Tag Archives: science fiction

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Talking Free Speech and ‘The Good Shabti’ on the Bookworm Podcast

Ed Fortune, the presenter of Starburst Magazine’s wonderful Bookworm Podcast, invited me onto the show to discuss the work of English PEN and my own creative writing endeavours.

Download Season 2, Episode 28 to listen to the discussion.

My bit begins at around 16 minutes into the show, but that really shouldn’t stop you listening to Ed and his co-hosts Ninfa Hayes and A.L. Johnson chatting about tea and reviewing a whole lot of genre literature.

Photo by ElBidule on Flickr

(0,0) featured on Pornokitsch Weekly Fiction

To tie in with the announcement about The Good Shabti, my story (0,0) has been published on the Hugo-nominated Pornokitsch website, in their weekly fiction slot.  The story, you may recall, was originally published in the Crossroads anthology.

The story begins

Hi there, friend. Is this seat taken?

Click over to the Pornokitsch website to read the entire thing.

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Surveillance in Snowcrash

This is my offering for Blog Action Day. This year’s theme is Human Rights, so a post about surveillance and my ongoing notes on ‘Everday Human Rights’ seems appropriate (if obvious).

Snowcrash is Neal Stephenson’s break-out novel. It was published in 1992, when the World Wide Web was still a nascent and obscure technology. Nevertheless, it is a remarkably prescient book that predicts the ‘always on’ internet we have today, especially the Massive Multiplayer Online Games like Second Life and World of Warcraft. It also predicts the rise of cyber-attacks and the need for security in this area.

However, the passage that has stuck in my mind since I read the book a few years ago is an amusing piece of ‘world building’ that Stephenson constructs around one of his minor characters. Through the morning of ‘Y.T.’s Mom’ he describes the oppressive atmosphere of having to live and work under constant surveillance. Continue reading

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The Kitschies and Progressive Fiction

Nick Harkaway with his Red Tentacle. Photo by Sarah McIntyre
Nick Harkaway with his Red Tentacle. Photo by Sarah McIntyre

This week I was at The Kitschies, a set of awards for “progressive, intelligent and entertaining genre literature.”  Its creators, Jared and Anne of the Pornokitsch website and Pandaemonium Fiction (my publishers, no less) rightly eschew the word ‘best’ when giving the awards.  ‘Best’ is a devalued term in when it comes to awards, as implies an objectivity that a judging panel cannot possibly hope to achieve.

I compiled a Storify summary of the event, pulling photos and comments from social media.

The winner of the Red Tentacle award for a novel was Nick Harkaway for his book Angelmaker.  On his blog, Nick has posted a long article on what he thinks ‘progressive’ might mean in terms of fiction in general, and sci-fi/fantasy genre literature in particular. He says that such progressive fiction “It is a fiction which connects the inner human future with everything it must have around it, and recognises that the two develop together.”

Continue reading

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Astronauts Do The Coolest Things

Is there any organisation out there leveraging the Internet as effectively as NASA? Despite the loss of the Space Shuttle programme in 2011, the agency seems to be winning hearts and minds through its confident and open use of social media.

Of course, NASA’s PR department is assisted by expensive, state funded machinery and the spectacular images it creates. But this does not tell the whole story. I think a large part of the organisation’s communications success is down to the creativity and personality of the astronauts themselves… and NASA’s comfort at letting their personnel broadcast to their earth-shackled audience directly. Continue reading

Does Star Wars Prove That The Universe is Finite?

Star Wars Poster
Star Wars Poster

I’ve been thinking about the way languages are portrayed in the Star Wars film franchise, and what this says about the universe in which the adventures take place.

Some films portray all languages as English. This often happens in war and action films, where you’ll have German World War II officers or Russian spies speaking in accented English.

However, many English language films and television series choose to portray the other languages realistically, which involves subtitles (at least, when the dialogue is crucial).

In the Star Trek franchise, the Starfleet heroes encounter alien races every week. The problem is cleverly explained by the use of a Universal Translator (apparently built in to the little space ship emblem on the officers’ jerseys) which uses sophisticated AI to simultaneously translate the aliens’ words. There is even an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where the Universal Translator unexpectedly kicks in, thereby alterting the Enterprise Crew to the presence of a bizarre life-form, where they had perceived only crystals. Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy series solves the language problem in a similar way. Arthur Dent puts a Babel Fish in his ear, allowing him to understand all alien languages perfectly.

By contrast, Star Wars introduces no such trickery. Each alien race has its own language, and we often see subtitles when characters like Greedo or Jabba the Hut are speaking. R2D2 and Chewbacca speak languages that are unintelligible to the audience, but at least the main characters have learnt to converse with them. C3PO’s raison d’être is as a protocol droid, familiar in millions of languages.

What does this say about the English used in Star Wars? Well, since all the alien languages are rendered as one might hear them, with no concessions to the audience, then we can assume that the language we hear spoken by Luke Skywalker and Han Solo is also as we would hear them. The actors are not speaking English as a cheat for the audience. They are speaking English because that is the language that these characters actually speak. Continue reading

'Crossroads' Published! Buy Now for the Kindle


I am delighted to announce that Crossroads has today been published, and is available to purchase for the Kindle in the Amazon store.

Crossroads, you will recall, is a short anthology of new short stories, including a contribution from myself, entitled ‘(0,0)’. The plot involves a chance encounter, a missed opportunity, and some maths.

The other stories are ‘Prignitz Was An Innocent’ by Christian Fox, a dark, dark retelling of the Pied Piper færy tale; ‘Georgia’ by Jenni Hill, about a demon having a frustrating time at work (which made me smile); and ‘The Golds’ by Ian Whates, a tight fable about music and sacrifice. The noir cover illustration of Robert Johnson is by Vincent Sammy. ‘Tis an impressive group and I’m proud to make my literary debut on those (electronic) pages.

The publishers are Jurassic London, who are making a habit of publishing fantastic collections of genre fiction. Their recent Stories of the Smoke collection was timed to co-incide with the Dickens bicentenary and included a royalty donation to English PEN (which is how I came to meet them). Crossroads is actually a companion volume to the limited edition Lost Souls, a collection of ‘lost’ stories from writers such as Arthur Conan Doyle, Benjamin Disraeli, John Galsworthy and Amelia Edwards.

Buy Buy Buy! And/or: Come to the launch event tonight.

Crossroads cover
Crossroads (cover) by Vincent Sammy

Star Trek, Reviewed on Twitter

Chris Pine as Kirk, Zachary Qunto as Spock
Chris Pine as Kirk, Zachary Qunto as Spock

Sometimes, you don’t need a long review to capture the essence of a movie.  In two tweets, I think MitchBenn gets the new Star Trek movie in a nutshell:

First:

Particularly impressed by Chris Pine in Star Trek. Gives it JUST enough Shatner without ever lapsing into Comedy Captain Kirk Mode

and then

Nice contrast between old & young Spock- Quinto all conflicted and tormented; Nimoy SO over all that crap.

What more do you need?