Host Glyn Morgan (a former editor of Vector) was joined by two distinguished science fiction authors: Adam Roberts and Jeff Noon. Adam is a lecturer in nineteenth-century fiction at Royal Holloway and the author of seventeen books, including the British Science Fiction Association Award-winning Jack Glass. Jeff is a former punk, doyen of the 90s Madchester rave scene and author of eleven books, the first of which, Vurt won the Arthur C Clarke Award in 1993. Both have recently published new novels; Jeff’s A Man of Shadows is published by Angry Robot; Adam’s The Real Town Murders by Gollancz.
Both novels blend crime fiction and science fiction, challenging the genre boundaries. A Man of Shadows is the film noir-influenced story of a 1940s-style gumshoe private eye searching for a teenage runaway, while The Real-Town Murders follows another private investigator trying to solve a case that seems impossible. The idea for the murder came from Alfred Hitchock, who posited: what if a dead body was discovered in the boot of a car that had been assembled by an automatic factory with no human intervention? Hitch said that if he could work out how the body got there he would make the film. He couldn’t, so never did and now Adam Roberts has picked up the challenge.
An Extended Review of the 2005 Arthur C. Clarke Award-Winning Novel, by Andy Sawyer
The success of Air in the latest Clarke award is nothing less than an act of magic.
The shortlist as it stood presented a number of problems which potentially could have wrecked the credibility of the Award at this rather troubled stage of its existence. It consisted of two novels (Geoff Ryman’s Air and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go) which by anyone’s standards (though see below) should be considered outstanding, and four also-rans of varying quality from excellent to enjoyable-but-forgettable which suffered from being read in the shade of Ryman and Ishiguro but which were on the face of it considerably more science-fiction-ish. “Also-rans” sounds harsh, so I must qualify that by saying that I mean no insult to Ken MacLeod’s Learning the World, Alastair Reynolds’ Pushing Ice, Charles Stross’s Accelerando, and Liz Williams’ Banner of Souls by saying that they did not move and excite me in the way Air and Never Let Me Go did. Were those two not on the shortlist I would have been considerably less disappointed if one of the other four had won, if any of them had — if that makes sense. But with the short-list as it stood a decision to honour any other than Ishiguro or Ryman would have been a travesty.
Air took the award, of course, and this means that the science fiction writer, as opposed to the “mainstream” writer with something which looks like science fiction, was the success. In what follows I am, I hope, going to suggest why I feel uncomfortable writing a sentence like that, but also why it’s good for both the Clarke award and that collection of extremely different texts that we point to and call science fiction that it was Ryman who won the award. This is not to say that Air is the obvious compromise choice, a charge which is laid against just about every juried award at some time or another. I don’t know, or care, what happened in the discussions, but there’s no sense in Air that justifies this. In not giving the award to an outsider-sf text in favour of a book which must be sf because it has also won the BSFA award (as well as a number of other sf awards including the Tiptree), the jury has given first prize to a book that deserves it. As well as being central-sf, Air is also stunningly written; inventive and open, as sympathetic to the human costs of change as, without the darkness and claustrophobia of, Never Let Me Go. But why should I be presenting this as an ideological conflict as much as a simple decision between which of two books is the better?
Post-Cyber Feminist International, Glitch@Night BBZ London (Photo: Mark Blower)
‘A particularly gendered set of obstacles emerges from the contemporary ubiquity and commodification of the digital sphere. From sexual harassment and privacy to issues surrounding divisions of labour, the progress of gender justice has in some ways failed to keep pace with the dizzying velocity of digital developments. At the same time, new networked technologies have come to dominate the horizons of critical discourse, pushing older and more quotidian devices to the margins of cultural visibility. And yet, these domesticated technologies (from the Hoovers to HRT) continue to exert a shaping influence on many people’s everyday lives. It is critical that feminists find new ways of interrogating technologies in order to forge a radical gender politics fit for an era in which the analogue and the digital are inexorably intertwined’ [ICA]
Black Feminism and Post-Cyber Feminism (Photo: Mark Blower)
Post-Cyber Feminist Internationaltook place at the ICA between 15-19 Nov 2017, and consisted of a series of events, exhibitions and workshops dedicated to exploring how radical gender politics can shape our technological future. Visual artists, musicians, writers and theorists came together to find new ways of engaging with race, class, gender and to discuss their work-in-progress. Post-Cyber Feminist International showcased interrelated constituents such as sonic feminisms, Black feminism and glitch feminism, celebrating the 20th anniversary of The First Cyberfeminist International (1997). Continue reading “Post-Cyber Feminist International”→
The BSFA holds regular events in London, usually on the last Wednesday of the month, at the Artillery Arms near Old Street. These events are free, and open to members and non-members alike. Keep an eye on the BSFA website for news of future events. In August 2017, Matthew De Abaitua interviewed Jeff Noon, author of speculative fiction and tricky-to-label experimental writing, about his latest work. Andrew Wallace tells the story …
Jeff Noon has always been fascinated by borders. His early work was full of characters traversing portals, whether formed by physical structures or drugs. He describes his 1993 debut novel, Vurt, as something brought across the frontier between this world and another.
It’s an obsession that includes his writing process. Many writers listen to music while they work; not Jeff, he has films on as well, a different one every day. He also covers the display screen while he writes to make the narrative less predictable. During this process, part of his mind is carefully planning, while the other enters a crazed state. As well as a negotiated path between dream and reality, Jeff sees composition as being analogous to a chess game between writer and novel: an engagement that seems to give the novel its own agency. Out of this process comes an organic creative vision, well-matched to the visceral SF that established Jeff with his 1994 Clarke Award win for Vurt.
His latest novel, A Man of Shadows (Angry Robot Books), explores a different kind of border: that of dusk. Inspired by Dayzone, part of Tokyo where lights and music are on twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, three hundred and sixty-five days a year, Jeff science-fictionalised the idea to create a whole city where the lights never go off. If you look up, you don’t see sky: only lamps, flames and neon signs.
The world outside is like our own, although the novel’s main character, private detective John Nyquist, has never left the city.
The novel explores how being constantly exposed to light changes someone. For example, what happens to time when you’re cut off from the seasons? The notion of a twenty-four-hour clock also falls apart, as do traditional commercial structures based upon it. Dayzone is not a time-free zone; it just has a different chronology. People can purchase tailored time standards. For example, families find their own time units, as do lovers, depending on the levels of ardour. Time can be sponsored because it has evolved in its own ways, free of day and night.
People who live in the city love it, so this world is not a dystopia. However, time as a commodity means that there are organisations like ‘the time exchange’, modelled on corn exchanges, as well as the need for time law, and the capacity for time crime.
Although the city exists outside the ordinary rhythm of day and night, it simultaneously acknowledges that people will want darkness. They either visit an area called Nocturna, or go to one of the places where the council’s bulb monkeys haven’t replaced the lamps.
What, then, happens in the spaces between light and dark, in the realm of Dusk? Dusk is mysterious and silvery; there are several moons, while distant lamps become stars and constellations.
Nyquist hates the Dusk. As a reference, Jeff mentioned Chinatown: a self-aware film that is as much about noir as an expression of it. The Dusk in A Man of Shadows feels like Nyquist’s Chinatown, and perhaps it’s Jeff’s too; he says he is uncomfortable on any kind of middle ground.
Because Nyquist is a private eye trying to find a teenage runaway, he must go from light to dark to the mean streets of Dusk. A transitional, liminal zone where things appear to dissolve, it’s also known as the hour between dog and wolf, because in that eerie light you can’t tell which animal it is. More than a dangerous ambiguity, Dusk is like memory; a dreamscape where the dead end up.
It’s interesting how Jeff’s writing has moved from real places, like Manchester in Vurt and Pollen to imaginary ones like Dayzone. Once he left Manchester in his forties, he decided not to invest in a real space so heavily. It’s the kind of decision only an SF writer could make.
The Hidden Oracle, Book One of The Trials of Apollo series by Rick Riordan (Disney Hyperion, 2016)
The Dark Prophecy, Book Two of The Trials of Apollo series by Rick Riordan (Disney Hyperion, 2017)
Reviewed by Christopher Owen
Winner of the 2016 Goodreads Choice Awards: Middle Grade and Children’s, The Hidden Oracle begins the next adventures in the Camp Half-Blood Chronicles. The Hidden Oracle and The Dark Prophecy are the first two books in The Trials of Apollo pentalogy by New York Times #1 Best-Selling Author, Rick Riordan. The Camp Half-Blood Chronicles is primarily made up of three five-book series. The first two, Percy Jackson and the Olympians and The Heroes of Olympus respectively, follow the adventures of twenty-first century demi-gods, teenage children of mortals and either Greek or Roman gods/goddesses. In this third series, Riordan does something different, focusing instead on the adventures of the god Apollo.
At the end of The Heroes of Olympus, Apollo is blamed for the problems the heroes have had to resolve. This third series picks up a few months following the events of the second series with Apollo’s punishment beginning with him falling from the sky and crashing in an alleyway dumpster. At first Apollo’s punishment appears to be one simply designed to humble him: he is transformed from a beautiful, powerful god to an awkward, acne-covered teenaged human. He is then further humbled when a couple thugs beat him up, when he is forced into the servitude of a young girl named Meg, and when he realizes that he is exceptionally less talented at music and archery than when he was a god. His inner-struggles throughout the narrative consist of a conflict between his over-zealous ego and his melodramatic horror at his newfound limitations. But Apollo also faces exterior struggles, and it is in these conflicts that he learns that his punishment is not just to be humbled, but also to right previous wrongs. Apollo must save five missing oracles and stop a secret organization called the Triumvirate. The Triumvirate is made up of three re-born Ancient Roman Emperors who have been pulling the strings in the background all along, causing all of the problems of the Camp Half-Blood Chronicles.
In The Hidden Oracle, children at Camp Half-Blood, a secret camp for demi-gods, are going missing. One by one they head into the forest as if hypnotized and are never seen again. While previous heroes in the Chronicles have travelled far in an American road trip-style adventure, in The Hidden Oracle Apollo does not need to travel farther than the forest neighboring the campgrounds. This changes the structure of the narrative from the previous books. Apollo is able to head back and forth between the forest as site of adventure and the campgrounds as site of respite, healing and communicating with aids. Furthermore, while previous books touch on the other campers only briefly, this book spends a great deal more time getting to know the people who live at camp year-round. This includes three of Apollo’s children, adding another interesting dynamic to this book, a greater focus on the relationships between demigods and their godly parents, something that is only touched on briefly in the first two series.
The sequel, The Dark Prophecy, follows Apollo’s quest to save both his friend and all of Indianapolis from the control of the Triumvirate. This book follows a similar structure as The Hidden Oracle. While the characters travel from Long Island Sound to Indianapolis for this novel, and thus there is the potential for a road trip-style structure that the original two series of the Chronicles use, this book begins at the end of the journey, as the characters are arriving in Indianapolis. Within the first few chapters, the heroes are lead to a magical hideout called the Waystation, which functions in the same way as Camp Half-Blood in The Hidden Oracle. The heroes go back and forth between fighting their enemies in Indianapolis, and re-grouping and healing at the Waystation. During these adventures, Apollo and his friends team up with a variety of different species, adding interesting new group dynamics unexplored in previous novels of the Chronicles.
Both The Hidden Oracle and The Dark Prophecy feature intense final battles that take place in Apollo’s space of respite and safety, Camp Half-Blood and the Waystation respectively. Unable to go home on Mount Olympus, every home that Apollo tries to make for himself on his adventures is attacked, almost completely destroyed and becomes the site from which he must leave to continue his important mission to stop the Triumvirate. It is also from here that he meets and joins forces with previous heroes from the Chronicles, including Leo Valdez and Grover Underwood, suggesting, perhaps, that what is truly valuable is not the place called home, but rather the people we call family.
On the topic of family, one of Apollo’s sons, Will Solace, is dating a boy named Nico Di Angelo, a central character from the previous two series of the Chronicles. There are very few LGBTQ+ characters in middle-grade children’s fiction; three of them are in The Hidden Oracle. In The Dark Prophecy, a lesbian couple runs the Waystation, and the main villain is Apollo’s ex-boyfriend. The book uses frequent flashbacks to focus on the relationship between Apollo and his ex-boyfriend. Apollo is bisexual, making him very much a rarity as a same-sex attracted first-person narrator in a children’s fantasy novel. With six central LGBTQ+ characters, a wide range of ethnicities represented, and explicit feminist ideals, these books work very well to present progressive ideologies and a diverse representation of characters.
While reading the other ten novels in the Chronicles allows for a greater appreciation of The Trials of Apollo, this is not entirely necessary in order to follow the story. These books work well to begin a new, exciting series in Riordan’s universe. The adventure continues in The Burning Maze, which will be released in May 2018.
Lavie Tidhar’s style is well-suited to original narrative forms that subvert Western genre fiction tropes, while still engaging with them almost as props. For example, he says this year’s Clarke Award-nominated ‘Central Station’ gave him the opportunity to employ Golden Age imagery, like the action around a spaceport, and then let it fade into the background as if it’s being ignored. However, it’s an approach that can backfire. Another twentieth-century genre that appeals to Lavie is noir detective fiction, and he recalls a synopsis he wrote using the idea of a gumshoe searching for his niece, only for the story’s editor to point out that Lavie had forgotten to include the fate of the girl at any point in the story.
The noir angle could be the reason Lavie has been linked with cyberpunk, although he considers the association inaccurate, describing ‘Neuromancer’ as ‘Chandler with computers’. He decries the ten years between that novel and ‘Snow Crash’, in which people emulated what they thought was a new formula for success. Also, there is nothing hard-boiled about ‘Central Station’. While cyberpunk is about cool, hi-tech cowboys saving the world from a rogue AI, Lavie’s books are about people who get the kids to school and then go to work defeating the AI. Indeed, he sees ‘Central Station’ as a romance novel; its wedding-and-funeral climax more Richard Curtis than William Gibson.