The Early Days of a Better Nation

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Event Horizon launches Emergence

Next Wednesday, 13th September, Edinburgh's monthly SF mini-festival Event Horizon is doing me the honour of launching my forthcoming novel The Corporation Wars: Emergence (available for pre-order here). By special courtesy of the publishers, advance copies will be on sale at the event. Caroline Grebbell and Russell Jones will kick off proceedings, followed by a conversation between me and Andrew J. Wilson, author, reviewer, and stalwart of the spoken word scene.

The evening starts at 7:30 pm at The Banshee Labyrinth, Scotland's most haunted pub and the venue for many science, SF and sceptic events. Admission FREE.
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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Mike Levy Project

Long-standing SF/F critic and fan Dr Farah Mendlesohn is asking for volunteers to help her complete a colleague's book after Mike Levy, likewise a much respected fan and critic, died very suddenly in April 2017. The book is on aliens in popular culture and she needs people to write about alien conspiracy theories. If you are willing to write 1000 words (credited, but unpaid*) on one of these topics by 1st September please contact her on to discuss your proposal.

The topics are:
Sun Ra
Alien Autopsy
National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) 540
Condon Report
Mack, John: Harvard experiments
UFO Hunters
Cover Ups
polar aliens
*There is no pay as the contracted pay for the entire book was relatively small and Farah has decided to donate the sum to the IAFA in Mike's name.
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Monday, July 10, 2017

Edge-Lit 6

This weekend (Saturday 15 July) I'm a Guest of Honour at Edge-Lit 6 in Derby. This one-day event (tickets £30) packs in a programme that many a weekend-long convention or literary festival would be proud of. Sponsored by Writing Magazine, a sheaf of small presses and the Horror Writers Association UK, Edge-Lit has an impressive range of dealers' tables and an imposing line-up of guests and participants. Where else could you see and hear Joanne Harris, Stephen Baxter, Jeff Noon, Andrew Michael Hurley, Peter Newman, Samantha Shannon and a dozen more all on the same day? Having been a guest at Edge-Lit before, I know you can expect a lively atmosphere and interesting conversation, on and off the platform, all day and well into the evening.

I and Stephen Baxter will be talking with Tim Hunter about Arthur C. Clarke, and later I'll be giving a reading and Q&A. Check out the rest of the programme (pdf) here, and if you like what you see, book here.
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Sunday, July 09, 2017

Improbable Botany

Some years ago I wrote a story set in approximately the same world as that of my novel Intrusion. I'm still inordinately fond of its title: 'The Bicycle-Frame Tree Plantation Manager's Redundancy'. It was commissioned by Wayward, an innovative art, architecture and landscape practice. The bicycle-frame trees themselves featured in an exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery. I read an extract from the story at an event there, and was impressed and touched by the quality of the artwork associated with my story, as the other authors involved were with theirs.

I'm delighted to say that the anthology, edited by Gary Dalkin, is now about to see the light of day – but only if enough people believe in it. And they should! I mean, look at this:

It's sumptuous. Lush. And the content is unmissable:
Improbable Botany, a brand-new science fiction anthology about alien plant conquests, fantastical ecosystems, benevolent dictatorships and techno-utopias.

Part survival handbook, part page-turner, Improbable Botany is a fond companion piece to many of Wayward’s past collaborations and features newly commissioned short stories by ten multi-award winning science fiction authors: Ken MacLeod, Cherith Baldry, Eric Brown, Simon Morden, Adam Roberts, James Kennedy, Stephen Palmer, Justina Robson, Tricia Sullivan and Lisa Tuttle. The book has been edited by Gary Dalkin, a former judge of the Arthur C. Clarke Award and former editor of Vector: The Critical Journal of the British Science Fiction Association.

We are also delighted to say that Improbable Botany features incredibly rich and evocative jacket artwork, alongside six full-colour illustrations (which are being offered as A2 art prints to backers across multiple reward tiers), by Jonathan Burton – whose outstanding body of work has been featured by The Folio Society, Penguin Books, BAFTA, HarperCollins, Random House and The New York Times.

This is the book plants don't want you to read...
If you want to read it, back this project on Kickstarter.

If you don't ... well, you'll never know what the plants are whispering about.
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Thursday, June 29, 2017

Science fiction stars at biggest ever Edinburgh International Book Festival 2017

To my surprise and delight, I was asked last winter to be a Guest Selector for a strand of science fiction events at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, August 2017. Jenny Niven, then on secondment from the Scottish Book Trust, met me a few times to sketch out the strand. We wanted to highlight the global scope of SF and its relevance to the turbulent present.

A lot of emailing, networking, arm-twisting, begging, and general to-and-fro followed. Nick Barley, the EIBF's Director, kept a watchful eye on our tiny flying saucer even as he juggled hundreds of heavier and faster-spinning plates. The EIBF staff worked the machinery behind the scenes. The practicalities of organising even a handful of author events are formidable. The EIBF staff took care of all that in the midst of a thousand other events. This year's Book Festival programme is the largest ever. It's a joy and an honour to be part of making science fiction a part of that. Many thanks to all who made it possible.

This is the result:
Imagining how the world could be different can throw new light on how it really is. Acclaimed Scottish science fiction author Ken MacLeod certainly does that, as do the writers he has chosen for this series of events. MacLeod brings leading SF, fantasy and horror writers to Edinburgh, with international stars Nalo Hopkinson and Ada Palmer alongside brilliant British authors including Charles Stross, Jo Walton and Adam Roberts. Never before has the Book Festival welcomed such a dazzling constellation of speculative fiction writers.
On Tuesday 15 August at 6:30 I'll be talking with Stephen Baxter about his new novel The Massacre of Mankind, an authorised sequel to H. G. Wells's classic The War of the Worlds. Baxter's deep, wry appreciation of the Wellsian worldview has long been evident: The Time Ships, his blockbuster sequel to 'The Time Machine', still glows in my memory.

On Wednesday 16 August 2017 at 7.15pm I'll be chairing a discussion with Charles Stross and Jo Walton on 'End Times, Crazy Years', to ask: what happens when reality outdoes dystopia, let alone satire? Charlie is well known for writing a kaleidoscopic range of possible and impossible futures, some of them set in Scotland, and he's now and then commented amusingly on the difficulty of writing near-future SF, especially any set in Scotland. Jo Walton (of whom more below) has an encyclopaedic knowledge of SF (and history, and much else) at her fingertips. Her work is as varied – in tone and genre – as Charlie's, or indeed almost anyone's.

My own work comes up for discussion on Thursday 17 August at 2.30 pm, when I'm on with Charlie Fletcher, who, like me, has just completed a trilogy. Two very different worlds – Victorian fantasy and far-future space opera – will be brought into focus by the redoubtable and urbane chair Stuart Kelly, who has read everything.

I've long been a proponent of the argument, which I first encountered in the work of Gary Westfahl, that informed and engaged criticism by active readers has shaped the SF genre perhaps more than any other, from the letter columns of Amazing Stories onward. Who better to test this contention with than two outstanding critics who are also outstanding writers? That's what's on offer on Thursday 17 August at 5.30 pm, when I chair a discussion between Adam Roberts and Jo Walton.

My first encounter with Jo as a critic was online, way back in the 1990s, on the Usenet newsgroups rec.arts.sf.written and rec.arts.sf.fandom. Jo has flourished in the same vein since, and in writing strong SF and fantasy of her own. Adam Roberts brings a different set of critical tools to bear: he teaches English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of London, he's written several works of academic criticism of SF and fantasy, and so far this century he has written a novel just about every year. He's also a notorious pun-slinger on Twitter.

Jo isn't on the next event, but the idea for it may well have been planted by a question she's asked: where are the positive futures in science fiction?

For this final event in the strand, Rockets to Utopia? on Friday 18 August at 6.30 pm, we have two truly exceptional writers. Nalo Hopkinson is a Guest of Honour at this year's World Science Fiction Convention in Helsinki, and it's a great honour for us to have her here. The author of nine books and the recipient of numerous awards, Nalo is professor of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside. I've heard her read from her second novel, Midnight Robber: it was a revelation, a fusion of Caribbean language and folklore with high-concept SF.

Ada Palmer is a historian, who burst on the SF scene only last year with her acclaimed, complex novel Too Like the Lighting -- the first of a tetralogy, Terra Ignota, whose publication is continuing at a furious pace. Showing us a better future world that is far from a utopia (and in and to which, it seems, bad things are going to happen) her novels have raised the bar for future-historical speculation in SF.

Nalo and Ada are joined by me and Charlie, and we're chaired by Pippa Goldschmidt. Pippa writes close to the edge of SF, has previously featured at the Book Festival, and in an earlier life held the Civil Service title 'Chair of Outer Space', so should have no difficulty chairing a panel.

And that's not all! Some people mentioned above may (or may not) appear in the currently top-secret programme of free evening Unbound events. Watch this space, and keep watching the skies.
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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Modern Bonnie Prince

A few weeks ago I took a box-load of books to the local charity shop, and predictably saw a book I had to buy. That copy of Tom Nairn's The Break-Up of Britain (1981) had evidently been donated by a studious and appreciative reader. Neatly ruled pencil lines mark almost every page.

Such a reader, once, was I. Nairn's 'Anatomy of the Labour Party' (1964), was my first exposure to the menacing shadows on that hoary institution's X-ray. 'Old and New Nationalism' whose first version I pored over in the biblically tiny print of The Red Paper on Scotland (1975, edited by Gordon Brown) had a lasting effect on how I (and many of its readers) think about Scotland. 'The Left Against Europe?' a book-length essay not in this collection, was a bracing heresy at the time and a cold shower today. Anyone who doubts the continuing pertinence of The Enchanted Glass, Nairn's book on the British monarchy, should read this and weep.

Not all the essays remain as insightful. 'Northern Ireland: Relic or Portent?' which I first read in the short-lived left-nationalist magazine Calgacus, struck me even then as interesting but wrong. On a re-read, it's still interesting, and not just wrong but wrong-headed. Its misprision of the Northern Irish Protestant community was ludicrous, its prescription of Ulster Protestant nationhood as the deplorable but unavoidable solution perverse.

That false note aside, the rest resonates. The eponymous break-up has moved from the reviews and journals to the daily front pages. Often enough, in the past forty years, Nairn's diagnosis seemed over-stated. Perhaps it was. There are only so many times you can sound the alarm about 'the crisis of the British state' without the villagers turning sceptical.

Now the wolf is at the door.

The other Saturday I went to the Edinburgh People's Festival's conference on The Life and Legacy of Antonio Gramsci. Among the featured speakers was Ray Burnett, author of a seminal essay that may have alerted Tom Nairn to the possibility of applying Gramsci's analytical tools to Scottish society. Talk about unacknowledged legislators! Nairn's understanding of the peculiarities of the Scottish has become the common sense of the Scottish intelligentsia.

But where has it got us? The left in Scotland is weaker than when it first focused its microscope on what Burnett called the ‘azoic complexity’ of civil society. For Gramsci the modern prince was the political party. That prince has sometimes proved a Borgia. In Scotland it is merely a Stuart.

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Sunday, March 05, 2017

How many stars
would you give a Princess of Mars?

It's been two weeks since Boskone 54, so it's about time I wrote something about it.

Boskone is a long-established science fiction convention held in Boston, Mass. (Laboured explanation for non-fans: it's a con in Boston. Boskone is the name of the evil empire in the Lensman series by E. E. 'Doc' Smith). For many years the con has been run by the admirable New England Science Fiction Association, and this year I was the NESFA Press Guest. (I was a Guest of Honour at Boskone in 2006, and neglected to write a con report, though I did write up and blog my Guest of Honour talk).

Organisers Laurie Mann and Erin Underwood kindly included my wife Carol in the con's hospitality, and did a great job of organising our travel. Laurie Mann and Geri Sullivan gave us a warm welcome on arrival, and sent us up 15 storeys to a splendid room in the fine Westin Waterfront hotel. The view of Boston's skyscraper skyline was like a double-page spread in National Geographic, which my own photography quite failed to capture.

We had a great time at Boskone, and in Boston, one of our favourite cities. The experience rekindled my affection for SF fandom, and for America. I can't do justice to it all. I met lots of old friends, made some new ones, and enjoyed my own events and those I went to. The program was packed, and the social life of the con buzzed.

Special thanks to Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden, who took us out to dinner at Legal Seafoods with Jo Walton and Ada Palmer. Charles Stross interviewed me with great aplomb. The Hal Clement Science Speaker, Milton J. Davis, was remarkably gracious about a kaffeeklatch cataclysm that was entirely my fault, and favoured me with a wide-ranging conversation into the bargain.

I prepared for my final panel, on Edgar Rice Burroughs' A Princess of Mars, with a hasty e-book purchase and a re-read that continued on the plane to Boston. This gave rise to the accidentally lyrical question that popped up in my inbox from Amazon's algorithm, and hence my title. The eponymous oviparous princess herself, and a striking John Carter, featured in the work of the con's Official Artist, Dave Seeley, as a kick-ass heroine. I'd give her a lot of stars.

The Art of Dave Seeley: Print Shop &emdash; John Carter and the Princess of Mars - Baen Books - Edgar Rice Burroughs
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