The Early Days of a Better Nation

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Writing Front

Yesterday I completed a first draft of my new novel, provisonally titled Descent. The feel and tone of Descent is about as unskiffy as I could make it. My pitch to myself for Intrusion was 'genomics Aga Saga'. The equivalent marching song for Descent was 'near-future bloke-lit'.

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.


> When his girlfriend tells him he and she may be from different human species, relationships become strained. We've all been there.

As most of the women I've dated have been great people, I don't have MUCH experience in this matter, but in the one data point I do have, the fact that she was from another species entirely was something I had to figure out on my own.

> Third, my novella The Human Front is now out in a new US edition

Great - buying it at Amazon now!

Thanks Travis! As you'll see from the first line, it's a change from my usual 'Trots in space' scenario ...

Ken makes a brief appearance in the BBC Radio documentary Lenin in Letchworth, in which Francis Spufford makes a (IMO strained) link between Lenin and Ebenezer Howard's Garden Cities movement of the beginning of the twentieth century. Ken speaks near the end, and is described on the web page as a "science fiction writer and committed socialist".

The 'committed socialist' part was generated by the BBC's somewhat nuance-deaf publicity department. It's not an attempt by me to restrict the freedom of our host's ideological curiosity. Honest.

Looking forward to Descent.

Thanks Francis - and thanks for clearing that up! I don't mind being called a socialist, but I don't call myself one because I think it would be claiming more than my tentative views deserve at the moment.

Is there a way to listen to that talk online? Not only does it sound interesting, but I am developing a course with some vaguely similar themes and could always use some contemporary inspiration. (Bellamy and Morris are currently serving in that capacity, but are a bit dated).
I am also looking forward to Descent, but have already scrounged a copy of the Human Front.



PS. I have had the impression that "socialist" has become such a catch-all term to have lost much of its meaning. Everyone from the greens through the marxist-leninists to the social-democrats claim the title these days (at least where I live).

I had to listen to 'Lenin', because of the name. Shockingly, I have only been there once, despite growing up about fifteen miles from there - I was more into new towns of later generation.

One thing about Tristram Hunt - every time I've reviewed anything that he's written, or read a review by him of everything that I've written, I've found something quite importantly wrong with it. Which doesn't mean he's necessarily wrong about Orwell, Lenin and Letchworth.

There is some fine 'radio from the archive' in there, which is a genre I love. It's always good to make the pages turn slightly louder than they ought to...

The programme picks up a theme which crops up in many a place: the way that ideas initially picked up by utopians become visions which can be attached to goods that can be traded - sometimes as cheap commodities (hurrah!) and other times as positional goods (boo!). The quarter-decent study of how the hippie dream was commodified - "The Rebel Sell" - is useful here.

What did the Edwardians have in common with Lenin? A faith in the transformatory powers of electricity.

Chris Williams

Hi, Ken,
I just bought the PM edition of The Human Front in kindle; I wanted to read the extra material even though I have the original British paperback. I was impressed by your commentary, in answer to Bisson’s question, on why Trotskyism became the main left of CP pole position in Britain, while Maoism took that spot in the States. As an old Guardian (US) reader and Trend supporter, I plead guilty. I thought you might be interested in a few vignettes about the SWP/YSA practices.
The SWP/YSA never recruited a single person at my university, Purdue, an old Land-grant A&M school, even though they were strong at Indiana University, an hour and a half away. They had a line that they could never support the NLFSVN, call for victory to the front, because they said the front was not trying to make a socialist revolution, but rather was trying to fight its way into a coalition government with bourgeois parties. Now, if you hold to the state capitalist interpretation, you must have your own take on this, not to mention Vietnam’s current relationship with the multinationals. However, the position of not supporting the NLF was not irrational in itself, and could have been justified by a number of reasons. The Vietnamese themselves told us to march with the US flag, not theirs. It was not necessary to concoct such a convoluted reason out of the NLF’s leaving themselves tactical flexibility.
We let a party honcho-currently still active, so no names-have a spot at the sds lit table after he had returned from a trip to Cuba. He was a slight, but very intense man. Young women and men stopping at the table, just beginning to develop anti-war positions and looking at getting active, he would scream at them that they were a bunch of petty bourgeois hippies. “There are no hippies in Cuba,” he would go on, ”Nobody has a stereo; everyone works 12 hours a day for the revolution. Blah, blah, blah.” You can imagine how this went over with these small-town kids. I’m reminded of Deutscher’s comment in The Prophet Unarmed that Trotsky thought the union members he wanted to militarize should sing as they worked.
BTW, Tariq Ali was actually popular among anti-war activist here who would not have spit on a “Trot.”

Rob - you can, for the next day or two, listen to it at the link in Del's comment above. But it may be gone after Saturday - I think the BBC only leaves them up for a week after a transmission.

Lee -interesting story about the SWP/YSA!

Reading bits and pieces from the general milieu of the Trend (Frontline, Szymanski's books on the SU) was for me in the early 80s a bridge from Trotskyism to the good old CP, which I joined just a few years before it ignominiously and needlessly dissolved itself.

Thanks Ken. It was very interesting.



I spoke too soon. The national leader of our faintly pink party (NDP) has just this week announced that he is taking the word socialist out of the party constitution.
I'm not sure how this will be received by some of the provincial branches, mind you. They all have separate constitutions and may not all follow suit.
This party has descended a long way from the days when the Regina Manifesto was their official electoral guide.


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