Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Tuesday 25 October 2016

Black Mirror

I tend not to be an early adopter of new TV shows.

There’s quite a lot of pretty decent stuff happening in TV, theses days… Some of it superior to cinema, and with the advent of Netflix and Amazon, we rarely find ourselves short of something good to watch.

I tend to let others do the hard work, though. I wait for people I like, whose judgement I trust, to recommend the best of what’s on offer.

There are exceptions to the rule. I found Orange is the New Black before it was a huge hit, and it’s still odd to me that more people haven’t seen Last Chance U or Unreal, both of which I rate.

TV does tend to be a bit feast or famine, though, and, recently, we found ourselves wanting something new.

Lots of people had been recommending Black Mirror, so it seemed like a good time to try it.

I tend to prefer series, where stories can build over a period of time, so I’d ignored Black Mirror on the strength that these are discrete stories… There’s nothing wrong with an anthology, of course, it’s simply about preference.

Charlie Brooker talking about Black Mirror in the Guardian,way back in 2011
I am, however, a big fan of Charlie Brooker. I used to love his TV column in the Guardian. He always strikes me as quite a clever man, and he married a Blue Peter presenter… What’s not to like.

I watched the first episode of series one on my own, and then had a chat with the husband about it. He thought that the show had got better, so we sat down together to watch the first episode of series three.

Among the good, there is so much rubbish TV around that watching something a little more cerebral seemed like a nice choice. The stories are quite clever and the writing’s good.

The two episodes I’ve seen of Black Mirror reminded me of the old Plays for Today on the BBC, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

It led me to think about what Black Mirror is and whether it fits any genre. I suppose it’s satire, of a kind, although, with politics in the world playing out the way they are, it’s pretty hard to be satirical. Black Mirror doesn’t seem to me to be SF in any meaningful way, and, while it can be pretty dark, it isn’t really horror.

I guess what Black Mirror might be is Literary Fiction for Television. That’s OK, too.

The problem is, I didn’t find the two episodes I watched terribly enthralling, and I did want to be enthralled. The writing was good and the ideas weren’t bad, either. The problem with the ideas was that they’re the kinds of ideas that have been floating around in SF for a couple of decades. The problem with the delivery wasn’t that it wasn’t slick, but that neither of the stories I watched seemed to go anywhere very interesting. Sadly, they were predictable.

The acting was great, the set-ups worked, production values were good… All of this should have resulted in something top notch.

I shall continue to watch Black Mirror, not to see what happens or where it goes, but to try to examine why something ostensibly this good didn’t satisfy me.

In the end, perhaps it was because these stories failed in the sympathy/empathy departments.

Yes, the two stories I watched could easily  happen in the real world in ten minutes flat, but that wasn’t enough to call this SF, or for me to feel sympathy with the set-up or empathy with the characters.

Clever is always good to see, and, no doubt, there will be stories that deliver more emotionally… It’s odd, because Brooker always seemed so very engaged to me… Angry, perhaps, and rightly so, but certainly engaged. I found these two stories rather cold.

On the whole, I can’t help thinking we probably need more television like this. In the end, I don’t know whether we’ll get it. This kind of television isn’t cheap to make, and it relies on a large and loyal audience. So far, so good. This falls between so many stools, however, that I’m not sure it can hit the mainstream hard enough to really last, and I’m not sure it can keep its audience, which seems to me to be made up of a lot of geeks and nerds who might begin to expect more satisfying stories that go further.

We shall see, but, for the moment, I think I’ll reserve judgement on this until I’ve seen more episodes, except to say that if Charlie Brooker intended to write Tales of the Unexpected for the twenty-first century, this is probably it.

Wednesday 19 October 2016

Savant since the launch

Savant, by me... out now
So… Savant’s been out for a couple of weeks, now.

I don’t know what I expected from this book launch; it’s not as if I haven’t launched books before.

This was different, though, because this was all me… Just me. I wasn’t writing for a franchise; this was not a tie-in book. No one had any control over the writing of this novel, but me.

I wrote the boot seven years ago, and I sold it to Solaris over a year ago, so this has been a long time coming.

I do a lot of the husband’s publicity, and it’s me that checks his reviews. It was kinda weird doing the same thing for this book.

I was excited and fearful at the same time.

Of course, I had a bit of a head-start, because Pat Cadigan blurbed Savant. I love Pat, and I admire her work… Not for nothing, she’s won just about every SF/F award going, some of them more than once. Her approval made me feel a little more confident than I had when first I sold the book.

Around about the time of the launch Adam Roberts said some very nice things about Savant on Twitter. He didn’t have to, but I was very happy that he did. I always really enjoy Adam’s work, and I admire his intellect, so I was thrilled when he seemed to like the book.

By the time the novel launched, I didn’t really care what anyone thought of it, because two of the SF writers that I most admire gave it the thumb’s up. Who could possibly ask for more.

As it turns out, Savant has received more. SFX and Starburst magazines have both given it nice reviews, as have a number of book bloggers. There are even reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

I think, perhaps, my favourite comments came from my old friend Shane McElligott. He’s a dude, and I’m thrilled that he took the time to read the book and to review it. It’s very much appreciated.

I was invited by Chuck Wendig to write a guest blog on five things I learned while writing this novel. It might not be exactly what you’re expecting, but do feel free to pop over and read it.

I’ve done more publicity for this novel than I have ever had to do before. Since a lot of my work is written in collaboration with the husband, he tends to do interviews and appearances. I guess this is something that I’ll have to get used to. I did interviews for the Qwillery blogspot and SFX Magazine, and I’ve written blog posts for Chuck Wendig’s Terribleminds and for Barnes and Noble.

Tomorrow night, I get to do my first solo Skype interview… So that’ll be fun, although I have no clue what I’m going to say, or how I’m going to fill an hour. Fortunately, I happen to know that the interviewer is a nice guy, so I’m hoping he’ll hold my hand through the whole thing.

I guess the one advantage I have over many first-time writers is that the husband has been doing this for a long time, and I’m often in the wings watching. 

How hard can it possibly be?

Tuesday 11 October 2016

The Fine Art of Distraction

We were away for a few days last week. We do that from time to time, for stimulus, to work and do research… for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes we just take a couple of days off to recharge our batteries.

When we go away, we try to find places that have little or no wi-fi, no tv, no landlines… No distractions. That’s a good thing, I think. We all need a break from the constant bustle of the internet.

As it turned out, we did have a little bit of intermittent internet while we were away, and it’s a good job, too, because work came in for both of us; the husband had stuff to do on Monday and Wednesday, and I had stuff to do on Tuesday and Thursday. We were four for four… That isn’t unusual.

So, we did try to hook up to the internet when we needed to trade e-mails. Like many people, I have the habit of checking my social networks any time that I’m on-line. This is partly to do with work, but also because it’s an innocent distraction: there are kittens. 

It’s not difficult to spend quite substantial chunks of time being distracted by FaceBook posts, by Twitter, and by all manner of gifs and photos and other ephemera. Because, let’s face it, all that stuff is ephemeral: There and gone in no time.

With my intermittent, unreliable wi-fi last week, I still clicked and scrolled, but the clicking and scrolling was slow, and I gave up pretty quickly. There was nothing I couldn’t live without.

So, the next question had to be, Why on Earth do I spend time clicking and scrolling, and looking at stuff? If waiting a second for something makes it undesirable, what was the attraction in the first place?

It’s not that I don’t ever find anything worth finding; the point is we give little value to that which comes very easily, and the internet makes everything come to us very easily, particularly when the wi-fi’s going at full-tilt.

Stimulus is good, and browsing is good. I like to browse bookshops, and I like to flick through newspapers and magazines. Of course, it’s possible to find things that you’re probably not looking for in bookshops and newsagents.

The problem with the internet is the filter bubble that comes with it. We are constantly being second guessed so that the web can deliver the things it thinks we will like most. This isn’t just dull, it’s also dangerous.

If we are only shown the things closely adjacent to things we’ve seen before, we’ll all be funnelled into tiny little compartments. Our brains, our imaginations will atrophy.

But that’s not the worst of it. The worst of it is that our thoughts, ideas, ideologies, politics etc will all be filtered down.

I buy a pair of white sports socks on the internet, and suddenly, when I type in ‘socks’, I get more sports socks. I like the white sports socks, so I buy some more. Suddenly, when I type in ‘socks’, I get white sports socks… Buy two pairs in the same brand, and suddenly all I’m offered is white sports socks from one brand.

The truth is, when I bought the socks, they might have been an aberration. I might not, as a general rule, be a white sports socks person. I might be a multi-coloured toe-sock person. Trouble is, now, I feel as if I must be a white sports socks person, because that's what the internet perceives me to be. Now, it becomes increasingly difficult to find any other sock in any other colour by any other maker.

Now think about that in terms of politics.

Let’s just suppose I’m a Republican (yeah… I’m really not. Smiles), so I look up that man Donny Trump on the internet. The more I look, the more right wing, Donny-loving reports come into my sphere. My field of view is narrowed. I stop seeing Democrats, let alone independents. I’m persuaded to think that Donny is the only man out there. I might not be a natural Trump supporter, and had I been offered a more balanced diet, I might choose not to vote for him. The trouble is, that’s what the internet thinks I am because that’s where the filter bubble has taken me.
Widely available, and well worth the read

No wonder politics is polarising.

I don’t think anyone believes that Trump would have made it this far, even a decade ago, let alone twenty or fifty or a hundred years ago. But, the internet wasn’t as influential even a decade ago, the filter bubble wasn’t nearly as sophisticated as it is now.

Is this a coincidence? I don’t know.

I do know that I plan to do a lot less idle clicking and scrolling, and any steps I can take to defeat the bubble, I’ll be trying very hard to do.

Read The Filter Bubble by Eli Pariser. It’ll scare the pants off you. 

Saturday 1 October 2016

Why We All Need Feminism

The last blog I wrote was entitled ‘The Cost of Being Female’.  It was about a young woman who got a parking fine for being a few minutes late back to her car. She’d done everything right: parked close to the venue in a well-lit, safe, town-centre facility, paid the maximum for the time-limited space, and organised someone to walk her back to her car at the end of the evening. Unfortunately, she had to wait for her friend, making her a few minutes late back to the car. She followed this up by doing the right thing and asking for the fine to be waived for mitigating circumstances. Obviously, that didn’t happen.

There are all kinds of costs associated with being a woman in a man’s world. One of those costs is to be bullied on the internet.

Honestly, I don't get trolled very much, despite being a fairly vocal feminist.

I was trolled for this post, first on Twitter, and then in the comments section of the blog.

I chose not to engage. There is very little point trying to talk to someone who has chosen a path through life. It felt like a waste of my time and energy.

I mentioned the trolling on my FaceBook page, and got a lot of responses, more than half of them from men, who were horrified by the troll. One of my friends posted a long reply to the troll, but he did it on my FB page because, for some reason, he was unable to comment on my blog. I re-posted his comment there on his behalf, and with his agreement.

It didn’t help… I guess it was never going to. It was quite interesting watching the whole d├ębacle unfold, though.

I had stepped away.

Men don’t do that.

I’m ambivalent about that.

I stepped away because I felt sure that there was nothing I could do to moderate the thinking of the troll. I didn’t feel as if it made me less of a feminist, but I was able to shrug off my anger, because this is what we’ve all become very used to.

I didn’t need defending. I could very easily have defended myself if I’d felt the need… But, defended myself against what? What is the point of engaging with this kind of person? He is entrenched, just as I am, I suppose.

But do we simply go back to our respective corners and ignore the fact that this man is a bully, a coward, and, potentially, a threat?

A man… more than one, in fact, came to my defence… Or, perhaps, he was simply standing up for what he believed in. And there’s certainly part of me that admires that.

The end result was ugly, though. Was it uglier than the troll? I don’t know… probably not… It was ugly, nevertheless. Did the troll capitulate and was his thinking changed? Absolutely not. If anything he became even more abusive and more entrenched.

The troll is not only a misogynist, he also appears to be racist and homophobic… The holy triumvirate of the far right, particularly in his home nation.

The men who weighed in on him and called him out, did what feminists have been saying that good men should do. I admire that. It’s wonderful to have such staunch allies.

They weren’t effective, though, and some of the things they said, while possibly true, were pretty unpleasant.

So, in the end, I’m ambivalent about all of this.

On the one hand, I’m very proud to have male friends who embrace equality for all of us… On the other hand, they are men, and men are pugnacious; they attack and defend, and hostilities escalate.

Perhaps, this is the real reason we need feminism. These were good men, doing the right thing, and it all still looks ugly to women like me.

I have the great good fortune of associating with some wonderful men
Here are some of my favourites.