Utrecht, The Dystopia Of Bicycles

My abiding memory of a few days in Utrecht remains that the side of town I was on was under reconstruction, and that they hadn’t put the pavements back yet.  And Google Maps hadn’t kept up.  So I walked into tangles of roads, spaghetti junctions and random traffic a lot. Oh, but they like their bicycle lanes, like good Netherlanders. In fact, in Utrecht, the cyclists are mad with power.  They want the bike lanes and the pavements now, and they will get really pissed off when you dare to walk on the pavement like a filthy primitive pedestrian.  I almost got run over at one point by a guy with a very well trained moustache on a wooden bicycle.  Do you know when the last time someone got killed by a guy on a wooden bicycle was?  The seventeenth fucking century.  It’s not right. They make Berliners look like the pure picture of politeness.

But it is really pretty on an autumn afternoon.

READING: THE STORM BEFORE THE STORM, Mike Duncan (UK) (US)

 

 

AUTONOMOUS, Annalee Newitz

AUTONOMOUS, Annalee Newitz. Possibly the best introduction all year: a designer drug pirate in an invisible submarine. How fucking cool is that?

This book is a great pleasure. Newitz tosses out gorgeous imagery like it’s easy, while delivering a propulsive story about copyright gone mad, profiteering gone worse, insanely great drugs that are just great at driving people insane and an absolutely fascinating consideration of robot gender and AI “emotion.” And the law. A big part of this is about law, and about the questions we will need to ask ourselves as we move forward into the future of pharma, economics, and, speculatively, upscale machine-learning systems and consciousness emulation.

Paladin wondered if Eliasz was opposed to the system of indenture. There were entire text repositories that focused on eliminating the indenture of humans. Their pundits argued that humans should not be owned like bots because nobody paid to make them. Bots, who cost money, required a period of indenture to make their manufacture worthwhile. No such incentive was required for humans to make other humans.

This is a strong, speedy and energetic piece of social science fiction, and very deeply thought out. It’s a vivid rush of a book, smart as hell and laughing with very sharp teeth. I had a hell of a lot of fun with it. So will you.

AUTONOMOUS, Annalee Newitz (UK) (US)

 

 

Hotel Life Club November 2017

Up and down the City Road, in and out the Eagle.  Jumping into London down the rails once a week for this and that, avoiding the last train home at night (which I tend to refer to as the “vomit comet”) by grabbing hotel rooms in town.   Dipping into that supermodern place of “spaces designed to be passed through, not lived in.”

This was the Henrietta Hotel in Covent Garden.  Lovely little place.  I was doing some video for DC All Access and then at the launch for Nick Harkaway’s book GNOMON, which turned into me, Jana Carpenter, Laure Eve and Julian Simpson (and, later, Tom Pollock) telling career-war stories, and my discovering that, for no good reason, people in British publishing have actually heard of me.  (Or at least claimed to.)  I’m not published in Britain.  Never have been, really.  I just pass through the town, belonging to nothing but the partial continuous nomadic confederacy of Hotel Life Club.

 

READING: THE MIDNIGHT LINE, Lee Child (UK) (US)

 

 

 

Anonymous

One of the strangest things about the strange night of October 31, when I showed up to be given an honorary doctorate and found myself handing out degrees to some three hundred graduates, was no longer being anonymous in my town.  I (almost) always begin my weekly newsletter with “Hello from out here on the Thames Delta,” but nobody knows me out here.  A small handful of the graduates whispered something like “I’m a fan” as I shook their hands onstage and gave them their scrolls.  When the lead speaker introduced me, there was a surprised murmur of recognition in the audience when CASTLEVANIA was mentioned.  He also mentioned that I exist here in complete anonymity. Afterwards, half a dozen people asked if I’d come and speak to students at the university or sit down for some kind of consultation in the future.  (Those business cards finally came in handy!)

And now people know me out here.  I don’t even have any friends in this town, and the local arts scene doesn’t know or care that I’m here.  (Apart from Steve at The Old Waterworks, who asked if I’d write a two-page comics script for a workshop, a couple months ago.)

I mean, it’s not like Real Fame.  I’ve seen that up close, in all its sticky discomfort, and this will never be that.  But it still feels weird.

 

READING: AUTONOMOUS, Annalee Newitz (UK) (US)

 

Me And The View

 

I love these Dutch train seats.  They have that Cybersyn vibe.  I wanted to rattle through the Netherlands controlling a national economy from my chair.

There’s been a lot of trains and planes in the last five or six weeks, and a cruel dose of The Man-Flu, culminating in being the special guest at a University of Essex graduation ceremony on Halloween.  I opened my camera roll yesterday and it’s mostly views from trains and planes and hotel windows.  I didn’t take my laptop to any of these places, which will infuriate any number of clients.  It was a very pleasant return to circa 2000 for me, when it was just an email-enabled phone, a book, a music player and a notebook and pen.  And me and the view.

The photos mostly don’t have people in them.  They’re just the record of getting to the place and then leaving the place.  It’s also been nice to return to keeping my conversations in physical spaces.  I talk so little in my daily life that, now, my throat regularly stings the day after an event, on the train or plane home.

But it’s mostly just me and the view.

READING: AUTONOMOUS, Annalee Newitz (UK) (US)

 

GNOMON

GNOMON.  Damn. How I do talk about this without spoiling it?

GNOMON is the new book by Nick Harkaway. It’s the best thing he’s ever written and it makes my writing look like the work of a fetal alcohol syndrome case.  You want to know how good GNOMON is?  I hate him for it.  Haaaate.  I had a little hategasm just typing those words.

Imagine a highly-democratised total-surveillance state in the near future.  I mean, extraordinarily fine-grained democratic action by and for the people, which also oversees an utterly transparent national surveillance operation. Refusing to participate will get you noticed. If you refuse an interview on the subject, your mind will be read – a process that is not only painless but also has health benefits!

And then someone dies under the process. An inspector is placed on the case to discover how such a rarity could happen. This involves taking the read into her own head, to relive the interviewee’s experience.

There’s something impossible in the read.  There’s something impossible in the dead woman’s head.

This book has more than one book in it.  It is an astonishing piece of construction, complex and witty and, frankly, evil.  Yes, Nick, I am looking at you right now. There are some downright evil moments in this book.

It’s science fiction, but also historical fiction and social fiction and just plain odd fiction. It is a magnificent achievement and the book everyone will be talking about when it comes out in November. He’s never written a bad book, but this is the one that’ll see him mentioned in the same breath as William Gibson and David Mitchell (CLOUD ATLAS).  Two names I evoke for very specific reasons.

This book seriously just destroyed me with joy.

GNOMON, Nick Harkaway (UK) (US)

Taken from last week’s edition of my newsletter, which you can subscribe to at this link here.

 

 

Some Things, You Don’t Take A Picture Of

I finally saw The Milky Way, the other week.  A bit of it.  I’d never seen it before — never actually seen that many stars at one time before.  The night after, I saw the Northern Lights for the first time.  Well, a bit.  It was white, and dilute.  But clearly there.  The others in my party had seen them the night before.  I’d gone to sleep early and missed them.  The photos the next day were luminous, electric green curtains.  What I saw was more like smoke.  It was still riveting.

The reaction to seeing something extraordinary is always to try and photograph it.  Not least because a photograph will always last longer than memory, and will in fact trigger the deeper experiential record of memory.  But, sometimes?  I almost missed the moment of my daughter’s graduation because the phone camera’s focus weirded out at the last second.

Why bother trying to photograph the Milky Way when I can just lay on my back in a Norwegian forest at night and stare at it until it fills my eyes?

Sometimes, you don’t take the photo.  You just live it.

I am, however, an inveterate plane-window photographer.

JUST ORDERED: AUTONOMOUS, Annalee Newitz (UK) (US)

 

 

Dark Ride

SOME BLEAK CIRCUS.

UNCOVERED, CAREFULLY-CHOSEN, VIVID NIGHT.

IT IS PACKED WITH POSTERITY, SILENT AND EXPECTANT.

POSTERITY IS SILENT, LIKE THE DEAD.

 

Those are the opening lines from ENEMY OF THE STARS, a play written by Wyndham Lewis.  It is supposedly unperformable, and seems in some ways to presage Samuel Beckett’s WAITING FOR GODOT, whose Vladimir and Estragon could even be ragged clowns on the run from Lewis’ bleak circus, as much as they always appear to me to be Laurel and Hardy in Hell.  It’s the crucible of modernism, which we can very loosely describe as the process of making only those things that fit, and speak of, our ever more complex times.  Creating new things for a new world.  Post-modernism, which has probably lasted longer than modernism, is the process of interrogating the aesthetic discourse.  Disrupting the narrative.  Modernism says that things can be right.  Post-modernism says that nothing can be right.  So if you ever wonder why nothing new ever seems to happen any more, find a post-modernist and beat the shit out of then.

I enjoy mentioning that designer and artist Rian Hughes once called me “the last modernist.”  It is, as they say, a dark ride, and silent like the dead.

 

Reading: CANNIBAL METAPHYSICS, Eduardo Viveiros de Castro (UK) (US)

Self-consciousness is reached not through confrontation with the other and subsequent self-return but through temporarily occupying, as dramatized by the Tupian cannibalistic sacrificial rituals that this book’s title references, the enemy’s point of view, and seeing “oneself” from there.

 

Box Of Autumn

Took me a full week to fix my sleep pattern after the Norway conference.  Just about back to normal now, and I’m into my simple hermit schedule.  Antipasti and wine in the afternoons at my local place, or walking into town for a cup of bone broth and food shopping. Things that feel like autumn. All the social media is off, nobody can reach me, and in January I start a big job that’ll keep me busy until June.  I watch my global news lists scroll past, and the pretty pictures on Instagram, and stay the hell out of the way. Yesterday I walked around town listening to a Global Dispatches podcast about the Central African Republic.  I’m in Utrecht in a couple of weeks to give a talk.  By next spring I’ll be mad to talk on the internet all day, but right now talking in real rooms and then sitting at my hermit table watching the world through a silent screen feels like the way to go.

Weirdly obsessed with the drinking bowls they served soup in at the Juvet Landscape Hotel. That’s a sign of autumn — bedding in for the winter with all the things that make it go easier.

I’m going out for a walk.  Time for my glass of red wine. If you’re reading this through one of the pipes that lead to my social media accounts, I hope you have a great autumn.

 

>SEN (Home)

Okay, so never fly out of AMS on a Sunday.  Got it.  I need to get me one of those Privium cards to bypass the cattle lines for security. Also, leave early for the airport, because the traffic into Schiphol is fucked.

Also also, eat at Cafe Modern more.  Can’t recommend that place, or the service, enough.  Here was the thing.  I spent a week at the incredible Juvet Landscape Hotel, where the food was magnificent hyperlocal New Nordic, and I may just move there for good one way and you’ll never see me again. But by the time I got to Amsterdam-Noord I was ready for something different to fish and beets. And the set menu featured fish and beets. But it turns out you can say, I don’t want fish or beets, I need meat tonight, and they’ll tweak the plates on the fly.  And I got the most fantastic slices of seared duck with crisped skin.  Amazing food.

Looking forward to being back there. Thanks to Juha and Polina for bringing me over.

 My sleep schedule is shot to shit. I have a lot to process from the last week.

I got given a copy of the book THE NOISE OF BEING while I was in Amsterdam, which you can take a look at over here.