In print

I’m still not sufficiently jaded a writer that I don’t feel a thrill at seeing my name in a byline, and that goes doubly so for fiction work, and for work that appears in actual physical dead-tree media. (I know, it’s just so archaic of me.) So fiction work that appears in dead-tree media is the best byline of all:

Noir anthology: author copies

Those are my author copies of the Noir anthology from Newcon Press, which contains my story “A Boardinghouse Heart”; you can buy it for your Amazonian e-reading device for just £2.01, as a paperback for £9.99, or a signed hardcover for £15.99. (Still no sign of any direct-from-publisher options, so you may need to drop Newcon a line if that’s your preference. Or catch ‘em in the dealer’s room at pretty much any UK convention…)

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So last week I went down to That London for the Clarke Award, which was not only my first experience with 1st-Class trains both ways between Sheffield and London (1st-Class Advance tickets for midday trains are usually only a few quid more than the Standard option, so why not?), but also with AirBnB; both of which were agreeably affordable solutions to the Evening Shin-dig In London Conundrum.

The Clarke was a good bash as always; nothing quite beats catching up with literary chums (daaaahling!) while swanning around the reception rooms at the Royal Society, and Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice took the gong. No arguments from me with that result… nor, unusually for the Clarke, anyone else (perhaps because it seemed something of a foregone conclusion as soon as the book started turning up with reviewers and critics). One assumes everyone’s storing up their annual stock of outrage for the LonCon Hugos… *sigh*

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My late train out of London meant I had time to allow Charing Cross Road to relieve me of my money. Apparently the first step is admitting that you have a problem…

Books from Charing Cross Road

One of the downsides of starting a PhD is that it has acted as a hideous enabler of my book jones (see previous). Ah, well; better books than fast cars, hookers and blow, right? Nice bit of McLuhan (who seems to be undergoing something of a renaissance, viz. this Will Self piece at Teh Graun on the senescence of the novel, which prompted just as many canonical displays of denial from the writerly twittersphere as one would expect); an intro to Adorno, who I keep bumping into in citations and notes of late; some Bookchin, who is that rarest of birds, the truly citable left-anarchist; some hermeneutics, because, well, why not; and a book that has provided me with a new pat answer to the question “so what is it you actually do?”: mappin’ the futures, man. Stand well back and hold on to your fedora!

Was wryly amused to find the GC hardback of Chairman Bruce’s The Hacker Crackdown; for that book to still exist as a prestige-format physical object is a glorious double anachronism. And Foyles had the Kathy Acker just sat there all on its lonesome in the regular fiction run… which is all the more impressive, given I thought Acker was out of print in the UK. Maybe someone ordered it in and never collected it? I dunno. I still need to get a copy of her Empire of the Senseless

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What else has been happening? All the things, it feels like. I’ve been to assorted seminars, including a fascinating talk by Luke “Bunkerology” Bennett, academic psychogeographer and penetrator of pillboxes (bring your own Jungian metaphors), and my PhD confirmation report is starting to take shape, but that’s all probs a bit too inside-baseball for blogging.

Coming up soon: this time next week I’ll be somewhere in the Lake District beyond the reach of the cellphone networks, as a bunch of folk from the Institute for Atemporal Studies conduct experiments on the successful use of Kendal mint cake as hallucinogenic ritual sacrament, and into just how long it takes internet habitués to go mad without the internet…

Sinister literature

Book-porn posts: totally acceptable when you paid for ‘em yourself. The below represents the results of a spending spree at Verso Books; they were doing a 50%-off-everything sale, and I had a sale of my own to celebrate, so…

Sinister literature haul from Verso Books

Lovely; all I need now’s the time to read ‘em. Particularly looking forward to Jameson’s Archaeologies of the Future, which I’ve seen cited more times than I can count, and which I’m hoping will fill a few of the theoretical potholes in my PhD work… which I should get back to, right now.

Intrusion

Being burgled for the first time is probably a great prompt for developing a hacker-esque mindset. Which isn’t to say i’d recommend it; as of last night, I’ve been burgled four times in my life, and while it’s markedly less horrible a mental experience each time out, it’s still pretty nasty — even when you’re lucky, as i was this time, and didn’t lose many things or suffer much damage.

The first thing you realise is how easy it is — not just to do, but to get away with. A lot of hackers and pen-test security types make a hobby out of lockpicking, not just because it’s good training for the pen-test mindset (or actual black-hat action), but because it’s a way to remind yourself that there is no lock that cannot be picked, or bypassed somehow. Thence flows the second realisation: that security is as much a social phenomenon as a technical one: the lock (or the password, or the security patrol, whatever) is not there to stop theft, so much as to make theft sufficiently risky or time-consuming that most folk simply won’t bother. The value of the protected goods is the other factor in play; you wouldn’t try cracking Fort Knox for last year’s flatscreen and a few hundred bucks, but for a pallet of bullion? Different story.

The third realisation is that it’s this calculus of risk and reward that allows one to distinguish the professional from the desperate amateur. My guess would be that most home break-ins are not professional jobs, in the sense that they are not done by career burglars; flogging used electronics, average jewellery and other household stuff gets a very poor return for the risk of getting caught, because no fence with sense will pay more than half what they think they can shift it for, which will almost certainly be much less than half the object’s retail value, and furthermore, anything sufficiently valuable to make the return tempting is usually hard to sell on unless you’re nicking to order.

This is how I know last night’s uninvited guests were amateurs. Going on the ratio of mess made (lots) to stuff actually taken (one 22″ TV, which is currently getting a magnesium makeover courtesy of South Yorks CID), it’s clear they were looking for cash or mass-produced consumer goods, because those are easy to move on quickly; they never so much as touched my guitars, for example, despite them being out in plain sight, because they’re a bitch to carry and easy to trace. Plus the musician community has always been pretty good at looking out for one another when it comes to fenced stuff, and the interwebs have only made that easier in recent years. Sure, stuff still walks, and channels exist — but you’d need to know the right people, and the hardware you were taking, to make it worth the hassle.

This may seem contradictory: if they knew what to take, surely they’re not amateurs? And yeah, they know the basics — but so do you, if you think about it. Stay quiet, wear gloves, drop everything and leg it if disturbed; that’s no more a professional approach than not sticking your hand in the flame while cooking on gas. Professionalism is about the long game, not the single exploit; it’s about making one job count, instead of having to take the risk time and again for the sake of a few hundred quid, maximum.

Sadly, even amateurs are hard to catch; without prints or a good visual ID to tie someone to the scene, they’re probably gonna walk. Someone on Twitter last night tried to reassure me that just one DNA sample would be enough to nail the perps, and they were technically right; problem being, CID aren’t going to test for DNA at a household burglary unless they think they’re gonna net someone big, and they know they’re unlikely to net someone big for doing a hiusehold burglary. Amateurs of this sort will usually fuck up at some point and get themselves caught, because they’re too desperate to think far ahead; my guess would be folks with some sort of junk habit. But it’ll take that fuck-up to catch them, because the cops are professionals, and they’re not interested in wasting time and resources on a case that’s not going to stick.

So here’s the fourth realisation, which is pretty innate to anyone with an underclass background, but almost unthinkable to the middle class: the cops aren’t there to prevent crime, because they know (whether consciously or not) that they can’t; they’re there to mop up afterwards. The cops protect capital, the state, and property. Protecting anything that can be picked up and carried (or driven) away is up to you. If this wasn’t the case, there would be no domestic insurance industry. QED. The best way — indeed, probably the only way — to avoid having your stuff stolen is to have nothing worth stealing. (Though of course value is context sensitive, as any homeless person who’s been beaten shitless for the sake of a damp sleeping bag with a broken zip will tell you.)

The other thing being burgled does to a bleeding-heart leftist/anarchist like myself is force them to look to their stated principles. For example, I consider myself a pacifist, but there were a good few hours last night during which I actively fantasised about the opportunity to take a six-cell security Maglite to the knuckles of my visitors. Faced with them in the flesh, I like to think I’d not have done it — I’d probably have been as scared as them, if not more so — but you never know until you’re there in the moment.

But what now of my high-minded reformism, eh? Don’t I want to see someone pay for this crime, see someone suffer in return for my suffering?
In all honesty, no; I retain my belief that the sort of people who do this sort of amateur crime do so precisely because they’ve already suffered. No one embarks on a career of burgling terraced houses in a destitute shithole like Woodhouse because they think there’s a future in it; they do it because they can’t see a future more than a month ahead of them, if that. Poverty will do that to you, as will poor education, an unstable family environment (or no family at all), and a national culture that has reminded you daily, pretty much since birth, that you’re unlikely to ever amount to anything, while also hammering hard on individualism, and the idea that you are what you own.

I’m no utopian; i don’t believe a solid welfare state or mutualist support system would eradicate crime overnight and usher in a peaceable paradise of mutual respect and cooperation. But I do believe that what those things do is give people more options, more choices — and that it really doesn’t take many alternative options to make the option of burgling for chump change look like a bad choice.

Of course, the counterargument is “but fitting better locks and security systems would have the same effect!” And yes, it would — but only for one house at a time. Security technology doesn’t prevent crime; it simply displaces it onto those least able to afford security technology. To address the disease rather than the symptoms requires a social approach.

Maybe you could even call it “social security”.

Poppytar noir

So, I sold a story a while ago. Not quite as long ago as I wrote the story in question, mind — that was during the second semester of my Masters, which feels like a lifetime ago.

Anyway, the sale went to Ian Whates at NewCon Press. Here’s as much as anyone other than Ian knows about the project in question:

“… the project that started life as ‘write me something featuring a femme fatale’ has evolved considerably.  In fact, what began as a single anthology has subsequently budded, amoeba-like, and developed into two independent volumes; a duo-anthology (no, I’m not too sure what that means either, but it sounds impressive).  La Femme and Noir, two thematically linked books, each with their own distinct identity.

Both books will be launched on the Friday evening of this year’s Eastercon in Glasgow, 6.00 pm on April 18th, unveiled at a launch party which will also see the release of a new collection from Eric Brown and “The Moon King”, Neil Williamson’s debut novel.”

Two books, two TOCs:

La Femme:

  1. Introduction – Ian Whates
  2. Stephen Palmer – Palestinian Sweets
  3. Frances Hardinge – Slink-Thinking
  4. Storm Constantine – A Winter Bewitchment
  5. Andrew Hook – Softwood
  6. Adele Kirby – Soleil
  7. Stewart Hotston – Haecceity
  8. John Llewellyn Probert – The Girl with No Face
  9. Jonathan Oliver – High Church
  10. Maura McHugh – Valerie
  11. Holly Ice – Trysting Antlers
  12. Ruth E.J. Booth – The Honey Trap
  13. Benjanun Sriduangkaew – Elision

Noir:

  1. Introduction – Ian Whates
  2. E.J. Swift – The Crepuscular Hunter
  3. Adam Roberts – Gross Thousand
  4. Donna Scott – The Grimoire
  5. Emma Coleman – The Treehouse
  6. Paula Wakefield – Red in Tooth and Claw
  7. Simon Kurt Unsworth – Private Ambulance
  8. Jay Caselberg – Bite Marks
  9. Marie O’Regan – Inspiration Point
  10. Paul Graham Raven – A Boardinghouse Heart
  11. Simon Morden – Entr’acte
  12. James Worrad – Silent in Her Vastness
  13. Paul Kane – Grief Stricken
  14. Alex Dally McFarlane – The (De)Composition of Evidence

Very chuffed to be there… and very chuffed to have sold that story, which collected apologetic personal rejections from all of the best genre ‘zines on the interwebs. Just my luck someone was doing an anthology where grimly ambiguous tales of monumental self-pity, possibly fraudulent magic, police violence and certifiable drug abuse would be a good fit, eh?

In other writy-publishy news, I just finished a commissioned book chapter. Don’t congratulate me; it was originally due in November last year. Given it’s for a collection of scholarly essays, I expect it’ll take at least as long to get to press as the story above, if not longer… always assuming, of course, that the editors don’t wisely decide that the piece I’ve sent them is that little bit too much weirder than even my abstract had led them to expect. Guess we’ll see…

Surveillance and legibility: systems of seeing

“Networks weird people.” Quinn Norton and Ella Saitta explain the yin-yang nature of network effects — and the complicity of hackers and “geek culture” in such — to the Chaos Communications Conference.

This is of considerable interest to me, for two reasons. First of all, because legibility is a big part of what my doctorate is about: the systems on which we depend are illegible to us, and in the same way that the state needs to “see” its citizens to interact with them effectively, we need to “see” our infrastructure; however, this would be counterproductive for those who own and control infrastructure, leading to the ironic endgame of the atemporal, wherein the illusion that society is separate from nature is both sustained by and projected upon the very metasystem which binds them inseparably together.

Secondly, because I’m increasingly convinced that an unexamined methodological positivism is at the root of solutionism and geek exceptionalism alike; it’s the dark side of scientific epistemology, a faux-empiricist position wherein that which cannot be quantified cannot exist. It’s also a central plank of neoclassical economics, and neoliberal political theory. Ironically, however, it has created the ultimate machine for forcing humans to confront the subjectivity of the human experience, namely the internet. This is the ideological paradox at the heart of atemporality: the more finely the metanarratives are shredded by our distrust, the more desperate we are for someone to stitch us together a comforting and authoritative story from the fragments. In such an environment, curatorship is power, as Rupert Murdoch knows very well; curation imposes a narrative on the fragments it collects together by excluding the ones it discards.

But what if you gave an exhibition and nobody came? Curation with no visitors is like art with no audience, a scream in the wilderness. So the complementary power to curation is that of distribution: the ability to not only shape the narrative, but to get it in front of the right audience.

He who owns the pipes controls the flow.

Science fiction, science fact, and all that's in between …