As well as taking the time to chat to us about Railhead and his other work, Philip Reeve has written this fascinating blog post about the Spindlebridge, which forms a key part of the story of his new book. As a science fiction fan from a young age, I found Railhead a wonderful adventure and a very interesting take on space travel, and this article gives a bit more insight, without any spoilers, into the world of Railhead and the amazing way in which the characters travel.
As I mentioned back at the start of this blog tour, Railhead began as a straightforward space opera, and only found its own identity when I decided to get rid of the spaceships and space stations and replace them with trains. But I didn’t get rid of all the spaceships – you can’t have a space opera that’s completely without scenes set in actual space. So one of my characters belongs to a family which has made it’s money mining asteroids and small planets at the outer edges of a solar system, where no trains run. And as for the space stations, I rather liked the double meaning that the phrase acquired once the trains took over, so one of them has survived as a space railway station.
Spindlebridge is a gigantic structure which orbits the Noon family’s home planet Sundarban. Two K-gates hang in space above that world, and trains must pass through them to get from Sundarban to the planets of the Silver River Line. So Spindlebridge takes the form of a long tube, with a K-gate at either end. As well as railway tracks it contains factories where the Noons make things which it’s easier to make in zero gravity. At its midpoint there is a bulkier section, which spins to generate artificial gravity. Here are housed the hotels and gift shops, parks and restaurants which cater for the many tourists who arrive to see the ‘bridge, which is one of the wonders of the Great Network. A Corporate Family that has created something so big and impressive naturally wants to show it off. (Unfortunately for them, an author who has created something that big and impressive naturally wants to break it…)
Spindlebridge is partly a homage to the vast contraptions which flew across the covers of pulp sci-fi paperbacks back in my impressionable youth. The fashion back then was for all science fiction books to come wrapped in pictures of huge spaceships (even if the books themselves weren’t really about space). Many of the best of them were painted by the great Chris Foss, whose beautiful, multi-coloured spacecraft are still influencing the style of ships that soar across our games consoles and cinema screens today – website here. What was impressive about them to young me was not just their beauty and their multi-colouredness but the sheer mind-expanding size of some of them: they had the grace of whales and the texture of industrial installations, but the thousands of tiny little windows and the attendant fleets of smaller ships revealed them to be the size of whole cities. Spindlebridge is their direct descendant.
Thanks again to Philip for that fascinating blogpost. Railhead is out now, from OUP Children’s Books, in a gorgeous hardback edition.