Sunday, September 27, 2015

Bristol Con-cludes

A report by Cheryl Morgan.

This link to the Cornell Collective podcast begins broken but maybe one day will be whole.

& Joanne Hall's report!

& Rosie Oliver's report!

& Richard Bendall's!

& SJ Higbee's!

& Peter Sutton's!

& Isha Crowe's!

& Steven Poore's!

& Dolly Garland's!

& Misa Buckley's!

& Geek-Out SW's!

& Kate Coe's!

UPDATE: An even bigger & more offish round-up of reports.

By the way, the v. fetching were-clown flash fic, from Friday's open mic, is by Mjke Wood, as-yet unpublished.

*   *   *

On Saturday I tenaciously blew up Twitter till my final follower muted me, and/or my battery died ... which is also about the time things start to go blurry.

Lemme think. I remember some amusing stuff from Peter Newman on the Bad-Ass With A Baby panel, all about the different skillsets required by the dungeons & dragons genre versus the diapers & developmental milestones genre. And then there are those slightly older kids, whose desires and hypotheses and especially whose questions have ways of re-estranging and re-enchanting what is already strange and fantastical.

Also, at one point ("wastage" + eye-twinkle) Jasper Fforde seemed to quietly but firmly imply that Peter Caveman and his kin would have been eaten by a sabre-toothed tiger.

Doc Bob presented some speculative research into the pedagogy of the Formics, the Prador et al.: since they spawn on the scale of salmon, you'd need hundreds of alien teachers per mother. How does the salmon-xenomorph culture respawn? Then somebody in the audience is all like, "Yeah, neural interface chips though?" then somebody else is all like, "Yeah, fish and chips though?" Fucking hell everyone, well done.

Doc Bob had exact stats, obv. I think it's important we don't just imagine things that don't exist, but count them. In the dystopias panel, Dave Hutchinson was I think the only panelist who found a way to provide a precise numerical answer to a semi-joking demand for one. "Exactly how many characters should you kill?" Zero. "I wouldn't kill anyone." (But maybe one or two characters would disappear).

I like that feeling when a panel discussion seems a bit off-topic and then when you think about it, no, actually that's totally on-topic. For instance, the Bad-Ass With A Baby panel talked quite a bit about the ease with which genre fiction disappears or, more likely, kills parents. It kills our protagonist's parents, just to get the ball rolling, then gives our protagonist some parental figures, then probably kills them as well. A bit of me says, Hmm, Is This The Bad-Ass Orphan Panel Or What ... but actually, it is the same topic: it's about creating a character through an origin story that suppresses social context (including familial context), as opposed to creating characters by creating that context.

There was an interesting back-and-forth between Stephanie Saulter and Jasper Fforde: on the one hand, dismembering familial structures just to get your convenient plot ingredients has the aura of a tired trope, something which deserves to be parodied, subverted and just plain ignored. The same is true of familial relationships when they are sketched in a perfunctory way: it is important to insist on the validity of the child's world, and not just use a child to illustrate something about your adult characters, or to provide a portal-fantasy-type naïf to channel your worldbuilding through. The infant is always on its own quest, and the squeaky bladder just out of reach of its fat little fingers has an epic significance equal to that of the skeleton army that's trying to eat its daddy's soul. (Although, is that true?)

On the other hand, the fantasy of the dismembered family may run its roots deep, even down through culture into neurology. Imagining away parents is a part of a process of individuation, something that is perhaps it better captured by developmental psychology than by literary criticism. Maybe in some ways it's a fantasy that's impervious to the critique of "yeah whatever heard it already."

By the way: in Debt, in his account of the rise of general-purpose money and the permeability between 'human' and 'market' economies, David Graeber writes with characteristic lucidity on what it may mean to trim away someone's familial and other social bonds: "Slavery is the ultimate form of being ripped from one’s context, and thus from all the social relationships that make one a human being [...] The slave is, in a very real sense, dead" (p. 168). The lone individual is supposed to be badass, because otherwise they'd just be a thing.

*   *   *

I went to Peter Newman's great Getting Unstuck workshop, which almost had like a Chris Morris Dance vibe, or like, it had the vibe of one of those comic sketches where the conceit is that some genteel activity which would normally be done incredibly ponderously is done with the energy and urgency and heavy-riffing soundtrack of a brutal contact sport.

Yup, glimpses of some intriguing projects plus I think I got unstuck.

But by now, a lot of little thoughts & incidents throughout the day also secretly coalesced into a new impasse, mostly unconnected with anything I'm writing at the moment. What would a piece of genre fiction look like that really, honestly, to the max, and in an entirely contemporary and up-to-date way, did the things we endlessly aggrandize the genre for doing? -- like, expose how the civilization we live in works, and teach us how to concretely desire a better one? E.g., one corner of that is:
Emma Newman's Fear & Writing small session earlier in the day was kind of splendid in its own way too, btw.

*   *   *

The Here Be Dragons panel explored the dragon as an allegory in decline from Satan to Smaug to Game of Thrones materiel -- Smaug featured prominently, but I missed mention of LeGuin's Earthsea dragons -- turned to contemplation of burping newt dragons, hardboiled steel-trammelled Tinkerbells With A Past et al., then pretty quickly disintegrated into giggles. (Btw, Here Be an older post of mine which vaguely touches on Tom Pollock's monsters). We finished with a kind of monster slam & I voted for Sarah Ash's Hennen on a technicality: the panelists were asked to provide a mythical creature, and hulders, motile haggises, penanggalan vampire ghosts and armored battle-chickens are just normal animal friends, whereas the Hennen only gets real if you detach the carrots from your shoes. I'm pretty sure motile haggis is in Genesis. I think the Hugos should adopt the "loudest cheer" system. Ben Gally seemed to hint he'd been replaced by a fey Ben Gally. By this stage Capgras Delusion had been replaced by Fey Capgras Delusion. A bonus reading from S.J. Higbee which felt like I'd swallowed a catherine-wheel. I copped Gally swag. Twitter myths came to life. The monsters multiplied and mutated all about the bar(ds). A Hennen chased me along the supermoon-lit cyclepath with a spiralizer.

Would con again.

*   *   *

UPDATE: large academic conferences don't, I think, usually have con crud in quite the same way. (Tbh, I'm not even sure music festivals do). I don't want to immediately leap to the jocky inference that fandom's aggregate immuno-response and/or hygiene lack conviction and drive. For instance, another difference is the fondled merch. For instance, Vector. Maybe the slow relentless steadiness of the boozing plays a part too? And I bet more people pull out of academic conferences when they're feeling under the weather than pull out of conventions. I wonder if there's a discernible correlation between fees (sunk costs) and con crud incidence. To do get lemsip cosplay hazmat suit innit.

Newb Maps of Hell

So my small collection of SFF reviews is free on Kindle for the next couple days. Squee!

Newb Maps of Hell (UK)
Newb Maps of Hell (US)

Haven't been reviewing so much lately. I hate reading!

Monday, September 14, 2015

How Long It Takes

"It took me nine years to write this book."

With writing a book, it's always interesting to know when someone started and finished. I think this is partly because we become different people, over time, and it's interesting to know (very roughly) how many people wrote a book.

But these statements don't generate comparable data. Someone who wrote a book in nine years hasn't necessarily worked on it longer than someone who wrote a book in one. They haven't necessarily even been stuck for longer on how to progress their books.

Besides, you know you really began it sooner than you're claiming. You probably began it before you were born. It probably began you.

So that's why I find it strange when people say, "I spent nine years writing this book."

This blog post took me three feet, nineteen degrees, a lumen, a light-year and a cow's grass to write, so you'd better listen up.

Today, Tomorrow

The short talk I gave for the Northumbria Summer Speakers Series is now up on (with the bits I cut out put back in) mostly about science fiction and its relationship with the future. I'm hoping to revisit some of the theoretical material here on the blog, at greater length, if not much greater rigor, before too long.

Elsewhere: MIT Twelve Tommorows 2016"We've been trying to elude GHOST HARDWARE, but as Tim Maughan discovers, that's easier said than done" / Dada Data and the Internet of Paternalistic Things.

One of the other speakers at the event was the author Jane Alexander whom you'd better check out right now.

And Rasheedah Phillips, talking at Ferguson is the Future, probably sums up the whole science-fiction-as-acts-provoking-the-future thing way better than where I left it, with design fiction. "The teen mother surviving and not becoming another statistic, and not dropping out of high school, that science fictional story needs to be heard." (Panel 1, beginning at around 30:00).

Earlier: Metafuturism.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

SFF names #8: Ged

Sounds a bit like "God" or "G-d" doesn't it?

But also, you know that bit near the end -- you know that bit I mean, the bit near the end? -- do you think it can be read as a critique, or perhaps even a parody, of the notion which is played straight in the rest of the book, the notion that knowledge of a True Name confers power to the knower?

After all (you know the bit I mean, right?), who has the power in that situation?

I'm really not going to say anything else.

Honestly, this comment is otherwise ENTIRELY suppressed because of spoilers. In its place, a quotation from William James:
Metaphysics has usually followed a very primitive kind of quest. You know how men have always hankered after unlawful magic, and you know what a great part in magic words have always played. If you have his name, or the formula of incantation that binds him, you can control the spirit, genie, afrite, or whatever the power may be. Solomon knew the names of all the spirits, and having their names, he held them subject to his will. So the universe has always appeared to the natural mind as a kind of enigma, of which the key must be sought in the shape of some illuminating or power-bringing word or name. That word names the universe's principle and to possess it is after a fashion to possess the universe itself. "God," "Matter," "Reason," "the Absolute," "Energy," are so many solving names. You can rest when you have them. You are at the end of your metaphysical quest. But if you follow the pragmatic method, you cannot look on any such word as closing your quest. You must bring out of each word its practical cash-value, set it at work within the stream of your experience. It appears less as a solution, then, than as a program for more work, and more particularly as an indication of the ways in which existing realities may be changed.

SFF names #7: Shevek
SFF names #6: Buhle
SFF names #5: Parva "Pen" Khan
SFF names #4: Beth Bradley
SFF names #3: Rumpelstiltskin
SFF names #2: Lucy
SFF names #1: Winnie

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Internet of Oh and One More Things

I'm not sure when it will be out, but I have another strange story coming out, this one in MIT Technology Review's Twelve Tomorrows which is  available for pre-order. (I took everything way too literally and put in loads of reviews of technology). There's some sweet hype from io9 here. io9 you do come from the future!

Informal acknowledgements to go with the story. The twenty-two words beginning “Mercifully, the whole thing” are from William Gibson’s “The Gernsback Continuum” and the forty-nine words beginning “You know how to take a book” are from Max Black’s “The Identity of Indiscernibles” (see Note). Other background reading which was really helpful included Vinyals, Toshev, Bengio, Erhan, “Show and Tell: a Neural Image Caption Generator”; Anh Nguyen, Jason Yosinski, Jeff Clune, “Deep Neural Networks are Easily Fooled: High Confidence Predictions for Unrecognizable Images”; Margalynne Armstrong, “Reparations Litigation: What About Unjust Enrichment?”; Charles J. Ogletree, Jr., “Repairing the Past: New Efforts in the Reparations Debate in America”; Brett Scott, The Heretic’s Guide to Global Finance: Hacking the Future of Money; Elaine Showalter, The Female Malady: Women, Madness, and English culture, 1830–1980; and Lisa Appignanesi, Mad, Bad and Sad: A History of Women and the Mind Doctors. And thanks to Tim Maughan for selfie drones (see my pre-emptive response to his Superflux Drone Fictions).

And really special thanks to Nathan Crock and Bradford Tuckfield for invaluable assistance in thinking through the PrivilegeCheck thing -- in way more detail than actually made it into the story -- and to Samantha Walton, Lucy Kemnitzer, Rob Kiely, Mark Bolsover, William Ellwood, & Sarah Hayden for all your help with writing & editing. And to my ma for receiving suspicious packages for me.

*   *   *

DeepDish SausageFest

Elsewhere: I think I finished this one before Google's DeepDream went viral and showed the internet what we had long suspected, that our monads are puppyslugs. But for what it's worth, this story definitely goes into DeepDream-type territory, so here's an interesting Medium piece by Kyle McDonald on more recent imagery generated through deep convolutional neural networks.

Earlier: I read TT 2014, by the way, and it has some great work in it (two of which are mentioned in my economic speculative fiction listicle. Speculonomics. Fictisticle.).

Later: There is more to story to tell about that world (because it's this world) so hopefully there will be some kind of sequel / prequel / interquel before too long.

Note: I figure NeurodiversiME partly works by scraping and sculpting content, so a few micro-plagiarisms are appropriate. Max Black ICE or whevs, come at me, orbs.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015


Jonathan Jones's Guardian clickbait reminded me of Jupiter Jones's early precursor to clickbait, cluebait.

People cannot help but ask Jupiter Jones what the three question marks stand for, even when they've got a lot of important stuff to be doing today.
“It's a very impressive card, young man. But may I ask what the question marks stand for?”  
The three had been waiting for that question. Hardly anyone failed to ask it when they saw the card. 
“The question mark, otherwise known as the interrogation mark,” Jupiter said, “stands for things unknown, questions unanswered, mysteries unsolved, riddles of any sort.” 
(The Mystery of the Fiery Eye)

On Terry Pratchett