Newsy ‘Stuff’

19 06 2014

I got my Loncon3 draft programme. I didn’t put in for much (had other things to do on my list), but I’m on one panel:

 

Duelling by Starlight: The Joyful Poetry of Space Opera

Space operas are stories of freedom: from the quotidian, or the logic of history, or the constraints of physics itself … and, often, freedom of the imagination, freedom of the pen. It’s sometimes said that the futures of space opera are fantastical, but when are they poetic? Consider the wit of Iain Banks’ Culture, the baroque of Justina Robson’s Natural History, or the ceaseless invention of Yoon Ha Lee’s mythic tales: how do these writers, and others, use language and narrative structure to liberate and excite us? And in our liberation, what do these writers let us see more clearly?

Robert Reed, Jaine Fenn, Adam Roberts, Elizabeth Bear, Hannu Rajaniemi

Please remember this is DRAFT only.

On another score, my fourth C.A.T. story Space Blind got an honourable mention from the second quarter of the Writers of the Future 2nd quarter contest (and that’s without Terry, bless him, at TWBPress having any editorial input!) So I must be doing something right!!!! Well pleased about this for other (rather complicated) reasons.





Aphrodite Terra Anthology on its way…

5 06 2014

Ugh! That was a nasty parasitic viperous spam attack and hence my silence over the last couple of weeks or so. But it seems to have abated. So I’m back!

And back with a grin….

I’m delighted to say that a short story of mine has been accepted by Ian Sales for his Aphrodite Terra anthology – see here for details.

And like  him, I’m delighted to see five of the six stories are by women! I know he will have picked each story on grounds of merit, so this is a genuine result to show women can do better then men sometimes! I’m looking forward to seeing what the others have produced.

On a personal note that makes six out of the eight planets in our Solar System where I’ve had a story published as you can see from the table. [Ian has not announced the title of my short story yet and hence the asterisks.] I find it really crazy that two of the most interesting and therefore easiest to write about planets are still waiting to be written.

Slide1For the record the order of publication was: Mercury, Neptune, Earth, Jupiter, Mars and now Venus.

And yes, I’m aware Larry Niven’s first published short story was also on Mercury… ahem… this is where I tiptoe away…





Traditionalism of Science Fiction

15 05 2014

In general, science fiction has become far too traditional for my liking.

Think about it… what new themes and ideas have we had since the 1980s? At least then we had William Gibson start the cyberpunk movement and Larry Niven come up with his Ringworld and Integral Trees.

Can we say the same for the last two decades?

Um… err… precisely.

I’ve tried to bring new ideas to the fore. The idea of self-learning software and how its struggle to get a grip of dealing with its surroundings (see Agents of Repair and the C.A.T. series) is one. How to develop a natural way to survive underwater (see Cold Pressure) is another. How humans can view 3-D graphics is a third (see Getting There).

But those interested in reading this kind of science fiction are small in number compared to those wanting to read other sub-genres.

We even see this effect in the film industry. Star Trek, whilst admittedly good entertainment, still works on the science principles that were developed for the first series. Basically, its science is stuck in the time bubble of the 1960s imagination. The Terminator series has a similar time bubble for the 1980s. We are getting rehashes of old TV series e.g. The Tomorrow People.

Of course there are exceptions. There is the TV series, Person of Interest. But the ratings have I understand not been brilliant and hence it being moved to less favoured time slots. Then there was the TV series, Flash Forward. Now that did get a lot of interest. But these are the exceptions.

Why is this happening?

  1. Well, those in the golden age of science fiction and before, basically had a clean slate to write on. The ideas had to be invented; they could not be rehashed from what other authors previously wrote. We have the space opera of E.E. Smith, the robots of Isaac Asimov and hollowed-out spaceships, like Rama, of Arthur C Clarke.
  2. Also the science fiction writers have to learn their craft. In one sense it’s easier for them as they can take previous themes and redo them in their own voice / style. It’s only natural for them to offer these stories to the publishers.
  3. The public and hence the publishers reacting to their wishes want a ‘guaranteed good read’, which usually means a variant of what they already know about
  4. People as a rule don’t like change. So anything new tends to be treated with caution.
  5. Science as a subject of interest has become so vast that for many people it is difficult to spot what is a new idea amongst those that have come before. So they don’t have chance to appreciate what is new when they see it.
  6. A lot of writers are being forced to churn out stories at such a pace that they don’t have time to sit back to search for / come up with new ideas.

There are of course exceptions today, like Greg Egan and John Meaney, but they are, because of some of the reasons above,  not getting the buy-in from the public that authors in other sub-genres are getting. You only need to look at the publicity campaigns for their books to see this (given that the publishing houses respond to where they think the profit will be).

Can anything be done about this?

Maybe. The first step is to categorise what ideas have gone on in the past. We can start with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and move forward from there. (O.K., some of you are going to add various pre-1800 voyage to the moon stories). It is a vast field to cover and how would you set up the structure to start with? I know of the Ward-Shelley diagram that takes science fiction through to 2009, but that deals with significant titles, rather than ideas.

But it would act as a starting point for the exploration of how to put the structure together, wouldn’t it? To know what we’ve done so we can move forward… into the unknown.

 

 





Computers, science fiction, the way ahead?

4 05 2014

OK – the relationship of humans with computers as a topic in science fiction, science and general discussion seems to have gone viral. We have Ann Leckie’s Ancilliary Justice winning the Clarke award and jointly winning the BSFA award. It’s also up for a Hugo. The latter two are winning by popular vote. We have Transcendence with Johnny Depp doing the rounds in the cinemas. Now we have articles in newspapers from the likes of Steve Hawking (yes the noble laureate) saying that AI could be dangerous to use.

Even C.A.T. has got in on the act, more from a computer viewpoint, mind.

So what the heck is going on?

Well, I think it’s the general realisation that we don’t really understand computers. We have even less understanding of how the could, let alone will, develop in the future. With this comes the danger that they could develop into something anti-human.

But this potential danger was known about since the 1940s when Isaac Asimov worked the three laws of robotics. He subsequently added the zeroth law, which is what a lot of commentators are missing out on. So even he realised that his original three were inadequate. Nobody has yet been able to come up with the coding to enforce the three laws, which incidentally depends on what and how the computer assesses the situation. Science fiction has since gone on to deal with computers in a wide variety of ways, including a whole cyberpunk movement started by William Gibson’s Neuromancer. There are obedient computers like K9 in Dr Who, more intelligent complicated robots like R2D2 and C3PO in Star Wars and Data in Star Trek, human cyborgs, chips in the brain networking humans together (see John Meaney’s To Hold Infinity for a really good rendition of the impact of this – and yes his day job is dealing with computers).

Of course science continues developing computers, which means the effects computers have on our lives will be greater and more varied. Whilst the computer specialists  set out to make computers more like humans in the 1950s, they realised they are making something very different from what they expected, but very useful nevertheless. This realisation set in in the 1980s when there was a surge of innovation, which coincided with the start of cyber-punk and the Terminator series.

So why the interest surge in what computers can do to us now?

My opinion, for what it’s worth, is that computers have continued to develop in both expected and unexpected ways. We’ve now realised that the unexpected ways have diverged so much that they are making a significant difference to our previous expectations of them, so we have to look at the new computers again.

Also as we see and feel the results of the computers and their expected developments, we realise that our new now hands-on experience with them is different and far more real, hands-on, influential in ways we never understand even of the science fiction writers got it right. To experience things is not the same as being told about them.

Combine these two factors and you get the general response, what the heck? Let’s find out more about this.

This opens up a vast field of variation and potentiality for science fiction writers. If you want a very tiny part of the field, go over to C.A.T.’s article. It actually hides another vast untapped field that science fiction should be looking into… which reminds I must get on with writing my story…





Worlds in Collision

29 04 2014

I’m in the middle of reading John Meaney’s latest novel: Resonance. It’s the third in his Ragnarok trilogy and so far I’m enjoying it. It follows on from the other two and I’m seeing all the familiar characters bouncing along on their story arcs. The sad thing is that when I get to the end of it, I’m wondering what John can come up with next, as he has combined all his science fiction stories into ‘one wrap’.

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Certainly in terms of space opera ideas he has so far outdone the likes of Alastair Reynolds, Greg Egan, Ben Bova, Larry Niven and Kim Stanley Smith. Yes, I did say OUTDONE!

But talking of space opera, Isaac Asimov combined his Foundation series with his Robot series. Robert Heinlein combined his Lazarus Long series of stories with ‘The Moon is a Harsh Mistress’ and ‘Rolling Stones’ stories. So John Meaney certainly isn’t alone in this respect.

Is it a good thing to combine universe lines?

I have never felt comfortable with story lines that developed separately and then were merged. In John’s case, I’m pretty sure the stories all belonged to same universe, which is why his merge sits together so much better.

I’ve now built up two world-lines, what I call the Neptune-line and the Uranus-line. The former you’ve seen published via ‘Life Sentence’ and the C.A.T. series. The latter has yet to be published, though the recent podcast had an excerpt of the novel (the Greening scene and this is all I’m going to say in this post). Even though these are both planets in our own solar system, there is no way I could combine them, because the developmental assumptions are so different.

So the question has to be when can two different worlds be combined? The more similar the worlds, the easier it is to combine and the shorter time you would need to leap ahead (unless you’re of course doing a parallel worlds thing). If they are totally dissimilar, then you need to check out if there are any contradictions between the two world-lines. If there are, writing a story to get rid of those contradictions would be an interesting one to pursue, that is if you can write such a story. These contradictions can be blatant from the sky being black in one world-line to sky being white in the other.

But sometimes the underlying difference between the two worlds is so massive, that you can only put them together in the parallel universes.

So let’s come up with a new science fiction rule:

The similarity between science fiction worlds is measured by how soon after the latest story you can combine them, without using the parallel universes fix. 

 





Bristol Fringe Podcast by yours truly…

10 04 2014

The podcasts for the reading I did for Bristol Fringe on March 17th have been put up on Cheryl’s website here.

There are three pieces…

1) My short story Getting There, which is near future and down to Earth in Bristol (seemed a rather appropriate story to read considering the circumstances). The story was originally e-published by Kraxon Books in February this year.

2) In a sense building on the theme of the short story (though the short story was written afterwards) is an excerpt from my novel. Sorry, but it is not published, so no link to the written words. This is up off-Earth on one of the moons of Uranus – Miranda to be precise.

3) Then of course, a very short excerpt from the new story about C.A.T. (the cheeky thing has already sneaked around the internet. found it and blogged with a characteristic smug self-satisfied MeWow!). One way or another this will get published in due course and you can find out all about what was puzzling C.A.T. in the story then.

Then there was an question and answer session – hope I didn’t make a fool of myself!

My thanks go to Cheryl for compering and editing out the (ahem) stutters from my reading. Thanks to those who organise Bristol Fringe readings and put together the podcasts.





C.A.T.’s a-wheedling!

10 03 2014

Oh dear… C.A.T.’s got his ‘wheedling and I won’t give up until I get what I want’ mode on. His been going on about having a birthday, like us humans.

I said no, absolutely not. He wasn’t born like my other cats (the boys, Jaspar and Rufus, were born on 12th May in the middle of a nettle bed in the middle of a thunderstorm… what an auspicious start for them!)

He grumbled and mingled, pointing out he did like my other cats come into existence.

Well, I had to agree with him there. So I asked him when he wanted his birthday to be.

He gave me answer.

I said no absolutely not. That was the day the great earthquake and tsunami hit Japan and went on to cause the Fukushima meltdown, with a horrendous lost of life, injuries and damage to property, farming and wildlife.

Do you know what the cheeky thing replied?

That it wouldn’t be a day I would forget. I was to consider it an even more auspicious day for him!

Don’t you hate it when computers like him come back at you with cold logic?

Then he decided that as he now had his own blog, he would declare his birthday on that…

… well, what can I do, except wish him the normal felicitations?

Happy Birthday, C.A.T. for tomorrow, March 11th. It’ll have been three years since his first short story was published, and it only seems like yesterday…

 








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