12/15/2002

I decided to put the first seven thousand words or so of angel stations up on the net, just on the vanishingly small chance somebody might be interested. It's very strange, writing all this without knowing if a single person is paying any attention whatsoever. In a sense that doesn't matter, because as I explained to somebody in the pub the other night, even if you can't see or don't know if you have an audience, feeling like you're talking out your ideas to somebody or something can make all the difference. It forces you to more clearly define what's going through your head as if you were having a normal conversation with somebody - somebody very patient who doesn't keep interrupting, mind. You can picture a nodding head, ready to pick up on any of the indiscrepancies of what you're describing.

Anyway, here's the link to that excerpt.

The idea for the other, unwritten book came to me while I was reading a book called Oath of Fealty, by the science fiction writers Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven. They're both pretty right-wing writers, and, being Scottish, I'm typically more left-wing minded by far. I can't think of a specific personal political allegiance, though at the moment if I think good politics, I maybe think Michael Moore (I just read Stupid White Men). Oath is about an architect who builds a vast arcology - a self sufficient, enclosed city contained within a single massive building - called Todos Santos, on the edge of a near-future Los Angeles. It's a very clear description of the ultimate gated community built literally like an enormous castle, with the primarily Mexican and black poor people left wallowing in the shit outside the building. The architect in Oath sees this all as a kind of trial run for building a space colony, an O'Neill cylinder in orbit around Earth or possibly somewhere else.

I thought it would be nice to write a more left-wing reply to this typically American, capitalism-will-win-over-all scenario. Perhaps, I thought, the poor people would have something to say about all of this.

Say an architect has gone ahead and built - or is in the process of building - just such a community, but in space. Not the most original of ideas - story about building a colony - but I think the approach is a little less typical. I think at heart what I'm aiming for is a story about utopian ideals - ie, let's do this and this, and we can create the perfect society.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. Such ideals never take into account the complicated vagaries and frequently irrational ideas that make humans, human. It's the things that are wrong with us that define us just as much as the things that are right with us; it's the very mixture of nobility and savagery that makes us human, and certainly, from a storytelling perspective, interesting. In other words, if you have a not untypical situation of somebody trying to build the perfect future science-fictional society, what is it about the people who actually have to live there, that's going to make it all go horribly wrong?


Here's another inspiration, that I've had in mind. In Songs of Distant Earth, Arthur C. Clarke posits a distant colony around another star, a society in which the old Earth religions have been deliberately and carefully flensed away - the Bible, the Talmud, Quoran, the works, on the basis that since these different religions tend to promote strife, it might be best not to load a new human civilisation with these things.

Anybody see what's wrong with this picture?

I should say right not that I'm a worried atheist. Meanign, I believe in the bright shining light of rationality above all else, but at the same time, acknowledge that it would be a bit of a shame if this was really all there was to it. Which does make me rather hope the human genome project might lead to something resembling actual immortality ... I don't know about you, but I fancy being around in another billion years or so, as long as I can keep life interesting ...

It's my firm belief (god knows, the evidence is there) that if you try and create a society free of those things which generate strife, then people, being people, will just go and invent brand new ways of not getting on with each other. As far as I can tell, religions usually come about because somebody either has a stroke and hears voices or has a nervous breakdown and hears voices, and then for some reason I don't quite get (perhaps because they feel unfulfilled in their lives in some way I don't begin to comprehend), lots of people decide to take them at their word and run about killing anybody who doesn't agree with them. Meaning, in my long-winded way, that if you could create a society like the one found in Songs of Distant Earth, they'd be generating prophets, seers and madmen just as often as any nation back on Earth. You can put people in a perfect society, but you can't make the people perfect.

At first, I was playing with ideas of how the story might go. Something about an architect building an orbital colony after some global war in order to provide a way in which the human race might continue if things got any worse. Then a deeper theme occurred to me. Posthumanism is the idea that given appropriate technology, people might change in such ways that they might no longer be what we understand as human. So there's a possible theme there; on one hand, some people want to create a society where they can escape the madness of Earth, but unfortunately, since they're human too, then by definition they take the madness with them. And on the other hand, representing a separate point of view, are posthumans, who by virtue of effectively ceasing to be human, may escape the drives and desires that bring about most of our failings. In other words, they represent an argument which goes like this; the only way humanity can improve itself in the ways it has dreamed of in utopian ideals, is by giving up those very things which make us human (as we understand the term) in the first place.

Anyway, I had some bits and pieces written, several thousand words, maybe, of initial plot idea, opening chapters etc. I still like them, but I'm thinking now that they were not going in the direction I wanted to go. So perhaps I should pull back and think again, about exactly what I want my story to be. It occurred to me what I was doing was at the very least thematically similar to what Bruce Sterling did in Schismatrix ( a fantastic book) with his Shapers and Mechs, but I'm just a lowly unpublished novelist ... So perhaps I should stop writing in this blog now that I've got myself up to writing speed and do what I'm supposed to be doing, which is looking into definitions of posthumanity, so I know what I'm talking about. And I really have to get that Fukuyama book on Posthumanism out of library ...
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