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My ‘Xeelee Sequence’ of novels and series, depicting a million-year war between humans and the aloof, all-powerful Xeelee, originated in my first published short story, ‘The Xeelee Flower’, published thirty years ago. It was a jeopardy story about a human astronaut in peril – against the background of technology abandoned by powerful, off-stage aliens. Then in my next story, I posited humans in a four-dimensional cage, put there by more powerful off-stage aliens. Eventually, I realised that if I made the aliens the same – the Xeelee - I had the beginning and the end of a future history, which grew, organically, from that point. I produced the earlier novels in two bursts, in the 1990s and then the 2000s.

Because the whole project is rooted in my very earliest work, I think it reflects a lot of the influences that had shaped me up to that point, and that’s why it seems so rich. Each time I revisit the earlier works I find new angles, new ways to dig a little deeper. Arthur C Clarke did something similar, with his novel The City and the Stars. That project began with a draft written as a schoolboy and finished with a sequel written by Gregory Benford.

And that’s why, another decade on, I’ve chosen to go back to the well of the Xeelee again. And besides, I figured I had a good story to tell, as my confused engineer hero Michael Poole finally gets to confront the Xeelee themselves.

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