Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Meeting Peter F Hamilton

“Al Capone actually had Syphilis,” says Peter F Hamilton, Britain's leading Science Fiction writer. “That's why he had such an outrageous temper.”

It's Thursday 16th September. We're upstairs in Waterstones Deansgate, and SF fans fill the room. I guess I'm one of them, although I've never yet read a Hamilton book. Mr. Hamilton is here to promote and sign copies of his new novel, The Evolutionary Void. It's the third in his Void trilogy, after The Dreaming Void and The Temporal Void.

From the passage that he reads out, Hamilton's work seems strongly science-based: realistic but yet surprisingly contemporary, with colloquial, realistic dialogue. There's a good bit of humour in it too, which SF has always lacked.

In the Q&A after the reading, Mr. Hamilton reveals that a character called Capone, featuring in his novels, was in fact based on the legendary Chicago mobster. In The Evolutionary Void, every character believes Capone can run things. Hence the name. And hence the research into the mobster... and his STIs.

Mr. Hamilton reveals he may start writing contemporary, non-SF stories in the future. Whether he'll drop the middle initial, Iain M. Banks style, remains to be seen. He's also planning shorter novels for kids.

After starting an immense debate online about the necessity of realistic science in SF, ( I wanted to ask about how he found the balance between getting the believable, hard science facts into the story, but at the same time not allowing the science to get in the way of the reader's enjoyment.

“Balance is critical,” Mr. Hamilton says. “I usually use instinct, or my editor, to keep the physics sound. I do research at pop science level, but I mostly use judgement.”

He mentions that two scientists from the same facility separately wrote to him, over a dispute about how much science Mr. Hamilton knew. One claimed he knew everything. The other reckoned he knew only the buzzwords. He wrote back to both- a letter each- saying “I only know the buzzwords.” What a guy!

If you've ever read a Hamilton novel or seen one on the shelf, you'll know they are big books. Well, Evolutionary is the biggest yet. When he rang his editor, the conversation allegedly went a little like this:

Hamilton: I've finished!

Editor: At last!

Hamilton: Yeah, it's a little longer than the others.

Editor: Okay, how long is it?

Hamilton: Two hundred and forty thousand words.

Editor: Oh fuck.

On that issue, Mr. Hamilton says he does self-edit but nobody believes him.

He also mentions that he sticks with describing dystopian, world-has-gone-to-pot futures, because the opposite image of a peaceful future world would be dull. “If we were dumped in Utopia,” he proposes, “what would we do?”

The sound of a police car siren, screaming down Deansgate below us, punctuates this point perfectly.

Scribble scribble. Book signed and dedicated. Snap. The (rather fit) events manager lady takes our picture.

More on the man:

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