The origins of SLOW BULLETS, as revealed by Alastair Reynolds


(Image courtesy of Cheryl Morgan)

On his site APPROACHING PAVONIS MONS BY BALLOON, Alastair Reynolds discusses the roots behind the recently released novella SLOW BULLETS.

Like many of my stories, this one had a very long gestation. For several years I’d been playing around with two completely separate story ideas. The first concerned a prison ship, loaded with an assortment of the good, the bad and the ugly, suddenly catapulted into a situation where only the collective wisdom of those on board is going to save the day. I could see the opening scenes in my head – a battle-scarred planet, soldiers and POWs being loaded onto transports, former enemies forced into close confinement with each other. Then something goes wrong…

But that was as far as it went; all I had was the outline, not a stab at the material, as I knew that something was missing.

The second idea was also only a series of outlines. I’d become fixated on the idea of scribes, of regiments of monk-like scholars being forced to transfer information from one medium to another, by hand … I could see them sitting in the hulk of a crashed ship, half submerged in some alien sea, trying to preserve as much knowledge as possible from the ship’s dying memory. Perhaps they’d been doing this for long that they barely remembered what the ship was, or where it had come from … all that mattered was the task of transcription. The monks had to work to the point of exhaustion, though, because on some level time was against them.


The performance started. I enjoyed it, but some part of my mind was busy beavering away on the connections between those two story ideas. One by one the pieces began to fit together. By the end of the evening, I was in no doubt that I could write the implied story. I knew it was going to be a larger piece – a novelette or maybe even a novella. But even then I didn’t anticipate that it would still make me more than a year, and that the finished article would be closer to 50,000 than 40,000 words.

When Marty Halpern contacted me in April 2013, asking about the possibility of a novella for Tachyon Books, it was already more than a year since I’d found a way to merge the two ideas … and it would be the better part of a year again before Marty had the story. At one point I rewrote the entire thing without using a single comma or quotation mark… before sense prevailed.

Read the rest of Reynolds’ revelations at APPROACHING PAVONIS MONS BY BALLOON.

For more about SLOW BULLETS, visit the Tachyon page.

Cover art by Thomas Canty.

Design by Elizabeth Story.