Arthur C Clarke Award #3: ‘Angelmaker’ by Nick Harkaway

Nick Harkaway’s sprawling yarn Angelmaker starts out in present-day London and brings together two characters who are an unlikely SF duo. Joe is the son of a gangster and Edie is an octogenarian female spook. She’s ever vigilant with her bags packed, waiting for her past to pay a visit. Which it does.

Joe Spork leads an impecunious life having shunned a life of crime despite his first-class underworld connections. Instead he follows his grandfather’s trade – fixing clocks and Victorian automata. The relationship between the three generations of Sporks, is explored by jumping back and forth in time, providing some of the best writing in the novel. Harkaway also writes well about Joe’s relationship with technology: Read more

Arthur C Clarke Award #2: Dark Eden by Chris Beckett

Dark Eden is the story of lone-voice John Redlantern who, with his extended family, is stranded on a distant planet. This is a planet with no Sun; the only light sources are the forests with their shining treelanterns. All 532 people in the Family are descendants of Angela and Tommy. Unable to leave Eden, as they named it, they created a new human colony in Circle Valley that stretches ‘all the way from Peckham Hills to Blue Mountains and from Rockies to Alps.’

Once a year (roughly speaking, as it’s difficult for the oldest members to keep track of time), they gather for an ‘Any Virsry’ to recount the oral history of the settlement and to revere the few mementoes of Angela, Tommy and Earth – the plastic kee board, the sky-boat models, the boot, the backpack… Read more

Arthur C Clarke Award #1: ‘Nod’ by Adrian Barnes

I’m planning to read all the  Arthur C Clarke Award shortlist this month and I’m kicking off with Nod by Adrian Barnes. In case you haven’t checked them out, here are the six contenders:

Nod by Adrian Barnes (Bluemoose)
Dark Eden by Chris Beckett (Corvus)
Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway (William Heinemann)
The Dog Stars by Peter Heller (Headline)
Intrusion by Ken MacLeod (Orbit)
2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit)

Before I begin – Congratulations to all the authors!

‘Nod’ by Adrian Barnes

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Did the First SF Magazine Appear in Russia in 1894?

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As many of you know, I’m a fan of the Russian writer Yevgeny Zamyatin and I decided on the title of my novel A Calculated Life when I read this sentence from his science fiction dystopia, We:

But a thought swarmed in me; what if he, this yellow-eyed being – in his ridiculous, dirty bundle of trees, in his uncalculated life – is happier than us?
The ‘yellow-eyed being’ was a human, one of many, excluded from the perfect world of ‘One State’.An article in io9 this week, Did the very first science fiction magazine appear in Russia in 1894?, gives fascinating insights into Zamyatin and the emergence of Scientific Fantasy, Nauchnaia Fantastika, in the years before the Russian Revolution. It includes exclusive extracts from We Modern People: Science Fiction and the Making of Russian Modernity by Cornell University Professor Anindita Banerjee (Kindle edition more expensive than the paperback!) She delves into the history of early Russian science fiction and explains the Russian obsession with all-things-modern.
Banerjee says:

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Fahrenheit 451: Midcentury Renway Bungalow

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I came across this quite by chance. My brother is visiting for Christmas and he showed me the wowhaus website for ‘interesting’ and retro properties. As I scrolled through the properties I was stunned to see Montag, hero of Fahrenheit 451. He’s shown walking out of his home – a midcentury Renway bungalow, recently for sale in Edgcumbe Park, Berkshire, UK.

This Renway bungalow must have been the last word in modernity when Francois Truffaut made his 1966 movie adaptation of Fahrenheit 451. Montag lived in a Type 60 property!

http://bit.ly/RUn829

Manchester: the perfect setting for Science Fiction

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Baby at Manchester University

So why did I chose Manchester and the North West of England as the main setting for A Calculated Life? It’s not simply because I know this city and region (I could have chosen London, which I know well enough).

The fact is that Manchester shouted out as being totally appropriate. I couldn’t resist. You see, A Calculated Life is set later in the 21st Century. It’s Science Fiction or, as others might classify the novel, Speculative Fiction. It presents a dystopian view of the future – one in which humans have adopted many advances in neural implant technology and genetic engineering. As Ray Kurzweil argues in The Age of Spiritual Machines, once we discovered computation we reset our future evolutionary path.

So where better to locate this futuristic novel, than the city where the first commercial computer was developed. Read more

Why did I even begin to write this novel?

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It all began . . . at the turn of the millennium when, after I’d recovered from the celebrations, I read a long review in The Guardian‘s New Year edition of Ray Kurzweil’s book The Age of Spiritual Machines. His predictions were a wake-up call. He imagined a future when humans start to merge with technology, that is, when wealthier humans boost their brainpower by way of neural implants (welI, I can see the upside, who wouldn’t? Imagine being fluent in seven languages…).

Kurzweil argues that it’s absolutely inevitable that the next step in our evolution will involve cognitive implants. By the year 2099, he says humans with neural implants will be unable to hold a meaningful conversation with humans who do not have them; the divide will be too great.

This was seriously scary stuff, or I thought so at least. I was already looking at the dividing line between humans and machines in my art practice, but Kurzweil’s predictions really unnerved me. Read more