August 27, 2014
The Next Time You Get Frustrated with Life Remember…


We’re in outer space right now.

We’re floating on a globe that isn’t attached to anything.

All of this is really fucking silly.

August 22, 2014
Build A Mindbed

This recruitment video for Microsoft is beautiful.

August 21, 2014
I Went To Loncon 3 On My Own, And Left It With Myself

First, a disclaimer for convention people: this is one guy’s narrow view of a very wide world. If a lot of things are misrepresented below, take it as the squinting innocence of well-meaning fool. For everyone else, trigger warning: graphic feels ahead.


In May of 2013, I bought my five-day ticket to my first convention. On my own. I did it quickly, before the other part of me had a chance to talk me out of blowing £150 quid on a foolish scheme. You see-

No, wait, it starts earlier than that.

In September of 2010, freshly broken up and wallowing in the too-much-time-to-yourself that comes with that stuff, I picked up a copy of Neuromancer. I’d decided to do NaNoWriMo, the challenge of writing a novel in a month, and figuring that SF would give me the widest palette of things I could invent and therefore the lowest chance of getting writer’s block, I grabbed a copy of William Gibson’s most famous work. Revision, I guess. Over the next three years, I went back through my shallow recollection of the classics: Heinlein, Asimov. And forward, with those newer writers who I’d had the luck to hear of: I became a citizen of Hannu Rajaniemi’s protean Oubliette, of China Mieville’s pulsating New Crobuzon. Searching for something to murmur to me over the gun-metal grey commute, I found the SF podcast Escape Pod: Norm Sherman’s Twilight-Zone-in-the-cochlear mutter, Mur Lafferty greeting you like an old friend she just had to share a story with. And I kept writing, trying to understand the world-of-worlds we call ‘genre’.

All on my own, you understand. We write alone, in any practical sense. And, tragically, past the age of about eight we read alone, the theatre of the mind putting on a play for an audience of one. But the voices on Escape Pod spoke with such familiarity, they spoke of a community. It was 2013. That community was preparing to gather again.


You think you know conventions, don’t you? People dressed up as five different Doctors, sweatingly poring through racks of comics in dust jackets, or shuffling awkwardly along queues to meet equally awkward authors. Gallons of coke, arguments over canon, hundreds of dollars changing hands over pieces of card and a lock of Benedict Cumberbatch’s hair. When I look back at year’s worth of occasional uncertainties over going to Loncon, I can see the ugly simplicity of my thought process: if you go there, you’ll be one of them. Yeah, you read books and everything, but you’re not like… well, you’re not like that.

At primary school, we’re told everyone is the same, everyone deserves to have friends, to be a friend. A fine ideal, but the pecking order asserts itself pretty quickly when you hit your teens. You don’t have to rule the rugby field or towel-whip the fat kid in the changing room to sense there is probably some ineffable hierarchy that you should do your best to fit into. And life, life is measured in progress, in a steady upward climb, right? The property ladder, the career ladder. So as I got on the train, heading to the Excel - and I’m ashamed even as I type this - I felt myself squeezed between two dreads: the fear of being rejected by this group, or worse, the fear of being embraced by them.

You already know this is all totally, joyously ridiculous.


I made friends before I’d even properly got in - 45 minutes of queueing passed in a flash of conversation with two writers behind me, Shay and Terri. They’ve both written novels - Terri, the lucky bugger, at only twenty - and had come to look for advice, and maybe even an agent. We swapped cards, and when I finish my novel I hope we’ll swap stories. Half an hour later I met an old uni friend, now in the process of writing up her book, the wonderful why-hasn’t-this-been-done-before Alphabet Britain (she’s the other one hanging with the Dalek above). That’s right, fact-fans: the first three people I met were all in the process of writing a book. People to whom I could say, “I’m writing a book,” and they would know exactly the pains and pleasures than entails, rather than me having to try and fail at explaining.

For conventions are, for one thing, places of understanding. I suppose I feared that I would not understand this world, or it would not understand me, or something equally high-minded. But there’s something wonderful about people brought together by common passion. We sat through the opening ceremony, stuffed full of in-jokes and genre references. I didn’t get half of them, but even that was fun. A sense of being welcomed into a 72-year-old family with its own customs. A dinner table with one extra place waiting.


On Friday night, I realised how long that place had been reserved. I’d met heroes that day: Bryan Talbot, Hannu Rajaniemi, Jeff Vandermeer, Connie Willis… all of whom I’d gushed at, all of whom were willing to give me advice, a listening ear, and in Hannu’s case, a teaser of his next trilogy (keep going!). And, after a gloriously bootstrapped recording of Escape Pod, I met Mur Lafferty. I said something like, but not as well composed as, “in 2010, your podcast got me back into SF, after not reading it since…”

Since when? To her, I said, ‘a long time’ But as the Loncon Philharmonic tuned up in the Auditorium that night, I tried to pin it down. I’d stopped halfway through the Dune books (God Emperor Of-) when I was fourteen, when life, or something, or nothing, got in the way. Terrified of censure, of being outed as, well, as me, I’d put everything back on the shelf. I have a terrible memory but I reached back as early as I could: age six. Being sorted into classes for Big School by being asked questions. A teacher asked: James, what do you like to do?

As the orchestra played, I remembered what I said: I like to wonder what the future would be like. It was those exact weird words. I remembered them, and it felt as though they were reaching back from somewhere very old and very young, to reclaim me.

And as I thought about how I’d felt in those last two days, accepted by everyone, hugged by sixty year old american couples on their twentieth convention, given ribbons of every colour, happy to debate and banter with anyone I came across, happy even to just sit on the bean bags in the village green and do nothing at all but just be, I felt a dam break inside and an old me, buried under a cowl of aloofness, pour through. The violins whispered, Sarah Fox sang the first notes of Dvorak’s Song To The Moon, and for just a moment, I cried in the dark for the person I’d left behind for a decade.


Anything we rediscover before it’s lost for all time is a blessing. When I heard Iain [M] Banks had died in 2013, I picked up my old copy of Consider Phlebas from under the stairs. I first read it when I was thirteen, and assumed at the time of rereading that I wouldn’t have remembered a sentence of it. Half-true… I definitely hadn’t realised what was going on first time, or what on earth a Mind was, but chapter after chapter, fully-painted images from another decade leapt back to me. The silvered God’s bracelet of doomed Vavatch orbital. Damage, the deadly and seductive card game that, I’m pretty sure, led me to pick up Magic for a couple of years. Images shouted across the years, yes, we’re still here.

Those childhood visions are indelible to our character, I think. And panel after panel, the smart and funny authors who discoursed on the politics of the Culture, the economics of Anime, the CG of The Hobbit, spoke directly to the child within me. Emma Newman (of Tea And Jeopardy) led a moving workshop on creativity and fear. When she got to the question of whether there’s a right mood to write, she let ancient words fall out: “mood’s a thing for cattle and loveplay.” I wanted to hug her right there, not just because it’s true, but because she’d used the immortal words of Gurney Halleck, the Atreides swordmaster who’d spoken out of a page to me at age eleven. I felt young again. Young enough to play.



On Saturday, I wrote in my little blue book, there is so much play here. The day of the Masquerade, where dinosaurs do indeed walk the earth. And more besides: every variety of steampunk, cyberpunk, stormtroopers, R2D2s… every one as much as creator as the writers I’d met in the queue. The masqueraders displayed themselves on the auditorium stage, and we applauded. Every one of them there not to show off, but to share. The kind of generosity that had led to the little trail of colourful ribbons under my badge. I’d accumulated a few, though I still gazed at the chromatic scarves that braver conventioneers had accumulated. But each of the few I had meant something to me, a slender connection made. I’d made pacts to attend Titancon one day, joined the BSFA (and am eagerly looking forward to their next meetup, no way am I letting it all slide again after this), and thrown £20 behind Dublin’s bid for Worldcon 2019. Affiliation is the name of the game, the currency of the con, but not in a clubbish, in-or-out kind of way: everyone welcomed everyone. For five days, the Excel was a society that moved and pulsed as one fluid being.


As I watched the Hugos be awarded on Sunday, I understood how much I wanted to be part of that society – not to win, and be the best, as I so often feel at work, as I think many of us feel in our working lives. No, I just wanted to contribute, to keep the great imagination machine churning. Now I understand how a con can run entirely on volunteer goodwill, how the newspaper could come out, made with love, twice a day every day like a tiny utopia running on speed. The joy for the nominees, whether story or fancast, editor or writer, was in pushing it all another inch forward. I was intimidated. But more than that, I was inspired. There is a slender magic, accreted on a foundation of a few good stories by a few passionate people, that winds through the world and breaks the surface once a year.

Everything ends. Or hibernates. On Monday, with much ceremony (my clapping muscles have gone), the convention was closed. Almost immediately, the spirit was rekindled, just as a spark: the organising committee of Sasquan marching forth to distribute candy, and in one worrying case, fight with a sasquatch. This gives some reassuring clue to the cycle of things. The readiness to play, the sense of hope and imagination never leaves, it only lies down. I’m just grateful I’ve finally seen its face. 

On the way out, I saw people tucking their badges away, the long, proud manes of ribbon hidden away under civilian clothing. I did too: there’s the me that has to rub against the cold, abrasive world, after all. But I kept the ribbon against my neck, only taking it off when I got home that night. I wonder if I’ll see another one.

That is the tragedy of good things: I left a little piece of me behind at the excel. But I have a feeling that should I get off the plane in Spokane next year, it’ll be there, waiting for me.



10:57pm  |   URL:
Filed under: worldcon loncon3 sf life report 
August 21, 2014

Unofficial Trailer For Black Mirror S1

Really nice. Must watch these again. Apparently, there’s a feature-length Christmas Special coming…

August 20, 2014

Model Of Rama, 2009

August 17, 2014
STORY WEEK DAY 7: The Last Word.

It scratches the now-familiar symbol in Castilian dust for me alone: remains of city parted by its articulated limb into crude legs, arms, a bubble head. When I first saw its word for me traced in human ashes and powdered silicon I thought it mocked me. Now I watch its broken scalpel tell half a story. The men and machines still fight somewhere. But here in cremated Toledo there’s only the gift we give each other: I draw a circle around the figure to form the end of the ritual, the final stroke in our shared word for us.

…that’s it for Story Week! I hope you enjoyed it, and thanks if you stuck with it. Did you have a favourite?

August 16, 2014
STORY WEEK DAY 6: Abasi’s Gambit.

His first term at Alexandria over and Abasi is becoming a ruler. In the warmth he gives his mother I see the people’s love; in the way he taps his bishop against the table, the firmness our generals need. Abasi’s eyes are six, but he views the UN secretary’s chessboard like he was sixty. Abasi moves his ivory king into danger, I frown.

“Father,” he says, “why protect the king? The bishops give faith. The castles defend. The king sends them to die. Who would save a king who did that?”

This is why he must learn to play white.

August 15, 2014

It’s half-four in the basement when Keith decides it would be simpler not to exist. And with a sigh and a click, he’s unfriended six hundred ciphers. That girl he met and never spoke to again, whose life he monitors and who possibly monitors his, is set free from their contract. He swipes and newsletter subscriptions fall away, listicles leave his mailbox, companies webs of contact lose another node as Keith feels himself dissolve. He takes a sip of tea, and walks goes into the light. His family are sitting there and someone says Son, where have you been?

August 14, 2014
STORY WEEK DAY 4: Message In A Babygrow.

The baby-grow is so so cute and Catherine is so so poor between pay packets that when she sees it at £3, she has to have it for little [Shane] then and there and thus: she puts it on her card.

She watches Shane eat his first solid food, then uneat it down the felt picture of a rabbit sitting at a loom. She checks the washing instructions: glyphs command 60C, tumble dry, lights only. Then a crudely stitched message: 2 CHILDREN. LOST FINGR. SORY - A MOTHER.

She closes her eyes, and turns the washer to Boil.

August 13, 2014
STORY WEEK DAY 3: Paper Dolls.

They speak in another’s language. From bus stops and phone boxes and billboards, the paper peoples’ copy says there is something better than your life for you in Malta, or wrapped in this sweater or with these young people.

But when the lights go out and the salesman’s words are spent, the figures of the posters whisper to each other of the little fleshy creatures that look up at them. The lip-flap noises they made. How deep and warm and moving they look.

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