Wednesday, 13 June 2012
Weird Space: charting the unknown with Eric Brown
Best-selling author Eric Brown has created a brand new shared world for Abaddon Books, full of cosmic horror and intriguing characters. So we had a chat with him about Weird Space and the first book in the series, The Devil's Nebula.
* Tell us a bit about The Devil’s Nebula and why people should buy it.
The Devil’s Nebula features a small starship and its crew of ne’er-do-wells in a future fascistic human empire. They sail close to the judicial wind, keeping just to this side of the law – until they land on a world within the out-of-bounds territory of the alien Vetch, commissioned by a rich art collector to obtain a precious alien artefact from a derelict museum. As they leave they’re apprehended by the Terran authorities and are given a choice: face the death penalty, or take their ship beyond Vetch territory to the Devil’s Nebula in search of a rogue colony ship that left human-space a century earlier.
It’s out-and-out space adventure, of the type I love to read, set in a universe where an evil alien life-force, the Weird, is bent on invading our universe from another dimension. It’s a space opera with Lovecraftian overtones.
It should appeal to fans of Vance, Asher, and space opera in general.
* What was it like creating a whole new world for others to play in?
That’s the great delight of the Weird Space project. I never normally, with my own novels, create a ‘world’ or universe from the ground up. I usually have an initial idea, and then a cast of characters, and the characters often dictate the nature of the setting. With WS it was different: I started with the background and built that up. I had a meeting or two with Jon Oliver and he told me the type of thing, very roughly, Abaddon were looking for: fast action space opera, strange cults, maybe telepaths, and – importantly – Lovecraftian aliens from another dimension. I took these and imported them into a far-future human-based expansion, ruled by a dictatorial government which kept a strict, militaristic control on the many planets within their domain. Neighbouring human space is Vetch territory. The Vetch are bellicose aliens who, before the series opens, cleared – ethnically-cleansed – a stretch of human-occupied planets in their margin of space. But beyond Vetch space is the Devil’s Nebula, where the Weird – the aliens from another dimension – first manifest themselves.
* What are the elements that make a fictional world work well?
It’s all in the mix. With space opera you’re working with a set of… you could say well-worn… tropes. There have been hundreds of novels about starships and aliens and space battles and telepaths – but to make it work you need to get the mix right; the right degree of threat, from within and without; an engaging set of characters which rub up against both the authorities on one side and the threat of the Weird on the other. What I especially liked about writing Weird Space was describing this fascistic regime and having the central characters coming, over the course of the novel, to the realisation that to defeat the Weird they must work together – and the same will be true of the humans and the Vetch: in following novels they must put their hostilities to one side and co-operate. This necessity will prove the engine for further story-lines.
* Were there any influences on Weird Space, and what are your hopes for the world?
Influences were legion. Every space opera I’ve read, to start off. Vance: I liked his baroque, wide-open far-future scenarios, his lone-wolf characters. To a certain extent Neal Asher’s excellent depiction of aliens… Peter Hamilton’s complex, intricately detailed futures… And, of course, Lovecraft: his tentacled creatures from beyond… I think the mix will work well.
My hopes for the world? Well, one of the interesting aspects of doing Weird Space is seeing where other hands take the series, seeing in which direction it will go, and what ideas are shared, cross-pollinated, and developed. I’m looking forward to reading books further along in the series and seeing what they inspire me to do next.
* Tell us a bit about your writing routine.
Once I’ve begun a project, I have a very rigorous work routine. I work from nine till twelve, then from twelve thirty to three five days a week, and I’m very unhappy and curmudgeonly if I don’t produce four thousand words a day in this way. (That’s with novels; with stories, it’s probably two or three thousand a day). I finish a novel in a month or two, then lay it aside and come back to it in a month, if possible. (I work on shorts, or children’s books, in the interim.) Then I come back to the novel and go through it minutely, rewriting every line, cutting, cutting, and cutting again. Then I send it out to two or three trusted and brilliant readers, and when it comes back I go through it again with the red pen. I can’t stress the importance of cutting, making the finished novel as lean and readable as possible.
* What are your five favourite novels?
That’s a difficult one! Can I cheat, and list five SF novels, and five mainstream novels?
Okay, the SF would be: The Girl with a Symphony in Her Fingers by the great and sadly
neglected Michael G. Coney; Brontomek! by Coney again; (and his Hello Summer, Goodbye is excellent too); Silverbergs’s Thorns; Bob Shaw Orbitsville (or perhaps his Wreath of Stars); The Time-Machine by Wells (though technically that’s a novella… So I’m allowed another. Very well: Inner Eclipse by another excellent but neglected writer, Richard Paul Russo.
Mainstream: Wilkie and Seven Thunders by Rupert Croft-Cooke (my all-time favourite writer); Endless Love by Scott Spencer (a harrowing, brilliant depiction of obsessive love); Portrait of Jeanie by Robert Nathan; Hunters and Gatherers by Geoff Nicholson.
But ask me again tomorrow and the above will probably have changed.
* What advice would you give to new writers hoping to break into the field?
Write a lot, obsessively, and write what you enjoy reading; read a lot. Copy other writers to begin with; work out what they’re doing right and wrong. Set aside at least a couple of hours a day, if possible, and write. Don’t let yourself believe that there’s such a thing as writer’s block: if you’re stuck, and you don’t have ideas, and the words aren’t forming, just plough on and write – gibberish, if need be, and trust in the subconscious and, eventually, the good words will come. Remember that fiction is modular. You can go back and lift out the sections that don’t work and slot into place things that do. Research your market. And, lastly and most importantly, don’t be downhearted by rejections. We all get them. I had hundreds before I made my first sale. Just keep at it, keep at it, and you’ll get there.
Weird Space: The Devil's Nebula is available in the UK as paperback and on ebook, and in North America in paperback and ebook.