» ken macleod ¦ What You Can Get Away With

Worth Reading 44: Call me

Not one link found on somebody’s voicemail.

Earth Hour – A new short story from Ken MacLeod.
Misleading money-saving claims help no one – Bad Science becomes Bad Department for Communities and Local Government for a week, as Ben Goldacre points out how flawed the claim that local authorities could save £10bn a year from procurement costs is.
Michele Bachmann’s Holy War – A Rolling Stone profile of ‘the candidate Sarah Palin was meant to be’. Scared yet?
Murdoch forces normal people to agree with the Guardian – the Daily Mash’s take on phone hacking. “Thank goodness the Daily Mail covered it by making the thing absolutely everyone is talking about the eighth story on the front page of their website, below the heart-stopping drama of a Royal canoe race and a couple of reassuringly familiar stories about foreign scroungers.”
Now is the moment to stop Murdoch – Matthew Norman writes in the Independent

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Interesting tweet from the Guardian’s Julian Glover during the night:

Nukes for Norfolk anyone? Apparently DCLG officials were told to check new localism bill wouldn’t give councils power to buy atomic weapons

Of course, I’m tempted to regard this as a ridiculous claim, possibly created by someone in DCLG as proof of just how much power they’re giving to local councils – though one would expect that in a department run by Eric Pickles that ‘buy atomic weapons’ would be replaced by ‘collect domestic waste and recycling however they feel appropriate‘.

However, it may just suggest that someone within DCLG is a fan of Ken MacLeod‘s novels, particularly The Stone Canal which features a radically balkanized future Britain where most power resides within some rather hyper-local governments. Thanks to a former Soviet republic’s decision to offer what’s effectively fractional reserve deterrence, it’s remarkably easy for North London to become a nuclear power. I suspect this wasn’t on Eric Pickles’ reading list at any point but who knows? Maybe he is a part of the Star Fraction and Government data systems have been corrupted by the Black Plan.

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Ken MacLeod‘s novel Newton’s Wake features a character living on a distant world in a post-Singularity future who writes operas based on badly remembered and misunderstood history. This gives us classics like The Tragedy of Leonid Brezhnev with gun-toting communist leaders denouncing each other as revisionists in song.

It only comes to mind because Conservative Home seem to be pitching a similar idea, perhaps as a dramatic counterpoint from the same era:

In the Falklands Margaret Thatcher led our armed forces to a great victory.

I’m thinking it’d have to be in a pseudo-Wagnerian style to really work and depicting the scene where she storms the beaches at the head of the Task Force will prove a tough job for the director and set designer, but it is opera, and no one really goes there expecting too much realism.

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Today’s writing tip

Ken MacLeod explains how SFnal ideas are germinated:

taking the usual SF approach to such humane, beneficial developments (how could this advance be grossly misused, and what are the military applications?)

(Note: with minor tweaks, such as the addition of the phrase ‘and won’t someone think of the children?’ this also works as a Labour Party policy generation tool.)

When It Changed does sound like a rather good collection, though.

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Greenpunk

A couple of weeks ago, Matt Staggs suggested a new SF movement which he dubbed Greenpunk (it was also discussed on IO9) which would be:

a technophilic spec-fic movement centered on characters using and being affected by the use of DIY renewable resources, recycling and repurposing. GreenPunk would emphasize the ability of the individual – and his or her responsibility – for positive ecological and social change.

It’s an interesting idea, though one I doubt will achieve much success beyond a niche, partly because genres tend not to be very successful when someone defines them, then waits for the stories to come along and fill in the gap. Cyberpunk and Steampunk were both terms coined to describe already existing trends within SF, rather than Gibson, Sterling or whoever declaring they were creating a whole new movement before putting pen to paper.

Besides that, for me the proposed ‘greenpunk’ has a problem in its definition – and not just a silly-sounding name – in that it’s presupposing that anyone who wishes to write something within the nascent genre has already chosen their side in the ideological debate. While SF can occasionally work as ideological polemic, I find the idea of a genre that demands writers ‘emphasize the ability of the individual – and his or her responsibility – for positive ecological and social change’ oddly didactic, even if it is assuming that everyone agrees what that ‘positive ecological and social change’ might be. After all, for some SF authors replacing the Earth with an equivalent mass of computronium nanobots while humans become solely electronic patterns in information space is a very positive change, though there may just be some debate as to how green that outcome might be.

Of course, the interesting thing is that while no actual greenpunk stories appear to exist as yet, you could argue that novels critical of the genre already do exist. Ken MacLeod‘s The Sky Road, for instance, is almost a satire on some of Staggs’ suggestions, especially as it depicts a society where those who would be the most avid proclaimers of support for greenpunk being the Elite who run it.

But maybe I’m wrong, and greenpunk will sweep the world of SF before it, replacing what came before with its True Knowledge. And then, as Michael Moorcock notes, like dominant waves before it, it will likely collapse on itself and die:

These days, you can barely pick up a speculative fantasy without finding a zeppelin or a steam-robot on the cover. Containing few punks and a good many posh ladies and gents, most of these stories are better described as steam operas.

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