‘Henry. You can tell a lot from someone’s footwear,’ his mother had been fond of saying.
He stared at his feet, lost in thought about his parents’ prenatal decision to enhance him, the embryonic Henry, for a life of fully fledged privilege. A high-performing human.
His shoes were scuffed, dirty and fraying where the plastic upper was coming loose from the sole. His whole body sagged with despair. Although, looking along the neatly lined-up feet of the bus queue, his were no worse than anyone else’s; public transport and poverty must be symbiotic, each dependent on the other.
In contrast, a pair of hand-made soft leather shoes stood a few feet away in the gutter. Nice trousers too, but why the hi-vis jacket and protective gloves? Aha, a streetcleaner. An extremely rich streetcleaner if he was willing to work in such expensive shoes. They lived in an effortocracy and no matter what Henry did or said would change that.
What a fucked up world.
Despondent, Henry continued to wait passively in the queue which he suspected was almost entirely made up of the morning’s appointments at the same assessment centre that he was being forced to attend. This poor struggling batch of humanity would be cajoled into behaving properly, to fulfil their potential. Made to acknowledge that they’d let themselves and everyone else down. Continue reading
Yesterday was the launch event for Eating Robots and Other Stories at The Libary Club in central London and what a great evening it was. There’s nothing quite like hearing an audience laugh and gasp at the exact moment you want them to, and they did.
I was really pleased that Christine Aicardi and Laura Prime, both contributors to the expert responses at the back of the book, were able to come along to speak and take questions from the audience. I think there’s something special about collaborating and they epitomised this perfectly.
For me the pinnacle of the evening was Gigi Lynch performing the story US (photo above). It’s not easy to hold an audience for thirty minutes with one story, but she managed it effortlessly.
US was emotional to write and Gigi was brilliant at bringing out the deep sense of loss, loneliness and optimistic hope that I believe is an integral part of the story. In fact she was so good that I was moved to tears (by my own story!) and even people who already knew it came up afterwards to say how captivated they’d been.
You can find out more about the collection at stephenoram.net/eatingrobots
On 22 June 2017, Eating Robots and Other Stories is featured as a part of the Fitzrovia Festival literary event – Collaboration Works
Yesterday, I met up with Danbee Kim, a researcher at the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre for Neural Circuits and Behaviour and Scientist-in-Residence at the Brighton Sea Life Centre.
This was the second time we’d met, this time with her labmates, and wow, what a wonderful, welcoming and extremely bright, in both senses of the word, bunch of people.
I was invited to a ‘teach-in’ for the lab about machine learning and I had one of those afternoons where you think you’re just about keeping up until someone asks a question and another layer of complexity is exposed. I loved it.
Danbee and I are collaborating on a story based around her research and the work of the centre. After four hours in her company I know more than I ever thought I would about the difficulties of defining intelligence, cuttlefish and what puts the deep into machine learning.
I’m really hoping this is the start of a long collaboration because these guys are great, there’s loads more I’d like to understand and I reckon between us there’s a lot of near-future fiction waiting to be written.
Now, if you want to know a bit more about these things too you’ll have to come along to the Fitzrovia Festival event – Collaboration Works – where I’ll be reading the story and Danbee will be responding. You can then join in the Q&A and chat over a glass of wine at the end.
photo credit: q.phia cuttle, tanjung kusu-kusu, lembeh, indonesia, 2017 via photopin (license)