Archive | May, 2012

Arc 1.2: Craig Connor at North News illustrates PD Smith’s hymn to the urban life

31 May

“New technologies are turning the city into a playground”

PD Smith

Nick Harkaway’s trifurcated man, captured by Darren Hopes for Arc 1.2

30 May

Darren Hopes came up with this great image to illustrate Attenuation, a new story by Nick Harkaway, out now.

Arc 1.2 is out: here’s Lydia Wong’s stunning artwork for Jeff VanderMeer

29 May

Lydia Wong gets to grips with dead things for Komodo, in Arc 1.2, out now.

Arc 1.2: Post human conditions

28 May

Arc 1.2: Post human conditions goes on sale today. Visit for your copy, formatted for tablets, e-readers, phones and computer screens, and in a collectible print edition.

Arc’s unique mix of fact, opinion and fiction explores the possibilities for a species that can’t seem to stop tinkering with itself. P D Smith explores the city as pleasure palace, convinced that while there are many serious and sober reasons why humanity has become a predominantly urban species,  it’s the silly reasons that matter. Holly Gramazio and Kyle Munkittrick each explore the friction points between civics and play, while science fiction writer Gord Sellar wonders why the South Koreans – arguably the most forward-looking nation on earth – show no interest whatsoever in futurology. Do they know something the rest of us don’t

Taking a longer view, Anne Galloway & Sumit Paul-Choudhury wonder whether we’ll ever be able to talk to the animals; Regina Peldszus suggests ways of surviving the tedium of deep space; and Sonja Vesterholt & Simon Ings trace Prometheus’s horrific aliens back to the utopian designs of long-forgotten Soviet filmmaker Pavel Klushantsev.

Our stories this issue look for what, if anything, is a lasting characteristic of our strange species. Paul McAuley’s The Man is apparently less than human, but embodies qualities his human companions seem to have forgotten. Our Arc/Tomorrow Project competition winner, T.D. Edge, creates a polysentient world defined entirely by relationships: here humanity is as humanity does. Jeff VanderMeer stretches human limits far beyond the ordinary and goes in search of what’s left of a once ordinary woman’s identity. And Nick Harkaway’s mordant comedy Attenuation skewers our love of novelty and transformation.

The issue opens with a foreword by Frederik Pohl, the last man standing from science fiction’s Golden Age. He writes:

“My life in the future began in the real-world time of probably 1931. I was about eleven years old, and some visitors to our house left a magazine behind as they departed. It wasn’t like any magazine I had ever seen before, neither the *Better Homes and Gardens* my mother read nor my father’s Western pulps. Its cover displayed a beast like a giant gorilla, except that its fur was coloured bright green. What it was doing was tearing apart all the structures in some city that looked much like the one we lived in… When I have time on my hands (which isn’t often) I’m likely to be caught re-reading the predictions in some of those very stories of the 1930s that first turned me into a fan.

“After all, SF writers have been pouring out stories for well over a century now. The good predictions we can labour to encourage; the bad ones, to prevent.”

This is as good a definition as we’ve heard of what Arc is for. Buy Arc 1.2 and see how we’re getting on.

Arc and The Tomorrow Project: competition results

25 May

Today we are delighted to announce the results of the first Arc/Tomorrow Project short story competition.

While we are a quarterly we have virtually no room in Arc for writing that comes at us from odd angles. The competition is the one chance we have at the moment of developing new talent.

So how did it go? Pretty impressive, I’d say: we recieved around a hundred proper stories (none of your “flash fiction” here), representing thousands of hours of effort and struggle (and, I hope, at least some fleeting pleasure).

Was choosing the shortlist difficult? No. The first rule of judging and reading fiction (and saying this puts the fear of God into new writers – but it’s true) is that you can tell within seconds if a story is alive. It’s something to do with the way the prose and the ideas lock together. It’s a rhythm, a cadence, something you only pick up by constant practice – and it’s unmistakable.

If the competition hadn’t gone well, we’d have been wading through passable stories for days. As it is, our shortlist is made up entirely of stories that sing.

And while we were reading, half a world away in San Francisco, the Tomorrow Project was building our new website. Here it is:

Together, Arc and the Tomorrow Project will be generating conversations around our winning fiction, giving writers an exciting, inspirational  platform and valuable feedback on their work.

All Arc’s shortlisted stories are here.  Visit

The hero of Adrian Ellis’s 18% Happier learns more about himself, his girlfriend, and his disgust with technology than he bargained for.

In A Private Party by Peter Dennis, lingering online profiles of the dearly departed manifest themselves as artificially intelligent personas, and Nikol faces his worst nightmare: a rogue Sponge.

Before They Were Killed by Tom Chatfield imagines a world fought over by two races, the dogmatic Faction and the rationalist Guardians – a world whose future is determined entirely by its past.

In Dying for the Record, A.J. Ponder’s love-struck hero, Piri, sets out to accomplish the impossible: killing himself.

And in Inherent Vice by Dave Darby, cinema and spirituality have combined into strange new forms.

Also on the site you’ll find our first winner.

T.D. Edge has had his short fiction has appeared in various publications, including Aeon, Realms of Fantasy, Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Flash Fiction Online. Writing as Terry Edge, he has also published several YA/children’s books. He has been a street theatre performer, props maker for the Welsh National Opera, sign writer, school caretaker, soft toys salesman and professional palm-reader.

His winning story, Big Dave’s In Love, is published in Arc 1.2 next Monday, with artwork by the celebrated artist, musician, designer and illustrator Dave McKean.

Big Dave’s In Love is a profound and very funny homage to Carlo Collodi’s wooden child Pinocchio, set in a hyper-animated, hyper-aware world.

It is a story about how intelligence emerges out of emotion. It is about pleasure, and trust. It is also, by some margin, one of more perfectly structured stories we’ve read this year.

Here’s a taste:

I skip down the street like I got sherbet up me backside. I sweep me arms wide and sing to the pigeons and the cats and the bespectacled mice what study form under the bookie’s shop floor.

“What’s up, Jack?” says one of the cats.

I should hold back the news, at least until I make it to the public bar of The Airpod and Nanomule. Then again, everyone in Gaffville deserves to hear the glad tidings.

“Big Dave’s in love!” I shout, so loud I even gain the attention of the rebellious rooks on the multi-coloured cogni-nylon thatched roofs. Other less cynical birds whoop and coo and shake their feathers in sheer joy. And I do a leap to click my boot heels together because this is what we’ve all needed to save us, ain’t it the truth.

Gaffville’s pavements change colour from doomy brown to cheerful gold as I pass, sensing my mood of altruistic delight. In the transpods, high above the roof-tops, formerly morose citizens wave splendidly down at Jack who is no doubt grinning like a dog with jam-covered balls.

For I am Big Dave’s batman, and if I’m hopping down the street wearing a grin as wide as the boss’s waistline, then perhaps they won’t be doomed to melt away, into the general bio-electro-mechanical sludge that washes across all but a few patches of life on this poor, tired planet of ours.

Because everyone knows, of course, that unless the big man finds a new reason to live, it will be only our dwindling love for him what keeps us shielded from the gunk.

With the news not having reached the bar yet, all is still gloomyful in The Mule, and I decide to play it normal to start.

“All right?” I say, shoulders drooped and feet a drag. Around a dozen blokes are sagging on their stools at the retro-1940s bar, all brass pumps and sceptical-looking landlord.

A few grunt by way of greeting; I slump against the counter and say, “The usual, Ted, and make sure it’s warm.”

I observe the etiquette, which is to let out a big sigh, followed by, “Bit nippy for the time of year, ain’t it?” The others observe the return etiquette, which is to nod sagely and take another sip of their briny brews.

But I can’t contain myself no longer. I gulp half my recycled pint in one slurp, bang down the glass and shout, “The drinks are on me, everybody!”
I pull out a wad of Bank of Dave notes, currency only in Gaffville, and tell Ted to stick it behind the bar.

“Must be a week’s wages here, Jack,” he says, eyes smiling for once.

Now I’ve got their attention, I take a deep breath and yell, “Big Dave’s in love!”

Needless to say, the course of true love doesn’t run quite as smooth as Jack hopes – find out what happens next in Arc 1.2, out Monday 28 May for screens, e-readers, tablets and phones and in a collectible print edition. Visit for details and, if you haven’t already, to pick up Arc 1.1, “The Future Always Wins”.

Galloway and Paul-Choudhury talk to the animals

25 May

Forged sometime in 2005 in the memetic crucible of 4chan, the combination of an amusing cat picture and an Impact-fonted one-liner took the web by storm. Cat pictures on the internet were, of course, nothing new. Ailurophiles had long uploaded photographs of their beloved moggies with fond, wry and occasionally despairing captions. But the LOLcat format provided a schema for representing an animal’s inner life. And as networking technology has developed further, that schema has expanded to encompass newer forms of media, and ever more sophisticated representation of cats – and other animals.

Anne Galloway stopped by Arc on her way through London – a happy accident for us, as Anne Galloway is a Canadian ex-pat living in New Zealand. We knew of her as the woman who attached a good number of New Zealand’s sheep to the internet, turning that country’s shepherds into mouse-clicking desk jockeys.

Trained in sociology and anthropology, Anne now teaches courses in design and culture at Victoria University of Wellington. Her research investigates relations amongst people, places, animals and technologies. Basically, this means she spends as much time as she can hanging out with merino sheep and imagining possible futures for their production and consumption.

Conversations between her and New Scientist’s editor Sumit Paul-Choudhury (also the eminence grise behind Arc) gave rise to Nobody Knows You’re a Dog, a lead feature in Arc 1.2, out next Monday for screens, e-readers, phones, tablets, and in a collectible print edition.

“There aren’t many real, unmediated cats on the internet,” they say. “But we can change that. Stick a tiny camera to your cat’s collar and you can get regular snapshots of its predatory or amorous adventures: a lifelog for your cat. Add a few other sensors, and your moggy can join the quantified self movement; and if you watch in widescreen HD – or a pair of AR spex – it will be almost as though you were there.

“But again, there are questions to be asked about the value of this sense of connection. Epizoic media might give us some hints about what it feels like to be cat, or a tiger, making its daily rounds, but these are inevitably filtered by our own human perceptions and preconceptions…”

Visit and buy Arc 1.2 for more.

Arc 1.2 explores the High Frontier

23 May

Simon Ings writes:

Half a century ago, adventures in outer space captured the dreams of a generation. Some of those dreams have faded. Others have turned into nightmares. In Arc 1.2, out next Monday, a handful of us set out to find where the outward urge has got us. 

Let’s not forget that the space race is a success story. The dreams of amateur rocketeers met physical and political reality, rubbed up against it, reshaped themselves to accommodate it. The journey is taking longer than expected, but what unprecedented journey doesn’t? Even now there are serious plans afoot to colonise the moon, and mine the asteroid belt. Setting aside the technical challenges, the biggest brake on our conquest of space is that it is dark. It is empty.  Worst of all, it is boring. They don’t call deep space a yawning gulf for nothing.

Confronted with spending years at a time in a tin can, tomorrow’s pioneers are going to have to get really good at fashioning their own entertainment – a problem that keeps Regina Peldszus usefully busy as she consults on the design of future missions in deep space. A member of the AIAA’s Space Architectural Technical Committee, Regina lives and works in London and Berlin.

“Last summer,” she recalls in her feature for Arc 1.2, “some colleagues and I visited Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan ­- a trip masterminded by the Architectural Association’s Unknown Fields Division. Having persevered through a detailed guided tour of its human spaceflight museum, we were rewarded with a peek inside a cosmonaut’s typical bail-out pack. It included a close-up photograph of a firearm: part of the standard survival gear of a Soyuz spacecraft. (An emergency earthfall could conceivably land a crew in a wilderness frequented by bears or wolves.)

“It’s the first thing guests ask about: to date there are no records of a gun having been unpacked in flight. But what happens when a crew’s fragile equilibrium of exuberance and disillusion tips into recklessness?

“Potential future missions include prospecting, satellite repair, and cleaning up space debris. Each mission profile throws up new demands: dilemmas that have already been deliciously exploited in fiction. In Eolomea, a 1972 East-German/Soviet/Bulgarian co-production, a recalcitrant space pilot frolics along a sun-bleached strip of Black Sea shore as he considers quitting the service. His exhilaration is damped when, on his ‘last’ mission, he finds himself stranded on a remote asteroid base. He leaves his geodesic pressurised hut for unscheduled sorties, succumbs to binge-drinking and builds a tiny Do-It-Yourself Christmas tree made from instrument scraps (much like the ‘real’ thing the Skylab 4 crew built out of discarded food cans a year later). A Leipzig newspaper critic called our hero a ‘contemporary of tomorrow’.”

Danish filmmaker Sonja Vesterholt knows something about this kind of science-fictional isolation. Indeed, she’s lived through it. “I grew up in Leningrad with an infinite love of science fiction,” she says. “But then, I lived in the Soviet Union, which was itself pure science fiction. Communism was an idea: a premise. And for seventy years people made enormous efforts to turn that premise into a reality. The premise of communism was the existence of a better life. It could be done. The dream could come true. We all had these dreams.”

Vesterholt remembers in particular The Road to the Stars (“Doroga k Zvezdam”, 1957) – a meticulous, scientifically accurate vision of the physics, engineering, ergonomics and potential of space travel. Because the film’s release coincided with the launch of Sputnik, it was a celebrated, widely distributed piece of work.

Forty-one years later, in 1998, Sonja got a call from a friend: did she want to meet the director? Pavel Vladimirovich Klushantsev was an old man by then, his films and visions of a peaceful colonisation of the High Frontier long forgotten. Or not quite: half a world away, a small group of Hollywood effects designers were sharing memories of the man and his work – work some knew only from Corman-financed B-movie recuts with titles like Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women.

For Arc 1.2, I had the tremendous good fortune to talk to Sonja about Klushantsev, who was the subject of her documentary The Star Dreamer. Klushantsev’s films conjured up a world of peace, plenty and hope and in doing so, inspired the most terrifying movies Hollywood ever made. Films like The Terminator, and Aliens. Sonja thinks this shift, from dreams to nightmares, is no accident: merely a part of our growing up.

“We already know that technical/scientific possibilities are limitless,” she says. “ It may be that in 50 years we are able to have a small, cheap flat on Mars, eat synthetic carrots and be very unhappy people.  My hope is, that in 50 years we will discover the gene responsible for our cruelty to each other. Perhaps we will discover, in 50 years, that the greatest human talent is the capability of feeling another man’s pain”

Since the darkness, scale and solitude of space are, after all, an invitation to nightmares, I found myself making connections between Sonja’s stories and Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s forthcoming blockbuster, a lovingly horrific reworking of the 2001 myth.  In this film, the outward urge still thrums with a horrible sort of life, and the Weyland Corporation still appeals to investors by claiming that it is “building better worlds”. The journey’s not ended. But it has got darker.

Could things have turned out otherwise?

Arc 1.2 is out next Monday for e-readers, tablets, phones and computer screens, and in a collectible print edition. Visit for details

Life at its limits: Paul McAuley dreams up a difficult future for Arc 1.2

22 May

What makes a man?

Paul McAuley’s new story for Arc 1.2 – stark, unsettling, and ultimately moving – proposes a radical answer.

The Man is illustrated by Alex Andreev, an artist living in St Petersburg. For more of his haunting, epic graphic design, visit

Paul McAuley worked as a research biologist and was a lecturer in botany at St Andrews University before becoming a full-time writer, since when he has published over eighty short stories and nineteen novels, including Fairyland (winner of the Arthur C. Clarke and John W. Campbell Awards) and The Quiet War, Gardens of the Sun, and In The Mouth of the Whale. 

His fascination with harsh landscapes and their biological possibilities comes to the fore in The Man, set on the terminator of a tidally locked alien planet. Here, humans scrape a living, scavenging technology from ruined and derelict factories. People have been gifted access to alien worlds, but can they prove themselves equal to the opportunity? Are human beings good enough? Is the human idea of ‘good’ big enough?

“It was as dark as it ever got in the sunset zone. Low, fast-moving clouds closed off the sky. Howling winds drove waves onshore and blew horizontal streamers of snow into the forest, where the vanes of spin trees madly clattered and coronal discharges jumped and crackled. Ziyi was hunkered down in her cabin, watching an ancient movie about a gangster romance in Hong Kong’s fabled Chungking Mansions. A fire breathed in the stone hearth and her huskies, Jung and Cheung, sprawled in a careless tangle on the borometz-hide rug. The dogs suddenly lifting their heads, the youngest, Cheung, scrambling to his feet and barking, something striking the door. Once, twice.

“Ziyi froze the movie and sat still, listening. A slight, severe woman in her late sixties, dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt, white hair scraped back in a long ponytail, jumping just a little when there was another thump. It wouldn’t be the first time that an indricothere or some other big dumb beast had trampled down a section of fence and blundered into the compound. She crossed to the window and unbolted the shutter. Pressed her cheek against the cold glass, squinted sideways, saw a dim pale figure on the raised porch. A naked man, arm raised, striking the door with the flat of his hand.”

Find out what happens next in Arc 1.2, out next Monday for screens, tablets phones and e-readers, and in a collectible print edition. Visit for details. 

Arc 1.2’s Seoul searching reveals a glimpse of the future

21 May

Simon Ings writes:

South Korea has gone from impoverished feudal backwater to liberal economic superpower in a generation – yet its people don’t talk about the future much.

So Arc commissioned Canadian science fiction writer Gord Sellar to find out whether the South Koreans know something the rest of us don’t.

“Newcomers to Seoul still see in the city’s skyline what I first saw, a decade ago,” Gord writes. “Gazing out down neon-infested streets through the window of my airport shuttle bus, I felt like I’d landed in the middle of Blade Runner. South Korea looks “futuristic” in other ways, too, if you squint a little. As the liberality of Western democracies continues to be disassembled in the wake of the September 11 attacks, Korea’s illiberal democracy increasingly resembles the kind of dystopian authoritarian future looming on our collective, global horizon.”

Born in Malawi to a British-Malawian father and a French-Canadian mother; Gord grew up in various parts of Canada, but mostly in Saskatchewan. At the very end of 2001 he left Canada and has been living in Bucheon, a suburb of Seoul, ever since. He has a well-tuned horror of “ex-pat journalism”: “Though I live in South Korea, and sometimes write a lot about the country, I don’t consider myself a ‘Korea-blogger,’ Gord says, “but that doesn’t prevent others from considering me one.” Writing for Arc, he was able steer clear of “foreigner abroad” cliches, and explore South Korea’s fourth dimension: the curious timeframe of a country ripped apart by one of the hottest flare-ups of the Cold War

“The best way to understand what followed,” he writes, “is to imagine that someone somewhere read some Asimov (Pebble in the Sky, perhaps) and decided that this economic basket case -poorer at the time than almost anyplace else on Earth – ought to be transformed into a spacefaring empire as rapidly as possible. Somewhere along the way the stuff about spacefaring empires got forgotten, and Korea just went on ramping up the transforming-as-quickly-as-possible part. In less time than it took Americans to go from the first muscle cars to the Prius and the Humvee, Koreans went from ox and plough to bullet train, from mountaintop signal fires to cell phones and free webmail.”

Nonetheless, Gord believes that “William Gibson told only half the story.” And in The Mudang’s Dance, his feature for Arc 1.2, he explains how, “like the future, the past is also here in the present, and just as unevenly distributed…”

Gord Sellar’s extraordinary exploration continues in Arc 1.2, available on tablets, phones, e-readers and screens of all dimensions (and as a collectible print edition) on 28 May.  Visit for further details.

Arc explores the future of fun

16 May

Simon Ings writes:

Arc 1.2’s essayists have ignored the rotten spring weather and are gamboling about like a flock of spring lambs. We asked them to think about pleasure and fun, and they scampered off in all directions.

P D Smith throws off Blade Runner-ish gloom  to celebrate the city as carnival. “Weirdly, science fiction writers have often imagined human needs being met in dystopian cities, such as the glass surveillance society in Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We,” says the author of City. “There is far more optimism and even fun to be had in the urban visions of architects. Most of Constant Nieuwenhuys’s Situationist city, New Babylon, was given over to public space which people could subdivide however they wanted and use for ‘radiophonic games, film games, psychoanalytical games, erotic games, games based on chance and on coincidence’. Ron Herron’s robotic megastructure could actually walk: this city could really follow the good times.”

(Here it is: from Westminster University’s beautiful Archigram archive)

Games designer Holly Gramazio, meanwhile, is waiting for a break in the weather so she can get back to her work, organising treasure hunts and letterboxing competitions, urban football games and free-for-alls: games that engage entire communities. “The idea that play is private, and that games are for children, is an historical anomaly that is already almost dead,” she says.  “It had its decades of ascendancy, during the peculiar time when radio and television were the dominant forms of entertainment; those decades reached an end; and quite soon we’ll be rid of the idea entirely.”

It can’t happen too soon, as far as Holly is concerned: “When people ask what I do, and find out that I design live games, perhaps one in four of them respond with something like, ‘It must be mostly weirdoes who play, right?’ or ‘I don’t get why adults do that sort of thing.’ That’s to my face, from friendly good-hearted people, so goodness knows what they say behind my back.”

In New York, meanwhile, Kyle Munkittrick is playing video games, and wondering why the best games keep putting him in the last place he would ever want to be. Games are about pleasure, sure: they are also about discomfort and anxiety. They are, for everyone but the lucky winner, about losing. How can this possibly be a good thing? Kyle has an answer:  

“I, the reader, am not culpable for the destiny of Romeo and Juliet simply because I turn the page. Games demand that we choose to take the action that gives the story weight. In that moment of confrontation – of ‘This is unfair! The game only gives two options and I don’t want to take either!’ – we realize that our only way out is either through the narrative, or via the power button.

“By throwing these rules in our way – rules we know to be programmed and designed – video games call our attention to the constructed narratives in our everyday lives. When we are presented with two choices and neither is desirable, we see the rules of the system laid bare.”

Games, according to Kyle, enrich our moral life. A stone’s throw from central London, Peter Smith reckons he already lives on a gameboard.  And if he’s wrong, Holly Gramazio means to ensure that he’s not wrong for long.

What’s your move going to be? I’ll tell you (all the best moves are the forced ones…): visit on 28 May to get your copy of Arc 1.2, available for tablets, phones, screens, e-readers, and in a collectible print edition. Meantime I’ll spin some more mouth-watering announcements. You’ll be transfixed, I tell you: TRANSFIXED.