It’s always difficult to think of things to blog about, so I thought it would liven things up a bit if I invited some authors to guest post for me. I’ll be inviting a number of guests over the next couple of months, all of whom are excellent writers whose work I really enjoy. Today’s post is the inaugural post in the Impossible Spaces blog tour, which will visit a number of blogs and feature some of the writers in the new short story collection from Hic Dragones (which happens to have been edited by yours truly).
So, that introduction over, I’m pleased to introduce today’s guest blogger, Douglas Thompson. As well as numerous short stories in magazines and anthologies, Douglas is the author of seven novels: Ultrameta (2009) and Sylvow (2010) both from Eibonvale Press, Apoidea (2011) from The Exaggerated Press, Mechagnosis from Dog Horn (2012), Entanglement from Elsewhen Press ( 2012), and Volwys and Freasdal from Dog Horn and Acair Publishing respectively, due in late 2013/early 2014. You can find Douglas on Twitter as @UrbanSurrealist.
Douglas’s story for Impossible Spaces is entitled ‘Multiplicity’, and I was struck straightaway by both the subject matter and the author’s voice. It’s a strange tale – a piece of science fiction – but it offers such a compelling ‘what if’ conundrum that it encourages (as the best science fiction always does) the reader to look beyond the futuristic setting and advanced technology, and to see the people behind this. I could wax lyrical about the questions and ideas raised by Douglas’s story, and by the offbeat way he weaves his tale, but I think I’ll let the author do the rest of the talking!
Firstly, I want to thank Hannah Kate for all her hard work in editing this story. Over the years I’ve come to enjoy the cut and thrust of the editorial phase, and even when (maybe especially when!) things get heated, the result is usually a better story. New writers starting out need to understand that, despite its lonely image, writing is a form of social exchange like so many others which go to make up our society. The irony of this often hits me when I find myself reading and performing my work: how the introverted boy writing away in his teenage attic has somehow eventually found himself having to read out his most personal thoughts to a room full of strangers… and nobody even forced him into it! Life is often like this: in the end it turns us all around to face the opposite way from how we started out.
As well as being one of the stories in the brilliantly-themed Impossible Spaces anthology (for which I wrote it specifically), ‘Multiplicity’ is one of ten stories that will be published in my seventh book, Volwys & Other Stories, by Dog Horn in late 2013/early 2014. All the stories in the collection are more or less science fiction, some near future, others (like ‘Multiplicity’) set far into a technologically advanced future. Most of the stories are also united by a kind of apocalyptic bent, in which I deconstruct humanity or society in one way or another. I never thought I’d end up writing science fiction, and indeed after this collection I will probably head away from it again, back to the kind of mainstream literary fiction I started out writing back in 1990. Then again, Ray Bradbury was one of my first influences as a kid, so maybe life moves in circles. Actually, I don’t believe in genre boundaries much. In fact, I’m kind of dedicating my life to trying to destroy them, other than my own personal genre category, which is ‘surreal’. I feel I kind of own that one (and the domain name ‘Glasgow Surrealist’), since my brother is a neo-surrealist artist and I grew up immersed in his influence (he is 12 years older than me, us being the eldest and youngest of 4 children).
One of my favourite questions I like to use to confront genre fans, and literary snobs prejudiced against genres, is this one: what genre is your life? A supernatural ghost story when a close relative dies, a horror story in the traffic jam to work in the morning, a tragi-comedy at work, and, if you’re very lucky, hardcore porn once a week? My point is that life defies genre categories of course, or rather involves all of them at once, and therefore so should good fiction. Although I hope my writing is entertaining, my primary aim is never to entertain people so much as to make them think. I’d say our over-stimulated contemporary world is drowning in entertainment right now, but I don’t see much evidence of it drowning in thought or self-analysis when I turn on the evening news and watch the general mayhem. I always have a picture in my head of those grey aliens dashing home from work every night to watch ‘Earth Tonight’ and holding their little sides as they howl with laughter at all our murderous stupidity and wasteful disrespect towards the beautiful planet we’ve been given. Coupled with this, I have another image of a signboard posted up just outside our solar system which says ‘Approaching Earth, sense of humour essential’.
The problem with life of course, is that we’re so close to it that we can’t see it clearly enough to make sense of it. We are ‘immured’ to it, meaning that familiarity has built an invisible wall in our minds between ourselves and reality. This is a deadly kind of sleepwalking. I’d say over 80% of human beings are sleepwalking. The beauty of science fiction and all kinds of ‘speculative fiction’ is that they enable the writer to wake themselves and the readers up. This is done by showing the reader what they think at first is an alternative reality, something safely different to their own. Then later on, towards the end usually, you can pull the rug away and make them realise that it’s reality they’ve been looking at all along, just viewed through a distorting mirror. It’s the only way to get around our inherent blindness. The problem in much ‘literary’ fiction is that it fails this test. By merely showing people the world they think they know, the tyranny of the mundane is reinforced along with the insidious notion that it is a reality hard to change. I passionately believe that human beings can and must change their world, or more specifically their behaviour, in major ways, through cooperation and debate. Good science fiction (which is thin on the ground these days, and generally isn’t the stuff that wins the awards) is about the manifestos of these possible futures, and seen like that they are politically important, not just the reading fodder of spotty youths. We need to remember that Orwell’s 1984 was science fiction, as was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Pure sociology and politics.
In ‘Multiplicity’ I show a weird side-effect of a black hole generating multiple versions of people ageing and de-ageing at different rates, and ‘polluting’ their genes with those of other people. But these apparently exotic devices are really only the writer’s tricks to make the reader see themselves as they really are. ‘Ordinary’ life is actually utterly exotic, if we could only see it that way. Human reproduction is inevitably the ‘pollution’ of our genes, except that this is a wonderful thing which keeps our species healthy and enables us to adapt through evolution. Dying and giving birth, although terrifying and miraculous when seen in the accelerated timescale of the story, are utterly essential and completely interlinked with our sexual method of evolution. Death and individuality seem at odds with our sense of who we are in the world (‘how can I be so totally extinguished while others go on living?’), so there are clues there to a new way in which we need to see ourselves in order to make sense of our place in the universe: not as mortal individuals at all, but as an immortal group consciousness. This is my future manifesto, and socio-political proposition.
For more information about the Impossible Spaces anthology, or to buy a copy, please visit the Hic Dragones website.