Interview: Alastair Reynolds

Tell us a bit about your story.  What’s it about?

It concerns a soldier in a future battlefield, who is critically wounded. The story is about the soldier’s predicament once he receives medical assistance, while still in the combat theatre.

What was the genesis of the story—what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?

I’d read an article in one of the science magazines about a concept called the “trauma pod”—a kind of portable robotic surgical facility, primarily intended for battlefield deployment (although it would undoubtedly have other applications).

My immediate response was unease—it seems that a lot of recent technological developments (smart combat armour, exoskeletons etc) have been in the direction of making war more, rather than less, likely. So I took my unease and ran with it.

Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?Most authors say all their stories are personal.  If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?

I made a number of false starts on it before the story clicked, but once I had the momentum going, it wasn’t too difficult—or no more so than a dozen other stories I’ve finished lately. Is it personal? Obviously, I have no experience of being wounded in combat (thankfully). But I spent a lot of time unwell as a kid, many, many months of my life in hospitals, usually plugged into one machine or another, be it a drip-feed or oxygen unit. I know what it’s like to spend weeks in an oxygen tent. It took me a while to realise that this is the reason so many of my stories and novels feature characters in medical situations—there are lots of scenes where someone is in a bed, surrounded by machines.

What is the appeal of power armor/mecha? Why do so many writers–or you yourself–write about it? Why do you think readers/viewers/gamers love it so much?

I can see the logic of power armour in certain situations but there’s also an element of wish fulfillment—being super strong and invulnerable—which I think it is important to push against, or at least pick apart and question.

What are some of your favorite examples of power armor/mecha (in any media), and what makes them your favorites?

I’m not sure if it counts but Ripley’s power-loader from Aliens must be the coolest exoskeleton. I remember when I saw the film for the first time—when we see the power-loaders being used in the cargo bay, I remembering thinking: I really hope Ripley uses one of those to beat up the alien!