"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars" - O.W.

Current Study

Current Study:
Ph.D thesis on the interaction of history and fiction in non-mimetic literature of the Holocaust

Current Sub-Studies

Areas of Interest:
> Non-mimetic fictions of the wider Second World War
> Alternate History
> History and Fiction
> History and Popular Culture
> Comics
> Paratexts

29 April 2015

Interview with Gareth L. Powell

This interview originally appeared as "An Interview with Gareth L. Powell Talking About a Monkey", Vector. no. 278. pp.8-10. It was conducted to mark Ack-Ack Macaque winning Best Novel at the BSFA Awards last year (an accolade for which it tied with Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice, Tom Hunter conducted the mirroring interview with Ann which you can read here)

Glyn Morgan: Ack-Ack Macaque started as a short story (In Interzone #212, Sept 2007. Winner of Interzone story of the year), talk us through the process of that story's development and how it became a novel.

Gareth L. Powell: The original Ack-Ack story was told from the point of view of a suicidal young man named Andy, who had just been dumped by Tori, his artist girlfriend, in favour of an executive at a media company. Not only had this executive, in Andy’s eyes, taken his girlfriend, he had also adapted, softened and neutered her creation, a web animation about the adventures of a World War One monkey pilot named Ack-Ack Macaque – and to be honest, Andy’s not sure which loss hurts him more, the loss of his girlfriend or the loss of his favourite cartoon. Warren Ellis memorably summed it up as: “The commercialisation of a web animation into some diseased Max Headroom as metaphor for the wreckage of a fucked-up relationship.”

I wrote the story as a comment on what used to be called the ‘Disneyfication’ of popular culture. The Ack-Ack Macaque character starts out spiky but gets softened by the corporation that buys the rights to his series. I was originally going to call the story ‘The Monkey That Ate The Internet’ but once I’d introduced the character, he started to take over, and I decided his name made a catchier title. As you mentioned, ‘Ack-Ack Macaque’ went on to win the 2007 Interzone readers’ poll. The character – who was only supposed to be incidental to the main story – seemed to strike a chord with readers, but I had no plans to write anything more about him. Over the next couple of years, I moved my focus from short stories to novels. Pendragon published my first, Silversands, in 2010, and Solaris published The Recollection in 2011.

After The Recollection appeared, Jonathan Oliver at Solaris asked if I had another book I wanted to write, and I immediately said yes. I’d been kicking around an idea for a murder mystery set on a gigantic Zeppelin in an alternate future where Britain and France had merged in the 1950s. So I wrote up a synopsis and sent it to him. Only, while I was writing the synopsis, something unexpected happened.

The idea for the novel revolved around several not-quite-human characters. I wanted to talk about the nature of humanity and of what it means to be human by coming at the question from the perspective of characters that weren’t sure they qualified. I had Victoria Valois, who’d had half her brain replace by synthetic neurons following an accident; her dead husband, the murder victim, who now existed only as an electronic simulation; and the Prince of Wales, who discovers his origins aren’t as straightforward as he might have supposed. In order to complete the set, I needed a character that had never been human but was able to think and communicate with humans… and there was Ack-Ack Macaque. He had been smoking his cigar in the shadowy depths of my imagination, just waiting for a chance to leap back into the daylight.

GM: The Recollection was also based on a short story (in this case one published in your
collection The Last Reef and Other Stories) is the short story a formative part of how you think about novels?

GLP: Sometimes a short story’s simply too short, and the central idea needs more space in which to be explored. Short fiction is a great tool for taking a look at one aspect of an idea, character or situation, but you really need to move out to novella- or novel-length in order to gain a three hundred and sixty degree perspective.

GM: At first impression Ack-Ack Macaque and Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice seem like very different books but actually they contain a number of overlapping themes or concerns: most notably the human-AI-machine relationship. Of course you mix this up still further by introducing 'animal' into that group as well. Some of your other work also brushes these issues and Hive Monkey, sequel to Ack-Ack Macaque, builds on it in a big way. Is this a personal concern or, given Ann's book, do you think there's something in the air?

GLP: In some ways, I think science fiction has always been about our relationship with technology, exploring the myriad ways it shapes both our society and ourselves as physical individuals – and, right now, we’re living in an age of profound change.

As science fiction writers, it isn’t our job to accurately predict the future – history has shown that accurate soothsayers tend to get burned at the stake – but to explore instead a range of possible futures as a means of commenting on the world of today.

When I was at school in the mid-Eighties, hardly anyone had a mobile phone and home computers were something of a novelty. Since then we’ve moved so many of our work and leisure activities online, and encoded so much of our public identities into social media profiles, that legitimate questions can start to be asked about the extent to which the Internet has become a neural and cultural prosthesis for communication and memory storage.

As science fiction writers, we have to look at all this and ask ourselves what the implications are. In the macaque books, I’m asking what it will mean to be human when personalities can be recorded and ‘run’ on computers; when whole chunks of your brain can be replaced by faster and better components; and when we have the capability to ‘upgrade’ animals to human levels of thought. And I’m trying to entertain you while I’m doing it. I’ve taken a Philip K. Dick sort of approach. I’ve given you a quartet of fast-paced adventure stories that you can enjoy as such, but I’ve built them around some fairly weighty philosophical questions about the nature of family, grief, loyalty and what it means to be a human being in this crazy, accelerating world.

GM: As you’ve mentioned, the books are also alternate histories, set in a world where France
and the United Kingdom merged in the aftermath of the Suez Crisis following a proposal from the French Prime Minister to Anthony Eden [a genuine historical event, in our timeline the offer was turned down]. What was it that attracted you to an alternate history rather than a straight near-future story, and why this particular turning, or jonbar, point?

GLP: I wanted to tell a story with Zeppelins and very powerful computer processors, and to do that, I felt I needed an alternative setting. The Anglo-French Union appealed to me as soon as I read about the French Prime Minister's offer in a Guardian article. It would have been a Europe dominated by a combined France and Britain. Think how the culture would have been different, how the politics would have played out... In the books, I throw in a few details - just enough to give the reader a flavour of these differences without swamping them in historical detail. For instance, I make reference to the Beatles playing their formative residency in Paris instead of Hamburg; of the Citroen HY filling the niche occupied in our world by the Ford Transit; and I postulate a kind of bilingual slang called ‘Franglais’. Perhaps, most importantly, I relocate the silicon revolution from California to Cambridge, where computer technology flourishes under the leadership of British scientists and inventors such as Turing and Sinclair.

And as for the Zeppelins? Well, I had to come up with a historical and political/economic rationale for them, too...

GM: In Hive Monkey, you make a reference to the 8 Nations Rugby Tournament. As a rugby fan, I have to ask: who are the additional two nations?

GLP: I will leave that as game for the rugby aficionados among my readership.

GM: You smuggle a lot of in-jokes into your writing. From the surely obligatory reference to Planet of the Apes, to Star Wars, to music reference like Sparks and Jeff Beck. Is this type of easter egging a personal joke/game, or are you trying to add some extra fun for the reader, and if so, are there any references you've put into one of your books but been disappointed to find no one seemed to get, or that you had to take out because an editor thought it was too obscure?

GLP: The references I drop into the books are mostly for my own amusement. My novel, The Recollection, had loads of them - such as the William Pilgrim Home For Displaced Time Travellers - but I try not to let them interfere with the story. I don’t crowbar them in, just sprinkle them in lightly as they occur to me. Sometimes, they’re hat-tips to classic stories, such as War Of The Worlds; other times they’re just random scraps of pop culture ephemera that jump into my head while I’m typing. I hope readers who notice them take them in the spirit in which they’re meant: as a bit of extra fun.

GM: The third book in the Ack-Ack series [came out in January 2015]. Was it always going to
be a trilogy, is this a definite final book or do you see yourself returning to the monkey at some point?

GLP: I initially wrote Ack-Ack Macaque as a standalone novel, but was overjoyed when Solaris commissioned a sequel. Hive Monkey came out in January 2014 and expanded the canvas, allowing me to explore the nature of the alternate world in which the first novel was set, while still elaborating on themes of humanity and family. However, as both books were quite different, and there were still a few loose ends, I knew I’d need a third instalment to tie it all together and bring the story full-circle.
In Macaque Attack, we meet an older, wiser macaque. He’s beginning to realise that he can’t be a loner forever, and he’s starting to admit to himself that he cares about the people around him – the dysfunctional ersatz family of characters he’s accumulated over the previous two volumes.

Having spent so much time in the company of Ack-Ack, Victoria, K8 and the rest of the main characters, I too had become very fond of them. They had all grown and developed over the course of the trilogy, and I wanted to make sure I did them justice. I think I did.

As it transpires, not only has Macaque Attack turned out to be their biggest and wildest adventure yet, it also features characters from my earlier space opera, The Recollection – which means that all four of the books I’ve written for Solaris form part of a larger tale, and the trilogy has become a quartet!
I have no immediate plans to return to Ack-Ack in the near future, but don’t count him out of the game just yet. I may have other projects on which I want to work, but that doesn’t mean I won’t return to his world at some point, if inspiration provides the right story.

GM: What are you working on next, post-macaque?

GLP: Since completing the third monkey book, I’ve gone back to writing space opera. I have one finished novel, and I’m currently writing another that could potentially form the first instalment of a new series.


Thanks to Gareth for taking the time for this interview. You can find out more about him and his books at www.garethlpowell.com. Macaque Attack, the third instalment in the Ack-Ack Macaque trilogy was published on 15th January 2015 by Solaris. Follow the monkey on twitter: @AckAckMacaque

8 April 2015

Interview with Lavie Tidhar

I recently read A Man Lies Dreaming and have since been bringing it up in all sorts of conversations, some appropriate, others not so. It's hard to describe what the book is about whilst still doing it justice and not spoiling anything for those of you who might read it in the future so here's the official synopsis:
Deep in the heart of history’s most infamous concentration camp, a man lies dreaming. His name is Shomer, and before the war he was a pulp fiction author. Now, to escape the brutal reality of life in Auschwitz, Shomer spends his nights imagining another world – a world where a disgraced former dictator now known only as Wolf ekes out a miserable existence as a low-rent PI in London’s grimiest streets.
An extraordinary story of revenge and redemption, A Man Lies Dreaming is the unforgettable testament to the power of imagination.
I was lucky enough to have lunch and a lengthy chat with the author, Lavie Tidhar, at Worldcon. We spoke about my research, the book, and about shund (Yiddish pulp fiction, essentially). I hadn't yet read the book but it sounded fascinating. Once I read it I knew it had to be included in my thesis and I decided to take the opportunity to get back in touch with Lavie and ask him a few questions. What follows is the interview I did with him. I've published it here because it's probably too specialised to go anywhere else, but hopefully you'll enjoy it. I want to thank Lavie for taking the time to indulge my interest and research, and for his generous and detailed replies.

  • A Man Lies Dreaming was part of The Guardian's selection for Best SF Novels of 2014.
  • Part of The Scotland Herald's selection for Best Crime Novels of 2014.
  • Part of LA Review of Books selection for Best Crime Novels of 2014.
  • On the Locus Magazine Recommended Reading List for 2014.

It was also one of my novels of the year, with the caveat that it is a challenging, twisted, and disturbing read. This is part of why I loved it.

It was recently released in paperback and is available from all good stockists, such as the one who pay my wages...


Glyn Morgan: When did you decide you wanted to write A Man Lies Dreaming, and what brought you to the specific idea of Hitler/Wolf as a Private Eye in London? 

Lavie Tidhar: The idea - the need, really - to do a novel about the Holocaust was something that I always knew I wanted to do. It was something I dealt with in other novels - the short, weird SF novel Martian Sands, as well as - to a smaller extent - in The Violent Century - and in several short stories, but I needed to be fully committed to it, and to do what I do, which is essentially to write about something from an askew angle. It's a novel that explicitly addresses the question of how to write the Holocaust, after all, as much as asking if you can even ever do that.

I remember getting the idea - I'd just moved back to the UK, it must have been 2011 I think - I was in a temporary flat, almost empty, and I sat there, at 1 o'clock at night and I thought: Adolf Hitler, Private Eye. It was actually - I think, I realised it much later - it's a throwaway line in one of Philip Kerr's novels, and I was reading him at the time, but what struck me was not so much the audacity of the idea as the crazy thought that if anyone could - maybe, just maybe! - pull it off, it would be me. I don't mean this in a hubristic sense at all - I simply mean that it's such a ridiculous idea, such an offensive idea really, that you'd be mad to try it, and that to make it work you'd need to bring to bear a certain weight of a historical connection. I mean, I'm third-generation to Holocaust survivors. It's something that's had a profound effect on my life, that's been with me all my life. So that shapes a lot of it or, rather, it hovers over the book.

And of course, the story of Hitler as a pulp detective - while it was - I wouldn't say fun, but I enjoy that sort of pulp writing, the tropes etc - but that on its own would be meaningless, it would be empty. The only way it could work is if it is grounded in the reality, in Auschwitz. So Shomer was always there, it's his story. My editor, Anne, got that straight away, and she really pushed me to strengthen it too, because for me, for a long time, it was Wolf's story - mostly because Wolf's story is escapist, it's fiction, while Shomer's is the unbearable reality. So you can see which sections I preferred to write. The whole novel is about escape and, ultimately, about the impossibility, the futility of escape.

So the idea was late 2011, but I didn't write it. I was busy on The Violent Century then. And that took, well, forever. It was a hard slog. And then when Hodder bought The Violent Century, we did discuss what the next book would be, and I did float it - I think Anne suggested the name should be Wolf, not Hitler, which made a lot of sense in hindsight - but it was sort of agreed I'd do another book (actually one of the two that I'm trying to write at the moment!).

So no one really knew about it, though my agent was going around I think telling people, who tended to react with a shocked look and a laugh. I mean, we talked about it as the unsellable book. So I did my best to not write it! I mean, it would have been idiotic to actually write this book.

I spent a long time trying not to write it. I worked on all kinds of other books and none worked. It takes me a long time to get an idea into the right shape and form, as I'm learning. (A recent book I tried to write, it turns out, was actually meant to be a graphic novel, for instance).

But I was running out of options fast, and running out of time, and I sat up one night, this must have been 2013 maybe, and I was itching so hard to write that opening line, and I thought, well, just do it. Just sit down and write it and see what happens. No one needs to know! It was the same feeling I had with writing Osama. Try it. No one needs to know if you fail.

So I did, and that was it. I had to keep writing. I wrote the first draft very fast. At night - midnight to 3am, usually. Crazy hours. It was a disturbing sort of experience. I wanted to do it fast to get it out of my system, to not have to keep doing it, spend more time with Wolf.

Then it was sort of - it went through a kind of painful editorial process. I knew it wasn't quite right,
but I was a bit resistant to criticism, I have to admit (I can admit it now!), so it all took a long time, but I did it. It basically came down to cutting a couple of voices - I was trying to juggle too many balls, narratively speaking - and that was hard. Strengthening Shomer's part, giving him more of a voice, a past. More cutting... let's just say I didn't enjoy this part!

I was also terrified Hodder won't publish it. I mean, I was asking a lot of them. And I was just very lucky with my editor, I was very lucky with all of it. They really got behind it, and it actually came out! I mean, I still can't quite believe it. I'll be honest - I write a fair bit, but I'm not sure I'll ever write something I'm as happy with again as I am with A Man Lies Dreaming. You don't get too many chances like that. And I probably wouldn't want to relive the experience!

GM: Was Shomer always going to be a writer of shund, and why pick up the historical writer (the victim of the mauling from Sholem Aleichem) and place him into Auschwitz rather than use a contemporaneous writer or create a new one altogether?

LT: I didn't pick the historical writer, merely the name - Shomer means "guardian" or "watchman", and I liked it in contrast to Sholem Aleichem ("peace be upon you") - "Shomer Aleichem" would mean "He who watches over you" (the Yiddish writer was called simply Shomer). The irony inherent in the historical author and in Sholem Aleichem's attack on him is pretty central to the work, though. That is, the conflict between "popular" or populist genre fiction and the "high" art of literary fiction. The book tries to interrogate those two modes, while making fun of them, though its sympathies are quite likely with "low" art, and it's reflected equally in the debate between Ka-Tzetnik on the one hand, and Primo Levi on the other.

I was actually interested in my fictional Shomer for a while, and I wrote a mini-biography of a somewhat different version of him some time before writing A Man Lies Dreaming. The idea of the Shomer also finds its way into this new book I’m trying to write, in a small way, as the Shomrim, or Watchmen, were significant figures in the early days of the Jewish settlement in Palestine. I like to extend motifs from one book to the next, just as The Violent Century implicitly references Osama, and A Man Lies Dreaming implicitly references The Violent Century.

But to answer the question more succinctly, it was the meaning of the name I was interested in, not the historical author, who died peacefully in New York long before World War 2 broke out.

GM: Pulp Private Eyes, Marlowe etc..., are always put through the wringer. With a writer like Chandler we're cringing when Marlowe takes his beatings, with your book we might cringe because of how graphically you describe a scene of violence, but we're also sort of okay with it, there's a sort of justice in Wolf being beaten up by Jews (and even more in being beaten up by fascists after being mistaken for a Jew). You said you "needed" to write a novel about the Holocaust, were scenes like these a sort of catharsis for you? How often, if at all, did you have to reign it in and "go easy on him"?

LT: Well, I mean, I like the formula story, I like structure, and to me the detective story is great because it allows you to go around asking questions - I'm not remotely interested in the actual mystery (as is pretty evident in this book) but simply in what it allows me to do. I like to work with - and react against - the forms of story we expect from familiarity. So, if you're writing a hardboiled story, your detective by dint of convention should be beaten up at least three times! And there's something very funny about that, I think, there's a sort of grim fatalism in the hardboiled genre, that the beatings almost become rote, they become another part of life - and that adds another sort of bitter irony to the story of a man incarcerated as Shomer is.

But there is also a deeper structure at play, which is the transformation of Wolf. The circumcision scene was essential, and it was technically a difficult one to write - it's very funny, to me, but also it had to be done just right, and I remember how tense I must have been writing it, afraid to get the notes wrong. It's funny, and it seems essentially as meaningless cruelty, maybe, but it assumes a growing significance as the book progresses. The moments of violence Wolf experiences are ironic points in the book. His suffering isn't real. It's just pulp. I find graphic descriptions are often quite funny - the less you describe, the worse you make something, and part of the... the vulgarity of A Man Lies Dreaming is a sort of humour. I think the humour is essential to underscore the real horror of the book. The parts you don't describe, because there aren't words to describe them with.

GM: As a Jewish writer interested in both the Holocaust and science fiction, what is it that you think employing sf tropes (alternate history in A Man Lies Dreaming, but also superpowers in The Violent Century, etc.) can bring to Holocaust fiction?

LT: I don't know that I've ever been described as a "Jewish writer" before... and I don't think A Man Lies Dreaming was reviewed by any Jewish publications, for instance (though my forthcoming charity anthology project, Jews vs Zombies, has got a lot of interest, by contrast!). I think the idea of fantasy-as-escape has been explored in Holocaust fiction before, and mine in a way is an argument against fantasy - an argument I have been having with myself over the course of Osama and The Violent Century. These are the tools I have. Moreover, I think genre tools allow us to look at reality in a different way, to defamiliarise it, and that's very powerful, to me. I don't know that I can honestly write the Holocaust: but I thought I should try.

GM: When writing a piece like A Man Lies Dreaming, do you worry about possible controversy when playing these thought experiments with the Holocaust, or do you relish that?

LT: Well, good literature should aim to unsettle; to shock - but at the same time, it seems to me that we are in a world where one cannot be shocked anymore, or not very easily - we are in a world where we are constantly bombarded with the crudest images, something that would have been unimaginable only a few decades before. With Osama there was a lot of worry initially about possible controversy, which never materialised, and so after that I stopped worrying much about it. It also seems to me that using the tools of genre fiction is an excellent way of passing under the radar. Since it is very often marginalised, you can get away with a lot more (after all, it's 'just fantasy'). I find that very useful.

GM: Sort of the same question with regards the sexuality of the novel. Is that juxtaposition of fetishism and the Holocaust the result of you employing shund tropes, an extrapolation of the various rumours about Hitler's own sexual mores (which you mention in the notes to the book), or a little of both?

LT: I have been interested in the links between fetishism and Nazism for a long time, ever since I read a - very interesting - academic article about it years ago, as a student. This was linked powerfully for me with the whole world of Israeli "Stalag" novels, which I found out about by accident - they were well before my time, so I never saw them or read them - but I found their sudden appearance, and popularity, in 1960s Israel fascinating. I was also doing a lot of research about Hitler's life, and it helped that his sex life, such as it were, is so tied up with the same themes. It begged to be written about, and I have to admit I took great joy in just how ridiculous the sex scenes are.

GM: Do you think the Holocaust has become, in a way, too familiar or "normalised"? If so, and sf or sf-like texts defamiliarise it, do they help to reinstall some of the otherness and horror of what happened, or cheapen it?

LT: This is a question that actually has two, disparate answers. Can we normalise the Holocaust? What worries me, as a writer, as a person, as a Jewish writer, maybe, is that what is shocking - what is incomprehensible - about the Holocaust is not the scale of it. It's the industrialisation of those deaths, the banality of the human machine which manufactured those deaths while absolving the individual of any responsibility. It was mass murder by paperwork.

What makes me angry - and I say this as the descendant of Holocaust survivors, as a Third Generation (which comes with its own set of problems) - is that we may use the Holocaust to absolve ourselves of responsibility. Ethnic cleansing, mass murder, the industrialisation of death, these are all ongoing things. We must never forget the Holocaust! - one may cry - and in the same breath curse at the damned immigrants coming over here. Or invade a country for a made up reason, killing hundreds of thousands and destroying countless other lives. Or build a huge separation fence to keep another nation in a ghetto and then bomb it.

Do we normalise the Holocaust? We have normalised it. We're saturated by images of death and cruelty. There are now firms in the Philippines whose sole job is to filter youtube videos of the worst, most vicious acts humans are capable of. Which we commit and then record on camera so we could share it on social media.

That said, yes, I also agree with the sentiment, that to an extent the Holocuast has been turned into pop culture. There's a poem by an Israeli poet I like, Eli Netzer (who was my boss for a short while!), that talks about the keyrings you can now buy at the Auschwitz gift shop. It's the Nazis as pulp villains, it's all of that, but as long as we don't forget, I'm not even sure that's necessarily a bad thing. I can't personally watch the images from Auschwitz. What they showed Eichmann at his trial, when he didn't bat an eye. I physically can't watch it, and I can't imagine who can. And is that the only way to discuss the Holocaust? There is that famous quote from Theodor Adorno, that "to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric", but frankly that's, well, it's shit. Netzer, who I mention above, is himself a survivor, and you have Celan, you have Pagis, whose "Written In Pencil in the Sealed Railway Car" is I think an outstanding poem. How can you demand of the survivors, or their descendants, not to react to the Holocaust? Not to try and interpret it, in artistic form, in poetry or fiction or film? And then, too, do only we - the survivors' descendants - have that right?

The second part of my answer is to do with my conception of literature. Everything is a story. Every narrative voice has an I behind it. Whether we are reading a novel or a historical chronicle, there is a narrator, there is someone with an agenda and a voice, telling us something, failing to tell us other things. There is no truth in writing, and in that respect, I kind of resent so called "realist" fiction, since that's all it is, ultimately - a fiction. It practices a form of mimicry, it pretends, if only to itself, to only showcase the real world, but it is no different to the worst excesses of pulp in its essential dishonesty. What's worse, I find that it often comes to serve the leading ideology, which itself shapes people's perceived reality. I talk about this a lot more in a forthcoming non-fiction book I’m doing with my friend, Shimon Adaf.

As a non-realist writer, I reject that. The tools of science fiction are the tools of irony and doubt, of liminality. By being dishonest from the get go, by saying, like a street magician, "I AM NOW GOING TO LIE TO YOU", I feel I am actually able to tell the truth. Paradoxically. The problem is that genre fiction’s inherently commercial nature hasn’t lessened but increased dramatically in the last two decades. We’re bombarded with product. To me it was a literature of the counter-culture, of rebellion. Maybe I’m naive. I write out of a sort of idealism. I don’t think I feel entirely comfortable in either camp.

GM: Where do you go from here? What's the next project?

LT: This is a very good question, and not one I'm sure I can answer honestly... I am currently, as mentioned, working on my first non-fiction book, a book-length conversation with Israeli author Shimon Adaf, about politics and writing (and yes, we discuss the Holocaust as well). This book also includes two pieces of short political speculative fiction, one by each of us, in which each is a minor character in the other's story. We're just signing the contract for it, but we don't have a working title yet - it should be out next year, I think. It's quite exciting for me, as it's a book I wanted to do for some time. And I’m trying to write a couple of new novels. One about the nature of the universe, and one about Israel/Palestine. You know... the easy stuff!

Once again, my thanks to Lavie Tidhar.
If you are interested in his work please visit his blog:  https://lavietidhar.wordpress.com/
He's also on twitter: https://twitter.com/lavietidhar

27 January 2015

CfP: Current Research in Speculative Fiction 2015

I should have posted this here ages ago, but here it is:

Current Research in Speculative Fiction 2015
Monday 8th June 2015 
University of Liverpool 

 With Keynote Lectures from: 
Dr. Andrew M. Butler (Canterbury Christ Church University) 
Dr. Sarah Dillon (University of Cambridge) 

Returning for its fifth consecutive year, CRSF is a one day postgraduate conference designed to promote the research of speculative fictions, including SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY and HORROR; showcasing some of the latest developments in these dynamic and evolving fields. CRSF attracts an international selection of delegates and provides a platform for postgraduate students to present their current research, encourages discussion with scholars in related subjects and the construction of crucial networks with fellow researchers. The University of Liverpool, a leading centre for the study of speculative fiction and home to the Science Fiction Foundation Collection, will host the conference. We are seeking abstracts relating to speculative fiction, including, but not limited to, papers on the following topics:

•Alternate History •Alternative Culture •Animal Studies •Anime •Apocalypse •Body Horror •Consciousness •Cyber Culture •Drama •Eco-criticism •Fan Culture •Gaming •(Geo)Politics •Genre •Gender •Graphic Novels •The Grotesque •The Heroic Tradition •Liminal Fantasy •Magic •Meta-Franchises •Morality •Monstrosity •Music •Non-Anglo-American SF •Otherness •Pastoral •Poetry •Politics •Post-Colonialism and Empire •Proto-SF •Psychology •Quests •Realism •Sexuality •Slipstream •Spiritualism •Steampunk •Supernatural •Technology •Time •TV and Film •Urban Fantasy •Utopia/Dystopia •(Virtual) Spaces and Environments •Weird Fiction •World Building •Young Adult Fiction.

Please submit an abstract of 300 words for a 20 minute English language paper and a 100 word biography to CRSF.team@gmail.com by Monday 9th March 2015. Queries can be sent to the same address.

A PDF of the CfP can be downloaded from this link. Please share this information widely with all who may be interested.

Although CRSF only accepts papers by Postgraduate students and those who have recently completed their Ph.D, we welcome delegates from across the genre spectrum: from fan to professor, via author and undergraduate student.

Join the facebook event here.

14 November 2014

CfP: Sideways in Time: Alternate Histories and Counterfactual Narratives

CRSF 2015 is still in the planning phase but the call for papers for the other conference I'm organising next year is already available. Click here to get a PDF version, or visit the blog: http://sidewaysintime.wordpress.com/ which has all the same information as I'm about to post right now...

Sideways in Time is an Alternate History Conference to be held at the University of Liverpool - in association with Lancaster University. This interdisciplinary conferences will bring together scholarship in science fiction, fantasy, historical and literary fictions, as well as historians and counterfactual thought-experiments, to discuss those fictional narratives that deals with alternate histories and parallel worlds. We are pleased to announce Karen Hellekson, Adam Roberts, and Stephen Baxter as our keynote speakers. Karen Hellekson is a leading authority on alternate history fiction (The Alternate History: Refiguring Historical Time, 2001). Professor Adam Roberts is a leading science fiction critic and also an award-winning author who employs alternate history elements into some of his fiction (most notably Swiftly, shortlisted for the 2009 Sidewise Award). Stephen Baxter is currently a judge of the Sidewise Award for Alternate History, as well as being one of the former winners (“Brigantia’s Angels”, Voyage).

Why Alternate History?Alternate history has a long and international pedigree. Whilst most cultures and literary traditions can trace their own heritage of alternate history, alternate history arguments in the Western Canon can be traced into antiquity with Livy’s meditations on Alexander the Great. In their modern form, they emerged in France in the early 19th century before crossing into English at the latter half of the century. The form also become popular with historians and essayists, a notable early history collection being If It Had Happened Otherwise (1931) edited by John Squire which included counterfactual essays by, among others, Hilaire Belloc, Andre Maurois and Winston Churchill. It was not until H.G. Wells's late novel Men Like Gods (1923) that the form crossed into the territory of science fiction, and was not truly popularised until Murray Leinster's crucial story "Sidewise in Time" published in Astounding in 1934. Since 1934, the form has become a staple of science fiction and fantasy story-telling, sometimes including time travel or magic as a means of explaining the cause of the alternate history. However, the form has also been adopted by the literary mainstream with writers who chose not to relate their alternate world to our own, instead taking the lead from conventions of historical fiction. As such, alternate history has attracted such non-genre writers as Nabakov, Kingsley Amis, Robert Harris, Philip Roth, Michael Chabon and many more.

Despite a long and diverse history, alternate history has attracted surprisingly little scholarship. This conference will attempt to establish lines of communication which will rectify this deficit. It is hoped a selection of the essays presented at the conference will be made available as part of a published collection.

We are interested in papers analysing specific alternate history texts from all mediums including novels, cinema, comics and beyond. We also welcome broader papers on the various periods, subgenres, movements and modes of alternate history including steampunk, retro-futurism and more. Papers can be based on, amongst other things, theory, texts, cultural surveys, philosophy, and media studies.

Please submit a 300 word abstract to sidewaysconference@gmail.com along with a 50 word bionote by December 15, 2014.

8 May 2014

Lunchtime Classics 2014

For the third year running I've organised a series of readings and talks by local experts on books which they're passionate about. All talks happen in the Illy cafe of Waterstones Liverpool One (12 College Lane, L1 3DL), they're free and open to anyone.

The schedule is still being finalised but two of the earliest events are confirmed:

Lunchtime Classics: Under Milk Wood, presented by Dr. Chris Williams and Owen Teale
Tuesday 20th May, 1pm.

This year marks a number of anniversaries which Lunchtime Classics will be marking. Amongst those is Dylan Thomas's Centenary. With that in mind, please join us for what will no doubt be a fascinating discussion of Thomas's landmark work Under Milk Wood. Dr. Chris Williams (University of Liverpool) will present the work to us, drawing on his own extensive expertise on Thomas's work to describe what makes the play so special.

Chris will be joined by actor Owen Teale (best known for his roles as Alliser Thorne in Game of Thrones and Fluellen in The Hollow Crown BBC mini-series). Owen is playing the part of "First Voice" in a new adaptation of the play which is showing at Liverpool's Playhouse Theatre from Monday 19th - Saturday 24th May.

For more information on the Playhouse Production of Under Milk Wood please visit their website

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In June, I'll then by doing my own talk on Vonnegut:

Lunchtime Classics: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Wednesday 4th June, 1pm.

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I'll get around to posting a more complete schedule once everything has been confirmed.

4 March 2014

Torque Control: Personal Log

I've not really made a song and dance about it, because on at least one level I was convinced that someone would realise they'd made a mistake and stop me from doing it before I even began, but a while ago I was approached about taking on the position of Features Editor of Vector: The Critical Journal of Science Fiction.

I can't claim that I'm the most qualified person for the job, but I can promise that I'll devote all of my available energies to doing the very best work that I can. I've been a member of the BSFA for a few years and have enjoyed reading Vector and contributing reviews for the journal.

So from now on, for the foreseeable future (or until they realise their mistake...), I'll be editing four issues a year and writing the famous "Torque Control" editorials to open each one. I don't have any sort of grand vision for the journal, in fact for the first few issues I'll just be happy if I don't stuff it up completely and no one notices that the editor has changed. That said, once I'm comfortable enough to feel like I can begin to change things, I do want to move Vector towards being more representative of modern science fiction, and of the BSFA membership.

In my mind this means a more diverse journal. Diverse in terms of the different formats of science fiction itself (not just books, TV and film), but also diverse contributors and topics which reflect more than just the white middle-class, middle-aged male perspective. And yes, I realise that I'm already into negative equity being an editor who fits into at least three of those four old-guard criteria, and who - worse - is replacing a female editor, Shana Worthen, who did sterling work in the post. But Shana has  moved onto pastures new, and new challenges, and I've been asked to take the job so here I am.

I'm going to post the contents page of each of  my issues here once they go to print. If you're interested in seeing the work and being involved in the British Science Fiction scene then why not consider joining the BSFA?

If you're interested in contributing to Vector then get in touch, you don't need to be a member to submit articles and I'm willing to read anything by anyone. I'll be publishing based on merit and whether of not the material is appropriate for the journal, not on discriminatory grounds (either positive or negative), but I will be encouraging more submissions from more diverse sources.

9 December 2013

Call for Papers: CRSF 2014

The Call for Papers for Current Research in Speculative Fiction 2014 is now here!

The conference will be held on Friday 20th June at the University of Liverpool.

We are proud to be able to announce two brilliant keynote speakers with Dr. Mark Bould (University of the West of England) and Prof. Roger Luckhurst (Birkbeck University London), both will be giving lectures as part of the conference schedule.

Now in its fourth year, CRSF is a one day postgraduate conference designed to promote the research of speculative fictions, including SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY and HORROR; showcasing some of the latest developments in these dynamic and evolving fields. CRSF attracts an international selection of delegates and provides a platform for postgraduate students to present their current research, encourages discussion with scholars in related subjects and the construction of crucial networks with fellow researchers. The University of Liverpool, a leading centre for the study of speculative fiction and home to the Science Fiction Foundation Collection, will host the conference.

We are seeking abstracts relating to speculative fiction, including, but not limited to, papers on the following topics:

•Alternate History •Alternative Culture •Anime •Apocalypse •Body Horror •Consciousness •Cyber Culture •Drama •Eco-criticism •Fan Culture •Gaming •(Geo)Politics •Genre •Gender •Graphic Novels •The Grotesque •The Heroic Tradition •Liminal Fantasy •Magic •Meta-Franchises •Morality •Monstrosity •Music •Non-Anglo-American SF •Otherness •Pastoral •Poetry •Politics •Post-Colonialism and Empire •Proto-SF •Psychology •Quests •Realism •Sexuality •Slipstream •Spiritualism •Steampunk •Supernatural •Technology •Time •TV and Film •Urban Fantasy •Utopia/Dystopia •(Virtual) Spaces and Environments •Weird Fiction •World Building •Young Adult Fiction.

Please submit an abstract of 300 words for a 20 minute English language paper and a 100 word biography to CRSF.team@gmail.comby Monday 10th March 2014.

For further information email the conference team at CRSF.team@gmail.com or visit the website.