Posts in Category: research


Risto Paalanen tells me terrible things and then informs me that it’s for my own good.

Terrible things like Radu.

Radu was, according to Ion Mihai Pacepa, the codename for a radiological weapon used against dissenters and critics by Nicolae Ceauşescu’s Securitate. “Radu” is a Romanian name and in this context it is a reference to “radiation”. The weapon was intended to lead to cancer which would result in death within months after the exposure.[1]

Radu (Wikipedia)

“It’s for your own good, young man.”

Now he’s telling me about other methods of execution used by dictators.

[taphead] Speaking of dictators and lovely methods of execution, Idi Amin had this wonderful little gag:
[taphead] “To save ammunition, one prisoner is forced to batter out the brains of another with a heavy hammer on te promise of a reprieve. The “executioner” is then killed in the same way by another brought from the cells with the same promise.”


Time and Time Again, Extracts From a J.G. Ballard Interview

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.

Nouveau Réalisme

IKB 191, monochromatic painting by Yves Klein. 1962

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.”

New Realism: a poetic recycling of reality

In short: where Kafka, Joyce, Godard, Truffaut, Duchamp collide at high velocity with Henry James, Tolstoy and Conrad.

See also: J.G. Ballard.

Tag as what I want to do.

This is what happens when I listen to Connect_icut late at night.

The Five Billion Names of Genre

An exercise. Not a terribly original one, but still an exercise for the imagination.

Below is a list of fifty literary genres and sub-genres taken from Wikipedia’s list. I have added a few genres of my own, and this list is not exhaustive. Take a look at an item on the list below, and tell me about what a genre title suggests to you in a short paragraph.

The only constraint is that you cannot deliberately reference existing works of fiction. I want to hear about possible mes-en-scene, themes and tropes only. No examples.

What is the purpose of this exercise? Well, genres are different for everyone. They are subjective and dependent on personal experience, as they depend on what you have read, seen and heard. So I am interested in what potential genre names suggest. What is the essence of individual genres?

Alternative History
Apocalyptic Fiction
Bizarro Fiction
Christian Science Fiction
Comic Science Fiction
Counterfacual history
Dark Fantasy
Dying Earth
Dystopian Fiction
Epic Fantasy
Feminist Science Fiction
Future Noir

Finding Form in Short Fiction

While reading RSS feeds this morning I came across an article on the Guardian book blog about a small publisher in Cambridge called Salt. One of the titles mentioned, ‘Short Circuit: A Guide to the Art of the Short Story‘, caught my attention because I’m interested in the short story as both a reader and a writer. I do like the novel form, but I adore and appreciate a good short story more than a good novel. It is maybe the hacker instinct working itself out of my mind, as a short story can be looked at as a total object which I can examine the way it works more easily than a novel. This helps me get better a writing, and being able to take apart a short story in this way gives me extra level of enjoyment from an individual story.

I was always the kid that took his toys apart and played with Lego.

Being absolutely broke I can’t hop onto Amazon and buy a copy of the book, but I can look on the website and read the free preview. In the PDF they provide the first essay from the collection. This essay by Graham Mort is called ‘Finding Form in Short Fiction’ and is well worth investigating fully. I just want to highlight one paragraph and bring that to your attention. It involves comics and it involves the short story, and it is a thought that has never occurred to me.

The first short fiction I ever read (by which I mean the short story here rather than the novella) was in the comics and comic books I subscribed to as a child and borrowed from friends. One lad, in particular, had a constant supply of Marvel comics through an older brother. I’m sure that one of the enduring influences of those comics was the use of frames that captured a visual image and moved the action forward in a sequence that resembled a ciné film with intervening frames missing. I realise now that frames equate to paragraphs in a story or stanzas in a poem — to move between them is to move across the white space of the page, which is often a period of implied time. The articulation of those comic strips was something to do with the motion of time within narrative, and with the way in which readers imagine absences.

I must find some time to meditate on this idea.

An Impromptu Survey

This is the sort of thinking I get up to early in the morning when I should be sleeping1.

I am actually going somewhere with this, but you’ll have to trust and watch me slowly building up layers of ideas and opinion into a coherent set of thoughts before it will start to make sense2. There’s a few more question I need to ask after this stage of the thought process. There is however a large amount of zugzwang going on here, and I only have a vague idea of where this is heading.

Yes, some of you will have seen his on Twitter, and this is related to the last note I made here.

SF = Speculative Fiction = Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror.

The questions:

Why do we read / watch SF?

Why do we read / watch any kind of story?

What makes SF special to some of us?

Why does it entertain us?

Ideally I need as many answers as possible. However I am willing to accept none and make my own blind and rash proclamations when thinking later. =)

1. Post originally made to my Facebook account at 2:53am.
2. I know I’ve said this a lot.

Radical Hard SF

Last issue we described Interzone as a magazine of radical science fiction and fantasy. Now we would like to go further and outline (however hazily) a type of story that we want to see much more of in this magazine: the radical hard SF story. We wish to publish more fiction that takes inspiration from science, and uses the language of science in a creative way. It may be fantastic, surrealistic, “illogical”, but in order for it to be radical hard SF it should explore in some fashion the perspectives opened up by contemporary science and technology. Some would argue that new electronic gadgetry is displacing the printed word – if so, writers should fight back, using guerilla tactics as necessary and infiltrate the territory of their enemy.

David Pringle and Colin Greenland, Interzone 8 (Summer 1984)

EDITORIAL. radical, hard SF
seeing signs that something new is imminent —
new fiction from the bounty of new technology.
/// the perspectives opened up by contemporary science fight back, using guerilla tactics
new information systems f/a/s/h/i/o/n that new science fiction
for the *electronic age*

Bruce Sterling, Cheap Truth 6

Through the Looking Glass

The talk by William Gibson that I mentioned in “Get Angry and Change Things” is from a newspaper interview carried out during his promotional tour for Spook Country, and not, as I thought, a talk of his. I rediscovered it a few days ago, and it is worth reading properly.

Stranger Than Fiction

As uncannily as Gibson has sometimes foreseen the future, there are other times when the events of the real world outstrip anything he could conjure up. In 1998, for example, when Viagra was brand-new and he was presented with a sample, he examined it carefully and responded incisively, “It does what ?”

Behind the hotel courtyard lunch table, a Marine helicopter roars low over the Potomac. Thoughts turn to the future of Washington. Could Gibson have predicted that in 2007, two leading candidates for the presidency would be a white woman and a black man?

That’s the problem with his game, he says. “If I had gone to Ace Books in 1981 and pitched a novel set in a world with a sexually contagious disease that destroys the human immune system and that is raging across most of the world — particularly badly in Africa — they might have said, ‘Not bad. A little toasty. That’s kind of interesting.’

“But I’d say — ‘ But wait! Also, the internal combustion engine and everything else we’ve been doing that forces carbon into the atmosphere has thrown the climate out of whack with possibly terminal and catastrophic results.’ And they’d say, ‘You’ve already got this thing you call AIDS. Let’s not –‘

“And I’d say, ‘ But wait! Islamic terrorists from the Middle East have hijacked airplanes and flown them into the World Trade Center.’ Not only would they not go for it, they probably would have called security.”

It may also have come from a talk somewhere, but I’ve long since lost the original reference, so this will have to do.

Through the Looking Glass [Washington Post]