Designers in Bristol and Bath have 3-5% higher cash income

An interesting little snippet came my way from the University of Bath Spa alumni news:

Designers based in the Bath and Bristol area have a 3-5% higher cash income on average and higher levels of productivity than similar businesses in England and Wales. The report, called Bristol and Bath by Design, showed that small design firms are 3% more productive than average, and 14% more productive than small non-design companies. The report was carried out by researchers from Bath Spa University, UWE Bristol and the University of Bristol.

If you go to the report itself you’ll find it covers

  • Engineering, aerospace, product and package design
  • Multidisciplinary design studios
  • Applied designer-maker studios
  • Content: animation, motion graphics, television/film and publishing
  • Fashion and textiles
  • Architecture, heritage and landscape design

Of course from a personal point of view, I’m interested in science fiction publishing. We have a thriving science fiction and fantasy community with an annual Bristolcon now going into its 9th year (and long may it continue). (There are whispers that it might expand its programme next year… but we’ll have to wait and see.)

So who are Bristol and Bath science fiction authors. Well, here’s a few:

Colin Harvey, who alas left us all too soon in 2011 – he gained an MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University

Gareth Powell who won the BSFA best novel award in 2013 for Ack-Ack Macaque jointly with Anne Leckie for Ancillary Justice.

Joanne Hall writes more towards the fantasy end of speculative fiction.

And of course, Emma Geen – another who gained an MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University and recently published her first novel – The Many Selves of Katherine North

Below is a picture of Corsham Court, where MA Creative Writing courses are held. Certainly a place for inspiration.

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Given these wonderful surroundings, it is not surprising that Bristol and Bath are more productive at design, including publishing.

 

Does experimental science fiction exist?

Solstice Publishing has just published a standalone short story The Chaos of Mokii by Geoff Nelder. Like any author who is proud of such an achievement, he sent round e-mails to his friends to say effectively: ‘Look what I’ve done. Isn’t is great? I’m real chuffed about it!’ In his e-mail, he called it experimental science fiction. At that point I went: ‘Huh? Does such a thing exist?’

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Before we get into the theme of this post, let me define what I think is meant by experimental science fiction. It is science fiction that tries to break the mould of the traditional and current themes in science fiction. This includes taking extrapolations of current technology and seeing where it could be heading in the future in ways that have not been done before.

What it is not in my opinion is using techniques with words in new ways, unless those new ways reflect the new themes.

So does Geoff’s story qualify?

Well, let’s look at the blurb:

Mokii is a city that exists only in the minds of its inhabitants. It’s not easy to get past the bouncer but once Olga is inside she has to fight off intruders eager to take over the city for the lucrative virtual advertising.
A city that exists only in the minds of its inhabitants? Well that’s interesting. Is it an extension of The Matrix? Of course the story is different. But does it have new themes etc to make it experimental?
The story studies a world occupied by consciousness alone, i.e. the bodies do not really exist, nor do the sensory perceptions. So there’s a deviation immediately from the The Matrix – because sensory perceptions exist there. Hm, this is getting really interesting. 
Well, I won’t spoil it for you good people. Go and read it for yourselves.
But it does, in a way, align with what I was saying about the likely new science fiction trend being about Perspectives.
Of course, it is easier to cut out perspectives we are familiar with, than to make one up. Let me give an example of what I mean. We are all familiar with the five senses of sight, touch, hearing, smell and taste. Some may add a sense of balance and being able to sense temperature. A few of you might add the sense of magnetism that pigeons and some other animals can navigate by or the chemical signals sent around the wood wide web. These are all senses we know from experience or have some information about (derived through observing the behaviours of third parties). Now what if I add being able to sense signals sent by quantum entanglement? How would an author describe that so that it made sense to the reader?
Of course, with these comments, you can see why I was so excited about Emma Geen’s The Many Selves of Katherine North.
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So yes, experimental science fiction does exist. But it won’t be in the big sellers’ lists. At the moment it is busy dissecting the senses and the viewpoints that arose out of a combination of senses different to our own.
I will add one addendum of my own. My C.A.T. series (including Agents of Repair) does touch on how software (for want of a better description) would sense other software. This particularly comes out in Neptune’s Angel.
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What’s going on?

There is a cartoon going the rounds showing the spines of diaries. The titles go something like this:

...2013, 2014, 2015, The Year Nobody Talks About, 2017, 2018…

Well this year has been awful on a personal front (no, I’m not going into details or I’ll have you all crying torrents) and in terms of world news. There have been so many high profile figures that have died this year, a trend we don’t seem to see the end of. The chaos of the Brexit vote, where to be frank, the politicians made this country and the EU a laughing stock in the rest of the world. Now, there has been the surprise election result in the USA, which has left the rest of the world wondering what’s going on there.

What is going on? What pesky evil spirit has been set lose on the world?

In a sense I feel the rest of the world is catching up with what the science fiction community has been seeing with Puppies sagas. The disaffected and forgotten have decided to kick up in the only ways they can think to vent their frustration at not getting what they want. In a small percentage of cases that want is more of a need rather than a desire. They’ve gone about it because they are so focussed on their want/need, that they miss how their actions will have ripple effects through other parts of society. They can’t think of anything else except to get rid of what is making them miserable.

Emotion is ruling practicality at the moment. That’s why so many people can’t make sense of what is going on worldwide. They either don’t understand what emotions are in play or that emotion is now King!

Things have calmed down in the science fiction world and indeed, the problems are being resolved to a certain extent. Well here is a site that gives what are considered the best novels of 2016 so far – note it’s their opinion.

Does anything say ‘buy me’ in that list?

Though there are some interesting books in that list, nothing generates the wow-factor for me.

This suggests to me that the science fiction community is in a far greater state of grabbling about for direction than normal. You know the kind of thing, e.g. just before the New Wave or Cyberpunk hit the bookshelves. This should not come as a surprise given that we are in a period that is concentrating on cross genres. My guess is that most if not all the interesting cross genres themes have explored and there is very little significant new stuff to say.

Below is a diagram that summarises the main science fiction trends over the years.

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So what could be new?

I’ll give one suggestion – Perspectives – looking at viewpoints other than human-centric. This would include the debut novel by Emma Geen – The Many Selves of Katherine North. This is a toe in the water of a different perspective for me. It starts that journey, but it is another vast area to fill in the science fiction canon.

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My short story AI Deniers in Explorations Through the Wormhole anthology hints at why other perspectives are important to explore. But it is only one different perspective.

More on perspectives will come with another post. In the meantime I’ve come to the conclusion that a robo-cat is an oxymoron.

‘Oops – again’ and other SFnal news

Oops! I seem to have done it again. Yes, I got another Honourable Mention from the Writers of the Future contest. This time it was for chapter 5 of my C.A.T. novel, entitled, Hope Mosaic. It just happens to be the middle chapter wit a whole load of loose ends to tie up in the remaining four chapters – and it still got an Honourable Mention! Or as C.A.T. would say – Me-Wow!

For the record here’s the graphic of state of play…

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Given the way things have panned out, I think Chapter 3 might have an apt title.

Turning now to news…

The British Interplanetary Society (BIS) is going to hold a one day symposium on Future Histories and Forecasting on 27th January 2017 10:00am to 4:00pm. To quote them: Following the successful session at the BIS Space Conference; the British Interplanetary Society is staging a one-day symposium on the subject of hypothetical future histories and technical forecasting in both science fiction and space programme planning. Full details here, but includes Stephen Baxter as a speaker. 

For those of you who haven’t heard, there is an initiative to set up a nation in space – Asgardia Any human on Earth can join, though I’m not sure of all the ins and outs involved. One of their aims is to detangle or stop international wrangling about space laws. More details here.

The next Bristolcon is scheduled for October 28th 2017. Same place as before. More, though as yet few, details here.

BristolCon 2016

BristolCon seems to go from strength to strength as each year passes by… and this was no exception to that pattern. This year it seemed better organised and more roomy, which I attribute to things being moved round a little bit so that the flow of people through the ‘foyer’ became easier. Good on the organisers for recognising the problem and finding a way around it.

Also this year show parity between men and women, in terms of panel membership – both panelists and moderators, and also in the readings done between events. The fact that BristolCon can attract so many volunteers for the super-organiser to manage this, is a reflection of the good reputation the Con has.

Like previous years I could not be three or more places at the same time, so could not go to all streams, and had to pick and choose. I naturally concentrated on the more sciencey side of science fiction.

My first choice was the ‘Call Me Rosetta’ panel about the issues surrounding possible first contact with alien species. The debate veered from discussing ‘how do you actually talk to aliens that are so different from us e.g. will they have the same ideas as us?’ through ‘what alien actions would we consider intimidating?’ to ‘what problems are caused by the vast distances across which we or aliens have to travel to make contact?’. I have heard most of the comments elsewhere, but it is good to have them all concentrated in the short space of 45 minutes. It makes you focus on the issue. As to whether aliens exist, well, almost certainly at the microbial level within our Solar System (Titan, a moon of Saturn was mentioned a couple of times). Beyond that? There were too many unknowns, let alone unknown unknowns.

I then attended a Guest of Honour interview. This was Ken MacLoed of Star Faction fame, interviewed by Jaine Fenn. As is usual with interviews, we got the why this novel was written or how that novel came about. Perhaps for me the two most interesting aspects were how much philosophy Ken had read as a youngster that went on to influence his science fiction, and that his latest novel, Dissidence, included differentiated between soft and hard AI. 

The next event I attended had me on the panel, entitled ‘Uncanny Valleys of the Mind’. It was all about sentient AI and whether science fiction had got their representation right. The wide variety of views amongst the other panelists really made that panel zing (even if I had not been on it). There was a discussion about whether AI could become sentient, and the general consensus was that sentient AI would emerge, rather than be programmed.

I was absolutely delighted to attend the lunch break’s book launch – this year it was Amunet by Robert Harkess. Dressed all in splendiferous steampunk finery, Hhe read out a passage. I remember in the dim and distant past critiquing it at the draft stage

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If you are into fantasy with a strong leaning to the Victorian era, you will definitely enjoy this book.

The final panel I attended was ‘Under the Covers’, which talked about how important covers were and how to get them right. Needless to say one author on the panel complained about the design of their first book’s cover, which was commissioned by the publisher, only to find the artist was in the audience. One of those all too human moments that happen in life, which made everyone chuckle. We also found out why it was, at least in the past, a bad idea to have a predominantly green cover. (Basically the green tended to turn blueish because the yellow was susceptible to destruction by sunlight.)

As I noted earlier, there were other panels – these tended to deal more with the fantasy end of the speculative fiction spectrum. So there was something for everyone.

However, one of the joys of going to a convention like this is meeting friends. They came from all parts of the country and a jovial time was had by all. I’m looking forward to next year’s BristolCon already.

PS Andy Bigwood, one of the artists in the artist room, had a 3-D printed model of the BristolCon icon!

Going round in Rings

Science does not sleep and discoveries continue to abound. One of the latest concerns the exo-planet with ginormous rings – yes I mean the one in orbit around the young star, J1407 located 420 lightyears from Earth in the constellation of Centaurus (yep, similar direction to Alpha Centauri).

The boffins scientists have worked out that this system can be stable for a 100,000 years or so if the rings rotate in the opposite direction to the planet.

So we (I mean the human race) might have a chance of getting there before the rings disburse even at sub-light speeds.

For more details see here.

Talking of planetary rings, some clever spark took another look at the Voyager 2 data on the rings of Uranus. They found wavy patterns in the of the rings (alpha and beta) that imply the presence of two hitherto undiscovered moons. If these moons exist, they are quite dark, which begs the question about what they are made of. One other dark moon comes to mind – Callisto. This is covered in silicates and organic compounds (as well as the more traditional ice and carbon dioxide). Below is the photo Voyager 2 took of Uranus, and below that a schematic of its rings. More details can be found here.

 

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Add to the dark moons and organic compounds, the extended planetary corona with all its electromagnetic activity, and I get shades of Frankenstein – or at least aliens so alien to our understanding of aliens that science fiction publishers would never accept any story based on them.

Talking of aliens… where are they? Given that faster than the speed of light is probably doable some time in the future (see a previous post), then you would have expected them to have arrived here by now. Brian Cox did suggest that there are so many obstacles to developing an extremely advanced civilisation, that they have all died out. Some of these obstacles we are already aware of – viral diseases (e.g. Black Death), climate change (e.g. what Venus has become) and wars of annihilation (e.g. what the Cold War could have become). Some causes have been speculated about e.g. Reynolds’ black cubes that kills off any life in his way or computers going rogue and killing their makers.

You know what? I don’t believe any of these explanations any more. I haven’t come across a single or group of circumstances that makes sense. It really is time for the science fiction writers to become more speculative about why the aliens have not contacted us.

Great Northern Exhibition 2018

I was absolutely delighted to see that Newcastle and Gateshead have been awarded the Great Northern Exhibition for 2018. Not only will they receive £5million for the exhibitions themselves, but also £15million pounds towards legacy projects. Some of these will no doubt go to the upkeep of some special museums they have up there, which I know are struggling to keep going.

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The area has a proud history of innovation – they are hoping to borrow George Stephenson’s Rocket steam engine from the National Science Museum – which was built on Tyneside. The area also saw the first hydroelectricity plant at Cragside House. Then there was the alternating current production at Wallsend – another first. Of course there was also the invention of the turbine – Turbina the first ship that had turbine engines can be found in the Discovery Museum not far from the Newcastle’s main railway station. More recently there has been the invention of low cost DNA scanning machines by QuantuMDx.

In other words it has been a powerhouse of innovation. As to why? Some of it was borne of necessity – it is said that rails (for railways) were invented to shift heavy loads of coal to the dockside. Others because people had the inspiration and the wherewithal to work on their dreams e.g. Turbina.

But could it also be an inspiration for science fiction writers?

Well the exhibition is to include art and design – additional elements that go to make good science fiction.

In one sense, I suppose, I beat them to the announcement. My latest published story – AI Deniers in the Explorations: Through the Wormhole anthology has part of it taking place in Beamish Museum – an open air museum that started out representing the coal mining era of 1913.

However, I do feel there is more science fiction potential to be had from Tyneside – if you’ve read some of the traditional and later stories, you’d understand they is a lot of imagination bubbling up around the Tyne – especially when you consider that the title of the Great Northern Exhibition is:

The Blazing World – The Fires of Invention