Dogger Bank Science Fiction

I wrote my first serious science fiction piece in 1993 about an artificial island on the Dogger Bank. Now it is being turned into reality by Danish, Dutch and German firms. Where are the British in this consortium? They are needed more than ever.

The Science Fiction:

Here is the piece, severely edited since 1993 due to my improving writing skills:

The View

That strange interregnum between the last of the winter storms and the first blossoming of spring held sway over the land. The dull clouds portended yet more rain, dampening the air and drowning the hope of better things to come.

Occasional beams of sunlight broke through. One such shone on the extensive glasshouse canopy to the southeast, turning it into a solitaire diamond on a low grassy plateau.

From it, a black line of road curved down and made a beeline for the west. Behind it a yellow sandbank, with its grey-green patches of saltwort and marram grass, rose up to the abrupt horizontal line of the seawall’s hidden rampart. Without either sandbank or wall, the land would have long since sunk beneath the battering waves of the North Sea. The road disappeared into a wind farm that, at this distance, had the aerofoils looking like delicate white toy windmills, their blades ceaselessly turning.

The road reappeared, to come northward on a ridge to a village, where the orderly terrace houses with their immaculate vegetable plots and scrappy chicken runs surrounded the village hall, general store and hotel. All were bedecked with the dark blue sheen of solar panels, much needed to ward off the biting cold of the winds. At the northern end of the village, the preserved wreck of a wooden ship stood with quiet dignity beside a long low hut that housed a maritime museum.

Spurs of gravel embanked tracks led off the road to various farmhouses and barns. Their owners were custodians of the precious green and brown acreage that stretched out in every direction, even encroaching to the very edge of the nearby fish pools. This agricultural land was broken into regimented squares and rectangles by dark chilly-looking canals, a lot mere drainage ditches, but a few were large enough to carry barges. Near some farms, power-generating waterwheels fitted snugly in the step down in levels along the canals.

Fields were linked at one or two corners by grass covered bridges wide enough to hold farm gates whose design had stood the test of centuries. On the odd green field slowly wandered the white, cream and black blobs of sheep, ducks and geese. Most of the fallow fields were lined with the furrows from the plough and were awaiting their spring seeds. Here and there, were lines of trees; straight bare plane trees were lower down whilst the gnarled and twisted willows were higher, acting as wind breaks.

The four fish pools, remnants of the days when this was just a fish farm, were covered by a fine translucent netting to ward off the ever-squawking, wheedling gulls. The wind ignored the obstacle to make the pools ripple and dance in pretty patterns.

Such was the view now through the window of the old lighthouse on Dogger Isle, once the Dogger Bank twenty metres and more below the North Sea.

***

This was the seed of for my first novel about the fishing industry. It’s the first novel every writer has to draft to learn the craft and then forget about. But I did send submit this piece to various markets, all of which turned it down.

In the process of writing the novel I also learned a lot about the Dogger Bank and its environs. It’s a kind of nexus point for many things in the North Sea, which I will get onto later in this article.

The Proposed Technology:

Now comes the news that an agreement between Danish, Dutch and German firms is going to be signed on 23rd March to plan to put an island on the Dogger Bank as the centre of a major wind farm. It will have a port and an airport. See here. This is the artist’s impression from the article done by Energiet.dk

It looks like to me that all this dedicated to the maintenance of the wind farms. This is at best naive and ill thought out.

[Remember, I’ve written a whole novel about this area!]

Dogger Bank Features:

The Dogger Bank is what I call a powerhouse for the North Sea in so many different ways that all the consequences need to be considered. These include:

  1. The largest known British earthquake occurred near the Dogger Bank in 1931, with a magnitude of 6.1. It was powerful enough to cause minor damage to buildings on the east coast of England, despite being 60 miles offshore. So anything they build will have to have extra anti-earthquake strengthening features.
  2. The Dogger Bank is a centre in the North Sea for spawning and growing fish. If they build an island as shown in the picture above, the fish will lose some of the spawning grounds, which means the fishermen will have their source fish reduced, and there will be less food that can be caught in the North Sea. So they need to work in compensation aspects to allow the same number of fish to be spawned.
  3. The Dogger Bank is at the centre of what is known as a gyre (one of two main ones to the east of the UK). This the sea equivalent of a tornado. Because it is peaceful here, sand etc is deposited here (which is why it’s a spawning ground). Like any centre of a tornado it controls to the large extent the way the surrounding seas flow. This includes shores of Norfolk where they cause coastal erosion, the sandy Spurn Point that protects the Humber from viciousness of the North Sea and the height of tidal surges, the largest of which have had devastating effects all along the eastern coast. One possible (to be determined) effect is that the Thames Barrier will cease to be effective against the worst of these tidal surges. So they need to determine the impact on the sea tides of the North Sea and put in measures to stop any nasty erosion and devastation effects along the east coast.

Back to the Science Fiction:

I catered for all three aspects in my novel. It changed the island in many different ways, ways that require some interesting new technology. One solution can be drawn on some unique British technology I was at the time, using my instinct as a systems engineer  – a kind of engineering that pulls different types of technology together in a coherent useful form.

As a science fiction writer, I’m not willing to let my fiction go for no pay. So, I’m not going to publish what my potential solutions are.

This all demonstrates the need for more science fiction, not less.

And yet, the publishers continue to fail to acknowledge this. They are indirectly damaging the future prospects of mankind. They are failing humanity.

Way Ahead:

I shall be writing to MP and MEPs pointing out the above problems. Doing nothing is not an option here.

Writing a Science Fiction Novel

As I hope you know, I’m in the process of writing my C.A.T. novel. There is an interesting story why I ended up writing this novel the way I did, which I hope will act as a useful tip to other budding novelists.

I was writing a straightforward space adventure novel. Nothing out of the ordinary or special as measured by science fiction standards. One of the four main characters was doing all the expected things he needed to do and nothing more, no character, no internal conflict because of the situation he found himself in and no behavioural tick that would make him do even a little something unusual to add to the story. So in order to give him some colour, I gave him a robo-cat. It was literally a walk-on and walk-off part.

A few chapters later, I found another use for the that robo-cat. I thought good. It moved the plot on very nicely.

Within a few more chapters that damned robo-cat was appearing in nearly every chapter. Worse, I had friends, who read and commented on my drafts, that they wanted to know more about the robo-cat. So I had to have a discussion with it. It could have its own story if it left my novel alone.

What kind of story could I give it? Well, the obvious one was how it came into existence. That story was Agents of Repair, which was published in Issue 29 of the Jupiter Magazine (the issue was entitled Thyone, which is the 29th moon of the planet Jupiter). I went back to my novel.

Then I realised I had a gap in my knowledge about the robo-cat. How did it come from where I had left it in Agents of Repair to hook up with my character? Well, I couldn’t write that into my novel as I had started the novel with them already together. So I ended up writing about how they got together. This story was to form my portfolio for my application to do an MA Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, for which I was accepted. During that course, I subbed the story to TWB Press and it was accepted for a stand-alone e-publication, simply entitled C.A.T.

Good, I thought, I now had the background to carry on my novel. At this point I got distracted from the novel on my Creative Writing course to start a completely different novel, which as it turns out follows a similar development arc to this novel (more about that novel in another post).

But I couldn’t leave C.A.T alone. Two sequel e-publications followed, Neptune’s Angel and Guard Cat. In the process of all this, though I had not realised it at the time, I was enriching background world of this novel.

Finally the resistance to C.A.T. taking over the novel was futile. I changed him (notice C.A.T. has gone from it to him by this stage) to be the main point of view protagonist and did an overarching story arc for him to follow. But at least I had the background world-building fixed.

I started the novel further back in time than my original draft because there was an unexplained event in one of the main characters. That turned into the chapter called Space Blind. It was of a length that could be sent into the Writers of the Future short story (word limit 17,000 words), so I did. I had also worked out that a good way to keep me on schedule with writing the C.A.T.-novel was to send new chapters in to the competition on regular basis. I knew it would help me through what I call the doldrums part of writing the first draft. This is the 50% to 75% section where you’ve done most of the creative world-building, characterisation and plot development, and you know you have still got a long way to go to reach the end of the novel. Once over this doldrum part you are so close to the finish, you get really excited about finishing it, which carries you through to the end.

To my utter surprise and delight, the Writers of the Future gave me an honourable mention for Space Blind. It was a remarkable achievement because one fault from a short story point of view was there were a loose ends in it, which would be dealt with in subsequent chapters, and count against it in the judging. So I grinned, framed the certificate and continued writing the novel.

The next two main chapters followed the story arc of the original novel, with the second story Eternal Vigilance also gaining an Honourable Mention. I settled down to write the middle third of the novel, hoping that my plan would get me through the doldrums.

Then something weird happened in chapter 4, Dust in his Eyes. I found myself coming up with more background world building, admittedly in the details rather than the big picture. But they were important to the story line. It was only a detail here and another there. But I found the character of C.A.T. developing as a result. Guess what? Another Honourable Mention. I thought I had to be doing something right.

The inventiveness got worse in chapter 5, Hope Mosaic (which also received an Honourable Mention), and even crazier in chapter 6, Instinct of Logic. By this stage, C.A.T. had taken on a life of his own, and it felt like he was dictating the novel. He was now actually helping to change the space-scape with his story. I kept on thinking, I can’t put that into this novel and yep, it went in.

I have now reached chapter 7, entitled Unknown Unknowns. As nine chapters are planned, this is the 66% to 77% section. Finish this chapter and I would be truly out of the doldrum part. So far, it’s absolutely zinging with new-scape. I finish writing my current section, go off do other normal human things and then come back with a new thing to include in the story.

So what lessons can we learn from this experience:

  1. The ‘wisdom’ of saying that most of the creative development part of novel writing is over by the time you reach the halfway mark is total rubbish for science fiction.
  2. In the original version novel I had instinctively chosen my point of view character as the one who was learning about the world. Whilst useful in itself from a world-building view, it is very likely not the best option for bringing out the best in the novel. By all means write the earlier version until the point you are happy about the world-building, but be prepared to start the novel again from the point of view of the most interesting character in the novel. (This also happened in my MA Creative Writing novel.)
  3. Find ways of sticking to a reasonable timetable for writing a novel. I did this by insisting I had to put my chapters into the Writers of the Future contest. Other methods may work for other people. I suspect in the case of the more professional writers, contract deadlines act as a wonderful focus. But for those of us starting out on our novel writing careers, having something to help us keep up the momentum is not only useful, but almost a must.

Once I’ve found succinct summarised phrases for the above, I’ll put them in a separate post. But for now, the fuller explanation will, I hope, help other budding novelists. If there is only one conclusion you want to take away from this post its:

The process of writing science fiction novels is different from writing other types of novels.

The simple character of C.A.T. in the prequel stories has long since developed. But if you want to read about it / him in those early days, click on the images below to take you to Amazon UK.

 

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Guard Cat Full Detail

Near Future Science Fiction

The closer your speculative future to today is, the shorter the science fiction story has to be.

Why is that?

Most science fiction authors are all too well aware how they can develop a world, only to find an announcement in some science journal or news channels that means they got aspects of world technology wrong. Some good classical examples include H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars.

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But why are near future tales so particularly vulnerable to this problem?

Well, we do have a lot of technology, cars, vacuum cleaners, washing machines, computers, x-ray machines, nuclear power stations, wind generators… well the list can go on and on and on… Each of these technologies can be extrapolated. Cars can become driverless and can cross rivers. Vacuum cleaners can clean the room by themselves and worse can decide when the room needs cleaning. And so it goes on. These kinds of technology development are fairly predicable. The problem comes knowing how fast the developments get to market relative to each other. But most readers tend to shrug any such time anomalies off.

So what causes the annoyance with the future technologies not being predicted correctly?

When the extrapolated technologies reach a certain level they can be combined with another technology to produce something really unexpected. With hindsight such inventions are obvious. Well, the aeroplane was obvious before it was invented, wasn’t it? Err… not until the three-axis controls were invented by Orville and Wilbur Wright, which meant fixed wing aeroplanes could be steered and controlled.

The appearance of these cross-technology inventions is unpredictable. Some of them go on to make a profound change in society – like the fixed wing aircraft example above. And to those that grew up and lived with such inventions, they can’t understand why it was so difficult to produce.

These cross-technology inventions have a nasty habit of making hard cumbersome ways of doing things obsolete. What would you think of a horse-drawn plough being put into a story when you were already driving tractors?

But we are living in an age when cross-technology inventions are the basis of most inventions, and they are coming in thick and fast. So it is comparatively speaking, easy to get the near future technology so completely wrong.

When it comes to writing novels, there is a lot of whole building, which for near future stories means a lot of technology development. Add to this the length of time that it takes for a novel to be written and published, there is more chance of something technology-wise being out of kilter with what is happening in the real world.

So what do you do if you have a wonderful technology invention that is likely to happen in the near future and you want to put it into a science fiction story?

Well sticking to writing a short story about it means you can get that idea down quickly. Secondly, when it comes to picking a magazine, pick a magazine that accepts or rejects your story quickly. Be wary of magazines that are quick to accept and then hang onto the story for several years before publishing. The quick turnaround time reduces that chances of a technology-crossing invention killing the credibility of your story.

Which is why short story markets, like the Kraxon Magazine and Daily Science Fiction are so important. They are the true banner-wavers of near future science fiction.

Talking of Kraxon Magazine, I’m absolutely delighted that my short story Cyber Control was voted the favourite story in the magazine for 2016!

A Class of Techno in Science Fiction?

While I was at a one day symposium at the British Interplanetary Society (BIS) last week, one speaker suggested a grouping on innovations in technology as follows:

  1. Acute Impact Technology (immediate impact on society in the near term)
  2. Chronic Impact Technology (steady impact on society in the medium term)
  3. Extensual Technology (extend society and probably transform in the long term)
  4. Fringe Technology (tantalising physics that could harbour surprise future technologies)
  5. Unlikely Technology (trend subjects that probably have nothing e.g. vacuum energy, magnetic monopoles, black hole generators)

 

It’s an interesting breakdown as most ‘hard’ science fiction can be placed firmly in one of these categories.

I suspect the least seen in the magazines with high circulation numbers is the first, those technologies that have an immediate impact on society in the near term. The reason is that most science fiction writers steer away from these kinds of stories because of the danger of them becoming out of date so quickly. So it they do appear, it’s likely to be in short stories because the turn-around from idea to published can be so quick. However, it is also known that some big innovator firms ask their employees to write science fiction stories about near term technology, in order to gauge which innovations are likely to sell best in the market place. Obviously, for commercial reasons, we never see these stories.

But a science fiction writer needs these near term technologies to see which way society goes before they can identify what the medium and long term societies will look like. When you stop to think about it, while the methods of how things are done are improved (e.g. by using new materials), the property will always be used in society. The wattle and daub of medieval houses have become the plasterboard of today. The papyrus of ancient Egypt has become the paper of today and will become that saved files on computers of tomorrow. The cobbled roads of the renaissance have become the tarmac roads of today. The new stuff (for want of a better word) is lighter, tougher, longer lasting, improved whatever property.

If you look at Star Trek or similar, it uses technologies based on better properties than we have today, and nothing more. The reason behind this bias is because people can understand these properties and therefore can relate to them on a personal level. Anything new usually throws them out of contest, gets them confused and generally puts them off.

There is one notable possible exception to this. It’s when you put the word alien onto that technology. Then people expect something weird that they might not understand. Which is why I’m pleased to see the next in the Explorations series by Woodbridge Press is about First Contact. It’s been published today.

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You can buy the

Regrettably I did not have time to produce a story for this, but from what I’ve seen the stories they’re good.

To celebrate the launch of the second in the Explorations series, the kindle edition of the first in the series, Explorations: Through the Wormhole is being offered at 99p for the next three days (i.e. until 1st February). I do have a short story in this one, but it’s very much based on extrapolated technologies.

 

Facts, Damned Facts, and Diagrams

Sometimes when you get a lot of facts thrown at you, it is difficult to make sense of them all at the same time. That’s when a diagram comes in handy – you just sit down and add a bit at a time. This is exactly what I did in trying to make out the structure of the Kuiper Belt. And here is the result:

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With those unknowns of what happened to all objects that should be there, it’s no wonder some of the descriptions ended up being confusing. What I have not included on here are other resonances with Neptune that have fewer objects than the ones shown in the diagram, but there is nevertheless a higher concentration of objects.

But this is only the Kuiper Belt. There’s also the Scattered Disc Objects (SDO). These objects approach the Sun as close as 30 to 35 AU (Astronomical Units), but usually have highly eccentric orbits that can extend beyond 100 AU. They can also have orbital inclinations up to 40 degrees. They are thought to be the result of gravitational scattering by the gas giants (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune). So there is some overlap between the Kuiper Belt and SDO. A good example of an overlap object is Eris.

There are objects that are further out than either of these two sets, e.g. Sednoids, but apart from not fitting onto the diagram, little is known about them.

Does this help my science fiction? You bet it does! So I would certainly suggest using a diagram to get your thoughts straight when you have too many facts.

Science Fiction of the Future

A government commissioned review has just backed the building of the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon scheme for generating electricity. It’s likely to cost £1.3 billion and still has a couple of hurdles to get through i.e. get marine license approval and the need to agree a deal with the builder. See here for more details.

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This is going to be used as a forerunner of other tidal lagoon schemes like those suggested for the Severn Estuary. I have (as you will note) long since been an advocate of the harnessing power from these tidal estuaries.

What I hope is that someone has the gumption to include wind generators of some sort on top of the lagoon structures, as they would then be somewhat remote from people, farming and industry. Even better I would like to see consideration being given to adding in features that would help conserve marine wildlife or add in things like mussel or oyster farms.

Now where did all these hopes come from?

Well my first science fiction novel. This novel is the novel that every novelist writes to learn their craft. Looking back at it now, I would say it’s awful. But then I’ve learned an awful lot of the writing craft since then. But the technology ideas behind it then are just as valid today.

[As an aside I did put forward one of the tech ideas I came up with to my workplace, only to have it turned down flat. A few years later, guess what? Another firm had developed that same idea and was selling it in the market place. Needless to say I was more than a little cheesed off with my firm.]

Now if my first novel had been published (after someone else had helped me to wring it into shape I hasten to add), then I believe these decisions might have been accelerated and we would be building the tidal lagoon now, if not already using it.

This come son top of the news that there is a new anthology out – Chasing Shadows by Tor. The blurb on the Tor.com site is

As we debate Internet privacy, revenge porn, the NSA, and Edward Snowden, cameras get smaller, faster, and more numerous. Has Orwell’s Big Brother finally come to pass? Or have we become a global society of thousands of Little Brothers—watching, judging, and reporting on one another?

Noted author and futurist David Brin presentsChasing Shadows, a collection of short stories and essays by other science fiction luminaries—available January 10th from Tor Books. Partnering with the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination, Brin and scholar Stephen Potts have compiled works from writers such as Robert J. Sawyer, James Morrow, William Gibson, Damon Knight, Jack McDevitt, and many others to examine the benefits and pitfalls of technologic transparency in all its permutations.

I have not had chance to read this, so don’t know whether it is good or bad. But I have a feeling about computers and computing in the near future – we’re heading for a significant change in the way they work.

Why? In my view, it’s all about the energy consumption, even the most efficient modern ones, use. We are demanding more functionality from them. They are growing bigger in capacity for any given size. They are using less energy for any given size. But they are still not enough for our needs. As a society, we want more. And in the end, they are going to come up against the energy limitation, and the only way to overcome this is to use some sort of technology disruptor.

Of course, this is all grist to mill of writing science fiction…

Maybe, or, Maybe Not

Over the past years I have generated the occasional article that would be a help to science fiction wanting to use the relevant technology. It started with one about artificial gravity. And that only came about because I was critiquing someone else’s drafts and what he had written instinctively felt wrong. So I sat down, one evening in my favourite armchair and typed up a few notes. End result, he came back to say it had helped him visualise what was needed.

Roll on several years and a few more articles of similar ilk (but not the same technology).

Another writerly friend who also blogs had put together a book of the articles she wrote on her blog. She is I hasten to add not a science fiction writer, more a contemporary / literary writer. However, she has an interesting sense of humour and has got me laughing on many an occasion. Susan’s book can be found here:

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So wouldn’t it be nice to do something similar – a compilation of these technology articles for budding science fiction writers, or indeed, the more experienced science fiction writers who haven’t had a chance to look into the various technologies. Of course, I’d have to add a couple of articles not already published on my blog.

But will I have the time? Won’t it get in the way of my science fiction writing?

The answers to these questions is we’ll have to wait and see. But one thing is for sure, I now feel as if I’m on the home straight for my C.A.T. novel, even if I do still have the ‘where the heck did that come from?’ moments.

2016 – Bows and all

This has indeed been a strange year in many ways. Even the weather has conspired to make this an unusual year in the UK…

Of course you can always rely on double rainbows appearing somewhere in the Uk like those below near Bath…

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But we also had the delight of a rare fog bow in Rannoch Moor (Scotland) as seen below:

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And then there was the very rare moonbow over Skipton (Yorkshire)….

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And then there was the extremely rare fire rainbow seen over Normanton in Yorkshire…

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With all these bows, you start wonder who’s been fiddling with our weather, and indeed our destiny.

For me, in a way, this has been an unusual year for me science fiction wise. I’ve had 3 short stories published –

  • AI Deniers, Explorations: Through the Wormhole anthology, August 2016

Each has their own story to it. Swept Away went from idea to publishing within a month, which was a real first for me. Cyber Control was as a result of attending an innovation conference the previous year in London. And as for AI Deniers… that would not have happened had I not been taking a break from my novel to reinvigorate my creative juices… which, by the way, turned out to be spectacularly successful.

[Kraxon magazine are currently holding a poll for the best short story they have published this year over at sffchronicles, but you have to a member to be able to vote. Voting ends 20th December – it’ll give you a chance to read some of the wonderful tales they’ve published.]

As for my C.A.T. novel, well so far this year, two of its chapters have each obtained an Honourable Mention in the Writers of the Future contest. That makes it two out of two so far this year. [I’m currently writing the 3rd chapter for this year.]

This year has not been as productive as some previous years due to illness. Let’s say I’ve been in hospital twice, but it’s now all sorted.

But other weird things have been happening in the publishing / science fiction scene.

  1. We had news that 2015 was the first year that saw the proportion of  sales of e-publications to paper-based books drop. I’m not sure of the reason why. Don’t get me wrong. e-publications have their uses e.g. those who have sight difficulties can easily enlarge the print to be able to read the e-book. I personally prefer to read a paper-based book.
  2. At least two major authors were changing their pattern of book publishing to go from their usual output to something that has more commercial appeal. This is a disappointment in one sense because what they were doing was innovative.
  3. We had no real controversy in the UK awards scene, though the winner of the Arthur C Clarke, Adrian Tchaikovsky was caught by complete surprise by the announcement he had won [there is a photo of him in stunned disbelief on the web somewhere!]
  4. We’ve had some major publishers close submissions to unagented writers during the year, which I take it to be a sign of them being overwhelmed and not getting in the necessary profits to be able to employ more people.

To me, this spells out that the publishing industry acknowledge they want change, but are not really quite sure which direction they should be going in. Like rainbows, it points to promise of the future but you never know where the rainbow ends.

 

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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