Ken MacLeod's comments.
The title comes from two quotes:
“Work as if you lived in the early days of a better nation.”—Alasdair Gray.
“If these are the early days of a better nation, there must be hope, and a hope of peace is as good as any, and far better than a hollow hoarding greed or the dry lies of an aweless god.”—Graydon Saunders
Iain Banks died last Sunday. I have lost my oldest friend. I was asked to speak about him for radio and TV, and I have. I was asked to write about his SF, and I did. I've tried to write something more personal, and I've failed.
Here are a few lines I wrote some years ago, for an introduction to a German edition of Consider Phlebas. It outlines an outlook implied in the Culture books.
To live a human life is to die. Immortality is for gods. Humans can become gods, but to do so is to cease to be human, and that too is a kind of death. In accepting mortality the humans have the chance, their only chance, to make their lives complete, sufficient, shaped; and to get out of the game while they're ahead.
This is what gives the book, with all its violence, its fundamental gaiety. Life may be a game of damage, but it is a game to be played with grace, every day new under the sun.
I have two public events coming up, this month and next.
First, there's the Futura Sci-Fi Convention, a one-day event on Saturday 15 June in Wolverhampton's innovative arts centre the Light House. My fellow guests of honour are Adam Roberts and Ian R. MacLeod, so I feel honoured indeed, and I'm very much looking forward to it. The day and evening event has all the usual features of an SF convention: panels, GoH readings, kaffeeklatches, signing sessions, book stalls, a real ale bar etc, without the hassle of hotels and all for a modest £25 (or £100 for a group of five).
Details and bookings here.
My second upcoming public event is in July. Napier MA Creative Writing student Anni Telford has made canny use of her contacts to set up a series of workshops for writers featuring three-quarters of the Napier MA Creative Writing course team. Stuart Kelly talks about writing creative non-fiction next Friday (7 June). I'll be talking about writing SF and fantasy on Friday 5 July. David Bishop will teach the dark arts of writing graphic novels on Tuesday 23 July.
Full details and bookings here and the same with a downloadable flyer from the group putting on the workshops, the Booktown Writers.
Yesterday I completed a first draft of my new novel, provisonally titled Descent. The feel and tone of Descent is about as unskiffy as I could make it. My pitch to myself for Intrusion was 'genomics Aga Saga'. The equivalent marching song for Descent was 'near-future bloke-lit'.
Bloke-lit's the kind of book Nick Hornby and Tony Parsons do so well: a first-person, confessional tale of an ordinary guy who behaves with typical male insensitivity and self-absorption until at least one exasperated woman-in-his-life knocks him about the head with some home truths. In Descent the narrator's excuse for being such a dick is that in his teens he got knocked on the head by a flying saucer. Also, he suspects the revolution may have happened while he was studying for his final high school exams. When his girlfriend tells him he and she may be from different human species, relationships become strained. We've all been there.
There's no doubt more to be done with it but the feeling of a weight off my shoulders is dizzying. I intend to make very sure my next novel is outlined in far more detail before I start writing -- but then, I always say that.
So, on to stuff I've been neglecting for the past few weeks:
Third, my novella The Human Front is now out in a new US edition from PM Press, with supplementary material, and very good it looks too. If you want a signed (and personalised, if you like) copy of this nifty paperback, you can order/reserve one at Edinburgh's great SF bookshop Transreal. An ebook version is available here.
We all have stem cells in us -- but do you have a stem cell story in you?
A non-fiction story, that is; or a poem; or four to six pages of graphic non-fiction? If so, and if you're not a professionally published writer, this exciting competion sponsored by EuroStemCell could be your big chance.
We're looking for imaginative science writing, fresh and original, accurate and relevant, on the theme of stem cells and regenerative medicine, and accessible to a non-specialist audience.
Fame (your work published worldwide online) and fortune (300 euros first prize, 50 euros each for two runners-up) await. That's got to be worth a few hours of anybody's time. So take a look, read the criteria and the terms and conditions carefully, and give it a go.
As the world now knows, Iain Banks has cancer and the prognosis is not good. Yesterday he made the grim news public with characteristic courage and wit, having done the same privately some weeks ago. He and I have been very close friends for about forty years. Nobody could have a better friend.
Iain has given me enormous support and encouragement over these four decades. He read and critiqued early drafts of my first novel, and gave it a great boost with a generous cover quote. In recent years we've taken to talking over rather than reading each other's works in progress. For me at least that has been an irreplaceable part of the process of writing. Reading his books is a delight in itself, and a permanent inspiration to try harder. His work has had the same effect on SF as a whole: an open invitation to raise the game and an example of how to do it.
Iain, it has suddenly and terribly become clear, is one of those authors who is not only popular but loved, and whose work has become a part of how many of his readers think and feel about the world. The outpouring of tributes has been almost unbearably moving.
A website has been set up for family and fans to leave messages and check on his progress. Go there, now.