Category Archives: Science Fiction

The best sort of books there are

Smart cities: Policy without polity

Another publication is getting close to popping out of the pipeline!

23rd November 2021 sees the formal release of the Routledge Handbook of Social Futures, in which yours truly has a chapter entitled “Smart cities: Policy without polity”. Regular readers here will likely be able to guess—and guess correctly!—that this piece does not at all celebrate the “smart city” concept, nor even attempt to (re)define it; rather, to cite my own introductory paragraph:

“I am not interested in defining the ‘smart city’ so much as in investigating its persistent resistance to definition and exploring alternatives to its problematic framing of technologically mediated urban futurity.”

My opening move is to claim that the “smart city” is a generic narrative form in the technological-utopian tradition. After that… well, I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you, now would I?

In case the prospect of me railing against one of my love-to-hate suitcase words is not enticement enough, you should know that there’s twenty-nine chapters of social-futures fun in this volume, featuring such friends, acquaintances, colleagues and inspirations as Andrew Curry, Ann Light, Nicola Spurling, Genevieve Liveley, AbdouMaliq Simone, Lisa Garforth and Nick Dunn, among many others; the whole thing has been edited with admirable wisdom and patience under pandemic circumstances by Carlos López Galviz and Emily Spiers, whose work at the Lancaster Institute for Social Futures is a leading light in the field, if you ask me.

Now, as the title of this post makes clear, this is a Routledge title—and those acquainted even only in passing with academic publishing will know this implies that acquiring a copy will leave a serious dent in your bank account. As such, it’s probably the sort of thing that you’d be best to encourage your institutional library to acquire, assuming you are fortunate enough to have access to such a thing (and that it has the budget to do so); whoever might decide to buy it, the blow may be slightly softened by using the discount code FLY21 (as found on the flyer acting as an illustrative image for this post), which will result in a 20% reduction in the price.

Those for whom neither of these options are viable, but who would nonetheless like to see a copy of my chapter, should feel free to drop me a line; we’ll see what other options for dissemination are available.

het från pressen

Taking what feels like a well-earned and much-needed day off today, after yesterday’s launch of the above narrative prototype / experimental futures vehicle (via the second medium of a slightly kludgy pseudo-Brechtean performance of an online talk-show from 2041). If anyone had been wondering why things have been quiet here lately, getting this thing finished to deadline is one of the larger reasons!

Will likely write about it at greater length in the weeks ahead; for now, I’ll settle for a simple statement of the necessity – and joy – of having a great team to work with on the realisation of somewhat crazy ideas. Few things worth doing can be done well alone.

never an especially attractive quality

A snip from an essay well worth reading in full, otherwise offered without comment:

… the issue isn’t negativity per se, which has its place in the fandom ecosystem. The issue is how to talk about things you love (or hate) impersonally. What is lost in fandom is ultimately detachment. Detachment can coexist with love, hatred, and indifference. But it’s never an especially attractive quality, and when people are encouraged to identify themselves with their interests and consumption habits, it’s also a very hard one to maintain.

bold as (nostalgic) love: Gwyneth Jones and hauntology

A Metafilter thread on the new St Ettienne album (haven’t heard it yet) gave up this comment:

It’s interesting to see the 90s End Of History era displace the Swinging 60s as a lost golden age just out of clear memory.

I’m sharing this here due to its synchronicity with a point I made in a just-filed review of the Gollancz Masterworks reissue of Gwyneth Jones’s Castles Made of Sand.

In the introduction to said book, Adam Roberts draws a connection between the utopian idealism of the 1960s and the original British Romanticism movement of the early C19th, and in my review I leap from there to observe that, while Jones doesn’t only put the Sixties influence front and centre in the Bold as Love cycle, but also leans on the Arthurian mythos of Olde Albion (which was largely constructed by the long wave of Romanticism), the actual texture of the near-future Britain of the first few volumes is very much a Nineties vibe.

This was a great opportunity to wax shamelessly lyrical from the core of my own nostalgia for my formative years, but there was—or so I tell myself—a point to doing so, which is to underscore the way in which the Nineties, however unknowingly to many of us in the countercultural trenches at the time, was an attempt to re-run the Sixties, albeit absent the political theoretics whose influence on the Sixties we have been carefully encouraged to forget, as the cultural artefacts of that period have been pruned and bowdlerised in order to reduce a time of genuine (if misguided and largely failed) revolutionary fervour to an aesthetic: kaftans, badly-rolled joints, twelve-string guitars etc etc.

This has further relevance in light of the recently published last lectures of Mark Fisher, in which he was clearly trying to go back to that period and unearth all the dangerous stuff in order to determine what went wrong, and how that atmosphere of revolutionary change might be rekindled against the backdrop of the neoliberal settlement that has so successfully encased it it in the amber of the Spectacle. There’s an extent to which Fisher and some of his contemporaries were, for all their repudiation of nostalgia, somewhat fixated on the early Nineties as the Last Great Moment of Modernism (with e.g. the music of the “hardcore continuum” representing the last time anything felt to them genuinely new and futuristic), even as the reactionary revivalism of baggy, Britpop and what would become landfill indie rose like a tide to drown it all.

Matt Colquhoun has written a great deal about what we might think of as (post-)Fisherean hauntology, in an attempt to rescue the term from the trackless desert of semantic drift into which it (and so much else) seems to be receding, and I could really do with making the time to dig back into it all properly. But one chunk I recall passing clear is this bit on Boards of Canada, whose work:

… speaks to how important but also unstable acts of creation are in relation to worlding. On the surface, that is an obvious point, but creation is always a tightrope pulled taut between past, present and future; it is often a kind of double articulation, tangled up in maternal and paternal politics (symbolically, if not literally). It is always this complex balancing act between preservation, experimentation, and innovation. An album like Music Has The Right To Children is fascinating, I think, because it captures that tension pretty masterfully. Still, to this day, I listen to that album and feel in the presence of a deep engagement with the past that is nonetheless geared towards the future.

So often the discourse seems split between a kind of manic future-affirmatism (think of Teflon Mask’s hypercapitalist boner for Mars colonies on the right, or Bastani’s FALC solutionist-accelerationism on the left) or a hopelessly Romantic fixation on a largely imaginary and retconned past as the location of the utopian horizon (which has typically been a rightist and reactionary position, but in recent years manifests in a lot of soft-leftish thought as well). The denial of the past (and/or its strip-mining for the raw materials of a futurity intended to bury it), or the fetishisation of the past… neither are genuinely productive, if I understand Colquhoun correctly. But that temporal tightrope he describes above, now that’s interesting—not least because it doesn’t merely attempt to bring together the best of past and future. Rather, in drawing taut that rope between them, it affirms the continuity not of culture itself, but of the recombinative processes by which culture is produced.

Jones’s Bold as Love cycle, then, might be seen as culture that not only enacts that recombination, but actively foregrounds (even as it sort of cartoonises) the theatricality of cultural politics through which it is enacted: she is showing and telling, not just at the narratological level, but the historical as well.