Christopher Priest interview - The Adjacent
What is The Adjacent about?
The story opens with Tibor Tarent, a professional freelance photographer, returning to England after the death of his wife Melanie in a terrorist incident. She was a nurse, working for a humanitarian aid medical centre in Anatolia, Eastern Turkey. Tarent learns that the type of weapon used against her is of urgent interest to the authorities, following a similar outrage in London. As Tarent learns more about what happened to Melanie, the widespread effects of adjacency weapons slowly become apparent to him and the reader.
Your stories often include the idea of misdirection and The Adjacent has been described as ‘a novel where nothing is quite as it seems’. Where does your interest in misdirection come from and how is this used in The Adjacent?
Misdirection is a literary technique used by many novelists. It engages the reader's interest in one theme, while covertly preparing them for another. This is a common technique in (e.g.) thrillers, but has also been used to devastating effect by major authors like Vladimir Nabokov, John Fowles, Umberto Eco, Thomas Pynchon, and others. Misdirection is a technique also used by stage magicians. Twenty years ago I wrote The Prestige to demonstrate this, using stage magic and its effects as a metaphor for literary technique. (Christopher Nolan's film of the book missed this point!) The Adjacent employs misdirection at many levels.
H.G. Wells appears as a character in The Adjacent. Were there any challenges using a historical figure in your story and why did you decide to use H.G Wells?
Although Wells is now mostly recognized (rightly) for his pioneering science fiction, he was for many years an important and influential social thinker, whose ideas were often controversial, unpopular with the authorities, and yet were often uncannily predictive. For instance, he warned of air warfare and its likely impact on civilians years before the First World War, campaigned for the creation of the United Nations, and so on. During WW1 he invented a radical scheme to help save the lives of British soldiers, but once he put it forward the authorities declared it a state secret and he was forbidden from knowing more about it. Only many years after his death was it established that his invention had been used all over the Western Front, and had indeed saved many young lives. As the incident was illustrative of the theme of The Adjacent, I thought it appropriate to celebrate this little-known event in his life.
Many of your novels, including The Islanders and The Adjacent, feature a setting called the Dream Archipelago. What is the Dream Archipelago and how has it developed as a concept throughout your books?
The Dream Archipelago began appearing in some of my short stories in the late 1970s, which were first published as a collection in 1981. Since then, I have often returned to them as a setting. The islands make up a vast archipelago that extends across the world, mostly tropical or sub-tropical, but with some exceptions. To the north is an industrialized continent, where many separate nations exist ... a long-running war is going on between two large alliances of these countries. By treaty, hostilities take place only on a huge and unoccupied southern continent (mostly ice-bound). The islands lie between, fiercely independent and officially neutral, and the inhabitants are by nature peaceable and languid, but because of the transits of troops to and from the war they are in a state of constant social and cultural upheaval. I find this a stimulating background for fiction, and which lends itself to metaphorical discussions of current themes, etc.
You’ve been writing novels since the 1970s. How do you feel your writing style has changed throughout the years?
I hope and believe it has slowly improved ... but that's a never-ending process. All writers have limitations to what they can do. I have always tried to push against the margins of my own limitations. I try to improve, try to make the novels more ambitious while at the same time playing straight with the reader and producing fiction which not only entertains while it is being read, but sows some seeds of ideas that I hope the reader will go on exploring afterwards.
Your official website’s journal mentions that you were writing The Adjacent and The Islanders in tandem. How did you approach working on these two novels simultaneously?
I began The Adjacent first, but it soon became obvious that it was going to be a long and fiendishly difficult novel to write. I kept taking breaks from it. During one of these breaks, I started a project I had been thinking about for years: writing a sort of Lonely Planet guide to the Archipelago. I did it island by island, and like all good gazetteers I did it in alphabetical order. I made a point of listing the islands with the best beaches, the cheapest hotels, the hottest nightlife, the islands where drugs were banned or allowed, the best places for family holidays, and so on. Soon I was working on both projects at once: I wrote The Adjacent during the days, and the gazetteer (which soon became known as The Islanders) in the evenings. It went well for a couple of months, but gradually The Islanders became my main interest. I took The Adjacent to a place in the story where I could safely suspend it, and concentrated entirely on The Islanders. After that was completed and sent in to the publisher, I took a couple of months' break, then went back to The Adjacent.
ABOUT THE ADJACENT
"The eagerly anticipated new novel from “one of the master illusionists of our time.” Wired
In the near future, Tibor Tarent, a freelance photographer, is recalled from Anatolia to Britain when his wife, an aid worker, is killed—annihilated by a terrifying weapon that reduces its target to a triangular patch of scorched earth.
A century earlier, Tommy Trent, a stage magician, is sent to the Western Front on a secret mission to render British reconnaissance aircraft invisible to the enemy.
Present day. A theoretical physicist develops a new method of diverting matter, a discovery with devastating consequences that will resonate through time.