K.A. Bedford lives with his wife Michelle somewhere in the radiation-blasted wastelands north of Perth, Western Australia. He has twice won the Aurealis Award for Best Australian Science Fiction Novel, and his novel TIME MACHINES REPAIRED WHILE-U-WAIT was shortlisted for the Philip K. Dick Award in 2009.
I gather you have a new novel, Black Light, approaching publication. Can you tell us a bit about that?
BLACK LIGHT will be my sixth published novel, and unusual in a number of ways, including my first foray into writing fantasy. I think the publisher, Fremantle Press, is planning to lean more on the “supernatural crime thriller” aspect, but to me it’s always been a fantasy novel that just happens to be set here in Western Australia, in the 1920s.
The story concerns a woman, Mrs Ruth Black, a Great War widow who lost her husband in the Battle of the Somme. She’s English, from an aristocratic family, but after the death of her husband she moves to Australia, and takes up a career as a writer of scientific romances, which do moderately well, inspired by the great revolution in physics underway in Europe at the time (the advent of quantum mechanics, in particular, and its challenge to Newtonian physics). She’s independently wealthy, and lives in a home in the WA seaside fishing town of Pelican River (a town which is fictitious, but inspired by the real-world town of Mandurah, 72km south of Perth). One thing that drives her is that she’s never been completely convinced about the death of her husband, Antony, and in this book she begins, whether she’s ready or not, to unravel the truth about him.
In structure and form the book presents as a crime novel with supernatural aspects, in that someone in Pelican River begins tormenting her with mysterious notes hinting at mysterious aspects regarding the death of her husband, and these rapidly lead to blatant extortion, which leads indirectly to murder, and things going very badly indeed.
Your two most recent books, Time Machines Repaired While-U-Wait andParadox Resolution follow the same character, a time machine repairman. What inspired you to combine a murder mystery with time machine repairs?
I just like crime novels, and I like sf novels, and I know there’s a great tradition in sf of writers mixing crime with sf, so it seemed like it might be fun. Also, two of my three earlier novels were also sf/crime hybrids (ORBITAL BURN, and HYDROGEN STEEL). I have sometimes tried to write straight crime fiction, but somehow it always ends up with spaceships and aliens and weird stuff. I’m like the guy who always has to have tomato sauce with everything he eats.
As for the issue of combining murder-mystery and time-travel: that just seemed like a neat challenge. Because if you’re the homicide squad, and you’ve got access to time-travel, it would be easy to see what happened when someone got murdered (or you could prevent the murder). And I had a world where everybody has time machines the way today everybody has phones and tablets. So I needed a way to make life hard for the coppers, so that I would have something for my protagonist to do.
Next? I’m thinking about a third Spider Webb book, but I’m also thinking about a murder/ghost story book about a new character, taking place in present-day (or very near-future) Perth. So, to answer your question: a bit of both!
What Australian works have you loved recently?
The Australian book that has knocked me sideways just lately is Andrew Macrae’s TRUCKSONG, which was tremendous! A coming-of-age story in post-apocalyptic Australia, with sentient cyborg trucks, mysterious signs and portents from the heavens, and lost people roaming about, trying to figure out a way to get back to when everything worked and the world was whole. Whole thing gave me a feeling of THE ROAD and MAD MAX, as well as its own wild, diesel-powered, red-dust-stinking, self, where you absolutely fear the Brumby King and its mob of murderous trucks. When I first heard about the book, I remember the phrase, “trucks having sex and reproducing”, and right there I knew I had to get this book. Not because, you know, truck-related porn, but because someone had dreamed up what seemed like an actual, shiny, fresh idea: living, intelligent trucks, not just motorised AIs, but they’re alive, and have interests and intentions and passions and schemes. And there’s a kid caught up in the middle of the whole thing, searching for his truck-kidnapped lover. It’s a powerful, often poetic, cracker of a book!
Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?
So far I still work the way I’ve always worked, with traditional publishers, and everything that goes with that. I work with the Canadian firm, EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, based in Calgary, Alberta; and with local publisher Fremantle Press. I first worked with Fremantle on the Australian edition of TIME MACHINES REPAIRED WHILE-U-WAIT, and I wanted to go to them again when I was preparing BLACK LIGHT.
As for five years from now: I have no idea. For instance in five years I don’t know if I’ll even still be writing, let alone deciding how I want to be published. I’m not sure. I’m fairly sure I don’t want to take on all the huge responsibility that goes with self-publishing. I’ve come to see how critically important editing is, and the powerful effect a really great external editor can have on a manuscript. I could hire one for a self-published book, but the expense is way out of what I could afford. Likewise, the cost of promotion, publicity, marketing is also out of my reach. So I really don’t know what the future will bring. It would be nice to still be involved in the scribble caper in some way. I’ve made some tremendous friendships through writing and publishing, both here in Oz, and in the US and Canada (especially Canada), and that’s been the most rewarding aspect of the whole process.
As for what I’ll be reading in five years? Probably very much the same sorts of things I read now, which is to say, lots of crime fiction, lots of classics, and some sf. As I get older (I’m 51 now) I find that really high-end hard science fiction seems to require so much knowledge and understanding on the part of the reader that it often seems as if you need a degree in science, and preferably physics, simply to get what a writer is trying to convey. Then there are the writers who fill their books with neato in-jokes that I, at least, often don’t get. Whole chunks of these books often feel as if they’re being aimed not at the general, interested sf reader, but at specific groups of readers who get the joke. I don’t like books that make me feel stupid in either of these respects, so I find crime fiction and classics much more rewarding.