Quantum Shorts Competition Runner-Up

I’m delighted to announce that my story “Don’t Die Before You’re Dead, Sally Wu” was the runner-up in the 2015 Quantum Shorts Competition, held by Singapore’s Institute for Quantum Technologies, Scientific American and Tor.com. The announcement and an interview with me are here:  http://shorts2015.quantumlah.org/winning-stories

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Story Published in Unbuild Walls

My story “Twentieth Century House,” has been published online for the first time in the excellent new journal, Unbuild Walls. This new online publication is interested in speculative fiction with a literary flavour. I’m going to be doing a bit of submission reading for them going forward too, as I want to support what they’re doing.

The Sick Girl

A story of mine, “The Sick Girl” has just been published in The Rusty Toque. This innovative online magazine has editors in London and Toronto and publishes art, reviews and writing.

Mary is twelve. She has been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease after several months of sweaty nights, swollen lymph nodes, weight loss and her family doctor’s initial, casual suggestion of growing pains. Growing pains? That’s not even a real condition,” her mother says after a day at the university library

Read the rest at The Rusty Toque.

Revisiting Old Work

I came across a link to this piece in the Financial Times on Megan Hustad’s blog (warning, tiny but intensely interesting print).

The piece is about a sale last year of works annotated by their authors. Specifically first editions. JK Rowling, Julian Barnes, Seamus Heaney, Tom Stoppard, Ian McEwan, and many, many more luminaries. It was all for PEN, the charity. What’s delicious about it as a writer who’s been ripping up great reams of older writing in the eternal hope to improve something that seemed quite good at the time, is what some of them have said.

“It was an appalling experience in my case,” the novelist John Banville said. “The only thing that I got from it was the opportunity to defile my own book. It’s like peeing all over it. Take that, you swine!”

“My first editions contain lines from which I have to avert my eyes” – Tom Stoppard.

“Am I supposed to be criticising the book saying how much better I’d do it now? Trouble is, I think I peaked.” Helen Fielding.

Lots more at the article itself.

Torturing Characters

The incomparable Charlie Jane Anders has posted another useful series of writing tips on io9.com, which is currently one of my favourite sites on the web – it’s got a great mix of science, science fiction and general cool geekiness. My sort of people!

Many writers, myself included, have a natural habit of turning away from making bad things happen to people they like (their characters). But who wants to read a book where nobody is in peril? So it’s a constant process of reminding yourself as you write to up the stakes, to complicate things, to take every opportunity when a decision is made to make it either be the wrong one, or one that complicates life.

In a recent chapter of a work in progress, I realized that one of the main characters would realize her parents would potentially be in danger if they came to visit her. So immediately I started writing the scene where she convinces them not to come. And then I reminded myself of what I was doing. My own parents: sure I’d want to convince them to stay away from danger. But fictional parents have to insist on coming, complicating the character’s already complicated circumstances.

It’s a habit to learn. Charlie’s tips are good ones. I especially like number 3: “People should suffer for their mistakes, but also their good deeds.”

http://io9.com/10-cant-miss-surefire-secrets-of-torturing-fictional-1557648931

MIT Technology Review on Drones

A fascinating and oftentimes chilling piece by Fred Kaplan in MIT’s Technology Review, titled “The World as Free-Fire Zone“, detailing the rise of the use of drones by the US military and particularly the CIA, especially how they’ve morphed from supporting regular military operations into a tool for killing people in countries that the US is not officially at war with, and killing people who are suspected of being militants, but not proven to be so (the so-called ‘signature strikes’).

There seems to be no formal list of the criteria that a suspected terrorist must meet before he can be targeted by a drone. Nor is there some quantitative technique for measuring an official’s degree of confidence in this signature. Those who pick the targets have a database of correlations between certain types of behavior and the presence of terrorist leaders. But it’s a judgment call, and there’s usually no way—or desire—to check afterward whether the judgment was good or bad.

The overreaching use of drones in loosely targeted killings is clear, but the article goes beyond this and explores a complex situation with a fairly even hand: the ability of drones to reduce civilian casualties compared to previous forms of attack is something that’s often not discussed (if you know anything about strategic bombing in the Second World War, you’ll know that the promise and reality of air power has caused a truly enormous amount of civilian suffering in the past – Hamburg, Dresden, etc.).

It also goes into detail about the truly complex chain of command behind drone operations – a single drone is supported by as many as 43 personnel, backed by a 66 person intelligence unit. It’s not just one pilot flying around, making decisions by him or herself. Which leads to the conclusion that:

The rise of the drone is not a case of technology run amok. It is the result of human decision: of political calculation and, too often, strategic evasion. Judging from its expanded use over the past five years, the drone’s chief danger is that it makes war too easy—so easy that commanders, including the commander-in-chief, can fool themselves into thinking they’re not fighting a war at all.

This. This is the crux. Just as the gun made it easier to kill by reducing something that was close-range and visceral to something that anyone with a hand could do, just about, so do can our tools of war lead us into using them in ways we never would have used earlier tools. With unpredictable effects.

New Yorker on Drones

Steve Coll writes in this week’s New Yorker about the growth of America’s use of drones to carry out targeted assassinations. Disturbing, as you might expect. It’s particularly interesting that he links the current policy to the US’s policy under Eisenhower (an outgrowth of which led to the Pink Pantheresque exploding cigars and seashells used against Castro) as well as the Israeli use of assassination. Both which have been convincingly repudiated by participants afterwards.

What connects to the work of fiction I’ve recently been engaged in is his speculation on the future:

America’s drone campaign is also creating an ominous global precedent. Ten years or less from now, China will likely be able to field armed drones. How might its Politburo apply Obama’s doctrines to Tibetan activists holding meetings in Nepal?

And what happens when the various rebel groups and terrorist organizations of the world also get their hands on drones?

Full story here.

Sick of the Apocalypse

I’ve written a little essay, cleverly titled (by the editor) “Apocalypse No” for Arc Magazine’s blog:

I’m sick of the Apocalypse. It’s a tired, worn-out trope and an excuse for lazy writing and I wish it would go away.

 

I’m currently writing a novel set 200 years from now and you know what? It’s hard. It occurs to me that someone writing a novel when the first steam locomotives were just appearing couldn’t possibly have imagined the chain of events that would lead to something like the Facebook phone — not even close. So how the hell can I create something convincing that far in our future? Wouldn’t it be easier to just drop an asteroid/global warming/zombie invasion/plague on everything and then write a novel about people struggling in a world gone to hell?

Read the rest at the Arc Tumblr.