|The Early Days of a Better Nation|
Thursday, June 29, 2017
To my surprise and delight, I was asked last winter to be a Guest Selector for a strand of science fiction events at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, August 2017. Jenny Niven, then on secondment from the Scottish Book Trust, met me a few times to sketch out the strand. We wanted to highlight the global scope of SF and its relevance to the turbulent present.
A lot of emailing, networking, arm-twisting, begging, and general to-and-fro followed. Nick Barley, the EIBF's Director, kept a watchful eye on our tiny flying saucer even as he juggled hundreds of heavier and faster-spinning plates. The EIBF staff worked the machinery behind the scenes. The practicalities of organising even a handful of author events are formidable. The EIBF staff took care of all that in the midst of a thousand other events. This year's Book Festival programme is the largest ever. It's a joy and an honour to be part of making science fiction a part of that. Many thanks to all who made it possible.
This is the result:
Imagining how the world could be different can throw new light on how it really is. Acclaimed Scottish science fiction author Ken MacLeod certainly does that, as do the writers he has chosen for this series of events. MacLeod brings leading SF, fantasy and horror writers to Edinburgh, with international stars Nalo Hopkinson and Ada Palmer alongside brilliant British authors including Charles Stross, Jo Walton and Adam Roberts. Never before has the Book Festival welcomed such a dazzling constellation of speculative fiction writers.On Tuesday 15 August at 6:30 I'll be talking with Stephen Baxter about his new novel The Massacre of Mankind, an authorised sequel to H. G. Wells's classic The War of the Worlds. Baxter's deep, wry appreciation of the Wellsian worldview has long been evident: The Time Ships, his blockbuster sequel to 'The Time Machine', still glows in my memory.
On Wednesday 16 August 2017 at 7.15pm I'll be chairing a discussion with Charles Stross and Jo Walton on 'End Times, Crazy Years', to ask: what happens when reality outdoes dystopia, let alone satire? Charlie is well known for writing a kaleidoscopic range of possible and impossible futures, some of them set in Scotland, and he's now and then commented amusingly on the difficulty of writing near-future SF, especially any set in Scotland. Jo Walton (of whom more below) has an encyclopaedic knowledge of SF (and history, and much else) at her fingertips. Her work is as varied – in tone and genre – as Charlie's, or indeed almost anyone's.
My own work comes up for discussion on Thursday 17 August at 2.30 pm, when I'm on with Charlie Fletcher, who, like me, has just completed a trilogy. Two very different worlds – Victorian fantasy and far-future space opera – will be brought into focus by the redoubtable and urbane chair Stuart Kelly, who has read everything.
I've long been a proponent of the argument, which I first encountered in the work of Gary Westfahl, that informed and engaged criticism by active readers has shaped the SF genre perhaps more than any other, from the letter columns of Amazing Stories onward. Who better to test this contention with than two outstanding critics who are also outstanding writers? That's what's on offer on Thursday 17 August at 5.30 pm, when I chair a discussion between Adam Roberts and Jo Walton.
My first encounter with Jo as a critic was online, way back in the 1990s, on the Usenet newsgroups rec.arts.sf.written and rec.arts.sf.fandom. Jo has flourished in the same vein since, and in writing strong SF and fantasy of her own. Adam Roberts brings a different set of critical tools to bear: he teaches English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of London, he's written several works of academic criticism of SF and fantasy, and so far this century he has written a novel just about every year. He's also a notorious pun-slinger on Twitter.
Jo isn't on the next event, but the idea for it may well have been planted by a question she's asked: where are the positive futures in science fiction?
For this final event in the strand, Rockets to Utopia? on Friday 18 August at 6.30 pm, we have two truly exceptional writers. Nalo Hopkinson is a Guest of Honour at this year's World Science Fiction Convention in Helsinki, and it's a great honour for us to have her here. The author of nine books and the recipient of numerous awards, Nalo is professor of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside. I've heard her read from her second novel, Midnight Robber: it was a revelation, a fusion of Caribbean language and folklore with high-concept SF.
Ada Palmer is a historian, who burst on the SF scene only last year with her acclaimed, complex novel Too Like the Lighting -- the first of a tetralogy, Terra Ignota, whose publication is continuing at a furious pace. Showing us a better future world that is far from a utopia (and in and to which, it seems, bad things are going to happen) her novels have raised the bar for future-historical speculation in SF.
Nalo and Ada are joined by me and Charlie, and we're chaired by Pippa Goldschmidt. Pippa writes close to the edge of SF, has previously featured at the Book Festival, and in an earlier life held the Civil Service title 'Chair of Outer Space', so should have no difficulty chairing a panel.
And that's not all! Some people mentioned above may (or may not) appear in the currently top-secret programme of free evening Unbound events. Watch this space, and keep watching the skies.