Friday, July 22, 2016

Real quick

1) My novelette "Froggy Goes Piggy" is up at The Long+Short. Here's the story and here's a tiny bit about it.

2) Voting for the Sputnik Awards is still open. Shortlisted: Jim Butcher, The Cinder Spires (Roc); Becky Chambers, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet (Hodder & Stoughton); Berit Ellingsen, Not Dark Yet (Two Dollar Radio); N.K. Jemisin, The Fifth Season (Orbit); Emma Newman, Planetfall (Roc); Peter Newman, The Vagrant (Harper Voyager); Naomi Novik, Uprooted (Del Rey); Nnedi Okorafor, The Book of Phoenix (Hodder & Stoughton); Adam Roberts, The Thing Itself (Gollancz); Kim Stanley Robinson, Aurora (Orbit); Neal Stephenson, Seveneves (William Morrow); Fran Wilde, Updraft (Tor Books). If the UK can vote to leave the EU without knowing what it is or whether we're actually in it, you're probably OK to cast a battle-ballot in the Sputniks. I wrote an editorial in the current Interzone to talk a bit about the Sputniks and other new awards.

3) SFRA & CRSF conferences were fun. My papers, "Marvellous Moneys & Financial Familiars" and "The Dystopglyn Glyns," are online at The first one was basically a primer on controversies in the ontology of money, then a few selections from the Economics in SFF project. The second was an attempt at thinking about some of the huge everyday topics and tools of SF Studies (utopia, the future, diegetic prototyping, SF vs. fantasy, Suvin's cognitive estrangement).

4) It is not long since the last flake of the Smurfette fake tat I won for losing Laser Tag washed off my shoulder. Though I think she may have enlisted as a Pokemon. Meanwhile, wouldn't Ghostbusters make an intriguing location-based AR game? Especially if it was genuinely terrifying. A bit Five Nights at Freddy's maybe.

5) If anyone has material they would be willing to contribute to the Economics in SFF project, I'd love to take a look. Here's a formal-ish CfP, but if in doubt, just get in touch.

6) Are you organising a conference or something similar in 2017? Maybe you should get in touch too. There's something I want to talk to you about.

7) "Who?" Here's a good game you can play when you meet new people (& here's the original).

8) Those science fiction conferences. So, there was really far too much great stuff at SFRA & CRSF to attempt even an attempt at a report, but I want to pick out three moments almost at random. One was the long feared and in the event totally gratifying and stimulating collision of contemporary experimental poetry with SFF in the Stephen Mooney panel. A second was Sarah Lohmann's paper on feminist utopias, science, and chaos/complexity. Before I heard that paper and let it sink in a little, I would have said that the problem with utopia-as-CAS is that the transformations of CASs are by definition unpredictable: too open, too flexible, too fickle, and incapable of cherishing and protecting anything worthy of the name utopian. The just-maybe-brilliant insight that suddenly makes me, in a really good way, way less sure, was the focus on science work as a CAS. A society organised according to edge-of-chaos utopian science feels like a very different proposition to a society organised as edge-of-chaos utopia. A third was Joan Haran's keynote, an attentive exploration of points where SFF and activism touch (swirling around WisCon, The Fifth Sacred Thing, Octavia's Brood, and possibilities for genomics SF research activisms).

9) Liverpool is so hot right now. Prof Michael Dougan on Leave and criminal irresponsibility.



Terraforming: Ecopolitical Transformations and Environmentalism in Science Fiction

12) Fredric Jameson in 1982: "For the apparent realism, or representationality, of SF has concealed another, far more complex temporal structure: not to give us 'images' of the future—whatever such images might mean for a reader who will necessarily predecease their 'materialization'—but rather to defamiliarize and restructure our experience of our own present, and to do so in specific ways distinct from all other forms of defamiliarization." The sort of thing I'm trying to return to and perhaps gently productively disagree with in that triptych of talks at Northumbria Summer Speakers / Fantasies of Contemporary Culture / CRSF.

13) Science Fiction and the Medical Humanities at Glasgow University was also good craic. Particularly enjoyed the first panel I went to (Imogen Woodberry, Phoenix Alexander, Joshua Odam) which poked me into seeking out Octavia's Brood ed. Walidah Imarisha and adrienne maree brown. Wish I'd done so sooner. Snippet from the intro:
"Visionary fiction" is a term we developed to distinguish science fiction that has relevance toward building new, freer worlds from the mainstream strain of science fiction, which most often reinforces dominant narratives of power. Visionary fiction encompasses all of the fantastic, with the arc always bending toward justice. We believe this space is vital for any process of decolonization, because the decolonization of the imagination is the most dangerous and subversive form there is: for it is where all other forms of decolonization are born.  
Many of the contributors to Octavia's Brood had never written fiction before, let alone science fiction. When we approached folks, most were hesitant to commit, feeling like they weren't qualified. But overwhelmingly, they all came back a few weeks later, enthusiastically, with incredible ideas and some with dozens of pages already written. Because all organizing is science fiction, we are dreaming new worlds every time we think about the changes we want to make in the world. The writers in this collection just needed a little space, and perhaps permission to immerse themselves fully in their visionary selves.
14) Two very different speculative fiction anthologies out recently.

15) "Work as if you live in the early days of World War III."

16) I'm reading some kind of SF or fantasy prose with TBC in the BristolCon Fringe on 15 August. Come!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Ghosts: A review of Ghostbusters

St. Thomas Aquinas explains: “thus also will his body be raised to the characteristics of heavenly bodies — it will be lightsome (clarity), incapable of suffering (impassible), without difficulty and labour in movement (agility), and most perfectly perfected by its form (subtlety). For this reason, the Apostle speaks of the bodies of the risen as heavenly, referring not to their nature, but to their glory.”

Ghostbusters was not rebooted: it died and was resurrected, shining, impassible, agile, and subtle. From the trailers and one or two reviews I expected it'd be mugging for squees, one of those family films with a layer aimed at kids and another layer aimed at adults who like to say stuff like "adulting is hard :(" a lot ... but it ain't that in the least.

It's shining. It seems to do that thing (that I think Orange is the New Black and maybe Unbreakable Kimmy Schmitt does) where the mild psychological complexity and heft requisite for realist comedy sporadically dissolves into clomping, larger-than-life sketch comedy ... but then the realist comedy somehow reassembles straight afterward as if nothing happened, and you're back with characters you care about. It's not about breaking the fourth wall: it's about passing through innumerable walls, temporarily demonstrating your spectrality.

ghostbusters reboot sequel

Reckon it needed to be five minutes longer, to give significant plot points their due weight. Ideally take like twelve minutes, and give Patty some backstory and/or development, and ectoplasm out the ghosts as characters too. Maybe the combat ontology could have been a little more firmly established before the big showdown too. Because I wasn't quite sure what their gear could do, the Ghostbusters felt even more immortal than normal characters-that-will-definitely-be-fine. Also, Zach Woods inexplicably survives a very glowy, goopy, should-really-be-game-over first brush with the undead, which kind of makes the undead look a bit dud and inept.

So how to tweak those things? Well, maybe lingering on Bill Murray's broken and bloodied body would have been one more handy reminder of the stakes for mortals. And during the back-alley gizmos showcase scene, just a boring line along the lines of, "With these new side-arms, we no longer need the box on the floor to snare these wraiths, ladies; we may dissipate their morphic resonance directly" -- and then a joke -- might have made the later haunty heiny-kicking hijinks more immediately legible and compelling. And/or your man Rowan could have had a spooky security guard helping him out at the lab as an excuse for a mini-tutorial in ghosts vs. Ghostbusters (that mini-showdown felt pretty rushed anyway). So maybe it needed to be fifteen minutes longer. But could get away with five.

Cecily Strong is brilliant and I hope she gets a bigger part in the sequel. Also ... are they actually almost corpsing in a proper big film in the Technobabble ex Machina bit? Kevin's character is less believable than any of the swirly baddies, but that's OK. I could have done with a little more muppety body horror and grotesque visual gags, but now I'm just nitpicking. Totes ace, Thomist af.

Or ...

What is a movie, anyway? A movie begins to be interpreted before it's even been fully shot, and those interpretations must still be interpretations of the movie, right?

John Milton: "The mind is its own place and in itself / Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n."

Here's the question. Is the Ghostbusters eventually seen by the misogynists who are determined to hate-watch it -- and whose experience of the movie is textured and colored by their fruitful, ingenious expectations -- is that part of the real Ghostbusters movie or not? 

I believe Ghostbusters got loads and loads of star ratings, both positive and negative -- mostly negative, from folk who objected to the genderflipped reboot (and the positive ones possibly in the spirit of redressing the balance) -- from people who probably hadn't seen it.

If there are real criticisms to be made of the film, maybe they should be of the swirling green CGI hell version of it, the version that deserves to be whipped into boxes with protons for its essential ugliness, the film as it is construed in the hearts and minds twisted resolutely against it. It's a version of the film I haven't really seen, maybe can't ever really see. But that's what would be necessary, to honor not only the genderflip but also the flip that was there already: the flip that makes what is dead live and what is in hell heavenly.

Also I'm glad there was a Swiss army knife in it, because (a) we've been discussing them a lot recently and (b) it reminds me of the line in the play Woundman and Shirley that describes Woundman as looking like "sort of a cross between Bill Murray and a Swiss army knife."

Also Ghostbusters could make an interesting location-based AR game. Gotta bust 'em all.

Also more like Slimo Yiannopoulos but whatever.

Also ScotCoin: I ain't afraid of no groats.

Also I think one of the things that stops Holzmann being just a tube for squirting kook is those moments where she gives brief, assured, no-nonsense tutorials on the stuff she's made. I feel like I've met people like that? They act out so much you think they're going to be actors or poets or something, and then you realise that they're scientists or engineers, and that blend of arrogance and joy and insecurity and yearning trollishness is actually grounded in a sense of, "fuck it, if all else fails at least I know how to make stuff." Maybe?

Also have you seen Ghostbusters? It's not as good as the BOO!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Froggy Goes Piggy

I have a new story up at The Long+Short, which is about the future of collective intelligence, precarity, Intelligent Personal Assistants, augmented reality, Pokemon GO, cryptocurrency, payments technology, kawaii brands, fintech that attempts to visualize/gamify/humanize financial complexity, frogs, the gig economy, people powered healthcare, butts, the fragmentation and financialization of healthcare, pets, David Attenborough, and things like that.


Artwork by Mike Stout.

Other fiction in the series by JY Yang, Tim Maughan, and Ayodele Arigbabu.

Brett Scott researches, explores, and hacks economic and financial systems. He led the excellent Alternative Finance Workshop at Monkton Wyld Court, which inspired and informed the story.

That workshop was put together by Stir to Action, a community organisation who work around social and community enterprises, co-operatives, and campaigns, and innovative, alternative, progressive economics. They publish the magazine STIR, run workshop programmes and short courses, produces how-to resources, design financing to make things happen, and are generally great.

Also see the Nesta / Tim Maughan collaboration in 2013 that led to 'Zero Hours,' a biting indictment of what we might now call 'Uber but for having a job.'

Also see Science Fiction and the Medical Humanities, based in Glasgow: the current project is now mostly finished, but hopefully will lead to other things.

The Long+Short collective intelligence stories are all (I think -- mine definitely is) released under the Creative Commons CC-BY 4.0 license, which means you can do pretty much whatever you like with them (including commercially) so long as you attribute.

Chernoff Faces: a bold albeit dubious idea in dataviz, which informs the Pokemoney GOLD conceit.

Also see Twelve Tomorrows 2016 ed. Bruce Sterling, where I have a story touching on some of the same fintech visualization territory. I will be putting out an expanded version of that story as soon as I get some time. (Probably just on Medium, unless you are an editor of some excellent paywall-free site that would like to host it, in which case get in touch).

I am sick with fear ;D

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Big and Embrous

The last thing I need is a thing, let alone a book, let alone a book of science fiction, let alone a collection of short sf stories.

But I just might be tempted by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer's Big Book of Science Fiction (contents at i09, plus inevitable thread of outrage at omissions). A big introduction, some interesting story picks to represent well-known authors, a lot of authors I've vaguely heard of and never read, a few authors I've never heard of, and evidence of real efforts to recover erased histories and to adopt an international outlook (including some original translations).

And Rose Lemberg's An Alphabet of Embers, also just out, looks hot. An anthology of very short unclassifiables, "between poetry and prose," mostly by speculative fiction type writers, including plenty of newer voices. (And I think mine is already probably winging its way to Bristol as my Kickstarter reward).

Pokemon GO

A good game

Here's a good game: "stonily deny any knowledge of a person or cultural touchstone that you should, by virtue of your other cultural reference points, definitely be aware of." Some of my go-tos include:

John Updike, William Gibson, bongs, Russel Hoban, magical realism, trance parties, Crystal Maze, Charles Bukowski, Joy Division, Jack Kerouac, Italo Calvino, Guy Debord, The Mighty Boosh, Doctor Who apart from NuWho, Cory Doctorow, self-explanatory portmanteau neologizing, Hunter S. Thompson, Steve Jobs, William Burroughs, Brighton, Hegel, Rihanna, zombies (be aware of the word, but conflate with vampire), The Matrix, Bernie Sanders, The Big Lebowski, Stewart Lee, the word “hipster” (conflate with “hippie”), John le Carré, Alan Partridge, Glasto, Owen Jones, Margaret Atwood, Banksy, Martin Amis, Cormac McCarthy, the expression “grammar Nazi,” Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Woody Allen, Kurt Vonnegut, Drake, millennials, Ursula le Guin, Vladimir Nabokov, Fight Club, Terry Pratchett, the expression “garbage person,” anything with "utopia" in the title, Girls, Gilmore Girls, Christmas jumpers, Blur, dubstep, Thomas Pynchon, The Green Party, Father Jack, Samuel L. Jackson, Cards Against Humanity, The “Žižek Game,” Common, Samuel Beckett, taxidermy, Just Jinjer, Theodor Adorno, insulin, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmitt, search engines other than Google, burlesque, Wallace & Gromit, Jorge Luis Borges, social media other than Facebook and LinkedIn, stepcore, Lee-Ann Perrins, the transformative use exception in IP law, Prince, Verity Spott, Jay-Z, Muhammad Ali, the medical/health humanities, Terry Wogan, J.G. Ballard, Cilla Black, Monty Python, any Pokémon before Pokémon GO, Flann O’Brien, CrossFit, Slajov Žižek, Charles Kennedy, Francis Crot, Withnail and I, The God Delusion, Alasdair Gray, David Bowie (except that he died), Alan Hay, Inception, Radiohead, Maya Angelou, memes (always be more specific: “image macros”; “photoshopped images shared on Facebook”), the expression “grammar nerd,” Rosa Lyster, veganism, David Lynch, Jackie Chan, Morrisey, Lisa Jeschke and Lucy Beynon, CPR, The Toast, Salvador Dali, The Wire, Ernest Hemingway, The NHS, David Cronenberg, Afrika Burn, anarchism, steampunk, Nicolas Cage, Don DeLillo, bunting (this one’s good), China Mieville, Dungeons & Dragons, A Clockwork Orange. And the EU.