So I’ve been here, what, eight months now? Close enough; my wee terraced house here has felt superficially like home for a while, but arriving back after the long round trip to Colombia, it had all the magic of a beacon or the landing lights on an airstrip. Home is where your cat sleeps, some say, and that certainly helps, but there’s more to it than that by this point, and while I don’t yet know Sheffield well, I know it enough to know I like it here. The job helps, of course, but it’s a matter of place, also; its flawed and patchwork city centre, its grubby hidden backstreets and zones of decay, its garrulous streetlife, its background radiation – a hum of life engaged with the messy, painful, joyous confusion of living. Woodhouse in the spring could almost be a country town, with fields and copses bursting with green. Every now and again I’ll be walking back from the shop and notice anew the wind turbines on the hill beyond the site of the old Orgreave works, and smile. You never see them down south; no prizes for guessing why that might be.
I don’t miss London; it was a fun place to live for a year, and I had some great times there, but it was never home. Portsmouth was home for longer than anywhere else I ever lived – longer than all the other places put together, in fact – but I don’t miss it either. Even on a day like this, the first bright sunny Friday of late spring, when I know all the people will be heading toward the front or the common, like wild creatures who all at once found their cage doors unlocked and the wilderness waiting beyond, whispering the possibility of adventure…
No, I don’t miss Portsmouth. But I do miss my people. Less the press or totality or them all, but that potential: the knowledge that, if the mood took me, I could easily go somewhere and find some familiar faces. Nothing formal, bot a “night out”, just hangin’ times, no questions, no pack drill, the comfort of an old pair of jeans. I miss that, and those faces.
So I’m a little lonely here, as much as I like it. Which ain’t to play my tiny violin, you understand – but I recognise, as I did far more painfully during my year on the banks of the Styx in Stockport, that I’m in an awkward part of life as far as moving goes. Most thirty-somethings, or so it seems, are settled – either into family life with kids, or well-cemented circles of friendship and routine, or both. No matter where I go out, I feel a bit of a fraud or interloper, either surrounded by the chatter and increasingly alien music of the bright young things, or by what feels like the ossified rituals and greatest-hits nostalgia of the folk I still can’t help but think of as “grownups”; a square peg touring the round holes, hopeful, but stubbornly unwilling to plane away his corners. I miss knowing where the two-bit local gig of the week will be, knowing who’ll be carping about the bands at the back of the room – usually the band that played the week before. Ligger and hanger-on that I am, I miss knowing the face behind the turntables, talking trash with shoestring show promoters and artists with miserable rations that keep them fed, keep them angry enough to do the real work between shifts. I miss being not just on the scene, but of it; an aging hipster, from an era when hipsters were called something else, adrift on an unfamiliar sea, an unknown fish in a new pond.
Oh, I know they’re out there. These things take time, I tell myself, especially once you’ve acquired a proper job and lost the relentless energy of youth, realised you can’t go out every night and talk to random interesing-looking strangers apropos of nothing. They’re out there somewhere, the freaks and queers and artists and oddballs, haunting the interstices that it took them so many years to find, to carve out. Portsmouth has them, but so does every other town, and nowhere do they feel the need to advertise. You have to seek them out, earn your entry visa, make those first connections and get caught up in the network. It’s not called the underground for nothing, nor just for the sake of vanity. If it were easy, I wouldn’t want to be part of it; funny how it takes losing it to learn this.
But it’ll come to me eventually, or me to it, in some grubby pub or run-down club. I’ll know it when I see it, and maybe it’ll know me when it sees me, too. For now, I’ll just keep looking, listening: searching for family, looking for tribe.
I’ve been back for the best part of a week, but Colombia still haunts me.
From the air, it’s a country of lush green mountains, wide flood-plains with fat brown rivers winding and ox-bowing their way through the rich russet soil; fertile, not so much tamed by its people as persuaded into an agreement where no one is quite sure who’s getting the better of the deal. As in many other Latin countries where the scars of colonialism are still bright and angry beneath the new skin of change, there are plenty of places where it looks like “progress” – that deathless shibboleth – has the upper hand: industrial farming practices and the new uptick in gold mining, courtesy of the volatile markets for food and precious metals, have gouged red-brown wounds out of the land, left rivers low and mountains decapitated. But you don’t have to drive far to see how fast nature can reclaim its territory when left to its own devices, nor the rural communities which live lightly – if untidily by European standards – upon the land. The humid air whispers of a barely restrained fecundity; growth is everywhere.
Economic growth is, of course, more unevenly distributed, and Medellín (pronounced Meh-deh-jEEn – the Latin double-l changes its sound considerably from place to place) showcases these inevitable inequities clearly. Its mild but variable climate, a function of its position in a deep valley high in the mountains, belies its closeness to the Equator; known to Colombians as “the City of Eternal Spring”, its skies boil with turbulent clouds between bursts of bright blue clarity, and thunder grumbles sullen from the peaks most afternoons. The temperature hovers around the low- to mid-twenties Centigrade most of the year; rain is commonplace and occasionally torrential, but rarely stays for long. The central valley is spattered with light and heavy industries, along with a newish rash of corporate postmodernist architecture; the lower slopes have sprouted a forest of red-brick towerblocks which look uniform from a distance, but whose variety becomes clear at close range. In the interstices – and further up the slopes, where the incline and the possibility of flash flooding precludes large-scale construction and reliable infrastructure – the higgledy-piggledy terraces and jumbled bricks’n'breezeblock stacks of the underclass spread wherever they can, their narrow streets a lively riot of mural’d concrete walls, barrowboys chattering their patter through jury-rigged PA systems, and the buzz and rasp of the city’s countless motorcycles and scooters as they struggle against the gradient. The gap between wealth and poverty is made all the clearer by their mutual proximity, a cheek-by-jowl life that is not without its frictions; gothic high-tech and favela chic stand across the avenidas from one another, studiously ignoring one another while they wait for the future to arrive.
There are, of course, people trying to bridge that gap and skry that future – which is what I was invited there for, along with my fellow Fractal facilitators: Johanna Blakley, director of research at the Norman Lear Center, University of SoCal; Keiichi Matsuda, architect, film-maker and augmented reality authority; and Reshma Shetty, MIT PhD and co-founder of Ginkgo BioWorks, a synbio start-up based in Boston.
We spent one morning talking to the management team of UNE, a Medellín-based media outfit that sells not just bandwidth but content; they were looking for new ways in which they might provide more useful services to the less well-off of the region, and picked our brains about applications and systems that might add value to their current offers. At the same time, we got to learn some high-level cultural home truths that would serve us well later in the week, not least the fact that – despite being an incredibly friendly and helpful people – Colombians are very slow to trust one another, even at the neighbourhood level. Given the country’s recent history of political unrest and paramilitary conflict – which is, sadly, what Medellín is still best known for here in Europe, to go by the reactions I got when I told people where I was going – this probably isn’t entirely surprising. But it’s not the sort of thing you’d notice as a tourist; hospitality is a big deal to Colombians, and that seems to include an instinctive elision of their domestic troubles. (Compare and contrast to we Brits, who seem increasingly keen to download our sociocultural angst on anyone who’ll listen.)
The main event, however, took place at the Botanical Gardens; the format was largely without precedent, as far as anyone involved was aware, and might be best described as a kind of community-engagement design-fiction experiment. Rather than have four guests do their talking-heads schtuck to an attentive but otherwise passive audience, the Fractal crew decided that we were there to facilitate the audience in telling stories about the three topics in play, namely augmented reality, 3d printing and synbio.
The initial run was done on the Friday afternoon with a thirty-strong gang of schoolkids, aged 11 or so. We’d introduce the topic, then encourage the audience to ask questions and talk about what sort of things they’d do with the technology in question, were it already a reality; then we’d gradually segue into storytelling, with yours truly introducing a character and an opening scene and encouraging the audience to step to the mic and continue the action.
The stories the kids came up with were predictably wild, but the adults attending the three longer sessions the next day weren’t exactly holding themselves back, either, once they’d got into the spirit of the thing. Every time with every story, there’d be a clear pivoting point where everyone suddenly grokked the possibilities, grasped the idea and its implications… and that’s when the stories started getting weird. From my own vantage point, it felt like that point was close to the boundary between the purely physical and the spiritual; while I don’t want to lay any claim to anthropological insight, here, it seem that – much as in the other Latin countries I’ve visited – the division between the earthly and the spiritual is more permeable in Colombian culture, which is still fairly conservative and religious in character, and it was in that disputed territory that speculative thinking really came alive for our audience. Which isn’t to say that there was much handwringing about “playing god”; indeed, it was only raised twice, and without much drama, though one must assume that the audience for a futures event would be somewhat self-selecting in that direction.
But, by way of validating what any fiction writing tutor worth their salt will tell you, it was the human dramas foregrounded against the technological innovations that engaged people with the ideas – and while the stories were far wilder and more playful than one would expect from, say, an established English-language science fiction zine, the central issues and dilemmas of these imminent innovations came quickly to the fore. I got a real kick out of watching people take their turns at the mic, watching their faces as they really got into what they were saying; even though the concrete results of a futures event like this are incredibly hard to measure or quantify, it was plain to see that, when “given permission” to extrapolate and imagine, ordinary people are just as capable as futurists and technologists – if not more so, in some ways – of engaging with complex technologies and understanding how they might change the world they live in, for the better and for the worse.
Full kudos for this ambitious and ground-breaking experiment should go to Vivi and Hernan, the dynamic duo who have somehow assembled and run Fractal events for the past five years while holding down other jobs. There’s no top-table TED schmoozing or delegation of responsibility to paid flunkies, either; both of them seemed, at times, to be surgically attached to their phones and laptops, constantly hustling and arranging and fixing, keeping in touch with their extensive network of helpers and contacts, almost all working on a voluntary basis, wrestling with the bureaucracy of local government, making sure contracts were signed and exchanged, permissions secured, meetings organised. At the same time, they were consummate hosts, constantly on hand, showing us the sights, introducing us to local businesspeople and academics, and feeding us what seemed like endless (not to mention excellent) Colombian food. I can’t remember ever being made to feel so valued (which was hell for my Imposter Syndrome), or so very welcome; as weeks of ostensible work go, it was a hectic delight, and the closest thing I’ve had to a proper holiday in quite some time.
So thanks again to Vivi and Hernan, for inviting me to Medellín and making me feel so welcome; I consider myself very much in their debt. And the world futures community would do well to keep an eye on Medellín and Fractal: they’re busily finding ways to take the control and creation of futures narratives out of the hands of “experts” and put them into the hands of ordinary people, and that’s something we should all make an effort to learn from.
It’s been a busy couple of months. I hope regular readers will forgive this recap of the past two months or so, which is as much for my own benefit as anyone else’s; I transcribe it here in what I suspect is the hope that I’ll be able to convince myself it all actually happened.
The corollary of getting my contract extended mid-March was that a lot of theretofore speculative deadlines became concrete things, which made for a whole lot of heads-down keyboard-mashing; this was complicated somewhat by my first encounter with true physical burn-out, which, it turns out, feels a lot like being in the lingering run-down phase of a nasty cold for something close to six weeks. Still, it’s good to know your limits, and to have a precedent for the signs that you’re about to hit them.
Chronology is a suitable framework, so: My last post here followed directly after Weird Shi(f)t Con UK, a gathering of some of the more peripatetic irregulars of the Institute for Atemporal Studies and allied forces which took place in in the endearingly cobwebbed decay of Limehouse Town Hall (whose chilliness may well have contributed toward the aforementioned burn-out); many profound matters were discussed, and the post-it notes were plentiful.
Afterwards we went to Wilton’s Music Hall, which was full of people attending a stage version of The Great Gatsby; not perhaps an ideal aftervenue given the circumstances, but apropos in an atemporal kind of way. (Wilton’s is ace, though; recommended to all and sundry as one of LDN’s most characterful places to hang out, especially on nights when there’s no show on.)
That Sunday I went to see the legendary Damo Suzuki perform with a Sheffield noise/drone/kraut band in the cellar bar beneath a former picture-house. (Stuffed-animal venues are a definite theme of my life these days.)
Monday following was the final internal meeting for one of the projects I’ve been working on with the PWG; the website for the project is currently offline (nothing to do with me, I might add), but should hold various documents and presentations for public edification. One of the larger papers to come out of the All-in-One project with my name in the author list is now in press at the journal Futures, by the way; drop me a line if you’d like a copy but don’t have institutional access to Elsevi*r’s rentier knowledge-silo.
After the dissemination bash, it was back to Sheffield to see Gojira and Ghost at the Academy. Gojira were good enough, if a little lost on a too-large stage; Ghost were laughably bad, all (obvious and done-to-death) gimmick and no substance. Utterly at a loss to understand why they’re so popular right now. Kids these days.
March 21st saw me pop over the Pennines for the first day of the FutureEverthing conference in Manchester; a chance to catch up on interesting ideas in digital urbanism, reassert my believe that marketing is the only profession with a higher shysters-per-capita than futurism, and hang out with Justin Pickard and Scott Smith, co-conspirators in contraPanglossian gonzo foresight. (Usman Haque dropped Borgesian bombs, which made me want to marry him.) Regrettably, the physical symptoms of burn-out were digging in hard by this point, and I skipped the next day of the conference due to exhaustion and the promise of snow. (Productivity took a serious nosedive around about his point of the proceedings.)
Week after that I fielded a call from a journalist for the Boston Globe; apparently she couldn’t find anyone else willing to argue against the transhumanist narrative that animal uplift is obligatory. So I did.
That weekend, thinking I was over the worst of the exhaustion, I went over to Bradford for the Saturday of EightSquaredCon, the 2013 Eastercon. It was a decent day — what I can remember of it, anyway. I was drafted onto a panel within twenty minutes of arriving; spent some time chatting to various people, but probably making little sense, including an addled attempt to explain to Cory Doctorow what I’d been up to recently (sorry, Cory; I really shouldn’t have been out of bed at that point). My booked train home was cancelled, which shunted me onto a slower and longer route, with the last leg an all-stations stopping service on an old diesel train with no heating or window seals.
I expect that frigid transit contributed to rebooting the exhaustion, which hit me like Chicxulub in the days to follow, and sent me into a serious emotional slump on the side; the black dog bites hardest when my immune system is low, but that’s a knowledge I’m slowly internalising — or so I hope, at any rate. The week following was an agony blended from anxiety over a massive workload and the utter inability to give more than three hours of coherent attention a day to anything at all. Somehow I still managed to go to Lincoln on the Friday and give a paper at the New Genre Army conference in celebration of Edam Rarebits…
… or rather, I gave a methodological manifesto for an as-yet incomplete prototype of the genre of Cut-up Critique; the moral of this story is that if one decides to try trolling the academy, one should be prepared to have one’s bluff called. Luckily for me, the general tone of the day — unsurprisingly, given its object — was one of irreverence blended with seriousness, and I got away with it. (It’s my native medium, after all.) Whether I got away with another cold train-ride home is an open question, however. Maybe my mum’s right, and I just need to buy a new coat.
I believe there was video taken of the papers at New Genre Army, but I haven’t seen them yet, and there’s no sign of them on YouBoob. I’ve been meaning to post the script and slides of my paper here, but… yeah. *adds another thing to the to-do list*
Then followed a week of frantic paper-writing, as deadlines were looming like limits to growth. The week after that, at the final dissemination event for All-in-One, I got to try explaining design fiction to infrastructure engineers and risk analysts for the first time, which involved first explaining it a bit more thoroughly to myself; the former was slightly more successful than the former. (Attempts toward codifying a theory of design fiction in the infrastructural context are ongoing; watch this space.)
I then went to Darlington to talk to a roomful of young water industry professionals about the postmodern crisis of infrastructure management; Borges, Latour, scientific hyperreality, the model is not the system, path dependency and progressive incrementalism, integral futures, that sort of thing. Got a much more positive reception than I’d hoped for, actually, but the other presentations were pretty dry, so I may have benefitted from delivering a shake-up at the end of the day; selah.
Day after Darlington was the annual PWG conference, which was more of a social cohesion operation than a proper conference; got to find out what else goes on in the further, more soc-sci orientated corners of the group, which is valuable knowledge to a generalist/synthesist like yours truly. We went for a nice meal afterwards. Lovely.
The last few weeks have been a little easier, although there were still a fair amount of deskjockey targets to be met, including editing a collaborative paper which has been accepted by (but is not yet in press at) Energy, and writing another paper on choice architecture, social media and gamification as applied to water use behaviour (which has just entered the reviewing process). Also wrote one of my increasingly editorial-esque book reviews for ARC (Jaron Lanier’s Who Owns the Future?, as yet not posted), and a deeply tangential rant about some halfway-passable psyche-rock album that the Demon Pigeon lads threw at me.
This Wednesday just gone, I got to talk as part of a panel at the WriteTheFuture conference, which was an excellent bolt-on gig connected to the Clarke Award. Not many folk at this stage of their careers can say they’ve spoken on stage at the Royal Society. What was I speaking about? These tweets capture the gist of it:
“There are an unknowable number of things that we once knew but don’t know that we knew it.” Paul Graham Raven #WTF13
— Andrew Curry (@nextwavefutures) May 1, 2013
— MELISSA STERRY (@MelissaSterry) May 1, 2013
There’s a Storify of the whole day, courtesy the tireless (and triumphant) Tom Hunter. As for the Clarke itself, it went to Chris Beckett for Dark Eden; I don’t care much for awards as a reader and a critic, but it’s always nice to see them go to an author whose work you admire, especially when you consider them a friend as well. For the same reasons, I’d have been happy to see it go to Ken MacLeod, as well. Having read none of the shortlisted titles, however, that’s as far as my opinionating goes.
Friday just gone I went to see Owen Hatherley talk about Pulp, Sheffield and failed urbanism. It was interesting stuff, and naturally I bought the book (Uncommon) on which it was based (as it promises to provide another thematic spoke for the vague “secret history of the 1990s” novel idea I’m kicking around in spare moments), but — like many excellent writers of non-fiction — Hatherley’s not at his best behind a podium. To be fair, he may have been more than a little intimidated by the audience, which had to be close to 300 strong. Glad I went, though.
And now, here am eye, becalmed in the I of the storm, collecting my thoughts and task-lists before the madness starts up again in a new form, mutatis mutandis (and with, dare I say it, my earthly husk finally recovered from the burn-out). This Thursday coming I’m off to Brighton to talk conferences, drone art, infrastructure fiction and gonzo futurism with assorted colleagues, old and new, and around this time next week I’ll be heading off toward Heathrow, so as to catch an early Monday plane to Colombia via Madrid. In fair Medellin, I’m honoured to be an invited guest of Hernán and Vivi for Fractal’13, a design fiction conference with a difference (in that the audience does the fictioning, and the guests merely facilitate said fictioning). In effect, I think this is the closest thing I’m going to get to a holiday this year, and so I’m intending to enjoy it to the fullest.
I’m very much looking forward to seeing Medellin. I’m very much not looking forward to two long transits through the geopolitical unspaces of airport security theatre, but you gotta take the rough with the smooth, I suppose. If nothing else, I should take it as an opportunity to reread Ursula LeGuin’s Changing Planes…
Having unlocked my phone and demothballed my Flickr account, I’m planning to share my adventures in Medellin here at VCTB, and indeed to start sharing interesting in general from time to time. Chairman Bruce may claim (with justification) that blogging is dead, but even he’s got a Tumblr these days; having always had my own domain, I can’t see the point of tumblring on a service that claims the results as their own when my own site can do just the same job with me keeping control*. So it lacks the social features of Tumblr, sure; I’m increasingly unconvinced that’s a drawback and not a bonus. Besides, everything that happens here gets tweeted. Selah.
So, yeah; that’s what I’ve been up to. Who knows what’ll happen next, eh?
[ * - I still maintain that a social network with Twitter-, Tumblr- and Facebork-like characteristics could be built as a plug-in based interstitial peer-to-peer protocol for individual CMS-based websites; all the sharing and social, none of the centralised data collection and huckster leverage advertising attempts. Problem being that, by definition, such a service would be impossible to monetise externally, meaning it'd only get done by a team of FOSS nerds with a lot of time on their hands and no eye toward a lucrative IPO. So not something to hold your breath for at present, I'd guess. ]
“For a long time I have suspected there is no way out. I can do nothing I am not. I have been living destructively towards the writer in me for some time, guiltily conscious of doing so all along, cf. the critical justification in terms of the objective death of a historical tradition: a decadent at a tremendous turning point in history, constitutionally incapable of turning with it as a writer, I am living my personal Dada. In all of this there is a terrible emotional smear. The steel of the logic has to be daily strengthened to contain the volcanic element within. It grows daily more hard to contain. I am a kind of bomb.”
– from Cain’s Book by Alexander Trocchi, 1960; quoted in Lipstick Traces by the staggeringly prolix but insightful Greil Marcus
for the cat to have calmed down
for the walls to have warmed through
for the walk in the dark to the toilet to happen on autopilot
for me to know why this town is a ghost-town
to have dug up the history down at the foot of the hill
to chant the road names in the silence of my mind
as I see them from the windows of the bus
for me to leave the cutting of the final cord
to turn my back on that town by the sea
for the tide to turn and turn and turn again
washing ashore the bodies of the dead
like bottles corked with scribbled accusations
for me to have established my lines of supply and demand
to have established a routine, the better to feel bad about when broken
to hear the black dog’s bark from the far side of the tracks
and know that one can change the frame a thousand times
without ever altering the picture
for me to dig the same old hole anew
to feel at home
to wonder, once again, what that word really means
I wanted more than anything to bare my soul frankly and entirely to my friend. I would have wished to divest myself of it and leave it throbbing there beside him. We went on talking, discussing, on the verge of saying farewell, until all of a sudden, with an unsuspected firmness of conviction, I understood that this “personality” which we tend to value with such inappropriate excess amounted to nothing. It occurred to me that my life would never justify a full, absolute moment that would contain all the others; they would all be provisional phases, each of them wiping out the past and looking to the future, and that outside of the episodic, the present, the circumstantial, we were no one.
Jorge Luis Borges; from, I suspect, his letters or diaries, as quoted in Borges: a life by Edwin Williamson, pp89.
Haven’t done one of these for a while, but seem to have had a spate of publications since finishing my Masters, and what else is the point of a blog if not for bigging one’s good self right up, as the kids say? What, indeed. So, yeah.
That huge essay on Nordic LARP that I (somehow) wrote during the middle of my dissertation was published over the last three months of 2012, and can be found as parts one, two and three. The Verge listed part one in its “best tech writing of the week” round-up, for whatever that’s worth. People have been sending me emails regarding those three parts being reprinted as one piece in a forthcoming “best of Rhizome” anthology, which is nice. No money in it, but hey; I was paid for the original publication, Rhizome is a donation-driven organisation, and the collection will apparently be CC licensed. If it happens, that is. We’ll see, I guess.
Where does experimental theatre end, and consensual indoctrination into a covert ideology begin? Can a temporary intentional community, in and of itself, be a form of performance art? Can a performance art piece become a political movement instead of just a statement? These questions pivot on the fluid dualities of fiction and reality, of reader and subject, which can be upended with a flick of the wrist or a twist of the frame; if we assume altermodernism to have accepted and integrated (if not fully approved of) the ubiquitous ontological hollowness of the postmodern condition, then might Nordic larp be one of the first truly altermodernist forms, an experimental laboratory for the breeding of new metanarratives?
It was a lot of fun to research, quite quick to write, but took literally months to edit and reformat. But I got to accuse the Six Sigma framework of being a larp for gullible yet earnest middle management, and to talk about the free party circuit of Nineties, which is a topic that seems to be floating around at the front of my mind quite a lot, lately. I put this down entirely to the sudden revival of the German army parka as an indie-kid standard. D’you know that genuine eighties vintage German army parkas are now sufficiently rare and in demand that a factory somewhere in Eastern Europe is making clones of them, purely for the fashion market? Bill Gibson, eat yer heart out. Denim authenticity is just totes Noughties, right? Fosh.
[Update: pdf proofs of the article formatted for the anthology arrived literally during the drafting of this post. Looks like it'll be a thing, then.]
Strange Horizons ran my nearly-nine-months-late review of Bruce Sterling’s story collection, Gothic High-Tech.
You’ll also run into trouble if you go looking to Sterling to tell you that you’re on the right side of something, or indeed anything. This deep-running moral ambiguity is what I believe made The Caryatids unpalatable for many readers: not only does it feature a cast of exaggerated types, but the extrapolated incarnations of our current ideological dichotomy—which we still label Left and Right, even though those terms are ludicrously outdated and hollow—are both revealed to be as blinkered, fractious and destined to fail as one another.
My completely gratuitous sideswipe at magic-pajama-wearing celebrity homophobe Orson Scott Card only racked up one proxy defender in the comments. They must all be busy fighting the good fight in gaymarriageguncontrolclimatechange threads.
Just after Xmas, Simon Ings realised just how easy a book reviewer I am to troll, and sent me the disingenuously misnamed Green Philosophy by tobacco-shill Tory and all-round hired-gun thinktank wankbag Roger Scruton, with results that are doubtless as predictable to read as they were cathartic to write. One can probably see a theme developing, too:
This is the mentality of those who rule the world, or who aspire to rule it: they’re so entrenched in their dogma, dialectical oppositions and centuries-old political clubs that they have forgotten how to think, let alone how to do so beyond the confines of a rapidly shrinking box. It’s like watching two teams of fat middle-aged former public schoolboys doing a tug’o’war on the village green for the rights to decide which way the stripes should go on the cricket pitch while the entire fucking village is burning down.
What’s next? Oh, yeah, I appeared briefly in a post at Tor UK about Julian May’s Saga Of The Exiles, which is being republished this year, and which I am reviewing for SH at some point fairly soon. …Exiles, as long-term VCTB visitors may remember, was my science fiction gateway drug. It’s going to be interesting to return to it with the critical goggles on. (I’m hoping the process doesn’t spoil it for me forever, but I think that’s a risk that needs to be taken sometimes.)
Then I gone done a thing for the Locus Roundtable blog thingy, a “five golden things” list to balance out the recent spate of “best [x]” debates. So, being the sort of person you can’t reliably take anywhere nice, I steered the conversation around to drugs.
Even in the rhizomatic global cultures of Gibson’s novels, the functional addict is always already enslaved, always at the bottom of somebody else’s private pyramid of clout, an asset to be passed or traded between clients and associates as required, a human resource with a built-in and fully transferable loyalty program.
This time I managed to irk Gregory Benford, who — obtuse as his comment may have been — is surely a better class of irkee than OSC’s fanbase.
I have also found a rather super local arts rag here in Sheffield who have started taking music writing from me: here’s my ‘scenius’ editorial for the February issue’s music section (which I’m inordinately pleased with, considering how short a period I had to put it together), and my review of Swedish post-metallers Cult Of Luna, who were reet gud, as they say round here. Now Then Magazine actually comes out in print most months, too, and they make a gorgeous job of the production; a proper left-leanin’ local scene labour-of-love, which is the sort of set-up I’m always happy to do freebies for. Getting physical copies of your work in print is always a good buzz.
I think that’s pretty much everything of mine that other people have published of late, really; I’ve done a couple of long essays on science fiction and science and foresight and futures studies and all that jazz over at Futurismic, if you’re hungry for more? See me snark an energy-weapon-research/skiffy-novel Kickstarter campaign (SRSLY), or read as I roundly denounce, once and for all, the seemingly unkillable notion that science fiction can in any useful way “predict the future”!
Stay tuned for more stuff at sporadic intervals; I keep meaning to get back into regular blogging, but everyone with a blog upon which they’ve become irregular says that, and the next few months are looking uncertain enough that I’m not making any promises to anyone, not even myself. (Unless they want to send me a cheque, or send me to an interesting and hopefully warm country where they’d like me to write a book or something.)
So, who knows? Things are happening, bad mojo keeps knocking down good people, and the times are getting weird; as such, the weird is doing its best to turn pro. Which is fun, but exhausting. Selah.
I kinda hate these things, not least because I was such an egregious and hungry-for-attention propagator of them when I started writing on these here internets (as a trawl thru the archives here at VCTB will all too quickly reveal). But hey, why pass up an opportunity to subvert the format, right? Right.
I was tagged by Nick Wood, one of my fellow students from my Masters course — and, more particularly, one of my fellow students who always made me feel profoundly amateur. He’s a fine writer. Go check out his stuff. He has a story in the AfroSF anthology, so that’d be a great place to start.
Anyway, to the meme…
The Next Big Thing
1) What is the title of your next
“Beyond the Sound”.
2) Where did the idea come from for the
It came, in part, from finally escaping a town in which I’d spent half my life, and from realising that the only thing that had trapped me there was myself.
3) What genre does your
book work fall under?
Haha, fuck knows. Borgesian psychogeographical post-modern post-apocalypse? (Shelve that, you bastards.)
4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Complete unknowns, ideally ordinary people from Portsmouth, where the story is actually set.
5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your
One sunny summer afternoon, the city of Portsmouth becomes even more of a cultural island than it always was.
6) When will the
book work be published?
Hell knows. I’d be very surprised if I can convince a dead-tree publisher to take it; it’s an odd length, it has a very odd structure, and it doesn’t really fit in any currently-valid subgeneric box. I’m thinking of following through on my theory that it’s actually better suited to a hypertextual medium, and making it into a website wherein all the scenes are geotagged onto a map of the city.
7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
Three months, near enough. Technically there are still bits waiting to be finished, but there were also a great many offcuts and deleted scenes, so I figure that balances out.
8) What other
book works would you compare this story to within your genre?
[gallic_shrug.gif] I got nothing.
9) Who or what inspired you to write this
Pretty sure this is question 2, phrased differently. Well, I had a dissertation piece to do. And being a sort of masochist, I decided that doing some sort of obvious boxticking exercise in generic skiffy would bore me shitless, and I can’t do good work on a project that bores me. So I kinda scraped together all the things that were interesting me at the time, in literary terms — Borges, Burroughs, Mieville, psychogeography and cities, metafiction, and the collapse of an identity I once thought I’d possess in perpetuity — and made of them a monster.
10) What else about the
book work might pique the reader’s interest?
It doesn’t have any fucking zombies in it.
In letter if not in spirit, eh? I can’t think of anyone for whom this meme would be appropriate who I hasn’t already done it — so rather than tag anyone deliberately, I’ll just suggest that if you’ve got a thing to talk about and you fancy doing a meme, maybe you should do this one? Yeah, that works. Knock yerselves out, innit.
I normally write these things and either throw them away (when done with pen and paper) or archive them in a digital folder I never look in, but this time I’m going to experiment with broadcast
Every bit of advice – professional or otherwise – I’ve ever had about depression has revolved around the idea that talking about it is supposed to help, but there’s a deep paradox in that approach, at least for me; a large part of the problem is a feeling – no, not a feeling, a knowledge – that in almost every way imaginable, I have nothing to complain about. In every objective sense, my life is pretty good, and vastly more packed with privilege and good fortune than that of the majority of people on the face of the planet. As such, pity and sympathy – which, to be clear, is very easily obtained, as I also have an abundance of good friends and caring family to whom I could turn – feel unearned, undeserved. Depression is a software problem, as far as I’m concerned; I do not subscribe to the ‘dysfunctional brainmeat/causative chemical imbalance’ model of bi-polarity, because it is part of a diagnostic framework wherein there is a singular model for the ‘right’ brain and a plethora of models for the ‘wrong’ brain. This is a function of the deeply conformist-capitalist understructure of psychology, which has always been focussed on the correction of dysfunction (the Worker must be fixed!) rather than the uncovering of dysfunction’s causes (why is the Worker broken?); it’s all about making the symptoms go away, and little about understanding the actual vector(s) of the ‘disease’.
Rather like politics, come to think of it.
So let me be clear: this is not a cry for help, nor a plea for pity. Think of it instead as a form of the talking cure where I can feel confident that those to whom I am talking are listening voluntarily. With hindsight, I realise that this is why I started writing (and, with further hindsight, that I actually started writing a lot earlier than I used to believe I had); writing, for me, is like a therapist’s couch without the therapist. After all, therapy and counselling are – supposedly, at least – meant not to be didactic; the therapist is not supposed to give you the answers, but help you find them yourself. Which is all very good and noble, but sidesteps the issue that the therapist or counsellor is (quite unavoidably, if unintentionally) observing your narrative from within the framework of their own, which is formed at least in part by their indoctrination into their profession. Which isn’t to say I mistrust the motivations or world-views of therapists on principle – though I’d readily admit to a deep unease around the psychiatric and diagnostic end of the system, as mentioned above – so much as I’m vain enough to assume that my own familiarity with the history and circumstance of my own life is sufficient for me to cut out the middle-man, so to speak. By way of analogy: when I visit a new city, I shun the guided tours in favour of a map, a guidebook and a few days to myself in which to wander, wonder and look.
I probably shouldn’t speak with such scathing certainty about therapy, as I’ve never experienced it except second-hand through its portrayal in popular media. (Sudden thought: the Eighties in particular seemed replete with films and television wherein angsty white middle-class people with no real problems other than their own way of looking at their lives spent a lot of time whining at therapists; this may have influenced my outlook considerably.) Counselling, however, I’ve had quite a few times – and it was actually quite enjoyable for me, because I knew that the counsellor was being compensated for taking the time to listen, and so I could just chunter on without any shame at all. It’s the difference between getting your friends to help you move house and paying a removals firm to take care of it, in a way; it’s not that your friends are unwilling to help – far from it, in fact – or that you’re unwilling to repay the favour. It’s that it’s a job; it’s work. Maybe my rather warped inculcation of the Protestant work ethic is to blame: if there’s work to be done, one should either get on and do it oneself (assuming one is capable), or compensate someone fairly for doing it on one’s behalf. One doesn’t want to feel like a charity case or a freeloader, y’know?
(To return briefly to the influence of media, I spent two nights this week bingewatching To The Manor Born, which was a constant televisual companion to me while living out in Saudi Arabia with my family in the mid-Eighties; it was quite scary to see how many of my attitudes and arrogances echo those of Audrey fforbes-Hamilton. Who was, incidentally – or perhaps not so incidentally – my first childhood media crush of any significance. Selah.)
But anyway, the thing that pushed me away from counselling was the repeated use of a certain aphorism. Every time I explained that I didn’t like talking about being depressed because it felt like dialling all the nines and asking for the existential waaaaahmbulance, I’d be told:
“No one’s life is up for comparison.”
Well, um, yes it is? I mean, sure, I have this issue where my mind flip-flops into a state where I struggle to care about anything, and it can really get in the way of doing things that I want or need to do, and that sucks. But here’s the thing: I have the luxury of circumstance where I can take the time to wallow in that misery. I am, by dint of being born white, male and middle-class in Britain, able to indulge my depression, and counselling encourages that indulgence. But what of someone with a similar dysfunction who was born black in the poor parts of Atlanta, Georgia, or born brown to a low caste in Mumbai, or born in the backstreets of Jakarta, Mexico City, Tangier, Jo’burg? What of someone born female in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, born gay in Uganda, born with an untreatable disease or physical defect? What of someone just like me in all respects, but born to a council-house couple on the outskirts of Havant rather than to my more fortunate and upwardly mobile parents? What of someone, anyone, who didn’t have a Privilege Hat so capacious they could caulk it with tar and use it as a fucking battleship?
Every time I hear “no one’s life is up for comparison”, I see all those people and more in my mind, and imagine explaining to them how awful it is for me to be depressed, explaining what a barrier it is getting anything done, explaining how my life of comparative ease and privilege is marred by this terrible affliction.
Everyone‘s life is up for comparison, especially mine. And I am, by any even slightly objective assessment, far less in need of help and support than 99% of the population of the planet. If anything, I should be doing the helping and supporting.
Which is a very long and roundabout way of explaining to the world (and, by extension, to myself), why I don’t like to seek sympathy: it’s too scarce a commodity already. Save it for them as really needs and deserves it, instead of wasting it on someone who in every other respect has – and has always had – all the cards stacked in his favour.
So there’s my own personal version of the talking cure: a rejoinder to myself, a reminder of which side my bread is buttered. It is based on the belief that bipolarity and/or depression cannot be cured, only managed, coped with, come to terms with.
But the real kicker, of course, is the knowledge that it is only my privilege that enables me to be so blasé and self-sacrificial about being depressed; that other people with the same symptoms are at far greater risk of disruption, disaster or poverty as a result of them.
Which means that, rather than somehow shrugging off my privilege by writing this piece, I have in fact been indulging it.
And thus the loop begins again.
If Warren Ellis is to be believed – and why wouldn’t you believe a grumpy and grizzled man wielding a cane who looks like he eats dogs just for the fun of it, and whose legions of followers refer to him, at his command, as Internet Jesus? – the first three chapters of Crooked Little Vein were written with the intent of permanently scaring away the agent who kept hassling him to write his first prose novel.
It’s easier still to believe if you’ve actually read CLV, which is a gleefully disgusting narrative collage comprising the collected horrors of a decade spent trawling the internet’s seediest subcultural ghettoes, and introduced such delights as saline injection ballbag modification and the (hopefully at least partly fabricated) concept of godzilla bukkake to an audience who, had they done even the slightest bit of research, should have known exactly what they were in for. CLV is a short sharp slap of gross-out fun, but belongs more to a pulpy subgenre of its very own than any recognisable (or, for that matter, marketable) publishing category.
If Ellis really wanted to put off the publishers, either he or CLV‘s Bookscan figures failed spectacularly: New Year’s Day 2013 sees the release of Gun Machine, his second novel, and it’s a very different animal indeed. Oh, it’s pure Ellis, don’t worry about that – but it’s also much more recognisably a novel, and a pretty damned decent one as well. Talk of “that difficult second [album / book / cloned mutant love-servant]” all you want, but Gun Machine is a serious bit of game-raising, an order of magnitude deeper, wider and just plain better than what went before it.
I can’t really speak to Gun Machine‘s credentials as a ‘proper’ crime novel, because that’s a genre I only know at one or more removes. One could probably make an argument for Gun Machine as sf, as it’s set in one of those Gibsonian very-near-futures: recognisably not too far from the here-and-now, but with a few all too plausible technological extrapolations. But given sf’s ongoing generic toxicity to anyone who doesn’t already identify as an sf reader, I’d not bother; no one who keeps an eye on even just the topmost jags of the technology news-berg is going to get sunk by this novel. So let’s call it a psychogeographical psycho-thriller; there are so many damned genres around now, another one won’t hurt. (And I like psychogeography, so there.)
So, yeah: John Tallow is a detective with the NYPD, and in the opening chapters he sees the brain matter of his partner spattered across a tenement stairwell (and his suit jacket) courtesy of a naked man with a shotgun who’s working his way through a psychotic break. Pretty standard start for a crime novel, right? But in pretty short order – and in brief and highly visual chapters – Tallow discovers the tenement contains an apartment full of guns. Hundreds of the things, and not just stashed away in a cubby-hole, either; they’re laid out on the floor and walls in an intricate, cryptic and, worst of all, incomplete gunmetal mandala.
It’s the sort of clusterfuck case that no sane detective would ever want to be saddled with, let alone one trying to deal with having seen his partner zeroed right in front of him earlier that day… which is exactly why Tallow’s boss dumps it straight into his lap, hoping it’ll sink quickly into the ocean of unsolved Noo Yoik murder cases and take Tallow with it. And that’s before the forensics evidence starts flooding in, revealing that each of the guns is connected to an unsolved murder, a collection of cold cases stretching back decades.
This is no straight-forward serial killer caper, though, and technique is a part of that. Instead of sticking to Tallow as he – assisted by the two profoundly (and, quite often, amusingly) dysfunctional CSU sidekicks he acquires – collects plot tokens to trade in for the final revelation, Ellis gives us chapters from the killer’s POV as well. This takes deft handling; revealing the killer to the reader early on robs a crime writer of a major source of tension, but the plot here is far wider than one man and his very serious case of psychopathy, which lets Ellis pull us into both the deep and recent histories of New York as a city of trade, uncovering webs of deceit, greed and and corruption as contemporary as they are timeless. And somehow, despite Tallow being almost a textbook cipher of a detective, a man with no life beyond the job he’s been indifferent to for years and his apartment piled full of pre-digital media, Ellis makes you root for the guy; it started out as pity, but became something more than that, at least for me.
Perhaps it’s a matter of contrast: the hollow Tallow against the vision-filled and profoundly schizophrenic killer, against his madcap sidekicks, against the callow careerists of the NYPD. Character depth isn’t Gun Machine‘s strong point – it’s very much a novel of types – but Ellis has the knack of communicating what, for want of a better term, we might call the universality of fucked-upness. Despite the comic excess, Ellis’s white-hats are big-hearted behind their overamped peccadilloes; it’s the black-hats who wear the sharp suits, the veneers of respectability and conformity. Ellis knows his audience of freaks and outcasts. He’s always been proud to be one of them, after all.
And there are some genuinely funny moments in Gun Machine, a necessary and welcome counterbalance to the clinically gruesome descriptions of slaughter. It’s dark humour, of course, but delivered with a humanity that you might not expect after reading CLV… though if you’ve read Transmetropolitan, arguably the comic that made his rep, you’ll know that Ellis has a big heart hidden somewhere behind that scouring-pad beard, and that his spiky character is a sort of defence mechanism against a world that can stomp on hearts all too easily.
(Having written that publicly, of course, I fully suspect Ellis will now despatch a drug-crazed fan-minion to shit in my eyesockets while I sleep. Man’s gotta rep to protect, y’know.)
But enough detail. Gun Machine isn’t going to take any literary prizes, but it’ll take you on a blood-soaked ride around the scabrous underbelly of a world we still think of as modern, but which is really a whole lot older and simpler – and nastier – than we care to acknowledge. And while there’s no happy-ever-after – or even just desserts – in Ellis’s world, it is all the more human for that; it rings with the bittersweet chime of the truth, and that’s a sound I don’t hear enough, no matter the medium.
I suspect I’ll remember the 29th of November 2012 for some time to come, as that’s the day when I found out my Masters dissertation scored a First/Distinction. Not sure exactly how the module scores for the rest of the course are combined, but I suspect that means I will have a Distinction grade overall.
I can live with that.
Plus: a guy got in touch in response to an ad I put on a Sheffield community forum in search of people to make music with; I’m going to meet him and his two bandmates at their practice space on Sunday, see how we get on.
And Palestinian statehood was a nice touch, too. (And no, I have no idea whether it’ll turn out for the better or for the worse. Unless you’re a fucking wizard or time-traveller, nor do you. I tend to judge news items like this by who’s angriest about them — and this seems to have pissed off an awful lot of warmonger hawks in the States, as well as the Israeli hardliners. I’m chalking it up as a win.)
On a similar note, right-wing thinktanks here in the UK are furious about the government’s new Energy Bill. Which means that, while it’s a long long way from being a blueprint for a viridian utopia, it’s evidently splashed some droplets of piss onto the shoes of Big Fossil and the windmill NIMBYs. Yeah, I know everyone’s bills are going to increase, and yeah, it’ll probably hit the poor hardest, as changes of this sort always do. But that’s the thing with kicking a long-held addiction, see; it’s painful as all hell, and your former dealers will make you a lot of offers that look deceptively generous over the short term in order to win back your custom. But we all of us need to face up to the hidden costs of our energy use, and start paying the real price… and while we could have done with starting back in the Seventies, it’s better we start now than leave it any longer. It’s a hobbled step, but it’s in the right direction.
So, yeah – I’d say yesterday was a good day. I’m hoping there might be more of ‘em in the pipeline.
Well, the vast majority of my stuff is packed and stacked around this tiny room. Tomorrow two men will come and put it all in a van, I’ll put KJ in her kittybox, and then we’ll go to Sheffield — just to the east of Sheffield proper, in truth, where I have found a little terraced house to rent.
That makes it almost exactly one calendar year living in the Stepford Wives/Potemkin [pri]Village mash-up that is South Kensington, and I can’t say I’ll miss this part of town very much — nor it me, I fully suspect.
London I will miss, though, for a lot of reasons. The history, the sights, the human churn (when observed from a distance, at least); the gigs and launches and readings and conferences and things to do and see and people to hang out with. And I’ll surely miss the bookshops (though my bank balance will be the better for their distance, I fear).
But it feels good to be moving again; good and, though I’m wary of the the word as I flinch from the feeling, right. I’m wary because, well, the last time I moved north, it felt right, and that didn’t end too well, to say the least. But the circumstances are very different, and I lack the nagging doubts I should have heeded that first time. As I described it to someone the other day, it’s like I’ve found a door propped open in a wall where I never expected there to be any doors. I’m slipping in to see what I find on the other side.
I know one thing I’m going to find, and that’s a whole raft-load of work. Indeed, I have a large academic paper (my first proper one) due just after the turn of the month, and much as I’m stoked about it, I’d really have liked a little more of a breather between finishing my dissertation and starting another tight-deadlined project of comparable size.
But hey — life doesn’t work like that, and opportunities are best not wasted. Time and tide, time and tide. The wind is blowing. The sails are full.
Here is an ebook you might consider purchasing. The Colinthology is an anthology of stories collated by Roz Clarke and Joanne Hall in celebration and memorial of Colin Harvey, a novelist late of the Bristolian SFF parish, and one of my clients from my webdev days.
Reasons to buy:
- 21 genre fiction stories for just £2.99
- DRM-free multi-format ebooks, bought direct from an independent publisher (i.e. “screw you, Amazon”)
- All proceeds go to charity
- An appropriate send-off for someone who went way too soon
If the reasons above aren’t sufficient, then I doubt this one will make much difference, but nonetheless:
- The first story in the book is “Biz be Biz”, a collaborative story by myself and Gareth L Powell
“Biz be Biz” takes place in the (currently mothballed) New Southsea universe I was still playing around with at the time, and grew out of one of my Friday Flash Fictions. It was a lot of fun to write; I talked about the process (which ended up as a sort of brinksmanship tennis match, in the best possible way) on a panel about collaborative creation at Bristolcon this weekend just gone, and hopefully the audio will crop up online somewhere at some point, should you be curious to know more. (It was, by all accounts, a fairly interesting panel; I certainly learned a thing or two.)
I was asked to write a few words about Colin for the book, which I think would be suitable for sharing here:
I only met Colin two or three times in meatspace. He was a client in my webdev days, so we chatted via email — but email is no intimate medium, and we mostly spoke of business.
Colin at conventions was different thing; there, the easy-going character familiar from his emails was overlaid with a garrulous, generous bonhomie. The sort of chap who, on seeing you passing, would not merely nod but actively drag you right in to whatever conversation he was involved in; an extrovert, for sure (or so he seemed to me), perhaps with a well-leashed hint of Jack the Lad lurking behind the grown-up façade, but the sort of extrovert whose happiness seemed to derive in significant part from the happiness of those around him. A fun guy to be around, in other words — though tiring, unless you could match his herculean tolerance for alcohol in the early hours of the morning.
There’s a third Colin, too — the one I wish I’d got to know better, the Colin who blogged about rescuing injured baby blackbirds. I only caught the last fifteen minutes of his movie, so to speak; I never got to see the full range of his character, the depths and subtleties.
But you can tell a lot about a character from their final scene, can’t you? And that the writers and readers that knew him have come together to honour his memory with an anthology says, I think, a lot about a guy whose honesty and drive had a knack of making things happen — for himself, yes, but also for others.
He’s still doing it now, as you can see.
A good sort, in other words. The Bristol scene feels Colin’s loss very keenly, and the anthology is a testament to that. I’m very pleased to have my work in there.
Other miscellaneous updatery: I move house this Friday! I haven’t properly started packing yet! I have deadlines dropping on me like bat guano on a spelunker’s hard-hat! Everything’s going a bit mental! Nothing seems quite real! But yet I’m still oddly excited!
More on this before the move. Or, if I manage to manage my displacement activities appropriately, after the move. One or the other. Ahem. Yes.
Email in my inbox this morning; anonymised and dissected for reply here, because if this is indicative of what’s going on out in the ebook trenches, then we’re gonna need more mustard gas.
Hey, Paul Raven!
So what kinds of promotional activities are legal, moral & ethical for the EBook Newbie like myself? I’m asking, because you look like a pro. Maybe you can point me in the right direction.
OK, so if I look like a pro, we’ve unearthed your first problem, which is that you don’t research properly. Pro author? Pro editor? I’m neither. Just a writer, and not even a very successful one yet.
But I can point you in the right direction, I think — that direction is best defined as “diametrically opposite the one you’re currently facing”. Calling yourself an “ebook newbie” (with caps or without) pretty much screams out a warning that you’re trying to run before you can walk. As does asking a lot of in-depth questions about promotion, but not a single one about writing, or a single mention of the presumably a-fucking-mazing ebook you’re trying to flog, here.
(Hence the public reply; usually I delete emails like this, because they’re alarmingly frequent, but yours had enough of an undertone of naivete that I felt you might not be too far gone to save, and that you might serve as a useful exemplar of a particular problem.)
I notice some writers asking for Facebook LIKES, promising to Like-Back-In-Return. Is this OK? I have never tried to LIKE any of my own eBooks on Amazon; afraid I would break some rule and get banned for life. I have LIKED all the books I review, however.
It’s very noble, the Amazon self-pub mutual-backscratch club, and a genuine community. I dare say you could accrue many likes and recommendations and linkbacks and hell knows what else by doing what other marginally more successful (or at least more assertive) self-pubbers suggest you do. Sadly, most of them will be from members of the same community… and speaking for myself, I find members of that community a) easy to spot, and b) well worth avoiding, because all they ever do is promote their own self-pub Kindle pages, or those of people in their network.
Take it from someone who went to boarding school: hanging out in a circlejerk is always an option if you’re low on real friends, but bear in mind that, by default, you will be sitting with wankers and talking about wanking.
Would a large number of LIKES on my Amazon EBook Page make my sales goup?
Are there Facebook rules against the I’ll-Like-You-If-You-Like-Me strategy?
Why not start a Facebook Group: “The EBook Likers?” Join the group, and you pretty much agree to go around and LIKE all the other Member’s eBooks which are on Amazon. The Power of LIKE! (My guess is that Facebook would shut the group down, but there is no reason the group couldn’t organize off of Facebook; it could be done without even a website, strictly by eMails!) Brings me back to the earlier question: What are the Facebook rules on LIKES? Amazon may have its own rules on reciprocal LIKES.
This is one of the saddest paragraphs I have ever read.
Something like this goes on every day at Twitter. (My background is Twitter – **handle redacted** – it’s where I go to let off steam) The I’ll-star-your-tweets-if-you-star-my-tweets factor. Most tweeps on Twitter rarely, if ever, favorite any tweets at all. But there is an in-bred niche of super-favoriters who go to Favstar to track exactly how many stars and retweets each of their tweets get.
By analyzing the data, it becomes clear that the Favstar Superstars don’t achieve their status with superior content, but with superior networking. Take any Favstar Superstar and examine several of their tweets in detail, and you will find the exact same avatars always at the beginning thirty spots, with just a few odd avatars; the further up the number of stars a tweet gets, the more variety in avatars. But Always The Same Exact Gang At The Start. Favstar defaults to the 50 fav Leaderboard; but there are also 10-fav boards, 30-fav boards, and 100-fav boards. Once a tweet gets on these leaderboards, they glom extra favs from “outsiders” not in a person’s Fave-Back gang. I’m just a bit-part player on Favstar, but I have noticed that if one of my tweets gets more than 10 stars quickly, it ALWAYS gloms several extra stars from avatars I have never seen: usually 3-7. I imagine the 30-fave board gets a 10-15 bump: it explains the variety of avatars I see in the higher numbers when I analyze the Superstars. The 50-fav board seems to be the tipping point. Get to 50 quickly, and you are assured of an avalanche of extra Star-Love from the gazillion extra tweeps who see your tweet when they view the default Favstar Leaderboard. (I have noticed another strategy in operation – Favstar Superstars will delete a tweet if it doesn’t get a lot of stars quickly – so that their Gang-Of-Star-Backers won’t waste their starbacks on a tweet that probably won’t bust into the 50-Leaderboard.)
But that was the very saddest paragraph of all. It’s like watching an earnest young accountant, fresh out of college, trying to work out where all the free money is coming from in the departmental Ponzi scheme he’s just uncovered.
Forgive the digression; but it is in the nature of an analogy. It is an example of how the I’ll-scratch-your-back-if-you-scratch-mine factor operates within Twitter.
It’s also an example of how completely you’ve missed the point.
So, are Review-Backs a thing? I’ll buy & review your book if you buy & review my book?
I fully expect people trade reviews for free, but I’d be surprised if you can get the reviewers to buy their review copies first.
What about a Facebook Group of authors that review each other’s books? Is this more bad EBook Newbie behavior? Or is this a valid networking strategy to help our eBook pages move a few extra sales? Again, if Facebook is not the place to “host” such a group, it could be done on any website, or again, it could be done in stealth mode, by eMail.
As to whether some sort of public behaviour is appropriate or non-jerky, here’s a handy rule of thumb: if you even have to ask, then it’s probably jerky. Corollary: the legality of a course of action is not the first question you should be asking of it (unless, I suppose, one is a career criminal, which I’m assuming you’re not.)
Hey, I’m asking questions! Cut me some slack! If these behaviors are ”gaming the system” then I will humbly add that many of todays ”Winners” gamed the system to get where they are. I personally believe that if you are going to speed in an automobile, that first there must be no children anywhere near, and second that I don’t want to be the fastest car on the road. I want someone else to be faster, so that they get pulled over instead of me.
Ah, OK – now that’s a genuinely illustrative analogy. What you’re saying is that you’re happy to reap all the benefits of cheating, so long as you can ensure there’s no fall-out or consequences. The good news is that demonstrates you’re not a natural born shit-heel; if you were, you’d just be out there doing it anyway.
The bad news is it demonstrates that you’re in the writing game for the wrongest of reasons.
[As an example of "speeding" I offer this: There are sites which track Twitter Users recent following & follower history. I happened to load up http://twitter.com/Scobleizer one night and the history was interesting. Within a 2 week period he dropped the number of people he was following down to about 20,000 (from something like 90,000). And in the next 2 days, followed about 40,000 more people! The time period was March, April, 2009, something like that. Social Media Whores can't do that anymore on Twitter. Robert's response to this change was to unfollow everyone and continue bitching because he isn't on the Suggested User List.]
I know Scoble’s name and reputation. They’re contributing factors in my ongoing disinterest in his work. Scoble is a tech pundit. You’re trying to be a novelist. This is like a ballet dancer trying to improve by copying a door-to-door salesman.
I don’t know how much LIKES and Reviews even help a purchase, except to give whoever is viewing the eBook page a bit of “trust.” I have found the best predictor of whether I will enjoy an eBook is reading the Free Sample. Screw the reviews, if I like the sample I’m probably going to dig the book.
Amanda Hocking’s success strategy is interesting. She bombarded book bloggers and eBook reviewers and got them working for her! I’ve been wasting the last two decades querying agents and editors about my novels. Should I shift gears and focus on book bloggers & eBook Reviewers? There are online lists of book bloggers and eBook Reviewers. I can bombard them with eMail queries. Hell, with the help of PeekYou and some other services I can get their actual physical snail mail addresses.
Imagine how freaked out they will be when they get my physical promo package!
Yes, that’s the usual effect of an unsolicited package… people can get so uppity, just because you dug their mailing address up out of some service they never even signed up for and sent them something they didn’t want, can’t they?
Any thoughts? Or am I just another irritation?
I’m gonna be totally straight here, my friend. You need to make a decision about what it is you actually want: do you want to be famous, or do you want to be a writer?
Reason I ask is because you’ve sent me close to 500 words here about the mechanics of promoting your self-pubbed books, but you’ve not even mentioned your actual writing so much as once. This means you either consider it worthy of publication already, or that the quality of your work is a secondary consideration to how you promote it.
And I dare say that may be why you’ve been querying for two decades without success.
So I feel safe in saying that if you’re in this because you want to be known, because you want your name in lights, because you want the accolade and glory (and maybe a little bit of income) from Being A Published Author, then it’s time to quit.
Seriously. Two decades of writing and subbing and querying, and these are the best questions you can think of asking another writer? The questions you think will make the difference between fame and obscurity? I can’t begin to explain how badly you’re missing the point here, how much of a rod of misery you’re making for your own back. Quit. Stop wasting your time. Get a new hobby. Develop an alcohol habit, if you don’t have one already. Spend more time with the (grand)kids, I don’t know. Just get the hell away from your computer, if all you can think of doing there is finding ways to corner people into commending your work for any reason other than that they found it and genuinely enjoyed it. Seriously. You’re just adding more noise to the signal, and the signal’s hard enough to tune in on as it is.
Amanda Hocking is, probably quite literally, a one-in-a-million oddity; if you look at the numbers, the odds of visible success as a self-pubbed author are probably just as high as they are for one who followed the old-fashioned agent-editor-publishing-house model. Self-publishing is not a short-cut, not a tradesman’s entrance through which you might slip after being turned away from the front door. Sure, people have made fast money and overnight fame that way. Some of them have even done so with books of staggeringly poor quality. But the odds are spectacularly low, and the field incredibly wide. It’s a crap-shoot; you’ve been at the table twenty years, talking loud and walking proud, with nothing to show for it. Walk away, cash your remaining chips, sit down and enjoy yourself. You’ve played the game, and lost. There’s no shame in having tried and failed. Let it be.
There’s no magic marketing bullet that will make your book sell better. Luck and circumstance might, but if you can influence them, you don’t need my help or anyone else’s.
There’s one thing that might make your book sell better, though — and that’s making it a better book. Or making a new book that’s better than the last, and another one that’s even better than that, and then another and another. And sending them out, whether to agents or editors or straight into the whirlpool of the Kindle store, and letting them speak for themselves, while you wait at home patiently, writing the next one.
I’m no pro writer, my friend, but I’m privileged to know a fair few. And you know what pro writers worry about, ahead and in front of pretty much everything, from marketing and reviews right up to the household finances?
They worry about their writing. How to make it better, stronger, more compelling, more moving. And the worry comes out as work. The response to a book that doesn’t sell is to write another, better book. Rinse and repeat.
Writers write. Everything else is secondary.
So here’s your choice: you can decide that your book hasn’t sold because you haven’t plugged it enough, and as such you can use every channel of desperate huckterdom that the internet provides (and, by heaven, there are dozens more than you’ve yet discovered), you can do anything other than writing more and better in an attempt to shift that product, and you can send more emails like this one hoping for someone to tell you the magic answer to your problem, so long as that answer isn’t “well, you know, maybe your book just wasn’t actually very good?”, and you can spend the rest of your life blaming the unfair world for failing to recognise your genius, despite all the effort you put into telling people that you had it.
Or you can decide that your book hasn’t sold because it’s just not as good as its competition in the market.
And if you make that decision, and respond to it by sighing deeply, perhaps even railing loudly about the dearth of taste and appreciation in the reading public (ideally in the privacy of your office), before sitting down and starting again, then you are a writer.
But if that’s the last thing that you want to do, if you’re all done with the story-telling and ready for the phase where you sit back and let the accolades and glory and self-belief flood in, then it’s time to realize that you don’t want to be a writer; you want to be famous. The latter can follow from the former, but it’s the former that requires a steady input of work.
If you’re not willing to do that work, honestly, it’s time to quit. Writers write, and keep writing. End of story.
Yours sincerely, &c &c.
I went to see an old friend for lunch today.
Jeremy Lyon is the guy who founded Futurismic, back in the day. He was also the first person (other than me) who was willing to publish my writing back in 2006, when he took me on as the site’s daily blogoid.
Six and a half years… it seems a lifetime ago, but at the same time, like just yesterday.
It felt like the perfect moment to finally meet Jeremy in person. We’ve not been in touch much since he handed over Futurismic to me; at the time, he’d just landed a gig in UI at Palm and had his second child, so he’s been all colours of busy. Long story short, he’s now involved with UI development for Android, posted over here in London for a year, so he invited me to lunch at Google’s L4 building near Victoria Station, and I got to thank him for setting me on what was, with hindsight, the long and winding path that got me to where I am right now.
So: thanks again, Jeremy, for taking a shot on a guy whose ambitions and ideas far outstripped his native talent at the time.
Like Jeremy, you may be wondering what’s happening with Futurismic. Right now? Nothing much. But I have plans. Plans, I tell you. The ‘zine shall rise again, phoenix-like, transformed and transcendent, like itself but much much moreso…
… just as soon as I can suss a way to fund it, or find a hidden three hours in the day that I was heretofore unaware of.
(But seriously, stuff’s gonna happen. Watch this space.)
1 – Thanks to the plague I picked up from being coughed all over on a train last week, I was unable to avail myself of the plentiful catering options, though I can inform you that I had a Granny Smith apple, and it was very nice.
2 – Before you accuse me of false modesty, have a trawl through the earliest posts on this very site. I learned in public, and am proud to have done so.
It’s nearly three weeks since I submitted my dissertation and effectively finished my Masters. This is the seventh attempt I’ve made to write about what that means. I suspect it won’t be the last, though this one is actually going to make it past the draft stage; I realise I’m hesitating, and I want to step on that habit.
So, there’s a hook: what have I learned about hesitation in the last year? I’ve learned the extent of my fears and insecurities, certainly (and it wasn’t much fun at the time), but I’ve also learned something that it feels like I’ve been waiting my whole life to learn: that the fear can be beaten.
This is a lesson more general than just writing, though. This isn’t the time or place to rake through my past like the entrails of a sacrificial goat, in search of kinked loops or lesions that might auger how I became what I am become, so suffice to say that self-confidence and I are only recently acquainted. (Hardly unique among writers, or artists in general, of course.) To have been pushed to the edge of what I thought I was capable of, and then some way beyond that, and to have come through and delivered in the face of my own fears… “revelatory” is probably a shade too strong a word, but it’s close enough if you can stomach the cliché.
I find myself wishing I’d been pushed like that before, but realising at the same time that I wasn’t ready for it before now. The push is important (and in my case almost certainly vital), but the choice to allow myself to be pushed, to bend to the yoke willingly (if reluctantly and fearfully at times) – that was the most important thing, perhaps, and it had to come from inside of me.
I’m not used to valuable things coming from there. But damn, it’s fucking sweet when they do, isn’t it?
But enough with the wide-eyed self-discovery moments of an emotionally-underdeveloped introvert: what did I learn in terms of writing?
That’s a trickier question than it initially appears, which is why this is the seventh attempt at answering it. The obvious solution would be to list the module topics: I learned of voice and narrative, of character and of place; I learned of the short form, and of the long! But those topics are inherently fuzzy, more like a closely packed Venn diagram, crosshatched and overlapping like the petals of an orchid… and to be honest, they all revolve around teaching you how to read properly, how to read with an eye for certain types of effect (or affect) in the text, and how to see where and how such techniques might be reused in works of your own. A long, long way from “when [x], a good writer should [y]!”, then.
This is a good thing. (Or it was for me, at least.)
If anything, then, we might say that the most important lesson I took away from the course is that technique – or what I think Nick Mamatas means when he snipes at “craft” as a writerly shibboleth – is important only inasmuch as it supports the greater edifice of creation; that there’s sod all point in crafting lovely precise sentences if you’ve not got a story to tell with them, in other words.
But I also misunderstood story itself, I think, albeit in a way that’s remarkably hard for me to put into words. I guess the closest I can get would be to say that I used to think story was almost entirely what I now think of as plot, but now realise that plot is actually subservient to story, which is also inextricably bound up in narrative and character; that story is, in a way, everything but the words you see on the page. With hindsight, I’ve come to suspect that all those writerly advice books and blog posts that talk about how fiction is “driven by conflict” contributed to this problem; I was thinking of story as sequences of unfortunate events, rather than as characters experiencing the turbulent flow of their own lives.
Obvious in hindsight, sure. But internalising that old saw about characters “needing to be just as real as the people you know outside your head”, realising that it’s a description not of some sort of winsomely artsy manifestation of multiple personality disorder, not of hearing voices, but of a process of imagination infinitely more thorough than “oh, let’s say blonde, early thirties, works in a bank in West London, that’ll do”… it’s harder than you might think. Perhaps it’s even a subset of cognitive dissonance: learning to imagine the subjective experience of an imaginary intelligence while simultaneously taking into account your own subjectivity in observing them and the world in which you’ve created around them.
To be clear, I suspect this is a crystallisation of stuff that I’ve been absorbing for some time; doing the Masters has been like adding a catalyst in the final stages of a reaction. I also realise it reads a little like “ZOMFG narcissist discovers empathy!”, which wouldn’t be an utterly unfair way of looking at it; put it this way, I think it no coincidence that the last few years have also seen me becoming more politicised. (Opinions on whether that’s a change for the better are, I believe, somewhat divided. Selah.)
So, yeah: I learned a whole bunch of profound-seeming metastuff about fiction and subjective experience that I can’t yet explain very clearly, but which make me feel a) much more engaged with my art, and b) more confident in my ability to do worthwhile art (for values of worthwhile as defined exclusively, at least at the moment, by yours truly.)
I learned that I am capable of completing big and challenging projects, which makes me feel like I can do it again, and do it better.
These are valuable things. I feel like I got what I needed from the course, even though what I needed wasn’t quite what I thought I needed. I signed up for the course with the attitude that I wasn’t really bothered about grades, and at this level, I’m still not; I am a better writer, which is why I came. That said, I’d like to take home a top score, too, not just a mid-list pass. But if I don’t, well, what the hell. With my dissertation, especially, I had to take the decision that rather than worrying about what the assessors would want to read, I had to focus on doing something I felt was worthwhile, something I could be proud of on its own terms, no matter how it got marked.
And I did – but that’s probably another post (or three) for another time. For now, I have vague ideas for two novels fighting for position in my backbrain, an imminent moving-of-house to Sheffield to arrange, and an academic paper on sf prototyping to finish… so I’d best be getting on with it, hadn’t I?
Oh, yeah: I also learned just how far I can take procrastination and displacement activity in the face of intimidating deadlines: while in the middle of doing my dissertation, I somehow managed to research and write a ~10k piece on Nordic LARP, the first part of which is now up at Rhizome.org…
Back at the beginning of the summer, I went to Hoxton to meet a couple of friends for afternoon beers and a chinwag. On the way, I saw the Google Streetview car passing up and down the street; much as I suspected at the time, it has temporarily immortalised me, trapped me in a freeze-frame of congealed sunshine and the magical digital time-amber of the intermatubez.
I’m actually quite chuffed, though I couldn’t tell you why. Let’s put it down to shallowness and move on, eh?
View Larger Map
His history be the hallowe’en of her. “T is down, pumpkin.” Pumpkin scene flickers, checked to his wobbly cardboard killing-jar Oxfam? Every Oxfam?
T spins, unfocused, shitty again. Pavement. It’s a heard object, really arch, dears — sucking a brickwork road, we’re the end of pavement. And air in the world harrassed his public clinic, mad with that library hunger, her light, and shrill pistols end Benji fitfully, loud bitten in the awful window. Heard of the specimen; says nymphoid’s best is back in straight pockets, but together: speed.
Too straight, everything is clear: impatience shopfront, clinic maybe. But still the woman is clear, or just unfocused, too loud a photoshopped corner in the scene. Happens she takes people, wobbly. But you, cardboard, she told you: “guy, say sucking pockets,” heard behind him, nestling in her freezeframe. Manages the newspaper, palm coming to a stalled nothing. Leap.
Go big, solution: shoplifting really sucking now, sucking air, worrying, strangled — that type reminds her, something that stretches Benji to clear, pistol cardboard, world, speed, dears, bag, scene, in, tied out. Told to leap back, moving down Palmeston, air supposed where things of air might think: public speed.
Her Matrix straight unfocused, benches grinding, shrill imagining haunted the back expression: keep windows clear of clinic-think. Down pistols, unfocused, then be clear, expression back to pavement — just pavement? Dears, the shoplifting flickered, they’d say “maybe” to type; go the clinic.
All of history cartoonish, why and away? Crowbar. She happens. Not today, pumpkin; sci-fi clear, but no black-out. Leap the strangled history you call photoshopped, crusty expression for his dear object: speed.
They know, shoved onto a moving pavement. Down, away, pumpkin-seeing-the-pavement! Newspapers still spin her away, we leap anyway: it’s the throb of my pinning her here, supposed solution, spins, grinding awful impatience. All afraid, looking the best — why noticing? Speed.
Nothing spins repeated, used sci-fi hide; Saj trodden down, probably worrying. Think. Typed the library — speed, her hands like Oxfam? She stalled, takes out time. End mad, maybe — and why type, awful clear, like Oxfam? That’s once herself, guy, before T stalled, coping high to the end, her pistols, guy: she, she the awful speed.
Like wordless toenails, only anyway: coming back by, she’s made of something again. Go T, unfocused; buy back, be loud.
From the dissertation-in-progress; an experiment with using automated cut-up engines to recreate the narrative disorientation of severe CNS-stimulant withdrawal. Methodology: write scene, leaving gap for fugue; paste entire scene into cut-up engine; retrieve results, cull, kill and splice, repunctuate; paste results back into cut-up engine, repeat process (as many iterations as you want, or until you get a batch that seems to sing without being prompted; chop into paragraphs, tease out emergent themes and riffs; condense down; display to a baffled public who’ve already heard of Burroughs, thankyouverymuch.
Everyone was so pleased when I announced completion of my first draft that their responses
have totally crashed Twitter, apparently. Ahem.
I’m no expert, but that’s looking like pretty bad news. It didn’t take long for spectacular un-graceful failure states like this to disappear behind web2.0′s equivalent of the hold music, our old friend Fail-whale. Where’s he today, huh?
(Just occurred to me that half the problem is probably down to millions of people hitting refresh or their devices hammering the APIs. I’ll bet there’s some wailing and hair-tearing in that datacenter right now. Or has it gone down under the weight of some 9-11 grade Bad News Item?)
Of course, the really scary thing is how much I feel its absence, leering at me out of my second monitor. The cyborg’s augmentations fail; what does he do next? Life as cliché cyberpunk101 vignette.
protag. rolls cigarette, thinks nihilistic thoughts, hates on
traffic hovercars armed kid gangs on scootersthe gov’t.
Maybe he edits a magazine – yeah, a zine, but it’s IN CYBERSPACE! [need good neologism for this, something really cool-sounding] So he broods, writes his zine thing; he’s not found much time for it since he got his new implant. What next?
** Get milk, bacon. CAT FOOD Email [redacted] about that bloody invoice they got a month ago
So, yeah. Sure is warm today.
Thought occurs: make periodic catastrophic failure a feature of Twitter. Every three months, complete reset, all old tweets killed off, all connections erased; only your handle remains the same (though you can change it, if you like). Be interesting to see which were the people of your follows and followers would find themselves following again the soonest, wouldn’t it?
Update, 17:51GMT – Twitter appears to have reappeared, though it’s still struggling under the wave of returning users. No cataclysm tweets… but then I guess you can’t livetweet a cataclysm for long, right?
So, anyway, first draft – complete! Not the first draft of my dissertation, though. Oh no. Totally different project. Pitched an article on Nordic larp to Rhizome back in May and got it accepted, foolishly overlooking the fact that I had a rather big project to be going on with already (in the form of said dissertation) plus my day job (which has kinda taken a backseat for the last fortnight, so to speak). Worse still I had to ask for two extensions on the deadline, partly because it rapidly became a huge fascinating monster of a thing, and partly because my time-management skillset has been tested to destruction. I’ve not touched my dissertation in the last week.
But now it’s [edit for clarity: the Nordic larp piece, not my dissertation] in first draft form, all 11.5kilowords of it, sat in the editor’s inbox… and the editor is going on holiday for a fortnight starting tomorrow, so I get to let it simmer until then, while I get back to, erm, all the stuff I’m meant to be doing right now.
First draft of a non-fiction piece is always a sweet moment, because that’s the hard pushing done, the baby delivered into the waiting arms of the doctor/editor, who takes it off to be examined… and then returns, solicitous above a steely core, to discuss which organs and appendages need to be surgically removed before it can be seen in public.
What would we do without them? Hug your editor today! Or buy them a coffee, maybe. Not everyone is digging on random hugs. Or coffee, for that matter.
Postscript – it’s none other than Bruce Sterling, ladies and gents, reproducing a string of sullen tweets I sent from the bowels of Tuesday’s London heatwave as… prophecy? Poetry? I dunno. I’m just amazed he noticed; to my shame, I totally failed to mention drones. But then again, I doubt they’re deployed around here; Chelsea comes with its own brands of privacies and surveillances, and it’d take a long time to get the locals hungry enough to riot. Selah.
In a fit of total vanity, I’m gonna embed those tweets below. Wouldn’t put it past CondeNast to just disappear Chairman Bruce’s blog one day, and I am passing proud of these. I do all my best poetry when surly, y’know. *flounces off*
Too hot to think. You could chew the Chelsea air like bubblegum tonight, blow queasy blue zeppelins of low-grade anxiety toward Battersea.
— Paul Graham Raven (@PaulGrahamRaven) July 24, 2012
Hardly another window open on this street other than mine, occupants all elsewhere; an immaculately manicured somewhere-for-the-weekend.
— Paul Graham Raven (@PaulGrahamRaven) July 24, 2012
I sweat, sat sullen in cutoff shorts on a broken swivelchair. Gravity has been working on my midriff while I’ve been busy with other things.
— Paul Graham Raven (@PaulGrahamRaven) July 24, 2012
Where do they go, the botoxed Sloanes, the chalkstriped blusterers, new-money Maseratis? Some Ballardian resort, a sealed ecosystem…
— Paul Graham Raven (@PaulGrahamRaven) July 24, 2012
… like London, but without that omnipresent risk of osmosis, the inescapable lingering stench of the poor.
— Paul Graham Raven (@PaulGrahamRaven) July 24, 2012
Something waits, waits for its moment pulsing sluggish like a smoker’s veins at four a.m. What might disturb some fatal chunk of plaque?
— Paul Graham Raven (@PaulGrahamRaven) July 24, 2012
Babylondon dozes like a marketplace cur, teeth half-bared, eyes screwed shut against the truth. The butcher sharpens a nervous cleaver.
— Paul Graham Raven (@PaulGrahamRaven) July 24, 2012
Two things happen in the middle of big projects, I’ve noticed.
One of them is the mid-project motivational slump: that period where you hate the project, can’t see any point in completing the project other than to demostrate your incompetence and hubris to the world at large, and can’t imagine why you chose to start the project when you could have written, oh, I don’t know, a nice conventional linear narrative about competent Anglophone spacemen bringing civilisation to someone in sore need of it, goshdamn. The project taunts you. Touching it blackens your fingers, like an old fireplace in a foreclosed cottage.
(There’s a dissertation update, for them as was lookin’.)
The second is what I’m starting to think of as conceptual accretion. In the early phases of any project, you’re getting your sources and inspirations in order, keeping them together in a big tank somewhere, sloshing around near the front of your brain, to see what happens when you smoosh ‘em and smash ‘em together. Some of those ideas and facts and twistings might merge or mix, and you start getting a nice solid bolus of… shit, I don’t even know what this precursor material is called, but I can tell you mine comes in boluses, and you keep building them up and compacting them down with more layers of material, like one of those ice-cored snowballs they warned you about at primary school after that boy lost his sight in one eye, until suddenly some certain mass or density is achieved, and criticality occurs.
At this point, any new idea you encounter may well be sucked into the project by the increasingly powerful gravity well focussed on your original idea-bolus. The first few days of this phenomenon are deceptively heartening, as they offer what seem to be new angles on the original target, but after a little while you end up with an accretion disk of rubble the size of a solar system orbiting around an idea so dense and obsessed upon that it is obscured by its own singularity, which not even the light of your own thoughts able to escape unscathed.
Come to think of it, Thing Two may well explain Thing One.