I know everyone does a bit of a ‘review of the past year’ on their website, but that’s not going to stop me. ‘Cos I find it a good way of looking back and remembering, and more importantly, of taking a step back to think about whether things are going in the direction intended.
So here goes…
I began the ‘Creative Futures’ project with Coventry University and the Defence Science and Technology Lab. This was an ‘applied science fiction’ project and was particularly interesting in terms of the approach taken by the project lead, Allen Stroud. With sci-fi writers and staff from DSTL, he ran 6 workshops looking at the next 50 to 100 years from different perspectives e.g. governance & law, finance & economy. I believe the project report and associated stories will be available later this year.
We went public on the Cybersalon Press project to publish a follow up to 22 Ideas About the Future. Having decided to focus on the 5 themes of: Police & Justice; Power & Energy; Finance & Digital Money; Health & Longevity; and Learning & Education, we began our search for subject experts and then opened up our calls for authors. More about this later.
As part of the Utopia Now! project at King’s College London, I ran a creative writing workshop for young people at the Science Gallery in London: “In the future, will robots run schools? And will food be grown in labs? Come along to develop your creative writing and story ideas with published Science Fiction writer Stephen Oram and researchers at King’s College London working at the forefront of scientific research. This workshop is for people aged 15 – 25 years old.”
It was a great day and, as ever in these workshops with young people, I’m heartened by their balance of optimism and scepticism about technology, science and the future.
Having taken a bit of a break from the two novels I have ‘on the go’, I turned my attention back to them in earnest. We Are Not Anonymous is complete and looking for a home – I’m hoping to have some news about this soon. The other is in the first draft stage with around 40% written, so still quite a way to go yet.
This was the month of Eastercon, the British national science fiction convention. It was great to meet people, old and new, listen to talks and to take part in the programme. I gave a talk titled: “Exploring future(s) with the public using SF.” I was on 2 panels: “Living Dystopia: is the Real World Worse?” and “The Past & Future of Vector magazine” and chaired 2 others: “Anarchy or bust!” and “SF, ethics and science”. I also got to read a story from the, at that point unpublished, short story collection Extracting Humanity and Other Stories. It was a very busy convention!
Retruthing the Tale, a story which I’d been trying to place for a while was published. I think its overtly anti-class message was probably limiting its appeal to mainstream publishers. So, I was pleased when the World of Myth magazine selected it.
The big news in this month was the publication of the “Futures” issue of the British Science Fiction Association’s critical journal Vector. As guest editor I’d been working on this for some time, so to see such a wonderful publication come to fruition was great. You can read my editorial piece here.
Much of the month was spent finalising Extracting Humanity with its fantastic publisher, Orchid’s Lantern.
While in the depths of proof reading and so on, it’s always good to have something else published to give you a break from the intensity of that process. And sure enough, another piece of flash fiction – Nanodust Nigel – was published by Sein und Werden. This is an online magazine that seeks to “merge and modernise the ideas behind Expressionism, Surrealism and Existentialism.”
This was a big month. My latest collection of short stories, Extracting Humanity & Other Stories, was published. Pulling on the best of my short-story writing for the past 4 years, it received some great accolades from sci-fi writers Ken MacLeod and Chris Beckett, as well as from Dr Kate Devlin. You can find out more about it here.
In the same month, actually only a few days before, Long Live the Strawberries of Finsbury Park, was published in “The Best of British Science Fiction 2022” – a very pleasing endorsement.
A month of launches. A physical in-person launch of Extracting Humanity in London, from which Allen Ashley wrote a review for the BSFA. And, a rather interesting launch in Spatial (VR) as part of the PBH Free Digital Fringe at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Still some way to go with the technology, but a great experience. Thank goodness someone tipped me off that trying to read from your book with a headset on isn’t possible (they’d only realised this at the point that they had been about to read at a VR event some weeks earlier).
Out and about with Extracting Humanity, I read Haptic Father at Talking Tales in Bristol. September is always a bit of quiet month for me because it’s when I go to my favourite festival of the year – that’s a ‘music’ festival rather than a literary one.
A busier month. Having been asked to join a working group for the newly formed National Cyber-physical Infrastructure Ecosystem, I was the after-dinner guest at the Digital Twin Hub, talking about Applied Fiction and reading a short story. It was an interesting evening where I met some of the leading experts in digital twins and the use of data to understand and alter the physical infrastructure on which the UK runs. I’m anticipating more to come from this collaboration in the year ahead.
I was due to be on the ‘How to make AI more socialist’ panel at Bristolcon, but on my way back from York I got stranded in Leeds because of the floods and didn’t make it. I was really disappointed about this because I had put a lot of thought into it and was ready to ‘make my points’. Oh well, hopefully I’ll get a chance to ‘appear’ this year.
We had a workshop with young people for the digital psychiatry project with King’s College London, which is now in its second year. This is a research project looking into whether an AI can be trained to analyse a mother talking about their child to predict the future mental health of that child. A Mother’s Nightmare and Standard Deviations, the 2 stories from the project, are featured in Extracting Humanity.
More of a hangover from my previous role in the civil service, I led a webinar for the Royal Society for the Arts, Commerce and Manufacturing (RSA) on the possibility of including in their manifesto, the proposal to classify the country’s skills as a national asset.
Back to speaking at conventions, I gave a talk at Novacon on, “Applied Science Fiction: the what, why and how.” In it I focused on two projects, the digital psychiatry with KCL and the Cybersalon book we began in January.
I also began a project called Flüsterfutures with the Anhalt University of Applied Sciences, as part of a wider ‘future of homes’ project with University of Leipzig. The premise was to think about the design of future homes, and then whisper that on to the next phase of the project. So, I attended three workshops with different participants as they described the thinking behind the artefacts they had created as a result of reading short fiction from other creatives. My job… to write a story inspired by each of the workshops. I hope they’ll be published this year alongside all the other whispered inspirations from the project.
To wrap up the year, I took my traditional week away on my own in some remote part of the UK to write, this time the emerging novel. My only criteria for where I go are that it has to be near the sea and cheap – I’ve ended up in some out-of-the-way and cold places.
The big news for December is that the draft manuscript of the Cybersalon book that I’m co-editing with Benjamin Greenaway was completed. And, even more exciting is that it has a title… All Tomorrow’s Futures: Fictions That Disrupt. More details on this very soon.
I also had an article in the BSFA’s Focus magazine – Embracing the Chaotic.
And, In the Lap of the Synth was published by Routledge in Mapping the Post-Human, which is a mix of academic articles and fiction.
So what’s coming up?
This is the first full year of being a full-time writer and it’s been a blast. In the background to all of the above, lots of other things have either been accepted for publication in 2024 or are in the process. There are projects agreed and being agreed. And hopefully, We Are Not Anonymous will be published and the other ‘emerging’ novel will be completed.
Confirmed are: Extracting Humanity goes on a blog tour in January; a story for 11 year-olds is being published in February by 2Simple on their Serial Mash platform and I’ve been commissioned to write another. The Cybersalon book, All Tomorrow’s Futures, will be published in March and we will be launching it at Eastercon. And, I will be appearing on the Robot Talk podcast.
I also anticipate that a story I was commissioned to write to commemorate the 40 year anniversary of Terminator will be published.
If you want to be kept informed then you can sign up to my newsletter, which is infrequent and irregular. I also keep the events page as up to date as I can and any recordings of talks, interviews, readings and so on, I add to my Youtube playlist.
Finally… I wish you all the best for 2024, whatever that might look like…