Dr Who and Dune

December 12, 2017

Dr Who, then, is sci-fi, while Frank Herbert’s Dune is not. Dune, you see, is about ecology, anthropology, sociology, etc, etc. Dr Who is just about giant worms (and things that jump out and suck your head off in the dark). If you think Dune is just about giant worms too, you are being cynical and obstructive, go to the bottom of the class.

M. John Harrison
book review column in the New Manchester Review

imagine the future…?

December 5, 2017

Reading New Scientist, I am acutely aware of how fast science and technology are changing — and in so many areas. Cybernetics, biotechnology, nanotechnology are all evolving quickly. Theoretical physics and cosmology are very much in flux, with facts that don’t fit into current theory, such as dark matter and dark energy, and hypotheses which can’t be tested, such as superstring theory. So how does a writer imagine the future, with so much changing rapidly and so much uncertain?

Eleanor Arnason
Me and Science Fiction: Dystopia, Dark Urban fantasy, Zombies and Monsters from the deep.

push it past the limits

December 2, 2017

Cyberpunk work is marked by its visionary intensity. Its writers prize the bizarre, the surreal, the formerly unthinkable. They are willing – eager, even – to take an idea and unflinchingly push it past the limits. Like J. G. Ballard – an idolized role model to many cyberpunks – they often use an unblinking, almost clinical objectivity. It is a coldly objective analysis, a technique borrowed from science, then put to literary use for classically punk shock value.

Bruce Sterling
Preface to: Mirrorshades

weird fiction

December 1, 2017

Duncan Halleck

I didn’t set out to do anything particularly new, but it is true that I am conscious of writing in a tradition that blurs the boundaries between three fantastic genres: supernatural horror, fantasy, and science fiction. I have always been of the opinion that you can’t make firm distinctions between those three.

The writing that I really like is what has been called “weird fiction.” If people ask me what I write, that is the label I give them. The weird fiction axis of people like Lovecraft, Lindsay, Clarke Ashton Smith, and William Hope Hodgson exists at the intersection and you really can’t say that it is horror not fantasy, or fantasy not science fiction, or whatever. It is about an aesthetic of the fantastic; you alienate and shock the reader. That’s what I really like.

China Miéville
Interview with Cheryl Morgan October 2001 for Strange Horizons

Today’s reading

November 22, 2017

forest path

Of the laws we can deduce from the external world, one stands above all: the Law of Transience. Nothing is intended to last. The trees fall year by year, the mountains tumble, the galaxies burn out like tall tallow candles. Nothing is intended to last – except time. The blanket of the universe wears thin, but time endures. Time is a tower, an endless mine; time is monstrous. Time is the hero. Human and inhuman characters are pinned to time like butterflies to a card; yes, though the wings stay bright, flight is forgotten. Time, like an element which can be solid, liquid or gas, has three states. In the present, it is a flux we cannot seize. In the future, it is a veiling mist. In the past, it has solidified and become glazed; then we call it history. Then it can show us nothing but our own solemn faces; it is a treacherous mirror, reflecting only our limited truths. So much is it a part of man that objectivity is impossible; so neutral is it that it appears hostile.

Brian W. Aldiss
Galaxies Like Grains of Sand

abducted by aliens

November 16, 2017

a UFO

So, last Friday night is a total blank, is it? You can’t remember squat about it? Maybe, just maybe, you were abducted by aliens…

Come on, don’t laugh, it happens!

There are verious telltale signs and symptoms, you know. For example:

• A memory gap could suggest you were abducted by aliens and compelled to forget the experience. Let’s face it, Ming the merciless is no stranger to Rohypnol; besides which he’s developed all those mind-bending machines, hasn’t he?

• Yeah, yeah. You struggle to make sense of fragmentary recollections: blurred memories of bright lights (like a riot of neon-lit sleaze, yeah?), odd beings (Usually, they have big eyes and even bigger heads like humpty dumpty); and then there’s those invasive medical procedures (yeah, let’s not think about that too much).

• Panicky fear overcomes you whenever you approach a particular location (Possibly a bar when it’s your round?), or see lights in the sky or a helicopter hovering overhead, or find yourself in situations suggestive of repressed trauma. And you may react with anxiety to movies, magazine articles, and books that deal with UFOs and alien encounters.

• You may experience difficulty sleeping and when you do fall asleep, you doze only lightly. You may dream of spaceships or bizarre creatures with oversize eyes ( they may also have flowing black hair, fake Louis Vuitton purses, and gyrate around you to canned techno music), and you may inexplicably wake up at the same time every night in a cold sweat. In the morning, you may feel disoriented and have short bouts of dizziness, numbness, tingling and paralysis. A headache is not unusual.

• Upon waking, you may find blood on your pillow – a possible after effect of the surgical implantation or removal of alien tracking devices in your nose or ears.

• You may also discover puzzling marks on your body – pinpricks wounds, scrapes, straight-line scars, small crater-like depressions, and bruises that could well be evidence of the physical examinations you endured during your abduction.

Growing numbers of people claim to have been abducted by aliens and there are even those who claim they are alien/human hybrids (I’ve met several working in the local tax offices), following on from their mothers being taken and injected with extraterrestrial DNA!

So, you’ve been warned, boys and girls. Take great care out there. Ming the Merciless will stop at nothing to have his way with you – and if Ming is away, his daughter, Princess Aura is a chip of the old block! She’ll not hesitate to turn you inside out or transform you into a lizard woman to work in the terrible mines of Mongo, or worse still – rip your mind from your body and leave you a shambling idiot with green, scaly alien skin….

Needing aliens

November 10, 2017

Cover art for Paranoid Boyd #2 by Black Malcerta

When I decided to make the leap from writing contemporary fantasy to writing a space opera series with my book The Wrong Stars, I spent a lot of time thinking about the elements of the genre I love most and wanted to explore…I started thinking about aliens.

I knew my series needed aliens, just like it needed mysterious ancient technological artifacts, space pirates, snarky computers, and cool spaceships. Turning to the task of creating aliens right after I’d put together my (mostly) human crew made me hyperaware of the issue of culture. One thing that bothers me in some science fiction (more often cinematic and televisual than written, but often there, too) is alien monocultures. Unless you’re talking about the Borg or Cybermen or other sorts of hive-minds, it never made sense to me to have an entire species of aliens with a single culture. How many thousands of cultures are there on Earth, after all, and how many subcultures within those cultures? From differences in music, religion, recreation, art, literature, food, philosophy, sexual preferences — cultures and subcultures get so wonderfully and weirdly granular. And yet, so often when our fictional humans encounter aliens, they discover the whole species consists of noble warriors or aloof philosophers or sadistic experimenters or ruthless capitalists. Where are the pacifist Klingons who run sustainable free-range krada ranches? Where are the Wookies who like to shave their entire bodies and refuse to celebrate Life Day because it’s gone too corporate? The Volus philanthropists? The punk rock Vulcans? Sure, sometimes there’s a plot point involving some rogue weirdo outlier, but in any alien species there should plausibly be whole communities, whole cities, whole religions or sects or affinity groups, who march to the beat of a different Kintarrian Death Drum.

I didn’t want to have an alien monoculture…but I see why writers do it that way. It’s hard enough to create an alien race without accounting for their ten thousand cultural variants too. Trying to cover a halfway plausible range of cultures would be unwieldy, impractical, and would serve as a distraction to readers anyway. Still, I wanted to address my annoyance, so I thought: wouldn’t it be funny if my aliens were defined by their very lack of a single culture? If, indeed, they had a culture of inconsistency, mutual exclusion, contradiction, and self-invention?

That’s how the Liars were born. That’s not what my aliens call themselves – they call themselves thousands of different things – but it’s what humans call them, eventually.

Tim Pratt
Would I Lie to You? Creating Alien Cultures

Land falls sick

November 6, 2017

Once land gets in a state, once it begins to deteriorate, it is hard to reverse the process. Land falls sick just like people – that’s the whole tragedy of our time.

Brian W. Aldiss
Earthworks