Exclusive Interview: “Infinity Gate” Author M.R. Carey
One of the hallmarks of the space opera genre is that these stories often take place across many worlds. But while that’s also true of M.R. Carey’s new sci-fi space opera novel Infinity Gate (paperback, Kindle, audiobook), as he explains in the following email interview, those many worlds are all Earth.
Photo Credit: Mark Mainz / Getty Images
To begin, what is Infinity Gate about, and when and where does it take place?
The easiest part of that question to answer is the last part. It takes place everywhere. We visit a lot of different worlds in the course of the story, though technically they’re all the same world — Earth — in different realities.
The story starts when a scientist from our own Earth, Hadiz Tambuwal, stumbles on the secret of trans-dimensional travel. Hadiz has a lot of ambitious plans for how to use this miraculous discovery to save the world from climate breakdown. Unfortunately, she very quickly runs into a huge league of alternative Earths, the Pandominion. They’re not an evil empire, exactly, but they’re very keen on maintaining a monopoly on movement between worlds. They see Hadiz as a threat, and they give orders to hunt her down.
This is all happening against the backdrop of a vast war between different Earths, with the Pandominion on one side and on the other an equally large federation of worlds governed by machine intelligences. And the war draws everyone into its orbit. A minor rogue and hustler named Essien Nkanika; Topaz Tourmaline, an idealistic schoolgirl from one of the Pandominion worlds; a robot spy, Dulcimer; and Hadiz herself. They’re not all on the same side or on the same page, but chance brings them together and they all have a part to play in determining the outcome of the war.
Ultimately, I guess it’s a story about conflict and about how far we can see the enemy as being genuinely human.
Where did you get the idea for Infinity Gate? What inspired this story?
I’m kind of embarrassed to say that it started with a map. I was thinking about multi-dimensional objects like hypercubes and orthotopes, and how hard it is to represent them in three-dimensional space. I started doodling a map of different realities: a spiral with different radiating arms representing different sub-divisions of worlds that share basic properties. It was just me messing around at first, but then I got to trying to imagine what it would be like to grow up with the knowledge that your own world was just one state among infinitely many, with all the other states existing somewhere.
It felt like a cool idea, but the landscape needed figures. Topaz Tourmaline — Paz — was the first character who came to me. She’s a kid who’s a citizen of this colossal empire, and has fantasies about serving in its armed forces — fantasies that are pretty seriously derailed when she meets an enemy spy from the machine hegemony and gets way too close to her.
I worked outwards from that relationship and a lot of things fell into place. Some of them were things that were on my mind in the first place — the climate crisis, the toxicity of empire — and some just came in organically. It’s a big, sprawling story, and it got bigger as it went along, but it still has a shape. Whenever it threatened to get away from me I reeled it back in.
You touched on this earlier, but is there a reason why the worlds of The Pandominion are different versions of Earth in a multiverse as opposed to different planets that are all populated by humans?
Relativistic physics, mostly. The Pandominion worlds all realized at a certain point in their development that they needed more space than they had and the stars were too far away to reach. How do you square that circle? You go sideways. If you can access neighboring universes you’re never going to run out of room — or food, or mineral resources.
There’s an argument George Monbiot makes a lot when he’s writing about the current crisis in western capitalism: That you can’t have infinite growth on a finite planet. But if you can just keep on expanding into the next planet, and then the one after that, there’s no crisis. The engine can keep going forever. I suppose part of the hook for the series is thinking about what the removal of those limitations might do to a society.
It sounds like Infinity Gate is a sci-fi space opera story…
An online reviewer called it a space opera that never leaves the Earth, which sounds about right. A lot of the focus is on exploring different societies. A lot of the main characters aren’t strictly human. There’s a robotic hive-mind. There’s interplanetary war.
But honestly, I think we’ve reached the point where dimension-travel stories have become a genre in their own right. I’m thinking of Micaiah Johnson’s magnificent novel The Space Between Worlds, of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s equally amazing Doors Of Eden, of Everything, Everywhere, All At Once…and of course the recent Marvel movies that have embraced this concept. Multiverses are definitely having a moment.
And at the end of the day they do something different from space opera. They’re often a way of exploring the “two roads diverged in a yellow wood” idea — the ways in which our lives are shaped by chance and external circumstance, the other lives we might have lived and the other courses history might have taken. Infinity Gate sits in that space.
Now, Infinity Gate is not your first novel; far from it. Are there any writers, or stories, that you think had a big influence on Infinity Gate but not on anything else you’ve written?
I had Adrian’s Doors Of Eden in my head a lot of the time. I tried my level best not to be influenced by it, but it’s a wonderful book and it’s doing something not too far removed from what I’m doing. It even has a sentient planet in it, which is something I’ve got in Infinity Gate. It’s there as a reference point, but I think I succeeded in pulling in a different direction.
How about non-literary influences; was Infinity Gate influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games? Because we’ve seen a lot of multiverse stories lately: the Marvel movies, Rick & Morty, Star Trek (though they’ve been doing it since the ’60s…).
I think it’s safe to say no to this one. I love the MCU, but the latest offerings (including Loki, the second Dr. Strange, and Quantumania) haven’t been among my favorites. I don’t think we share much in the way of DNA.
On the comics front, though, there was Jonathan Hickman’s run on the Fantastic Four, which did some really cool things with alternate realities. I think the sheer playfulness of that probably infected me a little.
Speaking of which, along with your novels, you’ve also written a ton of comics under your full name, Mike Cary, including a long and really good run on Hellblazer and an equally good one on Ultimate Fantastic Four. Did you ever consider writing Infinity Gate as a comic book?
No, it was always going to be a novel. It’s a question of available formats as much as anything. I think any good story will work in any medium, but you’ll tell them differently because the media articulate differently. I can’t imagine Infinity Gate as an ongoing monthly book, because it has a clear end point. And if it’s not an ongoing series then you’d have to pitch it as a miniseries, which would have been a bit too limiting. A novel sequence feels like a better fit.
As for your novels, some have been part of a couple different series — including the Rampart trilogy and the Felix Castor novels — while some have been stand-alone stories. What is Infinity Gate?
It’s the first of a duology. There’s a set-up and then there’s a pay-off. I know that’s a slightly odd structure, but it was what this story seemed to need. And I guess I’ve been there before with The Girl With All the Gifts and The Boy On The Bridge — the main difference being that those were sort of book-end stories set in the same world but with only thematic links. Here it’s one story spread across the two books.
So, what can you tell us about this series?
We’re calling it The Pandominion, which is the name of one of our two reality-spanning empires. The other one, the one that’s populated entirely by machines, doesn’t have a name for itself.
I might conceivably go back in and tell other stories in the same continuity, but the two books will make up a complete sequence. They build to a decisive event that changes all the ground rules for all the characters. The war between the two multi-dimensional powers is resolved, and so are all the narrative threads relating to machine sentience. It’s a very natural end point.
And do you know yet what the second book will be called or when will it be out?
At the moment the working title is Echo Of Worlds, and we’re aiming for a release date around the middle of 2024.
Upon hearing that Infinity Gate is the first book of a duology, some people will decide to wait until they’re both out before reading either of them. But is there any reason why you think people shouldn’t wait to read it…or that they should?
I come from a comics background, so I’m very used to serialized storytelling, and I actually revel in a good cliff-hanger. Waiting for the resolution can be agonizing, but it’s a pleasurable kind of agony that keeps you engaged with the story. You go back to it in your head and speculate about how it will play out. So for me it’s a no-brainer that you devour what’s available now and then wait in a fever for the next instalment.
My most recent experience of this was with the Scholomance novels by Naomi Novik. Each was individually brilliant, and they built beautifully from one novel to the next. The waiting was hard, but so worth it — and it was part of the overall experience.
Earlier I asked if Infinity Gate had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But to flip things around, do you think Infinity Gate could work as a movie, show, or game?
As I was saying earlier, I think it’s a case of horses for courses. Any good story will work in any medium, and I hope that’s true of Infinity Gate — but you’d have to find a format that worked and a way to tell it. Adaptation is re-invention. I’d love to see it done as a movie because it’s a big sprawling story with a lot of overt, large-scale action. Movies are great at that stuff. But it’s also about different modes of consciousness — artificial intelligences, hive minds, radical brain enhancement — and prose is a better way of getting at the inside of those things.
True, but if someone did want to adapt Infinity Gate into a movie, who would you want them to cast as Hadiz and the other main characters?
I’m terrible at this game. But having said that…
Regina King as Hadiz; McKenna Grace as Paz; and Michael B. Jordan as Essien.
Why? Because I loved them in Watchmen, Hill House, and The Wire, respectively, and they’re all brilliant, and who wouldn’t want that?
And would you want to write the screenplay for the movie like you did for the movie version of your novel The Girl With All The Gifts?
I’d love to take a crack at it, but it would depend on a lot of things. Usually, once the media rights are sold the author doesn’t have a whole lot of involvement going forward. The Girl With All The Gifts was a special case because I was working with Colm McCarthy and Camille Gatin already, and we just decided we’d do it together. It happened very organically. I don’t think that’s usually the way it happens.
So, is there anything else you think people need to know about Infinity Gate?
Only that it takes place on a couple of dozen different planets — different versions of Earth. So when you think about it, you’re getting a lot of worlds per dollar. It’s a bargain. You’d be crazy not to go for it.
Finally, if someone enjoys Infinity Gate, which of your other novels would you suggest they read next?
I’d probably suggest the Rampart trilogy. It’s post-apocalyptic fiction rather than space opera / alternate Earth, but it’s got a similar scope and it deals with some of the same themes — especially machine intelligence and our relationship with our own technologies.
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