Thursday, October 13, 2016

Works Slighted

Ghost bibliography. From an essay that was never written.

Adams, Douglas. 1988 [1987]. Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency. New York: Pocket Books.
Adams, Douglas. 2010 [1980]. The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. London: Macmillan.
Atwood, Margaret. 2003. Oryx and Crake. London: Bloomsbury.
Atwood, Margaret. 2008. Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Work. Toronto: House of Anansi Press. eBook edition.
Bourdieu, Pierre and Loïc Wacquant. 1992. An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Bourdieu, Pierre. 1986. ‘The Forms of Capital.’ In J. Richardson (ed.), Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education. New York: Greenwood.
Brantlinger, Patrick. 1975. ‘“News from Nowhere”: Morris’s Socialist Anti-Novel.’ Victorian Studies, 19(1), September 1975.
Brown, Carolyn. 1996. ‘Utopias and Heterotopias: The “Culture” of Iain M. Banks.’ In Derek Littlewood and Peter Stockwell (eds.), Impossible Fiction: Alternativity, Extrapolation, Speculation. Amsterdam: Rodopi.
Brown, Chris. 2001. ‘Special Circumstances: Intervention by a Liberal Utopia.’ Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 30(3).
Cairns, Craig. 2002. ‘Player of Games: Iain M. Banks, Jean-François Lyotard and Sublime Terror.’ In James Acheson and Sarah C.E. Ross (eds.), The Contemporary British Novel Since 1980. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. 2006 [1817]. Biographia Literaria – Or, Biographical Sketches of My Literary Life and Opinions. Pomona Press.
Crawford, Kate. 2016. ‘Can an Algorithm be Agonistic? Ten Scenes from Life in Calculated Publics.’ Science, Technology & Human Values 41(1).
Delany, Samuel. 2009 [1978]. The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science Fiction. Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press.
Doctorow, Cory. 2003c. ‘Truncat.’ August 2003. Accessed online at on 11 September 2016.
Duggan, Rob. 2007. ‘Iain M. Banks, Postmodernism and the Gulf War.’ Extrapolation 48(3).
Egan, Greg. 1994. Permutation City. London: Orion/Millenium.
Fleming, P. and M.T. Jones. 2012. The End of Corporate Social Responsibility: Crisis and Critique. London: Sage Publications.
Guerrier, Simon. 1999. ‘Culture Theory: Iain M. Banks’ ‘Culture as Utopia.’’ Foundation: The International Review of Science Fiction, 28(76).
Hartwell, David G. and Kathryn Cramer (eds). 2006. The Space Opera Renaissance. New York: Tor.
Haworth, John T. and A. J. Veal. 2003. Work and Leisure. Routledge: London and New York.
Heeks, Richard. 2008. ‘Current Analysis and Future Research Agenda on ‘Gold Farming’: Real-World Production in Developing Countries for the Virtual Economies of Online Games.’ Development Informatics Group. Accessed online at on 1 September 2015.
Huizinga, Johan. 1955.  Homo Ludens: a study of the play element in culture. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. [First English edition Roy Publishers 1950. Previously published in Dutch and German].
James, Edward and Farah Mendlesohn (eds). 2003. The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Khouri, Nadia. 1980. ‘The Dialectics of Power: Utopia in the Science Fiction of Le Guin, Jeury, and Piercy.’ Science-Fiction Studies 7, no. 1 (March, 1980): pp. 49–61.
Kulibicki, Michal. 2009. ‘Iain M. Banks, [Ernst] Bloch and Utopian Interventions.’ Colloquy: Text, Theory and Critique, vol. 33-34, pp. 372-86.
Le Guin, Ursula K. 1976. ‘Introduction’ to The Left Hand of Darkness. New York: Ace. [The Left Hand of Darkness first published 1969].
MacLeod, Ken. 2003. ‘Socialism: Millenarian, Utopian and Science-Fictional’, in Butler Andrew M. and Mendlesohn Farah (eds), The True Knowledge of Ken Macleod, Reading, Science Fiction Foundation.
Marcuse, Herbert. 1969. An Essay on Liberation. Accessed online at on 20 July 2014.
Maughan, Tim. 2015. 'The Inevitable Rise of the Internet of Shipping Containers.' Motherboard, September 24, 2015. Accessed online at on 15 April 2016.
Mendelsohn, Farah. 2005. ‘The Dialectic of Decadence and Utopia in Iain M. Banks’ Culture Novels.’ Foundation: The International Review of Science Fiction, vol. 93, pp. 116-124.
Morris, William. 1936. ‘Thoughts on Education under Capitalism,’ in William Morris: Artist, Writer, Socialist, ed. May Morris. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. [Essay first published in Commonweal, Vol 4, No. 129, 30 June 1888, pp. 204-205].
Nietzsche, Friedrich. 1996. Human, All Too Human: A Book for Free Spirits. Trans. R. J. Hollingdale. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Parker, Stanley R. 1985. Leisure and Work. London: Allen & Unwin.
Piketty, Thomas. 2014 [2013]. Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Translated by Arthur Goldhammer. Cambridge Massachusetts: Belknap Press. eBook edition.
Roberts, Adam. 2010. New Model Army. London: Gollancz.
Stephenson, Neal. 1992. Snow Crash. New York: Bantam Spectra.
Stephenson, Neal. 1995. The Diamond Age, or, a Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer. New York: Bantam Spectra.
Stross, Charles. 2003. Singularity Sky. New York: Ace Books.
Stross, Charles. 2013. Neptune’s Brood. London: Orbit.
Suvin, Darko. 1988. Positions and Presuppositions in Science Fiction. Kent OH: Kent State U.P.
Terry, Judith. 1988. ‘Seen But Not Heard: Servants in Jane Austen’s England.’ Persuasions 10.
Tolkien, J.R.R. 2001 [1937]. ‘On Fairy-Stories.’ In J.R.R. Tolkien, Tree and Leaf. New York: HarperCollins. [‘On Fairy-Stories’ delivered as a lecture in 1937. First print appearance 1947. Tree and Leaf first published in 1964].
Watts, Peter. 2006. Blindsight. New York: Tor.
Žižek, Slajov. 2012. The Year of Dreaming Dangerously. London: Verso.
Žižek, Slavoj. 2011. ‘Address to Occupy Wall Street, 9 October 2011.’ Impose Magazine. Accessed online at on 11 September 2016.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Calling USA

America, can you help me? This is a key speech in a story I'm writing ('The Ballast of All Possible Worlds.') The character who speaks it is from the US. It is probably peculiar in all kinds of ways. But the thing I am really keen to avoid is any accidental British-isms. What do you think? Is there anything there that jumps out at you? Let me know in the comments or get me on Twitter.
Another fun fact. Black slaves built white America. Did it to spec and on time. But the check’s not in the mail. Let me be clear, Farah. The grind, the passion demonstrated by LAB’s allies – I’m speaking of the traditional slavery reparations movement here – the ingenuity, the courage, ain’t nobody going to question that. Ain’t nobody going to forget that. Yet LAB believes that the time has now come ... can I say, the time has now come for some of us more energetically to concern ourselves with the husbandry of the law. 
That’s why LAB proposes a return to the aspiration of Cato v. the United States, 1984. Heard of it? Not sure? Don’t worry, you’re okay. A thing I hear a lot, and especially from white folks, is that we need to focus on the future. The future, not the past. We can’t let our history hold us back. Cato might agree. But maybe not the way they mean it.  
Cato’s suit began with the forced ancestral indoctrination of Africans into a foreign society, and it pursued that original injustice, tracked it doggedly through history, right up to the present day. LAB does a lot of things, but the project closest to our hearts -- and because our hearts are forever falling, this project also is on the down-low! -- it’s a project in the algorithmic reparations space. Because you see, in the end, Cato’s complaint was judged to be too abstract. Too abstract, without concrete injury fairly traceable to concrete perpetrators. You can put a multinational in the dock, sure. You can put the government in the dock, if the government consents. Want to go a little higher? You want to put a system in the dock? That’s when you hear, ‘Oh, I’m sorry. We're not racist, but that’s too abstract.’ Abstract.  
Tell me something, Farah. When you are excluded from education, from housing, when you get underpaid, deceived, banned, shunned, barred, ridiculed, enjoyed, hounded, permitted unfit food, unclean water ... when your lungs get forced to breathe a different air from white folks’ lungs ... when you are raped, tortured, sterilized, your reputation smeared, your dignities snatched away, tormented psychologically, swindled, your loved ones taken ... when you are entrapped, framed, hunted and snared ... fearful to drive, fearful to walk, fearful to stay at home ... taken to factories and plantations that call themselves prisons, while your transgressions, as often as not, are themselves a kind of side-effect of our peculiarly American system of recruitment ... when you get beat down, without concern for your survival, and when you get shot down, lawfully shot down, because you too swiftly heed a police officer’s instruction, or do not heed it swiftly enough ... now, will that feel abstract to you?  
And I assure you, I am speaking as abstractly as I can manage. Farah, if the law construes these injuries as too abstract, could it be our job to make them more concrete? To quantify racism? And in so doing, to quantify its undoing?
PS: The story, I should say, does not in any big way follow the provocation introduced at the end of this speech. Maybe in another story. Though I don't know if I'll ever be ready to write something like that.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Voyager Scarcity

Had a smol think about (post-)scarcity again the other day. "Scarce" technically means "limited relative to requirements" rather than limited per se. Scarcity is always about the relationship between resources and the various things that might be done with them. Scarcity is never about whether those resources are finite or infinite.

Science fiction probably ought to try to keep that in mind, because it implies that (post-)scarcity can never apply absolutely to any setting or story whatsoever. (Maybe there's some weird example that can prove me wrong there?). Rather, (post-)scarcity is always one of those "it depends how you mean it" kind of things. Any resource is always scarce in some ways, but not scarce in others, depending what you happen to be counting as a requirement.

(That's not to say that science fiction shouldn't also be interested in infinity and finitude as well, of course. Just that that problematic is slightly offset from the post-scarcity problematic).

Some (post-)scarcity science fiction gets very interested in the idea of social connectivity as a kind of intrinsically scarce resource. "Alas, all my material desires are fulfilled, and yet all I want is for senpai to notice me." Maybe that's why you often see a funny kind of pettiness appear in some self-consciously post-scarcity settings.

In Look to Windward, Iain M. Banks equips Culture characters with an idiom for when something is especially desirable: “[t]hey’d reinvent money for this” (ibid.). When the Culture’s particular brand of plenitude is compromised in an apparently trivial way, some Culture characters do reinvent money.

A one-off music concert is set to take place in a limited-capacity venue, and everyone wants to go. Concert tickets become a kind of money. What do they buy and sell with it? Don't they have everything already? They buy and sell commodities arising from a division of affective, sexual, reproductive, and performative labor. Or in other words, they buy and sell aspects of social relationships. "People who can’t stand other people are inviting them to dinner [...] People have traded sexual favours, they’ve agreed to pregnancies, they’ve altered their appearance to accommodate a partner’s desires, they’ve begun to change gender to please lovers; all just to get tickets" (Banks 2000: 276). 

It struck me that Star Trek: Voyager also has a little of this going on: social meaning is its key scarce resource.

In the Star Trek universe, you got your replicators that can synthesize you fancy meals or whatever ex nihilo with just one squirty beep. Maybe even more importantly, you got your holodecks, rooms that can spin you whatever reality you desire to dreamily live in.

Voyager casts one vessel really, really far from home. (I can't remember the premise exactly, but I think maybe in the pilot episode they fall asleep on the space night bus). The same post-scarcity technologies are present, but they don't project the same aura of coziness and security.

And I bet that was part of the point: there's a heightened sense of peril that must be met with careful resource management, else this bucket of bolts isn't going to make it home in one piece. But also, the resource which Voyager brings to the fore as limited and precious are human (and Talaxian yadda yadda) relationships. This is stitched into the fabric of the story. Everything, everything that occurs in Voyager, occurs in relation to the process of people drawing closer together or failing to. Their movement is both literal and a metaphor for social de-atomization. The most estimable treasure that Janeway can win in any episode is to shave time off Voyager's ETA, or to make some kind of Starfleeting contact ...

At the same time, the show seems to think a lot about its domestic production of meaning. It thinks about ways in which Voyager already is home. (That theme often seems to swirl around Neelix, who I think is responsible for "morale").

And I think it does a pretty good job, in that liberal, cosmopolitan, look-the-Borg-is-not-intrinsically-other, look-even-the-hologram-is-not-intrinsically-other, kind of way that Star Trek does. But it also makes me wonder if the general vibe of a more strictly material kind of scarcity is getting rather dangerously applied in ways that ideally it really shouldn't be. Human relationships, after all, aren't actually resources, with alternative uses, resources that require efficient production and allocation to fulfill some requirements although sadly not others. Whatever they are, it's not that. They have their own logic. And for what it's worth, pretending that human relationships are merely precious resources, rather than whatever they really are, is something that goes very neatly together with the nostalgic longing for the homeland, the longing that is ultimately what functions to distinguish friend (including assimilable outsider) from enemy, to distinguish "us" from "them."

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Marta-Led Demons

Didja miss me don't even answer that shut up you're not even that funny okay you are. There is a snippet below about labour theories of value in the era of Quantified Self.

Here's the context (or skip to the snippet): I've been finishing up a Creative Writing PhD, which is a funny sort of thing. Actually, it's several funny sorts of things, because there's a fair bit of formal variation from university to university, and from PhD to PhD. Which is a good thing. I understand in Coventry, evaluation of the practice component focuses quite heavily on your performance, with respect to the other PGRs in your intake, within a vast verdant combat arena tucked full of traps, weaponry, intrigue and heartbreak. But in every practice-led PhD, there's always a 'practice' component -- for me, that means some fiction, including "Froggy" and Marta -- and then a critical/reflective component.

I initially found that critical/reflective bit quite difficult, since it wasn't a mode of writing I was familiar with / fruitfully unfamiliar with when I got started. But I think I more or less have got it now, which is pretty cool because I'm supposed to hand it in next week.

One aspiration for afterwards, BTW, is to spin off my two cents on practice-led research (also known as practice-as-research or practice-based research, although each phrase has its own connotations) and especially on how it formally relates to speculative fiction.
  • Speculative fiction may sometimes aspire to 'lead' research, offering to shift our technoscientific imaginary, and opening spaces which stricter R&D methodologies may explore (shout out DARPA you avant-garde murderous fucks). 
  • 'Hard' speculative fiction may also be implicated with expert discourses (whether that's physics or sociology), in a way which resembles the dialectic between the creative and the critical/reflective components of practice-led research. 
  • Both speculative fiction and practice-led research are prone to adopting a slightly tricksterish attitude toward external evaluation, eluding or deferring judgment by a kind of bait-and-switch which insists that you've usually evaluated the wrong thing, and that they know more than they're letting on. Speculative fiction's version of this is, of course: "oh no, of course I don't claim to predict the future, ha ha ha" (zooms meaningfully away on hoverboard with fixed wide-eyed stare). 
In a nutshell, I feel like practice-led research and speculative fiction have stuff in common, which means things can actually get quite awkward (but interesting) when you try to do both of them at once.

All of this serves as a kind of apology for various aspects of the following snippet (which probably bug only me anyway), which is a fragment of reflective commentary, about a very brief passage in the mini-novel Marta and the Demons

(So it's me talking about some fiction I wrote. But in this bit, the themes of money, labour, and Quantified Self predominate. The yys are because I haven't done the page numbering yet and/or because I generously "allow readers to decide for themselves". Also, I've shouted it out before, but Tim Maughan's sf-ish vignette "Zero Hours" is great and still really relevant here).

Work as Money

[...] This scene [a drunken conversation between Myeong and Carly, about trying to invent a labor-based currency,] was partly inspired by schemes such as Local Exchange Trading Systems and time‑based currencies.[1] Under such systems, a member might earn one credit by working for one hour, which can be spent to hire an hour’s labor from another member. It was easy to imagine Carly thinking along these lines; at this moment in Carly and Myeong’s relationship, it felt right that Carly might have recently re-calibrated her speculative faculties, and be eager to support inchoate wishes, while still ready to feel like the grounded pragmatist of the pair.

Carly comes up with the name “WorkCoin,” and envisions WorkCoin’s value deriving from “the number of hours [worked]” (M: yy). But for Myeong, whose entrepreneurial obliviousness is reaching its peak, the word ‘hours’ is already enough to cut Carly short. 

One objection to time‑based currencies is that every hour of work is qualitatively different to every other hour. Of course, flattening such heterogeneity according to egalitarian principles, rather than market mechanisms, may be part of the appeal of time-based currencies. But I wanted Myeong to focus on something different. Myeong wants to preserve the qualitative heterogeneity of work, conceived primarily as a phenomenological heterogeneity, but with gestures toward the importance of third-person perspectives.

My second inspiration for this scene was Viviana Zelizer’s account of money’s own heterogeneity. Zelizer contests money’s reputation as a uniform, impersonal, and fungible social relation. For Zelizer, “people are constantly creating new monies, and they do so by segregating different streams of legal tender into funds for distinct activities and relations” (Zelizer 2011: 89). Money “may well ‘corrupt’ values into numbers, but values and sentiment reciprocally corrupt money by investing it with moral, social, and religious meaning” (Zelizer 2011: 97). Myeong, Zelizer, and I conspired to flesh out Myeong's aspiration, barely acknowledging Carly's contributions. Instead, Myeong would aspire to use technology to accentuate, extend, and rationalize money’s existing heterogeneity, in order to reflect the heterogeneity of work. Every hour of work is different from every other. Every penny is different from every other. Why shouldn’t we map one set of differences onto the other?

Myeong’s vision is probably ultimately incoherent. Formulating it coherently certainly offers a challenge. First, how should work be demarcated from non-work (cf. §2.5.2)? We certainly cannot get by, in this context, with the approximation that paid work is ‘real’ work (not without begging the question). Nor should we really want to. Nancy Hartsock tersely invokes the theme of what counts as ‘real’ work by describing “a third person, not specifically present in Marx’s account of transactions between capitalist and worker (both of whom are male),” who “follows timidly behind, carrying groceries, baby, and diapers” (Hartsock 1983: 234). Second, since any sum of WorkCoin will have passed through many hands, whose work should count as “what real people [have] really done, to make that money exist” (M: yy)? Third, even if work could somehow be legitimately demarcated and documented, how can WorkCoin legibly represent such data for human subjects? Who could experience something like WorkCoin, and what would they experience? How could WorkCoin’s quantifications be visualized, aestheticized, and perhaps – given Myeong’s desire for a WorkCoin in which “you could see the workers” (M: yy) – embodied and personified? Fourth, even if a legible WorkCoin were possible, why should that materially alter labor’s subjugation within some interlocking “matrix of domination” (Collins 2000: yy)? In other words, a fine-grained mapping of labor to value may sometimes lead to fairer compensation. But it can also – as the example of Amazon shortly shows – lead to something else entirely. On a larger historical timescale, the questions multiply. How would Myeong’s WorkCoin reflect the particularity of work, when that work is implicated with events – such as the production of the means of production – which have taken place long before WorkCoin came into being? Or when some properties of today’s work may take months or centuries to surface? How would something like WorkCoin function as a transferable IOU (cf. §3.4.2, §4.1), connected not only with past labor, but also with promises of future labor? Whenever I tried to extend the quantification of labor deep into the past and future, I felt it lost its particularity again. It became more nebulous and colorable, more manipulable by existing power hierarchies. Beyond these questions lay further concerns about access and exclusion, about privacy, and about energy and sustainability.

While I tried to position WorkCoin as a wild and impractical fancy, it is also “essential that estrangement leads to the realization that things do not have to be the way they are” (Spiegel 2008: 370). I expected WorkCoin could create a space for speculation about more practical implementations of a labor-based currency, both in terms of its enticements and its dangers.

One precedent is the Quantified Self phenomenon – loosely what Myeong has in mind when she refers to “fuddy-duddy, gamified, making-flossing-fun, improve-the-way-you-sit bullcrap” (M: yy). Quantified Selves are people who aim to improve their self-knowledge and autonomy through “novel ways of self-tracking with the help of digital technologies” (Lupton 2016: 9).[2] Gary Wolf, one popularizer of the term, describes his fine-grained self-tracking in a work context:

Taking advantage of the explosion of self-tracking services available on the Web, I started analyzing my workday at a finer level. Every time I moved to a new activity – picked up the phone, opened a Web browser, answered e-mail – I made a couple of clicks with my mouse, which recorded the change. After a few weeks I looked at the data and marveled.
(Wolf 2010: n.p.)
Similar tracking technology is also used in factories, warehouses, and other workplaces; a high-profile example is Amazon’s avant‑garde brutalizing of its workforce, “in the use of monitoring technologies to track the minute-by-minute movements and performance of employees” (Head 2014: n.p.):

With this twenty-first-century Taylorism, management experts, scientific managers, take the basic workplace tasks at Amazon, such as the movement, shelving, and packaging of goods, and break down these tasks into their subtasks, usually measured in seconds; then rely on time and motion studies to find the fastest way to perform each subtask; and then reassemble the subtasks and make this “one best way” the process that employees must follow.
(ibid. n.p.)
While such monitoring technologies come nowhere near to disentangling “real people” or “[o]ur own true selves” (M: yy) from the abstract figure of the worker, they do enrich that figure with fine‑grained data. They suggest how Myeong’s first bold vision of WorkCoin, as a marvellous money inscribed with all the heterogeneity of work, might yield to something more practicable. Instead of expressing “[o]ur true selves,” a WorkCoin analogue might simply express some salient data about the work which underlies it.[3]

Some time later, after attending a workshop involving time-based currencies, and speculatively exploring hybrid forms of monetary value  with price determined by interactions of supply, demand, and labor time  I did consider fleshing out WorkCoin further, perhaps in a later story. At the same time, I was wary that, merely seeking to estrange money, I might inadvertently glamorize, celebrate, normalize or naturalize the use of such intimately oppressive tracking technologies; or I might point to unlikely ways of appeasing, containing, or mitigating technologies that are hungrily bent on coercing workers to squeeze every last drop of labour-power from their bodies (Moore and Robinson 2015: 7). For the time being at least, I decided to let WorkCoin, like the incomes perceived by Li Shu (M: yy), and like Encarl’s Smartgularity (M: yy), remain a faintly implied shape, only partly jutting into story cycle’s representational field. 

The difficulty of theoretically demarcating work from non-work, and the brutal and exploitative history of such demarcation as it has practically occurred, could be no security against the possibility that technologically accomplished quantifications of work might in principle gain legal backing or widespread social acceptance. Stock prices already make a resounding claim to quantify the future flourishing of firms; the reputation metrics of digital matching platforms such as Uber and Airbnb make a fairly resounding claim to render precise and legible the trustworthiness of taxi drivers or holidaymakers. It seemed important to confront the possibility of some specific socio‑technological ecology of data collection, extraction, warehousing, analysis, and visualization and gamification, making a resounding claim to render ‘work’ – or perhaps ‘smart work,’ ‘hard work,’ or even ‘happy work’ – as precise and legible data.

The stories Moneykins, and perhaps especially ‘Alice,’ often feature imagery of bodies surfacing and stretching free from the media in which they have been obscured and imprisoned, and even in which they have been constituted. For instance, the Weaver breaks free from her cloud and its enigmatic Chesses, and the leprecoins from their magic metal (M: yy, yy). These images arrived in my writing of their own accord, but I started to think of them as small, scattered allegories about humans disentangling themselves from money, whether partly or fully, temporarily or for good.

At the same time, as explored in §2.1-§2.5, money can be tenacious, adaptable, and stealthy. It can linger in the places it has explicitly been banished from. Bewitchingly detailed representational regimes – such as Quantified Self technologies, the reputation metrics of the sharing economy, Doctorow’s Whuffie, or Myeong’s WorkCoin – may promise to extricate humans from money’s power, to create alternative ways of organizing collective action, and to in effect “render gold and silver of no esteem” (More 1997 [1516]: 44). Yet they may actually end up extending the power of money, in new forms, deeper into human lives. [...]

[1] See e.g. The Economy of Hours ( and TimeRepublik (; for historical background cf. Warren (1852).
[2] I prefer to say ‘Quantified Selves’ because I am a little reluctant to call Quantified Self a ‘movement’ with ‘members.’ There is an awkwardness around the term, perhaps because it tends to emphasize the agency and knowledge of the quantified individual, and downplays the way in which, even in the most sanguine circumstances, the Quantified Self is inevitably also a Quantified Other. But the term has widespread recognition, and I find even the awkwardness itself sometimes useful, a constant reminder of the unwieldiness and counterintuitivity of the subject matter.
[3] For instance, a few important dimensions of distinction might include tedium, discomfort, and other affective states; freedom and constraint; the ‘embedded labor’ of prior training and experience; the ‘quality’ of the work as measured by innumerable metrics; the danger and luck involved; and of course the work’s financial productivity. These evade tracking technologies to different degrees and in different ways. WSTT [Wearables and other Self-Tracking Technologies] measure only users, creating an illusion that the precarian worker – constructed by a particular affective and social field of which these technologies are a part – is identical with humanity,” and the illusion that this worker figure is also the defining point of human bodily capabilities and the point from which we should start – an outer limit of ‘human nature’ which restricts political and social possibility (Moore and Robinson 2015: 5; cf. also Maughan 2013).

Friday, July 22, 2016

Real quick

1) My novelette "Froggy Goes Piggy" is up at The Long+Short. Here's the story and here's a tiny bit about it.

2) Voting for the Sputnik Awards is still open. Shortlisted: Jim Butcher, The Cinder Spires (Roc); Becky Chambers, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet (Hodder & Stoughton); Berit Ellingsen, Not Dark Yet (Two Dollar Radio); N.K. Jemisin, The Fifth Season (Orbit); Emma Newman, Planetfall (Roc); Peter Newman, The Vagrant (Harper Voyager); Naomi Novik, Uprooted (Del Rey); Nnedi Okorafor, The Book of Phoenix (Hodder & Stoughton); Adam Roberts, The Thing Itself (Gollancz); Kim Stanley Robinson, Aurora (Orbit); Neal Stephenson, Seveneves (William Morrow); Fran Wilde, Updraft (Tor Books). If the UK can vote to leave the EU without knowing what it is or whether we're actually in it, you're probably OK to cast a battle-ballot in the Sputniks. I wrote an editorial in the current Interzone to talk a bit about the Sputniks and other new awards.

3) SFRA & CRSF conferences were fun. My papers, "Marvellous Moneys & Financial Familiars" and "The Dystopglyn Glyns," are online at The first one was basically a primer on controversies in the ontology of money, then a few selections from the Economics in SFF project. The second was an attempt at thinking about some of the huge everyday topics and tools of SF Studies (utopia, the future, diegetic prototyping, SF vs. fantasy, Suvin's cognitive estrangement).

4) It is not long since the last flake of the Smurfette fake tat I won for losing Laser Tag washed off my shoulder. Though I think she may have enlisted as a Pokemon. Meanwhile, wouldn't Ghostbusters make an intriguing location-based AR game? Especially if it was genuinely terrifying. A bit Five Nights at Freddy's maybe.

5) If anyone has material they would be willing to contribute to the Economics in SFF project, I'd love to take a look. Here's a formal-ish CfP, but if in doubt, just get in touch.

6) Are you organising a conference or something similar in 2017? Maybe you should get in touch too. There's something I want to talk to you about.

7) "Who?" Here's a good game you can play when you meet new people (& here's the original).

8) Those science fiction conferences. So, there was really far too much great stuff at SFRA & CRSF to attempt even an attempt at a report, but I want to pick out three moments almost at random. One was the long feared and in the event totally gratifying and stimulating collision of contemporary experimental poetry with SFF in the Stephen Mooney panel. A second was Sarah Lohmann's paper on feminist utopias, science, and chaos/complexity. Before I heard that paper and let it sink in a little, I would have said that the problem with utopia-as-CAS is that the transformations of CASs are by definition unpredictable: too open, too flexible, too fickle, and incapable of cherishing and protecting anything worthy of the name utopian. The just-maybe-brilliant insight that suddenly makes me, in a really good way, way less sure, was the focus on science work as a CAS. A society organised according to edge-of-chaos utopian science feels like a very different proposition to a society organised as edge-of-chaos utopia. A third was Joan Haran's keynote, an attentive exploration of points where SFF and activism touch (swirling around WisCon, The Fifth Sacred Thing, Octavia's Brood, and possibilities for genomics SF research activisms).

9) Liverpool is so hot right now. Prof Michael Dougan on Leave and criminal irresponsibility.



Terraforming: Ecopolitical Transformations and Environmentalism in Science Fiction

12) Fredric Jameson in 1982: "For the apparent realism, or representationality, of SF has concealed another, far more complex temporal structure: not to give us 'images' of the future—whatever such images might mean for a reader who will necessarily predecease their 'materialization'—but rather to defamiliarize and restructure our experience of our own present, and to do so in specific ways distinct from all other forms of defamiliarization." The sort of thing I'm trying to return to and perhaps gently productively disagree with in that triptych of talks at Northumbria Summer Speakers / Fantasies of Contemporary Culture / CRSF.

13) Science Fiction and the Medical Humanities at Glasgow University was also good craic. Particularly enjoyed the first panel I went to (Imogen Woodberry, Phoenix Alexander, Joshua Odam) which poked me into seeking out Octavia's Brood ed. Walidah Imarisha and adrienne maree brown. Wish I'd done so sooner. Snippet from the intro:
"Visionary fiction" is a term we developed to distinguish science fiction that has relevance toward building new, freer worlds from the mainstream strain of science fiction, which most often reinforces dominant narratives of power. Visionary fiction encompasses all of the fantastic, with the arc always bending toward justice. We believe this space is vital for any process of decolonization, because the decolonization of the imagination is the most dangerous and subversive form there is: for it is where all other forms of decolonization are born.  
Many of the contributors to Octavia's Brood had never written fiction before, let alone science fiction. When we approached folks, most were hesitant to commit, feeling like they weren't qualified. But overwhelmingly, they all came back a few weeks later, enthusiastically, with incredible ideas and some with dozens of pages already written. Because all organizing is science fiction, we are dreaming new worlds every time we think about the changes we want to make in the world. The writers in this collection just needed a little space, and perhaps permission to immerse themselves fully in their visionary selves.
14) Two very different speculative fiction anthologies out recently.

15) "Work as if you live in the early days of World War III."

16) I'm reading some kind of SF or fantasy prose with TBC in the BristolCon Fringe on 15 August. Come!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


St. Thomas Aquinas explains: “thus also will his body be raised to the characteristics of heavenly bodies — it will be lightsome (clarity), incapable of suffering (impassible), without difficulty and labour in movement (agility), and most perfectly perfected by its form (subtlety). For this reason, the Apostle speaks of the bodies of the risen as heavenly, referring not to their nature, but to their glory.”

Ghostbusters was not rebooted: it died and was resurrected, shining, impassible, agile, and subtle. From the trailers and one or two reviews I expected it'd be mugging for squees, one of those family films with a layer aimed at kids and another layer aimed at adults who like to say stuff like "adulting is hard :(" a lot ... but it ain't that in the least.

It's shining. It seems to do that thing (that I think Orange is the New Black and maybe Unbreakable Kimmy Schmitt does) where the mild psychological complexity and heft requisite for realist comedy sporadically dissolves into clomping, larger-than-life sketch comedy ... but then the realist comedy somehow reassembles straight afterward as if nothing happened, and you're back with characters you care about. It's not about breaking the fourth wall: it's about passing through innumerable walls, temporarily demonstrating your spectrality.

Reckon it needed to be five minutes longer, to give significant plot points their due weight. Ideally take like twelve minutes, and give Patty some backstory and/or development, and ectoplasm out the ghosts as characters too. Maybe the combat ontology could have been a little more firmly established before the big showdown too. Because I wasn't quite sure what their gear could do, the Ghostbusters felt even more immortal than normal characters-that-will-definitely-be-fine. Also, Zach Woods inexplicably survives a very glowy, goopy, should-really-be-game-over first brush with the undead, which kind of makes them look a bit dud and inept. So how to tweak that? Well, maybe lingering on Bill Murray's broken and bloodied body would have been one more handy reminder of the stakes for mortals, and during the back-alley gizmos showcase scene, just a boring line along the lines of, "With these new side-arms, we no longer need the box on the floor to snare these wraiths, ladies; we may dissipate their morphic resonance directly" -- and then a joke -- might have made the later haunty heiny-kicking hijinks more immediately legible and compelling. And/or your man Rowan could have had a spooky security guard helping him out at the lab as a mini-tutorial in ghosts vs. Ghostbusters (that mini-showdown felt pretty rushed anyway). So maybe it needed to be fifteen minutes longer. But could get away with five.

Cecily Strong is brilliant and I hope she's in the sequel too. Also are they actually almost corpsing in a proper big film in the Technobabble ex Machina bit? Kevin's character is less believable than any of the swirly baddies, but that's OK. I could have done with a little more muppety body horror and grotesque visual gags, but now I'm just nitpicking. Totes ace, Thomist af.

Or ...

What is a movie, anyway? A movie begins to be interpreted before it's even been fully shot, and those interpretations must still be interpretations of the movie. Is the Ghostbusters eventually seen by the misogynists who are determined to hate watch it, and whose experience of it is textured and weighted and colored by their fruitful, ingenious expectations, part of the real Ghostbusters movie or not? I believe it got loads and loads of ratings, both positive and negative -- mostly negative, from folk who objected to the genderflipped reboot (and the positive ones possibly in the spirit of redressing the balance) -- from people who probably hadn't seen it. If there are real criticisms to be made of the film, they should be of the swirling green CGI hell version of it, the version that deserves to be whipped into boxes with protons for its essential ugliness, the film as it is construed in the hearts and minds twisted resolutely against it. To honor not only the genderflip but also the flip that was there already: the flip that makes what is dead live and what is in hell heavenly.

Also I'm glad there was a Swiss army knife in it, because (a) we've been discussing them a lot recently and (b) it reminds me of the line in the play Woundman and Shirley that describes Woundman as looking like "sort of a cross between Bill Murray and a Swiss army knife."

Also Ghostbusters could make an interesting location-based AR game. Gotta bust 'em all.

Also more like Slimo Yiannopoulos but whatever.

Also ScotCoin: I ain't afraid of no groats.

Also I think one of the things that stops Holzmann being just a tube for squirting kook is those moments where she gives brief, assured, no-nonsense tutorials on the stuff she's made. I feel like I've met people like that? They act out so much you think they're going to be actors or poets or something, and then you realise that they're scientists or engineers, and that blend of arrogance and joy and insecurity and yearning trollishness is actually grounded in a sense of, "fuck it, if all else fails at least I know how to make stuff." Maybe?

Also have you seen Ghostbusters? It's not as good as the BOO!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Froggy Goes Piggy

I have a new story up at The Long+Short, which is about the future of collective intelligence, precarity, Intelligent Personal Assistants, augmented reality, Pokemon GO, cryptocurrency, payments technology, kawaii brands, fintech that attempts to visualize/gamify/humanize financial complexity, frogs, the gig economy, people powered healthcare, butts, the fragmentation and financialization of healthcare, pets, David Attenborough, and things like that.


Artwork by Mike Stout.

Other fiction in the series by JY Yang, Tim Maughan, and Ayodele Arigbabu.

Brett Scott researches, explores, and hacks economic and financial systems. He led the excellent Alternative Finance Workshop at Monkton Wyld Court, which inspired and informed the story.

That workshop was put together by Stir to Action, a community organisation who work around social and community enterprises, co-operatives, and campaigns, and innovative, alternative, progressive economics. They publish the magazine STIR, run workshop programmes and short courses, produces how-to resources, design financing to make things happen, and are generally great.

Also see the Nesta / Tim Maughan collaboration in 2013 that led to 'Zero Hours,' a biting indictment of what we might now call 'Uber but for having a job.'

Also see Science Fiction and the Medical Humanities, based in Glasgow: the current project is now mostly finished, but hopefully will lead to other things.

The Long+Short collective intelligence stories are all (I think -- mine definitely is) released under the Creative Commons CC-BY 4.0 license, which means you can do pretty much whatever you like with them (including commercially) so long as you attribute.

Chernoff Faces: a bold albeit dubious idea in dataviz, which informs the Pokemoney GOLD conceit.

Also see Twelve Tomorrows 2016 ed. Bruce Sterling, where I have a story touching on some of the same fintech visualization territory. I will be putting out an expanded version of that story as soon as I get some time. (Probably just on Medium, unless you are an editor of some excellent paywall-free site that would like to host it, in which case get in touch).

I am sick with fear ;D

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Big and Embrous

The last thing I need is a thing, let alone a book, let alone a book of science fiction, let alone a collection of short sf stories.

But I just might be tempted by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer's Big Book of Science Fiction (contents at i09, plus inevitable thread of outrage at omissions). A big introduction, some interesting story picks to represent well-known authors, a lot of authors I've vaguely heard of and never read, a few authors I've never heard of, and evidence of real efforts to recover erased histories and to adopt an international outlook (including some original translations).

And Rose Lemberg's An Alphabet of Embers, also just out, looks hot. An anthology of very short unclassifiables, "between poetry and prose," mostly by speculative fiction type writers, including plenty of newer voices. (And I think mine is already probably winging its way to Bristol as my Kickstarter reward).

Pokemon GO