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Friday, April 29, 2016

Author Interview : Richard Abbott, author of ‘Far from the Spaceports' (Part 1)



Read up, the first part of the Interview with Richard Abbott, author of 'Far from the Spaceports.' To come up, with a concept such as this is a brilliant matter, in itself. It might be all about space and AIs, yet it is not. There are so many sub-plots, and so much more to understand in this book, that you might just not ask, Scotty to Beam you up, after all, and instead ask Richard Abbott to Folks...  

How did ‘Far from the Spaceports’ happen? Could you describe the journey?

The journey actually began many years ago, on a family holiday when my son and I devised the title song for a competition on a wet day. A few of the words we made up are there in Chapter 3. 

So there the matter rested until many years later, on another holiday when I visited the Scilly Isles for the first time, I thought how atmospheric they were, and how perfect for storytelling. 

But rather than set it in the past, the idea collided with another interest of mine – artificial intelligence – and the story started to unfold. A bit of a winding track, I suppose, but it all made sense at the time!

How did you bring about the two main characters, Mitnash and Slate?

Well, I wanted a human at the centre of the book. But because human-machine relationships are key to the plot, I also wanted an AI there as well – a persona, as I call them in the book.
 
So, what more natural than to make them working partners, who provide a great deal of mutual support and reassurance as well as technical help. 

A lot of the book focuses on their emotional bond as well as the patterns of work. What would it be like to work with an AI as your partner?

What kind of research did you put in it?

Three kinds, really. First, I wanted to make the science bits plausible for where we might get to in another few years... I mean things like journey times, delays in sending messages around, and so on. How far in the future am I thinking? Maybe a hundred years, though I am deliberately vague about timescale.

Secondly, there were the financial details which, although a little exaggerated, do reflect some of the ways people try to deceive one another with money.
Scilly Isles in the UK. From Wiki
 
Finally, and most enjoyably, places on the (real) Scilly Isles here in the UK have found their way into the plot. These are a little disguised and changed, but are still recognisable. For example, there is a bar called Fraggle Rock, which in the story got changed to Frag Rockers. The owner of the real bar is not called Glyndwr!

What according to you is different about your book?


As you mentioned in your review, there are no space battles! I wanted to write something that reflects everyday life, plus something of a finance/crime mystery. 

I enjoy reading space opera with grand fleet battles, but I didn’t want to write a book like that.

Also, when many people write about space they jump straight to an interstellar empire of some kind, but I wanted to focus on something much closer at hand – there is no Star Trek style warp drive, no instantaneous communication, just the technologies we know, but up scaled a bit.

How would you relate the lives of characters to the lives today? Especially, today?

I think there are a lot of relevant themes in the story – financial fraud and hacking are, sadly, all too common today. We struggle already to defend against these without giving up too many of our liberties in the process. 

As and when we spread out to other parts of the solar system, there will be more places for criminals to hide, and they will find more creative ways to ‘trade’.
 
To protect against technically skilled attacks, we will need the same skills in defence – and we do need them already today. So, my lead characters have to be able to debug, hack into, and fix the systems they come across, and they usually have to act before any official approval can come through.

But outside tackling crime, my belief is that the patterns of human relationships – trust, liking, love, and their opposites – will stay the same wherever we spread and whoever we meet.

How did the entire sequence of events come about, especially the economic fraud in space and human settlers up there?


Well, in my day job I get to see how people today design computer systems and work processes to challenge fraud – or indeed to question actions, which are in fact legal, but are widely believed to be immoral, such as evading taxes by means of clever accountancy work. I didn’t particularly want to write about the present time, so I started imagining, how these themes might develop in the future. 

Neil Armstrong in 1969. From Wiki
Buzz Aldrin in 1969. From Wiki
As for settling other planets and moons, I have wanted to see this since watching the early Apollo space missions, when I was a child – I was 10 when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, first walked on the Moon. 

I’d like to see some kind of human settlement away from the Earth in my lifetime – it’s great to hear about the people on the International Space Station, but it would be even better if the location was somewhere on another celestial body.


You can Buy the Book, here.
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