AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Alastair Reynolds

How did the story of “Wrecking Party” come into fruition?

I’d committed to writing a story for the anthology, and I didn’t think it would be terribly difficult as I’m a big fan of westerns. But as the deadline rolled around I found inspiration lacking! Fortunately something came up out of the blue. I read a magazine article about these incredible staged steam train wrecks that were done in the 1890s or thereabouts as a kind of insane mass spectator sport. It’s no surprise that people got killed! I can’t remember the exact train of events (get it?) but that article led me into the story, with its mixture of Western elements and science fiction, artificial intelligence stuff. Often my own creative thought processes are a bit opaque after the event.

Out of the large cast of characters, which ones did you find the most difficult to capture and why?

I have to say, once I got going on the story, the characters just sort of happened without too much difficulty. I’ve watched a ton of westerns so it was easy to come up with a town marshall, deputy and so on. Of course, I watched a few more while I was writing the story, just to get a better feel for the dialogue. I wasn’t shooting for authenticity, just a kind of classic western feel. We all know that the wild west was a fiction, by and large, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t tonal conventions, archetypes and so on.

How did the actual history affect the creation of the story? Did it force you to accept certain aspects that you normally would have annulled, or was it something you took as a challenge?

I suspect I had it easy as a Brit, writing into this period—I wasn’t weighed down by too much actual knowledge. If I was trying to write something that was scrupulously correct with regard to its period details and historical references, I would have found it overwhelmingly difficult, but I decided to take a much looser approach to the theme.

Machine intelligences coming down to ensure the law has an intriguing concept. In the same capacity of Miss Steel, what kinds of things do you think such intelligences would be doing today?

Miss Steel disclosed her identity, but in reality if there *were* alien artificial intelligences wandering around the Earth, I doubt we’d have a clue that they were here. Who knows what they might be enforcing? Something totally incomprehensible to us mere humans!

What is the appeal of  “weird west” fiction? Why do writers—or you yourself—write about it? What do you think readers like about it?

I’m just a huge fan of westerns, period. They’re all weird on some level because they have such tenuous connection to historical reality. I visited the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum once. It was very good, but they had a life-sized reconstruction of the actual Gunfight at the OK Coral, which it turns out was nothing like the way it is ever depicted! It was over in about 12 seconds! The original Gunfight (the one with Deforest Kelly!) is one of my favorite westerns but I’m also a huge fan of Tombstone, which is just a terrific film. As for fiction, I’ve read a few “straight” historical westerns but not too much in the way of “weird west” fiction.

What are some of your favorite examples of weird westerns (in any media), and what makes them your favorites?

Tricky, as I’ve read and seen so few. I had mixed views on the Wild, Wild West film and I don’t remember the original series it was based on.

What can we expect to see from you in the future?

On the Steel Breeze, my second book in the Poseidon’s Children sequence, is already out in the UK, but the US edition comes out in 2014. I should have some short fiction out this year—I’ve been quite busy—but it’ll be 2015 before I publish the third and final Poseidon’s Children book—title still to be announced.