Micheal Cobley

Interstellar Tactics




A Mike Cobley Reddit AMA, As I Live & Breathe!

Posted on January 11th 2016 | Leave a comment

Yes, indeedy, yr humble scribe shall be hosting an AMA (ask me anything) on the all-encompassing Reddit website/hub/core/fountofallcomment – at 5pm GMT! The actual url for this happening is -


Although you`ll probably need to have a reddit account in order to post questions to me. I`m looking forward to it, and to the legions flocking to pore over my every word with eagle eyes….possibly.

(NB note updated URL for the AMA)

Posted in Berzerkergang, history, humour, Michael Cobley Posts, my publications, on writing, philosophy, Politics, science fiction, space, steampunk | Tagged , , ,
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Blogpost at the Scottish Book Trust website on the Moniack Mhor SF/Fantasy Writing Course

Posted on April 30th 2015 | Leave a comment

(An introductory essay about the writing course being tutored by Ken MacLeod and myself.)

The question ‘what is science fiction?’ has remained constant ever since the cultural mainstream started taking notice of the genre back in the mid-1960s, with the arrival of the New Wave writers (like Robert Silverberg, JG Ballard, Ursula LeGuin, Mike Moorcock, John Brunner, Harlan Ellison and others). To the cultural arbiters, though, what was different to the preceding decades was the appearance of two TV series, one in the US, one in the UK, which spread the popularity of science fiction into the mainstream and the wider culture, and in a sense decoded the peculiar tropes and furniture and props for the ordinary citizen. Those series were Doctor Who and Star Trek. There had been science fiction on TV before then but these set out to raise the dramatic level above their pulpy predecessors, and there’s no doubt that they succeeded. Doctor Who and Star Trek set out to raise the dramatic level above their pulpy predecessors

Of course, the world itself has changed almost out of recognition since the days of black and white television, such that we are truly living in a science fictional world. Yet still the anchors and journos of mainstream news and comment programs continue to reveal a certain clodhopping ignorance of the nature and spirit of Science Fiction (while all the time using email, mobile phones, tablets and conference video calls, which were the very stuff of far-fetched SF to their 1950s forebears!).

As writers, living in the mixed up, clashing gaudiness and wildness of the world today (which gets newer and stranger by the day, yet remains hamstrung by a range of very old problems, aka, bad habits that our society seems unable to shake off), we need to take a long, considering look at all of it – All Of It! – then take a pondering look at ourselves and figure out what it is that we want to say. If we want to write widescreen action-adventure that captivates readers with daring and unexpected plot twists and gripping characters, that’s a fine and admirable aim. If we want to imagine what happens at the personal interface of character and an authentically weird imagining of future technology or a fantasy setting, that too is entirely commendable. Or if we want to assess the broad sweep of our development as a species and look ahead to spy out potholes in the road ahead, this is also a worthwhile avenue to pursue – and some might say it is the most worthwhile of all, perhaps even the social function that Science Fiction performs in service to humanity.

I mention all the above as a broad background to the short course which Ken MacLeod and myself will be conducting at Moniack Mhor. It is our intention to help writers understand key points of character, worldbuilding, history, myth and society in the context of both science fiction and fantasy, a brief grounding in the technical aspects of writing prose narrative. But in addition we hope to highlight the essential spirit of both fantasy and science fiction, that indelible storyteller’s thread which runs through a tale and makes it unmistakeably a fantasy story or a science fiction story. That is our task, and we look forward to passing on what we know.


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Thoughts On The Scottish Independence Referendum

Posted on September 18th 2014 | 1 Comment so far

Anyway who follows my maunderings on Facebook will know that I have quite definite views on politics, coming from a centre-left position (laced with some critical rationalist radicalisms). And of course, the Scottish independence referendum has exercised me considerably and increasingly over the last few weeks, such that here we are on the eve of poll, a true watershed in Scottish and UK-wide politics, and it seems appropriate for me to pass on some personal thoughts and conclusions.

Firstly, I will be voting NO later, this evening – this does not somehow make me a Union Jack-waving pro-faux-Britnat, nor does it make me a useful idiot for the establishment. Over the preceding months and years, since and before the Coalition took office, I have with increasing vitriol criticised and stamped on the various vicious stupidities which the Tories, aided by Nick Clegg, have heaped upon all the people of Britain. In all that time no-one has ever suggested that somehow I was a secret supporter of the status quo or a fan of Nigel ‘Mine’s a pint of smug’ Farage – yet simply by opting to remain in the same political/cultural arena as all my friends and family in England and Wales etc, I have attracted a certain degree of opprobrium. Others have suffered a lot worse. Suffice to say, I was an anti-establishment gadfly before the referendum and shall continue to be one afterwards.

I`m voting NO because the real enemy does not sit in Westminster, but on the boards of directors of Goldman Sachs, RBS, PWC, Ernst & Young, McKinsey, Capita, Serco, and a whole horde of corporate predators, financial and otherwise, who never miss the opportunity to denigrate the state while sticking their snouts in the trough and guzzling round the clock. Also, these and other far less well known companies send forth their own employees to emplacements in government as offered by the party in power. They call it secondment but in actual fact its real name is corruption and governance-capture. The YES campaign have of course pointed all this out, highlighting such noxious behaviour as more than sufficient reason for Scotland to leave the union. Trouble is, if the parties and the financial sector and their corrupt ways are as bad as YES says they are, doesnt that mean that ordinary people in England, Wales and NIreland will still be at their mercy? Without Scotland’s presence, its cultural and political weight and influence, as well as its actual House of Commons votes – wouldn’t that absence actually strengthen the dark forces which threaten to overwhelm the last vestiges of social justice and authentic democracy?

People at the bottom of the ladder, the poor, the lowpaid and benefit claimants, both disabled and not, are already faced with a scarcely believable regime of deliberate stress, trauma and cruelty that has left almost a million people adrift and penniless and forced to go to foodbanks just to eat. This is taking place everywhere, not just in Scotland, and therefore the question of whether or not to leave the UK takes on a moral dimension because leaving the UK would also mean abandoning the fight against the Stupidest Coalition in British History and, more importantly, the struggle against their backers and donors, those City investors and traders and banks and hedge funds and corporate barons whose position would be strengthened by the departure of Scotland. We all know how these deracine elites think and work: while the politicians will be running around Westminster like headless recrimination chickens, the City elite – like dark lords of the Sith – will be cool, calm and collected and working out how to turn the upheavals to their advantage.

To my mind, the financial sector and the globalised pro-corporate institutions which try to browbeat entire nations into submission are the greatest threat to democracy the world has faced for well over a generation. And, of course, climate change is waiting in the wings to bring who knows what down upon us, and honestly, would anyone with a scrap of reason and compassion trust the obscenely rich elites to look out for the interests of ordinary people when extreme weather events really start to bite? Certainly not here in Britain, which is why I’ll be voting NO because I want to be involved in the fight to kick the Coalition out, and then the fight to force the next government to do the right thing. Its bound to be hard, but we know what problems have to be fixed and we have a fairly good idea of how to fix them. Independence to my mind is a shadowy leap into the unknown which would rob the rest of the UK of the Scots’ natural elan, creativity and stubbornness, and god knows the fight against the Ungodly needs all that and more.

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Eastercon 8-Squared Con, Bradford

Posted on April 17th 2013 | Leave a comment

Would have posted comments on this years Eastercon (main GOH Walter Jon Williams) before now but have been somewhat under the weather (trans – poleaxed by another bout of recurring viral loathsomeness). But here at last is my take on it.

Travelled down by train, with just the one change at Preston, arriving mid-afternoon at Bradford Interchange station. After some clueless wandering, I got a cab to the Jurys Inn hotel (which turned out to be a short walk away, ho ho), and thence further on to the Cedar Court Hotel, where the con was being held.

All my panels were on the Saturday so I spent a good bit of Friday just catching up with old writer buddies and other friends, supping the odd pint and swooping into the dealers room for a looksee. Saturday kicked off with a panel on Walter Jon Williams’ book ‘This Is Not A Game’, and not long after the start who should come to sit at the back of the room but Walter Jon hisself! Still, we managed to acquit ourselves without sounding overly-fannish.

Next was the panel titled, ‘A Constitution For A Mars Colony’, moderated by myself in conjunction with Ian Sales…sorry, that should be BSFA-award-winning Ian Sales (seeing as how he won just such a trophy for his story Adrift On The Sea Of Rains). My original intent was for me to kick off with a short speech on politics and the fundamental concepts of democracy and democratic institutions, then Ian would come in with the hard science aspect and the strigent exigencies that running such a colony would entail. But interaction with the audience started to blur the lines a bit after Ian got started, turning into a kind of ongoing to and fro between us and the audience and amongst the audience itself. And it turned out to be very interesting, much more so than I thought it might! so, result.

Later I was on a panel on motherhood in SF, to which I`d doubted I could make a worthwhile contribution, but then I did pitch in with a showstopper narrative concept near the end which rendered the room deathly quiet (in essence, the plot form in which a parent has to kill a child)(I know, grim). Oh, and before that I was on a panel to do with steampunk morality, which seemed to touched on the stark reality of the impoverished existence of the majority of the population during the age of steam and Victoria – but prevailing sentiments favoured a less miserable approach to steampunk.

Sunday was a day for yacking one’s gob off with chums and colleagues, along with a signing event in the morning, then more chinwaggery followed by dealer room visits, more chat, drink, chat, and then the BSFA awards – and Mr Sales’ surprising and gratifying award for short fiction. Some may imply that I got slightly squiffy later on, and mention the involvement of a bottle of counterfeit Baileys, but….I couldn’t possibly comment.

Come Monday I had not enough time to use the convention bus to get to the Cedar Court for a last gander at the dealer room and be sure of getting a bus back in time for my train, so I relaxed at the hotel until checking out and took that not so long walk over to the station. The journey back went without a hitch until I got to Preston – then there was an obstruction on the line to Warrington, and after that the lights at Warrington ceased functioning properly,. Anyway, in the event I got into Glasgow over a hour late and just seconds too late to get a connection to Irvine. But hey, another left 15 mins later, so home in time for Easter dinner!

Posted in Buddies, Michael Cobley Posts, my publications, philosophy, Politics, science fiction, steampunk | Tagged , ,
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The Gibberings Of A Frenzied Ego

Posted on July 21st 2012 | 2 Comments so far

No, friends and neighbours, I’m not talking about me but about someone whose verbal attacks on a writer colleague have reached such an irrational crescendo that I feel that a stand has to be taken.

The writer in question is Lavie Tidhar, who I’ve met a few times (we have the same agents) and with whom I get along pretty well. Yesterday he let it be known on his facebook page that he had received a death threat from a pro-Israeli SF fan (perhaps fan should be in quotes) who has been harangueing him at great length from the bastions of his own blog. Lavie, it should be noted, is from Israel and holds a broadly leftist, critical stance towards Israel’s policies WRT Palestine etc.

So – the pro-Israeli commentator (who has gone by the name Larry) invests a great deal of time in analysis of the comments, posts, tweets and associated opinions of writers like Lavie, China Mieville, Charlie Tan, Charlie Stross, Anna Tambour and several others. It is worth pointing out right away that Larry’s stance is a fundamentalist one in political terms, in that Israeli policies are unimpeachable, that any criticisms are evidence of the most heinous anti-semitism and critics who voice same are to be regarded as vile, obscene, brazen, rabid (and other hyperbolic denigrations which pepper his blog postings like raisin in a fruitcake).

This is the kind of language which the man uses in the to and fro of argument; not that I’m saying that  leftist critics stick to high-minded terms that avoid ad hominem abuse, but I must say that I have seldom seen from a leftist critic the kind of unremitting viciousness deployed on a personal level as that which Larry indulges in as a matter of course.

So, in the email in question, after several paragraphs of abuse, he writes this, in hebrew characters -

מת ונקבר לביא

Lavie took this to mean ‘Lavie dead and buried’, and pointed out that the email ended with the words ‘I’m serious’. This led to a good number of writers (myself included) posting support on his facebook page and at his blog. A response from Larry has appeared today, and it is just as self-serving, who-struck-john, and I’m-the-victim-here as could be expected; his defence for the language he used is along the lines of oh, it was just a figurative phrase – how could you be so shamelessly obtuse as not to see it as such – and how dare pursue me with this outrageous libel, whine, whine, whine…

And that’s the core of it – the man uses the most inflammatory and vicious invective against Lavie and others, then is self-righteously obtuse enough to use the words ‘dead and buried’  in his diatribe, then when he’s called on it claims that it was all just figurative and how dare anyone make him suffer by insinuating that he made any kind of threat. “Hey, man, I was just joking – chuh, lighten up, dude!”

If Larry had been in the habit of using language which displayed even a scintilla of human compassion and/or a sense of wit/humour, the phrase ‘dead and buried’ might have been taken as sarcastic hyperbole. But the truth is that he sees himself as some warrior blogger out on the battlements, warring against the lefty-goy horde and their inability to see the shining goodness of Israel in everything it does. And nothing that anyone else can say or write will change that. But as the saying goes, writers are the unacknowledge legislators of the world; Lavie Tidhar, China Mieville and others have talent and insight, and eager audiences, and it is a source of comfort to know that that must really get under his skin.

Venceremos, Larry!

ps – Lavie Tidhar’s blog is at – http://lavietidhar.wordpress.com/

and Lar’s is – http://seasonoftheredwolf.wordpress.com/ - read it and weep

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Arrogance & Pigheadedness: The Slings And Arrows Of Amazon Comments

Posted on May 11th 2012 | 20 Comments so far

Yes, I did it. I made the mistake a few months ago of actually responding to reader comments to a couple of my books on Amazon.  I suppose I felt so appalled at being doled out a 1-star review that I let my natural combativeness get the better of me and…off I went, bringing to bear a modicum of wit (though not malice) in defence of the book which I had worked very hard over, and which I knew with the certainty of past experience (of truly bad writing) that Seeds Of Earth is not a 1-star book.

Three sentences were what I wrote in framing a mild rebuttal of the review’s wholesale condemnation of SOE. And wow! – the responses it provoked.

Tell you what Mr Cobley, I’ve been using Amazon since it started and never felt the need to post before either. You appear to have created an exceptional case.” – was one, followed by;

His recommendation to avoid it has been taken up by me – you’re sheer arrogance and pig-headedness is clearly hiding a lot of insecurities about your writing. What a spectacular way to alienate your once and potential future audience.

If you had never replied you might have earned more respect and income from this. Because you’ve been a fool, you’ve lost both.”

Now, I have to keep reminding myself that, as other writer colleagues have impressed upon me, that the reading experience is very personal, with personal taste playing a large role. Which is fair enough. But I’m surprised by the anger I provoked – as if it somehow goes against some kind of cultural taboo for a writer to respond in defence of his own work. And the second comment’s conclusion begs the question – why would I earn respect by keeping my mouth shut? In what other field of human endeavour is respect earned by the gagging of the artist?

Going back to the original review, I think that if it bestowed 2-stars I would have gritted my teeth and got past it. But to be consigned to the bottom of the heap, along with the John Normans and the Lin Carters and other scarcely workmanlike writers, just stuck in my craw. Getting 1 star and a dismissive review did not needle any insecurities about my writing, rather it felt like bullying, it felt unnecessarily crushing (particularly in the context of a lack of other reviews by the same commentator). And if there is one thing that makes me take up the cudgels its an unfair, unjust judgement.

Hindsight is always 20-20 and I can see now that I should have just averted my eyes and moved on down the road. But I thought I would share this experience with you, partly to lay bare the oddness of the resentment some people clearly feel when a writer disagrees with criticism, but mainly as a rueful warning to my writer buddies – just don’t go there, guys, okay?

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My Short Story Collection, Iron Mosaic, Now Out As An Ebook

Posted on February 15th 2012 | Leave a comment

And here you see the cover, as created by Gary Gibson, for my collection, Iron Mosaic, now appearing under the Brain In A Jar imprimatur, available from AmazonUK. And LO! for here is the link:



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Lucius Shepard: Remedial Reading For The Generation Of Swine

Posted on September 9th 2011 | Leave a comment

Back in the day, waaaay back, when I was the youngest and turkiest of them all (cyberpunkily speaking), I used to pore over and reread such groundbreaking publications (thats hardcopy publications) as Science Fiction Eye and Journal Wired. I actually wrote a coupla pieces for SF Eye, as well as interviews with Iain Banks and David Wingrove; Journal Wired I didnt have an in on, but it was a great and chunky book-mag which ran for only 3 issues back in 1990/91. One of its highlights was a column called Stark Raving, written by Lucius Shepard, written with a passion and evocatory skill that ran from the confessional to the polemical and all points inbetween.

The first of them was called ‘Remedial Reading For The Generation Of Swine’ in which he exoriated the blinkered narrow-mindedness of certain sectors of SF fandom and SF pro-dom (?), while Reaganoid politics were tearing the heart out of Latin America. I won’t go to the extent of reprinting the piece (I dont have the permish) but just to give you a hint of the flavour, here’s a wee extract or two:

“More pertinently, though, this aint the ‘Sixties, it’s the ‘Nineties, and things are a lot more grim and entrenched than they once were, because even though we’ve got glasnost and perestroika, and a kinder, gentler America, and a few other auspicious signs, what we’ve got as relates to the process of world peace is just another Bad Breath Committee on Armchair Disarmament, and along with that, we’ve got the Greenhouse Effect, acid rain, war in the east, war in the west, everywhere is war, and famine, pestilence, plague, earthquakes, and a whole lot of serious inanition as regards doing anything consequential about these problems….”

“…I remember being so fucking terrified, chased by this little gray Ford full of men in white shirts along a dirt road after searching for a friend at El Playon, where the death squads dumped the bodies of their victims. I remember dust was flying up around the car, the green world disappearing in whirlwinds of dust….”

“…the whole country like that, the whole raped, cratered, widowed, amputated, military-advisored place no more than a filthy, fly-swarmed lunch counter of Death in the diocese of the Devil…Ah, Christ, have a little pity on El Salvador…”

Lucius S wrote another two essays, both just as sharp and untrammelled, with a hint of brimstone too. I don’t think they’re available online, but the 3 editions of Journal Wired can still be found on Amazon and Ebay – I recommend that you do.

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Posted on August 14th 2011 | Leave a comment

your friendly neighbourhood corporation

joe corporation

Saw this, had to share it.

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The Future’s So Bright I Gotta Wear An Industrial Welding Helmet

Posted on February 24th 2011 | Leave a comment

Some of my colleagues in the sci-fi writin’ n’ readin’ demographic are keen as buttons on all and any breakthroughs and shiny new apps, what I call naive technoboosterism.

Well, here’s a development that should give many of us pause for thought. Now corporations and governments are using cutting-edge software to generate believable online personas, complete with web pages, back stories, twitter accounts and other interwebby paraphernalia. These online masks are then used by operatives as cover for anti-progressive postings on forums of every kind, although usually popular ones where debates on corporate behaviour are carried out. George Monbiot has done a piece on this:


Quote -

“As the Daily Kos has reported, the emails show that:

- companies now use “persona management software”, which multiplies the efforts of the astroturfers working for them, creating the impression that there’s major support for what a corporation or government is trying to do…..

- human astroturfers can then be assigned these “pre-aged” accounts to create a back story, suggesting that they’ve been busy linking and re-tweeting for months. No one would suspect that they came onto the scene for the first time a moment ago, for the sole purpose of attacking an article on climate science or arguing against new controls on salt in junk food.”

Man, are we fast-forwarding into the Gibsonian future, or what?

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