Stone Age, Iron Age

January 27, 2010

I’ve just got the copy edited manuscript for Blood and Iron from Macmillan and I’m busy working through it.  It always amazes me the inconsistencies the copy editor picks up.  The MS must have been read by at least six people by now, including me,  and none of us noticed that I used the same word eight times on one page, or that one character knows another’s name even though they’ve never met before.

The copy editor also queried the fact that I said the Stone Age came after the Iron Age.  In fact everyone so far has pointed out this is the wrong way round.  They’re right of course, but I state here, for the record, before the reviews come in, that on Penrose the robots learned to handle iron long before they learned to handle stone.  In fact, for robots, the Iron Age means the time of the birth of the robots.

Okay, I make it me 1, copy editor 552 and counting.

Morphobia Alligator

January 20, 2010

Morphobia Alligator

Meet Morphobia Alligator, one of Sebastian Winnett’s inspired illustrations for Blood and Iron.

Morphobia Alligator is built to a different, and much older, design than that adopted by the robots in Twisted Metal.

What do you think?

Duality, Materialism and Why People Like Robots

January 14, 2010

Can a robot be capable of thought, creativity and emotion?

Many people and religions would answer “no”, believing that some spirit or soul within us is responsible for our thoughts.  This concept is known as Duality: the idea that the body and thoughts are two different things.  However, in the past hundred years or so, work on computers and the study of such natural phenomena as Emergent Behaviour have led to the materialistic belief that the mind can be explained in terms of  nuts and bolts and levers arranged in different patterns (or more accurately through an arrangement of cells and electrical impulses).

Now, materialism has been a common theme in SF for the past few decades.  One manifestation of this is the “mind running on a computer” idea. After all, if a mind is not some separate spirit or soul, and is instead just the result of physical interactions, then why can’t those interactions be modelled on a computer, pretty much the same way as the World is now modelled on Google Earth?  I used this idea myself in my Recursion trilogy where minds hopped freely back and forth between processing spaces. But whilst writing Divergence, the last book in the series, I became aware of the following problem: once we accept the ideas of minds jumping back and forth between computers, we are almost back at the idea of “souls” jumping between physical containers. On an intellectual level we are thinking “Materialism”, but subconsciously we are back at Duality.

So I decided to write a book that was unmistakeably materialistic.  I came up with the idea of using robots, robots that would take a piece of wire and twist it into a new mind. These robots would seek out metal to make children, and, when resources were short, they would fight other robots for metal just as humans fight each other for land and food.  I liked the idea, and the novel that eventually became Twisted Metal began to unfold. The novel deals with robots that are capable of thought, creativity and emotion, and of anger, hatred and irrationality, but each with a mind made up of nothing more than a piece of metal twisted into shape by his or her mother.

But I digress.  I wanted to say why I think people like robots.  And I think it’s this fascination that they are the same as us, but oh so different.  You take a piece of metal, you twist it into a robot, and what you have there is exactly what you built.  It may malfunction and try and kill you, it may learn how to love you, or it may just hoover the carpet, but what you are looking at is materialism in action.  And this, for many people, is their first glimpse that the world may be stranger than they think…

(The above originally appeared as an article in SciFi Now Magazine)

Debatable Spaces

January 13, 2010

SF Writer and scriptwriter Philip Palmer asked me to contribute to his SF Song of the Week feature.  You can read about it by following the link.  I won’t give the game away by saying what it is (how about that for suspense?), but I’ll point out that I remember listening to this at university and thinking “That would make a good story”.

That got me thinking about music that has inspired me to write.  More on that, I think, in a later blog.

Snow Day

January 6, 2010

This is isn’t a twitter type blog.  If you want to know how I spend my days then you really should consider getting a hobby.  I don’t do anything that interesting in my spare time anyway, to be honest.


The sky is a brilliant blue, outside there is well over a foot of snow that has not really gone away since the week before Christmas.  Snow has been falling on snow so everything is clean and white, snow is piled up on the branches of the trees and stuffed deep into the bushes.  The snow is so deep on the road outside my house that no-one is attempting even  to put grit down, never mind trying to drive along it.  The schools are all closed for the third day running and as the snow isn’t melting the snowmen are forming crowds on the lawns.  There are thrushes, starlings, young blackbirds and magpies everywhere, eating the scraps that people have put out for them, and because no-one can really go anywhere, people are looking more relaxed and they’re taking the time to stop and chat.

Someone on the radio this morning said that Snow Days are costing the economy a fortune.  I’ll try and look as if I care.