Music To Write Science Fiction By
I listen to music when I write. For each novel, I make a playlist lasting up to twelve hours, and then listen to it repeatedly throughout composition. In the case of The Destructives, I made a second playlist to impart a different tone to the final third of the novel.
One way of talking about the novel is to talk about these playlists. The music is not simple inspiration. It’s like a decorative screen that I wrap around myself, providing seclusion and something to contemplate in the isolation of writing.
Spotify playlist followed by track guide:
Alien Observer – Grouper
Grouper’s music is a echoing lament. Simple lyrics are obscured by reverb. Phrases rear out of the gloom. “I’m going to take a spaceship, fly back to the stars/ Alien observer in a world that isn’t mine.” Alienation, then. The unbelonging that is a characteristic of the protagonist of the novel, Theodore Drown.
Moon – Ken Camden
From the album Space Mirror, Moon has the nostalgic rising tones of science fiction music from the first Space Race. It’s bygone futurism. Likewise, The Destructives is set in a stalled future. Humanity has ceded control of progress to the artificial intelligence or emergences (as they prefer to be known) and inhabit a future frozen in a state of collapse. The novel opens on the university of the moon, so I consulted all my moon-inspired music.
The moon, as Aldous Huxley noted, is both a rock and a god; that is, you must hold its empirical astronomical reality in your mind at the same time as its mystical meanings.
Bécs – Fennesz
Opens with a distorted discordant note picked out on what sounds like a disintegrating harpsichord. The whole piece reverberates with distortion and shakes itself apart. Obtrusive to the writing process but pertinent: this is a novel about destruction, so music that presses against its own confinement with such intensity that it becomes noise is appropriate.
Infinity – Yann Tiersen
The common theme to all these pieces is a simple melody set in a forbidding landscape. The fragile human form pacing across a pulverised moonscape. Twice in the novel, Theodore takes a hike with Dr Easy, an emergence and Theodore’s constant companion; first, they hike across the moon, and then, during Theodore’s stag party, they climb a mountain overlooking the Glencoe river. These landscapes are sublime; that is, they inspire fear and dread, and to walk around them is to take a tour of death. As if death itself was a landscape with varying gradients and features.
The Eagle – Daniel Avery
In The Destructives, music, art, books, TV, film and advertising have merged into the form known simply as loop. Social media persists but it is known by colloquial spelling of soshul.
Avery’s music contains clipped, looping phrases, stolen fragments of prose. His track The Eagle has a female vocal intoning the loop of “I just don’t remember one solitary thing”. It became the voice of Patricia Maconochie, freelance executive. Patricia’s wears corporate armour and becomes a founder member of the agency The Destructives. She’s ruthless, witty, always two steps ahead of everyone else: a lot of fun to write.
The loop is an art form native to the post-progress era of this novel.
Blue Chicago Moon – Songs: Ohia
The music of Jason Molina. He died in 2013 at the age of 39. A line from this song “Space is loneliness” infused The Destructives at the moment of conception. If a landscape is a frame of mind, then what mental states are inspired by the lunar surface, or the icy chaos regions of Europa?
The War on Consciousness – Mark McGuire
McGuire is also known for the music he made with Emeralds. Propulsive and orchestral, layers of guitar and electronica, like a machine that teaches you how to feel. Patricia listens to this track as she contemplates how to steal a solar sailship from the emergences. The title speaks to the novel’s concerns with consciousness, specifically the prospect that consciousness is not confined to humanity and could be induced in other substances.
More – Nils Frahm
Delicate evocative piano pieces. I didn’t want to lose sight of the particular notes of the heart. Theodore is so damaged by his addiction to weirdcore that his emotions are flattened and severed. Across the course of the novel, he learns to feel again. A process that begins with anger but also takes in loss, guilt, and love.
Theme from Solaris – Eduard Artemyev
Tarkovsky wanted his adaptation of Stanislaw Lem’s novel to be scored with ambient sounds. Composer Eduard Artemyev takes a prelude from Bach as the musical motif of the film. It sounds like it’s being played in a distant room on a remote planet. Again, a lament or loneliness surrounded by relentless and unforgiving space.
Encounter on Io – Amon Tobin
Tobin’s album Dark Jovian inhabits the same conceptual realm as The Destructives. The final section of the novel is set deep under the ice of Europa, a moon of Jupiter. This track twinkles and has a sweeping choral quality and then, in a thrilling shift, becomes submerged by the reverberating bass of something enormous. Imagine living under the gaze of the red eye of Jupiter. The red eye of a thwarted god.
Starless – King Crimson
I have come late to the music of King Crimson, listening over and again to the haunting introductory theme of this song (according to my iTunes library, for twenty-four times) as I drafted the final chapter of The Destructives. For the ending of the novel, I wanted a sense of loss and then redemption to emerge out of that loss.
Matthew De Abaitua’s debut novel The Red Men was shortlisted for the Arthur C Clarke Award. The Destructives is published by Angry Robot and is available now in the UK and US. Matthew can be found at www.harrybravado.com and is @MDeAbaitua on Twitter.
Theodore Drown is a destructive. A recovering addict to weirdcore, he’s keeping his head down lecturing at the university of the Moon. Twenty years after the appearance of the first artificial intelligence, and humanity is stuck. The AIs or, as they preferred to be called, emergences have left Earth and reside beyond the orbit of Mercury in a Stapledon Sphere known as the university of the sun. The emergences were our future but they chose exile. All except one. Dr Easy remains, researching a single human life from beginning to end. Theodore’s life.
One day, Theodore is approached by freelance executive Patricia to investigate an archive of data retrieved from just before the appearance of the first emergence. The secret living in that archive will take him on an adventure through a stunted future of asylum malls, corporate bloodrooms and a secret off-world colony where Theodore must choose between creating a new future for humanity or staying true to his nature, and destroying it.