Anyone With A Heart – GUEST POST by Gareth L. Powell (DESCENDANT MACHINE)
ANYONE WHO HAD A HEART
Gareth L. Powell
The composer Burt Bacharach is quoted as saying:
They put a label on my music. They called it ‘easy listening’. I don’t think my songs are easy listening. I don’t think ‘Anyone Who Had a Heart’ is easy listening.
As a science fiction author, I totally get where he was coming from. Often, we write about the most serious of subjects without half our audience noticing because, as Bruce Sterling observed, “We can play with Big Ideas because the garish motley of our pulp origins make us seem harmless.”
A spoonful of sugar, as Mary Poppins sang, often helps the medicine go down.
Descendant Machine is my tenth novel, and I’ve started to notice a pattern. All of my books are about the deep questions that occur to me late at night. My characters are often grappling with questions of who they are, what defines them, and what their purpose is in the world, but those themes are always wrapped in a fast-paced adventure story. I guess that means you can enjoy them at whatever your preferred level might be.
You can read the Ack-Ack Macaque trilogy for the dogfights and sweary monkey without necessarily engaging with the underlying explorations of what it is that makes us human, and you can read Embers of War without pondering the psychological after-effects of war and the nature of redemption.
Similarly, you can read Descendant Machine as a spectacular space romp with talking spaceships, impossible odds, and bickering characters without once considering the political satire or the deeper examinations of duty and self-sacrifice. I like to wrestle with ideas and issues, but I have no desire to preach. I’m writing as a way to understand the universe. I’m figuring this stuff out for myself as I work through the story, and I want my readers to be entertained while I’m doing it.
I’m constantly fascinated by the ethical implications of advanced technology, particularly in the context of artificial intelligence and biotechnology, and impact on society, morality, and the human condition—and yet I also want to tell the sort of stories I love to read.
On Twitter, I described this as my “most Gareth L. Powell novel so far,” and I think that’s probably true. Anyone who’s read the Embers of War books or last year’s Stars and Bones will appreciate the relationship between the strong-yet-flawed female protagonist, Nicola Mafalda, and her sarcastic starship, the Frontier Chic.
I seem to gravitate (no pun intended) towards lone space captains out on the ragged edge of explored space. I also seem to have a habit of creating nonhuman characters, from the engineer Nod, who acted as a gnomic Greek chorus in the Embers trilogy, to Sam the talking cat in Stars and Bones, and now, in Descendant Machine, the alien whose name translates to ‘Allergic-to-Seafood.’
Mainly, though, I’m trying to create characters who are recognisable adult humans. Adults who understand that not all problems can be solved with violence; that not all scars are visible; and that it’s the traumas of our past that often guide our actions in the present.
Descendant Machine is a fast, action focused space opera with a refreshingly adult approach to characters and emotions that firmly make it feel fresh and modern.
I hope you enjoy the hell out of Descendant Machine, at whatever level you decide to engage with it. It isn’t easy making a story easy to read. But if there’s one underlying theme I hope you pick up on, it’s my belief in the power of hope in the face of darkness, and the potential for individuals to rise above their circumstances and find a path towards redemption and renewal.
Descendant Machine is available from Titan Books NOW
Gareth L. Powell is a British author known for using fast-paced, character-driven science fiction to explore big ideas and themes of identity, loss, and the human condition.
He has twice won the coveted British Science Fiction Association Award for Best Novel, and has become one of the most-shortlisted authors in the 50-year history of the award, as well as being a finalist for the Locus, British Fantasy, Seiun, and Canopus awards.
His novels have been translated into German, Spanish, Catalan, Russian, French, Italian, Japanese, and Croatian, and his Embers of War trilogy is currently being adapted for television.