Small con – BIG ideas: thoughts from PicoCon

You could have been forgiven for thinking that the new post-Singularity post-Soviet republic was being founded in Kensington with this year’s Guests of Honour – Ken Macleod, Charles Stross and Farah Mendlesohn.

Ken decided to give a talk on whatever came into his mind starting with a trip to New Zealand which introduced the theme of changing perceptions, using the southern night sky as a metaphor. He had skated through his novels up to his forthcoming novel, Execution Channel. He discussed various Victorian histories and the sense of optimism in them which had been misrepresented by the Edwardians. If I think about it, optimism was one of the themes of both Ken and Charlie’s talks – Charlie talked about the optimism of British sf as compared to the current US scene. Curiously Ken came up with the notion of bloggers pushing the idea of the diary and recreating the vision of Victorian optimism.

Ken explained that he had tried to reimagine the cosy catastrophe from the working class perspective. Part of what he wanted to do was to imagine British sf if neither New Wave nor cyberpunk had happened. The novel is an attempt to create a novel which a non-sf readership would enjoy.

Humorously he discussed watching Doctor Who from behind the sofa but respected it for at least knowing about sf and its own history. Not the same for Primeval though.

Ken interviewed Farah about her path to being a critic and the various methods of teaching sf.

After lunch, Charlie Stross discussed his interest in baroque technology – especially the US and Soviet attempts at wiping each other out – and the publishing industry. Naturally the discussion turned to the Singularity. What I hadn’t appreciated was the coincidence of the idea of the Singularity with pre-millenial tension, hence the linking to the Rapture. At some point the mysticism and possibilities of the Singularity idea will need to be separated to talk about it sensibly.

It was certainly a day which left me thinking about sf differently – and vaguely excited about thinking about books again.

Is the latest New Wave of British sf just a sense of the British writers thinking about the near future? (Come to think of it, near future is a theme of Cory Doctorow’s new collection, Overclocked)

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2 Responses to Small con – BIG ideas: thoughts from PicoCon

  1. Paul Raven says:

    Nice to see you blogging again, Iain!

    Interesting question re: British authors looking to the near-future. I wonder if this will be a short fad or an ongoing trend? The telling thing will be to watch and see if it gets mimicked across the pond.

    I believe you’ll be at Eastercon again this year, and I believe I promised to buy you a beer last time – hopefully I can make good on the promise!

    Paul R

    PS: If you’ll forgive a bit of on-topic plugging, there’s a big chunk of my interview with Ken MacLeod on Velcro City at the moment …

  2. Iain says:

    Cheers Paul (or should that be hic?).

    Its a cyclical thing and just happens to be happening in Britain now – but for how much longer? Will the current round of optimism burn out soon? When American writers begin to get happier about the future, I suspect that they’ll go back to thinking about the near future again rather than projecting in the far reaches.

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