Saturday 28 June 2014

Because they asked me to

Fiction Vortex

I ****ing love you, Twenty-first Century

Okay, I had been somewhat mildly drinking when I cooked up most of the theme and content of this posting.

As I'm in the process of renovating a house I am sans broadband most of the time.  So, having had a rigorous day sugar soaping or painting or whatever I went in search of a hostelry with wifi.  So, all hail the Crown and Septre, St Marychurch, Torquay who not only had free broadband but gave me a short pint for free as it had got down to the crunchy end of the barrel.

And when I went online not only did I find that two people had bought my book on Amazon, but that I had a comment on this little old blog.  What touched me was that we now live in a world where an Indian woman in Canada can casually comment on the musings of a white bloke from a doubly-landlocked county in England.

So, the cider asked me, with the whole planet getting huggy, if not downright touchy-feely, how can there still be evil in the world?

Now, I know that anybody below forty will probably roll their eyes at being impressed by our joined-up planet.  Social media is as natural and everyday as breathing.  Hey, this is supposed to be about sci-fi!  Give us a hovercar or something and get on with it.

My family have never been early adopters of technology (except for the colour television, but I think that came down to Dad watching snooker) hence I'm still impressed and amazed at the technology we already have.  Try going back to the 17th century and explaining television or electricity, you'll start to think none of it makes sense.  (I had the same feeling when I attempted to summarise the plot of Thelma and Louise one).

But (you knew there was a 'but' coming) richness of functionality and ease of use bring with them consequences.  You see, it's so easy to be an online author or 'generator of content' that we're all at it to the extent that the rate of consumption of that content is pathetic (I've now had three sales! the last one in dollars!! so it's probably not even somebody I know!!!)

I know that there's something imperial/paternalistic/fascist about the logical conclusion of this argument;  that the authors should be an elite minority producing a small amount of stuff for the many eyes and brains to feed off.  I like the idea of democritising writing but quality tends to go for a Burton.  As a consequence many of us end up writing for an audience of one: ourselves or, worse, our imaginary friend.  Hence it comes as such a pleasant surprise when a stranger makes contact based entirely on what you've written.

This is the main reason that I turned my back on Facebook and Twitter - I simply don't want to know, continuously and continually, what you're thinking/eating/buying/sleeping with (Okay, I am curious about the latter...)  Everybody's talking, but nobody's being heard...

Touchy-feely-huggy?  Yes, but a bit onanistic at the same time...

Wednesday 18 June 2014

Don't you just hate technology when... tells you that it hasn't saved your blog posting so you re-write the whole thing from memory just to find that it's been posted anyway?

Putting that gripe aside, my story My Avatar has an Avatar was published on Daily Science Fiction today, and Fiction Vortex have accepted 'The Lodeon Situation', a story which ranks amongst my personal favourites but has proved really hard to shift.  But it appears I've given it away for $10.  Still, a credit's a credit...

Saturday 14 June 2014

In Praise of Mr Clarke

No, not Arthur C. but Neil of Clarkesworld.

Has he taken one of my stories?  No.  Actually, no for the the seventeenth time.

No, the reason for this praise is when Mr Clarke decides not to accept a story he takes no more than 48 hours telling me.  (Unless, of course, he has some email rule which rejects anything from my address after a plausible reading period...  Hold on, I may be on to something). took nine months to tell me they almost liked a story enough to publish it.  EscapePod have currently asked for an additional two or three months on my story 'The Soul of Solomon Kismet' which has gone to the 'final round of review'.  One possible outcome is that they take it and I'll be delighted, natch, but another possibility (probability? - I have no idea of the conversion rate) is another delayed rejection.

Before anybody thinks this is a criticism of those publishers that take weeks and months to accept or reject work I am realistic, I know how stretched resources are, and I know these frustrating waiting periods come with the territory.

Hence it's nice when somebody appears to be fully on top of their backlog.

Talking of backlogs I understand how easy they are to build up, but what I find harder to comprehend is a constant unchanging backlog.  Take Britain's two speed postal service.  I understand first class: get it there asap.  But what of second class?  Do they engineer in a delay?  Today's first class gets dealt with before today's second, but what of yesterday's second versus today's first?  And if they put in an extra half day yesterday would that mean they could process everything as first today and forever?  And what of the time taking to sort first from second, couldn't that be use to, ahem, get more post to us?  And will there be second class post in space?  (Had to remind myself this is meant to be about sci-fi).

Neil Clarke obviously thought my first seventeen stories somewhat second class.  I wonder how long he'll take if he thinks my eighteenth first class?

In Praise of Mr Clarke

No, not Arthur C. but Neil of Clarkesworld.

Has he accepted one of my stories?  No.  Actually, no for the seventeenth time.

No, this is in praise of Mr Clarke because when he doesn't want something he invariably takes no more than 48 hours over it - although it may be that he now has some kind of e-mail rule that reacts to anything from my address, delaying the reply sufficiently to give the impression of reading it... took nine months over a story simply to say they almost decided to publish it; EscapePod have asked for another few months for my story 'The Soul of Solomon Kismet' which has gone to their final review round.  Be delighted if they take it, natch, but there's always the possibility (probability? - I have no idea of the conversion rate from final review round to sale) of another further delayed rejection.

Before anybody points out that resources are stretched in the world of publishing let me emphasise that this posting is not a criticism of those that take weeks or month, just praise for one of the ones who appears to be on top of the submission process.  I know how these things work and that the frustration comes with the territory.

But talking of processes, it's easy to let a backlog build up, in which case response times increase or, if there isn't much to process, to be always responding swiftly.  But it's very hard to have a constant unchanging backlog. I've often wondered about Britain's two speed postal service.  I understand first class: get it there asap.  But what about second class?  Naturally, today's second class gets processed after today's first class, but what of yesterday's second class versus today's first class?  And if they put an extra half day's shift in yesterday, couldn't everything be dealt with as first class today and forever?  And how much time is spent separating out the second from the first, and what if that time were used to get the post to where its going?  And will there be second class post in space?  (Had to remind myself that this is meant to be about sci-fi).

Neil Clarke obviously thought my first seventeen submissions second class.  If he thinks the eighteenth first class I wonder how much time he'll take to tell me?

Monday 2 June 2014

Hikikomori - the bleeding edge of human development?

I've always had sympathy with those much maligned individuals who hold a teleological view of human progress.

However, where I think they're going wrong is in thinking that the human race is heading for some sort of apogee, a nirvana.

No, water runs downhill and so does human nature.

Life is all about survival; tens of thousands of years ago life was hunt prey, kill prey, cook prey, eat prey, sleep and try to not die reproducing.  There was no leisure time.  I imagine the caveman who took time out to grind coloured rock and fingerpaint an elk or a hand shadow was regarded as somewhat eccentric.  But what he had invented, as well as art was leisure time.

And since then we've been carving out more and more leisure time from the necessary hunting, cooking and not dying bits of our day.

If you want to see the direction of travel, teleologically speaking, then look no further than the Japanese Hikikomori, the latter day hermits.  These people have created, or are least trying to create, 100% leisure time.

Hard work is going out of fashion and the Hikikomori are just leading the charge.  A century ago Britain had 20000 working class brass bands; now that figure is down to 1000 or so.  Men who worked with their hands were proud to maintain their own cornets and trombones.  Hard work was its own reward.

My children, given the choice between kicking a ball around and playing video games go for the video games.  I'm, of course, shocked and appalled because that's how society has wired my brain.  As a parent I feel a need to instill a work ethic in them, but I'm beginning to wonder whether a Protestant work ethic or Catholic guilt are two sides of the same socially-constructed coin (or possibly sides of a die as we want to be inclusive here); something society has made up to get us to work because we've had to.  Even the Hikikomori don't feel 100% happy with their lot.  Truth is that my generation only kicked a ball around because the XBox and Wii hadn't been invented.

What innovation will tender today's screen based entertainment redundant?  I predict some kind of floatation tank with added narcosis, foodstuffs made by robots and nanobots fed to us through tubes.  We'd all be watching blu-ray boxsets of shows made by virtual actors, the scripts churned out to algorithms cooked up by focus group and feedback loops.

As time goes on human progress is about us getting closer to our true nature, as reckless irresponsibles.  We're fighting against the social conditioning that hard work is its own reward (god knows I suffer from that more than most), so look to those least sullied by conditioning to see the truth - the kids.

Not pretty, is it?