The Future from all angles

Science Fiction has always been about exploring mind bending concepts, big ideas, extrapolations into the future that makes us think about our present and so on. That’s not new. However, there is this tendency to think towards the nostalgic – torn between the hopes of furthering our progeny star-ward between the evils and privacy invasion that technology will provide here on Earth. It’s like a very odd tennis match going on as eyes ping-pong between what could be and what shouldn’t be. What used to be a constantly forward looking genre has been criticised for being a self-sustained system.

Articles like “The Widening Gyre” and “Science Fiction without the Future” have picked up on this, as well as many other sources. The Guardian article on SF titles for SF haters has racked up an impressive number of those advocating the Golden Age favourites – the Heinlein, the Clarke, the Asimov etc. and whilst these undoubtedly have their merits – what can we say about the case of Science Fiction today?

I tutor 11+ and have taught Science Fiction writing to GCSE age students this year. It’s interesting to see what they think of the genre – I brainstormed with each group in different schools about what they thought the genre was about and what it had to say. You can see the post that I wrote about the experience here.

The important message here is that they’re not scared of the information age. Why should they? They’ve grown up with it. What scares them is being disconnected from the link, an absence rather than presence of what we may see as the looming grid. It’s their confidante, their sounding board, their teacher – however dangerous it may seem to us.

From what I’ve seen from tutoring and researching digital natives for my copywriting job, this fear is only in our minds. Take the average 10/11 year old of today. She/he watches ads – company videos that the internet has told them specifically to watch in order to collect points or some form of imaginary currency. These help them to unlock something in a game or purchase something online that they normally would have to beg their parents to buy for them. In other words, it gives them a false sense of “agency”. When I heard this, I was rather shocked, but they seem to do this without batting an eyelid. They are absorbing this information and being “paid” for it. Even if they don’t remember what they’ve watched, it’ll be stored somewhere in their memory. I asked a girl if she was worried by what she was doing. She told me that it was just normal. Something everyone does.

Does anyone remember Neopets? I was a little too old when this came out, but I remember knowing that there were “job offices”. You would apply to watch ads or collect certain items for their Neopoints. It’s not a new concept as such but to think it’s seen as normal nowadays to do this – children waiting for ads to appear just so they can buy a hat for their character worries me a little. That’s just a drop in the ocean, of course, as to what the internet can really do.

Therefore, if we need to write scenarios that will appeal to the up and coming generation, we have to embrace the technology ourselves. See what it is that magnetically draws them to something we may see as horrific and invasive.

Cuckoos and Chrysalids, a play that I’m currently redrafting, is about a woman who has stored her children indefinitely in cyberspace, waiting for the “right time” to activate them. She feels that this space is safe enough to even go as far as preserving her bloodline and only falters when she tears herself away from the grid as she is criticised for exceeding her data limit. In a space where the rules are constantly being redrawn, it’s a debate between the older and newer generations – even though many of the characters use the technology themselves for other reasons. It all boils down to whether you can trust humanity to do the right thing.

I’m writing a short play about someone who, in a future riot, decides to forego the internet entirely, hiding in a looted house. Because of the false information fed to the public via these feeds, she decides to rely on her instincts entirely – ignoring the consequences.

Of course, writing about the fears of technology is something we can do quite readily. But what we may have to do, as writers, is to imagine ourselves in the mindset of our children or our younger generation if we wish to reach out to them.

Non Fiction Friday – Stage the Future!

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For those who don’t know, I’m doing my PhD on Science Fiction and Theatre. When I mention it, I get one of 2 responses. One is often “Oh… I see. Are you going to write an SF novel?” to “Oh my gosh! Fantastic! I’ve always wanted to see SF in theatres!”. I have received more of the latter (although I am going to write an SF novel, but primarily my interest is on the theatrical side), and so am very privileged to be celebrating the combination of the two with Christos Callow Jr. for our conference Stage the Future.

There has been little written on the subject, it has to be said. We have Science Fiction and the Theatre by Ralph Willingham, although with some good mentions of cognitive estrangement, has an apologetic tone and casts certain stereotypes over SF and subsequently, its staging. We also have Staging the Impossible, which does set out to mention the possibilities of staging SF, but in its wake cataloguing a list of defeats. I will be reviewing the two in earnest, do not worry! However, there is a line in the latter that speaks to me(originally from Julius Kargalitski’s essay The Fantastic in Cinema and Theatre):

Consequently, for Kagarlitski, cinema is “an ideal instrument of the fantastic” (11), for it  “excludes any possibility of interference”–in effect offering viewers the sense that “what has been put on film, has, as it were, already happened” (11).

Kagarlitski implies that it is difficult for a theatrical production to “project” such a sense of historicity and thus validate the content of drama. Given this viewpoint, audiences expect less from a production of science fiction in a theater.(Murphy, 198)

There’s something very misleading in this. He mentions in the article that theatre is a conditional art, generating power from the present moment (p10/11). In our “Information Age”, are we not in fact living this SFnal life now? Donna Harraway described us of being Cyborgs in her Manifesto in 1985. We have our information, our footprint, our history in the cloud as it were, our younger generations have their baby photos as purely digital. We are all connected via a grid that, whilst enabling accessibility, erodes our privacy and interaction with the wholly physical world. We are 3D printing human organs, for crying out loud! Is SF then not about exploring our conditional present? Exactly what was being said to dissuade us from staging it in the first place?

Whether you agree or disagree with me, we would love to hear your takes on the subject. Proposals for papers and performance (we couldn’t do one without the other) are welcome with the deadline being Feb 2014. The conference will be held at RHUL, University of London on the 26th April 2014 with our excellent keynote speakers Jen Gunnels and Nick Lowe. You can see our CFP here.

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We look forward to seeing you there!

Writing Thoughts – What’s your Novum?

So I thought I’d break up the blog with more miscellaneous material – how people interpret writing at large. Knowing an author personally makes you think sometimes about the stories they write with an extra added dimension – not all the time, but it makes you think – no matter how Barthes warns us against it sometimes.

Now, I don’t know how many people have read my work – but I sometimes wonder when writing what the author will think. Art is a very personal thing and even if you create degrees of separation (which of course is fiction), there is an underlying personal message, whether you try and disguise it or not.

When I write SF, for example, I often mention the presence (or absence) of children and the act of raising a family. Fishbowl is about a system where children are neatly categorised and raised to a strict routine, Cuckoos and Chrysalides depicts a woman’s battle to keep her children uploaded until she is ready to care for them, Terra Firma has a female character who has now given up on the idea of raising a family as she and her husband flail in a post-apocalyptic world.

Now you may say I write about children as I often work in coffee shops and hear kids crying constantly, but I think there’s something else there. And that is that the very idea of having my own human kids is an SF conceit for me. It’s my own personal novum (Marriage and relationships are vastly becoming SF conceits too to me, but that’s another kettle of fish). It’s something believable but at the moment unfathomable to me – the world would inherently be the same, but I would see it differently. Dangers would be more apparent to me, my mentality would change as regards to time and space and purpose. The act of raising children does fascinate me, and I think this is the reason why I explore these many angles in my written work.

Maybe we all have personal novums, which is why we cling to certain concepts in our written fiction. I’d be very interested in hearing some from other people.

Over-productivity – Hot or Not?

Rather ironic, given my sporadic blogging, but it’s a thought I came across when I impulsively bought a ticket for WTF13. It was a thoroughly thought provoking conference and although I could only spend the morning there, I spent my time scribbling odd notes in my moleskin (work leaving present, it’s beautiful) instead of live tweeting (funny that, given the ttile – WTF = Writing The Future). There were some great talks – but the one I’m focusing on today is about over-productivity.

For those who have been dubbed the “lazy generation”, there is an overwhelming abundance of material created – text, video, image, app, programs that, in their many forms, have clogged every electric pore. It’s not melodrama when you consider 90% of data created in the world today has been created in the last 2 years ago, creating 2.5 quintillion bytes of data per day, according to IBM analytics. 

A quintillion, for those who ask, is in academic speak – a frigging big number. As it’s one of those numbers where we can’t quite imagine the exact magnitude, Maria Conner on her blog Data on Big Data can help us to put things in perspective:

This vast amount of digital data would fill DVD stack reaching from the Earth to moon and back. To put things in perspective, the entire works of William Shakespeare (in text form) represent about 5 MB of data. So, you could store about 1,000 copies of Shakespeare on a single DVD. The text in all the books in the Library of Congress would fit comfortably on a stack of DVDs the height of a single-story house.

I don’t know about you, but there are so many things to read. So many things to watch. So many ways to occupy our time that “boredom” or “inactivity” is now a virtue. Time is the most precious thing we have, therefore the most marketable. We read reviews, wikipedia etc. before committing to something long-term. We want to know we’re getting our time’s worth. This is why series (amongst other things) do so well – we’ve got our emotional attachment so the hooks are already well and truly in. This is the same for our favourite authors and so on, of course. You don’t want to know how many books are on my list (some old, some new) that I’ve been meaning to catch up on, as well as film and TV series. I’m sure we all have lists somewhere, even if purely mental. And so the cycle continues, consuming and creating (hmm… sounds pretty dodgy).

I write probably more than I read at the moment, which is probably not the best solution. Molly Flatt in the WTF13 likened us to the part of the brain that feels it is under pressure – the amygdala (sp!) that makes us produce vast amounts of material/gush – that we feel that we must constantly create, express etc. It can be easier to sand down to build up, that’s for sure, but there must be a time for letting off steam. It can’t be constantly dialled up to 100.

So be sure to take stock sometimes and let yourself be open to ideas. You’d be surprised what things click when doing errands, or just taking a walk, or chatting with friends/family. I’ve had so many ideas from doing these things.

I’ve just done a big hand in for this year, so I’m proto-chilling (not quite), but with so many open-ended plays, I’ve decided to take a break from them and focus on little projects here and there. It’s not like me, I like to see projects through. However, I think it’s good to air out things – if only for a little while.

Special Fiction Friday!

After going into stand-by yet again, here is some actual fiction writing by me that I’ve written this afternoon. I tend to get the most ideas when stressed about critical writing – and as procrastination methods go, I can think of worse ones. I have logged down some ideas for later, pending and after the upgrade. Having looked through my list, I have a total of 15 play ideas, having completed 8 (or 9, I guess, as I’ve finished writing this one). I invite you to look but not steal. It’s a little one-off about artists and identification.

Here it is:

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In other news, Fiction Friday related, I have a story published here in the Exegesis Journal. It’s called Mobius Strips of Yarn, and published amongst great writers of creative, critical and reviews. Check out the main journal here!

Let my writing go – an odd thought!

It’s quite understandable when people write in their stereotypical garrets, afraid to let their writing “fly” – I don’t mean making a paper aeroplane out of them and hurling them out of the window… sorry for being facetious… but to be read in the public arena, as it were. The advent (hardly nowadays I guess) of online publishing has changed that to quite a degree – the world and its wife are bloggers nowadays – but there is a certain tension, fear, excitement and apprehension about showing your written work.

With my previous stints in editing and script reading, I sort of know what it’s like on both sides of the fence. Films are my blind spot, although I can imagine the intensity of the impact that others will have on your writing.

(OK, for the following, you’re going to have to imagine your writing as your kid. A writing project is often referred to as a labour of love, so not too hard to picture, right?)

Editing prose and so on seems to me, then, like sending your kid to have a hair cut or getting new shoes. Obviously they look different, but erm… you should recognise them. Just little changes here and there for the house style and what-have-you but still blatantly them.

The development of plays and so forth is like sending your kid to a nursery or primary school – they get to muck around , play with other people and basically learn through the act of “doing”. Parents can come in and help with certain things (blatantly to make sure that their kid hasn’t aged 20 years and is promptly going around the world on business within the few hours that she/he stays there), so you can keep track of how she/he is doing. I love being present at rehearsals and it’s great to see how your writing develops.

From what I can gather with film, it’s like leaving your teen at a university, with a few props for them to remember you by. You then anxiously cling to social media updates and frequently check on them online to see them smashing hotel rooms, recording odd tracks (not in *our* day!) in garage band and posting statements in odd flavours under the guise of “banter”.

Just a little placeholder…

It’s almost been two weeks since I’ve updated, I realise!

Last week, I was at a conference where I delivered my first ever paper – Whose topia is it anyway? at the conference of Adam Roberts’ works at Lincoln. It was a great experience and a lovely opportunity for me to see the city and university – unfortunately I couldn’t stay longer – and as I’ve said before, first times are often where benchmarks are set. I’m glad I’ve emerged from it raring to go, especially as I have another conference coming up on Saturday! When I have more time, I’ll do a longer review on this.

Writing wise – I’ve been doing some more monologue work. I’m trying to do something with mixed media and am hoping to get some filmed eventually. There’s a nice space between SciFi short story and the monologue that I hope to navigate. The House AI play that I’m doing has been on a little hiatus – but I’ve gotten the conversation down. I do need some guinea pigs to see how effective it is. The thing is, that quantum realities are going to be carried out in the house as the AI is hacked (yes, I do realise how hard this is going to be to stage – I’ve been racking my brains out like MAD over this). Suggestions and answers are welcome!

But what I’m focusing on mostly is this paper coming up, then I’m getting back on with the work for my upgrade!

I also have an announcement, one that I will elaborate on when I have more time, but at the conference, the amazing Christos Callow from Lincoln announced that he and I have been planning to hold a convention on Science Fiction Theatre –  the first of its kind next year! All very exciting! 

A post long overdue!

I realise it’s been a *long* time since I last blogged, so I thought why not park some information here about what I’ve been looking at. I always feel that it’s easier to remember when you write down notes of what you’re reading, in fear that it drops out unprocessed out of your ear. With that rather disturbing imagery set aside, I will begin. The sooner the better, I guess!

Some of the things that I’ve been researching has been split into 3 – one being of the origins of the scientific romance (Stableford’s take on the concept, as well as Parrinder (naturally) and Hayne on HG Wells). Science Fiction, as I may have said many times before, is most notable as a reactive genre to the state of current affairs, a term used by Roger Luckhurst as “Conditions of Emergence”. It’s interesting to see how Wells helped to develop this socialist take on SF – that human beings needed to be aware of their place in the universe, and to harness these new scientific discoveries with a high level of social responsibility. Verne on the other hand, seems to focus on the Voyages Extraordinaires, with a lot of detail on the journey and its implementations, whereas Wells depicts the destination in a much more thorough manner. 

I’m also doing a bit of Utopian reading for another paper that I will be presenting for a conference. I’m seeing the way in which utopian literature has been classified, namely the distinction between models in which they are categorised, i.e. The Paradise model, The Externally Altered World, The Willed Transformation, and the Technological Transformation (the latter of which is most related to SF). I will be applying it to the wonderful catalogue of Adam Roberts’ writing, actually – so watch this space if you want to know more about the conference!

I’m also writing a play about the mismatch between Artificial and Human intelligence, which is becoming a rather tricky one to envisage in its entirety. I guess in some ways it will have a similar aesthetic feel to Fishbowl, but a homier environment. This is about a woman who has programmed her own House AI to suit her needs in a microcosm environment, but when she brings external flora and fauna (human relations et al), tensions become more heated. What I particular find interesting is to play on the idea of the theatre space – and that we don’t know what’s going on outside of the house, and neither does the house itself. We surrender our knowledge primarily on the human characters, who are unreliable in themselves as they troop in and out. There’s a lot I can play with, and that’s what makes it harder in some ways. I’ll get there, I hope!

I’m also researching Possible Worlds theory, and the “logical” rules that makes our world believable to us and how some fictive worlds can be posed as simply alternate universes that share our particular physics, and of course those who work against these. I’m still hung up on the aspects of absurdism vs. SF theatre, but for a good reason – both are simply mind blowing. It’s a good a reason as any, I’d imagine.

I shall also be running some creative writing workshops (fingers crossed), and some on the theming of science fiction which is absolutely awesome! I will keep you posted on this too. I’m also tutoring on creative writing/comprehension and the level of 10 year old creativity is simply astounding. Schools seem to have transformed beyond my ken – they have learning objectives instead of grades and they can be partially, fully or not met!

So I’d better get started. Seriously, I start everyday fresh and I have to remind myself of what I am and what I’m doing sometimes. I should sort that out. Maybe updating my blog more often will remedy that problem.

New term is here!

Just a little update into how things are going! First of all, I can’t believe how fast the terms are going – and that Spring is almost upon us! I think first and foremost is to get the rewrites done from the plays I’ve had performed last year – as I’ve picked up some valuable truffles (nuggets are so last year, and this one suggests that I’m like a pig or a dog, which is a little different) of information during rehearsals thanks to great directors/actors.

I’ve finished a short story (that means a lot, considering what I write recently) and well, I’d like to see it get somewhere. Also, I’d like to write some poetry – my bus journeys are loooong and I always get ideas on them and just before I go to sleep, most of which I don’t remember, so maybe I should get some writing done then. Since I am giving a paper soon, it’ll be nice to do some spoken word again. I wonder if my style will have changed.

More details on everything soon! Mind you, I heard from a little bird (who looks like me, weirdly) that Enigma Magazine is open for business again. Oh, who are they, you ask? http://www.enigmacw.co.uk is where they live. If you want to submit writing of your own, I’d love to read it, yes siree!

Oh and reviews. I want to do some more reviews. From the First Men in the Moon to The Islanders, I will give you something meatier to read than little snippets here and there. I hope!

Any Updates?

There are some, yes! Not many though –

One of my short plays, En Passant (which I hope you don’t mind what sounds like a double whammy of pretension – a french term and a reference to a chess move, but it sounds good and is relevant to the plot, promise) will be in production soon, alongside 2 other new writing pieces. I’m thrilled to bits and can’t wait to see how it gets on! I will update you!

I also have some other writing plans – one of which is to revamp one of my old novellas (what, I do write prose too!)  and maybe another one, time permitting. Some of you may even be familiar with one of them (if you know them both, you know me too well! Just saying).

I’m going to a Donna Haraway (whom I mentioned in an earlier post about cyborgs burning bras, I recall) lecture tomorrow at the Cosmopolitan Animals conference – can’t wait for this! I will give you all the details as and when.

Another thing – CFPs (Call for Papers). I’m so excited about these, thinking about what I could present and researching odd ends here and there. If (fingers crossed) I get accepted, I will let you know when and where if erm… you want to see this skitty kitty out of her virtual basket.

Toodle pip for now!