Alastair Reynolds on “Sixteen Questions for Kamala Chatterjee”

Revenger by Alastair Reynolds
Revenger by Alastair Reynolds

Q: Tell us about your story in Bridging Infinity?

My story deals with a far-future engineering project to drill down into the Sun, for reasons that are explained in the story. But the story has its basis in the present, as the central protagonist is an Indian scientist who makes a critical discovery during her thesis work.

Q: What was the inspiration behind your story?

I wanted to keep very literally to the theme of “bridging”, and that meant some sort of physical structure connecting two points. I kept coming back to James Blish’s short story “The Bridge” about a vast engineering project on (or in) Jupiter, but I wanted to go beyond that to something truly nuts, but just about feasible at the extreme range of present speculation. I wanted to keep away from space elevators and wormholes! I’d read about the solar heliospheric oscillations during my own degree work, and it had always struck with me that there’s a lot we still don’t know about the interior life of stars. I also did some sniffing around about very high temperature materials, and found that creating an alloy that could survive on the surface of the Sun isn’t as mad as it sounds. The other inspiration for the story was drawing a parallel between the sometimes stressful business of defending your thesis work, and an actual interrogation.

Q: What do you believe makes a good science fiction story?

The ideal SF story would be written with a high level of literary craft, with an effective use of voice, viewpoint, structure and so on, perhaps some memorable characterisation, and it would also embed one or more interesting ideas in an original, surprising fashion. The experienced SF reader will be alert to the usual directions such a story might take, so the piece also has to work hard to subvert such expectations – while at the same time not short-changing the less experienced reader. In reality very few SF pieces ever hit all those high notes at once – none of mine ever has – but it’s a good set of objectives to aim for.

Q: What are you working on now? And if people like your story in the book, what other work of yours should they seek out?

I’m trying to nail down the latter part of a new novel, a sequel to my earlier book The Prefect, and which is set in the Revelation Space universe. If people like “Sixteen Questions”, I’d maybe suggest taking a look at my story “A Murmuration”, which also deals with science as a career, although from a rather different perspective.

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