I love games. Everything from the many flavours of video games, tabletop role-playing games, board games, card games, even, as a spectator, team sports like football, rugby and cricket get my attention. Hell, one of the points of rock climbing, for me, is its arbitrary rules that create interesting experiences.
Due to this deep passion for games I treat my own encounters with the arts playfully. Take the idea of genres. Now at this point I’m convinced that trying to define broad labels such as Literary Fiction & Science Fiction is foolish. Definitions abound at this level of labelling but none of them satisfy, either being too universal or too selective without hitting that hard to describe aesthetic sweet spot that makes a game interesting. So I don’t care about these labels or their many definitions apart from when they are used to stamp on other people.
Really from a game point of view I’m interested in the playgrounds that sub-genres create. Now sub-genres, because they have a tighter focus, do have characteristics that can be identified and played around with. They can start with a name and a short list of requirements to sketch out playground’s toys and conventions. If you like, a form of OuLiPo applied to genre. How can this work? Well these playgrounds don’t have any intrinsic meaning so make up a name: Dirty Mediaevalism. Decide on some conventions that apply to it.
Dirty Mediaevalism is the fiction of everyday life in a society that is post-classical age but pre-industrial.
Dirty Mediaevalism protagonists are not wealthy or powerful.
Dirty Mediaevalism shows are world where magic & religion are always oppressive forces.
Dirty Mediaevalism cares about small personal incidents portrayed within the landscape of the characters.
Dirty Mediaevalism has a muddy and foggy colour palette.
So there’s a new sub-genre and its manifesto, of sorts. A new playground to write in created in five minutes. Genres are just games. Go play and let thousands of new playgrounds be built.
Been distracted by life. Went to Alt. Fiction. Had loads of fun. Drove north to Edinburgh on a Sunday. Got angry at parking. Took Jenny to conference. Hung out with Magnulus, Bram and others. Hid in a boring hotel room writing fiction. Explored bookshops and music shops alone. Drove south on the Wednesday. Went from Grenta Services to Leicester in a one long 200 mile push listening to one My Dying Bride album. Returned to work where I worked and worked and worked. Tired, always bloody tired. Enjoying time spent with Jenny. Deciding what the point of writing fiction is again and what it should look like. Doing it. Worrying about parking the car on strange streets while I sleep in comfort. Buying lots of books. Going to a children’s book launch. Buying a DVD box set of The Story of Film. Getting confidence back. Ignoring tenses. Setting an alarm for 6:06. Knowing that the flood at work never stops and if it does that’s worse. Looking forward to a Friday night with Jenny spent watching films. Rain. Being glad I don’t have the car this weekend. Bed.
If a sword and sorcery film isn’t as shameless and gonzo as this then I’m not interested. Shogun Assassin is a composite of the first two Lone Wolf and Cub films given American dubbing and a kinetic Moog synthesiser soundtrack. Also gallons of spurting blood.
Recently I’ve been neglecting this website in favour of preparation for job interviews and playing two video games. The job interviews were important, even though I didn’t get the jobs in the end, and the two games are: Fallout: New Vegas and Minecraft. One of these games I’m in love with and the other I’m feeling ambivalent about.
I’m in love with Minecraft. This game might, in its own way, be the most masculine game yet. (It appeals to women as well. So true greatness.) Sure, there’s no murdering funny looking aliens, but there’s digging and ploughing and lumber jacking. All that and DIY. Also exploration of an immense procedurally generated game world that exists both above and below ground. I love this game and I’m proud to be addicted to it.
I’ve also built an underwater house! How cool is that?
Fallout: New Vegas I’m less in love with. It isn’t bad. It’s mostly the same as Fallout 3, which wasn’t a bad game. The pattern of gameplay is you play a lone wanderer on a quest where you are diverted by warring factions or troubled communities to solve their problems. Like Bioware’s games there seems to be a master formula applied here. So the predictable nature of New Vegas doesn’t work for me. And while the game seems to be trying hard to offer me lots of choice to hide the basic pattern, there’s no real consequences for the decisions I make, as I don’t care about any of the characters in the game.
So why am I still playing Fallout: New Vegas? There’s only one reason. The atmosphere. It seems that while the events of New Vegas are forgettable the pleasure of wandering around Cormac McCarthy land keeps me coming back to the Xbox.
Next post I write here will either be about the books I’ve been reading lately (Climbers & Dubliners) or about my trip to Eastercon later today.
Damien was asked by John DeNardo at SF Signal this question: What science fiction, fantasy, and/or horror books do read and re-read again? His answer hints at something interesting. Damien has reposted his answer on his blog with a bit of further explanation here. The full answers by all participants can be found here on SF Signal.
Here’s a hint of what Damien wrote:
Neuromancer – William Gibson’s work is engraved in to the deepest parts of my subconscious. This and his short fiction are still books I refer to constantly, because Gibson is as good a structural writer as he is a futurist. What strikes me now about this work are its mythic elements, prototypical Joseph Campbell monomyth through and through. On top of his other achievements, Gibson was perhaps the first writer to signify the collapse of science fiction, and the rise of fantasy as the mode of serious discussion in speculative fiction.
For future reference I find Paolo Bacigalupi’s answer really narrow and quite a bit disturbing considering he’s been declared by Time magazine “a worthy successor to William Gibson.” His answer suggests he isn’t. Science Fiction keeps eating its own tail.
On Sunday 17th of October David Pringle posted an interview with J.G. Ballard to the J.G. Ballard mailing list that he had transcribed from a zine published forty years ago. The extracts I post here are taken from this transcription of Jim Goddard’s interview with J.G. Ballard conducted in November 1970 and published in “Cypher” no.3 December 1970.
Thanks to David Pringle for transcribing this interview, and of course to Jim Goddard for conducting the original interview.
I have been thinking about many issues covered in the interview and it is clear to me that the same arguments and discussions reoccur within SF time and time again. The questions and answers are always the same. We need to move on.
Goddard: What is your opinion of world SF today? And what new directions do you foresee it taking during the next 20 or 30 years to ensure survival?
Ballard: _Everything is science fiction!_ I think the future for it is tremendously exciting, but there are dangers. At present science fiction is almost the only form of fiction which is thriving — the social novel, for example, is attracting fewer and fewer readers — and for the obvious reason that social relationships are no longer as important as the individual’s relationship with the technological and fictional landscape of the late 20th century. _However_, in spite of its increasing readership all over the world, it seems to me that science fiction is in danger of losing its direction and sense of purpose — it may easily become a “closed” fiction similar to the western, with a fixed set of conventions and scope of reference. It is most important that the younger writers continue the good work done in the past ten years or so. To survive during the next 20 or 30 years? SF must go on being _relevant_, making sense of people’s lives and imaginations. In practical terms — American SF of the 1930-1960 period is now dead and buried, but it is important to go on stamping the earth down on the coffin — there are still too many people eager to jerk the corpse out of its grave and deck it in electric flowers.
Goddard: What do you think the role of the writer should be today? I say this generally, and not with particular reference to SF. Continue reading →
I guess I should say something about this project. So I’ll say two things and I’ll keep it short.
Me and Calliope Den Ouden, an illustrator from the Netherlands, are making a comic. Well she’s illustrated a script I wrote back in February of this year. Because I don’t like to hype up my own work or discuss it until it is finished, all you are getting from me is this, now, and a short introduction when the finished comic goes up.
However, Calliope is blogging her process on the comic here. Unlike my end of the work, this is actually interesting and involves intelligent decisions, so you should take a look and tell her what you think.
IKB 191, monochromatic painting by Yves Klein. 1962
“The term Nouveau Réalisme (New Realism) was forged by Pierre Restany during an early group exhibition in May 1960. By returning to “realism” as a category, he was referring to the 19th-century artistic and literary movement which aimed to describe ordinary everyday reality without any idealisation. Yet, this realism was “new”, in the sense that there was a Nouveau Roman in fiction and a New Wave in film: in the first place it connects itself to the new reality deriving from an urban consumer society, in the second place its descriptive mode is also new because it no longer is identified with a representation through the making of an appropriate image, but consists in the presentation of the object chosen by the artist.”
There are a few things I wish to draw your attention to from when I was reading newspapers earlier.
Michael White’s parliamentary sketch in today’s Guardian entitled ‘May sticks to autocue as Labour looks for revenge‘ is an excellent summer of yesterday’s major proceedings in parliament. I couldn’t help cheering Labour for their attacks on the Tories yesterday. This is the first major scandal that the current government has had to face and they aren’t dealing with it well.
Whether Andy Coulson is guilty or not is now almost mute at this point. The problem that the Tories have is that their head of PR is becoming the story. There are echos of Alastair Campbell here. You cannot operate a government if the problems that individuals in your party have, or have had, are overshadowing official government business.
‘I was wrong about veganism. Let them eat meat – but farm it properly‘, is the title of George Monbiot’s Guardian column this week. Broadly I agree with it, and have argued some of these points in the past. It makes no sense, to me, to waste viable grasslands or upland regions where cows, sheep and pigs can convert food inedible to humans into edible food. Just as it is terrible for the environment to grow tomatoes in the British winter using intensive farming methods it is equally terrible to not put the environment that we have made over the past five thousand years or so to its full use.
The ethical concern of is it right to eat meat is a different argument entirely, and is one that is attacked in much detail by both sides in the comments of this article.