The following is a transcription of the guest of honour speech held by Ian McDonald at ConFuse 92. The transcription was done by Hans Persson. Voices from the audience are among others Anders Holmström (AH), Johan Anglemark (JA), Cecilia Henningsson (CH), Johan Anglemark (JA) and Jessica Santesson (JS). <> means that what was said was unintelligible.
This is the moment that I've been dreading all weekend. The reason I have an extremely large whiskey here is my heart rate is up to about 180 and the blood pressure is down to something so low it doesn't bear contemplating. My brain is in an even more befuddled state than usual because it's ... Guest of Honour Speech Time!
I was just actually asked by the chairpersons, the harassed looking
chairpersons, to do a speech. They didn't say what, that was left up
to me. Ever since that, I've been sitting around saying ''I must write
something, I must write something, I must Do My Speech''. I'll go and
do something else instead. I felt I had to but I didn't want to do my
speech. So -- what we have here is not so much a speech you'll be
glad to know, it isn't ten pages of closely typed, closely reasoned
argument on the state of science fiction as it is written today, more
notes in the margin and random jottings from a deeply warped mind.
So, stick with me. If at any time you want to shout something out or leave or buy me a drink or ask a question or something, that's the nature of the thing. It's not so much me talking to you as ...
AH: A continuing discussion.
A continuing discussion. There are a lot of people in here ... Right, so.
Basically, the official title of the talk is ''Cheap seat in the big
church''. The subtitle is ''Notes towards a manifesto for a new
movement''. Because it's the thing everyone's been waiting for,
everyone's been talking about. The cyberpunks are all fat, well over
forty, balding, many of them are in the Betty Ford Clinic <laughs>
unless you're William Gibson who is now a media guru
. Has anybody seen ''Cyberpunk: The Video''? Yes ... Has anyone watched ''Cyberpunk: The Video''? Well, That's what Bill Gibson is doing. It's a long way from Neuromancer, a long way from ''The Sprawl'' stories, he's become victim of his own mythology. Bruce Sterling is now
a science fiction equivalent of a used car salesman <laughs>. Rudy Rucker has descended into some kind of cybersurf mathematical hippie, somewhere on the west coast of America, turning out increasingly strange stories. And cyberpunk basically is dead and gone and we salute its memory, it was great while it lasted but it's gone, alas, it's dead. R.I.P.
The question now that people are asking, the questing that's on the lips of almost everyone, everyone who was sober enough to be able to speak at EasterCon in Blackpool is: ''What is the new movement?''
Now, does there has to be a new movement? Maybe, but is there a new
What is the new movement?
Where is it going to happen? A lot of people seem to think that the new movement will happen in Britain, which is a terrible responsibility on all us British writers. We have to invent a new movement whether we want to or not. But it seems to be that this is what everyone's expecting, a new trend, a new movement in science fiction. Nobody knows what it is yet. We've had the short-lived techno-goth movement which is basically one man, Charles Stross, who invented the word and did nothing with it. It's a great word, Techno-goth. It doesn't mean anything. We've had American things like free style and we've had the humanist movement and all this sort of thing. All of which was very self-conscious attempts by people who weren't in the original cyberpunk thing and were jealous and said: ''They get all the attention, why can't we get some of the attention? We'll call ourselves something.'' But none of them has
had the same staying power as the original 1960s British New Wave. Cyberpunk -- going off on a slightly divergent track here -- I
ask myself the question: ''Why was cyberpunk so successful as a movement?'' Well, I mean, it's entered the popular language in Britain. In fact, only now the BBC -- the BBC is very, very slow to move -- only now is the BBC catching on to cyberpunk. They had a BBC youth program called ''Artrageous'' which apparently seems to be a good pun to them -- sounds dreadful to me -- and they had an article on cyberpunk on which I was invited to speak. What?! Me? I'm not a cyberpunk. No ones a cyberpunk anymore, but the thing has entered the popular imagination. Why has it caught on in the popular imagination to this extent? I think basically, from my point of view, it is because it manages to capture the feeling of its times exactly. It was an exact product of the Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, fuck you -- I'm all right 1980s. A
combination of teenage paranoia ''They're out there, you know, all these really large, huge corporations and they can do anything, you know. They really rule the world''. That
feeling of being one small person in a very huge and complex and paranoid world. And also, with that, a sort of technological can-do, a sort of fixing things, a sort of messy technology that people take and use to their own ends and according to their own attitudes and thoughts and make their own. One of William Gibson's -- in my opinion William Gibson's only -- memorable quote was ''The street finds its own uses for things''. This is true. The Sony walkman was originally ... everyone laughed at the idea of the Sony walkman. Here is a cassette player that only plays, you can't record on it. Hahaha laughed the executives at Sony but they made it anyway and now virtually everyone has a Sony walkman. Hands up everyone that has a personal stereo. Yes ... right. About three people don't. It caught on. The cassette tape was originally just a thing for dictating letters to secretaries to type. The cassette tape actually itself has a basically a very illegal idea in it. Everyone copies records, right? Most of everyone's cassette collection are bootlegs, they've taped off things. That's the whole idea behind the cassette tape. Why else sell a blank one? The official idea is that you buy a cassette tape to record non-copyright music. Do you sing at it and then play it back to yourself. Not at all. Implicit in the whole idea of the cassette tape is this illegal thing of copying music. The street in a sense has found its own use for that. Likewise, these things, trainers (lifts his foot above the table), have come a long long way from original running shoes. Most trainers if you run in them these days you would injure your feet seriously. But a certain group, young black impoverished Americans basically took sports footwear and turned it into a basic accessory. Everyone has a pair now. And the technology is getting stranger and stranger as they try to outdo each other, you can get ... which are the ones with the pump on them? You pump them up. Why? What good is this that you can pump up your shoe? Big deal. The next thing is the Adidas laceless shoe. Anyone seen those? They have a little knob on them, you turn the knob and it ties your shoes! Why bother?
AH: In Sweden, they are 1200 crowns a pair.
Yep, it's about comparable in Britain, they run about a hundred pounds a pair. And there are ones with transparent holes in the bottom, they have these little hexagonal holes, you know, full of air. Why do you want to see the inside of your training shoe? What possible interest is this? This is basically a cyberpunk phenomenon. It is something that existed in one form, people on the street picked it up, turned it to their own uses and then, industry, commercial interests took it back off them, they saw there was something big here and decided they could make money out of it. The streets finds its own uses for things.
AH: Another great things about trainers and stuff like that, you have it for all kinds of purposes. You can't do two things in the same pair of shoes. There are special shoes made for mall-walking.
Yes. Also now, I don't know if you have it here, in Britain we're
getting what's called ''The street hiker''. Basically, it's probably
the same group of young impoverished males eventually got tired of the
training shoe and adopted the hiking boot instead. And now we have the
fusion of the two, the trainer and the hiker, called the street
hiker. They cost about 120 pounds a pair. Also the thing is who
decided that this (shows his foot again) is fashionable? Having a
flap sticking up in your shoe? Everyone does them. In fact, the flaps
are getting longer and longer. It's like the middle ages when court
jesters would wear shoes with points and little bells. Now the tongues
are getting longer and longer. Eventually, they'll flop over the
front. Likewise, the shell suit. Shell suits? Half Leeds wear them.
like nasty, nasty track suits. Maybe you don't have them. You're very lucky if you don't have them. All of a sudden in Britain, especially in Northern Ireland everyone went out and bought shell suits. Basically, they make you look like a free-fall parachutist. They got these big diamond patterns all over them, they have elastic around the cuffs and elastic around the ankles. Everyone wore them all of a sudden, like that. It was the flat top haircut and the shell suit. Yet again, the street finding its own use for things. Some things, only <> people take and use for themselves and make it some kind of fashion thing. Then industry picks it up off them and turns it into some kind of commercial concern. In fact, so many people wore them that in Belfast a term was invented for people who wear shell suits. The term is ''spides''. It's short for spidermen. It's a very useful word -- spides. Now, thankfully, the shell suits are dying off. Likewise also, baseball caps. Everyone has a baseball cap these days. Where did that come from? Not originally from baseball but from some small group of people that took an established thing, made their own use of it and now, everyone has to have one. Preferably, worn backwards. This may seem a long way from cyberpunk. It probably is a long way from cyberpunk. It's even further from the idea of finding a new movement in science fiction. Not really. The whole idea of the street finding its uses for things ties in with science fiction as popular mythology. Why do we all love Arnold Schwartzenegger? Do we love Arnold Schwartzenegger? Why is Arnold Schwartzenegger a star? He can't act. He can't speak. Okay, he has a sense of humour. He appears in pretty cruddy films.
JA: It's his strongest attributes that he can't act and can't speak and appears in cruddy films.
He's a star, that's why.
AH: One fascinating aspect of Arnold Schwartzenegger and his accent, they did an interview with him on Super Channel, I don't know where this took place but something that the interviewer said ... he became more and more worked up and the more he got worked up, the more his accent disappeared.
It's obviously artificial. His agent has said: ''Put on the accent, people like it.'' Likewise, in the 1983 general election in Britain Margaret Thatcher was signed up with the advertising company Satchy & Satchy and they told her to drop her voice by an octave and a half to sound more authoritarian and more like a man and she did and she got in. In early films she has quite a high-pitched voice, later films she talks very low like that. Obviously to make her sound more authoritarian. Anyway, Arnold Schwartzenegger, love him or hate him, he's a mythological figure. The films he appears in are science fiction as mythology.
I tend to look at science fiction as two separate things. There is
science fiction which is what we read which is hopefully what we think
of as Good Literature, and there is sci-fi, that much hated word,
which I think is mass-media popular science fiction. What people think
of when they see science fiction is sci-fi. It's primarily a visual
thing, everyone now has, in the back of their mind, the ideas of
flying saucers from the 1950s. Everyone knows Godzilla, you know,
destroying Tokyo on one take because they can't afford to re-shoot. All these things are part of our popular heritage, little green men from Mars, the starship Enterprise -- a story about this, you probably know a variation of this, I actually think it's an urban legend, the version I heard was in a Belfast courthouse a man had been arrested for armed robbery. After the trial the judge was about to sentence him, put him away for two or three years in jail and the judge asked him: ''Is there anything you'd like to say?'' According to the story, he took out a book of matches, pushed it up and said: ''Beam me up, Scotty, I seem to be in trouble.'' I've since discovered various version of that across the country. A Swedish version may yet appear. It shows how science fiction has got into the popular culture. Everyone knows ''Beam me up, Scotty''. Everyone knows ''The engines cannot take it captain''. Everyone knows them. They're part of out mythology. The same way that previous generations, or say back in the time of the enlightenment, Greek mythology, everyone knew what it meant. It was part of everyday thought. The gods, the muses and so on.
We find it hard to comprehend when people painted Zeus and Adonis and so forth on their painted ceilings. We can't understand the symbolism but to them it was part of the popular mythology. Likewise to us, the starship Enterprise, little green men from Mars, robots, time travellers, cyborgs, flying saucers, clones -- the word clone which is originally a very specific biological idea -- has entered popular language. You talk about films a film being an Arnold Schwartzenegger clone. It means duplicate now, double. It's a scientific idea that has entered the popular mythology through science fiction.
As another little aside, this brings us into something I personally am
very interested in which is urban legends. Everyone knows them,
they're wonderful things. I've actually caught one in a state of
evolution, as it's appearing. The story goes as follows. If anyone
knows a variation of this, I'd love to hear it. It may not have
reached here yet. What interests me is how they move. How long it
takes an urban legend to spread. How far it goes. There's a town near
Belfast, on the coast, it's called Donagadee, it's quite a small town,
has the oldest pub in Ireland in it. Peter the Great, tsar of all the
Russians has apparently drunk there once but it has this little pier
and there is a lighthouse at the end of the pier. And the story goes
that this married couple moved to Donagadee and bought a new house and
they lived there quite happily for several months and they got their
first electricity bill and the bill was absolutely astronomical. They
could not believe how much it was, it was five, ten times as much as
everybody else's was. So they paid it and life went on and another
bill came and it was even bigger than the one before so they hired an
electrician to check the house to make sure that everything was all
right. And he checked the house and he said to them: ''I found what
the problem is. Apparently, your electrics are wired up strangely.
Every time you turn your kettle on, you switch on the lighthouse at
the end of the pier.'' <laughs> Which, if you think about it, is
totally impossible. I've since heard versions of that where the street
lights are wired up to the kettle. It's always the kettle. It's
always a massive electricity bill. And that
demonstrates that people are still just coming to terms with technology. They have electricity. They know what it can do but they don't really understand how it works. It's like science fictional things like time travel or the starship Enterprise, it's part of the popular mythology. They don't understand how electricity works. They don't understand how the starship Enterprise travels faster than light at warp factor eight, it's all part of the same magical world of possibilities. To most people, it could be as possible for the starship Enterprise to travel at warp factor twelve as for your kettle to switch on the lighthouse at the end of the pier. Science has become part of our mythology.
Likewise, cyberpunk, getting back to that -- you think I've forgotten about that, you think I'm making this up as I'm going along, not at all -- cyberpunk likewise, being a product of its times, of the very egotistical, very materialist 1980s has become part of the popular mythology. Everyone is familiar now with the idea of the guy with the mohican haircut, with the jack in the back of his head. People plugging into computers, virtual reality is as much part of the popular mythology as Captain Kirk, men from Mars, Klaatu and his flying saucer, Godzilla destroying Tokyo. What cyberpunk has done is it has invented a new mythology, it has contributed something which wasn't there before. Well, it was there before in science fiction terms but what it did was gather it together and focus it and give something which the world never had before. A new mythology. Which is quite an important thing, actually to become immortal in that way.
Likewise, any new movement, getting back to my theme of themes, any
new movement should grow out of the spirit of its times. Here, now,
the 1990s. It should have something to offer the evolving contemporary
mythology. If it's to be a valid movement, if it's to say something
new about science fiction, it should become immortal by entering
popular mythology. Cyberpunk found its
ultimate ... It proves how successful it is that you have films like Lawnmower Man now, which to all intents and purposes looks a fairly purr film, but it is the idea of human-computer interfaces,
the hacker -- films like WarGames and so on -- were products of the cyberpunk age and wouldn't have existed before. The lone rebel figure, it's always one person. Using these mystical, almost magical powers on the computer which to most people is a magical object. To change the world to do good, to do evil or whatever.
Evolving contemporary mythology. And why people think that the next
movement might come from Britain. In Britain there is a
certain ... there are quite a lot of writers who are all the same
age, they're all about thirty-something or so. They're all born in the
fifties and sixties and they're products of the fifties and sixties.
achieved their age of majority at the punk era. A personal theory of mine is that the music that stays with you all your life is the music you heard when you achieved social mobility. When you got the car, when you had a bit of cash, when you could get out and about and actually socialise on your own, as an independent person. The music you heard then stays with you all your life. All the cyberpunks are into the Gratful Dead and things like that. Allen Steel's Orbital Decay <> where they have the Grateful Dead. Personally, I find that ludicrous that fifty years from now everyone's listening to the Grateful Dead, oh wow, great, terrific. Gee, is this the future, listen to the Grateful Dead? But he grew up with that. I presume when he was eighteen and got the keys to the car and got some dollars in his pocket, that was what he listened to as he drove down the freeway. I grew up with The Stranglers and Sex Pistols and Elvis Costello, that kind of 1977-78 punk ethos is what stayed with me. I was very lucky. If I had been born three years earlier, it would have been ABBA. I'd have to walk around wearing shining velour trousers tucked into knee-high PVC boots. Oooooh! Burn your flares!
Anyway. The British thirty-something writers. There are quite a lot of them. They're all fairly close together. They all know each other. We all know each other. We all communicate fairly frequently and the seeds are there for something new to emerge, hopefully a new voice in science fiction. Also, we have Interzone. Now, Interzone you can see as both a good and a bad thing to quote John Clute. It provides a consistent, regular local publishing venue where people can get their work in print and they can read other, predominantly British writers. The downside is that Interzone tends to ... I must say that David Pringle doesn't, because I like David Pringle a lot, but you tend to get the fairly snooty attitude that if you aren't in Interzone, you aren't any good. It is the British science fiction magazine. But at least it's there. It means that people can publish regularly. British writers actually have a forum where they can be heard. Likewise, David Garnetts early Zenith books and his new New Worlds draw pretty much of the same pool but he is a bit pecky -- he's very pecky about what he chooses. So all the signs are there for a new movement. You have writers. You have communication. I was going to say intercourse between them, but ... We have a local publishing venue, so as John Major says about the recession ''All the signs of the recession are there'', all it needs is something to bring it together, to crystallise it, a seed crystal. So, that's the seeds of who could start a new movement, but what would the movement be? Now, all weekend, all weekend?, yes, most of the weekend when I haven't been to drunk to speak, I've been talking about remix culture. I said it best in here (holding up King of Morning, Queen of Day), about what my philosophy of remix culture is. King of Morning, Queen of Day part three, page 327, Elliot, the bicycle courier is speaking. He says:
I like to work with found sources. I'm puritanical that way. The remix is the dominant cultural form of the last two decades of the twentieth century -- you know that? It's a cultural form that has only been possible the last twenty years -- William Burroughs and Dada excepted -- it's the only cultural form that is totally in harmony with the technological ethos of this age. Remix is possible only because of technology. You think about it. You listen to the radio, you go to a club, you buy a disk, you see an advertisement on the television, what do you hear? Remix music.A little aside here. That's what -- I don't know if you get the advertisements over here, but it's what Bartle, Bogart and Heggerty did for Levi's jeans. You get the ads with the old ... It's remix America. America was never like that, but they've taken the idea of America, the guy going off to Vietnam, he gives his girl the Levi's, the old Motown soul music and they've remixed it together into an idea, a fantasy America that has elements of the real America but America in reality was never like that. Anyway. As I was saying:
Remix music, you buy a book, you see a movie, you watch TV, what do you see? Old familiar plot lines, old familiar characters, old familiar motivations and relationships, endlessly remixed. You go to buy something to decorate your house, something to make it look pretty, look nice, yes? What do you get? Remix Victorian.
Actually, in Britain, we're just emerging from a spate of remix
The real Victorian house they wouldn't have things like ... they have electricity because it's nice and convenient but they have these ludicrous
electric fires that are shaped like old Victorian fires. It's been remixed. Now we're moving into remix art deco. The mind boggles. It's not the real thing, it's phony, it's what people think are the best bits of Art Deco, lifted up and jammed together. A hand!
CH: Wasn't Art Deco a remix from the start?
Yes. Itself was, yes.
CH: A remix of a remix.
And now the remix of a remix of a remix.
AH: ... why don't you believe that there will be a revival for the Grateful Dead in intervals the fifty years?
Because I hate the Grateful Dead. <laughs> Now, Elvis Costello I can live with, The Stranglers, if you bought No More Heroes, you were a punk. Anyway, onwards. Remix Edwardian, remix Art Deco ... You try to buy any clothes recently? What's the Sears fashion? Five, ten, fifteen years ago it's fashion remixed. Anybody seen the Betty Boo video ''I'm Betty Boo ...''. It's fireball XL five. And they're dressed up in these remix 1960s outfits that no one actually wore in the sixties, but it's what people think, people remember people wore in the sixties, PVC miniskirts and the hair and the Alice band and the very heavy eye make up. We've been having remix 1960s fashion for a couple of years now ... Onwards, onwards, onwards. Boring, isn't it? Likewise, flared trousers. The number of times they have tried to have a comeback of flared trousers, there have been at least four attempts to my knowledge. I think ... I just hope they never come back. I have these photographs of myself in the seventies in these ... Oh god, the hair's down to there, I've got this little tank top on and this shirt with a very long pointy collar and these flared trousers. The only thing that makes it better is that everyone else looks as bad at the same time. These guys that go around with baseball caps, you know, and shell suits and trainers, they're going to look as ludicrous in fifteen years time. They'll be ashamed to show their children just what they looked like in 1990.
Lets see if there's anything more useful in this (looks in his notes). Mmmh. Yeah! Even our nation, our history and out past are subject to remix culture. See how we are transforming ourselves into a national theme park? See how we are changing our national identity into other nations expectations of what the culture should be? Even our schools, our kids are being taught history remixed in accordance to their particular late 1920th century fixations. Ecological green history, anyone? It happens in Russia. Every time they have a change of political climate, remix, everything is remixed, taken apart, analysed, sampled and put together again. That's what I want to do -- the ultimate remix -- I want to go out into the streets and make music from what I find there. I've got buses, salvation army bands, cars backfiring, police sirens, children being smacked, all kinds of street sounds, digitalixed in this machine. Ultimately, I'd like to create a complete sound map of the whole city. Can you imagine that mixed down to one master tape? You'll be able to experience the entire city at once. You seen the sound system on my bicycle. Bicycles are remixed as well. You don't have so many here, Britain is full of them, there's a really lovely one parked outside, a really gorgeous twenty-one speed gear mountain bike, but they're a remix. They're invented in America in the late 1970s. Bits were taken from other bicycles, jammed together to make the first, rough prototype mountain bikes. Now, yet again, the street found its use for something, it invented something out of things that were already there. Big companies caught on to this and now, in Britain, mountain bikes account for 75% of all bicycles sold. It was the toy of the year two years ago. Sales must be well over seventeen million a year. That was seventeen million pounds, not seventeen million mountain bikes. That is another remix phenomenon. Something that was made out of some things that were taken apart, sampled and put together to one thing.
So, if my opinion is right, and the remix is the dominant cultural
form of the 1990s, probably the 80s and the 90s, perhaps a new
movement in science fiction should reflect this. Perhaps it should
take its inspiration from various sources, building on the past,
building on the great rises of the golden age of the 1940s, the 50s
which no one seems to bother with very much, the New Wave and the
American writers like Samuel Delany and Harlan Ellison in the 1960s,
the emergent cyberpunks, it should take all this stuff which all been
part of its past and use that. And also -- the camera is here again
-- and use that to
draw in elements from all over the place, from all over the world as it is now and fuse them into something new. I think that a new movement should write science fiction that reflects the world we live in, the here and now because we do live in a science fictional world. As I said earlier in the convention, five hundred thousand people in Britain take extacy regularly. Do you have that over here yet?
Audience: A bit.
A bit. What extacy does, it's the ultimate drug, basically, you take two to five pills and you feel good, you love everyone, you're at peace and harmony with yourself. The effect lasts about eight to twelve hours. There's only one drawback -- some people are allergic to it and if you get an allergic reaction it kills you dead. That is pure science fiction. It's a drug, the ultimate drug, it does everything good but if you're allergic -- you're dead. This is science fiction happening in the here and now. Yep?
AH: The vast number of people -- isn't that just British tabloid journalism?
No. The national poisons unit did research into it and they reckoned five hundred thousand is probably an underestimate. It's probably going on close to a million people. It's the accepted thing at clubs and parties, they don't serve alcohol so long as you can get water to wash your pills down with. There's a new form called Special-K -- sort of an English joke, Special-K is a breakfast cereal -- which is a particularly powerful form of MDMA which is the active principle in extacy. Basically, it makes the body forget that it has any limits. So people dance all night. They can do basically anything because the natural limits to what you can do are all shot down so everyone loves everyone else, everyone gets along well. Frightening, actually. In Britain there is virtually a completely alien culture growing up between the eighteens and twenty-fours, totally different from anything that's gone before. But this is what science fiction should be reflecting. Science fiction is happening here and now. Drugs interest me because my background is from psychology and brain chemistry I think is one of the final frontiers.
A lot of science fiction is about physics. Physics is -- I think
Brian Stableford said this here last year -- physics is probably
the rare exception in science in that it has hard and fast laws.
Things like neurochemistry aren't quite so hard and fast. We don't
know what happens here. There are kinds of experiments, things that
could happen that ... new forms of science, new forms of science
fiction that can come out of the chemistry of the brain that don't
happen out in outer space with wonderful things like black holes and
very large objects but happens in the inner mental space which ...
for example, I've just been finishing a novella which is actually
about graphic design. The basic idea of it is ... I read a book
by the British designer Nevil Brody who talked about authoritarian
typefaces. That some typefaces look, they have this authoritarian look
and they tend to reinforce the message of whatever is printed in them
and I got thinking what if there is a typeface that is so
authoritarian that whatever is written in it you obey? This then
branched out into all kinds of things like various visual graphic
images that have a direct psychological effect like one you look at it
causes fear. One you look at and it wipes out your memory. One you
can't see because it's like the blind spot in the eye. Dozens of these
things ... one that basically fries and burns out the brain of
anyone who looks at it. Look at it and you're dead. Things that don't
come out of physics and chemistry but out of the softer sciences. I
make no apologies for being a psychologist, for being into soft
science. I don't think scientific rigour in the sense of having
everything proved mathematically matters much in science fiction
because we have all these physical laws of the universe which everyone
says are hard and fast. What do science fiction writers do? They find
ways around them. Almost every science fiction book tries to bend the
rules. It says these are the rules but this is how we bend them. For
example, I've just been reading Paul McCauley's Eternal Light
which is about very large black ho... extreme ... massive,
half-lightyear long construct that's anchored in a black hole and it's a hypermatter thing, you know. These are things that actually bend the rules of what physics is about. Faster than light spaceships, that bends the rules. Isn't
bound by them. One of the laws that governs the world is economics and economics is not a hard and fast science but it rules the lives of every single person in this room. Stock markets boom and stock markets bust because people get scared for purely psychological reasons -- one person does something and then everyone goes and sells. It isn't logical, the mathematics of economics aren't as hard and fast as the mathematics of physics, yet it rules all our lives. And yet again, a new movement in science fiction should reflect this, that it is the soft sciences, without hard and fast rules, these basically chaotic sciences with which we interface most directly. How many people in the history of humanity from now to the year, say 30000 will ever go to a black hole? Fifty? Sixty at the very most. Yet, if we have nanotechnology, every single aspect of every single human beings life on Earth will be changed fundamentally. However, writers still write about black holes. It's fun. I enjoy reading it, but it isn't really answering the life on Earth, the life of everyone, technology ... <change of tapes>
Ideas for a movement. I'm not saying that it will be, that it could
be, but I feel it should reflect the remix culture we live in. I feel
it should reflect a wide spectrum of sciences, that it should look for
different ideas in different fields of science and try and fuse them
together into something new and that it should have this kind of
social conscience in a sense, of dealing with things that will affect the lives of everyone. From my point of view I try to write science fiction that's about people and not about things. This is why I don't read Analog. If anyone can read Analog these days, because most of the stories there are very artificial. They're about two engineers who are usually dirt stupid. No insults to any engineers here, I'm sure you're lovely people but the ones in Analog stories are usually very stupid. And they get faced with A Problem, capital A, capital P which they have to solve in a scientific way and they do and the story ends and I say, so what? What's that got to do with me? I'm not out there faced with these strange aliens. What I want is a science fiction that has something to do with my life, with the way I see the world, a world that is growing increasingly science fictional,
with widely available mind-altering drugs, a world full of massive information networks, a world which is ruled by the chaotic systems of economics. I want to see a science fiction that draws out of that and gives me a deeper perception of how I can relate to that. Science fiction as I see it stands between change and people. There's the world changing at an incredible speed and here are people who are going ''what is going on?'' and I see science fiction as the line between them which enables them to come to terms in their own way with what is going on. This goes back to the mythology thing I was talking about. Myths are a way of looking at the world and if science fiction can help us incorporate a lot of abstract science into our understanding, into our mythology, that's what it should be doing, enabling us to come to terms with the phenomenal rate of change in the world. We think it's bad here. In Africa, they're making the jump from iron age to an information age society in fifty years. But they're doing it because they're people, they are human beings, they are resourceful, they know what's going on. Almost every African can fix a car. It's astonishing what human beings are capable of. Any points or are you all bored stiff? <laughs>
Okay. These aren't really ... As I said at the start of the talk, these are my thoughts of the world which gets stranger and stranger. (turning papers) I've talked about that bit and I've talked about that bit. Yes. Contemporary literature. Why do we read science fiction? What got you all into ... this is a hypothetical question, answers on a postcard, to me. What was it about science fiction that attracted you to it and why do you keep reading it? How many people read fiction outside science fiction. Regularly. Good.
Which do you prefer? In general? Who prefers science fiction? And who prefers contemporary fiction or are they pretty much of a muchness.
JA: Good literature is good literature ...
JA: ... whether it is science fiction or whatever.
JS: If I had to chose between them I think I'd rather take the other one, not only science fiction if I had to chose between them. Never reading anything but science fiction or never reading science fiction again I think I would actually chose the other one.
Audience: It's better written.
It's better written, yes. That's science fiction's faults, for being badly written, being written by Lois McMaster Bujold. <laughs> Okay, boo or cheer. <applause>
The trouble in science fiction is that it's been lumped, labelled as a genre which is a terrible thing, to be a genre, people can then look down on it. From my point of view the British social novel of character is as much a genre as science fiction is. It's sort of highbound in British middle-classness, as I said the other night, the typical British social novel of character is about a middle-aged, Jewish polytechnic college lecturer who has a sadomasochistic affair. That in a sense does not have much to tell us about the world we're living in. In a sense, science fiction should be the contemporary fiction we're reading. It should have its roots in the here and now. It should be as relevant to us as these contemporary novels are supposed to be.
There's a note here about sexual liberation, what's that got to do
with it? Yes, yes. Because the British social novel doesn't deal with
change. Most mainstream fiction is totally static in time, things
don't change, there isn't any sense of society changing. It can in a
sense be very conservative. A lot of crime, a lot of thrillers are
very, very conservative things because they assume that human nature
hasn't changed. But human nature is a product of society and society
has changed enormously through technology. It can be argued that the
so called sexual revolution which seems to be coming to an end, thanks
to the HIV strain,
started with a technological innovation, the estrogen pill. Without that being widely available, we wouldn't have had the sexual revolution of the 1960s and so forth. Feminism came about largely as a result, not largely, partly as a result of the industrial revolution. When industrialisation meant that women were as capable of as much work as men, because the machine was doing all the hard work and so women could therefore take their place in the work force and become economic units and not just historical baby machines. So, in a sense, technology has changed society and society therefore has changed the way we look and feel about things, were getting into political correctness here again, and this is what contemporary fiction doesn't deal with. The way it has changed in the past, the way it might change in the future and this is what science fiction should be good at, as I said, being this borderline between change and us. Okay, it should be entertaining, it should be great, it should be fun, it should be uplifting, it should be stimulating, but it's not an either-or thing. I find that an awful lot of people in science fiction tend to put things in terms of eithers and ors. You can either have hard science or you can have good science fiction. The well-written books are never the hard science ones. Why not? Surely, there must be a both-and somewhere? Surely the idea of -- getting back to this new movement -- is that, yes, it wants to be scientific, it wants to be rooted in science and possibly more so, technology, since it is technology which most of us deal with everyday and not abstract science. That it is rooted in this, but it's also damn well written. It also incorporates the feel that the world is a big place, a big church -- hence the title, cheap seats in the big church -- that there are lots and lots of things which may be mixed together to give this kind of
blur effect of what's happening in the world. That all these elements should combine to make a new, particularly relevant, hopefully mythological science fiction. I think you see the trends of it emerging in Britain, there are some writers, Kim Newman certainly has that kind of blur effect, he's actually a professional film reviewer and he draws on film making and
comic book references. He's remixing stuff together. Simon Ings likewise
AH: Howard Waldrop.
Howard Waldrop, he's an American, we don't deal with Americans <laughs> he is the master remixer, yes. Alternative worlds are in a sense a remix as well. You know, wouldn't it be nice if history had been like this? He is the guru, Howard Waldrop.
JA: He just might have British ancestry.
He might, yes, if he's lucky. Even luckier he'd have celtic ancestry. Simon Ings, likewise, is another one who has this wide spread of things which are brought together. I'm still recommending Hothead, it's a great book.
AH: One copy left.
One copy left! I'll tell him next time I see him. He also has that
wide range of things, of rapid technological change but he's mixing
stuff from all over the place together in this really intense
supercharged prose. Paul McCauley also is another one I see signs of
tendency in him. He's more hard science oriented, he's
Britain's answer to Greg Bear. He's wrote great stories about Robert Crossroads Johnson, the great blues man, you know, this kind of media consciousness
informs on his work. These are the chief ones I can think of. They're basically the ones I know personally. If you read something like New Worlds, you can see this kind of, it's something that
runs through the stories, the sense of something emerging. They always say ... cyberpunk didn't get the name cyberpunk until it was three or four years old, it was just a movement, just various writers communicating with each other and sharing ideas. Likewise, there may be this British movement, whatever it is, I'm not sure if it's there, if it's there, I'm not sure what it is, but it may already be forming. There may already be something there, but we haven't got a name for it yet, but watch out for it because I feel it may be on its way, I feel it should offer something new and exciting to science fiction. It should change the way we look at the world and I'm exactly out of time. Thank you very much for listening!