Gareth L. Powell
Today's mini-interview is with Gareth L. Powell, author of The Recollection. Thanks for joining us, Gareth!
If you had to sum up this book in three words, what would they be, and why?
Oh, that’s a difficult question! I had a hard enough time summing it up in a 3000 word synopsis! It’s the story of a perfectly ordinary bloke who tries to rescue his brother and gets whisked into a future world of cosmic wonder and unimaginable horror; and the story of a girl trying to redeem herself in the eyes of her estranged family. It contains love triangles, space battles, and ancient evils. So, I guess if you pushed me, I’d have to describe it as ‘epic space opera’, because its scope covers hundreds of light years and millennia of time.
In The Recollection, you're handling two parallel stories set 400 years apart. Was this a challenging structure to work with as a writer?
I’m a big fan of both space opera and near-future fiction; so when I started plotting this book, I wanted to find a way to include both. I wanted to write about spaceships and aliens and pack the book with all sorts of widescreen sensawunda eyeball kicks, and show how amazing all this stuff could be by contrasting it with a recognizable, contemporary character, grounding it all in his everyday experiences. As a result, the book follows two major plot strands. The first follows the adventures of Ed Rico, a minicab driver and failed artist in modern day London; while the second takes place four hundred years later, and follows the struggles of Katherine Abdulov, an interstellar trader and starship captain trying to scrape together enough paying work to keep her old ship flight worthy.
When I wrote the first draft of the book, I wrote it straight through, from beginning to end, switching from one story line to the other as I went, and then back again; and I think this approach helped give the book its cohesive feel. It’s all one story. The events and emotions in one timeline mirror and complement those in the other. And of course, it all eventually comes together in (hopefully) surprising and exciting ways.
Constantly switching between narratives may sound like a challenge, but I found it helped maintain the story’s momentum. They say a change is as good as a rest, and I certainly found it energizing to be able step out of one character and into the other, alternating back and forth with each new chapter.
I'm always curious how authors feel about their book covers. Do you think that Solaris did a good job representing the book? Does that super-cool spaceship actually appear in the story?
I really love the cover illustration. It perfectly sums up the book’s breakneck pace. It’s a picture of the main spaceship in the story, the trading vessel Ameline, as she dives into the atmosphere of a distant alien world. It was painted by the very talented Neil Roberts (www.skinnyelbows.com), and he really went to town on the detail. Interestingly, Solaris commissioned him to paint the cover before I’d even finished writing the book, which allowed some interesting interplay between writer and artist. To start with, Neil based his picture on some key passages I sent him, containing descriptions of the ship in action; and I was so impressed with the result, I went back and incorporated a few small details from his picture – such as the fact the ship sports a blue and red paint job – into the story itself.
It can be annoying to read a book with a great illustration on the front, only to realize that the picture has little or nothing to do with the story inside. With The Recollection, I’m happy that Neil’s depiction of the Ameline perfectly matches my descriptions of her.
What's your take on ebooks and the future of traditional publishing? Will civilization go paperless within the next century?
I am in favour of ebooks. I love the idea of carrying 800 books around with me in a device no larger than a reporter’s notebook. Yet I still have some concerns, such as: what happens to my library when my reading device breaks down? Or what will happen in the future as formats and hardware change? When I’m eighty years old, will the devices I own then be able to read the files I buy now? Or will I be forced to re-buy all my old books in new formats, the same way I’ve had to replace all my vinyl LPs with CD and MP3 versions? This may sound trivial, but it has implications for the durability of our knowledge and culture over centuries and millennia. It’s far easier to lose an electronic file than it is to lose a printed book, or even a clay tablet. And if civilization ever falls, a printed survival manual will be worth a thousand dead Kindles.
Having said all that, I really do think that the proliferation of portable devices will make electronic literature ubiquitous within the next decade, especially as it becomes easier and easier to simply read a book on your phone. And this instant availability of knowledge will have great implications on societies around the world. Imagine being able to give school children in developing countries handsets containing all the text books they will ever need. The consequences will be far reaching, and doubtlessly surprising in ways we haven’t even thought of yet.
Many thanks, Gareth. The Recollection is scheduled for release this August. Watch for it!
Coming up tomorrow: The indomitable Luc Reid presents Bam! 172 Hellaciously Quick Stories.