What does great science fiction sound like? Al Robertson shares the soundtrack for his latest book, Waking Hell, and it might just come in handy for your Halloween party, too…
When I started writing Waking Hell, I had a very specific ambition for it. I wanted it to be an SF book that also worked as a horror novel, just as Crashing Heaven is very pure cyberpunk that’s also shot through with fantasy. So, while writing it I listened to a lot of properly spooky music – in particular, albums from Holden, Electric Wizard and The Haxan Cloak.
But the darkness only properly comes into focus if there’s some light to balance it out. Awesome drum & bass compilation ‘Fast Soul Music’ helped me find that lightness. And of course there were some albums that, combining both, stayed with me all the way through. Three stood out – David Bowie’s ‘Low’, Popol Vuh’s ‘Nosferatu’ soundtrack and Warpaint’s eponymous second album.
So, here’s the lowdown on how all seven of them fed into Waking Hell:
Holden – ‘The Inheritors’
At heart, Waking Hell is about what happens when dead technologies come back to life and – in their broken way – go on the rampage. Holden’s ‘The Inheritors’ captures that sense of the past haunting the future perfectly. On the one hand, it’s the purest electronic dance music, but on the other it’s shot through with a sense of deep, mythic age. There’s something very Nigel Kneale about that combination. I listened to it again and again, in particular while planning the book out.
Electric Wizard – ‘Dopethrone’
This is one of the heaviest albums ever recorded, from a band obsessed with some of the most sleazy, potent horror movies ever made – obscure gems like Le Frisson Des Vampires, Simon – King of the Witches and Blood On Satan’s Claw. Which made it a perfect accompaniment to thinking about the more directly haunted parts of Waking Hell. All that 70s horror evocation was a particularly big influence on the book’s bad guys, the Pressure Men.
The Haxan Cloak – ‘Excavation’
And this is equally shadowy music, but in a very different way. It’s a concept piece about a dead soul’s journey through the afterlife. It clusters around you like the very essence of haunted night, an absolute distillation of unease. It’s especially potent when you’re still up writing far too late, with only your desk light on and the rest of the house lost to sleep. It helped me think about the spookiness of fetches, and the kind of digital realms they might find themselves passing through.
Various Artists, ‘Fast Soul Music’
This is one of three Hospital Music drum & bass compilations, suffused with a vast, complex joy in being alive and able to lose yourself in such relentless, irresistible grooves. It was a huge help as I started to rewrite, touching in and fine tuning all the lighter moments that would throw the book’s darkness into relief. And it inspired me to strip out everything inessential from Waking Hell, hopefully making it just as propulsive and unstoppable.
David Bowie – ‘Low’
Well, this is a stone cold classic, as far as I’m concerned one of the greatest albums ever made. The first half of it takes you to a very particular place – and then, when the instrumentals kick in, you’re left to explore it all on your own. I think that combination is so important. Telling a good story is only half the battle – you also need to leave each reader all the space they need to interpret it in their own, entirely personal way.
Popol Vuh – ‘Nosferatu OST’
And I love this one too. It’s a very precise distillation of a certain kind of European horror, of night and fog, of vast, snow-sterilised forests, of broken, forgotten fortresses, of the loneliness and cruelty of unwanted, unendurable age. Waking Hell deals in part with a similar kind of insatiable, thoughtless senility, one that’s determined to take back control regardless of the cost to its victims. This album helped me pin that blind, destructive need down very precisely.
Warpaint – ‘Warpaint’
And finally, this one was with me all the way from first thoughts to final delivery. Made by an all-female band, who are at once a marvellously evocative musical unit and a group of powerfully individual musicians (I’m a huge fan of Stella Mozgawa in particular, the deft fluidity of her drumming is just wonderful), it drove and inspired me as I wrote Leila and Cassiel, the book’s two female leads. I hope that, together and apart, they groove as ferociously as Warpaint do.
Want to hear more? WAKING HELL is available in paperback and ebook from October 27th. CRASHING HEAVEN is available now. You can find out more about Al Robertson by visiting his website or following him on Twitter.