In Alastair Reynolds’s Blue Remembered Earth, the first in the near-future Poseidon’s Children series, an East African biologist’s dying grandmother leaves clues to a mystery that takes him to the Moon and beyond.
Blue Remembered Earth has a different setting than your earlier books. Why?
The setting is much closer to the present than in the other books, and more of it takes place on Earth. It’s also only the second book of mine set entirely within the solar system. I wanted do something that felt more realistic and grounded in current speculation. I’ve mentioned my admiration for Arthur C. Clarke many times; this is my attempt to do a mid-period Clarke novel under 21st-century constraints.
How are the three Poseidon’s Children volumes linked?
The intention is that each of the three books is fully formed as an independent novel. I think the danger with using the term “trilogy” is that it sets up particular expectations in the reader’s mind. I won’t fight against it being called a trilogy, but it is quite loose; there are only one or two overlapping characters between the volumes, and a fairly large shift of time frame. The big theme, I suppose, is the impulse to explore, to keep going.
You’ve written on that theme before.
I’ve touched on it before, but it’s really central to Poseidon’s Children. There’s a big ongoing dialogue in the books between advocates of human exploration and those who favor robotic missions. I’m trying to find a way to unify these apparently opposed viewpoints.
How did the industrial landscapes in Barry, Wales, where you grew up, influence your fiction?
Barry was full of rusted structures, decaying concrete, grass poking through disused railway lines. Barry is also where, in the 1960s, more than 200 steam locomotives were brought from all over the U.K. to be scrapped. It became world famous for its long lines of rusting steam engines, many of which were still there as I grew up in the ’70s and early ’80s—a real dinosaur’s graveyard. I’m fascinated by steam engines and with Victorian engineering generally, and as a corollary to that I’m fascinated by the idea of long-lived technologies.
Before turning to writing full-time, you worked as an astronomer in the Netherlands. What led you there?
An early interest led to reading books about the night sky, getting a telescope for Christmas in 1982, arranging to self-study astronomy at school (along with two other friends). I was never strong at maths, but I eventually got onto a university physics/astronomy course, and that led on to my Ph.D. and eventual employment.
What achievement from that time are you proudest of?
Lots of little achievements, no one big thing. I did not make a startling discovery or participate in one on any level. Unfortunately, that’s true of the professional careers of most scientists. You do good work, diligently.