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The Confederation Universe:

An Essay By Peter F. Hamilton

Why? The most frequently asked question of them all. Why did you write the Night's Dawn?

Personally I think it's the polite way of asking: what the hell were you thinking of?

The Reality Dysfunction comes out as 1221 pages in paperback form, about the most uncommercial length you can write. The Neutronium Alchemist is 1259 pages. As I write this, the week before publication of The Naked God in hardback, Macmillan doesn't even know if it's possible to fit The Naked God into a single paperback, it's roughly 20% larger than Neutronium Alchemist. That comes to about 1.2 million words to get through. There are dozens of characters for the reader to keep track of by the time you do reach the end of The Naked God, and that's just principal characters. Different worlds and habitats to remember, histories… It's unashamed Space Opera. Worse, it has 'horror elements' erupting into the story.

In hindsight, it wasn't a good idea to write it at all. Good thing authors know so little about the practicalities of publishing.

Okay, so why did I write it. The simple answer is, I had an idea. That's the second most frequently asked question, for all SF authors, where do you get your wacky ideas from. We can't answer, of course, ideas don't have an origin, at least not in my brain. Though I do favour Eric Brown's theory that there's actually a little old lady in Leeds who runs a postal order service for SF writers, send her a fiver and she'll send you an idea. Trouble is, Eric never gives anyone her address.

So— I had the idea. The possessed coming back. After that it's a simple process of extrapolation. Why do they come back? There's a line in the trilogy about devil worshipers praying for centuries for Lucifer to appear, and nothing much seems to have happened. So in this case there has to be another factor introduced, an alien factor. The Ly-cilph were born.

Next, with the basic premise established, the exponential curve of possession sweeping across entire populations, I had to decide what kind of society would stand a chance against such an incursion. It didn't take a lot of thought before I settled on the traditional vast interstellar civilisation that seems to be the defining qualification of Space Opera. Besides, I've always had a very soft spot for the genre. I started reading EE Doc Smith's Lensman series when I was thirteen. It's the perfect age to be swept away by starships armed with planetbuster weapons, really black-hearted villains, heroic space pilots, and the Galactic Patrol. To the point at which I absolutely refuse to read the Doc today, I'm way too cynical these days, I'll just stay with the memories of good times.

As well as nostalgia, the galaxy-wide civilisation of humans equipped with supertechnology, is the perfect widescreen broadband spectacle to let an author's imagination loose in. There are few limits in such a field. Those I found come from my own memory and feeling. The 'old' style space operas tended to be fairly black and white affairs, a straight fight between good and evil. They also tended to concentrate on the hero and villain at the expense of everyone else. Fine back in the time Lensman was written, but the genre as a whole has moved on a bit since then. I wanted to tell the story in a way which illustrated what happens to the archetype little man, by which I mean what happens to society as a whole after such a gigantic physical and spiritual conflict. This is the notion which was the start of my downfall.

The example I always give is The Battle Of Britain. A conflict which saw the warrior heroes of both countries battling it out for supremacy in the most sophisticated technology of the era. Theirs is a fantastic story, full of heroism and struggle and sacrifice. All very well, but there were hundreds of thousands of people who lived underneath the dogfights in the sky, whose lives were going to undergo monumental change because of the conflict (whoever won). Ultimately what happens to them i.e. society as a whole, is more interesting.

It's the reason I shaped the political structure of the Confederation the way I did. At a point near the end of Naked God, I describe the Confederation as a vast middle class estate. In other words, very comfortable for the majority. So comfortable in fact, that its stability is guaranteed. However there's a very fine dividing line between stable and stagnant. Which is where the example of Norfolk comes in. Norfolk is the Confederation in extremis, where the whole social structure is rigid, yet there's little movement for change, so little that any call for change is regarded as revolution. The reason for this is the majority being content with its circumstances, or rather believing it is. The only way a society as large and entrenched as the Confederation can change is when change is forced upon it by an outside agency. Only in those circumstances will the old barriers break down, allowing the Kulu Kingdom to ally with the Edenists. If it survives its encounter with the possessed, and the truth of souls, the Confederation will emerge changed. There could be no other outcome.

In this case, the principal heroes and villains have their roles to play, but it is the result of those roles, the influence exerted on everyone else which is the important factor. Which is where the Skibbows, and others come in. The Skibbow family was originally intended just to show the effects of the outbreak of possession on an ordinary group of people. Then the classic author problem of characters taking over occurred. I couldn't kill off Gerald, what was happening to him was just too interesting. It happened a lot of times, to a lot of people. My original chapter notes had Louise travelling to Earth all by herself. That would have meant Genevieve being taken by the possessed way back at the start of Neutronium Alchemist. For all she's an obnoxious brat, twelve year old girls don't deserve that, so Louise got lumbered for the duration.

Which brings us to the characters, the last piece of the puzzle to be completed. With the theme decided, the stage set, you then need people to illustrate the story. Joshua, I simply couldn't resist. A Starship Captain in capital letters, young, handsome, rich, lucky, adored by girls, talented. What a prat. The trilogy was very nearly called Joshua's Progress rather than Night's Dawn. He has to grow up, to learn to take responsibility —a painful process for any of us. As to his surname, Bob Calvert was the lead singer of Hawkwind when I went to see them back in the 70's (giving my age away here), and I've never seen anyone with a stage presence quite like him, before or since.

Quinn, well he was just plain fun to write. Someone without a single redeeming feature, and all because he believes his world-view is not only right, but the only possible one.

My favourite character has to be Louise. The simple reason is the way she grows up; starting as a not quite air-head who wants to rebel but doesn't know how or against what. Someone who has a mind open enough to take in what she sees on her travels. Not by any means the epitome of goodness to oppose Quinn, but definitely decent.

I became very fond of them all. After six an a half years it was a tremendous relief to finish the trilogy. But at the same time, it was like waving goodbye to friends you've met on holiday and had a good time with, knowing that you probably won't see them again. At least not for quite a while.


September 29th 1999

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