January’s Sci-Fi Sessions was a conversation between three very different contemporary fantasy authors. Each one has a trilogy in progress. Lucy Hounsom has just released the final book of her acclaimed Worldmaker series (Starborn, Heartland and Firestorm). Tarnished City, the second novel in Vic James’s Dark Gifts trilogy, was published last year. It follows the success of book one, Gilded Cage, as a BBC 2 Book Club Choice. Finally, Anna Smith Spark’s Court of Broken Knives, the opening volume of her Broken Empire sequence, has already been nominated for numerous awards for best fantasy novel of 2017, with second and third volumes yet to follow. Continue reading “Fantasy Fiction with Vic James, Anna Smith Spark & Lucy Hounsom. A SciFi Sessions conversation, hosted by Glyn Morgan at Gower Street Waterstones in London.”
In late December 2017, a group of writers and scholars of SF, scientists and technologists, and defence analysts and policymakers, gathered at Dstl (UK government’s defence science and technology laboratory) in Salisbury to explore science fiction’s contribution to defence policy. Vector caught up with Dr Ping Zheng from Canterbury Christ Church University Business School, to ask her about her impressions of the day, and a few other things …
During the first breakout session, you were in the Human Behaviour in Smart Environments group. How did that go?
We had some inspiring discussions about how humans may react in smart environments. I think the group dynamics probably extended the scope of planned discussions, and allowed us to engage in more diversified discourse, ranging from individual perspectives, to emergent impacts at a societal level, and also to policy perspectives. For example, two prominent issues were debated: national and cultural differences, and ethical concerns such as privacy.
Perhaps the value of events like these is that you might discover that your original questions can be re-framed, or that your stakeholders are not precisely who you imagined them to be. Your other breakout session was ‘Defence (In)efficiency: What Does the Future Hold?’?
Brian Stableford will be speaking about the evolution of an important early science fiction form, the French roman scientifique, supported by the London Science Fiction Research Community (LSFRC).
Monday, February 12th, from 6:30 pm until 8pm, at The Keynes Library, 43 Gordon Square, London.
Brian’s lecture will map its way according to several signposts: Beginning with the origins of the roman scientifique in the illicit “philosophical fiction” of the eighteenth century, he will also discuss the after-effects of the French Revolution on utopian thought and the future impact of technological advancement on society; the development of “travelogue fiction” before and after Jules Verne; the preoccupation with future wars after 1870; the development of “scientific marvel fiction”; and the particular influence of WWI on French writers and their speculative fiction.
In addition to critical studies of science fiction, Stableford has authored more than 70 novels and translated even more, most from French to English. His work on the development of the roman scientifique in the long nineteenth century has vital significance for understanding later manifestations of science fiction in France, the Anglo-American setting, and around the globe. We hope you can join us for what is sure to be a fascinating evening with one of the most influential and prolific figures in science fiction.
A SciFi Sessions conversation, hosted by Glyn Morgan at Gower Street Waterstones (London). Click here for details of future events, #SciFiSessions return in January 2018 with a special three author event showcasing British fantasy talent.
Weird Fiction for Weird Times by Andrew Wallace
Mike John Harrison, a veteran of the 60s New Wave SF scene, and Gary Budden, an award-nominated short story writer whose first collection Hollow Shores (Dead Ink Press) is out now, discussed how weird fiction is indispensable for processing contemporary political realities.
Mike recounts JG Ballard at a party held by seminal SF magazine New Worlds predicting how the world would become ever more fantastical and psychopathic. At the time, everyone thought Ballard was overstating the case; now, Mike says, his own ferocious, mythic engagement with the culture feels redundant. Indeed, far from our culture inhabiting an exciting new realm of limitless possibility, some reality would be rather welcome. Gary says that the current fractured, nonsensical nature of the world means that weird fiction is resurgent; that the genre is merely reporting on the psychological state of our culture. Indeed, a contemporary writer of ‘realist’ fiction would now need to accommodate the weird simply to reflect what is going on.
Both writers engage with landscape in ways that challenge its conventional certainties. For example, Gary read a short piece about the actor Peter Cushing, who lived in Whitstable. In the story, the actor is referred to via his greatest roles, like ‘the Vampire Hunter’, as he wanders around the seaside town accompanied by his best friend, ‘the Vampire’ (presumably Christopher Lee). They meditate on their great fictional battles, surrounded by the everyday bustle of modern life, and meditate on an uncertain future. This blending of myth and reality has personal note: Gary grew up in Whitstable and the area has a strong folkloric identity. He writes weird fiction because that is the only genre that reflects his understanding of this familiar landscape. One way to reconcile the desire for his home space to be closer to its mythical – but not idealised – identity, and further from its proximity to prime UKIP country, is to use techniques of psychogeography, or as Gary calls it ‘landscape punk’. The Hollow Shores are a real place; the name is drawn from history like some treasure previously submerged that has slowly come to light.
However, the stratification of the English landscape brings political peril. The online Hookland project, which explores a fictional English county using folklore, spent the day of the discussion fighting off an English neo-Nazi who wanted to use the site to justify national/racial purity. Mike says that writers should make their position on landscape politics clear, and maintain awareness that landscape itself has no sentimentality at all. It has its own language, often weird, that should be used with full awareness to avoid the descent into easy nationalism.
Gary is interested in the fringe elements of our island; how its marginal landscapes change over time in a way that seems arbitrary, even absurd. For example, Whitstable would not even have been on the coast when the area now known as Doggerland linked Kent to mainland Europe 10,000 years ago. Doggerland was flooded at the end of the last Ice Age, a prospect we face on the attenuated landmasses of our own time. But for a few degrees’ variation in temperature, the Britain we know would not have existed and neither, in our current form, would we. There is a sense of possibility, only just missed, that folkloric weird fiction reflects so well.
Creation of a fictional Doggerland-like continent lay behind one of Mike’s projects for New Worlds, in which elements of a series of seemingly unconnected narratives would reveal that a new continent had appeared. Although the book never came to fruition, the stories evolved and formed part of his new collection, You Should Come With Me Now, published by Comma Press. He read a story from the collection called Psychoarcheology. Ostensibly a satire about the unending discovery of royal remains beneath car parks, it also looked at how the royals themselves are as trapped by their DNA into a life of rule they may not want, as their bodies are trapped beneath tarmac. This layering is an example of one of the different narrative techniques Mike uses to draw the reader through stories that do not have conventional narrative plots. Another is ‘reframing’, in which characters are moved through different landscapes as if on a journey, placing them in unfamiliar locations to accentuate the essential quality of strangeness. The weird, then, is as much to do with the way the story is told as its subject matter.
Applications are now open for the 2018 Science Fiction Foundation Masterclass in Science Fiction Criticism. The 2018 Masterclass, the Eleventh, will take place from Friday 29 June to Sunday 1 July. This year we will be at Anglia Ruskin University.
The 2018 Class Leaders are:
Nick Hubble (Brunel University) – Nick is co-editor of the Science Fiction Handbook (2013) and London in Contemporary British Fiction (2016)
John J. Johnston (Egypt Exploration Society) – John is co-editor of the mummy anthology Unearthed, his introduction for which was shortlisted for the BSFA Award for Non-Fiction.
Stephanie Saulter (author) – Stephanie is the author of Gemsigns and its sequels
Price: £225; £175 for registered postgraduate students.
To apply please send a short (no more than 3,000 words) piece of critical writing (a blog entry, review, essay, or other piece), and a one page curriculum vitae, to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Applications received by 1 March 2018 will be considered by an Applications Committee. Applications received after 30 March may be considered if places are still available, on a strictly first-come first served basis.
A deposit of £50 will be payable within a week of acceptance. This deposit is only refundable in the event of another student taking your place
Past Masterclass students are encouraged to apply again (though we will prioritise applications from those who have not been previous students).
Bonus Levels is on at the Museum of London until January 3rd, 2018. It is part of the museum’s City Now City Future – a year-long theme which is foregrounded by the ‘Imagined Futures’ curated by Dr Caroline Edwards located near the entrance.
According to the blurb:
Of all cities, London is one of the most widely represented in literature. During the 19th century, when it rose to prominence as the centre of the British Empire, London was considered the peak of civilisation. However, this achievement was matched by the violence of a colonial system that damaged the places and peoples from which the city drew its vast wealth, in India, Africa and the Caribbean.
London therefore made the ideal setting in which to imagine future visions – in books that destroy the metropolis through scenes of devastation, or rebuild it as a fairer society. From Mary Shelley’s disaster novel, The Last Man (1826), to H. G. Wells’s techno-utopian vision in The Sleeper Awakes (1899), London established its reputation as a city in which to enact different visions of the future in literature.
In the 20th century, such imagined futures became increasingly bleak, particularly in the post-World War II period, and by the 1970s writers were experimenting with surreal future London landscapes. More recently, London has become home to the leading characters in influential books for younger readers, such as J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere (1996). In the 21st century, as we come to terms with the environmental impact of climate change, the city has once again found a new role as a literary setting.
This display was curated by Dr Caroline Edwards, Senior Lecturer in Modern & Contemporary Literature at Birkbeck, University of London, and designed by Martin McGrath Studio. Quotes reprinted by kind permission of the authors/publishers.
Hermetic Island by Tristram Lansdowne
Conference report by Lucas Boulding
The London Science Fiction Research Community (LSFRC, possibly pronounced “Lucifer” for those who prefer their initalisms to be acronyms) played host to a larger crowd than usual in Gordon Square on Saturday 16th September for their first day-long conference, organised principally by Rhodri Davies, Francis Gene-Rowe, and Aren Roukema. One of the primary activities of the LSFRC is its monthly reading group: each year, the organisers decide on a theme and request suggestions for texts that might interact with the theme in interesting ways. Once the (typically extensive) list has been compiled, it is voted on by the community, and the texts which come out top form the next year’s reading list. “Organic Systems” was the topic of discussion for 2016-2017 – for anyone interested the topic for 2017-2018 is “Sublime Cognition: Science Fiction and Metaphysics” and the group meets in Gordon Square on the first Monday of each month (I’d advise checking the Facebook group for relevant details). Consequently, this one-day conference marked the culmination of a year of discussion and gently percolating thought regarding, in Chris Pak’s words, “interlocking systems intersecting on multiple levels” within sf and its accompanying critical discourse. I suppose it should be noted for reasons of editorial balance that I did attend at least some of the reading group sessions.
LSFRC Sublime Cognition poster by Sing Yun Lee
The first of Sci-Fi Sessions with Glyn Morgan, at Waterstones (Gower Street, London). Click here for details of future events, #SciFiSessions return in January 2018.
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.
By Jo Lindsay Walton
It is Wednesday. I am in Helsinki. So is everybody else.
There are a few issues of Vector and FOCUS on the freebies table, courtesy of Dave Lally; but, of course, not for long.
I put in time in Messukeskus 209, the academic track. On Wednesday, Merja Polvinin introduces the Finnish Society for SFF Research (Finfar), its journal Fafnir, and the theme of the next five days. The theme is ‘estrangement.’
Speculative fiction isn’t about other worlds, it’s about this world! In speculative fiction, we encounter real, familiar things, only made strange! There is a political value to such encounters. In the movie Elysium, we encounter something real and familiar (unjust access to healthcare), only that thing is made strange.
By making the world strange, we can unsettle the distinction between what is possible and what is not. By making the world strange, we can see the world for what it really is, including all its promise and possibility.
At least, that’s the idea. Over the five days, I am struck by how accommodating and flexible and familiar the concept of estrangement has become.