Four months is long enough

for the cat to have calmed down
for the walls to have warmed through
for the walk in the dark to the toilet to happen on autopilot
 

for me to know why this town is a ghost-town

to have dug up the history down at the foot of the hill
to chant the road names in the silence of my mind

as I see them from the windows of the bus

 

for me to leave the cutting of the final cord

to turn my back on that town by the sea

for the tide to turn and turn and turn again
washing ashore the bodies of the dead

like bottles corked with scribbled accusations

 

for me to have established my lines of supply and demand

to have established a routine, the better to feel bad about when broken
to hear the black dog’s bark from the far side of the tracks

and know that one can change the frame a thousand times

without ever altering the picture

 

for me to dig the same old hole anew

to feel at home

to wonder, once again, what that word really means

Transients

I wanted more than anything to bare my soul frankly and entirely to my friend. I would have wished to divest myself of it and leave it throbbing there beside him. We went on talking, discussing, on the verge of saying farewell, until all of a sudden, with an unsuspected firmness of conviction, I understood that this “personality” which we tend to value with such inappropriate excess amounted to nothing. It occurred to me that my life would never justify a full, absolute moment that would contain all the others; they would all be provisional phases, each of them wiping out the past and looking to the future, and that outside of the episodic, the present, the circumstantial, we were no one.

Jorge Luis Borges; from, I suspect, his letters or diaries, as quoted in Borges: a life by Edwin Williamson, pp89.

Stuff by me elsewhere

Haven’t done one of these for a while, but seem to have had a spate of publications since finishing my Masters, and what else is the point of a blog if not for bigging one’s good self right up, as the kids say? What, indeed. So, yeah.

That huge essay on Nordic LARP that I (somehow) wrote during the middle of my dissertation was published over the last three months of 2012, and can be found as parts one, two and three. The Verge listed part one in its “best tech writing of the week” round-up, for whatever that’s worth. People have been sending me emails regarding those three parts being reprinted as one piece in a forthcoming “best of Rhizome” anthology, which is nice. No money in it, but hey; I was paid for the original publication, Rhizome is a donation-driven organisation, and the collection will apparently be CC licensed. If it happens, that is. We’ll see, I guess.

Where does experimental theatre end, and consensual indoctrination into a covert ideology begin? Can a temporary intentional community, in and of itself, be a form of performance art? Can a performance art piece become a political movement instead of just a statement? These questions pivot on the fluid dualities of fiction and reality, of reader and subject, which can be upended with a flick of the wrist or a twist of the frame; if we assume altermodernism to have accepted and integrated (if not fully approved of) the ubiquitous ontological hollowness of the postmodern condition, then might Nordic larp be one of the first truly altermodernist forms, an experimental laboratory for the breeding of new metanarratives?

It was a lot of fun to research, quite quick to write, but took literally months to edit and reformat. But I got to accuse the Six Sigma framework of being a larp for gullible yet earnest middle management, and to talk about the free party circuit of Nineties, which is a topic that seems to be floating around at the front of my mind quite a lot, lately. I put this down entirely to the sudden revival of the German army parka as an indie-kid standard. D’you know that genuine eighties vintage German army parkas are now sufficiently rare and in demand that a factory somewhere in Eastern Europe is making clones of them, purely for the fashion market? Bill Gibson, eat yer heart out. Denim authenticity is just totes Noughties, right? Fosh.

[Update: pdf proofs of the article formatted for the anthology arrived literally during the drafting of this post. Looks like it’ll be a thing, then.]

Strange Horizons ran my nearly-nine-months-late review of Bruce Sterling’s story collection, Gothic High-Tech.

You’ll also run into trouble if you go looking to Sterling to tell you that you’re on the right side of something, or indeed anything. This deep-running moral ambiguity is what I believe made The Caryatids unpalatable for many readers: not only does it feature a cast of exaggerated types, but the extrapolated incarnations of our current ideological dichotomy—which we still label Left and Right, even though those terms are ludicrously outdated and hollow—are both revealed to be as blinkered, fractious and destined to fail as one another.

My completely gratuitous sideswipe at magic-pajama-wearing celebrity homophobe Orson Scott Card only racked up one proxy defender in the comments. They must all be busy fighting the good fight in gaymarriageguncontrolclimatechange threads.

Just after Xmas, Simon Ings realised just how easy a book reviewer I am to troll, and sent me the disingenuously misnamed Green Philosophy by tobacco-shill Tory and all-round hired-gun thinktank wankbag Roger Scruton, with results that are doubtless as predictable to read as they were cathartic to write. One can probably see a theme developing, too:

This is the mentality of those who rule the world, or who aspire to rule it: they’re so entrenched in their dogma, dialectical oppositions and centuries-old political clubs that they have forgotten how to think, let alone how to do so beyond the confines of a rapidly shrinking box. It’s like watching two teams of fat middle-aged former public schoolboys doing a tug’o’war on the village green for the rights to decide which way the stripes should go on the cricket pitch while the entire fucking village is burning down.

Mm-hmm.

What’s next? Oh, yeah, I appeared briefly in a post at Tor UK about Julian May’s Saga Of The Exiles, which is being republished this year, and which I am reviewing for SH at some point fairly soon. …Exiles, as long-term VCTB visitors may remember, was my science fiction gateway drug. It’s going to be interesting to return to it with the critical goggles on. (I’m hoping the process doesn’t spoil it for me forever, but I think that’s a risk that needs to be taken sometimes.)

Then I gone done a thing for the Locus Roundtable blog thingy, a “five golden things” list to balance out the recent spate of “best [x]” debates. So, being the sort of person you can’t reliably take anywhere nice, I steered the conversation around to drugs.

Even in the rhizomatic global cultures of Gibson’s novels, the functional addict is always already enslaved, always at the bottom of somebody else’s private pyramid of clout, an asset to be passed or traded between clients and associates as required, a human resource with a built-in and fully transferable loyalty program.

This time I managed to irk Gregory Benford, who — obtuse as his comment may have been — is surely a better class of irkee than OSC’s fanbase.

I have also found a rather super local arts rag here in Sheffield who have started taking music writing from me: here’s my ‘scenius’ editorial for the February issue’s music section (which I’m inordinately pleased with, considering how short a period I had to put it together), and my review of Swedish post-metallers Cult Of Luna, who were reet gud, as they say round here. Now Then Magazine actually comes out in print most months, too, and they make a gorgeous job of the production; a proper left-leanin’ local scene labour-of-love, which is the sort of set-up I’m always happy to do freebies for. Getting physical copies of your work in print is always a good buzz.

I think that’s pretty much everything of mine that other people have published of late, really; I’ve done a couple of long essays on science fiction and science and foresight and futures studies and all that jazz over at Futurismic, if you’re hungry for more? See me snark an energy-weapon-research/skiffy-novel Kickstarter campaign (SRSLY), or read as I roundly denounce, once and for all, the seemingly unkillable notion that science fiction can in any useful way “predict the future”!

#

Stay tuned for more stuff at sporadic intervals; I keep meaning to get back into regular blogging, but everyone with a blog upon which they’ve become irregular says that, and the next few months are looking uncertain enough that I’m not making any promises to anyone, not even myself. (Unless they want to send me a cheque, or send me to an interesting and hopefully warm country where they’d like me to write a book or something.)

So, who knows? Things are happening, bad mojo keeps knocking down good people, and the times are getting weird; as such, the weird is doing its best to turn pro. Which is fun, but exhausting. Selah.

The Nix’d Bug Thang

I kinda hate these things, not least because I was such an egregious and hungry-for-attention propagator of them when I started writing on these here internets (as a trawl thru the archives here at VCTB will all too quickly reveal). But hey, why pass up an opportunity to subvert the format, right? Right.

I was tagged by Nick Wood, one of my fellow students from my Masters course — and, more particularly, one of my fellow students who always made me feel profoundly amateur. He’s a fine writer. Go check out his stuff. He has a story in the AfroSF anthology, so that’d be a great place to start.

Anyway, to the meme…

The Next Big Thing

1) What is the title of your next book work?

“Beyond the Sound”.

2) Where did the idea come from for the book work?

It came, in part, from finally escaping a town in which I’d spent half my life, and from realising that the only thing that had trapped me there was myself.

3) What genre does your book work fall under?

Haha, fuck knows. Borgesian psychogeographical post-modern post-apocalypse? (Shelve that, you bastards.)

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Complete unknowns, ideally ordinary people from Portsmouth, where the story is actually set.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book work?

One sunny summer afternoon, the city of Portsmouth becomes even more of a cultural island than it always was.

6) When will the book work be published?

Hell knows. I’d be very surprised if I can convince a dead-tree publisher to take it; it’s an odd length, it has a very odd structure, and it doesn’t really fit in any currently-valid subgeneric box. I’m thinking of following through on my theory that it’s actually better suited to a hypertextual medium, and making it into a website wherein all the scenes are geotagged onto a map of the city.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Three months, near enough. Technically there are still bits waiting to be finished, but there were also a great many offcuts and deleted scenes, so I figure that balances out.

8) What other book works would you compare this story to within your genre?

[gallic_shrug.gif] I got nothing.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book work?

Pretty sure this is question 2, phrased differently. Well, I had a dissertation piece to do. And being a sort of masochist, I decided that doing some sort of obvious boxticking exercise in generic skiffy would bore me shitless, and I can’t do good work on a project that bores me. So I kinda scraped together all the things that were interesting me at the time, in literary terms — Borges, Burroughs, Mieville, psychogeography and cities, metafiction, and the collapse of an identity I once thought I’d possess in perpetuity — and made of them a monster.

10) What else about the book work might pique the reader’s interest?

It doesn’t have any fucking zombies in it.

***

In letter if not in spirit, eh? I can’t think of anyone for whom this meme would be appropriate who I hasn’t already done it — so rather than tag anyone deliberately, I’ll just suggest that if you’ve got a thing to talk about and you fancy doing a meme, maybe you should do this one? Yeah, that works. Knock yerselves out, innit.

Notes from the midst of a bi-polar slump

I normally write these things and either throw them away (when done with pen and paper) or archive them in a digital folder I never look in, but this time I’m going to experiment with broadcast

Every bit of advice – professional or otherwise – I’ve ever had about depression has revolved around the idea that talking about it is supposed to help, but there’s a deep paradox in that approach, at least for me; a large part of the problem is a feeling – no, not a feeling, a knowledge – that in almost every way imaginable, I have nothing to complain about. In every objective sense, my life is pretty good, and vastly more packed with privilege and good fortune than that of the majority of people on the face of the planet. As such, pity and sympathy – which, to be clear, is very easily obtained, as I also have an abundance of good friends and caring family to whom I could turn – feel unearned, undeserved. Depression is a software problem, as far as I’m concerned; I do not subscribe to the ‘dysfunctional brainmeat/causative chemical imbalance’ model of bi-polarity, because it is part of a diagnostic framework wherein there is a singular model for the ‘right’ brain and a plethora of models for the ‘wrong’ brain. This is a function of the deeply conformist-capitalist understructure of psychology, which has always been focussed on the correction of dysfunction (the Worker must be fixed!) rather than the uncovering of dysfunction’s causes (why is the Worker broken?); it’s all about making the symptoms go away, and little about understanding the actual vector(s) of the ‘disease’.

Rather like politics, come to think of it.

So let me be clear: this is not a cry for help, nor a plea for pity. Think of it instead as a form of the talking cure where I can feel confident that those to whom I am talking are listening voluntarily. With hindsight, I realise that this is why I started writing (and, with further hindsight, that I actually started writing a lot earlier than I used to believe I had); writing, for me, is like a therapist’s couch without the therapist. After all, therapy and counselling are – supposedly, at least – meant not to be didactic; the therapist is not supposed to give you the answers, but help you find them yourself. Which is all very good and noble, but sidesteps the issue that the therapist or counsellor is (quite unavoidably, if unintentionally) observing your narrative from within the framework of their own, which is formed at least in part by their indoctrination into their profession. Which isn’t to say I mistrust the motivations or world-views of therapists on principle – though I’d readily admit to a deep unease around the psychiatric and diagnostic end of the system, as mentioned above – so much as I’m vain enough to assume that my own familiarity with the history and circumstance of my own life is sufficient for me to cut out the middle-man, so to speak. By way of analogy: when I visit a new city, I shun the guided tours in favour of a map, a guidebook and a few days to myself in which to wander, wonder and look.

I probably shouldn’t speak with such scathing certainty about therapy, as I’ve never experienced it except second-hand through its portrayal in popular media. (Sudden thought: the Eighties in particular seemed replete with films and television wherein angsty white middle-class people with no real problems other than their own way of looking at their lives spent a lot of time whining at therapists; this may have influenced my outlook considerably.) Counselling, however, I’ve had quite a few times – and it was actually quite enjoyable for me, because I knew that the counsellor was being compensated for taking the time to listen, and so I could just chunter on without any shame at all. It’s the difference between getting your friends to help you move house and paying a removals firm to take care of it, in a way; it’s not that your friends are unwilling to help – far from it, in fact – or that you’re unwilling to repay the favour. It’s that it’s a job; it’s work. Maybe my rather warped inculcation of the Protestant work ethic is to blame: if there’s work to be done, one should either get on and do it oneself (assuming one is capable), or compensate someone fairly for doing it on one’s behalf. One doesn’t want to feel like a charity case or a freeloader, y’know?

(To return briefly to the influence of media, I spent two nights this week bingewatching To The Manor Born, which was a constant televisual companion to me while living out in Saudi Arabia with my family in the mid-Eighties; it was quite scary to see how many of my attitudes and arrogances echo those of Audrey fforbes-Hamilton. Who was, incidentally – or perhaps not so incidentally – my first childhood media crush of any significance. Selah.)

But anyway, the thing that pushed me away from counselling was the repeated use of a certain aphorism. Every time I explained that I didn’t like talking about being depressed because it felt like dialling all the nines and asking for the existential waaaaahmbulance, I’d be told:

“No one’s life is up for comparison.”

Well, um, yes it is? I mean, sure, I have this issue where my mind flip-flops into a state where I struggle to care about anything, and it can really get in the way of doing things that I want or need to do, and that sucks. But here’s the thing: I have the luxury of circumstance where I can take the time to wallow in that misery. I am, by dint of being born white, male and middle-class in Britain, able to indulge my depression, and counselling encourages that indulgence. But what of someone with a similar dysfunction who was born black in the poor parts of Atlanta, Georgia, or born brown to a low caste in Mumbai, or born in the backstreets of Jakarta, Mexico City, Tangier, Jo’burg? What of someone born female in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, born gay in Uganda, born with an untreatable disease or physical defect? What of someone just like me in all respects, but born to a council-house couple on the outskirts of Havant rather than to my more fortunate and upwardly mobile parents? What of someone, anyone, who didn’t have a Privilege Hat so capacious they could caulk it with tar and use it as a fucking battleship?

Every time I hear “no one’s life is up for comparison”, I see all those people and more in my mind, and imagine explaining to them how awful it is for me to be depressed, explaining what a barrier it is getting anything done, explaining how my life of comparative ease and privilege is marred by this terrible affliction.

Everyone‘s life is up for comparison, especially mine. And I am, by any even slightly objective assessment, far less in need of help and support than 99% of the population of the planet. If anything, I should be doing the helping and supporting.

Which is a very long and roundabout way of explaining to the world (and, by extension, to myself), why I don’t like to seek sympathy: it’s too scarce a commodity already. Save it for them as really needs and deserves it, instead of wasting it on someone who in every other respect has – and has always had – all the cards stacked in his favour.

So there’s my own personal version of the talking cure: a rejoinder to myself, a reminder of which side my bread is buttered. It is based on the belief that bipolarity and/or depression cannot be cured, only managed, coped with, come to terms with.

But the real kicker, of course, is the knowledge that it is only my privilege that enables me to be so blasé and self-sacrificial about being depressed; that other people with the same symptoms are at far greater risk of disruption, disaster or poverty as a result of them.

Which means that, rather than somehow shrugging off my privilege by writing this piece, I have in fact been indulging it.

And thus the loop begins again.

Science fiction, science fact, and all that's in between …