I invented the Wii

I invented the Wii.

Alright, that’s not entirely true. But I did come up with something surprisingly similar in Chivalry a year or two before the console was released. I also predicted the London riots. Arthur C. Clarke famously predicted the concept of geostationary orbit.

Yes, we live in interesting times. Technology is developing so quickly that it seems like some idle thought that might make a cute idea for a story is suddenly there on the high street a month or so later. It’s annoying: we missed the moment. What might have been visionary had we been published just a little earlier is now old hat.  No point getting wound up about it. It’s just the way of the world.

But this is an amazing age. It seems as if there never have been so many possible futures. The Cold War paranoia of the 1950s and 60s, that inspired so many seminal authors, has been replaced with a general uncertainty. Are we heading for Utopia or for dystopia? The fear of mutually assured destruction has diminished somewhat and has been replaced by so many questions. Now the villain’s not the Soviets but the planet itself.

All this is fantastic for authors. Never has there been so much inspiration all around. It makes for hard work, of course – all the probability paths, stretching out ahead of us: which do we chose? Which are dead ends? But it’s hard for a writer of speculative fiction to go on the internet or switch on the news and not see something to play with.

How will social media develop in the future? Will we need to leave our homes again? Will military drones and spy-planes become the robotic killers we all fear, or will they be remotely controlled by humans? Either way there are stories there. How will technology affect development, both individually and as a society?

Buggered if I know. But it’s good fun to speculate, even better to take one of these threads and run with it and create your own personal future. Which is, in essence, all that science-fiction is. The only rule is that you have to be consistent within the world you’ve built.

I reckon it’s pretty clear that, just like the classic 50s sci-fi, a lot of the societies created by modern authors will be proved to be ‘wrong’. Remember all the robots that we though would be strolling around today? The underground cities of Asimov? The post-nuclear wasteland that was all that was left of the old world? My favourite ‘error’ of those novels was the way that everyone, every single person, smoked cigarettes – even in worlds set some three hundred years in the future.

Of course, this doesn’t make 50s science-fiction any less memorable and enjoyable. Science-fiction (and, for once, I am including my preferred term ‘speculative fiction’ here) is perhaps the most philosophical of genres. The whole point is to create an imagined future, and that, almost by definition, involves a philosophical viewpoint. And that view almost always reflects to society in which it was written. Thus the McCarthyite terror of the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Of course, it’s much, much harder to see these themes at the time. We need hindsight to provide perspective, to filter out the ‘noise’ of other genres and of the many, many exceptions to the rule.

Perhaps the 10s (I assume that’s what we’ll call this decade; I’ve not actually heard anyone use it yet) will prove to be the era without a theme. Perhaps there are just so many possibilities that we end up with a spaghetti-plate of twisting ideas that defy classification. Perhaps the ‘theme’ will be a lack of unification, just a plethora of different thoughts without any sort of commonality. Or maybe we’ll see an age that responds to global austerity by producing a weight of dystopian hells. Or the opposite as we imagine a better world ahead.

As for me, it’s too early in my career to really self-analyse. If there is a common thread in my writing, then I guess it’s one of the ‘odd man out’; and that in itself is influenced by the culture of the 1950s. Not science fiction, but film noir. I’ve never really got on with the perfect protagonist. It’s the Everyman who fascinates me; the idea that it could be you. That anyone can affect the world if thrust into the right (or wrong) situation.

Maybe that’s a reflection of my own subconscious desire to be special, to be different. Am I just revealing my own insecurities through my writing? No idea. I wonder if all this musing, this self-reflective whimsy, is part of what makes me a writer. It’s all what if..? what if…? what if..?

And there’s no better starting point for a story.

I expect you’re wondering why I’ve called you here…

Hello all. Welcome to my blog.

Let’s be up-front about this. I’m writing this in order to promote myself. I don’t see any point lying.  The fact is that I’m an author, that I have ambitions to be published, and in this day and age, you need to be able to promote yourself.  Hence a blog – the fashionable weapon of choice.

It’s a horrible thing, really; I’m in a position where I have to talk myself up at every opportunity.  That sort of thing doesn’t come easy to me. I am, after all, British – home of reserve, modesty and concealing one’s true feelings. For example: I said above that I’m an author. But I’m not published – does one need to be published before you can call yourself an author? When people (rarely) ask what I do outside work I tell them that I write. Not that I’m a writer, but that I write. And it’s taken me many years to get to that point, to remove the apology from my voice and be confident about it. For there does seem to be some sort of stigma attached to any creative activity done without recompense: it’s still not the sort of thing that leads to drinks being showered upon you in the pub. Not in a good way, at least.

So. Yes. Newly confident writer.

This is all well and good, I hear you cry, but what do you write? And what can I expect to see in this blog? Will it be worth my time and the wear and tear on my mouse-finger?

I write genre-fiction. That’s the broadest answer I can give. More specifically, I write a mix of science-fiction, crime and adventure, emphasising human relationships in pressure situations. It’s also my eternal ambition to write a quality historical novel at some point, probably set in Saxon times.

Slightly less broadly I like the term ‘speculative fiction’ to describe my work. I only came across this concept a few months ago; roughly speaking, it means that the starting-point for the novel is a ‘what if?’ question.

So, for Chivalry (my third novel) the underlying idea was: what if a game could start a war?

For Night Shift (fourth, and the one I’m currently promoting): what is the next step for humanity in an overcrowded and resource-poor world?

Speculative fiction could be taken as simply a new term for science-fiction and fantasy, but I think those terms tend to be straitjackets, especially for new authors. I ran into this wall especially painfully when I was trying to market Chivalry. This is not science-fiction. I am determined on this – digging in and preparing to face enemy fire. But because part of the action is set in a computer-recreation of twelfth-century Syria (and also because it’s over 140,000 words long) it has immediately become labelled as such.  Nonsense, I cry! I don’t think any serious science-fiction publisher would be happy if I sent it to them. Although that hasn’t stopped me trying.

No, it’s speculative fiction all the way for me.

And what’s in it for you? Well, I hereby promise that I’ll do my very best to post an entry a week on this site. I’m hoping to give free samples of my writing – although I’ve no idea what, yet – along with musings on life, love, and the pursuit of liberty. Hopefully this will be typo-free and vaguely interesting. I’ll probably ramble on about life as a writer as well as more everyday concerns. I reckon you’ll get a pretty good idea of myself and my style as the weeks roll by.

Well, that’s probably enough for now: in these days of short attention-spans this is probably all I can get away with. Please, check back next week for another exciting instalment of This Blog.

Cheerio

Rob