#SciFiSessions: M John Harrison & Gary Budden

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

HSMike 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.

harrisonCreation 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.

2018 Science Fiction Foundation Masterclass in Science Fiction Criticism

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 farah.sf@gmail.com.

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).

Information on past Masterclasses can be found at http://www.sf-foundation.org/masterclass. Please direct any enquiries to masterclass@sf-foundation.org.

#SciFiSessions: Adam Roberts & Jeff Noon

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.

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Andrew Wallace

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.

rtown2017Both 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.

Continue reading “#SciFiSessions: Adam Roberts & Jeff Noon”

Sometimes a spaceship is just a spaceship: Lavie Tidhar interviewed by Konrad Walewski

The British Science Fiction Association 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 September, award-winning author Lavie Tidhar was interviewed by critic and editor Konrad Walewski.

Andrew Wallace engages the metadata…

lavieLavie 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.

Continue reading “Sometimes a spaceship is just a spaceship: Lavie Tidhar interviewed by Konrad Walewski”

From Our Archive: Biographical Fantastic

Framing the Unframeable

What does the fantastic bring to the storying of lives? By Gary K. Wolfe

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“Unser Leben ist kein Traum, aber es soll und wird viellicht einer werden”.
(“Our life is no dream; but it ought to become one, and perhaps will.”)

– Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenburg), as quoted in George MacDonald’s Phantastes (1859)

“And do not rely on the fact that in your life, circumscribed, regulated, and prosaic, there are no such spectacular and terrifying things.”
– C. P. Cavafy, “Theodotus,” as quoted in Elizabeth Hand’s Last Summer at Mars Hill (1998)

When one looks at the published memoirs and autobiographical sketches written by science fiction and fantasy authors, mostly for the benefit of their fans – the sort of thing collected in Brian Aldiss and Harry Harrison’s Hell’s Cartographers (1975) or Martin Greenberg’s Fantastic Lives: Autobiographical Essays by Notable Science Fiction Writers (1981) – one is initially struck by the relative thinness and lack of genuine introspection of many of the essays. Typically, such pieces read as a variety of Augustinian conversion tales, depicting a precocious childhood, often solitary and bookish, sometimes sickly, sometimes featuring battles with parents to get into the adult sections of the library, and characteristically leading toward a moment of revelation: “And then came Hugo Gernsback” (Alfred Bester) [1] “Then I saw and bought an issue of something called Amazing Stories” (Damon Knight) [2] “So science fiction entered into and began warping my life from an early age” (Brian Aldiss) [3] etc. In one of the still-comparatively rare autobiographies of SF writers, Wonder’s Child: My Life in Science Fiction, Jack Williamson ends a chapter with the following cliffhanger:

Something else happened, however, in the spring of 1926, the first year I was out of high school. Something that changed my life. Hugo Gernsback launched a new pulp magazine, filled with reprinted stories by Jules Verne and H.G. Wells and A. Merritt and Edgar Rice Burroughs, stories he called “scientifiction.”

The magazine was Amazing Stories. [4]

Following these road-to-Damascus moments, however, these memoirs and autobiographies seldom become genuine testaments, instead amounting to not much more than narrative resumés, filled with anecdotes of encounters with fellow writers and editors and often with almost obsessively detailed accounts of sales figures and payments; one comes away with the sense that (a) science fiction writers all clearly remember the first SF story they read, and (b) they keep really good tax records.
Continue reading “From Our Archive: Biographical Fantastic”

London Meeting: Dan Abnett

The guest at tonight’s BSFA London meeting is Dan Abnett, author of a lot, including the “Gaunt’s Ghosts” series of Warhammer 40,000 novels, and the recent alternate history Triumff. He will be interviewed by Lee Harris.

As usual, the meeting will be head in the upstairs room of The Antelope: 22 Eaton Terrace, London, SW1W 8EZ. The closest tube station is Sloane Square, and a map is here.

There will be people in the bar from 6-ish, with the interview starting at 7. The meeting is free, and open to any and all — not just BSFA members — and there will be a raffle with a selection of sf books as prizes.

London Meeting: Lauren Beukes

The guest at tonight’s BSFA London meeting is Lauren Beukes, author of Moxyland and the forthcoming Zoo City. She will be interviewed by Jonathan McCalmont.

As usual, the meeting will be head in the upstairs room of The Antelope: 22 Eaton Terrace, London, SW1W 8EZ. The closest tube station is Sloane Square, and a map is here.

Also as usual, there will be people in the bar from 6-ish, with the interview starting at 7. The meeting is free, and open to any and all, though there will be a raffle with a selection of sf books as prizes.

Beukes is also doing a signing at Forbidden Planet, London on Thursday 29th July between 6 pm and 7 pm, and is the guest at a British Fantasy Society Open Meeting, in the George, The Strand, London, on Saturday 31st July, from 1 pm to 5 pm.

Sir Arthur C Clarke, 1917–2008

The BBC has the news of Sir Arthur’s death, and an obituary.

I don’t know what to say. There was a sense in which Arthur C Clarke was science fiction, for me. Looking at my shelves, I don’t actually own that many of his books; but I’ve read a lot of them, and they always seemed to capture the best — grandest, most noble — of the potential of science fiction. And, of course, his influence on some of my favourite writers and novels was evident.

I think I will read, or re-read, some of his fiction soon. Right now, I think I’ll go outside and look at the stars.