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:
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.
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.