Saturday, May 21, 2011


I've been thinking about Luca Zanier's fantastic series of photographs of places of power ever since I came across them, via Mrs Deane. With their hyperrealistic lighting and perfectly framed compositions, they look like outtakes from unmade or unknown Kubrick movies.  They also look like, I've just realised, starship control rooms.

Changing course in a starship would be a rare, momentous, and potentially catastrophic action.  Everyone aboard would participate - if only to watch.  There would be no need for panels with buttons and blinking lights.  The 23rd Century equivalent of iPads would take care of that. But one thing Star Trek definitely got right: you'd need a space where people could gather to discuss what to do, and to watch the biggest and best HDTV screen you could buy.  Of course, any reality-based starship design would probably be a compact tincan stuffed with AI, genetic codes, and templates for machines that could build machines that could build habitats and creches (or bigger, better AIs).  But in an ideal imaginary case, there'd be something this:

Monday, May 16, 2011

A Sense Of Yearning For A Future That We All Knew Would Never Come To Pass

My interest in pop music came late in my teenage years, long after I began to devour every SF novel I could find. We had more books than singles or LPs in the house: the singles were my sisters, the LPs my mother’s small collection of film soundtracks. My grandmother, who lived next door in the 1930s, had an old windup 78 player set in a cabinet, with one of those recurved horns that acted as a loudspeaker. There was Top of the Pops, which everyone seemed to watch in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the enforced jolliness and restricted playlist of Radio 1, and the pirate radio stations my sister chased across the dial of our radiogram, and that was about it until one day in 1972 I bought my first LP: David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders for Mars (I still have it). It was SF; it was a concept album with a proper narrative arc; I played it to death.

I’m still a fan of Bowie. Bowie in his 70's pomp, at least. And every since Jack Womack pointed me to it, I’ve been following the track by track story of his career on the blog Pushing Ahead of the Dame. It recently reached one of my all-time favourite Bowie songs, “Heroes”, anatomising both the song and the circumstances of its creation in wonderfully acute detail. Even if you’re not especially interested in “Heroes”, or David Bowie, it’s worth reading for its insights into the creative process. Here’s the important stuff that’s often left out of creative writing courses. Starting from scraps of discarded material. Pulling the structure together using a mixture of technique and improvisation and use of found material. Finishing it in a final burst of inspiration (or desperation). All of this at least as important as any planning; all of it following instinct rather than agreement on what's allowable.  Sure, studio recording is a collaborative effort, but Bowie is at the centre, and very often, especially during the Long March of writing a novel, even before your editor becomes involved, isn't writing is a collaboration - a dialogue with your past selves?
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