Category: science fiction

Writing in the doldrums

By , 1 July 2011 7:53 pm

Yes folks, I know that I’m not posting now, but I have written an article for the Spectulative Faith website which you can find here.

A sign of the times?

By , 15 August 2008 12:00 pm

There are lots of things I feel inclined to comment about at the moment; including the great topic of British conversation: what happened to the weather? We seem to have seamlessly slipped from a wet and windy spring into a wet and windy autumn. Hang on, isn’t there supposed to be something in between? I’ve also got an iPhone 3G which I think is fantastic and I want to make some observations on it coupled with some damning comparisons with Microsoft’s offering in this area. But that can wait. And no, the phone hasn’t yet rung to say ‘you’re a grandfather’. Mind you given the weather, I can understand why the baby is staying inside as long as possible.

Curiously enough, the topic this week is that of Hamlet, that most curious of plays. Having watched the excellent Kenneth Branagh version recently I felt that it is really one of those southern European Catholic revenge dramas which has mysteriously (and not terribly convincingly) been transposed to a Protestant Denmark. Anyway, as you may or may not know depending on which part of the globe (no literary pun intended) you’re in, a new production of Hamlet has opened at Stratford starring David Tennant as dithering hero. That is of course the David Tennant, the current Doctor Who. To round things off nicely, the villain of the piece, Claudius, is played by no less than Patrick Stewart. That is, of course, the Patrick Stewart, formerly Captain Picard of Star Trek. And the reviews have been very good indeed. The reviewers have, however, all gone out of their way to remind us that both are highly trained actors and had good credentials well before they became famous in science fiction.

To be honest, I’m not quite sure what to make of this. Does it indicate that, in order to make the fantastic credible today you need to get the best possible actor or actress you can? Or does it indicate that fantasy/science fiction is now coming in out of the cold and is something that no longer blights an acting career? Frankly I rather hope it’s the latter. Indeed, I hope that Hollywood will realise one of the advantages of filming epic fantasy is that actors are prepared to fight for what is a proven career-building privilege. If they want an epic fantasy to test this theory then I suppose I can think of a trilogy that might be suitable.

Have a good week


The shadow of the near future

By , 8 June 2007 7:18 pm

As I come to the end of writing The Infinite Day I find myself in some ways in the most difficult part of the book. Some of the issues I do not want to go into here because they involve plot spoilers. But there are other things.

One is that I am forced to discuss the near future, rather than the far-future in which the book is set. This is largely because of something introduced in Book 1 and alluded to ever since; the great intervention of God’s Spirit in the 2050s and the subsequent rebellion four decades later. This raises a well-known paradox of science fiction; it is far easier to write of a hundred years hence than ten years.

Why this should be is worth exploring. It is not simply that it is safer to write of the far future. You know the sort of thing: “All being well, many of my readers will live to see 2050; none will see the 13th millennium AD so I can happily write anything about it.” (By the way, it also gives you a longer period of time for your work to become a ‘prophetic classic’.)

A hundred years is also a long enough time for technologies to a) be invented, b) be tested, and c) become widespread plagues on society (see, for example, cars, television and the Internet) whereas ten years doesn’t really bring too many changes. The result is that we are prepared to believe all manner of strange things may have occurred in a hundred years time; we are less convinced that such things may have happened within a decade.

There is another reason why the near future is problematic. It is that a decade from now things will, no doubt, be a mixture of the predictable and unexpected. So on the predictable: there will be overcrowding, culture wars, environmental disasters. Culturally, there will be Pirates of the Caribbean 14 and Oceans 24 available for digital download in our home cinemas and the Rolling Stones will still be performing gigs somewhere. But it’s the unexpected that concerns us: the world can change very rapidly in a very short period of time and that is hard to get right.

Imagine if, in 1997, Chris Walley had written a book set in 2007. Some things he might have got right: for example, there were growing concerns about the environment, and the unstoppable rise of the digital economy was already pretty much taken for granted ten years ago. But what about the unexpected events? 9/11 for instance exceeded the imagination of the most bizarre fantasist. And who, ten years ago, could have had seen British and American armies mired in Iraq and the widespread dismissal of the fundamental values of justice in Guantanamo Bay and the ‘extraordinary rendition’ procedures? Surely, a dark fantasy, critics would have said. Truly, truth is stranger than fiction.

In praise of ignorance

By , 4 January 2007 9:02 pm

First, a happy New Year to all my readers. I hope both of you have a prosperous 2007. Sorry, that was a joke. Second, I got a nice mention by Shannon McNear in the Speculative Faith website. Yes, it would be nice to think that there was a bit of a buzz about my books. I can hear it now ‘There’s this British guy…’ ‘You really ought to read him…. .’ or (best of all) ‘this guy is weird, I think we ought to burn his books. Publicly.’ Oh please!

Now on to my main subject this week. I don’t know if anybody else does this, but when I browse the web I often come across fascinating sites, skim through them and then later on, end up thinking to myself. ‘Where did I come across that?’ Anyway on a site, a well-known SF author (I am pretty certain it was Orson Scott Card, who has written some jolly fine stuff in his time) suggested that it was an absolute essential that anyone writing within the genre of science fiction ought to read extensively within that genre and he gave a long list of titles that must be read.

Initially this produced in me the sort of embarrassed reaction normally associated with turning up in T-shirt and jeans to some function where everyone else is in suits and ties. Have I read this year’s Hugo Awards? Hugo who? And as I thought about it I began to imagine that there could indeed be a buzz about the name of Chris Walley; that quieter insistent whispering that goes ‘Apparently – or so they say – he hasn’t even read ….. Can you believe it?’ (But I have read Ulysses; yes, really, all the way to the end).

Then after I had stopped feeling incredibly ill-equipped I actually began to wonder whether it was true that to write successfully in a genre you had to have read all the great classics within it. A couple of points have come to mind.

The first is that I think you can over-prepare too much for almost everything in life apart from the Day of Judgment. We all know people who say they’re going to go camping or climb mountains, but spend so much time getting all the kit ready, buying all the maps and doing all the preparations, only to find that night has fallen, the rainy season has started or they have become bedridden with old age. We only have so much time, particularly those of us who are amateur writers. (By the way I’m happy to be relieved of that status: e-mail me for details of my bank account.) Isn’t one of the best ways to learn to write, just to write? Carpe diem!

The second thing is to wonder whether extensive reading within a genre might (and I only say might ) produce a tendency for a writer to produce just ‘more of the same’. Mightn’t it just reinforce some of the stereotypes and clichés? If you only ever read within a genre, are you ever likely to produce works that push the boundaries of the genre?

Actually, I never set out to be a science fiction author. This is not simply because there are more people who have flown in space than there are authors who have made a respectable living from science fiction. It is that I don’t care for much of what I have read – or glanced at in the genre. Confession time: I don’t like books that spend 300 pages working out the possible implications of one bit of science: I can get very unenthusiastic about tales of romance amongst the Yhyg’stail of Flaterwump 5 and I don’t actually like Star Trek!

The thing is I want to write about what might happen to real people in weird and extraordinary situations. In other words, I’m only interested in ‘science fiction’ as a genre in as much as it provides me with framework for dealing with things that I cannot deal with in any other setting.

In fact I not even sure that I liked the idea of ‘genre’ at all. Maybe the whole idea of genre is simply the effort of booksellers and librarians to try to keep things in some sort of order. Perhaps, really I’m a secret anarchist. There’s a thought!

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