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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”.

Not so new year

Someone keeps stealing time. Someone or some thing, some force or presence… not quite a deity, but certainly something with character, cunning and malice, and terrible hunger for time. I believe its name may be Age.

So, I’m just coming to the end of my first semester of my first year of my doctoral research. Which doesn’t sound like much, until I remind myself that The Rules now say that you’d better finish and submit your thesis within three and a bit years of starting Or Else… which means I’ve had maybe a tenth of the time allowed me already. Sounds pretty scary when you put it that way, somehow. So it’d be nice to avoid thinking that way, but part of the game is planning and managing your time effectively, and you can’t do that without being aware of how much time is available, and how much has been used. I imagine there being some sort of Zen peace to be found when someone finally resolves this paradox; corner offices unfurnished but for a single lily in a plain white bowl, a beatifically-smiling PR consultant, legs pretzeled into a very respectable full lotus, hovering six inches above the industrial carpeting, his Blackberry and laptop orbiting him like lunar familiars… until I meet that person, however, I’m going to conclude that fretting about time and trying to manage it are inseparable functions, at least for me.

(Maybe one day I’ll theorise an excuse for the sort of procrastinatory displacement syndrome that forces me to write the first proper blogpost I’ve done in literally months because it’s a way to avoid doing all the other stuff I’m actually supposed to be doing right now. In the meantime, that one gets filed under “I’m a writer, I don’t have to justify anything”. At least until deadline day, anyhow.)

But hey, I have things to show for all that lost time, see? Like my first review for the Los Angeles Review of Books, for example, which saw me being disappointed — to say the least, and at some length — by Paul di Fillipo’s latest collection, Wikiworld, which felt like the dead hand of Cambellian short fiction trying to slip into the motion-capture glove of postcyberpunk and pass for a generational native, with little success; it felt in fact very symptomatic of the old-guard stance in ongoing generational schism in The Undefined Agglomeration Of Affinities That Think Of Themselves As Being Either Fandom, Or To Do With Fandom, Or A Hegelian Negation Of Fandom That Will Reform And Reconstitute Fandom Dialectically, Or Sometimes Just As People Who Care About A Certain Marketing Category Of Books (also known as The Agglomoration Which One Must Not Lazily Label “Fandom” For Fear Of Marauding Fandom Ontologists Calling Out Your Deplorable Reductionism. Or, more simply, “fandom”). The review’s rather more hatchet-jobby than I’d have preferred to write, perhaps, with poor diFi ending up as avatar for a bigger thing by far… but then I think about the Cat Women story again, and think nope, he stepped into the politics ring and took the first swing. He’s a grown-up, he knows how the game is played.

(And I didn’t even mention the diFi-Broderick collaboration “Cockroach Love”, which is that rarest of things: a story featuring people fucking cockroaches in which the people fucking cockroaches aren’t the most distasteful aspect of the story.)

Tim Maly did another one of the Things for which Tim Maly is notorious; this time it was a collection of essays on Medium chewing over the legacy of Sterling’s Viridian Design movement/manifesto/experiment, so yours truly took the opportunity to take to task both the solutionist and Hairshirt Green responses to climate change, and (no surprises here) point out the infrastructural elephant in both of their rooms.

Those are the good things I can actually show you or tell you about. I have also sold a short story to Ian Whates at Newcon for an anthology to be launched this Easter, the ToC announcement of which is (I’m told) fairly imminent; I’m pretty stoked about this, as the story in question was written for the Short Form module of my Masters, and it duly did the rounds of all the genre mags worth considering, only to gather a gratifying yet frustrating train of polite “we quite like this, but it just doesn’t fit with what we’re looking for” bounces. I’m glad it’s found a home at last. I’ll announce the ToC for the anthology here at VCTB when I am informed of it.

Also in the pipeline: I’ve been invited to speak about infrastructure fiction and futures work at the FutureEverything conference/festival in Manchester, which should be fun. I went as an attendee guest last year (if only for one day, due to weather and plague), so I know the general scene is going to be to my liking; added bonus is that quite a few of the people I consider myself aligned with in the futures universe — Ella Saitta, Anab Jain, Dan W, Jim Bridle, Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg — are also speaking, so it feels like rolling out with a crew rather than just lone-wolfing it. Gonna be a stimulating couple of days, I think.

There are other possibles in the pipeline, too, and a big scary definite that I can’t yet talk about. I’ve never been keen on that whole OMFG Seekrit Project!!1 thing when I’ve seen other people do it, but now I’m thinking maybe I understand the motivation; I just never had a Seekrit Project too awesome to keep quiet about. But I must keep quiet, so I shall… you’ll probably hear of it next during the period running up to its deadline, when I’ll be panicking about getting it finished, and making it good. Which will be the run-up to FutureEverything, incidentally (late March)… odd how these things all have a tendency to cluster around one another, isn’t it?

What else? Went to Amsterdam for a long weekend with members of the Institute for Atemporal Studies and aligned forces, which was very nice indeed; travelled by train all the way, hardly touched the internet or took a picture all weekend, much needed. Christmas and New Years were their normal boring selves, apart from the brief and dubious thrill of a minor burglary on NYE morning; that’s what can happen if you don’t lock the back door before going to bed, see. (Little lost or damaged, other than my sense of streetwiseness.) Last weekend saw me pop down to Cambridge to hang out with Tiff Angus, who taught one of my Masters modules; nice to get a weekend of nice weather in which to wander around and talk writer-shop, not to mention commiserate over the PhD process. Naturally, despite telling myself I wouldn’t buy any books while I was there, the temptations of Cambridge’s charity stores and market stalls were too strong to resist:

My Women’s Press SF collection is coming along nicely; I must look up the full list of titles. Didn’t entirely expect to find three of them in Cambridge… but then again, Cambridge is the sort of town where Cash Converters puts a cello in the front window.

So, here I am and here we are: exam week next week (hence deadlines), then semester the second, with my first adventures as… a teaching assistant. Will our hapless hero prevail? Stay tuned for further episodes…

The unexamined sociology of transhumanism

One of the reliable bright lights in the gloom of my January is the annual Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky show, a.k.a. their State of the World conflab at The Well. All sorts of chewy futurism and near-field hindsight going on, as always, but sometimes it’s a minor aside that snags my mind, like this little zap at transhumanism:

“… you’re never going to put some magic cyberdevice inside your human body that has no human political and economic interests within its hardware and software. All human artifacts, below the skin or above them, are frozen social relationships. If you’re somehow burningly keen to consume a thing like that, you’d better, as William Burroughs liked to put it, have a look at the end of the fork.”

The great joy of my first semester of my PhD has been being formally introduced to the basics of sociological theory, and thus discovering that a lot of the woolly notions I’d come to independently have been thought far more thoroughly and comprehensively before, by smart people who gave those ideas proper names. Through this lens it’s even more apparent than before that the echoing lacuna at the heart of Movement Transhumanism — the canonical ‘philosophy’ expounded by Dr Max Biggerbetterfastermore and friends, rather than the more personal morphological meddlings of the grinders and back-alley self-modders — is the notion of any system of social relations beyond the mechanisms of soi-disant anarchocapitalist “free market” economics.

If nothing else, it goes some way to explaining the overlap between MT and the Neoreactionaries: both seem to assume that inconvenient truths might be moved aside by merit of resetting the sociopolitical clock to a time before anyone had formulated them. Not just a river in Egypt, eh?