Friday, June 29, 2007

Doodling fun

There's a remarkable web business dedicated to selling first editions of books. Their gimmick is they get authors to sign the books and doodle in them.

Needless to say, it's called Doodled Books.

Its manager, Claire Main, asked me to doodle in 20 copies of Hybrids, which she put on the web site. They sold out in a week at £19.99 each.

Now Claire wants more of them. Very nicely, she says "I think you have huge potential" and all the ones I do in the future will go "on the Harry Potter pages as we are getting loads of hits due to the next book coming out and it would be a shame for you to miss out on the hype."

She's going to send me batches of 20, and each book will have a different doodle and slogan. I've promised her that as long as she keeps sending them, I'll keep defacing them!

You can view the sold out doodles here.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

An immense number of ideas

Isn't it nice when a book reviewer gets exactly what you're up to?

So it is with Anthony Brown, reviewing Hybrids in Starburst 351. He says:

"Hybrids may have the length and style of a Young Adult book, and two teenage heroes to go with them, but Thorpe doesn't pull punches with the satirical ideas he packs in.

"From detention without trial and three-layer registering of Creep victims that smack of control orders, through a Centre for Genetic Rehabilitation that reflects Guantanamo, to HIV-echoing conspiracy theory accusations against pharmaceutical companies.

"Thorpe approaches distinctly adult ideas in an approachable hero-led way, as Johnny and rich-kid fellow Creep victim Kestrella become the gurus of the Hybrid Resistance Army whose existence allows the hardline Deputy Prime Minister to call for harsh measures for dangerous times.

"Over the mere 296 large print pages, Thorpe packs in an immense number of ideas, shaking up the situations in surprising ways time and time again."

"An immense number of ideas" in only 296 easy-to-read pages for only £5.99. Who says you can't get a bargain these days?!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Aesthetic offsetting service: Web site design

Today I will solve two problems for you at the same time.

Problem 1: Too many web sites are hideous. Let's face it, how many do you click onto an then have to click away instantly because even the subliminal glimpse of them will ruin the rest of your day?

Problem 2: There are too many excellent artists in the world who struggle to survive because the art world loves to lavish its attention on just a few superstars who command ridiculous prices and who, anyway, are quite frankly past their sell-by dates - I mean, please move over Emin, Hurst, etc.

My solution: Following the success of our Fart Neutral scheme, which neutralised the methane emissions from your bum and, indeed Cheat Neutral - the hilarious film about which was produced by a colleague in this office - which neutralises your love cheating - we offer:

Aesthetic Offsetting

If you are aesthetically challenged and have a butt-ugly web site with flashing animations, clashing colours and unreadable fonts, send us some money and we'll give it to struggling artists that we know.

People like Clare Maynard, Merchant Merchant and Cheryl Huntbach.

This is a voluntary scheme. Simply assess the aesthetic value of your profile on the following scale and send me the appropriate amount:
  1. Mildly irritating - £5/$10

  2. Frankly disturbing - £10/$20

  3. Pass the sick bag - £20/$40

  4. I'm going to take a sledgehammer to my monitor - £50/$100

  5. Somebody call the men in white before I go on a random rampage or fall on this Samurai Katana sword - £500/$1000

If we find that a voluntary scheme is not sufficient, we'll just have to lobby the W3C to get tough and make it mandatory.


If you think you deserve to be a beneficiary of this scheme, get in touch!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Mundane SF

Perhaps you've already heard of Mundane SF? If not you may like to know that it's a "new" idea being touted by a guest editor of Interzone, the UK's foremost SF mag.

When my novel Hybrids was published I was bemused to learn that it was to be marketed as science fiction. Somewhat naively I didn't think I was writing SF.

It's obvious in retrospect, but the elements they think of as SF I thought were metaphorical. After all, is Kafka an SF writer?

My agent says that is what I must continue to write. This is fine by me. Except the thing is I don't read all the stuff people normally call SF - space opera etc.

Now I find there's Mundane SF, which Hybrids possibly fits into. This is because Hybrids, like MundaneSF, contains no faster than light travel, psi power, aliens, computer consciousness, teleportation or time travel.

The following usual suspects form some of my touchstones - Kafka, Orwell, Burroughs, Dick, Ballard. Perhaps they are 'Mundane SF'?

My reservation is that the term 'Mundane' seems a put-off - as if the subgenre isn't interesting.

HarperCollins thinks that SF will be the next big thing for kids - we've had enough fantasy.

I hope so. I plan to keep writing this kind of SF.

InterZone is now accepting submissions for their Mundane SF issue. I've submitted a short story. I'm not at all sure if it's SF, but really, why do we need labels at all?

> Want to read more?
> MundaneSF Blog

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Beware, Canada and Australia

Creep is coming... spreading over the globe like a stain...

Reaching out from the initial contamination point: London...

We tried to contain it but failed. The quarantine was broken by Persons Unknown. Their motive may have been greed, desire or just pure randomness.

You'll never know. That's the nature of modern terror. The sheer uncertainty.

One thing is certain: Hybrids will be published in Canada and Australia on July 1.

Be afraid. Be ever so slightly afraid.

Feel that itch? You just have to scratch it. Immunity is not guaranteeable.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

A Hybrids role play game

It had to happen. Someone has started a Hybrids role play game.

Er, guys, you don't get it do you? You're supposed to use the computers LESS.

We are becoming hybrids part 2

[continuing last week's train of thought]

The whole trend [of endlessly replacing consumer technology with newer versions] is driven by business and 'lust for the new' which we have been conditioned into.

If I can take you back to where it started - end of World War I. Soldiers back from the war, here and in the US. After the rebuild, most households had the basic necessities, and manufacturers were worried that they would go out of business as their markets dried up.

At this point, a nephew of Sigmund Freud began using Freuds's ideas about the unconscious to design advertising campaigns that made people believe for the first time that it was not enough just to have a washing machine, but that the washing machine had to be aligned to their sense of self-image.

It was he who made it ok for women to smoke, for example, by photographing some glamorous women smoking at the end of a Women's Emancipation march in New York in the early '20s. This associated in women's minds freedom with smoking. Of course smoking is addictive so they weren't being freed at all. Glamour is a smokescreen for sordid reality. This is what my short story, Perfection, posted last year here, was about.

Fashion is the supreme example of this. It's not enough to wear clothes, but the clothes must say everything about you and you don't want to seem out of date and you have to look cool. Fashion has existed for much longer, but the concept was in the 20th century systematically applied to other products.

Manufacturers love this as it means that markets will never dry up as long as people remain insecure... and their advertising makes sure that they do remain insecure.

Innovation is the other side of this. You have to buy the latest phone and computer after a few years because your old one, even if it works perfectly, will no longer be compatible with everyone else's. Some analogue products work better or are more appropriate than their digital counterparts (watches, radios), but the strong current towards convergence is sweeping them or has swept them all aside.

So the waste mountains pile up, and we ae actually running out of the natural elements which are used in these products. Last week's New Scientist looked at all these metals - such as iridium, galiium, etc, - and found that most will run out in our lifetime. Perhaps human ingenuity will come up with something to replace them, but it does demonstrate graphically that the corporate-driven growth and pace of change is - to use that over-used and tired word - unsustainable. It has severe limits.

We don't like limits. We like freedom. But we rush headlong into a tangle of self-delusory madness and the very opposite of freedom, because we don't realise how, by imagining that we can buy freedom with every new product, we are actually increasing our dependency on ties that will really constrain us.

One constraint I am concerned with is this human-hybrid tie-in with technology. We are/will be unable to function without it. And how many of us understand it? - forced to use (as in your case Sharon) - or even hypnotised by (as in your friend) - the glitter; uncomprehending (if I can say so without sounding patronising) of the specialists who invented and designed it - who seem almost a different breed of human.

'Consumers' cruise the shopping malls of the developed world on their days off, looking for the next fix, using text messages to alert their friends. Elsewhere, one billion people in the world live in slums and own next to nothing.

We are in the last days. I'm sorry, I never wanted to be a doomsayer.

The Changes

I've just come across a tv series and novel trilogy from the '70s which I didn't know of before, with some similarities of theme to Hybrids. Does anyone remember it?

The Changes was a British children's science fiction television serial filmed in 1973 and first broadcast in 1975 by the BBC. In the first episode, ordinary people smashed ordinary objects in fits of seeming madness and this apparently made a great impact on its young audience.

The Changes posits a Britain in which the population have mysteriously rebelled against modern technology, destroyed all modern machinery and reverted back to a pre-industrial age.

The madness is triggered by a sound emitted from electricity pylons.

Even the words for modern inventions became taboo - 'car', 'tractor', 'electricity', 'toaster', 'pylon', etc. Just to mention them brings on the noise and the uncontrollable anger against machines again. These items of modern technology are described by people, including the central character Nicky, as cursed.

At one point the main character in the series, Nicky Gore, is asked whether it will induce the noise to start a blacksmith's forge. She asks, "where will you get the iron from?" On hearing there is plenty of scrap lying around the farm (obviously a sensible bit of recycling) she announces that the forge will probably not invoke the noise. So the forge goes ahead. But bicycles are sadly trashed.

Its theme echoes the adult drama series Survivors (1975) in which a small group of British people attempt to survive the decimation of the world's population by disease. This itself is reminiscent of 'The Memoirs of a Survivor' by Doris Lessing (1974), made into a film with Julie Christie. The preoccupation with this theme at the time may have been due to the oil shortage and other environmental and nuclear scares going on, with parallels to our own time.

The Changes was directed by John Prowse.

The TV series was freely adapted by Anne Home from a trilogy of novels by Peter Dickinson. The series took most of its material from The Weathermonger which, together with Heartsease and The Devil's Children has recently been reissued in a single volume in the UK.

You can read more and buy The Changes on Tony Gosling's web site - this is a private site. The BBC have not re-issued it for contractual reasons.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

We are becoming hybrids

Sherry Turkle is a clinical psychologist, author and professor of the sociology of science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She worries that new technologies like instant messaging, Wi-Fi and cellphones are transforming human psychology.

In an article this week in the New Scientist she goes further to worry that this same technology is gradually turning us into cyborgs.

Naturally, I share this concern.

Sherry runs seminars at MIT on 'Technology and Self - how our sense of self is changing as a result of our interactions with technology'.

These have led to three edited collections, being published by the MIT Press, on the relationships between things and thinking. The first, Evocative Objects: Things We Think With, was published in April.

Eleven years ago she wrote: "When I landed at MIT in 1976, I was struck on day two by two things—that my students had what I considered eroticised relationships with their computers, which had an intensity, a holding power... it was compelling. It was not addiction, but it was something very powerful and it was completely new to me.

"And secondly, the way they use computer language where I would have used psychoanalytic language to talk about the self. I thought this was fascinating. For example, they say "Don't interrupt me, I have to clear my buffer", or "It's not a Freudian slip, it's an information processing error."

I have noticed the same response in myself.

The mind controls the body - mind over matter. As our thinking is changed by technology, and our bodies are distorted by using technology, so we recreate our bodies in the image of technology.

Sherry says this is not an addiction (or wasn't 30 years ago). I believe it is now. Anyone who has tried to get a child or teenager to come off a computer or watch less tv will agree.

She is right to say that it is also eroticised.

The first technology to be eroticised was the car. The most eroticised artefact now is the mobile phone, followed by the car and the MP3 player.

What does eroticised mean? That the technology's use triggers a state of arousal and anticipation, and produces attempts through whatever means to incite those feelings.

This is a response below conscious level. It becomes almost instinctive. Computer use, like driving, becomes an extension of our selves and incorporated in our dreams. It becomes desirable and necessary of and for itself.

SF stories of the past foretold that machines would take over. They never dreamt that this would not be by deliberate machine-led conspiracy but by an insidious process of designers producing desirable objects for profit-driven corporations, that use the tricks of marketeers to hook into our psychologies.

This drives an iterative process resulting in consumers becoming more and more wedded to successive generations of better-targeted products.

This process is akin to natural selection. Which depends partly on sex.

The erotic relationship demands consummation. At this point we have surrendered to the masters, the purveyors, the manufacturers, the corporations who are technologies' pimps.

We have surrendered our self-control and let go of the link to 200,000 years, or 99.9%, of our species history, when everything humans related to, and were part of, were biological (natural) ecosystems.

Now, at this moment in our species' development - as we are radically destroying or modifying these ecosystems, through mass extinctions, climate change, and the addition of 100,000 new chemicals - we are becoming intimate with technological ecosystems, without any idea of the consequences...

We are becoming hybrids.

Beneath the table of the 'gods'

Yesterday was peaceful at Rostock, where the G8 titans do battle. Good photos in the German papers today, thousands of protestors with muitlcoloured flags wandering through fields to get to the fence, police and heicopters in the background.

I think if I had time I would have gotten up there. Glad though to see that the thing is not passing off without protest. Attac seem to be getting the most coverage and all sorts of people are joining them, even some CDU and CSU politicans here - well, one or two.

But I still can't make out what exactly Attac politics are beyond asking our leaders, the world bank and the corporations to be nicer - which is a bit like asking monkeys not to steal nuts ....

In my cynical moments I see it as the standard bi-yearly circus attendant to the world's giants, who are pleased that they receive attention, but otherwise regard the actions of the great unwashed as beneath their dignity to acknowledge.

Like pilgrims following an impatient and wilful God the protesters send their prayers and offerings with rituals and rites handed down by the high priests of their NGO churches, in the hope of attracting a favour.

But these gods obey their own laws, have their own masters, and when their actions do coincide with the will of their followers it is usually only down to coincidence.

Nevertheless dutiful followers must maintain their faith, for you never know what dire fate may fall were it to fail. Besides the churches (NGOs) need the offerings they donate to maintain and spread their influence, for secretly their leaders desire to be gods themselves...

"If I ruled the world, all problems would be solved..."
(co-written with Frank)