A interview with Peter F Hamilton

Peter Hamilton’s new novel, and final part in the Void trilogy, The Evolutionary Void, is released today and I took the opportunity to ask him some questions, which he kindly agreed to answer. In addition to my questions some forum users from the fan site I run, the unisphere, also contributed a few – you can find them at the bottom of the interview.

In my opinion, the Void trilogy is one of the best finished series in SF today and is made up of The Dreaming Void, The Temporal Void, and The Evolutionary Void, and when you add the Commonwealth Saga (Pandora’s Star and Judas Unchained) you get some excellent stuff – all highly recommended by me!

So without further ado…

peter-f-hamiltonMany thanks for taking the time to answer some questions Peter. So, we’ll jump straight into things. The Evolutionary Void is due out this September and is the final book in your Void trilogy, starting with the Dreaming Void and continuing with The Temporal Void. Despite this series being in the region of 2,100 pages and covering a whole host of plot threads and storylines, can you give a brief overview of the story?

See, this is why I don’t do a what-happened-before summery at the start of each book.
The Commonwealth is a society spread across hundreds of worlds, with many types of humans, from ‘normals’ to those with bodies enhanced by biononics, to downloaded personalities in a single Artificial Intelligence. It’s a peaceful civilized existence. Then Inigo dreams of a life of a human inside the Void, a different realm at the centre of the galaxy, with some very strange physical laws. A whole religion grows up around these dreams, with billions of people wanting to pilgrimage into the Void to live the life of their idol there. If they do that, everyone else believes the Void will have to expand to devour the rest of the galaxy to power the abilities they will have inside the Void. So… it’s really a battle about rights and responsibilities, with a number of factions out to stop this pilgrimage, and others supporting it.

Of course, this trilogy is set in the same universe as three of your previous novels, Misspent Youth, Pandora’s Star and Judas Unchained, making this a loose six book sequence that spans 1,500 years. Did you find yourself looking back at the previous books when writing the Void trilogy?

Very occasionally, and just for reference, to make sure there weren’t too many continuity errors.

There are also quite a lot of references in the Void trilogy to the Commonwealth Saga, from the character cameo’s to some fairly plot important stuff. Personally I feel that to get the most out of this trilogy the reader needs to have read the Commonwealth Saga and by not doing so they could miss out on some of the subtleties present throughout that refer to the previous novels and enhance the overall reading experience. Would you agree, or do you think that the Void books are easily read without any prior reading in the Commonwealth universe?

The Void books were written so that they could be enjoyed without needing to read the Commonwealth Saga first. But I think you may be right, the number of references means you’re probably better off if you have read the Saga first -but not by much!

You’ve spent around 5 years writing the Void trilogy, and when you add the previous books it comes to around 9 years of writing in the same universe – you also spent a considerable amount of time writing the Night’s Dawn trilogy. How do find writing in the same setting for this amount of time, and will you miss writing these characters?

I find that the relief at the end is quite fantastic. I will miss the people and the worlds, simply because I’ve become so familiar with them. But as I writer I have to do something new.

Were there any characters in particular you enjoyed writing?

Gore Burnelli. Who although we don’t exactly see eye to eye on politics, or ideology, or how to treat other people, or… well anything really- speaks his mind in a way I never have the courage to do.

Also on the same subject, did you feel that you had to bring any characters back from the Commonwealth Saga for appearances in the Void trilogy?

I didn’t have to. But it was fun seeing how they’d moved on, or hadn’t in some cases.

When reading The Dreaming Void and The Temporal Void my favourite plot was definitely Inigo’s dreams, focusing on Edeard’s life in the Void and it bought a distinct fantasy feel to the story while still being rooted firmly in sci-fi. Did you have to change your approach to writing when tackling these sections, rather than the typical space opera that you’re known for?

I do regard the Void sections (taken independently) as my fantasy novel. As such it’s quite traditional: lost prince grows up in the wilds and comes back to rescue the kingdom. It also gave me the opportunity to write some ‘classic’ style SF, with the kind of mental superpowers I grew up reading.

Due to the structure of the novels, with the story alternating between the Commonwealth sections and those within the Void, did you find it difficult to avoid revealing too much that would impact on the later volumes, especially with all the characters aware of the way that Inigo’s dreams played out, but the reader completely in the dark when it comes to this aspect?

I did have to take care about what was revealed and when. In some ways delaying the real problem of the Void for two books was a writer’s cheat, but a necessary one.

One of the aspects of The Evolutionary Void that surprised me was the way that Inigo’s dreams were structured, going from the sequential format of Dreaming and Temporal to showing important dreams throughout his life. Seeing Edeard behave the way he does was also unexpected – was this intentional?

Yes. Edeard lived a very long life, so covering every aspect of it was clearly impossible, or at least it would have made for an impossibly long book. And seeing how he struggles with the responsibility of absolute power was essential, especially as his struggle for the first two books was very clear cut.

Do you think you’ll ever get around to filling in the gaps when it comes to Inigo’s dreams, perhaps as short stories in the future?

I have to say no to that. I’m done with Edeard now.

After Edeard’s story received much of the page time in Temporal, it felt like the Commonwealth section suffered, but Evolutionary kicks off with a bang and hardly lets up for its duration. Personally, I was especially please that everything tied together nicely and the ending was most definitely not a deus ex machina, a criticism that many applied to the Night’s Dawn trilogy. Was the ending planned in full prior to you starting this trilogy, and did anything change along the way?

It was planned right from the start. There are clues planted in the first two books which only become apparent when you finish the third.

On you blog you’ve mentioned that you get ideas when writing and, if too good to miss, try to fit them into the story and move the plot around to accommodate them. Is there anything in the Void trilogy that wasn’t there at the start?

No major plots, but certainly small ideas crept in. The nature of what happened to Aaron, for instance, took a while to crystallise.

Are there any plans to do book signings for the release of Evolutionary Void?

Friday 10th September, 6pm – 7pm
Signing at Forbidden Planet, 179 Shaftesbury Avenue , London
For more details, see http://forbiddenplanet.com/

Mon 13th September 11am
Signing at BuyTheBook in Oakham

Tues 14th September pm – time tbc
Event at Birmingham Central Library
More details on the library website

Thurs 16th September 7pm
Reading and signing at Waterstone’s Deansgate, Manchester
Tickets £3 redeemable against the book on the night

Saturday 18th September 6:30pm
Signing at Waterstone’s Nottingham Bridlesmith Gate

Sunday 19th September
Peter will be taking part in several events at Fantasycon, Britannia Hotel, 1 St James Street , Nottingham
For further details, see http://sites.google.com/site/fantasycon2010/

Wednesday 22nd September time tbc
Reading, Q&A and signing at Waterstone’s Sauchiehall Street , Glasgow

Thursday 23rd Sept 6pm
Reading, Q&A and signing at Waterstone’s West End, Edinburgh

Saturday 30th Oct time tbc
Peter will be signing at the MCM Expo, Excel, London
For further details, see www.londonexpo.com

Saturday 6th November afternoon – time tbc (approx 1-4)
Tor Readers Day at The Quad, Derby

You’ve announced that you’re next releases will be a short story collection, Manhattan in Reverse, and a stand alone novel in a brand new setting, Great North Road. Can you reveal anything about these two yet and what readers can expect from them?

The collection is every short story and novella I’ve written since Second Chance At Eden came out, plus one written specifically for the collection, the title story itself, Manhattan in Reverse, which is another Paula Myo story, set directly after the end of Judas Unchained. Great North Road is what I’ve taken to calling my monster in the dark book.

It’s also been announced that you’re going to be the guest of honour at the UK’s foremost convention, Eastercon, next year. Are you looking forward to it? And most importantly, when caught at the bar, what do you drink?

I haven’t been to many conventions since my kids were born, so it will be great to get back into this part of SF again. In the unlikely event of me being found in a bar, I’ll have a lager thanks, the colder the better.

I asked some of the forum users whether they’d like to contribute some questions, some of which are below, so please feel free to answer (or skip) any of them.

Do you feel some of your ideas may be prophetic? Eg. The latest phones are getting more like ‘hand held arrays’. (martin)

I’m not sure about prophetic. I just try and extrapolate current gadgets. I still think that when voice activated software is perfected, we’ll see another radical shift from things we carry to electronic jewellery as I featured in Fallen Dragon.

On the other hand, computer technology seems a long way behind the capacity of human memory or natural storage systems, such as DNA. Eg. Scientific American ‘Computing with DNA’ by Leonard M Adleman Aug 1998, p61 says, “One gram of DNA carries as much information as a trillion CDs” Do you think ‘memory chips’ will catch up with natural memory systems anytime soon? (martin).

There’s obviously a long way to go, but then equally there’s an awful lot of money being pumped into developing more advanced memory systems. But as for soon, not in the next ten years. It would be nice if I’m wrong, though.

The basis for most of your futureverses begin with a near term calamity such as the credit crash you predicted, but you also predicted the decreasing of commercial flights and the limited availability of flights due to cost/fuel. This has already begun in the US. You have a knack for predicting the way we are headed near term, do you have any near term positive predictions? (Jasper21)

I think we’ll see a lot of green-creep -if that’s the right term. The everyday items and services we use won’t change too much in their nature, but how they are built and powered will. Solar panels, hybrid cars, fuel cells, large-scale recycling plants, less toxic household chemicals (it’s a big list); all these things are slowly coming on line and becoming more affordable and widespread. It’s as much an attitude shift as a technological one. People are starting to accept that if we want to maintain our current standard of living and more importantly raise the standard of living across the world, than the way that standard is provided will have to change.

Do you start taking notes on future novel ideas while you are still writing a current novel or do you wait until you are finished with one story before taking notes on something new? (You mentioned recently some future projects you will be publishing but I’m curious how far along you were with taking notes for those before finishing the Void series.) (GardenGuy)

The notes and ideas are quite small, but I do come up with them on a constant basis. I tend to write them down without examining them too much and then leave them alone. Only when I’ve finished a project do I take a good look at them and start to build on them in any detail.

Why did you decide to pull back from going the Young Adult route? Minus some sucking, tweaking etc. and the F word, wouldn’t the current books already be acceptable to a young teenage audience (or even their teachers)? (martin)

I felt it was self-limiting. The story I have to tell (which I will hopefully write after Great North Road) would appeal to a wider readership, so why restrict it through marketing? It depends on the feel of it, if I believe the nature of a story would appeal to a younger readership, then that’s how I’ll write it.

With the World Cup recently finished, I was wondering about the Commonwealth Cup… what rules would be in place in respect of bodily or genetic enhancements? – and would rejuvenated players be allowed to take part? (Gore Burnelli)

I think this was mentioned in Pandora’s Star, that no excessive physical modifications could be used. Football is a team sport, and that’s where the skill comes in, something that can’t really be engineered in. I don’t like to point fingers, but the difference in teamwork on the pitch between the England team and others was noticeable even to a non-football fanatic like me.

Which of your books would you like to see as a film? (mickHC)

Easy answer: all of them. I expect the shorter ones might come first as they’d be easier (read:cheaper) to film. No news on this front yet, though some short stories are under option, and have been for years.

Apart from Mrs H (obviously), who is the sexiest woman in your novels? (mickHC)

Er… um… ah… I’ll get back to you on that one.

And one final question – what does the F stand for in Peter F Hamilton?!

Same thing it’s always stood for.

Once again, many thanks for taking the time to answer these questions – roll on the release of The Evolutionary Void!

One thought on “A interview with Peter F Hamilton”

  1. Great interview. I think I'm a Hamilton fan now, officially. It's interesting for me to read through this interview and get a general idea of the mind behind the books. Very impressive.

    Thanks for posting!

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