Interview: Paul McAuley

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

If you travelled to an alternate history and met another version of yourself, what’s the one thing you’d both have in common?

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

It shares the background of my novel Cowboy Angels, a novel about a slightly more scientifically advanced version of the US interfering with other histories. The novel was about clandestine operations; I wondered what it would be like for ordinary soldiers to invade and police a version of New York that wasn’t quite their New York. Really, of course, it’s brings the dynamics of the Iraq war, or Vietnam, or Kenya, or Malaysia, or any of the other British and American post-colonial police actions much closer to home.

What kind of research did you have to do for the story?

It was all in the news, a little while back.

What are some of your favorite examples of parallel worlds or portal fantasies (in any media), and what makes them your favorites?

Kevin Brownlowe’s ‘It Happened Here’ and Philip K Dick’s The Man in the High Castle are two fine and very different takes on that perennial favourite – what would have happened if Hitler won the war?  Keith Roberts’ Pavane is not just an alternate history exploring the effects of the assassination of Elizabeth I, but one of the most lyrical ‘matter of Britain’ novels ever written.  Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula is the first in a series of novels and stories that take off from an alternate ending of Bram Stoker’s Dracula; immensely clever and entertaining, with a huge cast of characters borrowed from history and popular culture.  In Ursula Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven, Everyman George Orr, like George McWhirter Fotheringay in HG Well’s ‘The Man Who Could Work Miracles’, discovers that dreaming new realities into being isn’t as easy as he thinks it will be; an elegant and fiercely intelligent cautionary tale.