(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.
Leave a comment
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:
Leave a comment
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.
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!
Leave a comment
Its been a long time coming, but at last my Shadowkings Trilogy have reemerged into the light, as ebooks and audiobooks. The new covers for the ebooks were done by Dirk Berger, a most excellent graphic artist from Germany, while the audiobook publisher, Amazon’s Audible, had separate covers done for their release (and they’re pretty good). Here are some links:
Shadowkings – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Shadowkings-The-Trilogy-Michael-Cobley-ebook/dp/B00JENOEU6/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1399545526&sr=1-1&keywords=michael+cobley+shadowkings
Shadowgod – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Shadowgod-Shadowkings-Trilogy-Michael-Cobley-ebook/dp/B00JENOFG4/ref=sr_1_3?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1399545526&sr=1-3&keywords=michael+cobley+shadowkings
Shadowmasque – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Shadowmasque-Shadowkings-Trilogy-Michael-Cobley-ebook/dp/B00JENOLKO/ref=sr_1_fkmr1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1399545526&sr=1-1-fkmr1&keywords=michael+cobley+shadowkings
Shadowkings – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Shadowkings-Book-1-Unabridged/dp/B00J9O4UW2/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1399545814&sr=1-3
Shadowgod – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Shadowgod-Shadowkings-Book-2-Unabridged/dp/B00JKA1IWA/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1399545814&sr=1-2
Shadowmasque – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Shadowmasque-Shadowkings-Book-3-Unabridged/dp/B00JVHGGEM/ref=tmm_aud_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1399545526&sr=1-1-fkmr1
At some point I`ll be running a wee competition for some baublesque prizes like posters, bookmarks, keyfobs etc. Just as soon as I finish the new Humanitys Fire book!
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!
Leave a comment
Waaay back at the start of the century, ho ho, my first novel, Shadowkings, was published by Simon & Schuster’s SFF imprint, Earthlight, itself a labour of love by its editor, John Jarrold, who was the one who decided to take me on as a new author. Sadly, various corporate shenanigans led to John bowing out to be replaced by Darren Nash, himself a staunch fan and champion of all things SF and Fantasy. He shepherded the second book, Shadowgod, into print, but then later more corporate musical chairs led to Darren likewise departing while Earthlight the imprint was dissolved. The third book, Shadowmasque, was published, garnered a number of positive reviews yet overall the sales could not make sufficient headway, for various reason.
Anyhow, the situation is that the Shadowkings trilogy shall once more be making its grimdark presence felt, in ebook and audiobook formats. More information (and cover art) shall be forthcoming nearer publication, but as a foretaste here a link to the Bandcamp page of Peri Urban, Edinburgh electronic musician of the first water, and the music that he originally composed back in 2001 – with yr humble scribe providing gruffly intoned lyrics. Take it away…
Leave a comment
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.