Tag Archives: urban

The ghosts of infrastructures past

Somewhere along Brindcliff Edge Road in Sheffield, you can still see this wonderful infrastructural relic:

That’s a sewer-gas destructor lamp, of which there are maybe a dozen or so remaining in the city, though only a very few of them are a) undamaged, and b) still lit. Destructor lamps took a tricky infrastructural problem (the way in which noxious gases would accumulate in sewer sections near the top of hills) and solved it in a way that had a useful function (mixing said sewer gas with town-gas and burning it to light a street). I have a particular soft spot for this one because of the way it has been incorporated into the wall.

Making a day of it – BSFA 50th anniversary bash, plus other stuff

OK, so this is primarily a kind of double-barrelled heads-up message to anyone considering going to the British Science Fiction Association’s 50th anniversary shindig on Wednesday 26th November.

Alert level 1: It looks like I’ll be going. So if that’s off-putting, best cancel your attendance; if that’s a thrilling prospect, book your train ticket right away!

poster for Battlespaces 1 (click for full size)Alert level 2: Other Stuff Is Afoot In London. Geoff ‘BLDGBLOG’ Manaugh is doing two talks on the 26th; the details for the earlier one aren’t out yet, but the evening one has been fully announced: entitled ‘Battlespaces 1’, it runs between 7pm and 9pm at the J Z Young Lecture Theatre at UCL, inside the Anatomy Building on Gower Street (which is about a mile or so from the BSFA bash venue, if my map-fu is any good). Full details are available at the Complex Terrain Laboratory, but to sum it up briefly:

Contemporary political discourse on armed violence and insecurity has been largely shaped by references to spatial knowledge, simulation, and control: “human terrain,” “urban clutter,” “terrorist sanctuaries,” “failed states,” “core-periphery.” The historical counterpoint to this is to be found in the key role the successive technologies of clock, engine, computer, and network have all played in spatializing the practice of warfare. In this context, what implications do “feral” Third World cities, “rogue” cities organized along non-Western ideas of urban space and infrastructure, and “wild” cities reclaimed by nature, have for the battlespaces of today and tomorrow?

Mmmm, Zeitgeist – and very sf-nal, I think you’ll agree; Manaugh was briefly the most interesting poster on io9 before the inevitable economics of search terms ousted his speculative architecture pieces in favour of more Ten Craziest Battlestar Who-Heroes Chronicles SPOILARZ!!-type stuff.

As you may have guessed already, it is my intent to attend this talk (and the earlier one, if it proves to be temporally and spatially accessible), and to drag Mr Manaugh along to the BSFA party afterwards if he’s not too tired/busy/sane (no kidnapping required, as he has already expressed an interest).

If this sounds like something you’d like to come to as well, drop me a line and we’ll make a mission of it. After all, days out in London should be crammed with as much interesting stuff as possible, if only so as to maximise on train fare value. AMIRITE?

Graffiti, logo design and synchronicity

I’m sure this must happen to other bloggers, too; over the course of a few days, from completely unrelated sources, a set of posts on a subject of interest to you that isn’t your normal blogging subject will arrive in your RSS reader, as if orchestrated from afar.

But I’m still too woolly-headed with a cold to make some sweeping statements about synchronicity and the Zeitgeist acting in some emergent harmony … not to mention writing anything coherent and interesting about science fiction literature (with two pending book reviews stewing at the back of my brain already).


So instead, you get a round-up post on graffiti.

First up, via Anders Sandberg, comes Graffiti Archaeology – a Flash-based site that examines the accretion and interaction over time of pieces of graffiti in certain locations. Nicely made – I generally loathe Flash sites, but this is the sort of thing it actually does really well.

Next, this is what happens when a professor of psychology and culture starts looking at graffiti with the perspective of an outsider trying to understand a body of work within the context it was made in – Bill Benzon’s series of three posts [link to first in series] at The Valve feature not just images of graffiti, but examinations of the settings and contexts within which they appear. I’ve been fascinated by graffiti culture for years, but I’ve never found myself asking as many questions about it as Benzon. [The image above is clipped from Benzon’s article.]

[As with much of what I read at The Valve – a group blog to which the wry and subtle Adam Roberts is a contributor – I can’t be entirely sure how serious an article this is (they’re way too cunning with their language sometimes) – but joke or not, it’s fascinating stuff.]

And finally, Matthew Ingram’s piece at Stylus Magazine examines the history of the band logo, which has conceptual roots in graffiti as well as political activism and typography of a more pedestrian commercial type. Nice to see a couple of obscure bands that I’m a fan of raise their heads in the images included – a VCTB gold star to the person who guesses which two I mean! Answers in the comments field, if you want to play.

In the meantime, I will post something related to science fiction as soon as circumstances permit. Thanks for your patience.

Friday Photo Blogging: Liverpool nights

This will be a brief FPB, because I have to get my train home fairly soon. So here’s a shot of a street in Liverpool from when we were heading to Chinatown for a meal on Wednesday night:

Liverpool at dusk

Colourful sunset, I thought.

Well, you already know what I’ve been doing all week, and I have no incoming materials to report … or rather, I expect I have a mailbox brimming with those red cards the postman leaves when you’re not in to receive stuff, but what they relate to will remain to be seen.

I’ll say it again though – I’ve had a super week, met some great people and learned loads of good stuff. I’m looking forward to getting home, though, and hoping that I’ve not battered my immune system too badly with latenights and restaurant meals. What the hell – even if I have, it’s been a more than worthy sacrifice.

One hanging point is – how the hell will I have The Friday Curry? I’ve got a six hour journey home on the train, and probably won’t get in to Velcro City until well past 9pm … which isn’t too late, of course, but whether I’ll be in the mood for a takeaway after a long tenure in the vagueries of the UK rail networks remains to be seen.

Still, that’s my problem, not yours. Your problem is to have yourselves a good weekend. Everything here at VCTB should be back to normal by Monday. Until then, take care.

Friday Photo Blogging: ‘El D.F.’, aka Mexico City

Digging in the vaults for Mexico photos again, because I’ve not been out with the camera. This is the view eastwards over Mexico City*, as taken from the observation deck of El Torre Latinoamericana, right in the heart of the city. When it was first built it was the tallest building in the Latin Americas, but it lost that title some time ago. It’s still pretty damned tall though.

Mexico City

And Mexico City (more correctly referred to as ‘El Distrito Federale’, or ‘El D.F.’) is vast**. You get up in that tower, and whichever direction you look in, it’s just city … all the way to the horizon. Mindbending stuff – especially to someone who’s still reeling from altitude adjustment and culture shock, as I was on the first day of my travels when this was taken. Possibly the most intense place I’ve ever been in my entire life.

[* If you recognised it as being the image from which VCTB’s header is cropped, well done. Have a tequila on me.]

[** Population according to official census in 2005 was near nine million, but it is claimed by various charities and other organisations that the black economy of unregistered economic migrants may add anything up to half that number again.]


Well. Today I am damp, and in less than the best of moods – had you caught me at 12:30 when I got to work, however, you’d have seen me at high-peak rage. Suffice to say that Portsmouth received a week’s worth of rainfall within the space of about twenty minutes today … with the twenty minutes in question falling within the timeframe of me leaving my home and me arriving at work. I’m still trying to figure out a way to make my shoes dry effectively without making them stink.

But hey, things could be worse. It’s not been a bad week, all told, although very little has occurred that’s worth reporting. In other words: no one has decided to offer me money for writing for them yet. Hmph. Gotta keep hustlin’.

However, I have received a cheque for my Strange Horizons review of Extended Play, and while it may not be for very much money, it’s symbolically heartening nonetheless. Only thing is I don’t think I can pay it into my account directly, because it’s in US dollars … which is ironic, because it arrived about a week after I got a PayPal account set up for business purposes. It’s all fun and games, this freelance lark!

Oh yeah – I went to see Electric Six at short notice on Wednesday night for reviewing purposes. Put it this way: if you’ve heard the well-known singles, you’ve already heard the best they have to offer. Selah.


Incoming materials for the week are as follows:

  • Postsingular by Rudy Rucker (Tor US ARC) – the privileges of being part of the reviews editorial team at Interzone include being able to cherrypick anything I especially want to cover myself, and I love Rucker’s writing to bits. This new novel has been described as ‘especially weird’; when you consider how odd Rucker’s material is usually, this should be quite something.
  • Electric Velocipede #12 – the extra-nice thing about the small press quarterlies is that you tend to forget about them until the new one arrives in the letterbox. I have fond memories of the last EV, so I’m looking forward to reading this one … when I can find the time.


Of course, next week sees me up in Liverpool for the SF Foundation Criticism Masterclass … and seeing that (as far as I can tell) I’m not going to have internet access on tap, I should get a lot of reading done. The twelve hours of train travel alone should see to that! I’ll need to spend most of it going through the reading list for the course, though – most of which has been very kindly emailed to me in PDF form by one of the course administrators, who also took the however-many hours necessary to scan them. Thanks, Fatima, if you’re reading!

A week off work – wow. Doesn’t happen often. Doesn’t happen often enough, for that matter! I’m looking forward to it – it’ll be nice to get out of town for a while, meet some new people and learn some new things. I’m just trying not to think of the state of my bank balance, which has already suffered unexpected damage through having had to replace my broken cooker … oh well. You can’t take it with you, as the saying goes. And worrying about it won’t do any good either, so I’m determined to ignore it as much as possible and have a good time.

As mentioned above, I have no idea how easy it will be for me to get online while I’m away, so blogging here may be thin to non-existant. I may try to set up the reposting of some gems from the archives just to tide you over, and there’s probably a few reviews that I could shove up as well … we’ll see what happens.


Well, that’s your lot for FPB this week. Time for me to engage in The Culinary Ritual Of Friday Curry Justice before hacking out the daily bloggage for Futurismic, and then I can settle down to the weekend. I hope you all have a good weekend, too, whatever it is you end up doing. Adios, amigos!