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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(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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Been off the radar for a while, and under the weather. 2014 started with a teeth-gritting bladderstone problem, and ended with a tooth extraction and then a vicious viral ambush that left a hackingly horrible cough in its wake. Still coping with the vestigial aftermath of that one with an array of throat pastilles and cough mixtures, as well as hot drinks up the yingyang.
But let’s put these ailment tales behind us and move ahead. The new book, Ancestral Machines (revised version 2.0), is currently in the hands of my editor, the redoubtable Jenni Hill and may be slated for publication in hardback and ebook in June…or July. Firm up details on that soon as I know. In any case, you can go to Amazon and pre-order this standalone Humanity’s Fire novel, an fastmoving epic, crammed with astonishing vistas and a plethora, perhaps even a torrent, of derring-do!
Also, my short story, The Maker’s Mark, a HFire story written for the Newcon Press anthology, Conflicts, will be appearing at the end of this month in a reselection called Total Conflicts, from Newcon Press. I shall be appearing alongside such megatastic talent as Eric Brown, Neal Asher, Philip Palmer, Keith Brooke, and Lauren Beukes, amongst others. There is already an entry on Amazon you can check out.
What else? Did I mention that I shall be conducting a brief residential writing course, along with Ken Macleod, come mid-May, at a writers retreat not far from Inverness? Well, yes, that is going to be happening! More details soon.
Then there is, of course, the next big project. After much consideration and cogitation I’ve decided that it will be another Humanity’s Fire standalone nov, very probably involving some of the characters from Ancestral Machines in a truly mind-bending adventure, which will of course require me to bend my own mind in order to get my writing brain right on track. Some psyche-trance music should do the trick.
And Eastercon, too, is on the horizon, taking place, oh joy, at Heathrow again. But this time its at the Park Inn, which I’ve stayed in before. Anyway, I have applied for membership, and managed to actually get a room….in the con hotel! Which really makes for a more relaxed experience. See you there if you’re going.
Finally, a general election is looming. Looks like its going to be a raucous carnival, if early reports – like Al Murray running against Nigel Farage in Thanet! – are anything to go by. Should be a blast.
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.
Yes, tis now the week after my significant trip to Sweden, to be one of the guests at Swecon-Fantastika 2013. I had a tremendous time, and was absolutely knocked out by the courtesy and kindness of Swedish fans (and those who came from Finland, Norway and surrounding regions). I shall blog some more about this at the weekend, when I have a little more strength – am suffering from a resurgence of the sinusitis that was bedevilling me before I went so its back to the hot drinks and throat medicine again!
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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!
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Steampunk, eh? It’s a funny old subgenre – although the roots of its modern iteration seem to take in Blaylock and Powers (by long, diversionary way of Verne and Wells), its proliferation across internet cultures is producing some unforseen irruptions, like bizarre hothouse hybrids unfurling in humid shadowy corners.
Most obvious is the whole cosplay thing, which I really kinda like. Unlike some of my SF/fantasy compadres (and fellow travellers), I’ve never experienced any contempt or irritation for costuming and masquerades – I’ve been going to conventions since back in 1979, and just love all the gaudy aspects of them, and since steampunk textures have begun to mingle with that overall gallimaufry its made it all feel that much more enjoyable for me.
Other aspects are cropping up on TV, for example – Bruce Boxleitners Lantern City, for example – http://lanterncitytv.com/ – sounds utterly fascinating. Really hope it gets off the ground. Then there’s video games, most recently Dishonoured, which had more of a dieselpunk feel to it, and the upcoming and anticipated Bioshock Infinite, set on a floating balloon city in 1912! – if you’ve not seen any of the promotional vids for this, you really need to go to youtube and give yr eyes a treat.
There is one aspect of steampunk, and the political context of a steampowered culture, at least as far as we can reckon it from our own history – which is that life for the great mass of people throughout most of the 1800s, the Victoria era, was miserable, grinding poverty. Its okay, it really is, to writer a fun, light-in-tone caper story in that kind of setting, but writers should also be aware of political realities, and try not to mislead the reader about the nature of power under such regimes.
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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.
ps – Lavie Tidhar’s blog is at – http://lavietidhar.wordpress.com/
and Lar’s is – http://seasonoftheredwolf.wordpress.com/ - read it and weep
Yes, after a hiatus of some long hairy weeks, I can now semi-exclusively reveal that I shall be doing the convention-boogy thang at this year’s Eastercon. Going under the humble title, OLYMPUS 2012, the convention will be held at the Radisson Edwardian hotel at Heathrow from April 6th-9th.
My panelling duties are as follows:
Friday, 3pm: ‘Our New Alien Masters, The Markets’ (being a discussion of the bizarre and frankly otherworldly mindsets of those we have set above us to run the global economy);
Friday 7pm: ‘Geoengineering To Save The Planet’, which will be getting into some seriously groovy headspace.
There may also be a further appearance round about 9pm-ish but I`m awaiting confirmation of that from a high heid-yin who shall remain nameless. In addition, it seems likely that I`ll be doing book signing on the Sunday evening, but I’m awaiting confirmation of that too.
As is customary, I`ll be toting around a selection of posters and bookmarks for the keen, the needy and the witty. Say hello, smile, tell me a joke, win a gewgaw, its that simple.
Undoubtedly, there will be more later.
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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