Tagscience fiction

Interview with #Burgerpunk and Paintwork Author Tim Maughan

Tim Maughan

Here’s a nice long interview with, Tim Maughan, author of short stories like “Paintwork,” “#Burgerpunk” and the British Science Fiction Award nominated “Limited Edition“:

The problem, perhaps, with addressing the concerns of the day – particularly in science fiction that hopes to predict the future – is that it ages pieces considerably. Simon Ings (Hot Head; Dead Water) said of Paintwork: “[Tim] catches those fleeting moments of possibility in stories that ought to have no shelf life whatsoever – and which, regardless, linger in the mind.”

With very positive reactions, this timeliness obviously doesn’t concern Tim too much. In fact, he embraces that idea, mentioning how dated – but still enjoyable – films like Alien, Blade Runner and Outland are. “The idea behind many of them,” he tells me, “is that we’ll go into space and it’ll be this massive industrial enterprise; we’ll build these huge mining platforms – and that’s a reflection of the 1980s right? That’s a reflection of what industrial corporate technology was like then. It’s not a reflection of what industry’s like now.

“If we do ever expand our industries into space, it won’t look like that because the only way we could do it would be with more sophisticated technology – with nano-technology, and much sleeker approaches to doing things. We’re not going to go and build huge mining cities on Io, or whatever. But that doesn’t make those films any less beautiful to watch and it doesn’t make them any less relevant. In the1970s and the 1980s, we were building these huge oil platforms out in the North Sea in order to exploit the resources we had there. And I’m a big believer in that sort of science fiction; I don’t mind getting things wrong.”

He can even see his own work becoming dated, despite only being published in July 2011. “I get the impression that QR Codes are already going out of fashion,” he continues. “I don’t mind that because when I was writing about them, they were a fairly new thing. It’s interesting: I think the reason they’re going out of fashion is because they’re so easily hacked! They’re so open to malware – and you don’t know where it goes.

“That’s what Paintwork is all about. I like the idea that you can look back at science fiction from the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, now, and go, ‘well, that’s wrong about the future, but that doesn’t matter because it was reflecting the values and concerns of the time it was written.’” It’s like a time capsule. “It makes science fiction an important and historical document,” Tim agrees. “You can’t get the future right, you never can. So coming back to those films, I watch Alien and Blade Runner and those movies all the time because they’re visually stunning. For that reason, there’s a place for it and it is nostalgia.”

Intro
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

#Burgerpunk

Short sci-fi by Tim Maughan:

“‘Burgerpunk?’” Tamsin squinted at me over the rim of her ironically ugly spex. “And that’s…what?”

Her eyes aimed down again, I could tell she was reading from some non-existent document floating in her own private space, my portfolio I presumed. It was also painfully obvious this was the first time she’d seen it. I stifled a sigh.

“Well…it’s a phrase I coined when I was in Shanghai. It’s…let me think. You know what steampunk is, right? Do you remember that?” She was probably too young.

“Sort of.” She half nodded. “Vaguely. Cogs and robots dressed as Colonial Saunders. Airships.”

“Yeah, that’s it. Pretty much. It was this romanticised idea of Victorian Britain but with this…this steam powered technology stuff. Anyway it got really popular in the States mainly, the reasoning being it allowed Americans to fetishise this sanitised, romanticised British Empire, because they’d never had one. I mean they had an economic, military and cultural empire – but not a physical, old school empire with an exciting history, right? Their empire never showed up on any maps.”

“Okay.”

“So, the Chinese have the same problem, right, but slightly different – they’ve got this economic and maybe military empire, but they don’t even have a cultural one. Because of the language thing. Nobody outside China apart from a few nerds is watching Chinese movies, reading Chinese comics. So they’ve started fetishising America’s cultural empire. Burgerpunk.”

“Right.” It didn’t seem like Tamsin was completely following me, but I carried on regardless. It was too late to stop, I guess.

“So over in Shanghai and Beijing they’ve got all these AR parks and shopping malls and restaurants, where these salary men and factory workers take their families, and they can sit and eat burgers and milkshakes in fake ‘50s diners served by robots that look like Ronald Reagan and Lady Gaga while clips of the Vietnam war play on flat screens. Just outside Beijing there’s actually a theme park where you can dress up like gang members, and drive around this hyper-real recreation of an anonymous LA retail park – all burger franchises and outlet stores – in replicas of exactly the sort of gas-guzzling US muscle cars that the Chinese government has just had to ban.”

Full Story: The Orphan: #Burgerpunk

Introducing Infrastructure Fiction

The Blood of the City

Paul Graham Raven introduces the idea of “infrastructure fiction,” a derivative of design fiction (itself somewhat related to science fiction):

No one would describe Douglas Adams as a “hard” science fiction writer, but I’ve long felt that he was better than many of his more serious contemporaries at communicating the paradoxical relationships we humans have with the world we inhabit. Near the start of the third Hitchhiker’s Guide novel, Life, the Universe and Everything (Adams, 2009), Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect observe the arrival of an unusual spacecraft (which, if I remember correctly, looks rather like a low-budget Italian bistro turned on its side) in the middle of Lords cricket ground during an important test match. This spacecraft remains unnoticed by the players, the crowd, or even the stolid BBC reporters covering the match; this is because it includes a device which generates a “Someone Else’s Problem” field, whose inventor realised that, while making something invisible is very tricky, making something look like someone else’s problem is much, much easier, as most people are predisposed to that position.

The challenge for infrastructure fiction is to dispel the Someone Else’s Problem field and reveal the elided centrality of infrastructure to pretty much everything we do. Its challenge is to explore what infrastructure means.

Full Story: Superflux: An Introduction To Infrastructure Fiction

Paul includes links to a few examples from a University of Sheffield project he was involved in, including the “City Blood” concept pictured above.

Arm Cannons and Futurism, an Interview With the Creators of Light Years Away

lab_Lightyears_004

After a while, most serialized webcomics start to look the same. Just about every series seems to strike a similar balance of influences from anime and western animation. But not Light Years Away, which draws inspiration from European sci-fi comics by artists like Moebius and Tanino Liberatore.

LYA is set in a world where many — perhaps most — people have cybernetic implants. But there’s a growing, violent anti-implant movement called the Puritans. The first story arc, Escape from Prison Planet, tells the story of Milo, a repeat offender doing time on an off-planet penal colony, where he ends up in the middle of a prison gang war between the Puritans and the implantees. Soon, however, he finds out there’s something bigger going on.

I talked with writer Ethan Ede and artist Adam Rosenlund — the Boise, Idaho based duo behind the series — about webcomics, the future of the series and other projects they have in the hopper.

Ethan Ede and Adam Rosenlund
Left: Ethan Ede Right: Adam Rosenlund

Klint Finley: First, I’m curious why you guys self-published online. Did you shop it around to publishers first?

Ethan: We self-published this story because we wanted to do it our way. Having control over our product is very important to us, that’s one of the reasons there are no ads on the site, because that is content we can’t control. At the time when we started Light Years Away we were shopping several products around to publishers and we wanted to put something out in the meantime. We actually picked LYA because it is the least like the stories we normally tell.

Adam: As well as the story being built for the format. We were kind of frustrated at the pitch process when we decided on LYA. We just wanted to get some stories out there and read, and at the time, no one was buying science fiction. The market was in contraction, and publishers were reticent to take a chance on what we were selling.

Continue reading

Sci-Fi Story Disguised As Twitter Bug Report

Tim Maly is at it again:

It was a post by Allison. Nothing special, something like “Mmmm tasty lunch” with an image attached. The image was a broken link. No big deal. I tried to find the original tweet but there was some problem with the unique ID and you don’t make it easy to page through past tweets. I’d have given up if I hadn’t noticed the timestamp.

The timestamp was in the future. Two days in the future. Weird bug. But @timebot was always a side project and I was on some big deadlines.?

Two days later, Allison decided to go to our favourite sandwich shop. I don’t know the details of what happened. But I do know that at 12:23:51pm on October 3rd, @allililly tweeted “Mmmm tasty lunch” with an image attached and no broken link. The timestamp matched. The unique ID matched. The formerly broken link in @timebot’s message now worked. I got that vertiginous feeling again.

To keep things simple, I’ll spare you the details of the next occurences, or of the time an errant tweet nearly broke up Sandra and her girlfriend. Let’s just say that I’m convinced that, somehow, @timebot is pulling not only tweets from the past, but tweets from the future.

Full Story: Twitter API returning results that do not respect arrow of time

Previously: Tim’s The Corporation Who Would Be King

Did Aleister Crowley Communicate With Grey Aliens?

lam

Well maybe, but he never seemed to have thought so:

The idea that Crowley believed Aiwass and Lam to be the same entity, or that either were extraterrestrials from Sirius, is only the speculation of Kenneth Grant and those who have based their research on source material written by Grant. Additionally, very little can be said about the inspiration for the Lam portrait or what Aleister Crowley thought about it. [...]

At least to the present author, this description of a kingly, tall, dark man in his thirties does not fit the Lam drawing. More importantly in relation to the subject of this post, the description does not match up at all with that of a “grey alien,” which many people relate to Lam.

The next important piece of information to take from Crowley’s depiction of Aiwass is that he never actually saw Aiwass at all. He only heard the voice of Aiwass from over his left shoulder, and from the furthest corner of the room. Not once did he actually look at Aiwass. His physical descriptions are only impressions.

So here we have a character description based only on non-visual impressions, and which doesn’t seem to correspond with the pictured Lam or grey aliens at all. This is the only known written description of Aiwass by Aleister Crowley.

Crowley himself never wrote much of anything at all about Lam, where the figure came from, or his ideas/thoughts about the subject in the drawing. What he did write was limited to a short, two sentence commentary in The Voice Of The Silence, which will be discussed later in this article.

Full Story: Blasted Tower: misconceptions about aleister crowley, lam, aiwass and alien contact

(via Brainsturbator)

See also: A Media History of Gray Aliens

This illustration of HG Wells’ tale of human evolution, “The Man of the Year Million,” is one of the oldest depictions of the “big headed genius” trope:

The concept is based on Lamarckian evolution, specifically the idea that body parts we use frequently will grow larger but parts we use less frequently will atrophy. Wells took this to the logical extreme, postulating (with tongue in cheek) that we would eventually grow gigantic brains and hands but tiny legs and torsos.

William Gibson Reads From His Next Novel, The Peripheral

Gibson recently made an appearance at the New York Public Library, and he also did a surprise reading of the first couple pages of his forthcoming science fiction novel The Peripheral. The reading begins about 80 minutes in.

The video and transcript can be downloaded here and The Awl has a good write-up of the rest of the talk.

For more Gibson, check out our dossier.

Cities Of The Future, Built By Drones, Bacteria, And 3-D Printers

generative architecture
Above: generative cities and architecture by Aranda & Lasch

Futurist Chris Arkenberg outlines a possible scenario for urban planning and architecture:

As complex ecosystems, cities are confronting tremendous pressures to seek optimum efficiency with minimal impact in a resource-constrained world. While architecture, urban planning, and sustainability attempt to address the massive resource requirements and outflow of cities, there are signs that a deeper current of biology is working its way into the urban framework.

Innovations emerging across the disciplines of additive manufacturing, synthetic biology, swarm robotics, and architecture suggest a future scenario when buildings may be designed using libraries of biological templates and constructed with biosynthetic materials able to sense and adapt to their conditions. Construction itself may be handled by bacterial printers and swarms of mechanical assemblers.

Full Story: Fast Coexist: Cities Of The Future, Built By Drones, Bacteria, And 3-D Printers

This reminds me of the recent sci-fi short story “Crabapple by Lavie Tidhar:

Neighborhoods sprouted around Central Station like weeds. On the outskirts of the old neighborhood, along the Kibbutz Galuyot Road and Siren Road and Sderot Menachem Begin, the old abandoned highways of Tel Aviv, they grew, ringing the immense structure of the spaceport rising high into the sky. Houses sprouted like trees, blooming, adaptoplant weeds feeding on rain and sun, and digging roots into the sandy ground, breaking ancient asphalt. Adaptoplant neighborhoods, seasonal, unstable, sprouting walls and doors and windows, half-open sewers hanging in the air, exposed bamboo pipes, apartments growing over and into each other, growing without order or sense, creating pavements suspended in midair, houses at crazy angles, shacks and huts with half-formed doors, windows like eyes–

In autumn the neighborhoods shed, doors drying, windows shrinking slowly, pipes drooping. Houses fell like leaves to the ground below and the road cleaning machines murmured happily, eating up the shrunken leaves of former residencies. Above ground the tenants of those seasonal buoyant suburbs stepped cautiously, testing the ground with each step taken, to see if it would hold, migrating nervously across the skyline to other, fresher spurts of growth, new adaptoplant blooming delicately, windows opening like fruit–

For more of Arkenberg check out our interview with him. Want to learn to think like he does? Here’s his guest post listing his favorite books on systems thinking.

And for more big, mad ideas about architecture and cities check out:

Paul Laffoley

The Fab Tree Hab

Archigram

Conway’s Game of Life generates a city

Aranda & Lasch’s generative architecture

Fragmentation, or Ten Thousand Goodbyes

“Fragmentation, or Ten Thousand Goodbyes” by Tom Crosshill was nominated for a Nebula this year. The story takes place in Portland, OR and there’s a character, called “Emily,” who is only mentioned, never seen, who I suspect is based on Amber Case:

“Breakthroughs?” I pull back without meaning to. “Every month, heck, every week we get some breakthrough. We all rush to try it and blog it and show it off. Aren’t you scared we’re losing our humanity?”

“Oh, but we’re not human anymore! We’ve fragmented into a thousand different species. With every new technology we choose to adopt — or not — there are more of us.”

“You’re spouting Emily again.”

Lisa turns away, goes back to her suitcase. “She’s a brilliant woman.”

“She’s our competitor.”

“Should we miss out on a chance to change the world again, just because Emily works for the wrong corporation?”

On the screen, Dad gets up on his elbows and watches someone approach. A lithe figure and beautiful, strikingly dark against the white sand. A simulacrum of Mom as she once was. The thing can’t even hold a conversation, but Dad doesn’t seem to mind. He reaches out a lazy hand and grasps her, and draws her down atop him.

Full Story: Clarkesworld Magazine: Fragmentation, or Ten Thousand Goodbyes

The Post-Colonial Space Opera Of Aliette de Bodard

Aliette de Bodard

I might be misunderstand the term, well, actually both terms, but I think Aliette de Bodard‘s work is “post-colonial space opera.” de Bodard has written three stories published in Clarkesworld set in, apparently, the same universe, each using science fiction to explore the effects of colonialism.

“Immersion,” which was nominated for a Nebula this year, is my favorite. It uses augmented reality as a lens to examine cultural imperialism:

“It’s their weapon, too.” Tam pushed at the entertainment unit. “Just like their books and their holos and their live games. It’s fine for them—they put the immersers on tourist settings, they get just what they need to navigate a foreign environment from whatever idiot’s written the Rong script for that thing. But we—we worship them. We wear the immersers on Galactic all the time. We make ourselves like them, because they push, and because we’re naive enough to give in.”

“And you think you can make this better?” Quy couldn’t help it. It wasn’t that she needed to be convinced: on Prime, she’d never seen immersers. They were tourist stuff, and even while travelling from one city to another, the citizens just assumed they’d know enough to get by. But the stations, their ex-colonies, were flooded with immersers.

Tam’s eyes glinted, as savage as those of the rebels in the history holos. “If I can take them apart, I can rebuild them and disconnect the logical circuits. I can give us the language and the tools to deal with them without being swallowed by them.”

Full Story: Clarkesworld: Immersion (You can also download an audio version)

The most recent was “The Weight of a Blessing,” and the original was “Scattered Along the River of Heaven.”

She’s written many more stories, and novels, that I haven’t read yet.

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