This is another of my In Short columns. It appeared in Vector 285, Spring 2017: Continue reading
He discovered the Hardy novels, and in time the painter Nash; the hills and trees and standing stones, flowers that broke from their moorings to sail the sky, fossils that reared in ghostly anger from the rocks. Suns rolling their millstones of golden grain; and it seemed he heard, far off and far too late, the shock of distant armies.
Keith Roberts, The Chalk Giants, Hutchinson, 1974, p21
Coming across that passage in the mid-1970s would have been the first time I came across the name Nash. Much later, I added a forename, Paul (later still I discovered there was another Nash, John, his brother and also a painter, though I am embarrassingly unfamiliar with his work). But even with a name, I wasn’t sure which Paul Nash I knew about. There were two that seemed to appear, work occasionally glimpsed in magazines or on the television: the weird, surreal artist, and the one who did all those pictures from the First World War. It would be some time before I realised they were the same; it would be even longer before I saw that they were the same. Continue reading
Alfred Bester, Brian Aldiss, Carolyn See, Clifford D. Simak, Douglas Adams, Edgar Pangborn, Elizabeth Hand, George R. Stewart, Greg Bear, H.G. Wells, Harlan Ellison, Isaac Asimov, Jack London, James Morrow, John Wyndham, Keith Roberts, Lucius Shepard, Mary Shelley, Nevil Shute, Octavia Butler, Peter George, Philip Latham, Piers Anthony, Raymond Briggs, Richard Jefferies, Ronald Wright, Russell Hoban, Stephen Baxter, Thomas Bailey Aldrich
I had great plans for my Cognitive Mapping series that ran in Vector between 1995 and 2001. At one point I envisaged producing 100 of the columns, which could then be gathered together as a decent-sized book. But at some point the project ran out of steam. I had maybe another half-dozen columns started but never completed. Apart from a parody piece (written by another hand, not naming names Mr B****r), the column was over. But at the end of 2005 I produced one last hurrah, appropriately enough on how science fiction deals with the end of things. This last column was published in Vector 244, November-December 2005. Continue reading
Anthony Burgess, E.E. 'Doc' Smith, George Orwell, H.G. Wells, Harry Turtledove, Iain Banks, Jack Womack, Keith Roberts, Martin Amis, Norman Spinrad, Philip George Chadwick, Piers Anthony, Richard Calder, Robert Louis Stevenson, Ursula K. Le Guin
I’ve nearly finished gathering together all of my Cognitive Mapping columns from Vector. This is the penultimate one, and it first appeared in Vector 193, May-June 1997. Continue reading
Last week, in the Guardian Review, Owen Hatherley wrote this review of Altered Pasts: Counterfactuals in History by Richard J Evans. It was an interesting review that attacked much of what Evans had said in his book. But Hatherley seemed to go along with Evans in assuming that counterfactuals (and alternate histories, the two were discussed without discrimination) were inherently conservative.
I had to disagree. I wrote the following letter to the Guardian, but since there seems to be no letter column in this week’s Guardian Review, I include it here (note, I kept this short for a better chance of being published, but I could have written on this subject at far, far greater length).
In repeating the claim by Richard J. Evans that counterfactuals are inherently, and indeed always, conservative, Owen Hatherley (President Gore? Prime Minister Portillo?, 19 April) is simply wrong.
Yes, many are conservative, but not by any means all of them. Of American counterfactuals concerning the Civil War, for instance, Ward Moore’s classic Bring The Jubilee examines the social and economic devastation wrought by a Southern victory, while Terry Bisson’s Fire On The Mountain presents a utopian state brought about by John Brown’s victory at Harper’s Ferry. Neither could possibly be considered conservative.
As for British counterfactuals about Hitler winning the Second World War, Katherine Burdekin’s Swastika Night is a powerful condemnation of the Nazi regime, while both Keith Roberts, in ‘Weinachtsabend’, and Jo Walton, in Farthing, present devastating critiques of British willingness to work with the Nazis.
In fact many of the most important works of counterfactual fiction are deliberately and specifically critiques of conservative positions, and are usually meant satirically as attacks upon current contemporary conservatism.
A.J.P. Taylor, Bruce Sterling, G.K. Chesterton, G.M. Trevelyan, Harold Nicolson, Harry Harrison, Harry Turtledove, Hilaire Belloc, Hilary Bailey, J.C. Squire, Keith Roberts, Kingsley Amis, L. Sprague De Camp, Len Deighton, Lisa Tuttle, MacKinlay Kantor, Martin Cruz Smith, Philip K. Dick, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Harris, Stephen Baxter, Terry Bisson, Vladimir Nabokov, Ward Moore, William Gibson, William L. Shirer, Winston Churchill
Someone asked for more of my Cognitive Mapping columns, so here’s another one. In fact, this is the first one I wrote. It appeared in Vector 186 (December 1995). To be honest, I’ve never been entirely comfortable with the term ‘alternate history’, one cannot help feeling that grammatically it ought to be ‘alternative’, but usage means we are stuck with it. As a sub-genre, however, it is one of my favourites. Continue reading
Back in 1995 (good heavens!) I began a series of columns for Vector in which I would explore various standard tropes of science fiction. The series lasted until 2001, with an extra piece added in 2005. Not a bad run. They all had pretty much the same format: a couple of illustrative quotations, then a very broad historical survey of the trope leading back to the works from which my opening quotes had been taken (it was based on a series by David Lodge that had been running in the Guardian at that time. Andrew Butler gave me a title for the series, ‘Cognitive Mapping’, and this was one of the earliest of them. It first appeared in Vector 188, August 1996. Continue reading
A.J.P. Taylor, David McCullough, G.M. Trevelyan, Harry Turtledove, Hilary Bailey, J.C. Squire, James M. McPherson, John Keegan, Keith Roberts, Kim Stanley Robinson, MacKinley Kantor, Paul J. McAuley, Philip K. Dick, Robert Cowley, Terry Bisson, Ward Moore, William L. Shirer, Winston Churchill
A few days ago I said I was going to do something further on Hard SF to follow up on my posts of a few days ago. Well, I’m several hundred words into it, but it looks like it might end up being longer than originally imagined, so it might be another few days before it appears. So I started casting around for another reprint to appear here and happened upon this essay about alternate history. It is clearly something I wrote, but I have no memory of writing it, I have no idea who I might have written it for, and I have no record of whether it was actually published anywhere. Continue reading
I’m going to start this regime of uncovering old reviews from print-only venues with The New York Review of Science Fiction, and in particular with one of my favourite authors, John Banville. This review of his 2009 novel The Infinities appeared in The New York Review of Science Fiction 258, February 2010. Continue reading