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 http://arcfinity.org 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:

http://uk.tomorrow-projects.com

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

http://uk.tomorrow-projects.com/arc-1-1-competition/

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 http://arcfinity.org 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 http://arcfinity.org 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 http://arcfinity.org for details