Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Owl, the Pussycat and the Jetpack

We are giving away this mini-collection of short stories ("Fred," "The Invasion," "The Butteryellow Reliquary") free on the Kindle.

Robert Kiely: "You have gotten this far, you can see the elegantly shaped vessel and its invigorating contents above, why not partake? I did. Now all my wrinkles are gone and I eat fruit five times a day and veg five times too, doubling up on that shit. These stories are like the bald cry of a newborn baby, which I suppose might irritate some of you, but it shouldn't, it is beautiful, but perhaps I picked up the wrong metaphor, I am keeping it nonetheless. Deal alien goo? This is for you. Megabyte coding pastoral? Grab it by the dorsal."

Thursday, December 26, 2013


A revised edition (1.4) of Invocation is now out, correcting some minor errors. Like, I'd spelled pétanque "peutonk" (thank you, nick-e melville). The Kindle edition is also currently cheap as can be.

Meanwhile, have finally started working on something new. More SFish than fantasyish. I think this will be the epigraph:

The universe is made of atoms, not stories.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

From "Touching the Void"

By Joe Simpson.

Touching the Void on Amazon. Joe Simpson's web site


The voice kept urging me on, ‘Place-lift-brace-hop ... keep going. Look how far you’ve gone. Just do it, don’t think about it ...’

I did as I was told. Stumbling past and sometimes over boulders, falling, crying, swearing in a litany that matched the pattern of my hopping. I forgot why I was doing it; forgot even the idea that I probably wouldn’t make it. Running on instincts that I had never suspected were in me, and drifting down the sea of moraines in a blurred delirium of thirst, and pain and hopping, I timed myself religiously. I looked ahead to a landmark and gave myself half an hour to reach it. As I neared the mark, a furious bout of watch-glancing would ensue, until it became part of the pattern ... place-lift-brace-hop-time. If I realised I was behind time I tried to rush the last ten minutes of hopping. I fell so much more when I rushed but it had become so damned important to beat the watch. Only once did I fail to beat it, and I sobbed with annoyance. The watch became as crucial as my good leg. I had no sense of time passing, and with each fall I lay in a semi-stupor, accepting the pain and quite unaware of how long I had been there. A look at the watch would galvanise me into action, especially when I saw it had been five minutes and not the thirty seconds it had felt like.


As I gazed at the distant moraines I knew that I must at least try. I would probably die out there amid those boulders. The thought didn’t alarm me. It seemed reasonable, matter-of-fact. That was how it was. I could aim for something. If I died, well, that wasn’t so surprising, but I wouldn’t have just waited for it to happen. The horror of dying no longer affected me as it had in the crevasse. I now had the chance to confront it and struggle against it. It wasn’t a bleak dark terror any more, just fact, like my broken leg and frostbitten fingers, and I couldn’t be afraid of things like that. My leg would hurt when I fell, and when I couldn’t get up I would die. In a peculiar way it was refreshing to be faced with simple choices. It made me feel sharp and alert, and I looked ahead at the land stretching into distant haze and saw my part in it with a greater clarity and honesty than I had ever experienced before.

I had never been so entirely alone, and although this alarmed me it also gave me strength. An excited tingle ran down my spine. I was committed. The game had taken over, and I could no longer choose to walk away from it. It was ironic to have come here searching out adventure and then find myself involuntarily trapped in a challenge harder than any I had sought. For a while I felt thrilled as adrenalin boosted through me, but it couldn’t drive away the loneliness or shorten the miles of moraines tumbling towards the lakes. The sight of what lay ahead soon killed the excitement. I was abandoned to this awesome and lonely place. It sharpened my perception to see clearly and sharply the facts behind the mass of useless thoughts in my head, and to realise how vital it was just to be there, alive and conscious, and able to change things. There was silence, and snow, and a clear sky empty of life, and me, sitting there, taking it all in, accepting what I must try to achieve. There were no dark forces acting against me. A voice in my head told me that this was true, cutting through the jumble in my mind with its coldly rational sound.

It was as if there were two minds within me arguing the toss. The voice was clean and sharp and commanding. It was always right, and I listened to it when it spoke and acted on its decisions. The other mind rambled out a disconnected series of images, and memories and hopes, which I attended to in a daydream state as I set about obeying the orders of the voice. I had to get to the glacier. I would crawl on the glacier, but I didn’t think that far ahead. If my perspectives had sharpened, so too had they narrowed, until I thought only in terms of achieving predetermined aims and no further. Reaching the glacier was my aim. The voice told me exactly how to go about it, and I obeyed while my other mind jumped abstractedly from one idea to another.


A couple of times I looked back at the ice cliffs as I hobbled away down the rocks. Each time they grew smaller and I felt that I was shutting the door on something intangible but menacing that had been with me for so long. Those cliffs were the doors to the mountains. I grinned when I glanced at them. I had won a battle of some sort. I could feel it deep inside. Now it was just the patterns, and the pain, and water. Could I reach Bomb Alley tonight? Now that would be something to grin about! It wasn’t so far from here, twenty minutes’ walk, and that couldn’t be so hard! And that was my mistake. I stopped timing landmarks and set my sights on Bomb Alley and the silver floods of icy melt-water pouring down its flanks. When it became dark I had no idea how far Bomb Alley was, nor did I know how far I had crawled. Without checking my watch I had lain in stupefied exhaustion after every fall. Lain there and listened to endless stories running through the pain, watched short dreams of life in the real world, played songs to my heartbeat, licked the mud for water, and wasted countless hours in an empty dream. Now I staggered blind in the dark, obsessed with Bomb Alley, ignoring the voice which told me to sleep, and rest, and forget the alley. I got my head-torch from my sack and blundered on until the light died.


Turning towards the lakes I saw that I was a long way above the site of Bomb Alley. All that staggering in the dark had been for nothing. How stupid it had been to forget the watch-keeping yesterday, and how quickly I had lost any idea of time. Bomb Alley had then become a vague aim instead of a carefully planned objective. Without timing each stage I had drifted aimlessly with no sense of urgency. Today it had to be different. I decided that four hours would be enough to reach Bomb Alley. Twelve noon was the deadline, and I intended to break those hours into short stages, each one carefully timed. I searched ahead for the first landmark -- a tall pillar of red rock that stood out clearly above the sea of boulders. Half an hour to reach it, and then I would look for another.


I lay on my side watching them until I couldn’t fight off the appalling drowsy weakness any longer. The deterioration scared me deeply and made me wonder anxiously whether I had burnt myself out completely. It occurred to me that I was nearer to death than when I had been alone. The minute I knew help was at hand something had collapsed inside me. Whatever had been holding me together had gone. Now I could not think for myself, let alone crawl! There was nothing to fight for, no patterns to follow, no voice, and it frightened me to think that, without these, I might run out of life.

Friday, December 6, 2013

November: a few links

"With Augmented Reality You'll Always Know When No REALLY Means Yes," by Tim Maughan.  "Weakness analysis — having trouble finding chinks in her armour? Our powerful face and body analysis software will scan your target and compare her attributes to a constantly updated top ten of celebrity hotties, identifying areas where she likely feels inadequate. Make her feel a million dollars instead by complimenting her in the ways she’s desperate to hear." See also: "Collision Detection."


An intriguing request from Karen Lord about her novel The Best of All Possible Worlds. "What I am wondering is whether certain parts of my book are being overlooked by readers and reviewers who are not well-versed in postcolonial and Caribbean literature. I’m referring to two chapters: ‘Bacchanal’ and ‘The Master’s House’. [...] I’d be so grateful if an academic or reviewer in Caribbean and postcolonial literature could examine, assess and critique the book in general and those two chapters in particular from a position of expert knowledge. My job is to write the stuff, not explain it, and my policy is to rarely react to reviews, so I can’t guarantee any kind of ‘you’ve got it’ endorsement. I simply want to see a discussion started in an area that I feel is significant but has been barely mentioned as yet."


Tony Ballantyne's "If Only ... A Taste of Your Own Medicine" (Nature / Concatenation, PDF) is a seething quirky one-page parable. "'Magic?' said Sacha, her eyes suddenly shining. “You mean there’s really such a thing?' 'Of course not. But I can’t explain to you how it’s really done because you’re not allowed science any more.'"


Greg Egan's The Arrows of Time is hitting a shelflike direction near you. "In between the timelike and spacelike directions are those traced out by light; these are known as lightlike or null directions." Try out his worldbuilding notes, in which there is no distinction between timelike and spacelike. Plus: spot the deliberate physics mistake!


“Memorably described by Charles Stross as the 'fictional agitprop arm of the Technocratic movement,' science fiction has tended to do incredibly well in periods of hubristic cultural expansion when the boundaries of possibility somehow appear both endless and within easy reach. Despite this proven track record when it comes to frontier spirit and two-fisted optimism, science fiction has also displayed a remarkable capacity for re-invention that has seen it resonate in periods of intense cultural retrenchment when all thoughts naturally turn to the moral difficulties of empire and what it means to live in a culture that has definitely passed its prime.” Jonathan McCalmont's Future Interrupted column #1. Originally in Interzone.


Amazon nano-choppers delivering It straight to your driveway (BBC). You have a driveway, right? You want It, right?


With 27 days still on the clock, Adam Roberts calls it for the best science fiction of 2013 (Guardian). Also: Roberts on Margaret Atwood's Maddaddam (Strange Horizons).


Nicholas Royle's Nightjar Press publishes limited edition fiction chapbooks, with recent titles by M. John Harrison & Hilary Scudder.

My envelope arrived stiffened with cereal box cardboard: Crispy Minis and Golden Nuggets.


Patrick McCray on the futurism of Kaku and O'Neill.


Edinburgh fowk: the 17th of December is Syndicate 10: Subsong, the last Syndicate of the year, & perhaps even the last.  Why not come along (Facebook)? Advanced poetry, the possibility of scattered robot parts, even a Syngularity.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Ends of Humanity

"Now, with the death of communism and social democracy's struggle to sustain its postwar gains, the idea of the whole of humanity as a potential political subject barely exists. Socialism is dead, and its death — as Nietzsche observed of God’s — has had unexpected effects. One of the less happy consequences of the end of socialism as a mass ideology is the end of humanity as an imagined community. This has consequences in our real communities; the rise of far-right parties across Europe is one of them." Ken MacLeod on socialism and transhumanism at Aeon.


Does .@ exist in science fiction?

It's a Twitter thing. Let me explain.

If your tweet begins "@so-and-so," that means it will appears in the timelines of so-and-so plus whoever follows both you and so-and-so. Your followers won't see it, unless they also follow so-and-so (or go looking for it).

That makes sense -- you're so different when you're around so-and-so :(

It's a clever piece of design, which encourages you to have one-on-one conversations on Twitter without worrying about spamming all your followers.

There's a little hack to circumvent this -- just stick any character in front of the "@" and it will appear in all your followers' timelines. (For some reason, .@ is gaining currency against the more aesthetically pleasing ж@ and ‽@). The use of .@ suggests a kind of solicited eavesdropping, or spectacle chitchat. It suggests, "I'm talking to so-and-so, but I want everybody to hear this."

Understandably getting an .@ makes some people squeamish. It can be reminiscent of the IRL situation where you're chatting with somebody who keeps glancing past you to see if there's someone more important or interesting (or less abrasively fascinating) they can talk to instead. Is my attention not good enough for you?

My hunch, by the way, is that the squeamishness will diminish, and that .@ will lose that tarnish of mild pomposity and neediness, and get assimilated into the quotidian, perhaps non-pathological practices of putting yourself out there and getting all up in everyone's shit. Posting on somebody's Facebook wall once felt weird -- you've got the message function, why do you want "the whole world" to see that you guys should really meet up for gin fizzes, or are readying the launch sequence, or whatever?

But my question is: are we seeing this kind of not-quite-private, not-quite-public speech appear in science fiction yet? It's a very common trope of postcyberpunk in particular to have characters who are permanently online (perhaps via wearable devices, perhaps via surgically-implanted neural interfaces -- a lace, a jack, a plexcore, a jewel, a cranial crest, an inlay, an e-i, a Descartes fin, a think tank, a cornoggincopia) and therefore, as it were, permanently fucking around on social media.

I can think of some science fiction that comes close. A character in Iain M. Banks's Matter hilariously makes arch, melodramatic asides to a presumed swarm of surveillance lurkers. In Cory Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom characters sometimes hold one conversation out loud, and another subvocally ("Jesus, Lil, you are one rangy cowgirl"). There's Jennifer Egan's quasi-prescient Look at Me and innumerable tales of authenticity angst and self-fashioning under the social media gaze. People drop in on each other's consciousnesses pretty casually in an old Lorqi Blinks story of mine, "Fred." In Tim Maughan's "Limited Edition" Twitter is a ubiquitous and mandatory identity prosthesis -- for insight into a character, the ignorant gossip of online personae becomes just as important as an extended introspective soliloquy. The protagonist of Linda Nagata's The Red: First Light is a soldier who is networked not only with his squad, his spy drone, and his real time remote strategist, but is also the reluctant star of a reality TV show. The soldiers of Adam Roberts's New Model Army have naturalised their wiki-like comms medium and probably don't think of themselves as "using social media" any more than we think of ourselves as "using talking."

But I can't think of any true examples of "social living" (by analogy with social networking, social browsing, social learning, social tagging, etc.) in science fiction -- any works where the characters really seem to be surrounded by a penumbra of watchers, for whom they occasionally partly perform. Specifically, I can't think of any kind of ".@" moment.

Perhaps such moments are out there? Or perhaps they're coming?

Anyway, here's some Emma:
"Poor @MissTaylor!—I wish she were here again. What a pity it is that @MrWeston ever thought of her!"
".@Papa, I cannot agree with you; you know I cannot. @MrWeston is such a good-humoured, pleasant, excellent man, that he thoroughly deserves a good wife;—and you would not have had Miss Taylor live with us for ever, and bear all my odd humours, when she might have a house of her own?"
"@MyDear, A house of her own!—But where is the advantage of a house of her own? This is three times as large.—And you have never any odd humours."
"How often we shall be going to see them, and they coming to see us!—We shall be always meeting! We must begin; we must go and pay wedding visit very soon. #parents"
"My dear, how am I to get so far? @Randalls is such a distance. I could not walk half so far."
UPDATE: .@ruthlesscult suggests Rudy Rucker's Postsingularity (2007) is worth a look as regards living surveiled / monetising it; duly added to my TBR beard.

Monday, December 2, 2013


"Imagine Bob Heinlein wearing a box-fresh leather jacket at a smart-drinks concession, speed-reading Wired from behind a pair of dime-store mirrorshades, and you're in the right neck of the woods." Over at Los Angeles Review of Books, a very distinguished review of Paul Di Fillipo's Wikiworld by Paul Graham Raven, which is also a crow's eye view (AAAARGH I DID THE JOKE WRONG) of the SF field more generally.