June BSFA London Meeting reminder

Just a reminder that the June meeting (Gillian Polack, interviewed by
Maureen Kincaid Speller) will be tomorrow (Thursday June 30th), not
tonight.

Maul – What is reality?

(Sorry for the delay.)

Cheryl Morgan and Justina Robson both seem to think that readers in the UK need to have the pun in the title of what Tricia Sullivan, probably rightly, regards as her best novel, explained to them, on the grounds that the pronunciation of “mall” that is the same as “maul” might be unfamiliar this side of the Atlantic. I don’t know about that. By 2003 most Britons, I would have thought, would be well-exposed to many items of American culture that took place at least partly in malls (the movie Clueless comes to mind). I would expect most people were perfectly familiar with that pronunciation, perhaps even more so than with the short-a version that is most commonly encountered in the road that leads to Buckingham Palace. The title certainly never threw me.

That absorption of American culture is perhaps key to the novel’s success in the UK, where it was nominated for both the BSFA and Clarke Awards. The present-day strand is set in a world that is only slightly distant from that experienced by the British reader, who could experience a similar environment (if perhaps less dangerous) not far from where they lived (Lakeside opened in 1988, Gateshead MetroCentre in 1986; Bristol’s Cribb’s Causeway even calls itself “The Mall”). And anyone who remembered the James Bulger killing would know that bad things could happen in places like this.

But the mall/maul strand is only one of the strands of this novel. It is paralleled by a far future strand, where men have been mostly wiped out by genetically-engineered plagues that attack the Y chromosomes, and leave men dead or desexualised. The science, as Sullivan herself says, is “pure fudge”, but it does its job, and creates a society almost entirely dominated by women. I want to discuss the gender issues in the second post – for now, I want to stick with the strands, and their relationship to one another. When I first read this novel, I was immediately reminded of M. John Harrison’s Light, which similarly blends present and future strands. But what is the nature of the relationship between the two strands in Maul?

It is rapidly apparent that there is one. In the future, Meniscus, a clone, is a living experiment, treated as not much better than a lab rat. He is, however, given a game, Mall, into which he can retreat to save what remains of his sanity (this was when virtual reality was still quite new – Second Life was launched in 2003, and only later became so passé that it could feature in both CSI and Law & Order).  In the mall strand, the culture Meniscus has most recently been infected with, 10E, turns up as online video artist 10Esha (this latter characterisation is later echoed by FallN in Sullivan’s most recent novel, Lightborn).  But does this mean that the mall has no reality?  Robson certainly thinks so:

“this world, the book’s ‘reality’, is a virtual simulation being run inside a human being from some alternative reality.”

The novel itself might also suggest that.  The first person narrator of the mall section, Sun Katz, tells us at one point “I have this weird conviction there will be no tomorrow”.  Morgan and Adam Roberts are more circumspect. The both talk of the mall strand being a metaphorical representation of the Meniscus strand.

But the novel begins and ends with Sun, not with Meniscus.  Early on, Sun christens a security guard Descartes, “for reasons that are nothing to do with anybody but me.”  One can’t help feeling that Sullivan wants the reader to think of René Descartes’ most famous maxim: “I think, therefore I am.”  Sun thinks, and we are privy to her thoughts. So she is real, at least to herself.  As to whether the mall has any more objective reality, well, what does?  In this, Sullivan’s novel resembles another crtically-acclaimed work of the previous year, Christopher Priest’s The Separation. Like Priest, Sullivan lays all the pieces out in front of us. But it’s up to the reader to work out what they mean.

Three Hundred Years Hence, next month

One occasional convenience of looking at much older works of science fiction is that, when old enough, they are out of copyright. This is true of the book which Andy Sawyer will be looking at in the forthcoming issue of Vector. (Subscribers will be receiving it in early July.)

Out-of-copyright doesn’t always mean more-convenient-to-get-hold-of, but in this case, someone has already gone to the trouble of digitizing the text.

Mary Griffith’s Three Hundred Years Hence, the subject of Andy’s next Foundation Favourites column, was published in 1836. It features in the annotated “Pre-1923 Utopias and Science Fiction by Women: A Reading List of Online Editions“, edited by Mary Mark Ockerbloom, where you can read her vision of the year 2135 for yourself.

And, while you’re there, a great deal of other early science fiction by women too.

Reminder: Maul

On Friday I (Tony) will start posting discussion of Tricia Sullivan’s Maul, the next in the project of reading Future Classics by women. Please read a long if you have time.

BSFA London meetings for second half of 2011

Here is the schedule for the BSFA London meetings for the second half of 2011.

Please note that there is no BSFA London meeting on Wednesday 22nd June.  The June meeting will be on Thursday 30th June.

30th June 2011  – GILLIAN POLACK interviewed by Maureen Kincaid Speller

27th July 2011 – SOPHIA MCDOUGALL interviewed by Roz Kaveney

24th August 2011* – KIM LAKIN-SMITH interviewed by Paul Skevington

28th September 2011 – JO FLETCHER: interviewer TBC

26th October 2011 – TANITH LEE interviewed by Nadia Van Der Westhuizen

23rd November 2011* – STEPHEN BAXTER interviewed by Paul Cornell

* Note that these are months with five Wednesdays. The meeting will be on the fourth, not the last, Wednesday of the month.

Meeting take place in the Upstairs Room of The Antelope Taven, 22 Eaton Terrace, Belgravia, London, SW1W 8EZ

Entry is free.

June BSFA London Meeting: Gillian Polack Interview – 30th June 2011 – Free entry

On Thursday 30th June 2011 from around 7pm:

GILLIAN POLACK (Australian writer of speculative fiction, editor and historian) will be interviewed by Maureen Kincaid Speller (Critic and reviewer).

Note that this meeting is on the fifth Thursday of the month.  There is no BSFA London Meeting on Wednesday 22nd June.

Venue:

Upstairs Room
The Antelope Tavern
22, Eaton Terrace
Belgravia
London
SW1W 8EZ

Nearest Tube: Sloane Square (District/Circle)
Map:here.
All welcome! (No entry fee or tickets. Non-members welcome.)
Interview will commence at 7.00 pm, but the room is open from 6.00 (and fans in the downstairs bar from 5).
There will be a raffle (£1 for five tickets), with a selection of sf novels as prizes.

FUTURE EVENTS:

27th July 2011 – SOPHIA MCDOUGALL interviewed by Roz Kaveney

24th August 2011* – KIM LAKIN-SMITH interviewed by Paul Skevington

28th September 2011 – JO FLETCHER: interviewer TBC

* Note that this is a month with five Wednesdays. The meeting will be on the fourth, not the last, Wednesday of the month.

Five years of Torque Control

Five years and two days ago, Niall began Torque Control as the Vector editors’ blog.

1029 published posts (as of this one), 9208 comments, and 621 tags later, and it still is. Not much, perhaps, compared to Vector‘s 53 years, but by blog standards, it’s done very nicely indeed.

Thanks to all of you for five years of comments and community!

Posted in Admin. Tags: . 1 Comment »
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