Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Punks You Should Know: Godpunk

Solaris Books ‏is set to release AGE OF GODPUNK by James Lovegrove and was asking for recommendations for more books like it. Well, colour me intrigued - what the heck is Godpunk?

On his website, Lovegrove says of his upcoming collection:
With the novellas, I’m straying somewhat from the military-SF theme of the Pantheon novels, exploring aspects of divinity and the human/deity relationship in different ways. The tone of them is somewhat lighter and less serious, and there’s minimal gunplay.

So the sub-genre seems to be wide open - from urban fantasy/alternative Earth to futuristic/sci fi. Further perusal of Solaris's Tweet feed saw other reading suggestions - AMERICAN GODS by Neil Gaiman, UNCLEAN SPIRITS by Chuck Wendig and GODS BEHAVING BADLY by Marie Phillips.

I've not read any of the novels listed, though UNCLEAN SPIRITS is on my TBR list after reading Wendig's fabulous BLACKBIRDS, but the genre really interests me. It's urban fantasy mixed with mythology and given a twist (which depends on the author writing).

I have read the first three of Kevin Hearne's Iron Druid series, which definitely has Gods behaving badly, including my personal favourite The Morrigan, as well as Jesus, Coyote, Thor and just about every other deity you can think of (in a very Field of Dreams way, the gods of Hearne's universe exist when people believe in them).

Is Godpunk a punk genre? Maybe. I certainly think it has a lot of potential.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Punks You Should Know: Bustlepunk

Back on the last Punks You Should Know post (it wasn't called that; I pretty much just thought that up), someone in the comments mentioned Bustlepunk. Intrigued by this idea, I had to go to the Google machine to get the lowdown. And as it turns out, Bustlepunk might be one of the newest members of the club, the term having been coined in 2009 by author M.K Hobson. You can check out her “coming out” post here and her later thoughts here.

As she puts it, Bustlepunk is the “lighter side” of Steampunk. The more romantic side, I guess. From what I’ve gathered, it’s similar to regency romances, just add steampunk. I could be wrong, but it doesn’t sound any less fun.

There’s plenty that can fall beneath the “Bustlepunk” parasol, but there don’t seem to be any specific rules applied to the genre. It’s easy to say that Bustlepunk is a sub-genre of Steampunk where romance and relationships take the spotlight, almost a blend of historical romance and women’s fiction. Doesn’t mean there’s a lack of adventuring. Truth be told, most of the women in these books are highly adventurous.

However, it does beg the question: Do we really need another -punk genre? As I've discovered (thanks to
writing for this blog), there are SO MANY PUNK GENRES in the world already that another seems like overkill. How do we classify "Bustlepunk" if we choose to? Why should we? I don't see Trouserpunk anywhere. *Note to self: Coin Trouserpunk*

I feel like this is a psychological need to label anything that's outside of what we consider the norm. We have labels for everything, especially with fiction. It can't be a, because it contains x, but b is also out because it's lacking  y & z. It took me years to understand the differences between urban fantasy and paranormal romance, and in this case, Bustlepunk appears to be the paranormal romance equivalent, as it focuses more on women's lives and what they experience.

Some examples of Bustlepunk:

What do you think? Do we need this sub-genre of a sub-genre?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Consciousness and Cyberpunk

The evolving interactions between man and technology in cyberpunk does a lot to point out the nature of consciousness. Can artificial intelligence ever be conscious as humans are, experiencing a rich inner world filled with anything like a punk attitude? By making cyberspace part of your existence, do you lose a sense of reality and individuality? Cyberpunk is not just a means to put these questions into a dynamic and diverse thought experiment. These are questions about what it means to be an individual, questions about how to determine who you are and what your goals are. Even the philosophical themes of Neuromancer or Snow Crash have a punk edge to them.

With Neuromancer, a complex artificial intelligence known as Wintermute becomes sentient, who apparently has goals and objectives of its own separate from any creator or programmer. But could it ever experience the depth of conflict and existential crisis of losing control of life that Case experienced? No direct answer can be given. But if Wintermute is conscious, then it is self-made at such a level that it must ultimately make its own decisions of what to accept as true and which goals to pursue. If it is not conscious, then Wintermute’s goals are just an illusion, where everything it does is automatic and absent self-awareness. However, if massively complex systems like Wintermute are not conscious, then human goals and decisions are also just illusions. A punk stance on life would be impossible – maybe that’s why Case lives so miserably?

A machine being conscious is no issue, at least by taking into account modern philosophy of mind and cognitive science. Daniel Dennett speaks derisively of what he calls the Cartesian Theater, where decisions are made through an ultimate arbiter – a decider - gazing upon experiences and the world “outside”. If such a decider were crucial to consciousness, then that would mean a machine like Wintermute could never be conscious; it was never made with a soul, or a single one consciousness “spot” in its circuitry. To get around this conflict for human consciousness, you can say that there is some immaterial, mystical, ineffable mind unique to humans. Either that, or you can deny the mind entirely, saying physical mechanisms means consciousness is at best superfluous or metaphorical (epiphenomenal, to use philosophy jargon). Hardly a victory for punk attitudes with either conclusion.

But Dennett’s response to these issues is what he calls the Multiple Drafts model of consciousness. Under this model, consciousness is made up of many parts operating simultaneously, each able to make decisions. In sum, all the parts make up an individual, but also creates a high degree of chaotic yet efficient processes. With the potential for many parts establishing consciousness, Wintermute’s lack of circuitry built for consciousness does not mean it could never be conscious. If anything, cyberpunk makes such a theory intuitively plausible, thanks to its technological exploration.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

June Feature: Nanopunk by Nathan McGrath

The Big Freeze. A third of Earth’s population dead. Alister, a teenager orphaned as a child, discovers he's not the last of his family; his sister, a top nano-scientist, is alive and he sets out to find her. With an uncanny ability to hack into any network, he soon has Secret Services and Lycus hunting him. When cyber-militants offer to help, his search for his sister takes an even deadlier turn.


Nathan, would you care to tell our readers a little bit about yourself?

I'm a Londoner, born and bred. I left school with few qualification and moved from job to job: factories, warehouses, shops, roadie, waitering, all manual unskilled work. Encouraged by friends who noticed I read a lot, I went to college as a 'mature student' and really got into it. I studied psychology, anthropology, psychoanalysis, film, Literature and have a bunch of qualifications including a Masters in Information systems. Most of my working life has been spent working with troubled kids and teens. I'm a gamer; Marvel fan, sci-fi fan (natch') the main cook in the family. I live with my partner and teenage daughter in Finchley.

As an avid gamer, I loved the technology in your world. It seems that you are also an avid gamer. Were you hoping to appeal to that demographic, or was that just a happy accident?

Both really, I started off with a Commodore 64! Since then I've stuck with Sony and have had all versions of the Playstation. My daughter’s picked up the bug too. In addition to the PS3 still have the PS2 which we use for Guitar hero and a few racing games I've pre-ordered the PS4 and Infamous Second Son. I'm thinking about also pre-ordering Killzone Shadow Fall; having completed all the previous games in the series. I have stacks of games. (around 40) Mostly FPS and RPG. Things like Modern Warfare, Assassins Creed, Uncharted, Resistance, Final Fantasy, Fear, Burnout, MGS, as well as the ones I mentioned earlier.

I'm fascinated by the idea that gaming has significantly changed the way we approach or 'read' things like books and films. Traditionally the book, film or play had to 'hook' us in using one or more of a variety of techniques; but the emergence of more powerful graphics engines/cards , greater disc capacity and powerful processors has allowed developers to put the 'reader' into the very heart of immersive story driven games with rounded, richly formed characters and complex story arcs. It goes without saying that gaming has introduced a 'hook' far more powerful, immediate and compelling than anything a book can provide.

So it's no surprise the mantra 'young adult market is very difficult' is often heard amongst literary publishers and agents; I suspect it may well be because they are still stuck on the 'traditional' narrative form and story structure. It's not enough to get the reader to somehow identify with the main character or some other aspect of the story. There is a need to tell a story in a style that is in some way congruent with today's reader and where they are at.

I'm the first to admit I'm far from being an AAA author. I like to believe I've produced something good enough to sell that most people into the genre will enjoy reading, especially gamers. 'Lightning Seed' ramps up the action in a similar vein.

As a science fiction geek, I love love LOVE the nod to Leonard Nemoy, though I’m curious. Why Spock and not a fellow UK’er like…Patrick Stewart? 

Spock has the logical 'voice', and it helped me with the speech style and character. It was a real buzz to see him in J.J's Star Trek. I often have a sci-fi movie running in the room while I'm working just to create an atmosphere.

While we’re on the subject, Kirk or Picard? Or Janeway? 

Always Kirk. IMO William Shatner clearly enjoyed the part, he brought something unique to it that made the show fun to watch.

The world you built is largely internet-dependent, probably even more so than it is now. Is this how you imagine society will operate in the near future?

By the internet I take it you mean not just:
(1) the day to day internet of public and private networks providing access to information, applications and various services, but also
(2) the total global communications network that includes
(2A) all layers of surveillance, traffic (data) and Data mining and the application of complex pattern / relationship / probability algorithms by:
(a) governments (for security, resource management, scientific and other research)
(b) corporations (for all kinds of research, marketing and product development, etc.)
(c) private military firms
(d) all the others I've not mentioned;
then the answer to your question of Internet-dependence is yes; it's already happening anyway.

Where did the idea for the Soft Machine come up? It’s prominent in the book & is your domain name. Will it be making an appearance in the sequel?

The idea of the SoftMachine outfit is a convergence of technologies already being developed in labs around the world. As you know convergence in technology is commonplace. Everything is becoming 'smart': phones, televisions, clothes, cars, fridges. I just pulled together some of today's technologies like smart fabrics, networked clothing etc.

As for the Nanoparticles inside Alister I converged developments in nanotechnology, neuroscience, genetics and bioengineering. In a world where we can 'borg up any part of our body, body-based built-in wifi is already here - just not as tiny genetically engineered, wi-fi enabled, nano-borged computers in the brain and central nervous system.

The Softmachine outfit is like a sixth sense - layered over 'touch'; and like the other senses, is linked directly to his brain and nervous system which, like the internet, is data driven.

The choice of the name 'Soft Machine' is an obvious reference to William Burroughs who used it in reference to the human body and how control mechanisms invade it. The outfit does become part of Alister just as the nanoparticles do: the nanoparticles being the interface between Alister's psycho-physical needs (to protect himself, stay warm/ dry, move faster, hide etc) and the required form the outfit takes. The SoftMachine is clearly an integral part of him. The outfit does return in the sequel though it is secondary.

In your mind, just how much did the Big Freeze affect Alister’s world, and is this something you imagine could happen in our future?

Science tells us we're going in the opposite direction with climate change and global warming; I'm inclined to believe it. So The Big Freeze in 'Nanopunk' is the opposite of what scientific evidence is indicating. In the story, the Big Freeze killed off a third of the world's population, even more of the wildlife. Food from the land is extremely scarce hence the towering 'Hive farms' and farm domes. I didn't want a totally apocalyptic scenario. I wanted a world that reflected the strength of our hope, resilience and capacity to work through disasters and rebuild. So the story is set around eleven years after the Freeze when society is getting back on its feet.

I like the fact that the romantic aspects of the book are less than secondary in story, that it remains true in the structure of Alister looking for his sister Julia. Will the romance get a little more play in Lightning Seed?
I'm really glad you picked up on that and did so in a positive way. Having worked many years with kids and teens, I used what I learned to try and make Alister's character and his arc - as well as the peers he interacted with - more realistic; well as much as it could be given his disposition and circumstances. The 'bond' between Alister and Suzie is a central driver in Lightning Seed and, although there is a 'relationship' between the two, the story is pretty rough on them; in fact they still barely manage to spend much time together. I'd be interested in your thoughts about that.

What can you tell us about your future?
What, me personally? Nothing grand. Like most people I'll carry on working, doing what I normally do and enjoying life when I can.I'm working on the third and fourth in Alister's story arc; again very different from Lightning Seed. The third is a serial killer sci-fi set in London and the fourth where his world is completely turned inside-out. I'm also working on a prequel. I'll continue reading, researching; cooking and baking and looking forward to the PS4 and more Marvel Movie Mayhem.

Thank you for joining us, Nathan! Nanopunk is a very interesting read. Can't wait to pick up Lightning Seed!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Metaverse


In 1992, before the Internet reached the form it is today, there was the Metaverse. But the Metaverse - with a visual environment, even - was also many yottabytes ahead of its time. People who entered had avatars to represent themselves - sometimes stock avatars, others times self-designed avatars. Even more, avatars could be controlled directly. In a sense, the Metaverse was a self-made world, created by all its members. Popularity and fame came straight from one's ability to create themselves and their environment as they wish. Those that couldn't, well, they just interacted within the Metaverse. Any cyber traveller would have a fascinating time studying the visual data around, details that would not be possible in reality.

No, there wasn't some super-secret government program from 20 years ago that was just leaked. It's straight from Snow Crash - part cyberpunk in terms of its use of technology, yet satire with its frequent use of humor and absurdities. Not only does it stray slightly from the standard cyberpunk environment of dismal helplessness, but it shows the perspective from typical citizens. What could go wrong if no one has any goal except to have fun and get along socially? Apparently, many absurd things, including pizza chains run by the Mafia, or a gargantuan mass of rafts in the Pacific functioning as a city whose inhabitants drift through life. The social possibilities of the Metaverse may be awesome, but life itself is mediocre, offering nothing beyond more of the same social world there has always been.

But if punk has just one message, it's that a dispassionate life is boring, and a miserable life is empty. Snow Crash may be filled with bland people, the focal characters all forget the status quo and pursuing their interests. It's no surprise that one main character is aptly named "Hiro Protagonist". Satire shows that technology as such is no promise to a diverse life, even if one's entire world can be created inside and outside the Metaverse. However, the Internet is not doomed to be endless status update filled with memes. That is, if there are individuals willing to care about their life beyond immediate surroundings.

In Snow Crash, punk is the essence - whether you opt to call it cyberpunk, or cypherpunk, or simply punk. No matter how boring (as in the case for  or miserable life is, there is an eventual way out if one is self-styled and independently driven.