Back in the beginning, long before Railhead starts, the companies which built my interstellar railway found themselves facing all sorts of difficulties. Laws and customs might vary widely between different worlds, and often changed during the centuries-long time periods which were needed for massive long-term projects. So it gradually became the norm for business agreements to be sealed by marriage between the families of company directors, since bonds of blood were more enduring than ordinary contracts. In this way, over many centuries, the great companies and corporations of the Network became Corporate Families, in which power was handed down from parent to child.
These vast and powerful families have armies and territories of their own and the kind of resources which only nations wield in our world. They were one of the first ideas to arrive when I began writing this book; they offered an opportunity for dynastic intrigue and depictions of absurd luxury, and they were born of that goofy-yet-thrilling collision between past and future which is at the heart of so many space operas – feudal hi-tech.
It took a while to find out where they fitted in the story. In early drafts, the Families and their ambitions and betrayals were right up front. I thought it might be fun to take a spoilt merchant prince or princess and put them through hell, learning something along the way. It wasn’t though, or, at least, it didn’t produce the book that I’d been after. So I looked for a hero at the other end of society, and the Corporate Families moved into the background. But they didn’t go away. When I decided that the story was going to be about trains, they became the people who owned the lines and locomotives. When I decided it was going to be about a thief, they became his victims.
Because in their ancestral space stations, or aboard their gorgeous private trains, the Families keep plenty of things which are worth stealing. And on the Noon Train, which belongs to the richest of them all, in a private museum, there is a little, dull-looking, square, grey artefact, almost invisible amid all the splendour. And someone wants it very badly indeed…
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Railhead is out now from OUP