Tag Archives: future

Closing the door on the Noughties

Epitaph for a wrecked and rapid decade

Well, there you have it: 2009 is running on the vapours, and the first year of the second decade of the third millenium is waiting in the wings. Of course, these are all arbitrary numbers, artefacts of happenstance… but one can’t help but get sucked in by the false sense of significance. It’s part of how we’re wired, I think – culturally, biologically. The world turns, and we turn with it, seemingly spinning on the spot but actually moving through space at unimaginable speeds. If we didn’t measure things, we’d go mad. Or maybe madder.

That said, I’m nowhere near as revved up on manufactured significance as I was ten years ago at the turn of the millennium. Despite what I earnestly believed to be a steely cynicism on my own part, the dawn of 2000 was the dampest squib of all… and also for many others, I suspect. This has been the decade when I started to feel like an adult (with all the sense of personal responsibility and existential confusion that implies), and this has been the year when, perhaps, I finally started to act like one. Fake it ’til you make it, as the saying goes. 😉

But why dredge up the past? Forward is a better direction to watch, if only so you avoid bumping into the more visible unexpected obstacles. The changes I’ve made in the last year or two have laid out a route through the future for me… and while no plan ever survives contact with the enemy, it’s good to have a sense of direction, a slice of the compass arc to aim into. I’m looking forward to the coming year, the coming decade – it’s full of dreams to fulfil and promises to keep, and strange new things to learn about.

But looking forward is getting harder, at least in the predictive/speculative sense. It’s almost a cliché to talk about science fiction’s inability to see much further than the end of its own temporal nose, but I think that’s symptom of a more general problem that we have as a species. We’re so much more aware of The Now (and of the failed futures that were imagined in our childhoods, and our parents’ childhoods) than we ever have been. Blinded by the near-infinite array of possibilities before us, we can scarcely guess what’s around the next turn. Obvious guesses will turn out to be naive assumptions; improbable pipedreams and worst case scenarios will become obvious in retrospect. Ken MacLeod hits the nail on the head, saying:

Here in the last day of 2009, I have absolutely no idea what the world will be like in 2019, or what we can expect in the ten years ahead. All I know is that 2019 seems a lot farther in the future than 2009 seemed in 1999.

Yeah, that’s about right. Who knows what the future will hold? But no matter – it’s the sketching/building of the future (one’s own, and that of the whole species) that’s such a curious mix of fun and frustration. But as the late Doctor Thompson used to say, “buy the ticket, take the ride”. I hope you’ll all be along for the journey. 🙂

Books received

And to finish off the year, I’d be remiss not to mention an influx of books to the intray. Two of them were Xmas gifts,and they’re the two non-sf-related titles – namely Richard Wilson’s Can’t Be Arsed: 101 Things Not To Do Before You Die and the latest edition of the Lonely Planet guide to Morocco – but a bunch of other gubbins has tumbled through the letterbox in the last couple of weeks. Let’s see what we have…

Unplugged: The Web's Best Sci-fi and Fantasy 2008

Unplugged: The Web’s Best Sci-fi and Fantasy 2008 by Rich Horton (ed.) [Wyrm Publishing] – the first in what will hopefully be a long-running series, Rich Horton scours the genre webzines and beyond for great stories that were printed in pixels before ink. A very special book for me, as it reprints a story we published at Futurismic (Jason Stoddard’s “Willpower”), but there’s an interesting and well-rounded TOC that I’m looking forward to rattling through some time soon.

Realms 2: the Second Year of Clarkesworld Magazine

Realms 2: the Second Year of Clarkesworld Magazine by Nick Mamatas and Sean Wallace (eds.) [Wyrm Publishing] – does what it says on the tin, a collection of Clarkesworld‘s output from late 2007 to late 2008. Clarkesworld sets a benchmark for quality in web publishing that I dream of matching some day with Futurismic, and it’s great to see a TOC with lots of new names, including plenty of female and/or non-WASP writers included.

The Lights in the Tunnel

The Lights In The Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future by Martin Ford [Acculant Publishing] – a random email query from the publisher offered to send me a copy of this one, rightly assuming that Futurismic‘s editor would be interested to read it. Politics, technology, globalisation, communications, economics, outsoucing, automation… its topics are like a checklist of my geek triggers, and if it’s anywhere near as interesting as it promises to be, it’ll be time well spent.

Do Androids Sleep With Electric Sheep?

Do Androids Sleep With Electric Sheep? Critical Perspectives on Sexuality and Pornography in Science and Social Fiction [RE/search Publications] – offered in the latest titles-for-review list from SF Site, I couldn’t pass up a title like that! A wild collection of essays seemingly rooted in fringe academia, geek and fetish subcultures and the territories of synthetic thinkers, I’m looking forward to seeing what new (or at least new-to-me) ideas this book has to share. To judge by some of the, er, illustrations, it isn’t going to leave many cavities unprobed, so to speak.

The Mindscape of Alan Moore

The Mindscape of Alan Moore [Shadowsnake Films] – yeah, OK, so it’s not a book. I very rarely buy or watch DVDs, but when I passed this documentary looking forlorn on the shelf of HMV during the Xmas shopping period, wearing a knock-down price-tag, I couldn’t pass it up. I’ve heard it praised highly by fans of Moore, and it features Moore himself explaining his worldview… and given that I had a pretty serious jones for the occult as a teenager (not to mention for conspiracy theory, mind control and other leftfield stuff as a twenty-something), this looks like a chance to drink direct from the fire-hydrant of weird. Maybe I’ll sit down and watch it tomorrow… after I’ve finished bagging up the rotting cardboard in the cellar, naturally.*


So, that’s VCTB done for the decade, and all my other duties discharged (at least until the sun rises on 2010). So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go to the fridge in search of a beer… here’s hoping your new year is whatever you want it to be. Take care, girls and boys, and I’ll see you on the other side. 🙂

[ * – There is probably no more damning indictment of my transition from twenty-something hedonist/nihilist to thirty-something cohabiting self-employed writer-nerd than the fact that I’m viewing New Year’s Day as a date whose lack of regular work commitments makes it ideal for bingeing on unpleasant and lengthy household chores. How the mighty have fallen, eh? Happy new year, folks. 🙂 ]

Stealth fiction

man sneaking up graffiti'd stairwayOK, thought experiment – imagine a world where the printed word is prohibitively expensive, and where people don’t have time set aside for the pleasures of reading fiction.

Where are fiction writers going to get published, if they want to get noticed, to get their work read?

Stealth fiction

Some might say we’re nearly in that world already, but that’s a different argument. What’s been bugging me as a concept for a few days is the idea of stealth fiction – fiction that doesn’t advertise itself as being such.

When we say ‘fiction’, we mean stories – a form of entertainment where we form a contract with the text, ignoring the fact we know it to be untrue for the sake of the thrill of immersion.

But there are a great many fictions in our media that aren’t what we think of as ‘fiction’ in that way. Adverts are a form of fiction, for example.

Wizard’s First Rule*

And in our wired-for-memes world, adverts are not only ubiquitous, but an accepted part of the furniture, and increasingly indistinguishable from official corporate announcements and ‘free’ information. Even so, people are very trusting, and it’s easy enough to pull the wool over their eyes if you know the sort of story they want to hear.

Point in case – the fake website that claimed to be announcing the release date and title of the new Weezer album. This spoof was taken hook line and sinker, not only by Weezer fans but by members of the music press (who should have known better, or at least dug a little deeper).

That website was a work of fiction.

Classified flash – fiction on Craigslist

Scalzi pointed out the growing trend of fictional pieces appearing in Craigslist.** As he observes, this isn’t going to be an effective route to fame and fortune (and I expect that the quality is probably very poor), but those people have realised something important – fiction doesn’t have to be in a book, magazine, or PDF. It can be in any or all of those places, or anywhere else – but it’s easier to get it in front of Joe Average by not slapping a big sticker saying “hey, work of fiction, right here!”

Interstitial experiments

I can see other people working towards a realisation (conscious or unconscious) of something similar – which doesn’t surprise me at all, as they’re at least equally as smart as I am, if not more so (and almost certainly less prone to meandering thought-trains such as this one).

Some of these experiments are knowingly post-modern about the whole thing, like Jeremiah Tolbert’s Dr Julius Roundbottom site – the format is new, but the implicit disbelief-suspension contract with the reader still remains.

But this strikes me as the true definition of interstitial fiction – not fiction that doesn’t fit into accepted genres (though that may be a part of it), but fiction that doesn’t fit into the standard containers we expect to find fiction in.

I’m sure we all know what happened when Orson Welles broadcast War Of The Worlds as a radio drama, don’t we?

Memetic fiction

Fellow Friday Flash Fictioneer Gareth D Jones tried an experiment last week that illuminated the other side of the problem – how to raise the chance of Joe Average stumbling across your piece of stealth fiction?

What Gareth did was to seed his story with popular search terms for the day, the theory being that they’d raise the chance of the piece appearing in search returns.

Results were inconclusive, but it was the idea that really made me think – it’s like SEO for fiction! If you know what people are looking for, why not deliver it, and slip your fictional medicine in with the sugar coating? If it goes viral, your story is everywhere – you just found yourself an audience!

Fictioneer or marketeer?

OK, I can hear you saying “Well, that’s a bit crass, isn’t it? A bit sneaky and underhanded?” And yes, it is. Certainly from our point of view, right here right now.

But give it five, ten years – and I’m not so sure. After all, any aspiring writer with savvy has a website these days – that’s a form of self-marketing, albeit a less deceitful one. So marketing your own work isn’t inherently morally repulsive (at least, not to most authors).

So it must be the deceit element, the stealth of the fiction, that we find objectionable. But once it’s happened more often, and people are more aware that these deceits and spoofs occur on the wild uncharted waves of the internet, will they not develop a certain expectation? An implicit contract with everything they read, an admission that any and all media may be trying to trick them?

Everybody loves ninjas, right?

And once people have that implicit contract with the web, wouldn’t that make it quite the ideal place to put your fiction? To sneak it out under people’s radar? Furthermore, wouldn’t this reinstate works of fiction as a way of inoculating people against the more vicious deceits of advertising and politics? Or am I just overtired with a major structural screw loose?

[* Yeah, sorry, Terry Goodkind reference. I was reading from the bookshelves of friends during my wilderness years, and a Goodkind would kill an afternoon in the same way as daytime TV or a bag of grass – eight hours of cliche with a few tiny gems of food for thought. For those that don’t know, the Wizard’s First Rule is something along the lines of “people will believe anything you tell them, provided they wish it to be true, or they fear that it already is”.]

[** This isn’t an entirely new phenomenon either; back in the nineties I encountered a strange emergent subculture of people who were essentially playing role-playing games through the medium of the ‘Miscellaneous’ section of the free classified ads papers, which strikes me as being similar in essence – if not in form – to the Craigslist writers.]

[Image by GypsyRock]

[tags]stealth, fiction, markets, media, future, internet[/tags]

Subscription drives alone will not save the short fiction magazines

OK, first off let me make one thing perfectly clear – I do not want to see science fiction and fantasy short story print magazines die off. It is not a thing that would bring me any sort of joy.

Secondly, let me make it clear that Doug Cohen’s suggestion that everyone make a point of subscribing to a short story publication is well-meaning and good-spirited, and that I think anyone who can afford to do so should do exactly that.

(I recommend Interzone, myself, but then I’m biased!)

But I think that subscription drives are a short-term solution that fails to look at the long-term issues.

Where have the readers gone, and why?

Subscription rates are falling; this is undeniable. And the genre needs the short fiction markets to nurture new talent; this is also undeniable.

What we are missing are the cold hard facts. Why are subscriptions to short fiction magazines dropping? Subscription drives are an admirable thing, but until the source of the problem is located, it’s like adding more water to a leaking bucket. We need to find the hole and patch it.

Now, for all I know, the magazine publishers may well be hunting for the leak. I certainly hope so. I know some of them are looking at methods of patching the leak, too, if not already rolling out potential patches and strengthening. This is a good thing.

But what worries me is this; subscription drives may cause an unfounded short-term sense of security. If publishers look at the next twelve months and breathe a sigh of relief, they may not think ahead to the next five years. Beating the wolf away from the door is great, but it would be better to chase him back into the forest.

What should we do to save the short fiction markets?

I don’t have all the answers, sadly. Alhough I have my opinions on futureproofing the genre short fiction scene, which were not universally popular when I announced them, they are only opinions – and they are the opinions of someone who isn’t a publisher of short fiction magazines. In an absence of facts, all I can do is throw theories into the air.

So here’s what I suggest:

Follow Doug Cohen’s advice, and subscribe to a magazine if you can afford to do so.

But while you’re at it, or if you can’t afford to, or even if you don’t want to, get in touch with the magazine publisher and tell them how you feel.

Tell them why you weren’t subbed before, or why you lapsed, or why you’d like to subscribe but can’t (or won’t). Give these people some feedback, and help them find a solid path to a lasting future.

You can’t fix a problem simply by throwing money at it. We need to think smarter than that.

Still Stalking Sterling: Dispatches from a Hyperlocal Future

I didn’t notice until I clicked through to it from my RSS reader that this lengthy ‘blog post from the future’ on Wired is by none other than my favourite cyberpunk author and all-round hand-waving Texan genius, Bruce Sterling.

I should have noticed, of course; in hindsight, it’s very much in his style. Although it doesn’t work exceptionally well on literary terms (it’s one big infodump with a framing concept), I doubt it is supposed to – and it’s well worth a read anyway. Here’s a snippet of news from 2017 as an example:

“Meanwhile, gray-haired representatives are wigging out over the hordes of Americans who blithely abandon their passports to travel the world with European mobiles. The Europeans let you do that. They understand that their hopelessly crufty nationware only impedes the flow of ever-stronger euros. Nobody wants to deal with nationware, not even in an emergency. It’s not granular enough, fast enough, close enough to the ground. If you lose everything you own in a flood or hurricane, who are you going to call — the federal bureaucracy?! Amazon.com, Google, Ikea, and Wal-Mart can deliver anything, anywhere, while the Feds are still stenciling their crates of surplus cheese.

It’s not about who salutes, folks. It’s about who delivers. Remember that. I said it first. You can link to me.”

Apparently there’s more to come, which promises to be fun. As well as being an interesting format with which to deliver futurist ideas (or ‘foresight consulting’, as I believe we’re supposed to call it now), I like the meta-ness of blogging a fictional blog from the future. It also highlights the potential for serialised short fiction to make a resurgence, if the authors can find the right hooks. Hmmm …