So come the end of next week I shall be hying myself hence to fabled Manchester, in search of enlightenment and shantih in the company of wise souls and skilled sensei of the SF Way….which probably will come down sharing drinks with Jim Burns, John Jarrold, Lavie Tidhar, Ian Sales, amongst many, luminaries each and every one! But otherwise I shall be engaged in panel moderating, once on the Saturday and once on the Sunday:
The Stars Are Your Canvas
Saturday 16:00 – 17:00, Room 7 (Hilton Deansgate)
Space opera is arguably the most unconstrained of SF subgenres, encompassing everything from the realism of McAuley’s Quiet War to the exuberance of Leckie’s Ancillary trilogy. How do writers find their own personal sweet spot between spectacle and science, and develop their own language for describing the biggest storytelling canvas of all?
Michael Cobley (M) Ian Sales, Alison Sinclair, Gavin Smith, Tom Toner, Jo Zebedee
Third Rock and Roll from the Sun
Sunday 20:30 – 21:30, Room 7 (Hilton Deansgate)
From Sun Ra and Bowie to Janelle Monae and even Coldplay, SF has cropped up across the spectrum of popular music. What – and who – makes good SF music, at the level of the lyric, the song, the album, or the opera? What do we get from SF music that we can’t get from other forms of SF?
Michael Cobley (M), Gary Couzens, Ruth EJ Booth, Phil Nanson, Dave Tamlyn
Should be a blast!
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Here’s a little bit o’ devil may care speculation on which actors I like in the movie of my book. And, yknow, who can tell what’s gonna happen?
Here we are, from left to right – Lt Samantha Brock (Zoe Saldana), Captain Brannan Pyke (Colin O’Donoghue) and Dervla (Mallory Jansen)
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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)
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I was asked by Marshal Zeringue if I`d like to contribute to his ‘The Page 69 Test’ with regard to Ancestral Machines, where the idea is to open the book at page 69 and see how it relates to the rest of the book, whether its a reliable guide to the rest of the story. That particular page was part of a brief chapter involving a couple of characters who play something of an observer role in the early part of the story, thus this was one of those exposition moments in drag, so to speak.
Here’s the link -
And as you might know, Ancestral Machines is due for publication as ebook on January 12th and as hard and paperback on January 14th. And I`ll be hosting a Reddit AMA on the Monday evening, GMT-time, yes, yer actual Ask Me Anything, so my life in an open book. Apart from the bits that aren’t
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(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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Here’s our page in the Moniack Mhor brochure.
This will be taking place in Kiltarlity, near Inverness, from May 14th to May 17th. And there are still places available!
For further information try the writing centre’s Facebook page:
Or their actual website:
Was at Loncon3, the 2014 World SF Convention, held in London at the Excel Centre, a vast megahangar of such staggering proportions it felt like it had dropped off the end of one of Banksie’s GSVs!
I think its about half a mile long and, astonishingly, amongst all the fooderies and eateries there was not one newsagent or anywhere selling what one might generally think of as groceries.
The con itself was a massive effort, chock full of tremendous programming over innumerable programme streams. I was on the first panel of the con, on Lord of the Rings and how its seen by children and young adults, in both book and film media. Later, on the Saturday, I was on a panel about Iain Banks’ works, trying to find out what the descriptor ‘Banksian’ really entails. I came up with the notion that the Iain M Banks books are all about Solving The Puzzle Of The Past, and the Culture/SF books are about Solving The Puzzle Of The Present (thought I`m sure there are exceptions to both)
I also did a signing in the exhibit hall, to which about 7-8 attendees came, then a reading which was late on, about 8.30pm, resulting predictably in less than a handful of curious fans who were on hand to hear me read a section from the new book, Ancestral Machines (you lucky people!)
Generally, though, I felt it was too large and exhausting to get around really – although the daily trek to and from Islington might have been a contributory factor. If I do another Worldcon, it would have to be with a hotel room.
Anyway, got back home to Irvine on the evening of Monday 18th, up the next day and straight back into the writing of the last chapter of Ancestral Machines! – not long to go now.
Yes, here it is, my very own schedule of event and happenings:
Tolkien Society Presents: Hobbits! Rabbits!
Thursday 10:00 – 11:00, Capital Suite 2 (ExCeL)
How do children, young adults and adults experience The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings as books and as movies? Do people of different age groups experience them in different ways, especially given the range of other fantasy novels and films that younger generations have grown up with? How do readers engage with various decisions about the adaptation from book to screen? Are the rabbits welcome, or were they a mistake?
Chris M Barkley (M), Michael Cobley, Constance G.J. Wagner, Jessica Yates
Autographing 2 – Michael Cobley
Friday 15:00 – 16:30, Autographing Space (ExCeL)
Saturday 11:00 – 12:00, Capital Suite 9 (ExCeL)
‘Banksian’ has become a commonplace descriptor in SF reviews, but what do we mean by it? What are the characteristics we associate with Iain M Banks’ work? How far has his influence travelled? Who is writing Banksian SF today?
Chad Orzel (M), Michael Cobley, Jaine Fenn, Paul Kincaid, Ruth O’Reilly
Reading: Michael Cobley
Saturday 20:30 – 21:00, London Suite 1 (ExCeL)
Sunday 17:00 – 18:00, London Suite 4 (ExCeL)
Danie Ware, Michael Cobley
Nice, very nice, keeps me busy and off the streets
See you there!
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Once more Eastercon is upon us, and this year its in Glasgow, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel to be exact, from this Friday, 18th to Monday 21st.
I have two panel items;
1) Grand Designs: Worldbuilding, at 8pm on the Friday, which I will be moderating in the company of such stellar colleagues as John Meaney (Guest of Honour), Simon Morden, Chris Beckett and Kim Lakin-Smith.
2) The Way Things Might Have Been at 6pm on the Saturday, a panel on Alternate Histories, in which I will be a panel member along with Dave Row, Martyn Taylor, Mark Alder, and MD Lachlan.
Should be a hoot, and am looking forward to seeing a lotta folk!
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It is my sad and painful duty to inform you that last night, between 8.30 and 10pm, the TV show Sherlock jumped the shark.
Its like this – in the first two series, a certain whimsy and fluff were employed as a charming counterpoint to the intellectual sharpness and deductive intensity of Holmes himself, as well as the dark drama, its strangeness and the twists in the plot. Now we have reached the 2nd episode of Season Three and it has become abundantly clear that the whimsy and the fluff have been promoted to centre stage.
One can only wonder what imp of self-indulgence has entered the Moffat-Gatiss equation but the results are clear to see – flabby, lazy scripting coupled with a disregard for overall dramatic unity. In fact, I would reckon that the actual detective-mystery part of the plots seem to amount to about 40-odd minutes, so if that is what the Moff-Gat axis can come up with then why not turn each season into 6 programmes of about 50 minutes each? Because the two years they made me wait has not been at all satisfied by what they have come up with.
Contrast this with the CBS crime drama, Elementary, starring Jonny Lee Miller as a rivetting Sherlock Holmes in modern day New York. This is a proper TV series with 24 episodes per season and, to be frank, is far more satisfying that the measly 3 episodes a year of Sherlock that are being served up to us. Each episode is about 44 minutes long so the scripts have to be taut, well paced and flensed of waste, and Miller’s protrayal of Holmes is never less than compelling. In Sherlock, Cumberbatch and Freeman remain excellent actors but when I switch on to see a Sherlock Holmes story why am I being force-fed something which resembles a Channel 4 luvvydrama about 30-somethings doing rite-of-passage friendship rituals?
Don’t get me wrong – it’s still an entertaining, well-acted and shot show. It’s just no longer essential viewing.