Tag Archives: report

SF Masterclass Report #2

Despite an endemic shortage of sleep and excess of good times and conviviality, I feel I’ve learned a huge amount from this week, and I expect the last lecture to come this afternoon will add some more. I’m incredibly glad I came.

It’s been a great relief to find that not only am I in no way looked down upon as being the only non-academic on the course, but that my position as such is actually valued. It’s also been very flattering to be told that my contributions have had as much merit as anyone elses – for once in my life, I’m prepared to simply accept that as said and not assume it’s flattery or politeness in action.

I applied for this Masterclass because I felt I needed a wider range of interrogatory tools to use in my work as a reviewer (which I am told is a very post-modernist attitude – go figure!), and that is exactly what I have acquired. Brian Stableford’s lectures have been particularly inspirational, providing a taxonomy (partly drawing on work-in-progress by the one and only Farah Mendlesohn) for fantastic literatures that actually works when applied to almost any text. Add to that some introductions to Freudian, Marxist and Feminist critical frameworks, and I feel many times more confident about knowing what criticism is actually for, and where I can hope to go with it.

To be honest, I’m not sure I’m entirely comfortable with Feminism – it seems to have agendas way beyond the text it is applied to, which is all well and good in and of itself, but doesn’t really offer me the sort of tools I’m after. I’m primarily interested in making each book or story the focus of each piece of critical writing I do, rather than use the book in question to illustrate a broader agenda. Plus the jargon is incredibly dense – which coming from a man who is frequently described as having swallowed a dictionary is a strange thing to say. Selah – it’s still good to know how it works and what it stands for. I have no objections or opposition to its aims, that’s for sure. I’m just not sure I can use it in the same way I can use the other stuff.

I’ve also been inspired by my own thoughts and those of my fellow attendees. Despite the apparent demise of Scalpel (yes, OK, people warned me, but I like to give people a chance on my own terms rather than unquestioningly taking on board the opinions that others hold of them), I still believe that the science fiction criticism scene needs more communication and dialogue, and this week has only served to strengthen that opinion. I have ideas, you might even say plans. People will be getting emails once my life gets back to normal. Oh yes.

Well, it’s raining again outside, but this cafe is nice and warm, serves good coffee and doesn’t close for another hour or so. There’s lively conversation about fiction in various media forms, and a final lecture in two hours time. Life is good. Just the plenary discussions and the long journey home tomorrow, and everything will be back to normal. Which is almost a shame … but I’ve missed the familiarity of my flat and the calming ritual of writing gibberish here on VCTB. Selah. Hope you’ve all been having a good week too. See you soon.

IBM provides fuel for Mundane science fiction

Via FutureWire comes material that may provide relief for those concerned that the strictures of the Mundane SF submission requirements leave them too little room for maneuver …

IBM has published a report called “The Next Five in Five”, which is a cheerily optimistic bit of futurist thinking that lays out the five major technological innovations that the Big Blue crew believe will occur within the next five years. You’ll need to click through for details, but here are the all-important bullet points:

  1. We will be able to access healthcare remotely, from just about anywhere in the world
  2. Real-time speech translation-once a vision only in science fiction-will become the norm
  3. There will be a 3-D Internet
  4. Technologies the size of a few atoms will address areas of environmental importance
  5. Our mobile phones will come close to reading our minds

What I find interesting about this report is how plausible it is. It may be that IBM deliberately kept it that way, but even so it contrasts astonishingly to the Tomorrow’s World type of boosterism that I remember from my childhood. I’d watch those programs and think “wow, just imagine that!” I read that list, and I shrug and think “yep, seems likely.”

I have some sympathy with the Mundane manifesto*, and this report shows why – there’s acres of scope for speculative fiction based purely on plausible real-world developments. Though of course you’ll need to get published quickly before reality trumps your fictional masterpiece!

That said, I think there’s still a place for the wide-screen new space opera, which fulfils a different urge. You can write fiction featuring scientifically implausible tropes and still make it deeply relevant to the human condition – as the Culture novels of Iain M. Banks demonstrate most admirably, IMHO.

[* Said Manifesto has vanished into the places where unrenewed domain names are eternally blessed, at least as far as I can tell from a perfunctory Googling, but Abigail Nussbaum’s report on it will tell you most of what you need to know.]

Fictional fumblings

For those who were wondering, I am still working on this month’s story, despite the fact that I’ll need to invent a time machine to fit in all the other stuff I need to do before the end of the month besides finishing it.

This tale got seriously derailed over the weekend, when I realised one of the central ideas wasn’t going to work. However, a solution presented itself at work today and I’ve managed to hack about what I had done already and add some more to it. I’m now fairly confident I can get a working story completed with the framework I’ve got, but it’s definitely not going to be pretty. Still, first drafts and all that, ‘finish what you start’ and so on. There’s a line from where I am now to the ending I had in mind, which is a good thing. Walking that line with words over the next eight days is going to be a challenge, though!

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
2,103 / 7,500

Oh, and in reply to Sterling’s comment on the last progress report – I have no idea what I’ll do with it once it’s done. It’d be nice to think I’ll be confident enough in it to try sending it out for publication, but I think it’ll want a fair bit of polish before I’m willing to consider that. Maybe I’ll try one of those online story workshops to get some critique – if anyone reading can recommend one, I’d be very grateful.

In the meantime, all focus is on getting the bugger finished to deadline. That is my spur here – I’ve never missed a deadline for anything I’ve had published, as far as essays and reviews go, and so I’m damned if I’ll ruin my record and let myself break a deadline I’ve set for myself … [clenches fist determinedly]

Cafe Scientifique: Who’s afraid of conscious machines?

I can say with certainty that there were at least forty or so people in the UK last night who weren’t obsessing over the fate of twentytwo overpaid men in shorts and one air-filled leather sack. We had far more interesting things to think about. Continue reading Cafe Scientifique: Who’s afraid of conscious machines?