Friday 18 July 2014

GUEST BLOG: Have I created a Monster? - Tom Harper

Here at Falcata Times, we love to play host to authors.  Here with Zodiac Station (Hodder, 19th June) recently released, we couldn't wait to find out about how he created his Monster.  Here's what Tom had to say: 

My latest book, Zodiac Station, came out last week.  It’s my twelfth novel, and it’s not like the others.  Those were easy to describe, in their various ways: some were straight historical novels, some were thrillers about history.  Zodiac Station is different.

One review described it as a techno-thriller.  Another as horror.  SFX magazine gave it a four-star review, and my publicist is muttering about sending me to the World Science Fiction convention.  My father texted to describe it as ‘Mary Shelley meets Michael Crichton’, which I liked.  Amazon’s blurb says it’s ideal for fans of Dan Simmons, which is flattering, and Kate Mosse, which I don’t see.  My contract says something about ‘conspiracy thrillers in the vein of John Le Carré’, but no-one pays any attention to that.  The world ‘chiller’ gets used a lot, probably because it’s set in the Arctic.
Perhaps they’re all right.  The book’s about a remote research station, high in the Arctic, where bad things start happening to the scientists.  More than one review mentions The Thing, which is indeed an apt comparison.  That would account for the science fiction.

There are certainly scientists in my book, and one or two of them might be mad.  There’s a lifeless, alien environment which could kill them at any moment, populated by hairy, man-eating monsters.  There’s Zodiac Station itself, a steel canister parked on the ice like a marooned spaceship: think a more oblong Millennium Falcon.  Buzz Lightyear cameos.  Yet I still insist it’s just a contemporary thriller.

There’s something about the Arctic that puts us in mind of space.  It’s the most otherworldly place on Earth (it looks a lot like Planet Hoth); it’s where Superman goes to feel at home.  Read an Arctic thriller (other brands are available), and chances are the author will have one eye on the stars.  Fallen satellites, crashed meteorites (possibly bearing extra-terrestrial life) – to say nothing of interdimensional portals, cosmic polar bear deities, aliens and predators.  It’s a far-out place.

And we’ve always known it.  To see the Northern Lights, as I did on Svalbard, is to see particles from the sun pouring through a gap in the Earth’s magnetic shield.  To the ancient Greeks, the Northern Lights were chasmata, rifts in space that opened doors to other worlds (an idea Philip Pullman picked up and ran with); the Vikings believed they formed a bridge between earth and heaven.  Other cultures have seen them as celestial foxes, dragons and ghosts.  Native Americans understand them as the distant flicker of battles waged between good and evil.  To Gerald Manley Hopkins, the Northern Lights were ‘a new witness to God.’  However you look at it, it’s somewhere at least halfway to another world.

The funny thing is, I didn’t realise any of that when I started Zodiac Station.  I wanted to write about the Arctic, just as it is.  I wanted to convey the sense of cold, the isolation and the paranoia of a remote research base, with a few nods to my literary predecessors.  I wasn’t interested in science fiction: I wanted to explore science fact, the issues of a changing planet that play out at the poles.  I’d never even seen The Thing (in any version), before I started the book, though in retrospect it’s such an obvious point of reference.


What have I created?  All I know is, it’s the book I wanted to write, about a place that’s loomed large in my imagination since childhood.  If gods and monsters have crept in, it’s not because I took them: it’s because I found them there.

Whatever it is, I hope you like it.

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