at play in infinity

Fiction, Novelists, Philosophy, Science Fiction, Television

 

I spent Friday both talking and listening at the wildly enjoyable Playful 2011 Conference (that’s me on-stage above – pic @thisisplayful). This post is a very quick follow-on to that. I’ve had quite a few requests for both the talk itself and a list of the writers I mentioned.

So, I’ve posted the talk on my read a story page, and I’ve put together this list of people I mentioned. Oh, and do bear in mind that it’s a not remotely exhaustive list – there’s huge amounts of wonderful SF writing out there that alas I just couldn’t fit into the talk. Enjoy!

I started by defining science fiction, and (with Brian Aldiss’ help) arguing that ‘Frankenstein’ is the first real SF novel.

  • Mary Shelley – ‘Frankenstein – The Modern Prometheus’, available in multiple modern editions and well worth a read.
  • Brian Aldiss – his quote came from ‘The Detached Retina – Aspects of Science Fiction and Fantasy’. He’s a Grand Master of modern SF – try ‘Hot House’ or ‘Non Stop’ to start with.

After that, there was a quick wander through some cyberpunk and post-cyberpunk writers. I touched on Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross, before digging into 80s / 90s cyberpunk:

  • William Gibson – namer of cyberspace in ‘Neuromancer’; one of the few people who genuinely seems to understand Western modernity.
  • Pat Cadigan – one of Gibson’s fellow cyberpunks, ‘Synners’ is a good starting point (and was very influential on philosopher Nick Land, who’s mentioned a little further down).
  • Neal Stephenson – pretty indescribable; has explored everything from virtual reality to the complete history of money. Try ‘The Diamond Age’ for starters.

Key precursors included:

  • John Brunner – I mentioned ‘Shockwave Rider’, because that’s where he invents the computer worm. It’s a great read, but to be honest I prefer ‘Stand On Zanzibar’, which gets the modern media-scape worryingly right.
  • Michael Moorcock – another Grand Master. When he writes genre fiction he’s really a fantasist, but the deeply fractured Jerry Cornelius stories feel more like the modern world than just about anything else. Try ‘The Lives and Times of Jerry Cornelius – Stories of the Modern Apocalypse’.
  • M. John Harrison – a contemporary of Moorcock and Ballard’s who’s matured into one of Britain’s finest writers in any genre. Start with his recent SF novel ‘Light’ and go from there – riches await!
  • William Burroughs – searingly radical, searingly peculiar, and someone far beyond any sort of genre, tho’ his writing is shot through with a deep pulp SF sensibility. Why not check out ‘The Soft Machine’, first of a trilogy of pretty SFnal novels?

Then, a step into television. Pretty much everyone’s seen the original Star Trek, and it seems to be on many TV channels most of the time. If you fancy diving into the more recent Battlestar Galactica, it all kicked off in 2003 with a very watchable three hour miniseries. If you enjoy that, it was followed by four seasons of generally fantastic SF tv, plus sundry spinoffs.

And then, back to prose fiction –

  • Samuel R. Delany – ‘Tales of Plagues and Carnivals’ in ‘Return to Neveryon’ was the first mainstream-published piece of fiction to deal with AIDS. The Neveryon books are more fantasy than SF – if you want to experience Delany in full futuristic flight, try ‘Babel-17’ or ‘Nova’.

That led to a discussion of 70s feminist SF. I talked in detail about –

  • Joanna Russ – ‘The Female Man’ – a formally daring, deeply radical critique of the problems of femininity.
  • Ursula K. Le Guin – ‘Left Hand of Darkness’- aliens that can be either male or female, but are mostly neither; a brilliant exploration of gender as construct rather than immutable identity.
  • James Tiptree Jr – ‘Her Smoke Rose Up Forever’ collects her finest short stories – unmissable. To read about her complex and fascinating life, pick up Julie Phillips’ biography of her, ‘James Tiptree Jr – the Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon’.

I also mentioned Octavia Butler – try her Xenogenesis trilogy, recently published in a single volume as ‘Lilith’s Brood’. Then, we moved on to science fiction’s pessimists –

  • H. P. Lovecraft – I quoted from ‘The Call of Cthulhu’, one of his most famous stories. There are three Penguin Classics anthologies of his fiction, ‘The Call of Cthulhu (and other weird stories)’ ‘The Thing on the Doorstep (and other…)’ and ‘The Dreams in the Witch House (and other…)’, which together collect all of his major stories and some fun minor stuff. Personally, I’d start with ‘The Thing on the Doorstep’, if only for the remarkable Antarctic odyssey ‘At The Mountains of Madness’.
  • J.G. Ballard – I mentioned the memorably shocking ‘Crash’. If you want to ease yourself in a little more gently, try starting at the beginning with ‘The Drowned World’, getting a bit of context with the autobiographical ‘Empire of the Sun’, or digging into either or both of the two volume ‘Collected Short Stories’.

And finally, I ran out of time before getting to the philosophers:

  • Nick Land – the 90s’ leading cyber-theorist. Urbanomic Press have recently published ‘Fanged Noumena’, his collected writings, in a rather lovely little edition. The bastard child of continental philosophy and cyberpunk, now living the postmodern dream in Singapore.
  • Reza Negarestani – ‘Cyclonopedia – Complicity with Autonomous Materials’. It’s kind of indescribable; very broadly a Lovecraftian demonology of the war on terror, cross-bred with a terminator whose OS has been rewritten by Deleuze, Guattari and Ibn Khaldun.

For a broader critical context on science fiction, I’d recommend ‘The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction’ (ed Farah Mendlesohn / Edward James) – an academic work that does a great job of both summing up the history of SF and covering its major modern concerns.

Of neccesity, this list leaves out infinitely more than it includes. Other people writing currently who are definitely worth looking out for include Iain M. Banks (of course), Liz Williams, Mark Pilkington, Hal Duncan, Jaine Fenn, China Mieville, and Justina Robson. If you’re digging around historically, the SF and Fantasy Masterworks series collect some really fantastic novels and short story collections from the 19th and 20th centuries.

So, that’s it – hopefully some useful suggestions there. Of course, the best thing to do is just wander down to the bookshop, root around a bit, and get stuck into whatever seems to be inspiring. So, enjoy! And, in the simultaneously paranoid and visionary final words of 50s SF movie classic ‘The Thing From Outer Space’ –

KEEP WATCHING THE SKIES!!!!

WriteClub comes to London!

Fiction, Meetup, Non-fiction

For a little while now, I’ve been chatting to Leif Kendall, Brighton copywriter and organiser of the rather wonderful Brighton writers’ meetup WriteClub, about doing a London version. Well, it’s happening!

We’ll be at The Yorkshire Grey at 7.30 on Tuesday 1 December at 19:30. Here’s a map; address as follows:

46 Langham Street
London
W1W 7AX

You’ll know Leif by his copy of Don Quixote. To complement the prose – and salute Ezra Pound, who used to live next door – I’ll be sat there with a copy of his epic poetic tome, The Cantos.

Here’s Leif’s post about the evening. It’s going to be a very open, friendly night; so, if you’re any sort of writer, and fancy chatting about fiction, non-fiction, copywriting, screenwriting, in an on-line, off-line or broadcast context (or indeed whatever else takes your fancy) look forward to seeing you there!

Starting the next book

Fantasy, Fiction, My fiction, Science Fiction

Another quiet month on the blog, as ever because it’s been very hectic elsewhere. I’ve started a really fascinating project for Counterpoint, the British Council’s thinktank – more details over at my Disappearing blog, or at the project site itself – and I’ve begun writing the next novel, which is what this post is about.

So far, I’m about ten thousand words into it, and it’s becoming clear that it’s at once a bit of a departure, and a logical progression, from what I’ve been writing over the last few years. On the one hand, it’s very much science fiction, rather than fantasy or horror; but on the other, as I write, I’m slowly realising that it shares a set of obsessions with previous, more fantastical stories.

I don’t want to go into too much detail, because I’m still working it all out myself! But, first of all, it shares a common set of inspirations. It’s basically ‘Faust’ crossed with ‘The Third Man’, in space. As I write it, I realise I’m getting a lot of texture from sources that have previously driven the more purely weird fiction, including Julian Maclaren Ross’ louche Soho memoirs (which very directly inspired London fictions like ‘Sohoitis’ and ‘Golden’), and elegantly restrained English horror movies like ‘Dead of Night’ and ‘The Innocents’ (which have sat behind pretty much everything I’ve ever done). It’s a lot of fun dropping these kind of influences into a fully science fictional environment, and watching both bend out of shape as they accomodate each other.

Secondly, it shares an understanding of how we interact with technology, and what that means in fiction. There’s a fair amount of talk about how science fiction writing is a subset of fantasy, because it too is set in and deals with invented worlds (albeit worlds based, or aspiring to be based, on actual science). Alternatively, people argue that fantasy is a subset of science fiction, because, through its scientific content, science fiction engages with actual reality in a way that fantasy refuses to. As I write the new book, I’m beginning to think that they are actually equivalent at a deep level. Both posit invented tools for dealing with a particular world, or invented components of a given world, and then explore the impact of either or both on the people who engage with them. Whether those tools and components are technological or fantastic in nature is immaterial.

Given that, switching from writing fantasy and horror to science fiction has been easier than I thought it would be. And in doing so, and in writing about in particular information technologies that very much mirror what we’ve got now, I’ve realised that we tend to overlay the science fictional elements of the world we live in now with fantasy. And, of course, there’s the fact that, by living in a consumer culture that’s constantly presenting with us with novelties, we live in a world built on the kind of exploration of and reaction to newness that’s central to these two kinds of genre fiction. These are both thoughts I’m still pondering, and just beginning to explore in the book – it’s going to be interesting to see what kind of argument develops from them as I write.

So, that’s what I’ve been up to, and that’s the new book. Oh, and there’s a new short story, too – but it needs a little editing before I submit it anywhere, so more on that another time…

It’s the Clarion West Writeathon!

Fiction, Sponsorship, Workshops

Well, huge embarrassment as I’m taking part in the Clarion West Writeathon, but I HAVEN’T MENTIONED IT ALL!

For which I deserve slapping with many wet fish. No excuses about the deep hecticness of the last few weeks will do. Anyway, now I am mentioning it, and urging everyone to support it, which you can do by clicking on the donation button here.

So, first of all, a little about Clarion West. It’s been described as ‘Boot Camp for Writers’, and is an excellent, six week long, speculative fiction writing course held annually in Seattle.

Previous attendees include such luminaries as Ted Chiang, Cory Doctorow, Cat Rambo, Justina Robson, Kathryn Cramer and Gordon van Gelder. Previous instructors include everyone from Chuck Palahniuk to Ursula K. Le Guin, via China Mieville, Ellen Datlow, and many others. Many UK and US writer friends have attended, and got huge amounts out of it.

Clarion West itself is run primarily by volunteers, for volunteers; donations go to help cover the costs of making the workshop happen, and support any attendees who need it.

And what about the Writeathon itself? Well, it began on 21st June, and runs until 31st July. I set myself the goal of plotting out the next novel, and drafting a short story – either the dragon blitz one, or my long gestating Charles Hawtrey ghost story.

As it turns out, most of my time so far has gone into plotting the novel, which is (very broadly speaking) ‘The Third Man’ in space, with additional magic and suburbs.

So far, I’ve worked out the opening quarter of it, which is set in the docking area of *HUGE* space station orbiting a post-nuclear apocalypse Earth. Moving on to the middle parts of the novel, which are set further into the space station, I realised I had more worldbuilding to do.

So, I’ve been hanging out in Westfield Shopping Centre (one of the single most spaceship-like artefacts that humanity has yet created), pondering Ballard, reading up on ubiquitous computing, and exploring the relationship between Renaissance magic, coding and branding – all three ways of bending malleable worlds to personal or corporate will.

More updates to come over the next week or so, mostly by Twitter (follow me at @al_robertson). In the meantime, I’d urge you once again to donate to the Writeathon here. Or, you can support me personally by regularly hassling me to make sure that I’m writing!

Oh, and the short story drafting – bit of an imponderable, given that the novel plotting is taking a lot longer than I thought it would, but hopefully next week I should be able to clear a day and blast out a first draft of the dragon blitz story. Fingers crossed!

Beating the Little Hater

Fiction, Gnosis, Hip hop, Videos, Writing

Well, I had to post this from Jay Smooth at illdoctrine because it resonates with a lot of what I’ve been thinking about and feeling lately. I’ve had a bit of a creative hiatus; but now, I’m throwing myself back into the novel and – having watched this – doing so with even more energy. Enjoy!

And how do I beat the Little Hater? Work hard and consistently at whatever I’m writing, think about it as lots of little problems to solve rather than one big one, and whenever it comes to a ‘what to do next?’ question try to be guided by a combination of obsession and a sense of fun.

Oh, and I think of my Little Hater as my Inner Critic – because there are times, when I’ve written something and need to take it apart, spot all the flaws, and then smooth them right out, that I let him loose, because all that criticism he generates can come in very handy indeed.

William Blake understood as a West London Shopping Mall

Aliens, Ballard, Fiction, Film, Ghosts, Landscape, London, Modernity, Poets, William Blake

On Sunday, I went to the William Blake 1809 exhibition at Tate Britain, reviewed here in The Guardian. It’s absolutely fascinating; it restages his first and only public display of prints and paintings, and sets them in a context which helps explain their abysmal critical reception.

I wanted to do a video review of it, but unfortunately (as I discovered) you’re not allowed to take pictures in the Tate. This raises fascinating questions about copyright, and the Tate’s understanding of differences between reproduction and interpretation in a digital world; more on that in an upcoming post.

In the meantime, I still wanted to do a video blog entry reviewing the exhibition, but of course I couldn’t show any of the images. So I decided to follow Ballard, and understand it in terms of a West London Shopping Mall – which led to this short film:

 

It’s available in higher resolution at Vimeo here:

William Blake understood as a West London Shopping Mall from Al Robertson on Vimeo.

[digg=http://digg.com/arts_culture/William_Blake_understood_as_a_West_London_Shopping_Mall]

New story, new gig, new cool thing

Fiction, Gigs, Heaviosity, Music, My fiction, Poetry, Short stories

A quick post, as there’s much news at Allumination Towers this week. First of all, even as we speak the new Black Static is hitting the streets, with my story ‘De Profundis’ in it, plus much other groovy stuff. You can order it from the TTA Press website, and it should also be available in Borders any day now.

Secondly, the recent discovery of a new, super heavy element is actually a cosmic sign that, once again, there’s a Graan gig coming up. We’re playing the Drones Club on Friday, June 19th, at the Others – 6-8 Manor Road, London N16 5SA.

As ever I shall be on vocals, performing over ambient metal mayhem with (after this week’s rehearsal) possibly a bit of Fall fuelled Renaissance blues heaviosity too. I think we’re on at about 9.00pm – alas, won’t be too big a post-gig night for me as I’ve got to be up at 6.30am the next day to help row Henry VIII from the Tower of London to Hampton Court Palace.

And finally, interesting conversations happening this morning about a possible multimedia event in August. No final detail as yet, but it looks like it could be very cool indeed. Watch this space… (and, as ever, KEEP WATCHING THE SKIES!)

<EDIT> Black Static 11 is now in Borders Islington, which I assume means that it will also be in Borders across London and elsewhere,  shelved with Interzone.

Kirk 1, Spock 0

Aliens, Culture, Fiction, Film, Gentleman thieves, Science Fiction, Space is deep, Television

Off to Star Trek on Saturday with H; hugely enjoyable, but – when I came back home and picked up my new Sexton Blake compilation (good fun and wide ranging, but not necessarily the best of Blake) to read myself to sleep – something quite interesting struck me.

The Star Trek TV series is one of the most potent products of 20th Century science fiction; but in form it also owes an awful lot to Victorian and Edwardian adventure stories, where manly, usually imperial, heroes of various different stripes are threatened by exotic new dangers on a reliably regular basis.

As a rule, such heroes come in pairs. There’s Sexton Blake and Tinker; Sherlock Holmes and Watson; Nayland Smith and Dr Petrie; Raffles and Bunny; and so on. And, by definition, the sidekick is very clearly a junior presence, someone who lacks in some important way the authority of the lead.

That sense of a senior / junior relationship is fundamental to the new Star Trek movie; but it’s an inverted relationship. The plot is in large part driven by the fact that, because the time is out of joint, Spock becomes the Captain of the Enterprise, and Kirk is left as his subordinate.

However, it’s a temporary upset. By the end of the film, normality has been restored. Kirk has become Captain Kirk, and Spock is his first officer. Spock’s junior status has been acknowledged. But that’s peculiar; because, throughout the film, great play has been made of Spock’s seniority.

It’s made very clear that he’s older than Kirk – in fact, he’s one of Kirk’s tutors. In something of an under-remarked narrative manoeuvre, he’s also sexually more charismatic than the famously priapic Captain. Kirk’s rather adolescent attempted seduction of Uhuru fails; Spock builds a strong, adult, clearly sexual relationship with her.

He’s also a more effective combatant. Kirk spends much of the film nearly getting thrown off cliffs, walkways, etc, by various cosmic thugs. Spock’s Vulcan neck pinch is as swiftly efficient as ever. And Spock knows true loss; where Kirk never even met his dead father, the adult Spock witnesses the simultaneous death of his mother and his home planet.

So, what is it that makes Spock the sidekick, not the hero? It comes down to one thing; his (in the film’s terms) over-rationality, his consistent and near-absolute privileging of logic over emotion. Within the context of the movie – and of the Star Trek series in general – Kirk’s reliance on intuition and passion makes him the better person.

And that’s fascinating. In part, it’s a hangover from the deep suspicion of thoughtfulness, of academic learning, that drove so many of the action men of the 19th and 20th century pulp thriller. But that suspicion takes on a new meaning in Star Trek – because Star Trek is science fiction.

As a genre, science fiction prides itself on its roots in the deep, tested realities of science. It lays claim to a rational objectivity that sets it apart from other, more emotionally driven forms of writing. Given this, surely Spock is the rightful captain of the Enterprise?

Absolutely not. Spock – science fiction’s supreme logician, the most famous Science Officer in fiction – reveals the untruth of that claim, or at least the contradictions that stop it from being really convincing.

The Enterprise is helmed by Kirk’s wild, dangerous emotion – just as science fiction, like all fiction, is powered not by logic, but by human emotional relationships, and the wild, exciting dramatic fallout thereof.

Reviewing ‘The City and The City’

Fantasy, Fiction, Genre, Horror, Literary, Modernity, Poetry, Surrealism

Well, I’ve just finished China Miéville’s superb new book, ‘The City and The City’. It’s utterly gripping, a noir-ish police procedural with an Eastern European feel that both builds on, reacts against and moves beyond the concerns and achievements of his previous novels.

So you’ve probably worked out that I’d recommend it to anyone who shares the concerns of this blog. Whether you enjoy excellent, imaginative fiction, open-ended modern poetry (or even, I’m sure, experimental or improvised music), it’s well worth checking out.

And now I’m going to talk about it in more detail with MULTIPLE SPOILERS, so if you haven’t read it yet, and don’t want any surprises ruined, STOP READING NOW!

*SPOILERS AHEAD*

Right, that was pretty unambiguous. Anyway, now that I’ve done that, I can start giving away plot points left, right and centre – and to talk about it properly, I really need to do that, because what it is and what it means are so carefully and effectively intertwined.

At the heart of the book is the relationship between two twinned cities, Beszel and Ul Qoma. Both are very literally, and very substantially, intertwined; ‘crosshatched’, to use Miéville’s coinage. Much of the detail and action of the book comes from that relationship, and the way that inhabitants of the two cities have adjusted to it.

For me, the book’s central achievement is the way that it uses that crosshatching to literalise a metaphor set, one that both forces detailed consideration of twinned / opposing otherness, and refuses to collapse into any final meaning or commentary on them.

At various points as I read the book, I went from understanding the two cities as Christianity and Islam, the West and the East, to wondering if the whole book was a kind of coded intellectual / literary autobiography, via seeing it as a way of talking about splits between genre and literary fiction, then reading it as talking about left / right wing oppositions, and so on.

The imagery supports all of these readings, and – I’m sure – many more, without insisting on any of them as full or final. That’s something I really loved, for many reasons. Most immediately, it builds very directly on one of my favourite moments in his previous novels – the climax of ‘The Iron Council’.

As you’ll no doubt remember, the book ends in an image that simultaneously represents two directly opposed emotions – hope and despair – in a way that’s very directly inspired by one of the great Western comments on the distance between legend and reality, the final frames of ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’.

For me, that image felt like the crystallization of an internal opposition, between China the Marxist (who believes in the possibility of radical, positive change in society) and China the Realist (who has a perhaps more nuanced and pessimistic view of human nature). I thought it was a wonderful presentation of two opposed stances; and I also wondered where he’d go from there, how he’d reconcile the tension between the two viewpoints.

My mistake was to see the choice as a binary one. Miéville’s built on the moment by finding a third way, and is now operating – far more effectively than at any previous point – as China the novelist, China the Image Maker. Rather than building narratives that endorse or discuss particular political viewpoints, he’s creating open image sets that resist simple, final conclusions, and instead encourage readers to think for themselves.

That creative maneuver is profoundly refreshing. It’s a reinvention of China’s root definition – he’s moved from being a novelist engaged in a very specific (albeit important) argument with genre, to one who uses the tools of genre to look out at the modern world – and it moves him into fascinating new literary company.

Previously I’ve pitched him to people as (in very glib shorthand) Britain’s leading Marxist Fantasist; now, his use of internally coherent but literally inexplicable image sets mean that it’s possible to read him in relationship with cutting edge modern poets like Jeremy Prynne, Lee Harwood and Ken Edwards, who work very hard indeed to balance that same clarity of image with opacity of final meaning, and even of language.

But how fully achieved is that transition? ‘The City and The City’ does hold true to relatively traditional narrative structures; it does have recognizable echoes of previous books, and of the habits of writing that have driven them. Two key examples for me are the collapse of the final Orciny myth, and the mass breach that leads to city-wide chaos as the novel draws to a close.

The former seems to me to be very close to the resolution of the Magus Fin narrative strand at the climax of ‘The Scar’. In both cases, we discover that a central, motivating myth – a Macguffin – is in fact a fiction, a fantasy generated out of neurotic personal need.

However, there is progression here too. The Magus Fin functions as a critique of reader expectations of genre, pointing up the gap between the cod-Fantasy motivations we’re often too comfortable with (Our talisman has been stolen! We must retrieve it, lest we face the anger of the gods!) and the more sophisticated, realistic drivers that make the political world happen (We’re economically exposed! We need to get our data back!).

Althought the Magus Fin narrative does throw a light on political myth making, it’s fundamentally an argument about genre, made from within genre. The Orciny event – although ostensibly similar – can be used to think about genre, but sits outside it. The meanings that can be derived from it centre more on the way that personal world fantasies are received, processed and responded to by the body politic.

So, I’m undercutting my own argument! Read in this way, the Orciny event becomes a conscious reflection on the Magus Fin, an attempt to include its concerns in a broader argument about the real world nature and reception of fantasy (rather than just Fantasy).

And then there’s the mass breach that ends the book. The Threat to the City is a repeated Miéville structural trope, one that is – for me – very directly derived from his genre roots.

Binary oppositions are fundamental to Fantasy; magical heroes need magical monsters, shadow selves that exist to help the hero shine. And, of course, the stronger the shadow, the more glory there is in overcoming it. So, the city gets threatened with destruction, to allow our heroes to save it – to define the terms of their achievement.

But, as I type, I’m realizing that there’s more to China’s repeated city destruction attempts than I’d previously thought. Not all destructions are equal; some, in fact, are to be encouraged – witness, again, ‘The Iron Council’. Breaking the status quo can be – or, at least, can aspire to be – A Very Good Thing.

Seen in that light, the mass breach becomes more interesting. It represents a moment of possible transcendence, an escape from an artificial set of limitations. That would destroy Beszel and Ul Qoma; but it could also liberate a new city, one that might provide its inhabitants with an easier and more fulfilled mode of living.

A shock, or a release? Such a change would be both, at once; and each has their costs, and their benefits. The mass breach forces consideration of such a transition as the novel climaxes, without committing to a final judgment as to whether it would be a Good Thing, or a Bad Thing. As such, it’s a very effective component of the novel’s broader strategy of constructive ambiguity.

There is one thing that the book is very unambiguous about, however. Unlike Miéville’s previous novels, there’s no magic in it at all, nothing of the supernatural. Beszel, Ul Qoma, Orciny, Breach; within ‘The City and The City’, all are entirely human constructs, very carefully sited in our world.

As such, the book has the same kind of relationship with the genre of Fantasy that slasher movies have with Horror. In (say) ‘Psycho’, or ‘The Silence of the Lambs’, Horror is achieved; but its achievement is an entirely human one, making these films meditations on our shared capacity for evil, rather than abstract exemplifications of an external darkness.

Likewise, ‘The City and The City’. It’s an entirely fantastical book that has no Fantasy in it whatsoever. Where there is mystery – for example, in the precursor machine / culture – it springs from a very human lack of knowledge, and consequent fantasising, rather than from any sort of supernatural intervention.

At heart, it’s a meditation on the ability of the human imagination to build unreal worlds, and then to make them real by agreeing on them. Beszel, Ul Qoma; each city is a convention set that only exists because enough people agree that they’re there, consensual hallucinations that become real through that very consensus.

By contrast, Orciny’s failure is not untruth; rather, it lies in its inability to gather enough followers to give it life. If enough people used it as a tool for imaginative interpretation of the world around them, it would become real, just as Ul Qoma and Beszel are – within the book – entirely real, entirely non-fictional.

So, a book that contains much; and a book that is hard to review, precisely because of its refusal to settle into a single set of meanings. That makes the above necessarily provisional; it’s one interpretation, where many are possible, and none can be fully or finally ‘right’. And, of course, there’s a lot in the book that I haven’t mentioned at all.

Which, in the end, makes the responsibility for finding ‘meaning’ in the book an entirely personal one. The above is part of my own take on ‘The City and The City’ – what’s yours?

Return to Albertopolis

Fantasy, Fiction, Gigs, Groove, London, Novelists

A very enjoyable night last night, as I hit the rather wonderful Book Club Boutique (and here on Facebook) for a London Short Story night set up and MC’d by Tony White. Some excellent writers – particular stand outs were Will Ashon‘s subtly fantastical biscuit opera, and Matthew De Abaitua‘s Ballardesque tale of North London inter-dinner party combat.

It also marked an allumination first. Inspired by Christian Payne on Friday, I’ve decided to start expanding my technological and media reach. So, I recorded Tony reading from ‘Albertopolis Disparu’; the video’s below. Visual quality is ok, but the sound is perfect, so sit back and enjoy:

 

The full text is still available here at the Science Museum – and I also managed to stop recording a little too early; if I hadn’t, you would have heard about an upcoming six zeppelin sonic attack…