I was recently sent a copy of Extinction Game by Gary Gibson to read and review (you can see my review here). I don't read a lot of science fiction, but I read this one over the course of two days, and really liked it. So much, in fact, I asked Gary if he would answer a few questions for me.
To start with, can you tell us a little about your latest book, Extinction Game?
Extinction Game is my ninth novel since I started writing professionally back in 2004. Essentially the story is about what happens to the Last Man on Earth - a hoary sf cliche if ever there was one - when a bunch of other Last Men, Women, and Even a Dog from a bunch of other post-apocalyptic parallels come and rescue him to be part of a kind of exploration team exploring the multiverse for the benefit of a shadowy organisation.
Where did the inspiration come from, and which idea came first, the alternate worlds, or the various endings?
I originally had an idea for a short story called Touring the Apocalypse about a tourist guide whose job is to herd tourists from one alternate to another so they can witness the world ending in different ways, but then I thought why not make it into a novel? Actually, a few of my books have started out that way. It just seems a waste of a good idea to restrict it to just a few thousand words. That story still survives in the form of a scene in Extinction Game where Jerry Beche essentially has to do exactly that.
I understand there’s a sequel to come – do you plan on this being a series of books? Will we find the same characters within, or new ones?
I just completed the second book in the series, although the title hasn’t yet been finalised. The working title is The Deeps, but in my experience titles often fluctuate, so it might well change. The focus in the second book is on an entirely new character who arrives on the island where the Pathfinders - as the survivors from different apocalypses call themselves - are based. Unlike them, she’s not a survivor, but what she really is, as opposed to what she appears to be, is the driving force for much of the plot. Hopefully there will be a third book.
Can you tell us briefly about your previous books, and how this one differs from what you’ve written before?
Most of my previous novels were what you’d call space opera, for want of a better term. Two, Against Gravity and Final Days, were more in the vein of futuristic thrillers, I guess. But it felt like time for a change, and science fiction is a very broad field with a lot of room for trying different things, and if you don’t move and flex your creative muscles in different ways you run the risk of drying up creatively.
Have you always wanted to write SF, and if so why?
Honestly, I don’t know why, but as long as I remember it’s been there. SF helped me make sense of the world when I was young, it really did. It presented me with ideas and concepts and possible ways of living that I simply couldn’t have encountered any other way. It opened my eyes up at every turn, and made me realise the real world is a much more interesting place than you’d realise if you hadn’t been granted that kind of external point of view that sf grants you. I look at the world through sf-tinted lenses, and I think I’m the better for it.
Would you ever consider changing direction, into a different genre?
Everyone’s got a million ideas for all kinds of stories. I’ve got a great idea for a noir-ish 40s detective story set in Hollywood, for instance. But it means dropping one audience and going in search for another, and there are sound reasons why most authors - unless they’re successful and big enough their readers will follow them anywhere, regardless of genre and style - tend to stick with one particular genre. Maybe one day, if I sold a _lot_ of books, I could write that noir story, but not before.
What’s your average writing day like, are you disciplined about it?
I’m disciplined in my lack of discipline. Realistically, you don’t need more than a couple of hours a day to write or come up with ideas. So I waffle a lot in the mornings, or go on long cycling expeditions, and spend a couple of hours in the afternoon writing or working on outlines. When it gets close to a deadline, however, that changes, and I spend substantial parts of the day locked away and working.
What are your SF inspirations.. books, tv, films etc?
I pretty much sucked up Marvel comics from an early age, then progressed to a lot of sf getting published through the Seventies and Eighties, including New Wave authors like JG Ballard and Harlan Ellison, so they were definitely some kind of an influence. Slightly off-kilter, odd TV shows like The Prisoner, perhaps for that reason, appealed to me more than perhaps more straightforward dramas. I read a lot of cyberpunk in the Eighties, although I’d say a lot of the good Eighties hard sf, such as that written by Greg Bear and Gregory Benford, was also a strong influence.
Is there a book you wish you’d written?
The Southern Reach books by Jeff Vandermeer (I’m halfway through the second in the series right now), which for my tastes nicely synthesises the best parts of Lost - which I loved, more or less, right up until the last season and that awful, awful ending - and Roadside Picnic, a late Seventies sf novel by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky, which was later made into a film called Stalker and became the basis for a video game of the same name.
Do you get much time to read, what’s on your bedside table right now?
Right now I’m reading the second book in Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, and after that I might move on to Frank by Jon Ronson. I just finished How Music Works, and also The Bicycle Diaries, both by David Byrne. Ever since I got a Kindle my reading has increased exponentially, and I get through between thirty and fifty books a year. I think all authors can and should make time to read, and with a Kindle or similar device you can squeeze your reading into all kind of odd moments through the day.
My thanks to Gary for his time, and also to Pan Macmillan, who are giving away two copies of Extinction Game - pop along to the Competitions section for more info.