Tag Archives: sci-fi

Prodding and poking the possible

Biohacked & Begging is the second volume in the Nudge the Future series. These are collections of (very) short stories that dig around in our possible futures.

Some of the stories come from collaborations with scientists and others have flown around inside my head all alone before making their way out and on to the page.

Most of the collaborations have come through a project with Dr. Christine Aicardi, who is a Senior Research Fellow from King’s College London. Among other things, her project is looking at: “How good can near-future fiction be at provoking ethical and social reflection on emerging science and technology?”

Christine explores this in the Foreword she wrote for the collection, starting with a quote from Isabelle Stengers: “S[cience] F[iction] writers might then be understood as researchers, the authors of particular thought experiments that explore the questions their epoch is able to think and feel with, whatever the blocked, aggressive, constipated divides of the academic small world […].”

As well as Christine’s foreword, I’m particularly pleased that Claire Steves and Danbee Kim, scientists I’ve collaborated with, have written responses to the stories for inclusion at the back of the book.

Claire is clinical academic Deputy Director of TwinsUK and Consultant Geriatrician at Guys and St Thomas’s Hospital and Danbee is from the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre for Neural Circuits and Behaviour and a neuroscientist on the verge of earning a PhD (and with a graphic novel as part of her thesis).  The three of us will be hosting an event at SWC on 3 June to talk about our collaborations and about open science.

I’m also pleased that Liviu Babitz, CEO & Co-Founder of Cyborg Nest (and a real-life biohacker), has written an expert response alongside Claire and Danbee.

The Nudge the Future series (Eating Robots and Biohacked & Begging) has a tagline: The future is ours and it’s up for grabs… a statement I believe is extremely important because it’s incredibly tempting to ignore how technology and science might affect the future. We either shrug and accept it or assume it’s all for our collective benefit. Deep down, I think most of us are suspicious of technology and particularly the humans who control it, but it’s so enticing we tend to turn a blind eye to the negatives or choose to believe there’s nothing we can do.

I’m not promoting an anti-tech or anti-science stance, far from it, but I am promoting pro-active engagement. We should have as much say as we can about the future that’s being created right now and my hope is that through my research and the stories that emerge from it, I’m shining a little light on those possible futures.

I came across a wonderful phrase the other day (posted by justshowerthoughts on Facebook): “When people talk about travelling in the past, they worry about radically changing the present by doing something small, but rarely anyone in the present really thinks that they can radically change the future by doing something small.”

I love this sentiment and its astute observation.

So – how would I describe the collection? Well, the best way is probably to use the three wonderful quotes from the cover:

“The more we surround ourselves with technology, the more uncanny our lives become.  Enter Stephen Oram: with Bradbury’s clear-sightedness and Pangborn’s wit, he pulls ways to live out from under modernity’s “cacophony of crap”.” Simon Ings, Arts Editor New Scientist

“Can humans remain “more than digital, more than flesh” with detachable limbs, multiple ears, implants that can be hacked and nanobots that can be ingested? These thoroughly enjoyable and contestable futures explore the personal and political implications of fleshy and messy encounters with contentious technology and the epidemic of algorithms.” Stelarc, Performance Artist.

“There’s a distinct flavour of literary Martianism to Biohacked & Begging. With the eye of a visitor from an alien planet, Oram sees what few other SF writers see – the perversity of our everyday relationships with new technologies – and thrusts that vision five minutes into the future.” Dan O’Hara, editor of Extreme Metaphors: Selected Interviews with J. G. Ballard, 1967–2008.

I hope that gives you a good sense of what to expect.

Finally, a big shout out to Kim Hutson who has produced wonderful art for some of the stories, one of which is at the top of this post. This is an illustration for the title story,  Biohacked & Begging. Without giving too much away -imagine what it would be like in a world of telepathic connectedness where your skin turns grey and cracks as a display of your loneliness. The story is set in the world of Unified Sentience, which if you’ve read Eating Robots you’ll recognise from the story US. There are more illustrations, but you’ll have to wait to see them. And you never know, they may become postcards…

Finally, finally. I’ll keep my events page up to date with where you can find me reading and signing copies. Do say hello if you make it to any of them.

Here are the ones I know about so far:

  • 9 April: Virtual Futures Boundless Bodies event reading Placodermi Protection (Miranda Bar, Shoreditch)
  • 14 April: WH Smith Westfield, White City, London (1pm to 5pm)
  • 20 April: launch at BSFA Eastercon conference, Heathrow, London
  • 27 April: WH Smith Westfield, Stratford, London (2pm to 4pm)
  • 13 May: Virtual Futures Lasting Labours event reading Blockchain Blues (Miranda Bar, Shoreditch)
  • 3 June: Sainsbury Wellcome Centre on collaboration and open science, SWC, Fitzrovia, London

Biohacked & Begging is published on 12 April, but you can pre-order from Amazon now.

Press release available here and on request.

Art: Biohacked & Begging by Kim Hutson @batfacedgirlart

Bodies, breeding, robots & work

Another Loving, Autonomous Agents, Boundless Bodies and Lasting Labour. What a wonderful mix of potential futures are wrapped up in the 2019 Virtual Futures’ Near-Future Fiction series and I’m very excited that, in the same way as the 2018 series, I’ll be co-curating the events with other authors. 

We’re not searching for stories set on fanciful alien worlds,  post-apocalyptic landscapes in which steam-punk bandits with laser guns are fighting mutated zombies, or that feature technology so hypothetical it is almost unimaginable. Our aim is to promote stories that think critically about the sorts of technological developments that are just over horizon, and provide a unique perspective on contemporary concerns related to the perceived trajectory of scientific innovation. 

Those of you who have heard me answer the often asked question, “do you write dystopia or utopia,” will know I don’t believe in such a simple view of the world. You’ll have heard me respond with the shorthand statement that one person’s utopia is often another’s dystopia. As our call for stories says, “science fiction is often the victim of this binary between utopia and dystopia – fiction in which all of our problems are fixed or created by a specific technology or technologies. In reality, our relationship with our technology never follows these simple categories – it is frequently a messier affair. Stories that seek to criticize, predict, or complicate realistically will be more successful than those intended to shock with apocalyptic visions or please with plastic paradises.”

Whether you’re an established or emerging author we’re keen to receive your stories; the deadline for submissions is 2 December 2018 and you can download the full guidelines from the Virtual Futures’ website.

If you’re interested in attending the events to hear the inevitable variety of futures our chosen authors create, then you can read more about the themes and book your place via eventbrite; the last series sold out so get in early and book your place now.

I’m really looking forward to reading all the submissions, writing a story for each theme and reading them to a live Virtual Futures audience.

And don’t forget, the future is ours and it’s up for grabs…

photo credit: Frits Ahlefeldt – FritsAhlefeldt.com global-trends-population-growth-culture-illustration-no-txt-by-frits-ahlefeldt via photopin (license)

Cautionary Tools

I was struck recently by a piece in Nature: the international journal of science on what science fiction has to offer a world where technology and power structures are rapidly changing.

As the headline says, “With technological change cranked up to warp speed and day-to-day life smacking of dystopia, where does science fiction go? Has mainstream fiction taken up the baton?”

It’s a fairly widely held view that sci-fi doesn’t predict the future very well, but it’s good at helping us think about on our own humanity in a changing world and some of the articles reflect on this.

We might be rubbish at predicting the future because technology doesn’t develop in a straight line, but many of the scientists I’ve spoken to will tell you about the sci-fi that inspired them. Although, I guess that’s influencing rather than predicting.

Something that I didn’t pick up in the articles that I think is important is whether we would be so sensitive to real-life ‘dystopia’ if we hadn’t had hugely popular sci-fi such as Nineteen Eighty Four, Brave New World, Blade Runner and more recently Black Mirror.

Have these works of science fiction made us more attuned to the attempts to manipulate us, or more wary of how technology might go wrong once you mix the messiness of humanity with the cracks in the code?

I think they have, I think they give us cautionary tools.

Whatever your view on science fiction these six articles by leading sci-fi writers are well worth a read.

photo credit: creative heroes The Supervision – Stop Mass Surveillance! via photopin (license)