Tuesday 23 October 2018

Don't count your chickens until their published

As the millions of you (if I could address you in terms of your constituent cells, multiple personalities, and gut bacteria) that follow this blog know, my aim is to submit 365 stories this year, one a day.  Being roughly on track, it’s hardly surprising to report that, occasionally, the blancmange sticks to the ceiling.

But I’m uncertain as to how much of it will stay, and how much is already peeling off onto my upturned face.

Let me explain.  My story ‘Farndale’s Revelation’, which first appeared in DomainSF, has been selected for Nexxis Fantasy’s Corporate Shadows’ anthology.  I’ve even signed a contract.  However, it’s been utter radio silence since, to the extent that the book should have hit the shelves last month.  (Maybe the publication date of ‘31 September 2018’ on their Marie Celeste of a website should have alerted me to something bigger than a typo).  Can’t get anything out of them, even though they appear to be actively seeking submissions for their next work.  Odd.

Secondly, my sci-fi noir ‘The Fool’ will (hopefully) appear in ‘Deductions, Delinquents, and Detectives’ by Banjaxed Books.  Again, communication here is intermittent.  I only received acceptance of the tale when I chased, long after writing this market off, receiving an exceptionally charming and apologetic email.  But then, nothing.  Confusingly, the website talks about the high number of high-quality submissions received, but that they’ve held the doors open for a bit longer so as to publish two volumes of genre-melding mysteries.  I have more faith in this one appearing, particularly as they successfully published their first anthology, Chaos of Hard Clay, although I haven’t seen a contract as yet.

Thirdly, and I think this will happen because there’s more than just a book going on, my space-trucker fable ‘The Loimaa Protocol’ has been selected for the anthology to be published alongside WhimsyCon, Denver’s steampunk and cosplay convention.  Odd, really, given the story isn’t steampunk, and there’s little potential for dressing up to it.  Apart from space helmets.  We’ll see what the good burghers of Colorado make of it next March.

Plus, I've delivered my rewrites to James Gunn's Ad Astra, and I have a drabble that's made it over the first hurdle at Daily Science Fiction

So, all is rosy?  Well, only if roses are the main thing.  And these roses generate very little in the way of magic beans.  To me, short fiction is a signpost to my longer works, which pay their way on purchase, not on publication (did I mention my novel ‘2084’ is still available?).  But the cornfields are, to be honest, neglected; my current novel having been hardly pushed forward this year.

It will be, I keep telling myself.  But only when I’ve written that story about ghosts from the future, of course.  And the human origin story involving multidimensional beings.  And the Victorian steampunk tale that may be the imaginings of a tortured mind in the here and now.  And the one about the jester and the creature that absorbs malice or goodness...

Saturday 13 October 2018

Something Star Trek got right

The criticisms levelled at Star Trek are legion: the, at best paternalistic, at worst imperialistic, politics; James Tiberius Kirk's continuous and continual sexual harassment, particularly of those to whom he has safeguarding responsibilities; and, most heinously, Scottie's accent.

However, I'm beginning to think that one accusation made at the show may actually be prescient.  And it's not just a gripe people have with Star Trek; you can find this trope across all of science fiction.

It's that, whilst cultures between planets may be very different (you guys get the prosthetic limbs; you, we'll paint blue; you... where do you want the fur?) each planet is a strict monoculture (everybody with furry kneecaps with me, the six-limbed over there to that planet).  Diversity is strictly interplanetary, not intraplanetary.  With Star Trek, it's always struck me as particularly surprising that, given the deliberate rainbow nation-nature of the crewing of the Enterprise, this never strikes any of them at the time as surprising.

As a writer, I can understand the shorthand; the fact is that if every fictional planet had as rich and heady a mix of cultures as Earth then it would act as a brake on the momentum of the story as you try to remember all the made-up ethnicities and groupings.  Except when diversity becomes the issue, and then it's dealt with in a heavy-handed, black and white (pun intended) way, just to get the point across.

But I'm beginning to wonder if it's not the Earthlings which are ultimately going to be misrepresented.  You see, we're living in an increasingly homogenised, monocultural world.  And I can only see this heading in one direction.

It's wonderful that you can go on to a London street and eat European, Asian, American.  But that's true (I suspect) of Berlin, Buenos Aires, Tokyo, New York and the rest, and where's the fun in that?  There are KFCs and McDonalds on the streets of Beijing and Moscow, unthinkable when I was growing up during the fun, fun, fun Cold War - indeed, KFC is apparently the most popular fast food brand in China.  We're all becoming a bit samey, as we may realise if we bothered to look up from Facebook on our iPhones, that is.

This news story didn't inspire this posting - there's basically something like this weekly - but we learnt this week that IKEA is looking to follow the mouse, the clown, and the jolly man with whiskers who enjoys killing chickens, by expanding globally.  Brilliant.  Now everybody the world over can file their shit Dan Brown novels on shit Billy bookcases.

On one level, fundamentalist Islam and fundamentalist capitalism are both trying to make the world homogeneous.  It's just a choice between burkas for everyone or lattes all round.  It makes you want to go huzzah for North Korea, which has fewer websites than you can access via your avatar on Grand Theft Auto, as remaining one of the last bastions of heterogony, albeit mainly through the brutal curtailment of freedom of choice.  Though, if plans come to pass, they'll be a unified Olympic nation by 2032.  So, that'll be Coke, Mickey Ds and Fruit of the Loom t-shirts all round.  Another nation brought into line, blandification-wise.

But, maybe, this is what progress looks like.  Coming from Bedfordshire, there was a time when people from Cambridgeshire would have appeared strange and alien.  And as for those from Norfolk...  People read this blog in Ukraine and Israel - to you guys, Brits are Brits, pretty much the same.  Just push this process forward a few hundred years.  One day Earthlings will all be pretty much the same, whether you're from Earth yourself or you stopped off for a leak and a sandwich at Barnard's Star on your way here.

Perhaps, that total blandification, that cultural reversion to the mean as everything, everywhere is shaken together, is a necessary condition for us to achieve the next step in our evolution.  Like having to perform to a certain level in order to move on to the next level in a game, we have to become a beige monoculture before the gods allow us to reach for the stars.

Why not?  They're out there, aren't they?  Watching.  What are they waiting for?  Who's to say I haven't got the answer...

So, here's my manifesto to you: black, white, brown or yellow (which, after all, is only skin deep and will mix together to a single shade over the next, oh, thirty or forty generations) grab your Starbucks or Coke, your smartphones and your buckets of chicken or BigMacs, sit down to watch Premiership football or read Fifty Shades.  Only when an independent observer can no longer tell where you come from or the qualities that used to set you apart, only then will the aliens come and show us the way to the stars...