Wednesday, 25 May 2011

White Rabbit Object

I'm back - late and rather quieter than before due to a horrible stomach bug but back and still internally leaping about with the giddy spring fever feeling I got last Thursday night when I realised that one of my books was in a glass display case at The British Library.  (Natural History, for those of you who wondered).  Am foolishly, madly thrilled and excited beyond all sane reason.  I wish my Dad could see it.

Anyhoo, that's enough about me.  The reason for my discovery and consumption of far too much free wine at said Library was the opening of the Out Of This World: Science Fiction But Not As You Know It exhibition.  This is something of a landmark moment for SF which has formerly often been treated with great condescension by literary establishment powers-that-be.  However, as China Mieville stated during his opening speech, it does rather look as though our alienation is over.  As much as we have been critically and socially dismissed it seems the era of the nerd is upon us and the culture is finally taking us if not to its heart then at least into its front parlour where we can be introduced to others.

Speaking as someone who was never outside the genre I have to say that this is both delightfully gratifying and at the same time deeply disturbing.  I used to have a long and bitter vengefulness against the literati - a nebulous set of non-named individuals, critics, writers and publishers who existed as a kind of cloud-computed object hovering at the limit of my awareness, unified and identified by their disparaging attitude to SF.   This acted like rocket fuel on my personal ambitions to write SF that wasn't only good in its own right but also kicked their butts on their own hallowed turf.  Spite as might?  You betcha.  And now?  Seems my task here is done...and not by myself really, but by the many other writers from both sides of the erstwhile divide who have been busy taking up each other's tools and crafting busily.  And by this exhibition which doesn't only suggest a history and evolution of SF which is generous and wide-ranging but also, by its existence, implies that it is safe to pop up from the rabbithole.

Why I go off in search of another hit of the crack that is artistic alienation (and I suspect I'll find it easily in that freshly renewed skirmish of They Might Be Writing SF But They'd Better Do It Properly) if you have the time and ability to do so there are weekly events as well as the exhibit itself to enjoy down at The Library.  And I would go to all of them if I lived in London.  If not you can still watch the Discovery Channel for their tie-in programming.

To. The.  Library...     *bounce*  *bounce*  *boing* 

(The title of this blog refers to the code that hacked the computers in Jurassic Park and let all the monsters out by the way.  It's a reference to the library exhibit, a white rabbit object of unknowable consequence...but I always like it when monsters get out.  Is our task really done?  No, not at all.  Even if the humanistic side of the task - to gain recognition as artistic equals - was a done deal the wider goal of producing mindbending fiction about our relationship to ourselves and our own machineries will never be over.  The T-Rex of SF is free to roam and ravage unhindered.)

Wednesday, 4 May 2011


A friend, the lovely and talented Adrian Tchaikovsky, writer of fantasy, recently posted this link to me, because he knows I'm really interested in gaming and the way that it affects our lives, particularly because I'm a writer and many games are providing lots of experience and narrative that books and stories have to compete with.  Check it out.

The Escapist Gamification Video

At first I would have completely gone along with all of this - when I first encountered World of Warcraft years ago it seemed a really obvious trend.  But now, having played a lot more games and stuck with that one (with a few breaks) I'm not so sure. 

One thing  I have noticed is that Warcraft, just for example, is now as boring as a secretarial job, but for me as a has-no-time no-raid casual player, it also feels like being the secretary to a bunch of people higher up the ladder who are getting all the bonuses and dishing out all the crap.  Yes, you Leet people, I mean you.  Partly that's the grind mechanics of the game and partly the element of the player base who reacted most powerfully to the gamification tactics outlined in the above video.  It's Skinner evolution.  Well, ouchie.  This is borification.  I’m down now to RP as my only escape fun (am now pretty immune to reward systems of any kind) and that relies on other people turning up and having enough energy to think of a storyline - and if we had that we'd probably be doing something else anyway.  

So, by contrast, writing is now looking like an ultimate game pastime, just like it used to years ago when there was no telly worth watching except for the odd programme.  I can't even muster the enthusiasm to open the boxes on really great games that I already bought.  I'd rather read.  The rewards are so much better.

On the other hand if I did have to go back to work as a secretary I wouldn't mind game rewards for the filing etc.  I realise this is what a wage and bonuses are supposed to represent but perhaps they were never administered at a level you could see in operation in real time with a little progress bar and an achievement chart with lolcats on it.

I wait for the real world rewards of genuine social pleasure, or at least benign self interest, to reach out and eat gamification.  But then, I am getting old and cranky and have been inured by years of service to the machine.  What do y'all think?

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Aussie Rules

Finally the schools are back in session and I have time to write my report on Swancon/Natcon 2011, held in Perth WA.  They were kind enough to invite me as their guest and I had the most wonderful time.  Not only was the hotel all spanking new and special (Hyatt Perth) with the nicest staff I've ever come across but from the con committee to the WA fandom everyone was just so darn lovely!  Was there something in the water?  I prefer to imagine all Australians are simply like this and it wasn't all because they had to be nice to me - so nobody shatter my illusions...

Also guest starring there was Ellen Datlow, The Editor (she gets caps for her epic status), who was a teacher of mine back at Clarion West in 1996.  We had a lot of fun catching up on old times and making new friends from the Australian community.  Since neither of us look a day older than we did in 1996 it's hard to believe we've come so far in our careers :P  And appearing with us was the delightful Sean Williams - where has he been...oh, in Australia, right...  But for you Ausfans from the UK, mark your calendar for June 4, he and Garth Nix are appearing at Hay-on-Wye.  (And I'm there on the 3rd as part of How The Light Gets In!).  So don't miss us!

We met up with Aussie horror writer Kaaron Warren and went on an exploratory shopping trip around Perth's antique shops (mostly closed due to holiday weekend alas) but we found the most cute and unusual dresses in one of the weirder stores.  If you have been at a loss as to what to do with Auntie Edna's embroidered tablecloths or would like to look cute in unique vintage items check out this lady's designs at Unsunkfunk.  For the crazy shoe people in you I also attach this link to Robert Tabor's Site though it has nothing to do with Australia - Ellen this link is specially for YOU!

And lest you think it was all clothesmania, frippery and champagne I can confirm reports that weighty discussions were had about the state of publishing, feminism in SF and all that other interesting jazz, not to mention the late night chinwagging and wine swigging that feeds the soul even as it pickles the liver.  More about these meat-feast topics in later blog posts however.  For today the children are in school and I have to actually write something....oo novel experience!