I’m due a blog today, so I thought I might re-post this conversation from my forum. I invite all my readers to boggle at my true physics genius, and consider how I am now coming close to rivalling Stephen Hawking as the greatest theoretical physicist and cosmologist of all time. Either that, or I’m just plain lucky!
There’s a news story appearing all over the internet about how the laws of physics appear to be different in different parts of the cosmos. You can see it over at http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn19429-laws-of-physics-may-change-across-the-universe.html but it’s in a lot of different places (it was on the BCC news on TV this morning too). I seem to remember reading a novel you wrote – it was on the now defunct Rocket e-book reader platform – a space opera-style thing in the style of an Alastair Reynolds book, in which you featured heavily a universe where the laws of physics were different in different places around the galaxy. I couldnt see any mention of it on your home page now, although I am sure it was there. Can you remind me what it was called and if you wrote it or am I confusing you with another author here? Jen
And here is my reply…
Hi Jen – wow, you have a good memory. Yes, the book in question was called The Guns of the Wisdom, my one and only space opera novel to date.
I actually wrote it in the mid-to-late ’90s, on the request of my then agent, Maggie Noach. She sadly passed away a few years ago after an unexpected reaction to a hospital operation (in her fifties too, very sad).
Maggie signed me up after seeing all the publicity following the publication of For The Crown and the Dragon – which I had written at university, so a rather rough-around-the-edges work, looking back now. She suggested I write something new she could hawk around the publishers, and suggested high adventure-style science fiction, then pushed me in the direction of Iain M Banks, who I hadn’t read at that point (I came to love the culture series – still do, in fact).
The Guns of the Wisdom was the result. It was really a modern updating of the novel Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson, and featured as its hero a young protagonist called Horatio Bard who was kidnapped from a far future Earth and involved in a race to find a cure for the poisoned AI that runs human-controlled space, called The Wisdom – a kind of collective group-mind made up of the downloaded memories and souls of humanity’s most brilliant deceased minds.
One of the scientific conceits of the novel was that it was discovered that the laws of physics varied subtly across the galaxy, so there were parts of the galaxy where life couldn’t exist etc. The main effect of this variance on my plot was that there were continually shifting areas of space where my hyperspace equivalent (no-space: very zen) was a lot slower than other sectors, and that civilised parts of the galaxy could suddenly find themselves cut off, lapsing into isolation and barbarism as they discovered that previously accessible worlds now took hundreds or thousands of years to reach.
I finished my novel and handed it in to Maggie, who made all the usual agenty noises about it being a splendid work of genius etc, but then heard very little more after she sent it out. Oddly, I got a couple of rejection letters sent to me directly, rather than back to Maggie – one of which (from a large US publisher) had the classic line: ‘Enjoyed your novel, but the character names sound far too odd and too British.’ That obviously explains Banks’ lack of success in the USA with fucked up names like Bora Horza Gobuchol (read Consider Phlebas)!
At the same time, my day job career as one of the pioneers of the web went mentally successful and proceeded to shower me with money far beyond my competence while sucking every iota of free time out of my life for the next decade, so I abandoned writing and, a few years later, stuck The Guns of the Wisdom up on the Rocket E-book Reader web site. For those of you who weren’t there, the Rocket was a kind of proto-Kindle unit which launched about ten years too early to kick-start the current digital book revolution. My science fiction novel was available to download free, and as one of the few original non-out of copyright works, it was soon riding in the top five of the Rocket download charts until the company went bust. Yes, for a time I was more popular than Shakespeare, Dickens and Jules Verne!
At the time I was writing The Guns of the Wisdom, I was working for the science journal ‘Nature’, launching one of the first web-based magazines (www.nature.com), and had access to some of the UK’s greatest scientific minds to pester with the tiresome details of my novel writing. I seem to recall that most of them found the concept of a spatial variation in the fine-structure constant immensely amusing, and regarded me as their pet internet-geek-imbecile cum scifi-loving moron.
Well, who’s laughing now, science jocks! A lucky imagination and the need to have a fictional physics-based justification for space barbarians triumphs over academic rigour once more.
A reader FaceBook’d me the week before this science story broke and asked me if I had a copy of The Guns of the Wisdom I could sell them. I didn’t and I don’t, but some day I’ll brush the dust off the manuscript and see if I can’t do something with it.
At the moment, said MS is languishing in the loft on the hard drive of a fourteen-year Apple Mac with only a 3.5” floppy to export the work onto some semblance of modern computing. I think it might be in really early Quark Xpress-format too, and the hardware/software compatibility issues have always put me off trying to revive the beast.
Maybe one day I’ll have time – which could turn out to be a lot more relative than anyone ever expected!