The Early Days of a Better Nation

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Free evening of SF in Edinburgh

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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Looking Back

Well, it's been a year.

In personal and family matters it's been a good one. In terms of work, though, it's been something of a forced march. Entirely my own fault: I was doing work in 2015 that I really should have done in 2014. Instead, I deluded myself that with enough research and planning in 2014, I'd be able to write the first draft of a novel at a speed I'd never attained before. This made me uncannily relaxed about giving a lot of attention to the Scottish independence referendum campaign, having a good time at Loncon 3, and so on.

In a sense I was right: I did write two novels this year, but they each took longer than I'd allowed for and left little time for anything else. At the moment I have the page proofs of the first, the second is with my editor, and the third is due for delivery mid-April. The plan is for the books to be published at six-month intervals from May 2016, and so far it's on course.

What's it about? Well ...

The general title of the trilogy is The Corporation Wars, and the books are sub-titled Dissidence, Insurgence, and Emergence. It's a far-future space opera about uploaded dead war criminals conscripted to fight an outbreak of robot sentience in an extrasolar system, and kept sane by copious amounts of R&R in immersive VR environments, some of which are beta-tests of a planned future terraforming and some of which are based on fantasy RPGs. The conflict rapidly becomes much more complicated ... but has this been the plan all along, or has a clever stratagem all gone horribly wrong?

So I've been busy. Among the other things this has left time for:

Giving a course, with Mike Cobley, on writing SF and fantasy at Moniack Mhor; talking, with Nathan Coombs, about space and socialism at a Manchester Spring event (video here); delivering a keynote (links to video and transcript here) at FSCONS in Sweden; and taking part in various book and science festivals.

This year I've written introductions to five Gollancz SF Masterworks, and articles on:

'progressive' SF and human progress; SF and personal change; and spies and double lives in future and alternate Scotlands. Not yet online is my enthusiastic review of Brian Cox's BBC2 series Human Universe, in the Summer 2015 issue of Perspectives.

Not written this year, but published in 2015 for the first time after many vicissitudes, is a discussion with Sherryl Vint on animals, biotech and SF. I also responded to some very intelligent discussion for the Crooked Timber seminar on my novels.

Over the past few months I've been reading every Scottish poem published in 2015 (a still ongoing project, as they keep on coming) to select and introduce the next of the annual Best Scottish Poems, an awesome responsibility and a new challenge.

Among the things all this hasn't left time for is what ate so much of my time in 2014: involvement, however marginal, in actual political campaigning and argument.

Next year? We'll see.

Meanwhile, all the best for 2016!
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Monday, November 23, 2015

Tarbert Book Festival

At 2 p.m. this Saturday, 28 November, I'll be interviewed by Lisa Tuttle at Tarbert Book Festival on the Poems of Iain Banks and on my own writing. The whole programme is interesting and varied -- if you're in the area, do check it out.

(Click for larger view.)

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Sunday, October 04, 2015

Upcoming Engagements

I have three public events scheduled for this month.

First, at 7 pm on Wednesday 7 October, I'll be in Kilmarnock, talking about and reading from the Poems of Iain Banks, as part of East Ayreshire's book festival, Imprint.

The following week, on Thursday 15 October, I and Nathan Coombs will be discussing Socialism and space: Why humanity must look to the stars, at

7 pm at
The Ape and Apple
John Dalton St
Manchester M2 6HQ

Farther ahead but closer to home, I'll be reading at Deadhead Comics in Edinburgh, at a fantastic evening event from 7.30 on Thursday 29 October for Shoreline of Infinity, Scotland's new SF magazine.

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Saturday, August 22, 2015

Book Festival

Tomorrow, Sunday 23 August, I'll be at the Edinburgh International Book Festival talking about and reading from Poems by Iain Banks. The event is chaired by Stuart Kelly, who knew Iain well and chaired events with Iain and me several times, so it promises to be something special.

Details: Sun 23 Aug 2:15pm - 3:15pm Garden Theatre

Tickets (£10.00, £8.00 conc.) available here.

In case you can't make the event and the signing afterwards, you can pick up signed copies at the Waterstones on-site shop and local branches. And if you miss that, copies signed by me and (if you like) personalised will still be available from Transreal Fiction in Edinburgh.
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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Scotland after socialism

In 1979, the French radical intellectual Régis Debray tossed a tear-gas cannister into the complacent, cross-class nostalgia for May 1968. He saw the significance of les événements not as a failed overthrow of French capitalism, but a convulsive convergence with the wider West, saying (if memory serves) that 'We had to imagine ourselves as Chinese, in order to become Californians.'

I can't match his gloomy verve, but I'll make a similar suggestion about the lesser upheaval of 2015 in Scotland. This is a country that never took to New Labour, but has suffered and enjoyed all the changes in class composition and identity to which New Labour was a reaction. And yet we've cherished our self-image as keepers of the flame. Our refrain has been: 'We didn't leave Labour, Labour left us.'

Now, in the name of Old Labour values, we've overwhelmingly elected a party that stands on almost all issues to the right of even the present Labour Party, let alone that of Donald Dewar and John Smith. The SNP is a party with a fresh, charismatic leader who appeals to all classes and who proclaims a business-friendly programme in social-democratic language. In doing this she has enabled us to at last catch up with the post-socialist world, without losing face or backing down. We had to imagine ourselves as Venezuelans, in order to become Blairites.
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Saturday, May 09, 2015

Coming Attractions

Interested in writing science fiction and/or fantasy? Michael Cobley and I are teaching a short course from 1 pm Thursday 13 May to noon Sunday 17 May at Monaick Mhor, the creative writing centre in the Highlands near Inverness. The centre is comfortable, accessible, spacious and beautifully situated. Though we already have a healthy number of bookings, a few places are still available. So if you're interested, book now.

Later this month, on Friday 29 May I'll be reading from and talking about the poems of Iain Banks at Aberdeen University's May Festival. I'll also be signing copies of the book, which at Iain's insistence includes some poems of my own.

After that my diary is reassuringly blank until the Edinburgh Book Festival in August, which is just as well because I'm writing the second volume of a space opera trilogy, having just recently delivered the first to the tender mercies of my brilliant editor. It's all rebel robots and walking dead space mercenaries in an extrasolar posthuman conflict, and therefore something of a shift from my recent focus on the near future.

My work to date is the topic of a forthcoming seminar at Crooked Timber, where some very bright and sharp critics dissect the books and I pick over the resulting anatomical diagrams (usually to explain where what has been charitably read as a deep engagement with a significant body of rigorous thought has in fact been gleaned from, but them's the breaks.)

Update: Crooked Timber seminar posts and my response now linked to here.
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