If Only…

September 5, 2012

This short story appears in the current issue of Nature.  You can read it here for a limited time: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v489/n7414/full/489170a.html


Stories from the Northern Road (Penrose 2.5)

August 8, 2012

Cover art by Fangorn

The first ever collection from one of the UK’s finest SF authors: Tony Ballantyne, who has been a finalist for the Philip K Dick award and whose short fiction has featured regularly in Years Best SF anthologies. A quartet of brand new stories set on the world of Penrose (introduced in the novels Twisted Metal and Blood and Iron) join five stories set in the Recursion universe to produce Stories from the Northern Road. This is Tony Ballantyne at his best.

Contents:

  1. Introduction

Stories from the Northern Road

  1. A Note from the Author
  2. Four Blind Horses
  3. Janet Verdigris
  4. Isabel and the Outlandish Robots
  5. The Robot Behind Me

Recursive Tales

  1. LDA ADD STA JMP JIZ END
  2. Restoring the Balance 1
  3. Restoring the Balance 2
  4. Seeds
  5. The Sixth VNM

Released September 2012, as a Signed Hardback Edition, limited to 125 copies: £19.99

www.newconpress.co.uk


The Zeppelin Museum

September 2, 2011

Over the summer I visited the Zeppelin Museum in Friedrichshafen, a small town by Lake Constance in Southern Germany.  The museum was small but well laid out.  I’m not going to discuss here what I saw in there as I use that sort of thing in stories, but it was all interesting stuff. All in all a fascinating visit, marred only at the end by something that is all too common now when visiting technical museums.  Something that annoys me more and more, something that reduces me to standing in the middle of some room loudly asking:

Why is there an art exhibition?

Why, every time I visit the a museum showing steam engines, industry, aeroplanes, cars, anything vaguely scientific, do I have to have an art exhibition thrust upon me?  Don’t misunderstand me, it’s not that I don’t enjoy art galleries, I have even written about them here on occasion.  No, what irritates me is the patronising assumption that whilst I’m looking at a history of how things were made, I also need to be culturally educated in some way by second rate artists who couldn’t get their work displayed anywhere else.

Worse, there will be a sign up explaining to me that there is a link between science and art, and this is going to be demonstrated by some painter’s abstract representation of machinery they probably don’t even understand.  This annoys me for two reasons.  Firstly, you don’t need an artist to show you the link:  the form of just about every machine transcends its function – there is a beauty in the shape of those Zeppelins that is owed to more than just aeronautical design. Why not point that out, rather than forcing me to walk through a selection of badly executed paintings before I rejoin the exhibition I came to see? Secondly, if the link between science and art must be expressed, why, on leaving an exhibition of sculpture or ceramic design, do I never see a small display explaining how the internal combustion engine works?  Don’t supposedly arty types need educating too?

I am not arguing for a moment there is no link between science and art.  Of course there is, although every so often I hear a report on the TV or radio discussing a new artist who is producing revolutionary work combining the two.  Is this supposed to be news?  I know lots of people who have been doing just that for years.

Haven’t the BBC heard of Science Fiction?


Why I wrote Twisted Metal…

June 5, 2011

The Edinburgh SF Book Club recently met to discuss Twisted Metal.  They asked me to provide them with a little bit of background to the book.  Here it is…

https://tonyballantyne.wordpress.com/2010/01/14/duality-materialism-and-why-people-like-robots/

The main inspiration behind Twisted Metal is here on my blog:

…but that’s not the full story.

The working title of TWISTED METAL was THE BOOK OF ROBOTS. That was never going to be a commercial title, but I liked the way it literally described not only the novel itself but also the rather biblical “Book of Robots” within the text; and that it also sounded like the sort of big SF picture book I used to read when I was a child.  One of the reasons for the manga like illustrations within the novel was to make the book look like an old illuminated manuscript.  The joke on the robots is that they don’t believe in their creator when they clearly have one.  The reader can form their own conclusions about our world.

TWISTED METAL was partly inspired by the nature and form of old ballads:  the idea of old stories that subtly change in the telling over the years.   I have since written a quartet of stories: STORIES FROM THE NORTHERN ROAD based on old English ballads but set on Penrose.  These may eventually see the light of day if Macmillan ever get round to giving me the go ahead to publish them.

The names in TWISTED METAL weren’t chosen by accident.

Karel should need no introduction to SF robot fans, his wife Susan dropped her maiden name of Calvin.  Turing City and Penrose offer differing thoughts on the nature of machine intelligence, and the countries of Segre, Bethe, Wein et al are all connected.  Even Artemis featured in my previous Recursion trilogy under another name.  Whilst reading the book, you may want to spot the connections, SF and otherwise, between the names.   The only original name, by the way, was made up by my daughter who, when she heard I was writing a book about robots said “You should have one called Banjo Macrodocious, then.”  I realised that she was right, and he was so included.  She also came up with Wa-Ka-Mo-Do from BLOOD AND IRON.

There comes a moment in the development of every story when I have the realisation that finally allows the transition from my mind to the page.  For TWISTED METAL, this eureka moment came when I figured out the mechanism by which robots reproduce:  with the women twisting the shape of a child’s mind and the men looking on and having to trust what they were doing.  This led to the book’s original opening line:  Two robots were making love in the middle of an electrical storm.  The preceding paragraphs were added later to make the opening more commercial.

TWISTED METAL and BLOOD AND IRON were originally going to be one book, but the characters developed a life of their own and the first book expanded.  Kavan, in particular, was only going to be a minor character, but such is the nature of his belief he quickly invaded more pages than he should have.  That’s why Karel and Kavan have such similar names, by the way.  If I were to write the book again Kavan would be called Arban and would play the cornet beautifully.

There is a third, as yet untitled, book that completes the trilogy.  Personal circumstances have meant that it is as yet uncompleted, but in time I hope that both Karel and Kavan will finally make it to the top of the world.


Alt.Fiction Spring Writing Weekend

March 4, 2011

Alt.Fiction is proud to present its Spring Writing Weekend – the perfect chance for writers of science fiction, fantasy and horror to meet and work with like-minded people and enjoy workshops and talks with established authors in the field. Offering workshops, feedback sessions and expert advice, these weekends are sure to both inform and inspire.

Spring Writing Weekend, 20th-22nd May

Guest Speakers:

Tony Ballantyne – science fiction writer of the Recursion Trilogy and the Penrose Series

Simon Clark – acclaimed horror novelist and author of The Night of the Triffids

Venue: Legacy Chesterfield Hotel, Malkin Street, Chesterfield, S41 7UA

With a convenient location next to Chesterfield rail station and a wide range of leisure facilities, the Legacy Chesterfield Hotel is a great place to work and relax.www.legacy-hotels.co.uk/legacy-chesterfield/
The Spring Writing Weekend costs just £180, including two nights’ shared accommodation, all meals and hot drinks, plus a full programme of writing activities throughout Saturday and Sunday featuring two guest authors.

To book your place, or for any enquiries, email alt.fiction@writingeastmidlands.co.uk or call Alex on 07896 228367

A £90 deposit is required to confirm your place, with a further £90 to be paid at least one week before the event. Deposits are non-refundable except in case of event cancellation. No refunds will be given in case of any changes to guest authors, or in the event of participants being unable to attend for any reason. Please note, the deadline for booking your place is 13 May 2011.

Alt.Fiction is a trading name of Writing East Midlands


A Narrower Focus

February 4, 2011

I sometimes wonder if I should narrow the focus of this blog.  I can’t help think that  allowing myself to write about Robots and Accordions gives me too wide a scope and I should instead restrict myself to, for example, only writing about 72 Bass accordions and androids.  Or maybe even further, so that I only discuss accordions that are actually being played by robots.

It has never been said that life is like a robot playing the accordion, but then again a lot of things haven’t been said about accordions, and maybe I am the one to say them.  After all, there aren’t many people talking about accordions nowadays.

But let’s get to the point.

A friend bought me a CD for Christmas.  I won’t name the friend, or the CD, but it was typical of a certain style of music that is popular at the moment, one which contains elements from all kinds of music.  A little Jazz, a little folk, baroque harpsichord ostinatos that segue straight into South American rhythms. You probably know the sort of thing I’m talking about.  Now, not for a moment would I suggest that people refrain from experimenting with other forms, but I think that there comes a point when you have to commit yourself to something.  You can’t really develop a piece if you keep throwing something new in every time you’re struggling for inspiration:  you’ve got to work with what you’ve got so far.  This is just as true in writing as it is in musical composition.

This, for me, is one of the attractions of good Genre fiction.  Immerse yourself in the conventions, and then use them to create something new.  It’s not the only way to write, by any means, but it’s a good one.


Rise of the Machines

October 21, 2010

I’ve never spoken at an event before where they were turning people away at the door… however, I strongly suspect that this enthusiasm was more down to a wish to see Dr Kerstin Dautenhahn‘s robots than anything to do with me.

What an interesting event, too.  Organised by Sci-Fi London, and taking place in the Royal Society, the evening began with Dr Dautenhahn giving a twenty minute talk about her own research.  Afterwards, Tom Hunter led a discussion contrasting real world and science fictional robots.  Dr Dautenhahn was keen to stress that robots were neither he nor she but quite definitely it.  Whatever human traits people saw in a robots were those they brought themselves.  Contrast this with the general Science Fictional robot which is a human clad in metal.  There are exceptions, of course.  Asimov made great play of blurring the distinction, and, as Tom Hunter kindly pointed out, I did the same in my own short story “Teaching the War Robot to Dance”.

But back to the real robots…

One of the stars of the show was KASPAR, designed to study human robot interaction. (I had an interesting discussion with a roboticist before the event about the importance of studying how people approach each other.  If robots are to be accepted, they can’t simply zoom up behind people)  KASPAR has been used to work with children with autism: apparently, the children can find it easier to interact with than real people.  The plans for KASPAR are available for anyone to view, you can build a copy for around £1000.  I’ve put some pictures of the other robots on my Facebook page.

Oh, and did you know that one of the staircases in the Royal Society was designed by Albert Speer?  Honestly.  Nazis, autism, robots and Tom Hunter.  You don’t get this breadth of coverage on other blogs.