Friday, 19 September 2014

Fiction and prediction

I wonder how many other people approached the Scottish Vote with a particular type of trepidation. I wonder how many other people were thinking: Dissolution Summer? K, quite like the idea of the Rock & Roll Reich but could do without Ivan/Lara, the Green Nazis and the Fat Boy.
That’s the thing when you love books, read lots of books and find the world of your favourite books almost more believable than the world you live in. The above paragraph refers to Gwyneth Jones’ utterly beautiful Bold As Love series, which starts with the breaking up of the United Kingdom into its component countries.
I got a little tiny bit jumpy around the time of the Swine Flu panic, as well. I went and reread my copy of The Stand, and upset myself a little tiny bit. ACHOOO! Oh no, here comes Randy Flagg (not, perhaps, the scariest of villain names to a UK reader). When some psychotic crackhead bit someone to death a year or two back, quite a few people were jokingNOTjoking about: is this the moment when zombies happen?

A lot of ‘old’ scifi becomes laughable after a while. We’re into the 21st century and yet we don’t have personal hoverpacks nor are we worrying about our kids dating Martians. Not much of the speculative fiction written before about 1990  involves any conception of the Internet, or smartphones, though Suzette Haydon Elgin, writing in the late 80s, describes ‘wrist computers’ which apparently are communication devices that allow people to contact you, contain all your appointments, and have some sort of research facility. (OK, the author was probably thinking of a posh Psion Organiser, but still…) Sometimes future-set fiction becomes worryingly prescient. Norman Spinrad’s Little Heroes has its faults, but the stuff about employment now resonates with a bitter, hollow sound. As does the concept of ‘people kibble’.

I’m quite pleased the Scots have stayed with us. But if zombies happening starts up there, then they can keep it to themselves.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Farenheit ForFucksSake... Authors and Overreaction.

Not a good week for novelists, then. It does seem as though Patrick McLaw, the American schoolteacher whose case was scaring the crap out of writers in both hemispheres, was picked up for more than just writing a couple of ropey science fiction novels, though actual details are still not very available. At the same time, it's not all that surprising that the idea of a teacher being hounded out of his job and marched off for a forcible psychiatric evaluation just for writing stories was so terribly plausible. To anyone on this side of the Atlantic who keeps even half an eye on US politics, the Yanks have been looking steadily more mental for the last few years. Despite having replaced the war-mongering, jeezus-jumping Bush thicko with a bloke who at least appears capable of dressing himself in the morning, America seems to be sliding back into a semi-primordial soup of violent racism and scary institutionalised misogyny.

Over here, though, we're not doing much better. Council worker Bettina Bunte has also lost her education-related job because she wrote a book - in her case, an erotic novel based on personal experience. Once again, there is possibly  more to this story than the information available to the public at present - if Ms Bunte was writing under a pseudonym, how did parents of the children she worked with know about her book? Was she using the fact of her employment by the council in an education-related capacity as a selling point? The latter seems unlikely given that she used a pseudonym.

Writers of erotica - along with horror writers - have had years of putting up with stupid bucketheads who seem to have only the barest understanding of what fiction actually is, because they don't ever read books. Ms Bunte makes no secret of the fact that her novel is based on her own life story, but it's a novel, not a memoir. Mr McLaw's novels are set nearly a millenium into the future, so whatever life experiences he may have drawn on to write them, they are not depictions of actual or imminent events. Some of us who are in the business of writing erotic stories do sometimes base a key scene on something we once did or at least wanted to do, but all of us get very tired of being asked if we have as much sex as our characters.

At present, it's still fairly unlikely that anyone's going to try and revive the Witchcraft Act in order to bang JK Rowling up for casting real spells but the idea that novelists can and should be persecuted for what they have their fictitious creations do is a worrying one, and it needs to be loudly opposed.