ONLINE COMMUNITIES DO NOT EXIST

If you spend time on social media of any kind then the “flame war” (to use a fading phrase) is likely to become a way of life. Hate seems to be the first, and sometimes only, language of the internet.

Sometimes the divisions that prompt these furious engagements are obvious. “GamerGate” – whatever its origins – has come to pit Neanderthal sexism against the rights of women to express themselves freely. That the young men who scream abuse at, and threaten the life of, women dress themselves in the cloak of victimhood is perverse but it is also indicates something about the way in which online communications insulate people from reality and the consequences of their words.

The notion of belonging to certain “online communities” has come to be an important part  of how some people define themselves. But I have never found one. If fact, I believe that “online communities” do not exist. Continue reading

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WHAT DOES LABOUR DO? FIVE OBVIOUS STEPS TO WINNING

So, another set of elections, another ungood night for Labour. Admittedly it was a much worse one for the parties in government. Indeed it was so bad, that  if the swing against the Conservatives and Lib Dems was repeated at a general election, Labour could achieve a substantial parliamentary majority without adding a single vote to its disastrous showing in 2010… And that would demonstrate that the political system is fundamentally broken.

There are those who are hoping to sit back, stay cautious and let the electoral arithmetic edge Labour over the line, judging that a significant but limited recovery of the share of the vote (from 29% in 2010 to 35% in 2015) will be enough to nudge Labour over the line. They are probably right. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good strategy. Because the next Labour government needs more than a victory, it needs a mandate. It needs to convince people of its reason to lead the country.

Labour’s policy platform suggests they more-or-less get it. More taxes on the richest (albeit still quite modest), investment in people and infrastructure, standing up for the rights of workers and consumers, more emphasis on the “green shit” and the repeal or rejection of the worst of the coalition on things like the NHS Bill, Bedroom Tax and European Court.

Labour can’t and shouldn’t pander to the worst instincts of those who switch to UKIP. A race to the bottom on migration would be morally wrong, economically ruinous, strategically stupid and electorally useless.

Nor can Labour – as I still think many Blairites and Brownites believe – fight 2015 as if it was 1997. Labour’s problem today is not convincing “aspirational” voters (who eluded Neil Kinnock) that we aren’t the vanguard of a Bolshevik-style rampage. Labour’s problem is convincing the working class voters on whom the party was built that there’s still a reason to get out and vote.

So “What does Labour do?”

1. BEHAVE LIKE A BRITISH TOURIST ABROAD
The Labour Party needs to talk loudly and use simple words. I’m not saying we treat the electorate like idiots, but we should definitely find representatives who can turn up the volume and turn down the jargon.

2. KICK ED BALLS UP THE ARSE
I know a lot of people hate Ed Balls, I’m not one of them. But his caution and the fact that he is wedded to a political approach that was successful in the last century but is looking increasingly ropey in this one, makes him (and those who share his views) a significant drag on the party. Shape up or ship out.

3. REMEMBER WHY WE’RE HERE
There are people suffering terribly under this government. People who, I know, the overwhelming majority of us in the Labour Party want to support, protect and offer a better future. It wouldn’t do any harm to start communicating that. A little moral outrage and some practical help, shorn of the Blairite good poor/bad poor rhetoric, could go a very long way.

4. SHUT UP ABOUT THE DEFICIT!
Yes, yes, being economically trusted is very important and so is sorting out the debt problem (everyone knows, no one will admit, the answer to that is “a bit of inflation”+”time”). Now stop talking about it. Labour can’t win on austerity because, no matter how hard we try to convince people that we’re going to be tough on the causes of debt, no one really believes us.  But, what our traditional supporters hear is that we care more about “big money” than we do about their lives. Ed Miliband was right: forget about it, stop talking about it. Shut up!

5. ATTACK UKIP
No more pussyfooting around. UKIP are taking the votes of people who want a better NHS, fairer taxes, stronger social services, roads that aren’t full of potholes and a government that’s not operating in the interest of millionaires. If the media won’t make it clear that the party they are looking for isn’t UKIP it’s Labour, then we have to. Over and over and over and over again.

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“KING ROOK” IN ALBEDO ONE #45

I am chuffAlbedoOne45-Covered to be able to point you in the direction of the latest issue of Albedo One (no. 45 – available in ebook form from Smashwords and Amazon) which features my story, “King Rook”.

The story is one set in Northern Ireland in the mid-eighties and while none of the important stuff in the story is autobiographical, I really did grow up in a housing estate that was in the shadow of a rookery and it really was slowly sliding into a bog.

Anyway, as always when one of my stories is out there, I’m only too aware of its shortcomings and not about to suggest that my deathless prose will change your life but I would recommend that you pick up this (and every other) issue of Albedo One, it’s a very good magazine that deserves your support. And, at just a couple of pounds for the ebook version, it’s very reasonably priced.

I also realised that I haven’t mentioned on here that another of my stories, “And Dublin Wept”, was included in Pandemonium: Big Jim’s Shadow from Jurassic London. This is a flash story (just 750 words long) set in 1914 during the bitter industrial dispute that was the Dublin lock-out lead by the ITGWU You can get the book from Goodreads for free and for 77p from Amazon.

It felt a bit odd having this story in a collection dedicated to James Larkin, since the story pokes a some (gentle) fun at the trade unionist’s reputation as a great orator. It has as it’s central character a fictionalised version of William X O’Brien – a less celebrated figure in Irish labour history. The story is an alternate history that twists around the fact that Larkin at one point proposed sending the children of the strikers to Ebig_jims_shadowngland and Scotland to live with the families of British trade union members. He hoped to ease the burdens on striking families but, more importantly, he hoped to spread support for the strike to the rest of the UK and thought the children would elicit sympathy. However, the combined forces of a hostile press and an equally hostile Catholic Church scuppered the idea.

The lock-out petered out in 1914, with both sides exhausted and forced to compromise. The ITGWU was badly damaged and things got worse when Larkin went off to North America and then, in 1916, James Connolly was killed by the British for his part in the Easter Rising (the leader of the bosses in the lock-out, William Martin Murphy, used his newspapers to agitate for the execution of his old adversary).

William X O’Brien was the man who rebuilt the ITGWU, turning it into a major force in Irish politics. There are songs about Larkin and Connolly but, as far as I know, no songs have been written about William X O’Brien.

The story also features a mention of the SS Connemara, a ferry that plied the route from Greenore to Liverpool. The ship did sink in Carlingford Lough, but not until November 1916. All aboard the real SS Conemara were lost, including my great uncle, Private Robert Kenna, who was returning to the war in France after recovering from injuries.

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WORLDCON PANELLING

I, like lots of other people, got a bit excited when the organisers of Loncon3 sent out the draft schedule for this year’s Worldcon – but I’ve had some ongoing website problems, so it’s taken a while to get this online. But, at last, for anyone who might be interested, these are (provisionally, I think) the panels I’ll be appearing on at what looks like being an absolutely massive convention. Continue reading

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SOME THOUGHTS ON HOW LABOUR WINS IN 2015

So this year’s elections are over, and lots of people are using the results as an excuse to try and shift their favoured political parties around, so I thought: “Why should I miss out?”

I don’t think the European election results are either disastrous or brilliant for Labour. You can’t look at the raw figures and say this performance (25%) isn’t good enough, because since 1999 the European elections haven’t looked anything like other British national votes. UKIP, the BNP and the Greens have all made different “breakthroughs” at Euro elections that haven’t been followed up in subsequent General Elections and, if I was a betting man, I’d be willing to bet that UKIP’s vote will fall back significantly before next year’s election.

It is, of course, possible that this election has “broken the mould”, but the probability is always against breaks with history. Continue reading

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DOUBLE FRACTIONAL AWARD NOMINEE

specyfiction72ppiSo, the Hugo nominations are out, and there are a number of things I like and many things I have absolutely no interest in. In the end I weakened and nominated some stuff, just so I could feel properly entitled to moan at the final shortlist. I think four of the items I nominated made it onto the final list of 90 or so nominees – I’ll be expecting cash from the lucky few in the next post.

But the really important news about the Hugo nominations isn’t that some weird, slightly cultish, distinctly Tea Partyish, group of American writers have got their arses in gear to exploit the nomination process – anyone with a background in student politics will recognise the effect of organising lists in popular voting – Hackery101. It will be interesting to see if this is the start of a trend of progressive/reactionary organisation for awards. Continue reading

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REVIEW: THE ROOK BY DANIEL O’MALLEY

The_RookDaniel O’Malley’s first novel, The Rook, won the 2012 Aurealis Award for best SF Novel published by an Australian and comes laden with praise from writers like Charlaine Harris, Charles Yu and Lev Grossman. I found it hard to understand why. The Rook is the story of Myfanwy Thomas, holder of the eponymous title in the secret Checquy – an ancient agency of the British government that rolls up the roles of GCHQ, the SAS, MI5, MI6 and more and is tasked with the job of clobbering anything supernatural that threatens the interests of the British state. The story begins as Myfanwy comes to her senses in an unnamed London park. She has no memories. Her only clue about who she is and what has happened comes in the form of a letter in her pocket – written by herself. Continue reading

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SHORT FORM DRAMATIC PRESENTATION HUGO SUGGESTIONS

I have no interest in nominating anything for the Hugos, but people have been bemoaning the shortage of things they can nominate for the Short Form Dramatic Presentation category outside the usual television episodes. I like short movies, and think it’d be nice to see more of them recognised, so here are some short movies you could consider. I haven’t checked the eligibility but they’re all dated 2013 and all between 8-15 minutes long.

And, if you’re not interested in the Hugos either, hey, they’re still good little movies.

West of the Moon
Based loosely, apparently, on interviews with children about their dreams. This is kind of lovely, fantastic and peculiar. http://www.shortoftheweek.com/2013/05/06/west-of-the-moon/

 Record/Play
Time travel. It’s a familiar idea – how to change the past – but it’s very nicely done and affecting. http://www.shortoftheweek.com/2013/10/08/recordplay/

C: 299,792 km/s
A Kickstarted movie, and a really enjoyable one. Old-fashioned in style and production (complete with Sagan-ish inserts) it’s a pacy space story done well. http://www.shortoftheweek.com/2013/01/29/c-299792-kms/

Dr Easy
A robot doctor is sent into a siege situation. A Film4/Warp film with very high production values and Tom Hollander from Rev. It ends a bit abruptly. http://www.shortoftheweek.com/2013/06/21/dr-easy/

Expo
Unable to face the things she has lost and return home, a miner on the Moon makes a decision. A touch melodramatic and edging towards the sugary but nice. http://www.shortoftheweek.com/2013/05/16/expo/

Other options: I liked Cargo better than anything in The Walking Dead (http://www.shortoftheweek.com/2013/04/11/cargo/) but it’s touch obvious; A Little Bit Behind  (http://www.shortoftheweek.com/2013/04/23/a-little-bit-behind/) is a funny Australian effort but it’s really just a sketch;  From the Future With Love (http://www.shortoftheweek.com/2013/09/06/from-the-future-with-love/)  has near-future cops doing stuff – should have ended after the bit in the diner; Abe (http://www.shortoftheweek.com/2013/10/30/abe-2/) frankly a bit unpleasant, effectively a robot slasher movie, but undeniably well made.

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REVIEW OF THE ECHO AT ARCFINITY AND OTHER STUFF

the-echo-by-james-smytheSo my grumpy review of James Smythe’s The Echo is now online at Arcfinity.

I’m not normally bothered by the science being wrong in fantastic fiction if it makes the story better – that’s normally true when the author has made a deliberate choice to warp or twist reality. What bothered me by this book (and it’s prequel) is my feeling that the scientific stuff that was wrong didn’t add to the story – indeed that it distracted from it – and that the author was obviously capable of not making these mistakes.

I note that one paragraph from the review got edited out, that’s fair enough, it was too long, but it explains why I think the wrong science matters in this particular case. Continue reading

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‘TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE THE BSFA NOMINATION DEADLINE…

Okay, so, if I wanted this to be any use to anyone I’d have done it weeks ago, but I didn’t and there was always just one more book to try and squeeze in… And if I wanted this to be remotely interesting to anyone, I’d probably have written a long explanation as to why some of these books didn’t make my nominations – I have long and tedious explanations for the absence of both The Adjacent and Ancillary Justice from my nominations – but I didn’t have time.

The deadline for the British Science Fiction Awards nominations is tomorrow. If you can but haven’t nominated your favourites: DO IT NOW!

If anyone cares, here’s what I’ve nominated for the BSFA Awards this year: Continue reading

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