Tag Archives: Science Fiction

Friday Photo Blogging: the mantra

Postmodern life is a confusing experience; certainties are fleeting, if indeed they can said to exist at all. This may go some way to explaining the utility of maxims, mottoes and totemic utterances; the enduring (some might say increasing) ubiquity of prayer and of song.

When the maelstrom of meaning and identity becomes to much for me to bear, I repeat a short simple sentence, a sentence which revealed to me the one deep truth at the centre of all the shallow lies of life:

Mister Cheap Is The Cheapest

Mister Cheap is the cheapest.*


Writing about music

I seem to be having a run of bad luck with interviews of late; I was supposed to have a chat with Ginger Wildheart on Wednesday afternoon, but his phone was switched off. Hoping for a reschedule on that one … which will arguably be a reschedule of the one that went horribly wrong back in December. Rock’n’roll, kids!

Manic punk-metallers Cancer Bats are playing in Brighton next Saturday, so I’ll be heading along to that with fellow Fictioneer and Easterconner (and all-round top chap and good buddy) Shaun C Green.

I’ve heard great things about Cancer Bats’ live skillz0rz, so if you’re in the area why not drop by the show as well? It’s a matinee (midday till 4), so public transport will be fine.

Album of the Week

Hands down, no contest — the sludge-pop-stoner-rock of Meanderthal by Torche; if you like your music heavy and hook-laden with a side-salad of fun, this one’s for you.

Writing about books

[Please insert your own have-you-hired-a-parrot joke here. Suffice to say that I haven’t managed my free time as well as I might have liked in the last week.]

Freelance

It’s been a busy week for me over at PS Publishing, with lots of fresh cover art to post on the blog as well as the production and delivery of my first e-bulletin newsletter thingy (which you should have received already if you are on the PS mailing list).

The learning curve isn’t too savage so far; the only shock to the system is another burden on my time management skills — which, as can be seen above, are still in need of the equivalent of a bodybuilding crash-course, which is exactly what they’re getting.

Maybe one day I’ll write one of those self-help books about time management for self-made businesspersons:

How I Made My Career And Learned To Prioritise By Taking On Way More Work Than Made Sense To Anyone!

Hell, I’d buy a book with that title.

Futurismic

We’re about to buy our first story with me as Ed-in-Chief at Futurismic, which means I have to get the contract and payment arrangements in place — tricky, but very exciting stuff!

It’s also high time I hired some new bloggers; one of the last batch has drifted away completely due to having things to do beyond the internet (hah! I mean, what’s that all about?), and the other two have real world commitments that mean they can’t post every day. I reckon I’ve got room for two or three more smart folk …

… so if you or someone you know might be interested in becoming one of the Futurismic blogging team, drop me a line via the Contact form on Futurismic itself. Cheers!

Books and magazines seen

The seemingly-perpetual F&SF subscription rolls relentlessly onward with the arrival of the June 2008 issue … which has one of the most uninspiring covers I’ve seen in a long while.

Held up against Murky Depths #4 (which slipped into the post-box mere minutes ago), I know which one I’d grab off the shelves first:

Murky Depths issue 4 F&SF June 2008

No new books this week, though a parcel is pending from Royal Mail** which I suspect may be my first care package from Pete at PS … boutique literary goodies await!

The Symposium

I took notes through the Gresham College “Science Fiction as a Literary Genre” symposium yesterday, which was an edifying event – as well as a chance to hang out with the critical wing of UK fandom. But thankfully Niall has a full report, which saves me the embarrassment of trying to make other people’s ideas more coherent by processing them through my own brain***.

[ Stop the press! This just in – Chris Roberson is jealous of us all for going, but makes some interesting points comparing Stephenson’s talk to the recent Clay Shirky “cognitive surplus” presentation. Worth checking out. ]

Although arranged by Gresham College, the event was held at the Royal College Of Surgeons in a very posh part of London (suits and ties a-go-go). They have a skeletal sloth in the hallway, which made me think of playing AD&D with a rather irreverent DM:

Skeletal Sloth

Dinner afterwards with many lovely people who I hardly ever get to see in meatspace. I drank too much wine; put it this way, it’s a good thing I didn’t have to go to the day-job today, as I’ve been paying the price. But it was worth it; a great day out.

[fanboy]Oh, yeah — you know your ARC of the Subterranean Press reissue of Stephenson’s Snow Crash? Is it, er, signed by the author? Hmmmm? No?

BECAUSE MINE TOTALLY IS!!!1! 😀 [/fanboy]

Coda

And so it goes; I’ve had a two-day working week at the day-job, but I’ve not gained that safety margin on my to-do list I had hoped for. More discipline required, perhaps … after a concerted binge of just not doing anything but writing review for a day or two. I want a week’s headway; that’ll mean I’m able to get my weekends back to myself and restore that “work-life balance” thing people keep telling me about.

Speaking of discipline, a certain lady of note at the post-Symposium dinner last night recommended gym-work and weight lifting in response to last week’s exercise question; the lady in question can apparently bench-press a surprising mass.

As mentioned before, a public gym is pretty much out of the question for me, but I may take her advice and speak to someone whose job it is to answer such questions. Luckily my circle of friends includes a personal trainer****, saving me the embarrassment of phoning around until I find one who doesn’t intimidate me.

So, hopefully by this time next year I’ll be a slim well-organised freelance superhero! Or something like that … I’ll settle for a busy freelancer who still gets to have days off for Symposiums without having to panic about his schedule, and who can tuck into The Friday Curry without remorse thanks to a sensible moderate exercise regime.

And speaking of The Friday Curry … would you look at the time! Hasta luego, amigos. 🙂


[ * Taken in North End, Velcro City last weekend; some of my bandmates and I went to scour pawn shops for old guitars and stomp boxes, only to find that the oft-repeated assertion is quite true — eBay has killed off the pawn shop industry.

And even though I was quite looking forward to scouring piles of junk for hidden gems, I can’t get too upset about the withering away of an industry entirely predicated on misery. Sure, something else will replace it – but even so. ]

[ ** I couldn’t pick it up from the depot because it doesn’t have my name on it, only the ridiculous name of my domicile [[The Hall Of Mirrors]], so I have to settle for redelivery sometime tomorrow between 7am and midday … which, Sod’s Law states, will occur at 11:45am, with me having waited around the house unable to do my Saturday chores and shopping. Selah. ]

[ *** Like that’s ever going to work; even my “what I’ve been up to” blog posts have footnotes. Oh, snap! ]

[ **** Guy in question has biceps bigger than my thighs. This isn’t something I have any wish to emulate; I mention it merely for the OMFG factor. ]

Clarke Award, baby!

As mentioned in FPB last week, tonight is the Arthur C Clarke Award ceremony up in the Big Smoke, and your loyal correspondent from the Styx is getting on the train in a few hours to hob-nob with the worthies of the science fiction literature scene.

M John Harrison with the 2007 Clarke AwardTo the right is a picture of M John Harrison receiving last year’s award for the inimitable and excellent Nova Swing [image by abrinsky]. Who’ll take the trophy this year? There’s only one certainty with the Clarke Award, which is that whoever wins there will be some degree of controversy about it … the good Mr Harrison being the exception that proves the rule, of course.

So, yours truly will be on the scene, a-Twitterin‘ anything of note. As there’s only the one award, that probably won’t be a great deal; I think I’ll be too busy chatting with people (and showing off my awesome new Asus Eee) at the drinks afterwards to do any heavy reportage. That said, I’ll try to get some decent photos of various people … bodyguards permitting, naturally. 🙂

Oh, and while we’re on the subject, the Orbit books gang are celebrating the Award and lamenting the passing of its founder by giving away a hardback edition of Arthur C Clarke’s classic 2001: A Space Odyssey. You gotta be in it to win it, as the saying goes.

***

Today is also notable for a much bigger reason (or at least one that more people beyond the boundaries of the sf echo-chamber will care about) – the World Wide Web is fifteen years old today.

It’s ess than half my age, and yet I already spend more than half my time using it – there’s a scary thought for ya. 😉

Book review: Ben Bova – The Sam Gunn Omnibus

The Sam Gunn Omnibus by Ben Bova

Ben Bova - The Sam Gunn Omnibus

Tor Books, 704 pp; $29.95 HBK (US RRP); ISBN 978-0765316172; pub. Feb 2007


As the title suggests, the The Sam Gunn Omnibus is a fix-up novel that collects all of Ben Bova‘s stories about the eponymous hero, written for and published in the US science fiction magazines of the late 1980s and early ’90s.

So, who is Sam Gunn? He’s the boom-bust entrepreneur incarnate, an embodiment of laissez faire capitalism in space exploration who names spaceships after free-market economists and sees a profit in every problem, large or small. He’s also a reincarnated Huck Finn in a space suit; a tireless braggart and womaniser; the natural enemy of rules, regulations and corporate methodology. If it wasn’t for his redeeming habit of helping out his friends en route to his next pile of riches, you’d have to hate him on principle — and most people already do.

And that’s as far as it goes for character development. Gunn is an avatar, a plot device through which Bova explores and exploits the solar system using scientifically plausible methods that governments and corporations have so far refused to use, for various reasons. As such, these tales of the first businesses, hotels and habitats in orbit should be hugely relevant in this era of nascent space tourism operations, inspiring grandiose dreams of a brighter bolder future for our species.

And they might still have been, if the stage wasn’t hogged by the overbearing and improbable Gunn. The other characters are no better – a roster of crude geopolitical stereotypes and caricatures – and it is probably the attitudes implicit in these characterisations that most clearly date these stories as relics of a bygone era. The life of Sam Gunn reads like an apologia for greed and misogyny, and even readers sympathetic with Bova‘s yearnings for the human race to escape the gravity well may find themselves tiring of the same successful-underdog plot continually reiterated against a slightly different backdrop.

Perhaps I’ve just missed the point, even though Bova‘s introduction suggests that there is no point to miss. As pure escapist wish-fulfilment, the Omnibus succeeds, but the reader in search of true sensawunda may wish to search elsewhere.


[This review was originally published in Interzone some time early in 2007; the precise issue number currently escapes me. It is offered in lieu of more substantial and original content during this particularly busy week.]

Why science fiction cinema sucks in 2007

Here’s the opening panel of the latest edition of Diesel Sweeties, a webcomic that all geeks should read – and I work on the assumption that 90% of readers of VCTB are that sort of geek*.

So click through for the punchline (which is even more VCTB appropriate):

Diesel Sweeties webcomic for 18 December 2007

An extra ten geek points for recognising the cultural reference in my post title, there. Answers in the comments!

[* That’s meant as a compliment, BTW. 🙂 ]

[tags]science fiction, cinema, Diesel Sweeties, webcomic[/tags]

Book Review: ‘The Jennifer Morgue’ by Charles Stross

The Jennifer Morgue by Charles Stross

Charles Stross – The Jennifer Morgue – Golden Gryphon Press, November 2006 (US), ISBN 1930846452

Charles Stross is probably best known for his singularity-flavoured science fiction, exemplified by the fix-up novel Accelerando (which netted its author an award from the World Transhumanist Association, as well as nominations for more conventional sfnal plaudits). However, he’s unafraid to trek off into different pastures, as The Jennifer Morgue demonstrates – there are sf tropes, plus fantastic and Lovecraftian horror elements, all wrapped up in another genre tradition that Stross has openly expressed his affection for – the classic British spy thriller.

Naturally, Stross being Stross, there-s more than a soupcon of dry humour involved. So we have as our hero one Bob Howard, who is employed as a computer expert (read as “hacker”) by The Laundry, a branch of the British Secret Service devoted to keeping a lid on multidimensional manifestations.

You see, magic is just mathematics, which means that the age of ubiquitous computing has made it very easy for some naive or stupid coder to accidentally invoke a hungry daemon or vengeful demigod, simply by trying to number-crunch the wrong formula. To paraphrase Bob, he’s no necromancer himself, but “he does countermeasures”. Basically, he’s a clean-up artist.

Or at least he used to be – right up until his employers saddled him with some active duty fieldwork, psychically entangled him with a demonically-possessed mermaid-in-mufti, and dispatched him to the Caribbean with instructions to infiltrate the machinations of a megalomaniac corporate uber-villain, complete with gun-toting goons, an immense yacht-fortress and a foul-tempered fluffy white cat.

If that sounds a little obvious, it’s supposed to. In many ways, The Jennifer Morgue is a work of metafiction – a playful, knowing and openly self-confessed deconstruction of James Bond novel and movie plots, mocking them and revelling in them at the same time. Each supporting character is a gag or cliché in his or her own right; for example, Pinky and Brains, a pair of exceptionally camp and gadget-obsessed tech support operatives who furnish Bob with the requisite tools for the task.

And the gadgets themselves, of course; Bob doesn’t get given Bond’s Aston Martin and Walther PPK, but has to make do with a two-seater Smart car and a Treo smartphone that fires silver-jacketed exorcism rounds. Bob’s innate cynicism comes through in the first-person narration, which deflects the outright silliness of the ideas into the realm of tragic comedy and farce and avoids the snake-pit of superficial spoof.

But does it work? Stross chipped into a recent resurgence of internet-based debate regarding the perennial “decline and fall of the genre” meme. In a nutshell, he suggested that one way to grow sf’s readership might be to “pitch for the Slashdot generation”, to write explicitly for an audience of intelligent and geekish outsiders who should (by rights and tradition) be sf literature’s core audience – and would be, if there was more material that flicked the right switches for them.

The Jennifer Morgue seems to encapsulate this demographic targeting, with our hero Bob providing a sympathetic lead to identify with. He hates management, ties and PowerPoint presentations; he shops online for T-shirts emblazoned with internet in-jokes; he is the socially-stunted computer nerd at your office, thrust into an unfamiliar world of deadly intrigue and occult nastiness which he sets about to hack as if it were a defective operating system.

The Jennifer Morgue is a fun book. And it’s funny too, provided you either know the Bond clichés backwards or you�re a paid-up member of the geek-and-proud subculture – probably doubly funny, should you place at the intersection of those two sets. And therein lies the flaw: The Jennifer Morgue is somewhat exclusive, in that a lot of the in-jokes and post-modernist nudges will fly straight past the average bookstore browser.

However, as a naked pitch for the I.T. crowd whose lingua franca is one of irony, knowing pastiche and a lot of acronyms, it fits the bill perfectly. Only time will tell just how hungry that audience really is for long-form written fiction. But if Stross has surmised correctly, The Jennifer Morgue‘s place in the padded laptop-bags of the techno-elite is already reserved.

[This review originally published in Vector #250; reproduced here with the kind permission of the editors.]