I wrote The Serene Invasion out of a sense of despair. I was sick and tired, and insulted, by the swathes of right wing militaristic SF pouring from the presses – giving SF a bad name and perpetuating the stereotype that SF is only about conflict and violence.
I was also sick, and still am, or hearing about conflict, whether that be the global conflict engendered by super-powers in whose self-interest wars are fought, or the more small scale conflict of a crazed gunman going into schools and shopping plazas, mainly in the US, and killing people. The vast majority of the human race is peace abiding, and serious violence is not the norm – but the news media work on the dubious premise that bad news – ie: violence – sells newspapers. It’s hard to get away from new of wars and terrorism and violence.
Is conflict, the desire to do violence, hard-wired into the human psyche? What might happen, I wondered, if suddenly the human race was unable to commit acts of violence?
I was also sick of alien invasion tales portraying aliens – ie, the other – as ravaging predators out to enslave humans, take our resources, destroy our world. Okay, so it makes for exciting gung-ho adventure stories, but the cliché is getting a bit tired now. It’s the reason I wrote the Kéthani sequence of stories, years ago. I wanted to present aliens in a positive light. I wanted to show that not all aliens coming to Earth would be motivated by the same short-term, material-gains ethos that propels and motivates most human political machinations. Might aliens come here intent not on exploiting us but on bringing enlightenment to our race?
And so the seeds of an idea were sown… a few years ahead of the actual writing of The Serene Invasion.
It’s the year 2025 and the Earth is invaded by the S’rene. They’ve been here for years, working undercover to set the groundwork for their benign invasion. But now they arrive on the planet in vast starships, and drop domes on every habitable area on the face of the Earth, and go about changing us and recruiting personnel from among the human race to do their bidding. Geoff Allen is one such person, a photo-journalist whose humanitarian work has brought images of stark violence into homes across the world. Ana Devi is another, a penniless street-kid from Kolkata who looks after a gang of similar penurious urchins and is dragooned by the aliens because of her compassion and humanity. Together with ten thousand like souls, they work to bring the word of the S’rene to the not-always receptive ears of the population.
I wanted in the novel to show a world without violence, and how it would benefit us – and show also those with self-interest, arms dealers, bigoted capitalists, and hordes of others, who oppose the bringing of peace to the Earth. I wanted to write a novel that rails against the shibboleths of the right-wingers, the multinational corporations, religious fanatics of all stripes, the Tea Party nutters, the American gun lobby, political hypocrites like Blair and Cameron and Clegg…
I was aiming at many sacred cows: a world without violence would be a vastly different place to the world as it is today. Capitalism would collapse, gross materialism would wither, societies would change out of all recognition. But I chose to show these changes by focusing on the lives of a few individuals, people for the most part without power; I wanted to show their stories, their travails and hardships, their hopes and dreams… and I set myself the challenge of writing the novel without the usual tool that powers fictive narrative: namely, conflict… except, of course, there is conflict in the novel, though not martial conflict, rather the small-scale conflict of desires and dreams and aspirations.
It was the hardest novel I’ve ever written, with a few false starts and wrong turnings – but I’m happy with the result (with a few reservations, of course: I should have been more politically outspoken, perhaps, with more criticism of the smug, dangerous complacency of capitalism and Western materialism. And there are one or two other issues I should have addressed in order to make the picture complete.)
But whether it is the best novel I’ve ever written… A writer is at the mercy of the critics like – to borrow a phrase from Brian Aldiss – a stag at bay awaiting the shot of the hunter.