Interview with Patricia Smith
Science fiction author Patricia Smith is the author of Time Split – a short but concise time travel novel which works on a single time line. She’s also written other science fiction novels, all of which reflect her interest in some way – the end of the world…
What I particularly like about Time Split is how real – or at least, plausible – the science and the process behind the science, is. Time Split also dives into not just the science side of science fiction, but also the human element, with particularly chilling detail given over to post nuclear fallout.
Add to that Patricia’s unique way of presenting an alternative history when it comes to the “Let’s kill Hitler” line!
Anyway. Here’s Patricia to tell us more about it – and more!
I love how you describe experiments at the start of the novel – the set up, results, possible conclusions and testing new hypotheses. This injects science into the novel and makes this a ‘proper’ sci fi novel. What was your motivation to do it this way?
Patricia: I want my stories to be based on actual science; they might be pushing the boundaries of science, but could still be possible. The reader has to understand what is going on. I did not want them to have to leave their beliefs at the door. I wanted them to have faith in the world I created. I feel it’s the only way to emotionally engage people.
Often living matter is a problem in experimentation in science fiction, but in Jason’s teleportation experiments it brings about an interesting (and in our case desired) side effect – time travel! Is this evidence that space and time are intrinsically linked, or that in science anything can happen?
Patricia: Electromagnetic fields would behave differently with inanimate and animated objects. An inanimate object can be encompassed by an electromagnetic field, but when a being produces its own electromagnetic field then it will influence the outcome of the field being project on to it, hence the introduction of living matter can have unforeseen circumstances.
Directly tackling the grandfather paradox is a bold and courageous move in any time travel novel but I thought it was handled really well! Did you have any problems during the writing process in this respect?
Patricia: I never really thought about it as being the Grandfather paradox, I just thought about it as time splitting at the point of the change and creating a new time stream from that point on. My writing process was I wanted to get from A-C and I had to make B believable to do so.
I read that the RAF police chased you whilst you were carrying out some research for your novel. Did this experience dissuade you researching other areas of the novel – or did it give you a heightened sense of adventure?
Patricia: It gave me a fright. Having a vivid imagination everything gets blown out of all proportion, of course and I had visions of getting arrested, which I probably would have been. I could not have told them what I was doing. Can you imagine it, “Oh, yes, Officer. I’m just seeing if this base was destroyed in a nuclear blast, whether Alnwick would survive.” That would have gone down well. Sometimes my research requires me to check out different weapons on the internet. I get a little bit worried about that because you never know who’s watching what sites you’re browsing.
I thought your description of nuclear fallout was brilliant and very emotive. How on Earth did you write that bit?
Patricia: I grew up towards the back end of the Cold War and was very much aware of the tensions between Russia and America. There was a great deal of fear about the possibility of nuclear war and it was a subject I had a morbid fascination for. I knew a little bit about the horrors of nuclear war, but again research was the key and the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima provided a lot of the information I used in the book.
If nuclear fallout isn’t bad enough you added more evil with the despicable Briggs! Are people inherently evil?
Patricia: Is it nature or nuture? I think some people might be inherently evil, but then it could be circumstances that made them that way. If you take a wolf out of the pack and put it with deer, it won’t become deer, it will still be a wolf at the end of the day, but you might be able to train it to protect the deer and not to eat them. I think there are people you have learned to prey on other people and are ready to take advantage of bad situations, people like Briggs.
I’ve read several time travel novels with a character named Jason. Can you share the time travel author beans on this. .. is it the “July August September October November” thing, or is it something completely different?
Patricia: I named my character after my cousin Jason who had a difficult start in life. He managed to turn himself completely around and I was so proud of him I wanted to call my character Jason in his honour.
You describe yourself as “absolutely nuts about astronomy and writing apocalyptic thrillers”. Do astrologers (not equal to astronomers) really have knowledge of the future and will they ever be able to predict the apocalypse? Or are they absolutely nuts?
Patricia: Some people might believe that the planets and suns do influence their destiny. The constellations may have been used as a calendar so that people knew when to plant and gather their crops and they were always embroiled in mythology so it’s understandable that these beliefs evolved into the astrology of today. I suppose predicting the future is just another step on from there.
In keeping with your astronomical interest you’ve written the “Distant Suns” series. Can you tell a little about this?
Patricia: Distant Suns is based around the idea of ‘What if Jupiter became a sun.’ How would this affect our planet and could we survive? With global warming a hot topic, my thinking was how much extra would it take to tip the balance. Still, run away global warming was not the only worry and again I leaned on my interest in astronomy to come up with further problems, all of which are more than possible, including Jupiter becoming a sun.
You’ve also travelled in the opposite direction along the z axis and written about 500 specialists living at the bottom of the sea. Naturally as an oceanographer I’m curious about this! Can you share anything about it?
Patricia: One fifth of the planet is land so my thinking behind Islands was what if you could occupy the ocean instead of the land. Most of the ocean would be way too deep, of course, but still a lot of the coastal shelves would be shallow enough to allow light to penetrate enough to support cities. My vision was huge cities at the bottom of the ocean, freeing up the land for the growth of food and possibly for leisure.
Your bio pic shows you standing in snow with no coat on. How do I explain that to my daughters?
Patricia: Thermals! I had full length thermals underneath my pants and top. Also, I never understood what they meant by the dry cold air not being as cold as the damp cold air in the UK, until I experienced it. I was a little bit cool, but considering it was -15, I would have expected a lot worse. The dampness is the killer, that and the wind, which can make a massive difference, dry air or not.
Apart from standing in snow, how do you spend your free time?
Patricia: As you stated before, I love astronomy. I have my own telescope and I love nothing more than going out on a crystal clear night to look at the stars. It just blows me away to see the mountains on the moon, rings around Saturn, Orion’s star nursery, the clouds on Jupiter – breath taking! During the day I also like hill walking, mountain biking and on a more sedate note, getting together for lunch with my lovely friends.