feeling and these stories went backwards and forwards between us and both of them doubled in length.
Hans Persson: So you kept sending them?
Peter F. Hamilton: Yes, physically sending them back, I would write some more down into Graham's and he would write more into mine and they were swapped over which was a very creative process. It's also one that's quite popular in science fiction these days. We have collaborations. Other branches of literature don't do that. Although I think it's going a bit too far the wrong way, I mean Niven, Pournelle and Barnes writing one novel. Why do you actually need three people to write one novel.
Hans Persson: You have this kind of this with Anne McCaffery and who?
Peter F. Hamilton: Yes. And the sharecropping as well.
Hans Persson: But on the other hand, you have, OK, it's old but Harlan Ellison published an anthology Partners in Wonder which is a short story collection entirely consisting of collaborations of Harlan Ellison and somebody. Fifteen to twenty short stories with Harlan Ellison collaborating with various people.
Peter F. Hamilton: Right. Well I must say I approve of short story collaborations. That is genuinely creative but I tend to regard sharecropping as a bit of a cop-out.
Hans Persson: I agree, definitively.
Peter F. Hamilton: The man-kzin wars are a case in point. This is Niven's ''known world'' series, why does he need ten other writers to write stories in it.
Hans Persson: He's probably getting money for doing nothing.
Peter F. Hamilton: Exactly. But does he need it at his time of life? And it takes up shelf space from other people, from new writers, more interesting writers.
Hans Persson: They're not known. Greg Mandel, then. The first thing I thought about when I had read a hundred pages or so of Mindstar Rising, it's very easy to read. You sit down and you read you think fifteen minutes and you realize that it's one hundred pages. I found it read very easily. It's your first novel, you've written relatively few short stories.
Peter F. Hamilton: I'd written three years worth of short stories, three to four years of short stories before I sat down ...
Hans Persson: But you haven't written any novels before.
Peter F. Hamilton: No, I haven't.
Hans Persson: So what's the trick?
Peter F. Hamilton: Finding the plot. Finding the plot is the trick. I was confident enough about my prose style it purely was finding the plot that could fill that kind of length. Funny enough when I started writing it, I sort of looked at what I'd written, I drew up a great plotline and outline and had this stuck up on the wall. I'd written something like four chapters and looked at what I'd written and what was to come and I thought ''I can go back, I'm gonna have to pad this.'' And by the time I had finished, I was going back and taking stuff out because it was too long.
Hans Persson: You actually have everything properly thought out?
Peter F. Hamilton: The plot sequence is thought out, yes. What is going to happen on every page is not. The sequence of events is thought out and plotted in advance.
Hans Persson: I don't know who said it but ''the characters frequently run away with me'', somebody said. ''I don't know what's going to happen, I don't know how this is going to end.''
Peter F. Hamilton: Some novelists say ''I just start writing a book and don't know how it's going to wind up''. I can't do that and I don't see how it can be done. I'm actually quite envious of people who can do that but I have to have it all thought out.
Hans Persson: You think that would be a better way?
Peter F. Hamilton: I don't know. I'm envious since there's a lot of angst trying to get this sequence to work properly. I think certainly for something like a detective fiction and this thing [The Reality Dysfunction] you have got to have an ending so therefore you have to know how to get there. It doesn't lend itself easily to this kind of writing.
Hans Persson: After Mindstar Rising you get A Quantum Murder which is set I think five years in the future, something like that.
Peter F. Hamilton: Two I think.
Hans Persson: OK. A few years anyway. And then you get The Nano Flower which is fifteen-twenty years. That's a bit unusual. To let the characters age so much. Why did you do that?
Peter F. Hamilton: Because I wanted to show how the world was evolving. Mindstar Rising was set after a great deal of conflict in England, they were just coming out of the Bad Times and then Julia Evans introduced this gigaconductor, so there were two events coming together there which led to the conflict of Mindstar Rising. I wanted to see how the world developed, this is almost going back to background filling in again. I had gone to a lot of trouble I wanted to see how the world had developed.
Hans Persson: Setting the book far ahead is more or less a device to be able to show more background?
Peter F. Hamilton: In a way, yes. It also gives people hope. Hope, I think, features quite heavily in my work. I am fairly optimistic for people in the long term. I wanted to show that there was a lot of turmoil but we can always grow out of it, we can always strive. And fifteen years was also chosen because Mindstar Rising, to some degree, reflected the politics of England of that time. We were very very polarised between left and right which is what happened in Mindstar Rising, the political parties were poles apart and when you get that you have big swings which frankly doesn't do anybody any good. By the time of The Nano Flower, fifteen years on, things politically have moderated as they have done today. We have a lot of trouble we have the two parties together, the two parties we've got are closer now than they've ever been.
Hans Persson: Apparently, from what I've read, you've gotten a bit of flak about the right-wing or allegedly right-wing politics of Mindstar Rising, etc. Could you explain a bit about that since at least for me a Swedish reader sort of passes over my head.
Peter F. Hamilton: It passed over my head, to be honest. The thing I think that upset them was the fact that -- if you've read Mindstar you'll know that this is for plot reasons -- the socialist who were in power were almost Orwellian, they were very very bad and readers, certainly the reviewers, tended to be fairly sort of liberally inclined and therefore you really can't have a bad socialist, it's not heard of. And they're also fairly clannish. I remember the review for A Quantum Murder, I think it was the British Science Fiction Association, she started off by saying ''Peter Hamilton has been described as a right-wing writer'', so she didn't say it. One of the principal characters in A Quantum Murder is Edward Kitchener who is murdered in chapter two. I don't know it you ever heard of this general? Lord Kitchener of Cartoom who's quite well known, Charlton Heston played him in the film. He's quite a well-known historical figure in the UK and the reviewer went on to say ''the name Kitchener evokes imperial resonances''. Now, frankly, if you're going to read about a scientist in the year 2040 and think of the British empire then there really is not much I can do to stop you from thinking like that. You know, they're not chosen for imperial resonances, they're chosen by sticking a pin in the telephone directory.
Hans Persson: Actually or metaphorically?
Peter F. Hamilton: Actually, well not the pin, but I do try when I'm choosing I try to space them out in the alphabet so the names don't sound too close together. K was sort of well into the book. That is the kind of criticism I've been getting and you know, no matter how much you go red in the face telling these people ''no, it isn't'', they see it there and what can you do, but weep?
Hans Persson: Not much, probably. Apparently, A Quantum Murder wasn't planned to be there, really.
Peter F. Hamilton: It was not, no. I wrote Mindstar Rising. I wrote a very rough draft of The Nano Flower and I thought two is enough. And then I read a single-page article in New Scientist on quantum theory and within a day, because I was so familiar with Greg's world, within a day I'd got the entire plot mapped out. And I thought, I just can't ignore it, you don't get gifts like that. So, after writing book two, I wrote book three which then became book two. And that's how A Quantum Murder came about. Serendipity, I suppose. It's never happened since.
Hans Persson: Did you have to change anything in The Nano Flower because of this?
Peter F. Hamilton: I put in a character, Nicholas Beswick, who is a young scientist in A Quantum Murder and subsequently slipped into The Nano Flower to give it continuity.
Hans Persson: Is there more Mandel coming?
Peter F. Hamilton: Everybody asks that. There is a novella which exists in note form that Greg would be wonderful at solving. It's a mystery story. You see the thing with Greg is that he's very very good at solving puzzles and to be honest with the reader you really got to give him something different each time. The first book I would define as a corporate thriller. The second book was a straight whodunnit, science fictional whodunnit, and the third book was the science fiction book and I don't want to rewrite those. I've either got this novella which goes back in time to just after A Quantum Murder or I could to an even more science fictional one.
Hans Persson: You mean after The Nano Flower?
Peter F. Hamilton: Oh yes. Well after The Nano Flower. I think The Nano Flower is a good way to end and it ties, one reviewer actually wrote ''the sound of loose ends being tied up in the last chapter becomes deafening''. And he was quite right, to be honest. Greg was a very good start for me and people have enjoyed it and I think; ''leave it at that.'' You see what happened to Asimov when he started going back to the Foundation thirty years later.
Publik Johannes Berg: He couldn't leave well enough alone.
Peter F. Hamilton: I think Greg stands together pretty much as it is.
Hans Persson: I actually thought a little bit about that when I read The Nano Flower and I thought that Greg is starting to get old he's said repeatedly that ''No, I won't be doing anything more with Julia.''
Peter F. Hamilton: Yes.
Hans Persson: And then, on the other hand I thought, Susie has become more and more central in these books. The Nano Flower starts off with Susie and it has Susie more and more central and then ...
Peter F. Hamilton: Don't give it away. There are people who haven't read it yet.
Hans Persson: OK. But it probably won't happen?
Peter F. Hamilton: It probably won't happen. Right. Moving on.
Hans Persson: As you said, it was the sound of strings getting tied up, I actually felt that, the same with Royan. Whoops. Where do we go from here? Basically, we don't.
Peter F. Hamilton: People say the first two were near-future thrillers, rather than science fiction. I took a bit of a gamble by introducing an alien in The Nano Flower and it was very different for Greg. He's done three separate things, let him retire in peace, I think.
Hans Persson: You could as someone said in an interview in Critical Wave, you could write a prequel.
Peter F. Hamilton: Oh yes, the Mindstar brigade.
Hans Persson: The genesis of all this. How he got the gland, etcetera.
Peter F. Hamilton: Yes, that's an option. It's something I've not thought about. But yes, it's there if I want to come back to that world although it's sort of getting closer to us now.
Hans Persson: Yes, but it doesn't have to be the same world as now just because it's the same year.
Peter F. Hamilton: Yes. I'll think about it. Let me get this one out of the way first.
Hans Persson: Oh yes. On this Mandel series, I've seen in various places, I think Locus for instance, the word ''cyberpunk'' keeps popping up, a little bit on the border anyway. What's your relation to the cyberpunk movement?
Peter F. Hamilton: It happened before me. Possibly, I caught in on the tail end. I've read all Gibson's books and enjoyed them, but when you boil it down, it's just people sitting at home, typing. You know, where is the get-up-and-go, where is the escapism that captured me when I was young? Cyberpunks have good adventures, but they're sort of a limited number of this you can do. It's a very limited genre in that these people are always up against corporations. I know I'm generalizing. Cyberpunk came along when the PC explosion happened, if you like, it caught the imagination of the time.
Hans Persson: Even though Gibson wasn't in on in.
Peter F. Hamilton: Yes, I've heard some stories about that but I'd rather not repeat them in case they're libelous. Space was in in the 60s and the 70s when we had Apollo and Skylab. Cyberpunk caught the computers and I think we're now moving on. I was in on the tail end of it. I don't consider the Mandel books to be cyberpunk stories.
Hans Persson: Almost every cyberpunk book I've read, they have this Big Evil Corporation which Gibson calls zaibatsus. They're more or less mean. Then you read the Mandel books and you have Event Horizon which is an enormous company which is very very good. It's generally nice to people.
Peter F. Hamilton: It's good because it's under the control of one person. Therefore, it's not quite so facelessly corporate in the respect that Gibson's companies are. Event Horizon is owned and run by one person, Julia Evans, who admittedly is pretty unusual in that she doesn't use it for evil ends or whatever, but it is dependant on her personality. In effect, it's a family company which has its origins back in the industrial revolution when mill owners back in UK would literally own the mill and own the town. I mean everybody was dependant on them so they would have to build the workers, I presume you have them here as well, towns springing up around one factory.
Hans Persson: Oh yes.
Peter F. Hamilton: Basically, it is an extension of that with modern ideals thrown in -- you're providing these people with jobs but you do have to take care of them. Event Horizon and Julia sprang up from that. Very early industrial roots but not gone the way of Gibson's. Julia could easily have gone the other way, she could have abused her power, but she was brought up by her grandfather not to.
Hans Persson: She's actually a very very good character.
Peter F. Hamilton: She did steal electron compression devices which is nuclear explosives without the radioactivity, she did steal these from America, she's not perfect.
Hans Persson: No, but she's very close.
Peter F. Hamilton: Well, yes and no. I'd like to dispute the fact that she's good throughout and perfect. I wish we had somebody like her, I certainly do but I don't think she's quite as good as you seem to think.
Hans Persson: ''This is far to parochial to sell'', someone apparently said about the Mandel series.
Peter F. Hamilton: This was slightly before I was published in Fear magazine, I'd done a rough draft of Mindstar and what do authors do, they get an agent, so I sent it to an agent and before I got a reply back I'd got this letter from Pan and sold it and thought ''Now, what do I do about the agent?'' She solved this by sending it back to me and saying ''This will never sell, it's far too parochial. Nobody will be interested.'' I very nearly sent her a copy of the Pan contract, but I was good, I didn't do that. She was entirely wrong, it sold in America, so I was well out of getting her as an agent, I think. Yes, you get comments like that.
Hans Persson: It's not exactly the same novel in America.
Peter F. Hamilton: 99% of it is. When the Americans bought it, they wanted ... as it is set basically purely in the UK, the first two at least, the third one does branch out a bit, they wanted to know what had happened in America in the forty years in between, so I had to back over the old manuscript and separate a few paragraphs and stick new ones in. While that was going on, this was going on in America.
Hans Persson: So what happened to America? We have the British edition.
Peter F. Hamilton: Very little more, actually. They're not quite the superpower they are now, they suffered but they're growing out of it as well. I forget the details.
Hans Persson: They're not too interesting.
Peter F. Hamilton: Now, that's parochialism. ''We have to know what's happened to make it sell over here.''
Publik Daniel Pargman: What happened to Sweden?
Publik Michael Petersen: We need to know if you are to sell it here, you know.
Hans Persson: Well, apparently Bofors at least survived. I remember you are using Bofors. You are using a very large number of brand names for for various kinds of things, terminals always have, they're Siemens terminals, Data General terminals ...
Peter F. Hamilton: That is a legacy of cyberpunk, using brand names. Gibson's books are littered with brand names.
Hans Persson: I know you have Bofors some kind of weapon, I think you have Saab something else.
Peter F. Hamilton: You're still here.
Hans Persson: Apparently. While we're on technology, you said in the Critical Wave interview that you thought that the cybofax was a failure. Why so? I never felt that way.
Peter F. Hamilton: No, not a failure. In Mindstar Rising and the other two, they have a marvellous little gadget called a cybofax. I was writing this in 1990, the early part of 1990. It's basically a pocket gadget, probably slimmer than that, book-sized, which is a voice-operated computer, a video telephone, the lot. I thought this was a pretty nifty futuristic gadget and I was pleased with the name because we have Filofaxes, so obvious to me, I can't think why nobody else came up with that, cybofax is the obvoius extension from that. And now of course we're six years on and laptops are there already and this thing is supposed to be forty years in the future, so from that point of view I didn't quite extrapolate far enough, I don't think. That's why I said that was a failure. It's already here, basically.
Hans Persson: We get on to that book [The Reality Dysfunction].
Peter F. Hamilton: This book, yes. Oh dear.
Hans Persson: Why the switch from forty-fifty years in the future to four-five hundred years in the future and space opera?
Peter F. Hamilton: Combination. As I said, Greg has been a very successful start for me. The publishing company would have loved for me to have written book four, book five, book six and had I done that I would have been stuck in a rut, I felt, I would have been the Greg Mandel author. So, first, to develop and to grow as an author you got to do something else, secondly, I've always loved space opera. I remember reading E. E. ''doc'' Smith when I was thirteen and absolutely loved it, this was the Lensman series. I'm sure it would be absolutely appalling if I read it now but I have the memory. To a thirteen-year old kid, those series of books was heaven.
Hans Persson: Big things happen
Peter F. Hamilton: You basically got no limits to your imagination, you can really just zoom out there with your imagination and I had the idea, the threat that emerges to challenge the human race, so that is why I switched. It's a combination of factors. I wanted to do something different, I had the idea and the genre is deeply appealing to me. I think you can do an awful lot. When you have a stage that broad and as you can see, it's broad, you can to a lot with it.
Hans Persson: Do you feel that space opera is considered, within the science fiction field, as serious as the rest of science fiction?
Peter F. Hamilton: It's suffered a lapse, if you like. We did this kind of thing in the past, then we went on to cyberpunk which is supposed to be now and happening, so people tended to disregard it. I wouldn't say it's looked down on but I think it's been ignored for quite a while which is a shame. Having said that I don't have political message, I didn't put political messages in the first one, I did sit down for a long time before I wrote this and thought out what I was going to say and how it was dramatised. It's a great deal of subplot going on here. I'm dealing with the principal one, as I said, which is hope for the future. But, in time with all this, there's dramatised subtexts how hope can be ... if you don't have faith in yourself ... how people can hijack that faith. People need to have faith and if you don't have faith in yourself it can be hijacked, specifically by politicians, religions and cults and this kind of things. So, there's one story strand dealing with the failure of faith in having faith in yourself. The other one is the stupidity and inevitability of war. There are some highly intelligent people in this book and they need an action like the Falklands war, like the Gulf, has to be done for political reasons and the people involved are not stupid, and they know that people are going to get killed. This is actually in volume two, and for all their worry over it, they're not in a position to say no. It's how, if you like tragic, it is. It seems to the human race that we seem to be in this perpetual state of conflict and we know how stupid war is yet we still do it. That's another strand in there. To me, this is relevant today, the gulf war is stupid. It was something like six months between invasion and war. The UN sanctions, they had not worked for six months, we had to invade for American television, public opinion in America had to be satisfied. If you are going to impose sanctions, you got to give them two, three years to work, in my opinion. Certainly, you don't do it after six months. It was just inevitable that it was going to happen. It's another sort of strand which wound up in there. Certainly I've got the scope in this size to bring in things like that which I'm quite proud of, actually. This is not preaching, there's a lot of drama in there as well and excitement I hope, but things like this should not be avoided, should not be shirked from.
Hans Persson: Perhaps we should let the audience have a chance as well?
Publik Audience: You have spoken about science fiction authors that influenced you. Can you mention some non-science fiction authors who have influenced you?
Peter F. Hamilton: Martin Amis, quite a bit. Funny enough, Alistair MacLean, when I was quite young. I used to like his thrillers. I thought they were good thrillers, well constructed. Salinger. Salinger was very good. I liked The Catcher in the Rye. Len Deighton's spy stories, I love spy stories. I don't have a great literary background. I think that off the top of my head, that's probably it.
Publik Britt-Louise Viklund: I wonder about religion because of the short story you sent us that we have in the booklet and also there are discussions about it in several places in The Reality Dysfunction. Also I wonder about the trinities in the Mandel stories, trinity and father and son, those words evoke thoughts of religion.
Peter F. Hamilton: The trinity, there's father and son who are the stories, there's also the preacher, Goldstein, who was mentioned twice, he was technically the holy ghost. They were using him as to fire these kids up, what they were doing was a holy war almost, defeating the bad guys. What they were doing was right, look here, it says so in the Bible. Again, it's that horrific abuse of peoples' faith but that's how that name came about. Yes, in that there's a lot of discussion about religion. Again, it verges on the difference between faith and religion. Religions, when you analyze them logically, are pretty silly. And yet, so many people draw comfort from them. I would never deny anybody religion because, you know, it has helped a lot of people, an awful lot of people but it is also responsible for a great many wars. It's very much a double-edged sword.
Publik Britt-Louise Viklund: It must interest you because you have it in several stories.
Peter F. Hamilton: I think possibly it is because I myself am confused by it, the notion of a god, it seems very hard to pin down. If there is one, it's obviously not going to be the guy with the white beard type of god. If there is some force or motivating factor behind the universe, why has it done it the way it is and if there isn't one, where do we go from here? It's a very big concept and it does fascinate me, but I don't have answers. I'm not L. Ron Hubbard.
Publik Audience: He was very successful.
Peter F. Hamilton: Yes, there is that. Financially, perhaps I should be.
Publik Carolina Gómez Lagerlöf: You said in a panel earlier that you didn't know about SF fandom when you became an SF author. Did it surprise you?
Peter F. Hamilton: Yes. To an outsider, it's quite remarkable. I have to say. I was dragged along to my first convention by my publisher who insisted I sort of started to get myself known and I haven't had to be dragged back since and that was four years ago. It's a wonderful cozy little community and it's a pity more people aren't members. Especially, I like the international feel to it. I think Jane was on about how you can apply to get membership to be subsidized to get over to Australia, there's also the TAFF fund, the trans-atlantic fund. What other branch of literature, what other aspect of society has groups like this, which gets people together?
Publik Magnus Redin: The environmental movement is quite active.
Peter F. Hamilton: Possibly I'm cynical but it's a bit harder edged. People come to conventions for fun. Do we not? I think so. It's a more of community feel, I think. It's very enjoyable.
Hans Persson: It's more of a hobby.
Publik Johannes Berg: Have you ever written or considered writing any fantasy?
Peter F. Hamilton: No, I haven't written any. I came very close in the last story I did for New Worlds which was about as near to it as I can get I think. I got wrapped up in an argument with somebody once who accused me of being very narrow-minded. There's dark fantasy and there's modern fantasy and there's all this. I don't think I can ever see myself writing sword & sorcery stuff but possibly something like dark fantasy, I wouldn't mind giving it a go sometime. I don't see myself primarily as a science fiction writer. I am at the moment and I will be fore some years to come, finishing this, but after that, once again, I like to see if I can branch out to something new and develop in a different direction.
Hans Persson: So in fifteen years time we will see you writing romance novels?
Peter F. Hamilton: That, I have to say, is unlikely. Yes, it would be nice to change tack a little bit after this, to do something different.
Publik Johannes Berg: The rather leftist socialist party in Mindstar Rising and the other books, especially the first book of course, is this sort of patterned directly on shall we say trotskyite kind of British marxism?
Peter F. Hamilton: I don't know how well it translates into Swedish, but People's Socialism Party which is PSP is basically laughable. It is what you would join if you were thrown out of the communists for being too extreme.
I was amazed that people took it so seriously, I really was. Parties that have initials like that and stand for things like that for me are sort of way to the left of chairman Mao. It's not going that way. As I say, at the time we were very polarised in the UK, it was not a particularly nice time.
Hans Persson: Apparently people took it seriously.
Peter F. Hamilton: Unfortunately, they did.
Publik Johannes Berg: Just a few years after communism crumbled in Europe, quite a few marxist reviewers were upset about that.
Publik Magnus Redin: What do you think about the near future? You have the 60s and 70s soaring across space, you have the PC and the cyberpunk movement and that's fading and what will people have for the next years in real life and in science fiction. space opera?
Peter F. Hamilton: Space opera, yes. Lots of space opera. Technology-wise, I would suggest the most important thing coming along is genetic engineering, bioengineering. I was reading, for a novel that's sort of half-written and constantly needed updating, about rejuvenation and I kept reading and reading quite a lot of biotechnology and genetic research and I just couldn't keep up. It is evolving at such rate that I see genetic engineering as basically becoming the equivalent of antibiotics for the year 2000 or for the next century. I think it's going to have that level of impact on us. It is developing at an extraordinary rate. We're into a biotechnology future in the near future.
Publik Britt-Louise Viklund: You said you thought the future of science fiction is more towards space opera. Do you think that is something in Britain, of British writers because I think of you, of Colin Greenland, of Iain Banks, he's written that kind of stories for a long time.
Peter F. Hamilton: As I said, I think it's been an ignored part of science fiction for quite a while. I think these things go in cycles. It's also the fact that the ones you mentioned and myself, yes we're all British but we're also all more or less the same age, Iain I think is a bit older than myself and Steve [Baxter] and Colin, but we are the same age. We have the same influences. We didn't plan this. It's happened and these things happen in cycles and I think it's happened naturally. I think its turn has come which I said I think is a good thing. I'm very happy with the kind of scope it allows you to have as a writer, you can slop all sorts of things in on a stage that big.