At the end of this month (Sunday May 30th), Simon Ings from the New Scientist magazine is hosting an afternoon of talks and short films on the subject of our ‘science fiction future’ and ‘why stories, games and falsehoods may be our best guide to tomorrow'. This event is part of the 'Sci-Fi-London' festival. The highly successful science fiction writer Alastair Reynolds will be giving the keynote talk and that’ll be followed by short films and panel discussions. The event is taking place on the South Bank in London at the British Film Institute.
The title and strap-line for the event has got me thinking; what is our science-fiction future? More broadly, since a lot of people think science-fiction is about the future, with special emphasis on techie stuff, the question really becomes: What is our future? (note: remember to talk about techie stuff).
The amazing Blackstone came to town when I was seven, and I saw how he came alive onstage and thought, God, I want to grow up to be like that! And I ran up to help him vanish an elephant. To this day I don’t know where the elephant went. One moment it was there, the next — abracadabra — with a wave of the wand it was gone! In 1929 Buck Rogers came into the world, and on that day in October a single panel of Buck Rogers comic strip hurled me into the future. I never came back.
It was only natural when I was twelve that I decided to become a writer and laid out a huge roll of butcher paper to begin scribbling an endless tale that scrolled right on up to Now, never guessing that the butcher paper would run forever.
Snoopy has written me on many occasions from his miniature typewriter, asking me to explain what happened to me in the great blizzard of rejection slips of 1935. Then there was the snowstorm of rejection slips in ’37 and ’38 and an even worse winter snowstorm of rejections when I was twenty-one and twenty-two. That almost tells it, doesn’t it, that starting when I was fifteen I began to send short stories to magazines like Esquire, and they, very promptly, sent them back two days before they got them! I have several walls in several rooms of my house covered with the snowstorm of rejections, but they didn’t realize what a strong person I was; I persevered and wrote a thousand more dreadful short stories, which were rejected in turn. Then, during the late forties, I actually began to sell short stories and accomplished some sort of deliverance from snowstorms in my fourth decade. But even today, my latest books of short stories contain at least seven stories that were rejected by every magazine in the United States and also in Sweden! So, dear Snoopy, take heart from this. The blizzard doesn’t last forever; it just seems so.
Fourth decade! How did he last that long? Was he inspired, dedicated, surrounded by supportive, motivating people or was he just plain nuts? Writing, particularly when one is not getting published, is mentally tough, although I still think it beats commuting. Even successful writing may not be much better. George Orwell had this to say about writing a book:
“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”
George, it seems, would have plumped for Ray Bradbury being nuts.
if writing is like being ill, then writers need medicine from time to time. They don't want the medicine to cure them of their affliction, as they don't want lose the strange, heady malady that bewitches them, but they usually want some of its worst symptoms - low confidence, dwindling motivation, creeping loneliness and patchy ignorance - to be alleviated.
I know of a medicine that can turn a hermit-writer that's moaning and scribbling uncontrollably into a motivated and more knowledgeable member of the creative world. The effect doesn't last forever but boy, it's a shot in the arm. That medicine is a week on an Arvon course. The Arvon Foundation organises one-week courses in its own properties around the UK on a wide variety of writing subjects. Course attendees spend a week in the company of fellow writers, living in beautiful rural surroundings, and receive motivation, guidance and knowledge from industry professionals. It can be a wonderful change from sitting in your room, pounding away on your keyboard with nothing for company but the radio. An Arvon course won't necessarily transform you into a writing demigod and catapult you into literary stardom like a flaming missile from a siege catapult, but it really benefitted me. The last course I went on was a graphic novel course taught by Bryan Talbot and Hannah Berry, which I chose on a whim. Since then, I've completed a graphic novel; an achievement I would have barely believed five years ago.
They even have house-martens! :-)
'The Lost Emotion' is about the discovery of a lost emotion by a corporate researcher. In a future world where corporations can patent emotions, a gifted employee decides to seek out emotions lost to humanity. After finding what he can amongst the primitive tribes remote from civilisation, he stumbles upon an obscure piece of research. The science paper states that stimulating the muscles of a person's face can trigger an associated emotion for that person. For example, if someone makes a smiling face, they will actually feel happier as a result [this is perfectly true!]. To take advantage of this strange phenomenon, the researcher constructs a device that can stimulate any combination of a person's facial muscles. By systematically testing every combination of muscles on a test subject's face, he hopes to discover a muscle combination that will trigger, in that subject, a hitherto lost emotion. The researcher tests it on a young man, the narrator of the story. After many days fruitless testing, they discover a new emotion, one that profoundly changes the young man's viewpoint. Initially, the young man is overwhelmed by what he feels but, like Pandora's Box, this new knowledge brings all sorts of problems.
As ever, any and all feedback is most appreciated (but please don't swear too much… :-).
The cold weather has finally eased off (Hooray!). Now that the studio is hospitable again and no longer decorated with icicles, I’ve been working on the graphic novel again. I haven’t posted the new work but I will post a new version of Chapter One when it’s done. I’ve also made some changes to the beginning of Simon’s Brain, my first science fiction novel. There’s more to do on that but it’s a lower priority than the graphic novel so I’ve no idea when it’ll happen. I’ve also updated Schrödinger’s Shed, an illustrated exploration of the fundamental questions of reality by a nine-year-old girl and her dad, in his shed. It isn’t finished yet but I’m pleased with where it’s going.
There’s also some more activity at Arc Science Fiction magazine. I’ve written a book review for them and an edited version is up on their site now. I will have some more Arc related news to announce soon. I’ll post the info as a blog entry once Arc have released their next issue.
Um, what else? I’ve written 10,000 words of what looks to be a new sci-fi novella called ‘The Tri’. In it, a group of astronauts return from Titan to find that the Earth has become a tough, harsh environment and humankind has adapted to survive in it in strange (and satirically humorous) ways.
That’s all I can think of. Enjoy the rest of April!
Update: I’ve been Mr Quiet on this, so that it doesn’t look like I’m stealing Arc magazine’s thunder, but they’ve now mentioned it, so I can. At the end of my book review on the Arc blog site, they say:
“Look out for Adrian Ellis’s competition-winning short story The Lost Emotion in the next issue of Arc, coming soon.”
So there you go, you have been warned!
Here’s the announcement of the competition results from Simon Ings, the editor:
Today we are delighted to announce the results of the first Arc/Tomorrow Project short story competition. While we are a quarterly we have virtually no room in Arc for writing that comes at us from odd angles. The competition is the one chance we have at the moment of developing new talent. So how did it go? Pretty impressive, I'd say: we received around a hundred proper stories (none of your "flash fiction" here), representing thousands of hours of effort and struggle (and, I hope, at least some fleeting pleasure).
Was choosing the shortlist difficult? No. The first rule of judging and reading fiction (and saying this puts the fear of God into new writers - but it's true) is that you can tell within seconds if a story is alive. It's something to do with the way the prose and the ideas lock together. It's a rhythm, a cadence, something you only pick up by constant practice - and it's unmistakable. If the competition hadn't gone well, we'd have been wading through passable stories for days. As it is, our shortlist is made up entirely of stories that sing.
And while we were reading, half a world away in San Francisco, the Tomorrow Project was building our new website. Together, Arc and the Tomorrow Project will be generating conversations around our winning fiction, giving writers an exciting, inspirational platform and valuable feedback on their work. All Arc's shortlisted stories are here.
I thought that was a very encouraging comment from Simon. Insightful criticism is probably the most important feedback - so a writer can improve their work - but I never say no to a whopping big compliment.
The story is available to read as a pdf from their website. You can also read it on my webpage.
I’ll let everyone know about any more related news when it comes out.
Enjoy your day!
The staff at New Scientist have brought out a new digital magazine called Arc. It's a mix of articles about the future and short stories and is available on the iPad (which I don't have), Kindle (nope, don't have that either) and Mac (hooray! I have one of those).
They've also asked for short story submissions for the next issue. The theme of submissions is 'The Future always wins'. Being a big fan of science fiction, I've put together my own contribution. Initially, I thought about writing a serious narrative story describing loss of identity, invasive technology, the sort of stuff elegantly described in books by William Gibson, Neal Stephenson and Philip K. Dick, but I didn't really come up with much.
Instead, I decided that it would be fun to write a dialogue exposing the banality of peoples' use of technology and how it still can't help them understand their partner. We have incredible kit at our disposal, such as the modern smartphone, but most of us have no understanding of how it works and we use smartphones for the dumbest of reasons. It's a strange world where a GPS satellite network, thousands of gigabit processors, clocks that lose a second every billion years and other marvels are employed so someone can pass around a video of their mate throwing up. The future, I think, is highly unlikely to be like Star Trek. As Scott Adams perceptively pointed out in 'The Dilbert Future' and Terry Pratchett has stated in various articles, it'll probably be a lot more cringeworthy.
If you'd like to read my short story, ''18% happier' then click on the link.
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