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Year’s End / Year’s Best

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Well, this has been a memorably weird and hectic year. I’m tapping out this post in an old apartment in the middle of Cambridge, Mass., US of A, having decided (for diverse reasons) that I’d rather be here with friends for the holiday season than back in Blighty, stuck out in the Sheffield badlands with the usual “let’s shut the country down for a fortnight” folderol. (A brief scan of UK news organs suggests my instincts were sound on that front; public transport chaos, quelle surprise.) Knowing a little about seasonal weather patterns on the East coast of the US, it’s strange to be sat here on the day after Boxing Day with clear blue skies outside, scrolling through Instagram images of Western Europe acquiring a thin but definite blanket of snow. (I am, however, not complaining; snow is charming for the first 48 hours, but for someone who lives a fair distance from Minimum Viable Food Retail and relies on public transport to get around, it utterly lacks any long-term appeal.)

It would have been a hectic year if I’d been up to nothing other than rattling through the first year of my PhD; the confirmation-of-candidacy process ended up being protracted and painful (due to my own foolish choices, to be clear, or at least as much as anything else), but I got through in the end, which means my research proper begins when I get back to my desk in January. After struggling hard to get over that hurdle, I’m looking forward to getting stuck into it; it feels like I’ve made the grade, somehow (though the real making of the grade is yet to come, of course).

But this year also saw me reach a point where I could tell myself that I’ve (somewhat unexpectedly) passed a benchmark in my decade-old “become a writer” project. Sure, I’ve been writing and publishing for a while, fiction and non-fiction — but selling “Los Piratas…” to Twelve Tomorrows felt like some sort of non-trivial level-up, especially on the fiction side of things. And it turns out that story will be appearing in Gardner Dozois’s Year’s Best SF 32 [Amazon UK pre-order; publication date July 2015]; full TOC follows, via Gareth L Powell.

The Fifth Dragon, Ian McDonald (Reach for Infinity)
The Rider, Jérôme Cigut (F&SF)
The Days of the War, as Red as Blood, as Dark as Bile, Aliette de Bodard (Subterranean Online)
The Burial of Sir John Mawe at Cassini, Chaz Brenchley (Subterranean Online)
The Regular, Ken Liu (Upgraded)
The Woman from the Ocean, Karl Bunker (Asimov’s)
Shooting the Apocalypse, Paolo Bacigalupi (The End Is Nigh)
Weather, Susan Palwick (Clarkesworld)
The Hand Is Quicker, Elizabeth Bear (The Book of Robert Silverberg)
The Man Who Sold the Moon, Cory Doctorow (Hieroglyph)
Vladimir Chong Chooses To Die, Lavie Tidhar (Analog)
Beside the Damned River, D.J. Cockburn (Interzone)
The Colonel, Peter Watts (Tor.com)
Entanglement, Vandana Singh (Hieroglyph)
White Curtain, Pavel Amnuel (F&SF)
Slipping, Lauren Beukes (Twelve Tomorrows)
Passage of Earth, Michael Swanwick (Clarkesworld)
Amicae Aeternum, Ellen Klages (Reach for Infinity)
In Babelsberg, Alastair Reynolds (Reach for Infinity)
Sadness, Timons Esaias (Analog)
West to East, Jay Lake (Subterranean Online)
Grand Jeté (The Great Leap), Rachel Swirsky (Subterranean Online)
Covenant, Elizabeth Bear (Hieroglyph)
Jubilee, Karl Schroeder (Tor.com)
Los Piratas del Mar de Plastico (Pirates of the Plastic Ocean), Paul Graham Raven (Twelve Tomorrows)
Red Lights, and Rain, Gareth L. Powell (Solaris Rising 3)
Coma Kings, Jessica Barber (Lightspeed)
The Prodigal Son, Allen M. Steele (Asimov’s)
God Decay, Rich Larson (Upgraded)
Blood Wedding, Robert Reed (Asimov’s)
The Long Haul, from the Annals of Transportation, The Pacific Monthly, May 2009, Ken Liu (Clarkesworld)
Shadow Flock, Greg Egan (Coming Soon Enough)
Thing and Sick, Adam Roberts (Solaris Rising 3)
Communion, Mary Anne Mohanraj (Clarkesworld)
Someday, James Patrick Kelly (Asimov’s)
Yesterday’s Kin, Nancy Kress (Tachyon)

Feels very strange to see my name alongside not just writers I’ve watched rising through the ranks around me, but writers I’d read and idolised long before I even thought getting published was a possibility. Strange, but also inspiring and humbling at once — which is surely a fitting suite of emotions for the season, and for a newly-upgraded postgrad.

So on we go, then. Happy new year, folks.

The Naked Lunch: Christmas and capitalism

Here’s a great opening ‘graph for a seasonal cyberpunk satire:

“I heard my first Christmas music of the year in District 1. It was the 1st of August, 27ºC outside and All I Want For Christmas was drifting out of a market stall dedicated to selling Santa hats.”

Only it’s not from a piece of fiction at all; it’s from the first installment of @iamdanw’s account of his travels across China with the Unknown Fields expedition. Having talked to others who were on the same adventure, the megamarket of Yiwu is likely the least weird part of the story.

Bill Burroughs used the phrase “naked lunch” to describe “[the] frozen moment where everyone sees what’s on the end of every fork”. Dan’s essay above, then, is Naked Christmas — where everyone sees what’s on the end of every supply chain.

 

Dancing about architecture

So yesterday I was at the Birmingham School of Architecture, playing guest reviewer for Masters-student group and individual project-work for one of the four school “studios”. Reason I got the invite is that Mike Dring and Rob Annable are apparently both fans of my Infrastructure Fiction talk, which they’ve included in their studio syllabus; the current crop of projects includes the creation of infrastructure fictions as part of the process. This is really fascinating for me, given IF was (deliberately) a pretty formless manifesto; seeing people pick it up and do stuff with it is really cool, especially when they do things with it that I’d never have thought of.

(Lordy, but do they wring a lot of deliverables out of architecture students, though — I though my creative writing Masters came with a heavy list of outputs, but it looks like sheer dilettantism by comparison to what these kids are up to.)

On the subject of infrastructure and narrative, this Rebecca Solnit bit for the NYT [via @debcha] seems pertinent to both the above, and to the times in general. Some quotes:

“To grasp climate change, you have to think in terms of species and their future. To know how things have already changed, you have to remember how they used to be, and so you may not notice birds disappearing from the skies, or hotter weather or more extreme storms and forest fires. You need to look past the sparrow and see the whole system that allows — or allowed — the birds to flourish. The swallows, the chinook salmon, desert tortoises, manatees, moose and us. Addressing climate means fixing the way we produce energy. But maybe it also means addressing the problems with the way we produce stories.

[…]

And so we should seek out new kinds of stories — stories that make us more alarmed about our conventional energy sources than the alternatives, that provide context, that show us the future as well as the past, that make us see past the death of a sparrow or a swallow to the systems of survival for whole species and the nature of the planet we leave to the future.”

That’s a very infrastructure-fictional call-to-arms, there — I’ll bet the architecture students I saw yesterday would recognise it as one, at any rate.

Cyborg folklore and the infrastructural trialectic

Folklore and infrastructure intersecting, with a hint of Haraway, in this interview with the gloriously-named internet folklorist Trevor J Blank:

Because technologically-mediated communication is so ubiquitously and integrally rooted into everyday life (for most individuals), the cognitive boundaries between the corporeal and virtual have been blurred. When we send text messages to a friend or family member, we typically think “I’m sending this text” instead of “these glowing dots of phosphorous are being converted into tiny signals and beamed across several cell towers before being decoded and received on a peer’s phone.” The message is perceived as an authentic extension of our communicative selves without much thought over the medium in which it was sent.

And another snip from the second part of the interview:

Fundamentally, we rely on institutions for a number of aspects of everyday life: we look to our government to protect us and keep us moving forward as a society; we expect children to learn something valuable when they go to school; we look for law enforcement to ensure that citizens play by the rules, just to name a few. Folk culture–the informal, unofficial expressive dynamics that constitute everyday life within a group–resides outside of these institutions yet it is inherently aware of and shaped by them. The two unavoidably intermingle in the context of modern American life. For instance, connecting to the Internet requires navigating through an institutional barrier, like a cable company or Internet service provider, before one can even begin to engage in vernacular expression online.

To follow that thread, dynamic folk discourse can take place in the comment sections of institutional websites like YouTube. Or, an individual can publish beautiful, original prose (essentially folk expression) on their blog, which may have been built from a template provided by WordPress (which is institutional). The point is that folk expression and institutions are not inherently antagonistic; in fact, they frequently play off one another or become hybridized in the process of generating folklore.

Neatly kicks Digital Dualism in the nuts… and provides both a context for and excuse to copy and repost this image, which — for the sake of good archival practice in spite of the phenomenon of link-rot — came from here:

"One of the really bizarre side-effects of Twitter's 140 character limit... "

Now, what you’ve got there is not only a shift in interface devices influencing the practices and use-customs that ride upon an infrastructure, but the modality and demand-pattern of that usage influencing the expansion of capacity of the infrastructure itself. And while this isn’t an example I can use easily, that’s precisely what my PhD is all about…