Some may have noticed, if they follow me on Facebook or Twitter, that I’ve been wandering into a few art galleries and museums lately. The blame for this can be laid squarely at the door of one Julie Ann McCartney, and she’s also to blame for a change in my usual morning reading of ten science articles. They now make way for two or three articles on art and history. I know that some are a little concerned about this change: Oh hell, is he getting all cultural and artsy? Is he going soft on us? Never fear.
Right from when I was writing my first short autobiographies or answering interview questions, I told of how I chose to be a writer. When I was a kid I had interests in all sorts of things. These included biology, painting and drawing, electronics, sculpture, chemistry, writing of course and other things besides. However, in my early 20s (if not before) I decided I had to concentrate on just one of these if I was ever to achieve anything. If I did not I would be a Jack of all trades but master of none. I chose writing because in that I could incorporate all those other subjects. In the respect of my science and technology interest this was especially the case when it came to SF.
But all is grist to the writing mill in the end. I should also add that the mill needs feeding and often with something new. If you don’t feed it yes, sure, you can still produce but ideas might be lacking. And if you feed it the same old stuff all the time what comes out may well get stale. Please excuse the extended and increasingly contorted metaphor. But what I’m getting round to here is that new experiences, ideas and perspectives can be invigorating for a writer, and they have been.
As I said in previous posts I recently turned from writing novels to writing short stories (though am now back editing the latest novel). I started out with a fairly traditional alien contact story, got into some Polity biotech stuff that produced one story and germinated an idea for a novella. I then wrote another novella that concerned my recent reading on longevity and the new biotech start-ups we are seeing. Next I started writing a story about a woman with moveable tattoos that transformed into something strange about her skin having an implanted AI, and in this I found myself in the Polity art world.
Now I was really using those gallery and museum visits. That story completed I then had a seriously weird dream about a biotech future, sat to write that down before my morning visit to the gym while still in a bit of a dream state, and glanced at a book Julie bought for me for my birthday on the artist Hieronymus Bosch. It fit at once. This start has now turned into another weird one: far future biotech and the monsters of Bosch born to exact vengeance for a crime. I’ve completed that at 20,000 words and will finish editing it later.
Glad I visited those galleries.
Another series I found on Amazon TV, which I have only just finished watching, is Man in High Castle. Based on the Philip K Dick book of the same name it gives us a parallel world in which the Nazis and the Japanese won the war.
This is grim and bleak but the acting is good and the characters engage. Films are turning up in this parallel, from that Man in High Castle, of events in our own world and are disseminated by rebels, though it is never clear what effect they could possibly have. Maybe the knowledge that things could be different is enough? Mainly this covers the day to day lives of the people in that world – what it is like to live under such a regime – though the bones of story begin to appear with travellers from other worlds, the growing rebellion and the Nazi’s awareness of these and their response. However I wonder if it has the legs to go much beyond the three seasons shown. Mostly it is reliant on its world-building, of the shiver one feels seeing those black uniforms in places like New York, of swastika flags hanging on familiar buildings, and Japanese soldiers beheading citizens – the brutality of it all running on for decades beyond the war – and the frisson one feels seeing monsters like Himmler, Mengele and Hitler himself living on into the 60s. It relies in the end on it being a well-imagined parallel world, and that is not enough. I hope it does keep on its feet since it is very good, but I suspect is will die in the long whimper of extended franchise.
I picked up an Adrian Tchaikovsky book before (Empire in Black and Gold), recollect enjoying what I read of it, but it unfortunately fell during a time when some shitty things were happening in my life and I lost my reading mojo. Now I’ve read Children of Time and am considering going back to take a look at those Shadows of the Apt books.
If any book appears here it is because I finished it, so right away it is to me an enjoyable book. Life is too short for anything else and anything that doesn’t make the grade after a few chapters ends up in the charity shop bag. In fact that usually happens after just a few pages. This one made the grade in spades.
Two story threads weave the whole together with on the one hand the travails of the survivors of the human race travelling out in an arc ship to find the remains of a previous old empire, and on the other an uplift project (the space station concerned of course being called the Brin) – the terraforming of a world and the placement of a ‘barrel of monkeys’ there to rise to civilization. The driver of this is a nano-virus that accelerates evolution by dint of making acquired abilities heritable. This is overseen by Doctor Avrana Kern who, to survive during a rebellion in that old empire, becomes an amalgam of an upload of herself, her cold coffin body and the computer system of the satellite she occupies. The project goes wrong, and what rises to intelligence and civilization is somewhat unexpected. Okay, that’s enough, since I don’t want to give the plot away.
This being a doorstep of a book I had my doubts about whether I could stick with it, but over 600 pages of science fiction goodness I enjoyed myself immensely. The rise of the ‘alien’ race parallels (and nicely diverges from) the rise of humanity and the world-building there is excellent. I did get an ‘oh shit’ moment with the battle of the sexes turned on its head (but for perfectly understandable biological reasons) but fortunately it didn’t lapse into proselytizing on gender politics as seems par for the course elsewhere. The thread aboard the arc ship kept my nose in the book too – at no point did I think ‘Nah, move along’. I cared about the characters there and on the terraformed world.