I just discovered dungeon synth and god damn do I wish I’d had this to listen to over the winter.
Also need to remind myself that I have three talks to write for autumn. One needs to be one of those anthemic call-to-action things that I somehow find remarkably easy. Believe it or not, I’m not always a walking demotivational poster. I can do the uplifting stuff standing on my head, weirdly. One is a talk for my visiting professorship at York St John University, which is probably going to be a dive into the mechanisms of narrative. The last one is actually going to be the hardest, even though it’s a space I’m intimate with – the whole ghosts/magic/technology field of confluence that’s been a Thing for the last few years. I’ve done these talks before, several times. Hauntology was a fun game in the atemporality days, but we’re into the skid now, and airy cod-philosophy on the relationship between occult language and ghost stories and information technology has an indefinable whistling-past-the-graveyard quality to it for me today. I’m placed on the “myth” end of the festival structure, possibly because I’m seen in public so rarely that I might be mythical, and I need to find something to say that looks at the now and the next as hard as the ‘how we got here, in mythical magical historical terms.” The bell tolls.
(It did, actually, right in the middle of my closing keynote at FutureEverything, just as I took a pause. My finest moment as a public speaker.)
And, all of a sudden, I’m reminded of all the people who came up to me at the future-of-spaceflight conference and told me we, they, need new stories and new myths. I’ve set a terrible job for myself. But, this time, this full-speed weird-as-hell year, I need to not sound like the thousandth Radiophonic Workshop pastiche on Bandcamp.
See what I did there, with the ghost stories and the whistling past the graveyard? See that? Kill me. I’m an idiot.
Just picked up to read: TROPIC OF KANSAS, Christopher Brown (UK) (US)
It’s time to start writing a new book. Which means, really, that it’s time to start staring into space and thinking about it, because I have several more things to finish before I can really dig into it. This could be weeks. Right now, it’s a couple of plaintext files of lines and thoughts and a couple of pages of rough notes and bullet points in a Moleskine. I have a Field Notes notebook on the shelf that it will start to get developed in, but I can’t let myself pick it up and write the working title on the cover until June. This phase is sort of like mental indigestion. The idea is lodged in a tube somewhere inside my collapsing body. And I can’t choke it up for another month. Worse: when it comes out, it might just be too rotten to use, and then I won’t be writing a new book after all.
But, if all goes well, this is where my journal starts getting even more disconnected and abstract than usual. But, you know, that’s really what it’s here for. Also I will drop off the face of the world unless you know me personally and are in regular contact. Looking at a long hermitage ahead.
I just wrote a blurb for this amazingly fucked-up crime book by Jeff Johnson with the brilliant title of DEADBOMB BINGO RAY. (UK) (US)
The Echo Show – which I can’t buy in the UK, of course, because Amazon thinks we’re a third world country, so go to Amazon.com to look at it, I suppose — is probably the device that should have come before the Echo and the Dot. It’s the actual device you want in the kitchen. Or, at least, the one I would want in the kitchen. I get up, I go to the kitchen, I make coffee — I want to know what the weather’s doing, what the news is, what deliveries are lined up for the day, and I want it at a glance, and I probably also want to be able to shout at it. But, crucially, I don’t want to have to make it try and understand my voice first thing in the morning. Because nobody can, because I’m not fully awake. I want a touchscreen I can stab a finger in the general direction of, like the comfused and debilitated hominid I am, and have it do things. This is what a “home assistant,” or whatever we call these things, should do and be. It’s the kitchen station the Echo should always have been. The voice-activated networked speaker idea was very clever, but it wasn’t very human.
(A degree of ableist privilege here, I’ll admit. But given that the Echo voice-interaction ability is baked into the Echo Show too, the device is exclusionary neither to the deaf or the blind.)
Amazon’s fearsome, ruthless iteration process really is a thing to behold.
This is a photo of some other things that recently arrived in my house because I am British and therefore not allowed to own an Amazon Echo.
“Dark Social” is the notion that people share “content” via private/secure messaging apps, one-to-one or one-to-select-group. That social sharing activity can’t be measured in any useful way. There is no freely-available prosumer tool to quantify the sharing of a link. Hence, they call it “dark social.” When you hear someone say “dark social,” they’re bemoaning the inability to get click reports off of actual conversation. Because when you see someone on the street head-down in their phone and dabbing away at the screen, they’re not cut off from the outside world. They’re talking to people. Fuck your Black Mirror narrative – they’re just more interested in a window to their friends and family than they are in you peering at them in judgement. And all that action of being engaged in a life of having your loved ones in your hand all the time and being able to show them things and talk about it? That’s Dark Social now.
RECENTLY BLURBED: the excellent forthcoming novel by Jeff Noon, A MAN OF SHADOWS. Preorder links (UK) (US)
I burned through John Scalzi’s new book, THE COLLAPSING EMPIRE, in a single week last month. (I’ve been on a lot of trains) My brain needed a break from the heavy stuff I’ve been reading and the amount of processing I’ve been doing, and I don’t think John would be sad to hear that his smooth, witty entertainments are very much a warm bath for an overclocked brain that just wants to sink into something fun and resting.
I suspect that this book, the first of his long-term publishing contract, was conceived, written and cued up for Reasons. He wants to come out of the gate fast and big, to justify Tor’s faith in him. And what he’s delivered is, essentially, Game Of Thrones in space. Complete with Houses, intrigue, multiple plotlines, death, fucking, ghosts and its own “winter is coming” ticking clock. As a commercial act, it’s a hell of a performance – clever and knowing, and yet also gleefully, unironically enjoying itself. That’s why John’s audience is so wide – more conservative, hardcore SF readers can forgive John his snark and the diversity of his characters and intents because he so unashamedly enjoys and venerates the genre. He just rides with it. For me, THE COLLAPSING EMPIRE was a fast citrus sorbet course. Thanks, John.
THE COLLAPSING EMPIRE, John Scalzi (UK) (US)
Somewhere, there’s a GIF of this. It’s the Chanel show in Dallas in 2013. It’s in a rodeo. Karl Lagerfeld shuffles into the middle of the space. Spreads his hands and says “I’m done.” The crowd in the stands break into applause. The doors at the back fly open and an army models walks out, applauding, striding in formation towards him. And he just strolls out of sight as they march around and past him. It is one of the most surreal expressions of cultural power you’ll ever see. Seriously: an old man says “I’m done” and everybody goes nuts. It fascinates me.
I recently re-found this article about Karl Lagerfeld’s day. It’s hard to imagine a life more sunken in wealth and privilege, but it also makes a fascinating point about what money buys. It buys time. Time to yourself, time to think, time to make the work you want.
What is also fascinating in that story is the glimpse of the amount of culture Lagerfeld still consumes on a daily basis. Reminds me that I still don’t read nearly enough magazines. I need more.
Always be checking your own practise and see what needs refreshing or changing.
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Finally got to see SHIN GODZILLA, made last year by writer/director Hideaki Anno, whose name you may know from NEON GENESIS EVANGELION. It is recognisably Anno from the top – the staring, dead animal eyes of the creature at the top of the movie could really only be his touch. SHIN GODZILLA, known elsewhere as GODZILLA RESURGENCE, updates the original by adding the bureaucratic nightmare of the Fukushima reactor disaster to its core theme. And it works brilliantly, imagining the response to the emergence of Godzilla as paralysed by procedure and politics, much as the response to Fukushima was.
It’s an extraordinary illustration of what you can make when you toss all the tired filmic conventions of saying it emotionally and learning and hugs and the hero’s journey and making sure everyone’s crying and just telling the story you want to tell without diluting or breaking it. SHIN GODZILLA is a peculiarly pure experience.
READING: STAR SHIPS, Gordon White (UK) (US)