Charlie Stross on the economic naivete of science fiction

Paul Raven @ 08-10-2010

The Strossmeister crops up in a brief interview at New Scientist*, and says the following:

Science fiction has traditionally been economically naive, with a strong libertarian streak which I think is like a crude Leninism. That’s attractive because it could be used to explain everything, and if only we lived by its tenets, everything would be perfect. Except that we have to assume perfectly uniform and spherical humans of a fixed density for it to work. Humans are complex and if you show them a system, a subset of them will try to game the system for their own benefits. I’ve seen a joking case made that Star Trek‘s Federation is propaganda from a communist dictatorship; they have no money and have replicators to provide everything. But behind the gleaming shiny space ships is a howling vacuum of no explanation.

I think we’re starting to see a move away from that situation, at least in (some) written sf – Stross himself, plus Doctorow, Ken MacLeod, Karl Schroeder, Bruce Sterling and others, they’re all trying to engage those economic realities and make them part of the story. Problem is that economics is an inherently politicised subject, so one reader’s engagement with reality will be another reader’s naive socialist utopia (or libertarian paradise, or, or, or…). You can’t please all the people all the time, after all… and I rather suspect it’s that underlying naive utopianism of Trek that has leant it such lasting appeal.

[ * OK, so it’s a very brief interview, but even so, was “SF author: I am a spaceman” the best pull-quote the NS sub-ed could come up with? Really? ]

Not-so-new ‘zine on the block: InterNova

Paul Raven @ 29-09-2010

Via the tireless Charles Tan* at the World SF Blog comes news that international sf magazine InterNova has relaunched as a webzine for your free-to-read enjoyment. The new issue includes fiction from Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, Croatia, Germany and the UK, two Italian classic reprints and a couple of non-fiction pieces. Get clickin’.

[ * Seriously, the dude’s a force of nature; he’s either the pseudonym of a team of three or more, or has had some sort of elective surgery to remove the part of his brain that tells him when to sleep. ‘Nuff respect. ]

Must-read writer interview: Ted Chiang

Paul Raven @ 23-07-2010

Ted Chiang may not be the most prolific sf short story writer ever, but you’d be hard pressed to find many folk who wouldn’t concede that he’s one of the best. So go check out this interview with him at BoingBoing if you haven’t already… here’s a snippet where Chiang describes his writing process, which is rather about-face by comparison to those I’ve heard from other writers, though it makes a compelling sort of sense:

In general, if there’s an idea I’m interested in, I usually think about that for a long time and write down my speculations or just ideas about how it could become a story, but I don’t actually start writing the story itself until I know how the story ends. Typically the first part of the story that I write is the very ending, either the last paragraph of the story or a paragraph near the end. Once I have the destination in mind then I can build the rest of the story around that or build the rest of the story in such a way as to lead up to that. Usually the second thing I write is the opening of the story and then I write the rest of the story in almost random order. I just keep writing scenes until I’ve connected the beginning and the end. I write the key scenes or what I think of as the landmark scenes first, and then I just fill in backwards and forwards.

Good interview: go read. And when you’ve finished it, go read some Ted Chiang stories if you haven’t already. And if you have, why not read ’em again?

Awards season

Paul Raven @ 06-04-2010

Well, I’m back from Eastercon, and – as is traditional at this time of year – the genre fiction awards cycle is gearing up, with results and nominations and longlists flying in every which direction.

At Eastercon itself, China Mieville took the BSFA Best Novel award while the inimitable Ian Watson and Roberto Quaglia took the Short Fiction gong, and we got to hear the Hugo nominations announced to the world; last week saw the Arthur C Clarke Award shortlist announced, and the Philip K Dick Award has just been called for Bitter Angels by C L Anderson – the latter being both a book and author of whom I am completely unaware.

If nothing else, the genre scene’s ability (and will) to debate the merits of the the work produced within it (and, in some cases, beyond it) shows little sign of going away… and as far as I’m concerned, that’s the very best thing about all these awards. I’m much less bothered by who wins than I am by the discussions they generate about the winners, the losers and the utterly overlooked.

But I was thinking perhaps I should start some sort of Futurismic annual-awards-type-of-thing, if only because our reader demographic here is skewed rather more away from regular fandom (if there can be said to be any such thing) than many other genre webzines. What do you think? Suggestions for categories and nominees more than welcome – pipe up in the comments. 🙂

Stross: how I ended up as a science fiction writer

Tom James @ 11-06-2009

lifeCharles Stross is recounting the long journey to his current position has one of the stars of British science fiction, beginning with his first steps into education during the years of Thatcher:

I already knew (from an early age — 12 or so) that I wanted to be an SF writer. But there was a fly in the ointment — a fly called Margaret Thatcher. I turned 15 in 1979, the year the conservatives won an election and the Thatcherite revolution swung into action.

Unemployment soared from around one million to over three million in twelve months as the UK experienced the worst industrial recession since the end of the second world war (largely caused by Thatcher’s dramatic decision to cut most of the state-owned industries off at their knees, on the assumption that the workers would find new and more productive jobs sooner rather than later — a misplaced assumption, as it turned out).

I come from a middle-class background; I could expect to go to university, but not to rely indefinitely on parental hand-outs. “You’ll need some kind of way to earn a living while you’re trying to write,” the careers guidance teachers told me.

A familiar story, as this happy university dropout will affirm (except it was Blair instead of Thatcher and the economic collapse only really started after I left).
[image from The Wandering Angel]

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