Saturday 19 November 2022

Unsought feedback

Maybe it's a Groucho Marx, I wouldn't want to be a member of a club that'd have me as a member, thing, but I recently left the British Science Fiction Association.  As somebody who's British, writes science fiction, and has appeared in half of New Con Press' 'Best of British Science Fiction' anthologies, you'd think we'd go together like ray guns made out of sink plungers and expository dialogue.  After all, it's mission is 'to support and promote SF in all its forms', and one of those carbon-based forms is me. 

So, what's led to this estrangement, this parting of the ways?  Well, as they can't be bothered to ask when a member leaves (you'd think that'd be fairly basic), I thought I'd pen a few thoughts that they may or may not stumble across.

As a starting point, I have to wonder what it was I wanted to get out of joining the BSFA to start with.  I'm not one for dressing up as a storm-trooper or some jelly-headed alien and 'celebrating' my favourite franchise, so joining a sci-fi society isn't really me.  I'm not even sure I have a 'favourite franchise'.  Marston's, maybe?  The sort of sci-fi I imagine is celebrated at events ending in 'con' sit on that uncomfortable continuum between cringy and cartoonish.

If you're here because you've read something or things by me and want to find out a bit more about how I tick, you'll probably have worked out a strong sceptical, absurdist streak, a recognition that homo sapien 1.0 tends to be the limiting factor in almost everything we try to do.  Those cons with their cheerleading, let's-do-the-show-right-here vibe don't really cater for my mindset.  Perhaps I'm being cruel.  Perhaps there's a Kafkacon where people dress up in various states of transition from human to insect.  I might just be able to go with that.

No, if anything, my joining was an attempt to add a veneer of credibility and professionalism to my work, demonstrate that I'm in it for the long run, looking to progress and improve in my output and - in short - put me closer to publishers and agents.  But as a base camp on the Matterhorn of getting agented or (properly) published, if there was a BSFA-sponsored wormhole to the top of the slushpile, nobody mentioned it.

As to improving myself as a writer, I had high hopes for the chance to join one of their writers' group, which they call Orbits.  Frustratingly, it took over a year (I think, without checking email trails) to get on a short story group, and I never got out of the queue for a novel-writing group.  And, when I did get there, having expected others with an encyclopaedic knowledge and innate understanding of the Turkey City Lexicon it was all a bit... how shall I say: blind leading the blind?  Don't get me wrong, they were all very nice people, and there was some incisive feedback, but I had expected to need to run to keep up.

But the most frustrating aspect of being in Orbit were the house rules of email feedback only, and no resubmissions.  I challenged both, and was put back in my box.  On the first, if we're a society, can't we be social?  Zooms, Teams and Google hangouts make that easy (irony alert: sci-fi society refuses to embrace technology!) and there are simple rules that writing groups usually adopt about giving and listening to feedback.  And both that, and the no resubmissions rule really stifle the dialogue that underpins improvement.  Stories succeed in the rewriting, not at first draft stage.  So, what does it encourage?  Lots of half-baked tales, and not ones that have had their structure honed first, then given flesh with as little fat as possible.  Best of luck with that, fellas.

That said, I wish Mark Bilsborough, Wyldblood-supremo, all the best in his new role of Orbit overlord.  Perhaps he'll be a little less flat-earth over how they are run.

Which left my member benefits being a succession of magazines which, although occasionally absorbing, mistook the genre as worthy of chin-stroking quasi-academic over-analysis combined with a forgiveness of chimpanzee-finger-painting-quality dross on the grounds that almost anything has artistic merit, consistent with a belief amongst those who don't create that there's always some great meaning or plan in what we do and we aren't just throwing bits together in the hope they stick in a mildly entertaining way, presented in the village newsletter style of a please-send-a-stamped-self-addressed-envelope-and-wait-28-days-for-delivery-for-an-accompanying-guide to Look Around You.

Actually, I think I may have just worked out why they'd be reluctant to approach me for feedback...


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2084 - The Meschera Bandwidth

2084. The world remains at war.

In the Eurasian desert, twenty-year old Adnan emerges from a coma with memories of a strictly ordered city of steel and glass, and a woman he loved.

The city is the Dome, and the woman... is Adnan's secret to keep.

Adnan learns what the Dome is, and what his role really was within it. He learns why everybody fears the Sickness more than the troopers. And he learns why he is the only one who can stop the war.

Persuaded to re-enter the Dome to implant a virus that will bring the war machine to its knees, the resistance think that Adnan is returning to free the many - but really he wants to free the one.

24 0s & a 2

Twenty-four slipstream stories.  Frequently absurd.