Today I am interviewing Ken MacLeod, author of the new science-fiction/fantasy novel, The Corporation Wars: Emergence, final book in the Second Law trilogy.
◊ ◊ ◊
DJ: Hey Ken! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Ken MacLeod: Thanks for the interview! I’m a science fiction writer from Scotland, and The Corporation Wars: Emergence is my seventeenth novel. I was born on the Isle of Lewis in 1954, and my family moved to Greenock, an industrial town on the Firth of Clyde, about ten years later. I got hooked on science fiction in my early teens, and it made me want to be a scientist. I studied zoology at Glasgow University and went on to attempt a PhD in biomechanics at Brunel University in West London. I ended up with an MPhil many years later, by which time I’d married, had two children, and retrained and got a job as a programmer. After I finished my thesis in 1988 I decided to make a serious effort to write a novel, The Star Fraction, mainly to prove to myself and show my friend Iain Banks that I could do it. I didn’t expect it to be publishable and its first draft certainly wasn’t, but it went through a couple of other drafts after a push from Iain’s agent, Mic Cheetham. She became my agent (as she still is) and placed the novel with the first editor she took it to, John Jarrold. The book was launched at the Glasgow Worldcon in 1995, which was my first SF convention — in at the deep end, nobody knew me, and about an hour after I arrived I was dragged onto a panel with David Wingrove and Katherine Kerr. I met lots of fans and writers and had a great time. When my second novel, The Stone Canal, was published in 1996 I got a second two-book contract and recklessly gave up the day job. Since then I’ve been a full-time writer, along with two Writer-in-Residence posts which I deeply appreciated: at the Genomics Forum at Edinburgh University, and on the Creative Writing MA course (roughly equivalent to MFA) at Edinburgh Napier University. My novel Intrusion came out of the first, and my novel Descent was mostly written during the second. This year I was Guest Selector for the science fiction strand at the Edinburgh International Book Festival — again, an opportunity I greatly appreciated and I hope made the most of.
My work has swung back and forth from near-future political and social speculation to far-future space opera, and my latest trilogy is very definitely among the latter.
DJ: What is The Corporation Wars: Emergence and then the Second Law trilogy about?
Ken: The novels are about the emergence of self-awareness in robots preparing planets around another star for human settlement, and the attempts of an AI system controlled by the distant government of the Solar system to suppress them. To do this, it relies on the uploaded minds of human insurgents who got killed in bizarre ways in a final conflict back on Earth a thousand years earlier, near the beginning of the Twenty-Second Century. That war was between the Reaction and the Acceleration — ideological descendants of the alt-right and the ultra-left, basically — and was so devastating that everyone else got together to stamp them out and establish a basically utopian society, under a democratic world government called the Direction. It prepares for a long human future by sending seed ships to other stars, with thousands of people who’ve died naturally and volunteered in advance to have their brain-states scanned and stored for future rebirth as interstellar settlers — and likewise the stored brain states of dead war criminals who if necessary can be revived, downloaded at first to virtual environments for training and R&R, and then to combat robot bodies to be sent into action. Continue reading