UK General Election 2010: live lessons in political horse-trade plotting

Paul Raven @ 07-05-2010

I’m a little nusy again today, so in lieu of posting anything more substantial, I’ll suggest that those of you who aren’t already might want to keep half an eye on the post-election wrangling here in the UK, for many reasons. First and foremost, the result was unexpected, and unusual in that it sees the UK dealing with the sort of horse-trading on policy that many European governments (and, I believe, Canada) have to go through almost every time they hold a election.

But there’s more: the turn-out is way up, echoing the recent US elections; the markets are jittery, because the economic stability of the UK is on the line; serious procedural cock-ups have portrayed the electoral process to be at best flawed, at worst broken; and finally, no one really knows what’s going to happen, which is a weird place for a traditionally two-party nation to find itself in.

And finally, it’s your chance for a masterclass in spin, razorblade diplomacy and hidden double-bluff messages in public announcements. Great fuel for writers, and (I imagine) pretty fascinating for anyone with an interest in the actual mechanics of political process. I’ll leave your choice of news source down to your personal preference, but with the suggestion that trying a channel you don’t usually plug into will bring a whole new meta-level of lessons about politics into the frame… 🙂

Sci-Fi London 2010: much more than just a sci-fi film festival

Paul Raven @ 13-04-2010

This year’s Sci-Fi London film festival is the ninth event to bear the name. Running from Wednesday 28th April through Monday 3rd May 2010, and themed around the concept of “life in 2050”, it promises an even bigger line-up of world premieres and screenings of new, rare and obscure science fiction cinema from around the world than ever before. But in addition to all that celluloid goodness, there’s lots of other stuff going on, giving Sci-Fi London something of the feel of a more traditional science fiction convention (if that’s not a complete oxymoron).

Sci-Fi London 2010

For instance, the Arthur C Clarke Award ceremony is held early in the week of the festival, and this year (should you be lucky enough to get an invite) you’ll get to find out whether China Mieville gets to take home the prize a second time. But there are also numerous workshops and discussion panels going on over the course of the week, and I’m very proud to be able to say that yours truly has been invited to take part in some of them.

The full programme can be found on the Sci-Fi London website, of course, but in the interests of mild self-aggrandizement, here are the four panels I’m involved with:

  • Saturday 1st May 2010, 1pm: FUTURE PUBLISHING? – The publishing industry is coming under assault from all sides. Are Kindles, iPads and smartphones signalling the end of traditional paper publishing? Customers no longer believe publishers can justify the prices they charge, not just for books, newspapers, magazines and periodicals are also suffering. How will the publishing industry re-shape itself for 2050? Will Apple and Google become the new big publishing houses? And if ubiquitous digital delivery means anyone can be a publisher, will we even need the big guns anymore? (PGR as panellist)
  • Saturday 1st May 2010, 2:15pm: THE 30-SECOND COMMUTE – 3D printing, rapid prototyping, offshore outsourcing, automation, evolutionary design software, expert systems, voice processing and synthesis… technologies, network economies and geopolitical shifts are currently making mincemeat out of many careers and jobs that have lasted for centuries. What will we be doing to earn a living in 2050; what will seem as archaic as a thatcher or fletcher does today? And what will fill the days (and pockets and bellies) of the unemployed? (PGR as moderator)
  • Saturday 1st May 2010, 5:45pm: MY FRIEND WENT TO 2050 AND ALL I GOT WAS THIS INDECIPHERABLE MIXED-MEDIA POST-POSTMODERNIST METAPHOR – What will the arts scene look like in 2050? What new (or old!) forms and mediums will be grabbing the headlines, filling our homes and galleries and concert venues and mobile devices? And how will their creators be making a living from it? (PGR as moderator)
  • Sunday 2nd May 2010, 5:15pm: THE FAITH WARS – The ideological square-off between religion and science is here to stay… or is it? Perhaps the dichotomy is a falsehood, and everyone will learn to live and let live. Or perhaps faith will become the fracture point of an energy-hungry civilization, a warring sphere of philosophies. What will we believe in 2050? Is believing that others should act according to our beliefs the fault that unites the two sides of the argument? (PGR as moderator)

If the topics for discussion look familiar, well, there’s a reason for that: I sent the Sci-Fi London organisers a bunch of ideas based on discussions we’ve had here at Futurismic, and they liked some of them so much that they decided to saddle me with steering the conversations in question… how’s that for karma, eh?

In fact, I’m rather awed by some of the pundits and thinkers I’ll be appearing with – that Faith Wars panel features not only the afore-mentioned China Mieville, but also Ruth Gledhill, the religion correspondant for The Times; Steve Fuller, Professor of Sociology at the University of Warwick; and Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association. It promises to be a lively (if not outright contentious) debate, that’s for certain, and I’m really looking forward to it.

(Although, to be honest, I’m also bricking it somewhat; one opinionated and scruffy webzine publisher attempting to ride herd on four super-sharp intellectuals should be a sight worth seeing, if only for the LULZ. Maybe they’ll video it, then screen it at next year’s festival? Be sure to bring popcorn!)

So, if you’re in or around London at the turn of the month, there’s no shortage of interesting diversions for the science fiction aficionado over the weekend – it’d be excellent to see some of you there. 🙂

2010 Arthur C Clarke Award shortlist announced

Paul Raven @ 31-03-2010

It’s that time of year again – the judging panel of the Arthur C Clarke Award for Science Fiction Literature have released the final shortlist for the 2010 contest. Here’s the six finalists, plus some statistical bits and bobs:

  • Spirit – Gwyneth Jones (Gollancz)
  • The City & The City – China Miéville (Macmillan)
  • Yellow Blue Tibia – Adam Roberts* (Gollancz)
  • Galileo’s Dream – Kim Stanley Robinson (HarperCollins)
  • Far North – Marcel Theroux (Faber & Faber)
  • Retribution Falls – Chris Wooding (Gollancz)

Gwyneth Jones, China Miéville, Adam Roberts and Kim Stanley Robinson have all previously been nominated for the Award and both Gwyneth Jones and China Miéville are previous winners.

Gwyneth Jones has been nominated five times, and won the Award once for her novel Bold As Love in 2002.

China Miéville has been nominated three times, and won the Award twice with Perdido Street Station in 2001 and Iron Council in 2005. If China Miéville wins in 2010 he will become the first author to win the prize three times in its twenty-four year history.

This is the first time Marcel Theroux and Chris Wooding have been nominated.

This year’s six shortlisted titles were selected from a long list of forty-one eligible submissions put forward by seventeen different publishing houses and imprints.

I’ve read one of the six (namely the Mieville, which I thought was excellent) – how about you lot? Care to cast the odds on the eventual winner?

I like the Clarke Award because it tends to highlight books I’m interested in far more reliably than the popularity contest awards (e.g. the Hugos), but to some people its selection process seems elitist – do you tend to agree more with juried awards or open-voted ones?

[* Regular readers will be aware that Adam Roberts thinks SF awards are rubbish, of course. So I kind of hope he wins, just in case the dichotomy makes him disappear in a puff of self-deprecatory puns. Not that I want the fellow to disappear; of course (unlike some aging but certainly-not-po-faced prog fans) – I just think it’d be a jolly fun way to end the ceremony. 😉 ]

Happy new year!

Paul Raven @ 31-12-2009

By the time this post goes live, I (and doubtless most other Brits) will be preparing to celebrate the turning of another year… so I thought I’d take this opportunity to thank you all for following Futurismic in 2009, and to wish you all a great 2010.

The new year promises – by pretty much any metric you care to use – to be even more full of big changes and wild stories, as the line between us and the unevenly distributed future becomes ever more fuzzy and ill-defined. We’ll be doing our best to map it here at Futurismic; I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

Happy new year! 🙂

What will reading look like in 2010?

Paul Raven @ 31-12-2009

Well, it’s been a lively year for changes in the publishing industry, hasn’t it? This time last year, I wrote a post titled 2009 – the year the physical bookstore lays down and dies? – and over here in the UK, Borders has just gone into receivership, a few days before Amazon claimed to have sold more Kindle ebooks over the holiday period than dead-tree books. The times, they are a-changin’.

I still don’t have an ebook reader myself, because I’ve not seen one that’s open enough for my tastes – I don’t want to be tied to one retailer (same reason I don’t have an iPod), and I want to be able to read multiple formats without jumping through hoops. But 2010 looks like the year that the tablet computer makes its presence felt (if Apple are going to release one, you can bet your boots that cheaper and more open devices will follow close on its heels), and that means all we need is a decent platform for reading ebooks.

Enter inventor and Singularitarian Ray Kurzweil, who has a track record of disruptive developments in an assortment of industries; his new company knfb Reading Technology (a cooperative venture with the National Federation of the Blind) is set to debut an ebook software platform called Blio at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show next week. It’s already available for free download, with versions for PC, iPhone and iPod Touch, and (according to the linked article) it trumps pretty much all of the competition on features and accessibility. Blio may well turn out to be the grenade in the ebook punchbowl… I’m hoping an Android-native version appears pretty soon.

And what of the humble magazine? Distribution and print costs are killing off all but the most tenacious print publishing niches at a ferocious rate, but there’s plenty of people trying to find a new paradigm for the format – here’s a video demo of Mag+, the result of a collaboration between a Swedish publisher and BERG, the London-based design outfit [via MetaFilter]:

Of course, you may be thinking that all these developments are attempts to saddle a horse that has already fled the stable… after all, no-one reads any more, do they? Well, actually, they do – the consumption patterns and preferred media have changed rapidly, but a recent University of California study shows that the amount of text consumed by the average American has actually tripled since 1980, and social networks like Facebook have ordinary people writing more regularly than ever before (although the quality and nature of the material they write is admittedly pretty variable).

The one thing we can probably say for certain is that people are still going to be reading in 2010, and for a long time afterwards. The challenge for writers and publishers (of fiction or otherwise) are to find the channels that work best for the material they produce, and then to find a way to leverage that channel to make it a viable business model.

Interesting times ahead, don’t you think? 🙂