The Early Days of a Better Nation

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Modern Bonnie Prince

A few weeks ago I took a box-load of books to the local charity shop, and predictably saw a book I had to buy. That copy of Tom Nairn's The Break-Up of Britain (1981) had evidently been donated by a studious and appreciative reader. Neatly ruled pencil lines mark almost every page.

Such a reader, once, was I. Nairn's 'Anatomy of the Labour Party' (1964), was my first exposure to the menacing shadows on that hoary institution's X-ray. 'Old and New Nationalism' whose first version I pored over in the biblically tiny print of The Red Paper on Scotland (1975, edited by Gordon Brown) had a lasting effect on how I (and many of its readers) think about Scotland. 'The Left Against Europe?' a book-length essay not in this collection, was a bracing heresy at the time and a cold shower today. Anyone who doubts the continuing pertinence of The Enchanted Glass, Nairn's book on the British monarchy, should read this and weep.

Not all the essays remain as insightful. 'Northern Ireland: Relic or Portent?' which I first read in the short-lived left-nationalist magazine Calgacus, struck me even then as interesting but wrong. On a re-read, it's still interesting, and not just wrong but wrong-headed. Its misprision of the Northern Irish Protestant community was ludicrous, its prescription of Ulster Protestant nationhood as the deplorable but unavoidable solution perverse.

That false note aside, the rest resonates. The eponymous break-up has moved from the reviews and journals to the daily front pages. Often enough, in the past forty years, Nairn's diagnosis seemed over-stated. Perhaps it was. There are only so many times you can sound the alarm about 'the crisis of the British state' without the villagers turning sceptical.

Now the wolf is at the door.

The other Saturday I went to the Edinburgh People's Festival's conference on The Life and Legacy of Antonio Gramsci. Among the featured speakers was Ray Burnett, author of a seminal essay that may have alerted Tom Nairn to the possibility of applying Gramsci's analytical tools to Scottish society. Talk about unacknowledged legislators! Nairn's understanding of the peculiarities of the Scottish has become the common sense of the Scottish intelligentsia.

But where has it got us? The left in Scotland is weaker than when it first focused its microscope on what Burnett called the ‘azoic complexity’ of civil society. For Gramsci the modern prince was the political party. That prince has sometimes proved a Borgia. In Scotland it is merely a Stuart.

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Sunday, March 05, 2017

How many stars
would you give a Princess of Mars?

It's been two weeks since Boskone 54, so it's about time I wrote something about it.

Boskone is a long-established science fiction convention held in Boston, Mass. (Laboured explanation for non-fans: it's a con in Boston. Boskone is the name of the evil empire in the Lensman series by E. E. 'Doc' Smith). For many years the con has been run by the admirable New England Science Fiction Association, and this year I was the NESFA Press Guest. (I was a Guest of Honour at Boskone in 2006, and neglected to write a con report, though I did write up and blog my Guest of Honour talk).

Organisers Laurie Mann and Erin Underwood kindly included my wife Carol in the con's hospitality, and did a great job of organising our travel. Laurie Mann and Geri Sullivan gave us a warm welcome on arrival, and sent us up 15 storeys to a splendid room in the fine Westin Waterfront hotel. The view of Boston's skyscraper skyline was like a double-page spread in National Geographic, which my own photography quite failed to capture.

We had a great time at Boskone, and in Boston, one of our favourite cities. The experience rekindled my affection for SF fandom, and for America. I can't do justice to it all. I met lots of old friends, made some new ones, and enjoyed my own events and those I went to. The program was packed, and the social life of the con buzzed.

Special thanks to Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden, who took us out to dinner at Legal Seafoods with Jo Walton and Ada Palmer. Charles Stross interviewed me with great aplomb. The Hal Clement Science Speaker, Milton J. Davis, was remarkably gracious about a kaffeeklatch cataclysm that was entirely my fault, and favoured me with a wide-ranging conversation into the bargain.

I prepared for my final panel, on Edgar Rice Burroughs' A Princess of Mars, with a hasty e-book purchase and a re-read that continued on the plane to Boston. This gave rise to the accidentally lyrical question that popped up in my inbox from Amazon's algorithm, and hence my title. The eponymous oviparous princess herself, and a striking John Carter, featured in the work of the con's Official Artist, Dave Seeley, as a kick-ass heroine. I'd give her a lot of stars.

The Art of Dave Seeley: Print Shop &emdash; John Carter and the Princess of Mars - Baen Books - Edgar Rice Burroughs
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Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Corporation Wars: Reviews

The second novel, and/or the first two, of my space opera trilogy have had some good reviews by well-respected reviewers: from Stuart Kelly in the Scotsman; from Joe Gordon at Forbidden Planet; and from Paul Di Filippo in Locus.

And there's more!

Joe Gordon also wrote generously about the first book and about my event at the Edinburgh Book Festival this summer. The lively and incredibly prolific blog MyLifeMyBooksMyEscape interviewed me about the series.

The third volume, Emergence, is due to be published by Orbit in September 2017.
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Saturday, December 24, 2016

What I've (not) been doing

Yesterday morning I finished a long short story for an interesting project I've been collaborating in: imagining and designing Heijplaat, a small community in Rotterdam, seventy years from now. I started work on this more or less as I finished writing Emergence, so this is the first time in a couple of years in which I haven't a deadline to meet.

What I've not been doing lately is blogging. The last time I put any effort into blogging and tweeting was in 2014, around the Scottish independence referendum. The time and effort would have been better spent on researching, outlining, planning and above all writing The Corporation Wars, for which I already had a contract. The two years since the end of 2014 have been a bit of a slog.

In the wider world it's been a rocky couple of years, 2016 in particular. I've refrained from commenting on events because I didn't want to get into arguments that would take up too much of my time.

But of course, getting into arguments is a choice. I could just write opinionated screeds and not bother to defend them. This works for actual columnists, after all.

Merry Christmas!
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Thursday, December 01, 2016

The Corporation Wars: Insurgence

The second book of my robot-revolt-in-space trilogy, The Corporation Wars: Insurgence is now available from Orbit, Amazon UK / US, and all good booksellers including Transreal Fiction, from which you can order signed and (if you like) personalised copies. Thanks to all who've already ordered -- I had an encouragingly high stack to deal with this afternoon.

The book has already received one two enthusiastic reviews.
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Friday, September 09, 2016

A Glasgow Saturday Night

Tomorrow evening, Saturday 10 September 2016, I'll be reading and talking at this event in the lively Glasgow arts venue The Old Hairdresser's:

Details here.

Suggested donation £5.
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Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Realm of the Sentients

Not a bad title, eh? I wish I'd thought of it.

In fact it's for the Edinburgh International Book Festival event where I'll be talking about my latest book, The Corporation Wars: Dissidence tomorrow, Sunday 14 August, 8.30 pm to 9.30 pm.

The book has had some great reviews: in the Scotsman, the Guardian, and from the perceptive Edinburgh blogger Tychy, among others.

One of those others, very gratifyingly, is Warren Ellis:
Edinburgh SF axis. Charlie Stross somewhere in town, Iain Banks in North Queensferry, Ken MacLeod in South Queensferry. All very interested in culture and politics to differing degrees. Ken McLeod is the most outwardly political of the three, as a writer, being an old Trot. He's been playing with different genre models of late, and, in this first book of a trilogy, I wonder if he hasn't decided to try and play a more commercial game.

No more old political forms in this one. Brilliantly, he sets up a world war between Accelerationism and Neoreaction. He starts it in the near future and projects it into the far future and tangles it up with artificial conscious intelligence and a kind of Permanent Late Capitalism and it feels right up to the minute. He's hit the main vein of conversation about locks on artificial intelligence and living in simulations and exoplanetary exploitation and drone warfare and wraps it all into a remarkably human, funny and smartly-designed yarn.

It is, in fact, a king-hell commercial entertainment. It's not a small book, but it rips along on rockets - and makes you feel bad for a guy called Carlos The Terrorist into the bargain. And, yes, it is about politics, framed in a way that is science fictional in that it also speaks to the science-fictional condition we currently live in where such things actually exist as part of the fabric of our slightly insane world. If that makes any sense. Anyway. It's smart and very Edinburgh SF Axis and you will probably like it if you're in the mood for science fiction.

What more can I say? Be there or be square, that's what.
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