From a 2011 BLDGBLOG interview with China Miéville:
. Novelists have an endless drive to aestheticize and to complicate. I know there’s a very strong tradition—a tradition in which I write, myself—about the decoding of the city. Thomas de Quincey, Michael Moorcock, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Iain Sinclair—that type-thing. The idea that, if you draw the right lines across the city, you’ll find its Kabbalistic heart and so on.
The thing about that is that it’s intoxicating—but it’s also bullshit. It’s bullshit and it’s paranoia—and it’s paranoia in a kind of literal sense, in that it’s a totalizing project. As long as you’re constantly aware of that, at an aesthetic level, then it’s not necessarily a problem; you’re part of a process of urban mythologization, just like James Joyce was, I suppose. But the sense that this notion of uncovering—of taking a scalpel to the city and uncovering the dark truth—is actually real, or that it actually solves anything, and is anything other than an aesthetic sleight of hand, can be quite misleading, and possibly even worse than that. To the extent that those texts do solve anything, they only solve mysteries that they created in the first place, which they scrawled over the map of a mucky contingent mess of history called the city. They scrawled a big question mark over it and then they solved it.
Arthur Machen does this as well. All the great weird fiction city writers do it. Machen explicitly talks about the strength of London, as opposed to Paris, in that London is more chaotic. Although he doesn’t put it in these words, I think what partly draws him to London is this notion that, in the absence of a kind of unifying vision, like Haussmann’s Boulevards, and in a city that’s become much more syncretic and messy over time, you have more room to insert your own aestheticizing vision.
As I say, it’s not in and of itself a sin, but to think of this as a real thing—that it’s a lived political reality or a new historical understanding of the city—is, I think, a misprision.
BLDGBLOG: You can see this, as well, in the rise of psychogeography—or, at least, some popular version of it—as a tool of urban analysis in architecture today. This popularity often fails to recognize that, no matter how fun or poetic an experience it genuinely might be, randomly wandering around Boston with an iPhone, for instance, is not guaranteed to produce useful urban insights.
Miéville: Some really interesting stuff has been done with psychogeography—I’m not going to say it’s without uses other than for making pretty maps. I mean, re-experiencing lived urban reality in ways other than how one is more conventionally supposed to do so can shine a new light on things—but that’s an act of political assertion and will. If you like, it’s a kind of deliberate—and, in certain contexts, radical—misunderstanding. Great, you know—good on you! You’ve productively misunderstood the city. But I think that the bombast of these particular—what are we in now? fourth or fifth generation?—psychogeographers is problematic.
Last month Dreadful Cafe published my first short story, “The Faraday Bag,” in their anthology Membrane. Now the print edition is out. Amazon is selling it for $22.50 right now.
I had two goals for the year. One was to learn how to spell restaurant without checking. That one I actually managed pretty quick, once I set my mind to it.
The other was to finish and sell at least one short story. That was harder, but I pulled it off. Today my short story “The Faraday Bag,” was published in an anthology called Membrane. It’s my first ever published fiction. It’s a sci-fi/crime story set in the near future, where the economy has collapsed and student loan debtors are hunted in the streets.
It also includes nine other stories stories, each with a full-color illustration, about “android cannibals, a clown plague, Nazi zombies, alien cancer, killer nuns, and more, as well as original and vintage art and photography.”
For now it’s only available as an e-book, but a print edition is planned for next year.
Buy it now from the publisher for $5, DRM free.
All proceeds will go to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.
Here are the first few paragraphs of my story:
I knocked out Brock’s front left tooth the day I met him. He and Colton tried to mug me during my first delivery to the Complex. They were just a couple of scrawny teenagers, but I’m not a big girl and they had knives. So I hit Brock in the mouth with my bike lock. Colton’s older brother, Connor, broke-up the fight before it got any worse.
Two years later I still had nightmares about it and still hated doing deliveries at the Complex. My heart pounded as I approached their perch on the picnic table in the center of the courtyard. They didn’t even glance up from their phones.
“Going to see Carl,” I said, handing them a couple of warm energy drinks from my bag. “Keep an eye on my bike, yeah?”
“Si, senorita,” Brock said with a big toothless grin. I hated him calling me “senorita.” I didn’t even speak Spanish.
And seeing his missing tooth always made me feel like shit.
The Complex was a block of six withered apartment buildings on the edge of Seattle. They were supposed to have been condos, but construction had halted on the neighboring light rail line during the Iran War and it was never completed–so the Complex ended up as low-income housing instead. It bordered an abandoned shopping center full of junkies with a habit of breaking into people’s cars and apartments. Brock and Colton were like the Complex’s immune system. I guess they decided I was non-harmful.
I jogged up the stairs to Carl’s apartment. He answered the door as out of breath as I was and, dragging his oxygen tank, went into the kitchen to make me a cup of instant coffee. He never let me help, so I took my customary place on the spine-mangling papasan.
“The apartment next to mine just opened up, Juana,” Carl said, handing me my coffee. “We could be neighbors.”
“I haven’t saved enough for a deposit yet,” I said. “And I couldn’t rent an apartment in my own name, even if I could afford it. Loan Enforcement would pick me up, throw me in a restitution camp.”
As if I’d wanted to live there anyway. But hey, at least it would be my own place.
I set his pills on the coffee table. A month’s worth of black market Avastin, a cancer drug, fresh from the pharmaceutical printer in Landon’s basement. A year’s supply would have cost him about $100,000 if he bought them from the pharmacy.
“I never should have gone to college in the first place. It’s not like I ever wanted to work in an office or anything,” I said.
“At least you had the opportunity,” Carl said. “Those boys out there probably never will.”
I hadn’t thought about that. Colton’s mom had been serving cocktails at a strip club ever since self-driving trucks went online and all the truck stops closed down. I had no idea what Brock’s parents did, or whether they were even around, but I was pretty sure they wouldn’t be co-signing on any loans.
“I wonder where they’re going to end up,” I said. “These days you can’t even get a job as a dishwasher without a degree. Hell, I have a degree and I can’t get a job as a dishwasher.”
Carl tapped his phone to confirm the purchase. I always felt like letting the clients keep my cut. Carl barely scraped by on his Social Security check.
My phone rang on the way out of the building, and my stomach did a backflip when I saw the caller ID. I almost let it go to message, but answered at the last second.
“I thought you didn’t want to talk to me anymore,” I said.
“I never said that,” Nicole said. “I just wanted to give it some time, after what happened.”
“Yeah, so why now? It’s been, like, six months.”
Seven months and 12 days, but who’s counting?
“I need someone I can trust,” she said. “Can you meet me at Bar Nuit in an hour?”
I wanted to say no. Wanted to tell her to find someone else to be her puppy dog. But of course I said yes.
My first short story, “The Faraday Bag,” will debut next week in the Membrane art and fiction anthology from Dreadful Cafe on Thursday December 12. My contribution is a near-future sci-fi story about the precariat, 3D printed pharmaceuticals and student loan debt. It also includes nine other stories stories on “android cannibals, a clown plague, Nazi zombies, alien cancer, killer nuns, and more, as well as original and vintage art and photography.” Every story includes a full-color illustration.
Membrane will be released initially as an e-book only, but a print version will follow sometime next year. All proceeds will go to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.
The Week reports, back in October 2012:
An ambitious new e-book pushes the boundaries of interactive fiction by requiring readers to visit specific locations to unlock new parts of its story
If you want the full experience of The Silent History — a new e-book available on the iPhone and iPad — you’d better get ready to do some traveling. The Silent History is “part medical case study, part mystery novel, and part-real-life scavenger hunt,” says Sarah Hotchkiss at KQED, and the e-book aims to personalize its narrative for each reader. (Watch a trailer for The Silent History below.) The Silent History is divided into two parts: Testimonials and field reports. The testimonials, which are divided into six volumes of 20 chapters each, are automatically unlocked as the story unfolds each day. But the field reports require an unprecedented level of interaction: They can only be read by traveling to specific locations, and readers are encouraged to write and contribute their own localized installments.
Fiction (?) from Adam Rothstein:
They explained the manifesto. Any device that was known to be approaching release, they would fabricate and wield in public. Their devices were seen in blurry street photos, profiled in gadget magazines of the highest order, spotted in the wild when by rights, they should never have been. They intentionally subverted the release cycle paradigm, and in doing so redirected the entire gray market of development, hype, and design. “Permanent beta techno-anarchism by the deed,” was the phrase I remember best, though this commodity insurgency was certainly permeated by the occult as much as any politics. Perhaps it was something in the incense smoke affecting my powers of reason, but there was a dark magic implied in these counterfeit devices.
Their work displayed the usual anti-corporate merit badges, measured in leftist buzz words and culture jamming cache. Every counterfeit device they made and used in public was a lobbed stick of dynamite at the Silicon Valley scabs, who had commodified the spirit of invention and delivered it up to the bosses. But there was a deeper symbolism at play. The devices they produced in this pseudo-lab were hexes, a transubstantiation of the spirit of consumption, simultaneously capturing the specter and setting it upon others. The market of gadget futures was a field of energy, invisible to anyone who wasn’t ensconced in this culture. And the Group played with this metaphysics as if it was their own personal toy. There was an incredible amount of power invested in the development of the newest, the most cutting edge, the most must-have consumer devices. The Group was blackening it, stealing this occult knowledge for their own purposes, hijacking it into unholy loops that they were attempting to channel. Also, sabotaging and rupturing the rights-of-way that railroaded this energy back to its supposed owners. And if the Group were throwing these bombs into the market square, then there were definitely Pinkertons out there, looking for them.
Full Story: The State: Chased by Google X
Tim Maughan uses design fiction to sketch a vision of our precarious future:
Nicki is awake even before her mum calls her from the other side of the door. She’s sat up in bed, crackly FM radio ebbing from tiny supermarket grade speakers, her fingers flicking across her charity shop grade tablet’s touchscreen. She’s close to shutting down two auctions when a third pushes itself across her screen with it’s familiar white and green branded arrogance. Starbucks. Oxford Circus. 4 hour shift from 1415.
She sighs, dismisses it. She’s not even sure why she still keeps that notification running. Starbucks, the holy fucking grail. But she can’t go there, can’t even try, without that elusive Barista badge.
Which is why she’s been betting like mad on this Pret a Manger auction, dropping her hourly down to near pointless levels. It says it’s in back of house food prep, but she’s seen the forum stories, the other z-contractors who always say take any job where they serve coffee, just in case. That’s how I did it, they say, forced my way in, all bright faces and make up and flirting and ‘this coffee machine looks AMAZING how does it work?’ and then pow, Barista badge.
Full Story: Medium: Zero Hours
Bram E. Gieben’s “Search Engine” is sort of a journalist/blogger’s version of this scenario.
Short sci-fi by Tim Maughan:
“‘Burgerpunk?’” Tamsin squinted at me over the rim of her ironically ugly spex. “And that’s…what?”
Her eyes aimed down again, I could tell she was reading from some non-existent document floating in her own private space, my portfolio I presumed. It was also painfully obvious this was the first time she’d seen it. I stifled a sigh.
“Well…it’s a phrase I coined when I was in Shanghai. It’s…let me think. You know what steampunk is, right? Do you remember that?” She was probably too young.
“Sort of.” She half nodded. “Vaguely. Cogs and robots dressed as Colonial Saunders. Airships.”
“Yeah, that’s it. Pretty much. It was this romanticised idea of Victorian Britain but with this…this steam powered technology stuff. Anyway it got really popular in the States mainly, the reasoning being it allowed Americans to fetishise this sanitised, romanticised British Empire, because they’d never had one. I mean they had an economic, military and cultural empire – but not a physical, old school empire with an exciting history, right? Their empire never showed up on any maps.”
“So, the Chinese have the same problem, right, but slightly different – they’ve got this economic and maybe military empire, but they don’t even have a cultural one. Because of the language thing. Nobody outside China apart from a few nerds is watching Chinese movies, reading Chinese comics. So they’ve started fetishising America’s cultural empire. Burgerpunk.”
“Right.” It didn’t seem like Tamsin was completely following me, but I carried on regardless. It was too late to stop, I guess.
“So over in Shanghai and Beijing they’ve got all these AR parks and shopping malls and restaurants, where these salary men and factory workers take their families, and they can sit and eat burgers and milkshakes in fake ‘50s diners served by robots that look like Ronald Reagan and Lady Gaga while clips of the Vietnam war play on flat screens. Just outside Beijing there’s actually a theme park where you can dress up like gang members, and drive around this hyper-real recreation of an anonymous LA retail park – all burger franchises and outlet stores – in replicas of exactly the sort of gas-guzzling US muscle cars that the Chinese government has just had to ban.”
Full Story: The Orphan: #Burgerpunk
Weird Shit Con co-organizer Adam Rothstein writes about his role in the TEDxSummerilse hoax:
I was never personally concerned about the potential consequences of staging of an act of violence on Twitter, because the moment anyone attempted to ascertain where precisely this violence was occurring, they would see the Wikipedia page revealing that Summerisle is a fictional locale. On the other hand, with the TEDx conference, we all exploited the trust of our social networks. Our fake Twitter accounts prattled away, posting silly observations and chatting with each other, as we enjoyed mocking some of our less favorite (real life) personalities. But with our real Twitter accounts, through which we typically voice our real opinions and observations in a way that we hope people will generally take seriously, we retweeted the postings of our fake Twitter accounts. By association, we shared our followers’ trust of us with these non-persons, these digital patsies. Among all of our past tweets—the articles we’ve shared with our real Twitter accounts, the experiences we broadcast, the history-making events we’ve witnessed, the photos of breakfasts we’ve taken—are these lying tweets like black marks in our streams. They are not ironic “retweets do not imply endorsement” posts, but as precisely the opposite. We knew that retweeting these tweets implied reality, and we used that to give our fairy tale the weight of truth.
And a fairy tale is what it was. The talk titles and subject matter were ridiculous, each a parody in and of themselves.
Full Story: Rhizome: The Strange Rituals of TEDxSummerisle
“Fragmentation, or Ten Thousand Goodbyes” by Tom Crosshill was nominated for a Nebula this year. The story takes place in Portland, OR and there’s a character, called “Emily,” who is only mentioned, never seen, who I suspect is based on Amber Case:
“Breakthroughs?” I pull back without meaning to. “Every month, heck, every week we get some breakthrough. We all rush to try it and blog it and show it off. Aren’t you scared we’re losing our humanity?”
“Oh, but we’re not human anymore! We’ve fragmented into a thousand different species. With every new technology we choose to adopt — or not — there are more of us.”
“You’re spouting Emily again.”
Lisa turns away, goes back to her suitcase. “She’s a brilliant woman.”
“She’s our competitor.”
“Should we miss out on a chance to change the world again, just because Emily works for the wrong corporation?”
On the screen, Dad gets up on his elbows and watches someone approach. A lithe figure and beautiful, strikingly dark against the white sand. A simulacrum of Mom as she once was. The thing can’t even hold a conversation, but Dad doesn’t seem to mind. He reaches out a lazy hand and grasps her, and draws her down atop him.