|The Early Days of a Better Nation|
Friday, April 19, 2013
Next Thursday, 25 April at 6.30 pm. the Scottish Poetry Library hosts live readings from the highly successful SF poetry anthology Where Rockets Burn Through, edited by Russell Jones.
This event will also include a short movie by Dan Warren based on Edwin Morgan's SF poem, ‘In Sobieski's Shield’. The event will feature the following poets:
25 April 2013 - 6:30pm
Scottish Poetry Library, 5 Crichton's Close, Canongate, Edinburgh
Details and bookings here.
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Bloke-lit's the kind of book Nick Hornby and Tony Parsons do so well: a first-person, confessional tale of an ordinary guy who behaves with typical male insensitivity and self-absorption until at least one exasperated woman-in-his-life knocks him about the head with some home truths. In Descent the narrator's excuse for being such a dick is that in his teens he got knocked on the head by a flying saucer. Also, he suspects the revolution may have happened while he was studying for his final high school exams. When his girlfriend tells him he and she may be from different human species, relationships become strained. We've all been there.
There's no doubt more to be done with it but the feeling of a weight off my shoulders is dizzying. I intend to make very sure my next novel is outlined in far more detail before I start writing -- but then, I always say that.
So, on to stuff I've been neglecting for the past few weeks:
First, as many of you know, Intrusion has been shortlistedfor the Arthur C. Clarke Award. I am of course delighted. This year's shortlist has caused some controversy, which has raised the award's mainstream profile. The book's latest enthusiastic review is in the LA Review of Books (which seems to have a rather Clutean policy of not worrying about spoilers, so be warned).
Second, Intrusion didn't win the BSFA Award for best novel -- Adam Roberts' Jack Glass did, for which belated congratulations.
Third, my novella The Human Front is now out in a new US edition from PM Press, with supplementary material, and very good it looks too. If you want a signed (and personalised, if you like) copy of this nifty paperback, you can order/reserve one at Edinburgh's great SF bookshop Transreal. An ebook version is available here.
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
A non-fiction story, that is; or a poem; or four to six pages of graphic non-fiction? If so, and if you're not a professionally published writer, this exciting competion sponsored by EuroStemCell could be your big chance.
We're looking for imaginative science writing, fresh and original, accurate and relevant, on the theme of stem cells and regenerative medicine, and accessible to a non-specialist audience.
Fame (your work published worldwide online) and fortune (300 euros first prize, 50 euros each for two runners-up) await. That's got to be worth a few hours of anybody's time. So take a look, read the criteria and the terms and conditions carefully, and give it a go.
Thursday, April 04, 2013
Iain has given me enormous support and encouragement over these four decades. He read and critiqued early drafts of my first novel, and gave it a great boost with a generous cover quote. In recent years we've taken to talking over rather than reading each other's works in progress. For me at least that has been an irreplaceable part of the process of writing. Reading his books is a delight in itself, and a permanent inspiration to try harder. His work has had the same effect on SF as a whole: an open invitation to raise the game and an example of how to do it.
Iain, it has suddenly and terribly become clear, is one of those authors who is not only popular but loved, and whose work has become a part of how many of his readers think and feel about the world. The outpouring of tributes has been almost unbearably moving.
A website has been set up for family and fans to leave messages and check on his progress. Go there, now.
Wednesday, April 03, 2013
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Artists, at least the kind of artists who cause outrage and bafflement when their work is exhibited in the Tate, have a similar problem. You want your work to glom onto something significant and say something about it that makes sense to yourself if to no one else, and you're allowed to do that with any material at all within the law and health and safety regulations: bits of tin, wire, plaster of Paris, marble, bronze, paint, canvas, neon tubes, dust bunnies, pickled shark... If you're very clever and /or lucky, you might hit on exactly the right expression for some feeling or situation or condition that no one has quite put their finger on before. Fame, fortune, and an angry editorial in the Daily Mail await.
So there they are, social scientists and artists, looking about, antennae quivering, alert for the new. Might they sometimes help each other lock onto the same scent?
Last week I attended a symposium at Inspace, the arts venue of Edinburgh University's Informatics Department. The space is functionally divided between an auditorium and a gallery, and is so modern it aches -- literally enough after a while, as the audience sits on thin cushions scattered along steps. The event, initiated by the Genomics Forum, brought together social scientists, natural scientists, and artists. I was there to blog the event's first day; Pat Kane, currently a visiting fellow at the Forum, would cover the second. The question the symposium asks, I suppose, is: 'Is the question "Where is the thing?" becoming a thing?' Its hashtag is #eot13. Its rubric:
The symposium Evaporation of Things is intended to explore the increasingly digital interface to biological ‘things’. From the phylogenetic analysis of plants, to the data representation of the human genome project, studying the subject on a screen has replaced the study of the material artefact. For the general public, astronomy remains a question of looking at the stars in the night sky, whereas for astronomers the use of optical telescopes is a thing of the past – so the question emerges “where is the thing?”Forum Director Steve Yearley welcomed us to the event. Then one of the organisers, Maria Grade Godinho, introduced the session. She explained how she'd trained and worked as a biologist. Encountering genes with patents had brought home to her that what she did in the lab was part of a wider social world, which she wanted to investigate further. Here, she wanted to explore the possibility that the relationship between objects and data wasn't one between matter and mind, but between two different states of matter -- hence the metaphor of evaporation.
Maria's co-organiser Chris Speed of the College of Art kicked off with a clip of the Challenger disaster, with its familiar voice-over of a man reading from the space shuttle's instruments and continuing to relay numbers for several seconds after the rest of America had watched the craft explode live on television. That shocked moment of delayed realisation when someone tapped the announcer's shoulder and pointed to the TV screen was, Chris said, what this symposium was about. He gave other examples: the debris of the later space shuttle crash, Columbia, tagged, connected by strips of tape, and spread across across a floor as a physical database; the flash crash of May 6 2010, as two duelling algorithms dumped stocks in a death spiral only interrupted by physically pulling the plugs; and one of his students' art projects, which consisted of a thick stack of A4, a printout of reports from her iPhone for one day.
The presentations that followed were intriguing, varied, and of high quality. Mike Phillips took us from the melting Wicked Witch to the unease-inducing ambiguities of how scientific imaging converts numbers to visuals. Synthetic biologist Vincent Danos took us ever deeper into the molecular structure of starch and the phenomenology of mathematical modelling. Laura Beloff charmed and delighted with her sci-art projects, starting with a portable 'space station for fruit flies'. Sociologist Gill Haddow walked us through how 'human' became in some contexts legally defined in terms of percentages of DNA.
After and over drinks in the early evening, the exhibiting artists displayed and discussed their work. I wouldn't presume to judge or compare -- take a look for yourself -- but for me by far the most memorable and disturbing of their artefacts was Ai Hasegawa's short film of a woman giving birth to a salmon, which she later eats. Sushi will never be the same.
So was the symposium a success? Did the artists, scientists, and sociologists combine their particular points of view to outline, somewhere in the room, an elephant we'd have otherwise missed? I think they did. The evaporation of things is a thing.
Monday, March 11, 2013
Perspectives is an interesting and readable magazine of political and cultural discussion. In particular, it's one of the few places on the left where you can find a civilised and informed conversation about what's going on in Scotland in the run-up to the independence referendum. It has a fine pessimism of the intelligence, if perhaps a little less optimism of the will than I would like. To say that you don't agree with everything in it would be to miss and to make its point. Many of its back issues are available online. At £8 a year for a sub (£10 Europe, £12 rest of world), it's a steal.