When Andy Weir’s The Martian came out in 2014, some people said it was like “Robinson Crusoe in space.” But just as Robinson Crusoe is a good enough of an idea to work in multiple stories, so too is Robinson Crusoe in space. Hence we have Binary/System (paperback, digital), an epic new sci-fi novel by Helix writer Eric Brown.
Let’s start with the basics. What is Binary/System about?
It’s a sci-fi adventure about a woman, Delia Kemp, who’s stranded after a starship accident on a very hostile alien world. The planet itself is hostile, in that it’s undergoing a sub-zero winter, and is about to phase into a scorching summer. Though the aliens are pretty hostile, too. Well, some of them are. They want her dead.
Of course. So where did you get the idea for Binary/System, and how different is the finished novel from that original idea?
I love crashed starship stories, and I like alien world tales, and stories of action and adventure. I’ve always wanted to write about a kind of Robinson Crusoe figure in space. The finished story is pretty much how I envisaged it from the start, though various aspects of the novel I never foresaw, such as her relationship with some of the kindly aliens, for example, and some of the plot twists. Novels always change in the writing, to a greater or lesser degree, and the finished product often supplants the writer’s memory of the original conception. In this case, though, I recall I wanted to write a light, fast-paced adventure about a resourceful heroine, and that’s what I ended up with.
As you said, Binary/System is a science fiction novel. But what genre or genres do you think it falls into and why that?
I suppose it falls into the sub-genre of planetary romance/adventure: feisty lone hero battling against all the odds and coming up trumps…if that’s a genre.
Binary/System is not your first novel. But do you think there are any writers or books that were a big influence on it, in terms of both what you wrote and how you wrote it, who were not an influence on your earlier books or your style as a whole?
Jack Vance was an influence on Binary/System. Not so much his ornate, convoluted prose style, but his Planet Of Adventure novels, in which a spacer is stranded on a very alien world. I loved those books when I first read them in my teens. Other influences include Michael Coney, in terms of clean, pared down prose.
What about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or video games? Do you think any of them had an impact on Binary/System?
None whatsoever. I don’t care for science fiction films, with a very few exceptions.
And this is my last “influence” question, I swear: When not writing your own novels, you review them for The Guardian. How do you think reviewing other people’s books has impacted your writing?
On one level it’s dispiriting, knowing that there’s so much that is good out there, and that you’re in competition with all these other books. In another way, it keeps you on your toes. I wouldn’t say that reviewing has impacted much on my own writing, though.
As you know, there’s always a big push for sci-fi novels not to be one-off stories, but to instead be parts of a series. So, the question is: Is Binary/System a stand-alone novel, or part of a series, and why is it whatever it is?
Well, that’s a question, isn’t it. Let’s just say that, in the unlikely event of Binary/System being a runaway best-seller, that I’ve left plenty of opportunity to write more in this universe: we have Delia’s further adventures in space, and the threat of the evil aliens to contend with…
You said earlier that you don’t like most science fiction films. But has there been any interest in adapting Binary/System into a movie?
No interest, but it’s early days yet. I’m expecting Spielberg to come knocking any day soon.
If it was to be made into a movie, who would you like to see cast in the main roles and why them?
I don’t really keep up with actors these days.
Finally, as I mentioned earlier, Binary/System is not your first novel. If someone really enjoys it, which of your other books would you suggest they read next and why that one?
If they like Binary/System, then the obvious choice for the follow-on read would be Helix, which is a rip-roaring space opera adventure. I also think readers would also like the Bengal Station trilogy [Necropath, Xenopath, and Cosmopath], which combine space opera, adventure, and crime.