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Paul McAuley: The ‘Alien Contact’ Interview

This month, SF Signal is featuring guest posts and interviews with the authors of Alien Contact edited by Marty Halpern. Today, we’re pleased to bring you an interview with contributing author Paul McAuley!

SF SIGNAL: Hi, Paul! What’s the appeal of alien contact stories for you?

Paul McAuley: I think this anthology shows just how flexible first contact stories can be. No matter when or where they are set, whether the aliens come to us or we stumble upon them, they all address that fundamental question: are we alone? It’s a simple but profound question, and until it’s answered I don’t think we’ll ever exhaust its speculative possibilities.


SFS: What was the first “alien contact” story you read that made a lasting impression?

PM: My favourite is Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous With Rama. Although his other two alien contact novels, Childhood’s End and 2001: A Space Odyssey are very fine, Rama combines a fine old-fashioned archeology story with a chilly cosmic sensibility. The aliens never appear. They are indifferent to us. We can only guess at their purpose, and admire the technology that allows their huge starship to survive a voyage of hundreds of thousands of years. I’m also a big fan of the gonzo alien biology in the film The Thing, John Carpenter’s take on the classic John W. Campbell story.

SFS: What do you think is the biggest threat to humanity’s future?

PM: Stupidity.

SFS: What’s the appeal of zombies for you and what made you decide to use it in “The Thought War”?

PM: I was inspired by an article in New Scientist about Boltzman brains, and thought it would be fun to take a credible scientific hypothesis literally. And that’s how I came to write a zombie alien invasion story set in one of my favourite parts of London. Why zombies? Not because they are dead, but because they are blankly enigmatic. Because they are slow and seemingly purposeless, but relentless. They keep coming.

SFS: What projects are you currently working on?

PM: There’s a novel, In the Mouth of the Whale, coming out in the UK in January. It’s about the consequences of wanting to live forever, and is set in the huge dust and debris disk around the star Fomalhaut. I’m working on another novel and a couple of short stories, but don’t want to say much about those because they aren’t anywhere close to being finished.

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