Andrew Wallace will be interviewing Dr Susan Gray about the power of science fiction theatre, interactive poetry and writing for augmented reality at the British Science Fiction Association this Wednesday 23 May at the Artillery Arms, 102 Bunhill Row, London, EC1Y 8ND; doors 6.30pm for a 7.15pm start. Entry is free.
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 November 2017, former Vector editor Glyn Morgan interviewed acclaimed author Anne Charnock, whose first novel A Calculated Life was nominated for a Philip K Dick Award and whose second novel, Sleeping Embers of an Ordinary Mind was listed by The Guardian as one of the Science Fiction Books of the Year in 2016. She also regularly takes part in The Ada Lovelace Conversations, a collaborative project between The Arthur C Clarke Award for science fiction literature and Ada Lovelace Day, an international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths. Anne’s latest novel, Dreams Before the Start of Time, is out now.
Andrew Wallace has checked his watch, confirmed he was there and reports as follows…
What will survive of us is love
The themes of Anne’s latest novel Dreams Before the Start of Time evolved from ideas about reproductive technologies likely to be with us within the next forty years. The book explores the psychological, ethical, legal and social implications of these technologies by following generations of the same family into the future as they take advantage of these new opportunities and deal with the unexpected consequences. Anne believes that fiction offers the best means of analytically, emotionally and aesthetically engaging with the potential impacts of innovations and trends, from our ‘reproduction’ as digital selves to artificial intelligence, genetic engineering and the emergence of China as both a strategic world player and presence in our future lives.
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.
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.
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 June 2017, Tom Hunter rendezvoused with Dave Hutchinson, author of the acclaimed near-future spy series, Fractured Europe. Our asset Andrew Wallace returns safely to HQ with the following intelligence …
Any writing career has its highs and lows, and in Dave Hutchinson’s case, quite literally. One of the jobs he applied for after leaving university (he graduated from Nottingham with a degree in American Studies), before beginning a career in journalism, was air traffic controller. Dave credits the absence of planes falling from sky to the fact that he didn’t get the job. Still, it’s intriguing to think of Dave Hutchinson, author of the award-winning near-future Fractured Europe series, as an air traffic controller in a parallel universe … managing the borders between nations, between earth and sky …
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 February 2017, Ian Whates caught up with SF and fantasy novelist Adrian Tchaikovsky. Andrew Wallace chronicles the encounter …
Adrian Tchaikovsky is known for his ten-volume epic fantasy series, Shadows of the Apt, whose clashing civilisations are based around insect species. More recently, Adrian has been lauded for his science fiction, with his novel Children of Time winning the 2016 Clarke Award. Children of Time starts from the premise of a nano-virus sent across the stars to seed life on a distant world. Unexpectedly, it is the spiders and ants – species meant to play mere bit parts in the glorious epic of mammalian expansion – who get sped towards sentience, and the kind of richly detailed space-faring society that great SF does so well.
So the question we all want to ask Adrian Tchaikovsky is: what’s with the bugs?
The 2015 BSFA Lecture at Dysprosium (the 2015 Eastercon) will be given by Dr Simon Trafford (Institute of Historical Research), and is entitled ‘“Runar munt þu finna”: why sing pop in dead languages?’ The lecture will be given at 5.30 pm on Saturday April 4th, in the Discovery room of the Park Inn, Heathrow. The lecture is open to any member of Dysprosium.
Simon Trafford is Lecturer in Medieval History and Research Training Officer at the University of London’s Institute of Historical Research. He specialises in the history and archaeology of the later Anglo-Saxon period in the north-east of England. He completed his undergraduate studies and his D.Phil. at the University of York, where his supervisor was Professor Edward James, who sf fans know as current Chair of the Science Fiction Foundation. Simon has a particular interest in the depiction of Vikings in popular culture. His talk for us develops this, with a special focus upon the use of dead ancient and medieval languages in pop and rock songs.
The BSFA Lecture is intended as a companion to the George Hay Lecture, which is presented at the Eastercon by the Science Fiction Foundation. Where the Hay Lecture invites scientists, the BSFA Lecture invites academics from the arts and humanities, because we recognise that science fiction fans aren’t only interested in science. The lecturers are given a remit to speak “on a subject that is likely to be of interest to science fiction fans” – i.e. on whatever they want! This is the eighth BSFA Lecture.
A special BSFA Lecture will be given at Loncon 3 by Dr Paula James (Open Unversity), entitled ‘Pygmalion’s Statue and her Synthetic Sisters: The Perfect Woman on Screen′. The lecture will be given at 20.00 on Saturday August 16th, the ExCel Centre, London Docklands. The lecture is open to any member of Loncon 3.
Paula James is a familiar face and voice to anyone who has studied the Open University’s Arts Foundation courses over the past fifteen years or so, or any of their courses in Classical Studies. Paula is Senior Lecturer in Classical Studies and Staff Tutor in Arts at the OU. She began her academic career after raising her family, and joined the Open University in the 1990s. She is an expert in Latin Literature, particularly the Metamorphoses of Ovid and Apuleius. She also writes on the reception of Latin texts in modern cinema. She has written an excellent introduction to Ancient Rome, Understand Roman Civilization, now in its second edition, and has jointly edited works on the imagery of Trade Union banners and the parrot in literature. Her most recent book is Ovid’s Myth of Pygmalion on Screen: In Pursuit of the Perfect Woman (2013), and it is from this work that her talk to us is derived.The BSFA Lecture is intended as a companion to the George Hay Lecture, which is presented at the Eastercon by the Science Fiction Foundation. Where the Hay Lecture invites scientists, the BSFA Lecture invites academics from the arts and humanities, because we recognise that science fiction fans aren’t only interested in science. The lecturers are given a remit to speak “on a subject that is likely to be of interest to science fiction fans” – i.e. on whatever they want! This is a special lecture for Worldcon, and is the seventh BSFA Lecture.