Interview: Adrian Tchaikovsky

by Allen Stroud

Interview: Adrian Tchaikovsky
October 16, 2019 Parallel Worlds

Every month, Parallel Worlds will feature an interview with an amazing content creator or personality working in science fiction, fantasy, or horror. This month, we have award-winning author, Adrian Tchaikovsky, best known for his Shadows of the Apt epic fantasy series and his Clarke Award-winning science fiction novel, Children of Time.

Welcome to Parallel Worlds, Adrian!

So, what’s with the spiders? Many of your books feature non-human elements; Kinden in your earlier Shadows of the Apt novels, but also the animal elements in the Echoes of the Fall and Dogs of War, and of course spiders and octopuses in the Children of Time series. Is this intended to be a metaphor for parts of society or just an interesting story to tell? 

I used to say it was all tied up with Kafka and Pelevin and the tradition of using insects to highlight human characteristics, mostly to cover up the fact that I just really, really like insects and spiders and most other things that most people don’t like. However with Children of Time this did turn into a serious theme. The story is about empathy with the other, and the problems therein, and spiders are the ultimate other. I don’t think there’s any creature on earth more disliked by a majority of people than spiders, certainly in the west, and so they become the most useful vessel for telling a story about the need to overcome differences.

For many people, interaction in our workplace might often be the only human contact outside of family life. Now you are writing full time do you find you hermit away or do you find time to socialise as well?

I do miss the social side of work, though not the work itself. Social media does step up to the plate a bit, and beyond that there’s a good local community of writers here in Leeds and we get together every so often.

A number of your works have been published by Tor/Pan MacMillan but you have also had works published by Head of Zeus, Solaris, and a variety of other publishers. Do you discuss your planned novel with publishers before you write them or do you write them and then see who wants to publish them? 

It varies from project to project. Some are just a perfect fit for certain publishers based on length or style. Others go out on general tender. Still more are sequels to existing works which naturally go to the publisher of the original.

You have had stories and anthologies with a variety of small presses such Newcon Press and Fox Spirit. What are the advantages or differences with working with the smaller independent presses compared to the bigger organisations?

I suppose with me the main thing is length, as I haven’t had short fiction published by a large publisher. Beyond that, the process is often very similar. There is a definite small press community in the UK, though, which is very friendly and welcoming, so you can feel more personally involved in the business.

We know you love roleplaying games (RPGs). Which one is your favourite, and why? Do you prefer to play or to be the Game Master (GM)?

These days I am usually the GM, often because I’m the driving force in getting a group together or introducing new players. I tend to default to D&D 5th Edition, as it’s very easy to teach and learn, but I’ve played a wide range of games in my time. I’m currently trying to get a game of Legacy: Life Amongst the Ruins going with one group or another as that’s a system which looks fascinating — it’s a game that focuses on the long-term story of factions and groups rather than individual characters.

What are you reading right now and what type of fiction do you enjoy reading?

I’ve just finished an advance copy of Beneath the Rising which is an upcoming horror/science fiction from a new writer called Premee Mohamed, which was very good. Before that I read Gareth Powell’s excellent Fleet of Knives, and Aliette de Bodard’s House of Sundering Flames, both sequels in excellent series.

If you could choose only one game for the rest of your life, what would you choose?

It feels as though I got locked into that choice when I first started with World of Warcraft (WoW)…

Do you play other computer games? If so, which games? And on what platform?

I play a few on PC – WoW has always been my mainstay and I’ve played at a variety of levels depending on how much time I have. I tend to pick up and put down ‘Roguelike’ games as and when — Nuclear Throne, Risk of Rain II and Dicey Dungeons most recently — just to have something to casually dip into.

Have roleplaying games, computer games, or board games inspired any of your stories? 

Shadows of the Apt arose out of a roleplaying game I ran in university, which left me with a very fleshed-out world to work with when I finally got around to writing in it. More consciously, Spiderlight is overtly exploring fictional takes on morality in a very D&D-feeling world. Other than that, I’m so steeped in RPG-style tropes that I suspect they crop up everywhere. Not to mention some explicit mentions in projects like Walking to Aldebaran and Doors of Eden.

You’ve talked about a number of books you’re working on and soon-to-be-published projects. Which of these are you most excited about, and why? (We can’t wait for the Dogs of War sequel).

The next big book is Doors of Eden, which is a bit of a tangent for me: a big story mostly set real world, modern day except for all the bits about alternative timelines and evolution. I’m just finishing edits on the Dogs of War sequel, as you mention, and I have a number of upcoming novellas from Solaris and tor.com, including one later this year, Made Things, which is my fantasy thieves’ guild story, whilst also being my fantasy emergent AI story. Creepy little puppet larcenists, basically.

You have written both fantasy and science fiction, but your work often has elements of horror and some have described it as grimdark, or dark fantasy. I know you’ve recently been working on a space opera too. How do you feel about the various genre and subgenre labels and how they relate to your work? 

For me, at a nuts and bolts level, it comes down to how anchored a particular project is in reality — so when I’m doing what I consider hard science fiction, like Children of Time, it means I work with the science as I can best understand it: research, consult, and try to ensure that everything in the book at least isn’t openly contradicting the current understanding in the field. With space opera that loosens up a bit, and the continuum moves on towards fantasy, and then high magic fantasy, where consistency takes up the slack from reality. And there’s the point in the middle where the ‘science’ is sufficiently advanced, as the man says, that it’s more a matter of working out a consistent framework for what it can do, rather than knowing how it does it.

Out of all the books and stories you’ve written, which is your favourite character, and why?

I think possibly Doctors Catt and Fisher from Redemption’s Blade (they have to come as a pair), because they were such ridiculous fun to write. A pair of academic rogues, one of whom talks far too much and gets himself into no end of trouble, that his luckless cohort has to dig him out of.

Who would you say is your real life hero or your most significant inspiration?

I grew up on David Attenborough documentaries, and he was a huge influence on me, giving me the focus on the natural world that seems to go through most of my writing.

Adrian Tchaikovsky is published by Tor, Head of Zeus, Fox Spirit, Rebellion and Newcon Press. His next novel, Doors of Eden, will be published by Pan Macmillan and doesn’t yet have a publish date.