R.B. Kelly, one of the debut authors at DBF 2016, is a writer of thrillingly dark futuristic fiction. Edge of Heaven, set in the twenty-second century, imagines a time when the habitable world is shrinking. The solution to this human and ecological crisis is Creo – a bi-level city, a dark and violent place – and a place you go when home is just a memory. Ahead of her appearance at Out of this World, a free lunchtime reading by debut authors, Rachel spoke with us about the origins of her futuristic tale.
Q. What inspired such a dark, futuristic story?
I’ve written fiction for as long as I can remember, but when I was in my teens, my dad gave me a copy of Ben Elton’s This Other Eden, and it completely changed the stories that wanted to tell. What I love about Elton’s early-nineties sci-fi is its conscience: he has a point to make – quite stridently – and his books engage with all sorts of issues that are increasingly important in terms of how we use and abuse this planet, and what might happen if we carry on the way we’re going. Fifteen-year-old me was absolutely captivated, and I knew those were the sorts of stories I wanted to tell. People call my writing dystopian, and I suppose I have to agree, but I’m not sure they’re dystopian in the same sense of a lot of modern dystopian sci-fi, which envisages some kind of catastrophic event that fundamentally changes the world and our way of life in the future. I’m more interested in extrapolating from the present and looking at how we might gradually keep taking wrong turn after wrong turn and end up in a place that, to our modern eyes, looks like somewhere we would hate to be living (even if my characters, for the most part, don’t see it that way!).
Q. What were the challenges in creating the metropolis of the future? Were you concerned to make it believable, for instance?
I always say that I can’t write somewhere until I can walk through it in my mind. I need to be able to feel the pavement beneath my feet, to smell the air, to feel the rain on my skin, to hear the sounds of the street, to see the buildings, and I believe that, particularly when writing a setting that enters into the story as a kind of secondary protagonist, it’s essential for a writer to be able to know it in this depth. So I wanted Creo to feel like somewhere readers felt like they knew, somewhere they could imagine themselves walking through. I tend to spend a great deal of time researching the science behind my writing so that (a) I understand how my future tech works, or at least the bare bones of it, and (b) any future science I use owes at least part of its ancestry to what we currently understand science to be capable of. So the main challenges I faced were that the book took 22 years of revisions and redrafts before it was published, and science spent those 22 years rattling along at a rate of knots, so the futuristicky sci-fi tech that made up my metropolis regularly became less science-fiction and more science-fact (and occasionally science-yesterday’s-news). That, and the fact that I have no head for physics and have been known to struggle with an iPhone…
Q. What have you read recently that’s resonated with you?
I’ve had a really great run with books lately! I’ve just finished The Girl With All The Gifts, which I loved for its world-building, its clever science, and for the fact that every time I think that we cannot possibly do anything more with zombies, there’s always an author ready to prove me wrong. Before that it was The Girl On The Train, which I rattled through in one night – I love it when a book can make me do that. And I also recently re-read a Star Trek classic (I’m a proud Trekkie): Spock’s World, because it’s a great book, and because there’s so much in that novel that’s incredibly prescient and relevant to where the world is at right now. I can’t remember when I first read it, but reading it again, post-Brexit, I’m inclined to suspect that its author, Diane Duane, has some kind of time travel device.