The Early Days of a Better Nation

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Edinburgh International Book Festival notes

Next Monday (27 August, 8:30pm - 9:30pm) I'm doing a Book Festival event, Scary Futuristic Fictions, at Peppers Theatre with Chris Beckett. (Tickets £10.00, £8.00 conc.) I've received (courtesy of the Book Festival) a copy of Chris's latest book, the widely praised Dark Eden, and I can't wait to read it.

Chris is replacing G. Willow Wilson, an author I was greatly looking forward to meeting and who regretfully had to cancel. Her new novel, Alif the Unseen, looks intriguing - a supernatural post-cyberpunk thriller from the storm centre of the Arab revolution. I hope Willow can be a guest at the festival (and/or a British science fiction convention - she has a deep background in comics fandom, comics writing, and political commentary) in the future. Meanwhile, best wishes to her from me and Chris.

In other news, the Genomics Forum again has a team covering the festival for Genotype. Because of work I couldn't commit to being on the reporting team myself, but has that stopped me blogging events for Genotype? No! My latest contribution is on last Saturday's appearance by Jennifer Rohn and Neal Stephenson, and contains enough controversial remarks to incite (I hope) a few comments - if so, over on Genotype, please, not here.

The third and last of Forum's own Book Festival events, The Scientist in Fiction: Creative or Crazed Genius? is on tomorrow Wednesday) at 7 pm.

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Off-topically... finally got round to reading The Star Fraction last week. I won't forget it in a hurry - having one part of my mind knotting up with thriller plot and sf hardware while another went down political and religious rabbit-holes made for an extraordinarily intense reading experience, not always in a pleasurable sense. (But isn't that just what sf does? Yes, but it doesn't usually do quite so much of it.) Reading it after having read posts like these was also interesting! ("Doubt and guilt - the toxic residue of faith and innocence". Nobody else had put it like that, or not to me.)

So that's one down... dear God, thirteen to go. I'll keep you posted.

Next stop -- Glasgow and New Mars!

Phil, I think you're one of that book's ideal readers.

Well, I suppose I am a Marxist ex-Christian former computer programmer with libertarian leanings, a love of historical lost causes and a fondness for conspiracy theory and puns. Apart from that I'm not sure what you mean! After Roger Sandell died Robin Ramsay said to me, "there are so few people who are interested in... everything". There's an everythingness about TSF which I found very appealing.

Although that does have a flip-side - to be honest I fought shy of reading it for some time, precisely because I suspected that parts of it would put my mind in that sub-religious lock when you're suddenly convinced you're reading something really important, and it's true, and it's importantly true... and it could scramble all your assumptions and generally change your life, but what would that matter when it was true, and it's important that it's true, and... (I've never read any Robert Anton Wilson either. Why take the risk?) It was a pleasant surprise that TSF not only didn't do that (well, not much), but actually dramatised it (poor Moh!).

In likewise unrelated news, two philosophers call for mechanisms to "deliver additional moral enhancement, such as drugs or genetic modifications." You'd think they'd be a little more self-conscious about sounding like a villain in a science fiction novel:

BerserkRL - They also sound as if they'd never seen Serenity and drawn its profound moral lesson.

Phil - I'm not sure I understand what you mean about the 'sub-religious lock' effect of a book, but I'm intrigued and would like to know more.

Whatever, RAW is more likely to get a reader out of that sort of lock than into it. Illuminatus! throws so many plausible and incompatible conspiracy-theories-of-everything at the reader that you end up sceptical of all such. I suspect that was the intended effect. (A far more sophisticated version of this stratagem is Eco's Foucault's Pendulum.)

Found Illuminatus! un-rereadable recently, mind you.

I'm thinking of something that used to happen to me quite a lot when I first got into conspiracy theory, & to a lesser extent when I was into ufology. It's not a million miles from a conversion experience - the two filters against conviction ("seems important, but probably not actually true" and "may be true, but not very important") go down (or blow), and you're left passengered with some awe-inspiring piece of information which is both True and Important. Hence, I guess, the characteristic reliance of conspiracist (and denialist) arguments on the Holmesian "once you have eliminated the impossible" approach - if the official story can't possibly be true...

Not that TSF is a conspiracist book. I think what triggered that reaction was mainly the realisation that, instead of writing about the Culture or the Trigan Empire or whoever, you were writing about the Fourth International - whose story, past and future, can plausibly be argued to be both true and important.

It's funny you should say that, because two of the seeds of the book were thoughts I had when I was in the Fourth International.

The first was looking around a meeting and thinking, or maybe saying, 'What'll we be like if we're still doing this in the middle of the 21st century, when we're unionising the space rigs?'

The other came to me when I was reading up on the history of Marxism, and realised that via the CP and the BSP and the SDF and Morris and Eleanor's SL and Marx and Engels and the IWMA and the Chartists and the Communist League/League of the Just we had a chain of personal links all the way back to Babeuf and maybe beyond. We were the Conspiracy! And in the future, the FI might be as much a hobgoblin of conspiracy theories as the Illumanti are now.

'You best start believin' in ghost stories, Miss Turner. You're in one!'

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