Wednesday, 26 November 2014

In the presence of the Prophet

Two weeks ago, I talked about the thirtieth anniversary of William Gibson’s debut novel Neuromancer, the importance of it and his subsequent works on modern science-fiction literature. I also mentioned that on November 25th, 2014, I was going to get to meet the man himself. That was yesterday. I was tempted to write this blog straight away last night, but decided I needed a day to chill and let the giddy fan-boy squealing bleed off first.

To my somewhat credit, I did manage to contain a lot of my squealing. I only tripped over once sentence when I met the man himself, when I expressed a strange sense of joy and affinity with a fellow left-handed writer as Gibson signed the pile of books I brought out of my Chatsubo Bar messenger bag. At the sight of the stack he said, “I don’t remember writing all of those.”

When I first heard words escape his mouth, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I know he’s American, residing in Canada, but the accent threw me for a second. Before I realised that the ever-so-slight twang was from his native South Carolina. The realisation was swiftly swept away by the awe of hearing the man speak. I was in a room with one of my absolute heroes. I may have to make that point two or three times before I shut up.

Of course, I wasn’t the only one in the room star-struck in the presence of the Noir Prophet himself. I’m fairly certain everyone was. The young chap from Topping and Company who introduced him expressed similar feelings of awe during the introduction. During the Q&A session after he read an extract from his new novel, The Peripheral, the audience quizzed him on matters of the future. Here was our oracle, the prophet of the future gods, and we mere mortals dared to ply him for predictions of what will happen next. He answered with clarity and grace, with the ease of one used to being tapped for perceived prescient knowledge as so many of his novels have hooked onto trends in our society before they even emerged.

A year ago, I had the pleasure of meeting fantasy authorPeter V. Brett. I hold in him in very high regard, giving him the title “DUDE”. In capital letters because that’s how much of an awesome DUDE he is. Last night, William Gibson proved himself to a quieter, but no less utterly awesome DUDE. Once again though, this is not my story, but a story of a friend.

Last night, I attended the William Gibson event with my friend Jester, who has a good few years worth of experience on me and has read further and wider than I have. But it all started when one of his friends lent him a copy of Neuromancer. That was the first sci-fi that Jester read and was the beginning of a long and voracious love affair that remains passionate to this day. Jester had Gibson dedicate the book to his friend and explained that this friend introduced him to not only Gibson, but sci-fi literature. And Gibson said, “The next time you speak to your friend, tell him thank you.”

Such a subtle, small phrase, but boy does it carry weight. When Jester told me the story...I was in further awe. William Gibson says thank you. If a friend of mine called me and told me that, I would no doubt squeal so loud the Martians would be yelling at us to keep the noise down. Holy frak, what a dude.

Now I say that I managed to contain most of my giddy fan-boy squealing (something Jester was VERY glad about), but I did have a moment of what I would characterise as total fan-boy-ness. When Gibson had finished signing all twelve books I brought with me, I sheepishly produced one last item. The essay, “Wisdom of the Noir Prophet: Arguing for the inclusion of William Gibson in the literary canon”. I explained that I wrote in my final year of university and asked if he would sign it. He did. I then scooped up my pile of books and scurried on so other people could have their moment with one of the greatest minds in modern science-fiction.

Last night, I basked in the presence of the Prophet. My life is the richer for it and this world richer for containing his works.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

So Say We All

I’m breaking with the title traditions of SC 2.0 to go back to 1.0’s quotation titles for today. For today, I reflect upon my favourite television show, Battlestar Galactica, in light of the sad passing of the show’s original creator, Glen A. Larson.

A retrospective on what Galactica means to me has been something I’ve been contemplating doing for a long time. Dribs and drabs of information have been coming through for a while now – a couple of weeks ago I talked about the show’s score and Bear McCreary’s unrelenting musical genius. At the start of this year, my retrospective on 2013 featured photographic evidence of my Galactica-related tattoo and the vague origins of why it came to be. But I haven’t gone into a lot of depth of my history with the show.

It all starts with the BBC and the original 1979 Battlestar Galactica. BBC2, to be as precise as my dim recollection of those childhood days will allow. I was in my extremely early teens and every now and again, I would catch this random show on BBC2. It had evil robots, gallant fighter pilots, wise commanders but most importantly, it had big frakkin’ spaceships! I’d say I was hooked, but back then the only show I was religiously hooked on was The Simpsons. It would be a couple of years before I would start getting into things properly (such as Farscape, again BBC2 coming to the rescue there) and by then Galactica only appeared occasionally.

Now my family never owned Sky and the friends that did lived too far away, so in 2003 when the re-imagined Galactica mini-series hit the screens, I was only vaguely aware of what was going on. In 2004, when the full series came around, I was more aware from catching sight of it in the TV guide and thinking “Hey, that show” but thought little more of it. It would 2010 before Galactica truly came back into my life.

Through geekiness I shared with one of my university lecturers (who, through her wisdom in introducing me to Galactica has received the call sign “Athena”), I was lent the 2003 mini-series. A hostage-exchange of sorts, given that I had loaned Athena one of the seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Almost immediately I fell in love with the show. In the time that it was in my possession, I watched it over and over. When it came time to arrange the handover of prisoners, I received season one and proceeded to blitz through it. Then season two. Unable to contain myself, I bought seasons three and the final season (erroneously believing that it was both halves of season four. Upon realising my error, I ordered season four) and powering through them. On 25th August 2010, the day I went to see Scott Pilgrim vs. The World for the first time, I also watched the final episodes of Battlestar Galactica. I won’t lie, I got a little choked up. I didn’t want it to end. And there’s something the Tigh and Adama discuss in an episode just before the grand finale that REALLY got me choked up.

The show’s legacy in my life is something that I know baffles and sometimes irritates people (especially my colleagues at work because they have to listen to it all the frakkin’ time). I have incorporated the term “frak” into my everyday vocabulary. There’s the tattoo and my tradition of assigning my friends ranks and call signs. It may utterly baffle, confound and irritate people with how deeply Galactica has been integrated into my life, but it is simply my favourite TV show ever. Once a crown claimed by Firefly, I had to pass it on. While I love Firefly, it’s not the best to me. Sure, it has spaceships, but it doesn’t have space battles. Or Bear McCreary’s score. Or the cast of Galactica, who are downright amazing. I want to give special kudos hear to one of the United Kingdom’s own, James Callis. His portrayal of Doctor Gaius “The Spineless” Baltar (“The Spineless” is a moniker I apply personally) is outstanding. Baltar’s character has a depth and complexity that make him incredibly compelling to watch. And this is just one of the many characters I love (or love to hate, in the case of Gaius frakkin’ Baltar).

I could go on and on, but I don’t think the point needs too much hammering home. Maybe just one final reflection. Given that this post was inspired by tragic passing of Galactica’s creator, it should be noted that without Glen A. Larson, none of this would have happened. Ronald D. Moore and David Eick wouldn’t have had  a series to re-imagine, I wouldn’t have fallen madly in love with it. I wouldn’t have had one of my earliest sci-fi influences. So here’s to you, Glen A. Larson. Thank you for having the idea and realising it. You will be missed.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

The Wisdom of the Noir Prophet

My affection for sci-fi has infected nearly every aspect of my life. In the space of a few days, maybe weeks, of conversations with my regular customers at work, they will discover how obsessed I am. Some share my affinity, others are bemused by it, and others share my kinship with the genre in certain mediums. One such case is one of my die-hard regulars, who I’ve been serving for as long as I’ve been working at Boston Tea Party Bath. He’s a recently retired English teacher. Naturally, we’ve bonded over a shared love of books.

The other day, he came in and presented me with an article from The Guardian – a short piece about William Gibson’s seminal work of sci-fi literature, Neuromancer. That was published thirty years. To my shame, I had failed to remember that it was thirty years since. Ask me what great things happened in 1984, I can say that Ghostbusters was released and Neuromancer was published. I’ll rave about Ghostbusters being an awesome movie, then I will go on about how much of a game-changer Neuromancer was.

Four years ago, the halcyon days of 2010, I was in my final year of my creative writing degree. My final deadline was an essay for a module called “Reading as a Writer”. In this module we picked a writer we loved, someone who inspired us, then using academic sources and their own text, argue for why they are significant and should be included in the literary canon. Naturally, I chose William Gibson. I re-read all his books, piling through the Sprawl and Bridge trilogies in a matter of weeks. I had my core argument ready and waiting to go – William Gibson created cyberpunk and gave voice to a generation of science-fiction authors, television shows and movies.

I was around fifteen when I truly found my calling, settled into a genre and wrote with confidence and bravado that only a fifteen year old boy can muster when he has decided his life’s dream. I was a cyberpunk, though I would not realise it until years later. My defining piece of writing was a fifteen page short story about an assassin who was double-crossed and sought revenge on her employers. Hardly an original tale, one that has been examined in many forms from many angles. My angle – the story was set on a terraformed Mars in 2207.

In 2007, prior to escaping my home in Wales to live in Bath, I realised that I needed to expand my reading and most importantly, read some frakkin’ sci-fi! I settled on I, Robot by Isaac Asimov (I had watched the Will Smith movie and loved it. Yes, yes, I know, book is INFINITELY different and I love and respect that about it) and this curious novel Neuromancer. I had heard that it and its author were quite important in sci-fi circles. Upon reading this book, being mesmerised and disorientated by the world cannibalised by war and cybernetic augmentation, I realised that the sci-fi I truly loved and that felt most at home writing was this. Cyberpunk. To coin a theological analogy, I was a pilgrim who had just discovered his god.

Tracking back to 2010 and tying in the title of this blog. The essay I wrote was entitled “The Wisdom of the Noir Prophet: Arguing for the Inclusion of William Gibson in the Literary Canon”. I am damn proud of this essay. My last piece of academic work and it netted me a mark of 72. Sure, it didn’t push my overall grade from a 2:1 to a First, but by gods I was mighty happy with that. My last official piece of coursework and one of my favourite authors helped me to get a First for it.

Now, I should probably tell you all why Neuromancer is so important and how it changed the landscape. I’ve skirted the idea briefly earlier, but here’s some big red letters on the side of Mount Everest exposition. In 1984, Neuromancer introduced the world to the very concept of cyberpunk. It had been slowly building, fragments of the code drifting together and forming the ghost in the machine (to borrow and paraphrase from James Cromwell’s portrayal of Doctor Alfred Lanning in the aforementioned Will Smith movie), in the form of short stories written by Gibson and his cohorts Bruce Sterling and Tom Maddox (to name but a few).

But it was Neuromancer that came crashing through sci-fi’s bubble, trashing the place, then piling it all up into a corner of the genre and saying “This is our spot. We’re here to stay.” From the early movie example of RoboCop (a defining piece of cyberpunk cinema in my opinion) and the later TV example of James Cameron’s short-lived Dark Angel, cyberpunk’s mark was made, it stayed and people have taken up its mantle. It has even become a sub-culture, characterised by lots of shiny metal (be it implanted or just studded upon one’s clothing) and bright neon tubes in your hair, just to name the most obvious traits.

One of the most important aspects of Neuromancer and its wider cultural impact is the cultural imagery Gibson helped to define. Tron, admittedly pre-dating Neuromancer by two years in 1982, can be seen as one of the progenitors of this too – the perception of the Internet as this ethereal plane, vast flows of neon data pulsing up and down grid-lines, huge blocks of colour, geometric shapes, representing locations, websites, the targets of the hacker. While you can argue Tron created the visual, it was Neuromancer that gave it the name that has infiltrated its way into our common vernacular – cyberspace.

There is further significance to my raving about the brilliance of William Gibson. In honour of the publication of his new book, The Peripheral, he’s doing that funny odd thing that authors do – a book tour. And on November 25th, 2014, he is going to be in Bath. I am going to get to meet one of my literary heroes. I must struggle to contain the urge to squeal like a giddy little fan-boy.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Music Saves My Soul

There have been a curious set of developments in the last couple of days which are leading to something of a revamp of Sufficiently Cyberpunk. I say revamp. More...mild stylistic changes. We’re not talking News Night 2.0 from The Newsroom, though that analogy has crossed my mind. In a sense, this is Sufficiently Cyberpunk 2.0, but not to the same extent as News Night 2.0.

For some time-honoured context, the shift to SC 2.0 was triggered by a recent meeting in Bristol. I have mentioned once or twice that I work for Boston Tea Party. Currently, my illustrious employers have in the works a company blog. Being a writer and given that I have been banging my head against a wall for the last two or three years telling my bosses, “Hey, I’m a writer, I can write stuff for you. Please. Let me write stuff,” it is finally coming to a satisfying conclusion.

So last Thursday I was at our head office in Park Street, where along with some of the big-wigs (our heads of Food, Drinks, Marketing and People – the preferred term to Human Resources – to name a few) we sat down and talked about how to write an effect blog, true to Boston’s client base. I will admit, I wasn’t sure what to expect of this but it was a very productive and informative session. As a result, I am going to try and apply the things discussed there to this blog. One of them being post length. As much as I am liable to still ramble, my rambles will hopefully became less essay-like. More...concise, of a sort. No more than fifteen hundred words. At least that’s the aim.

Secondly, the titles. Away with the random quotations. A shame, I admit, but I most also confess that finding quotes for the last couple of posts has been tricky. They’ve been tacked on the end, instead of forming part of the conception of the post. Thus, away with quotation titles. Mostly. I might sneak the odd one in, when appropriate. I also won’t discount the idea of sneaking quotations into the posts themselves.

Speaking of titles, I should probably elaborate upon precisely why this first post of SC 2.0 has the title “Music Saves My Soul” and how it relates to the Boston blog. Simple. The freelance writer leading the session talked about a Channel 4 documentary called Don’t Stop the Music, which deals with the importance of music education and the related campaign by pianist James Rhodes.

First off, I am not a musician. I lack all musical talent. Any latent abilities in my family went to my sisters, as did a flair for artistic expression. I got the words, the knack for bending them to my will and using or misusing them according to whim. But nonetheless, music is something that I would regard as incredibly important to me. I cannot work without it. A soundtrack to a movie or TV show can tug at those heartstrings...well placed music, throughout life, can be a well of emotions, the source from which the stream of inspiration flows.

Back in 2009, there was a girl I had a major crush on. My friends conspired to help me do something about this – they arranged for an evening of television viewing where it would be them, me and this girl. The idea being I could finally make my move. I was nervous. Bordering on terrified. I was approaching a moment, a fork in the road where my actions could radically alter the dynamic this girl and I shared. Before going over to my friend’s house, I had to calm myself down. I listened to “Aqueous Transmission” by Incubus, to this day one of the most Zen and chilled songs I have ever encountered. One that never fails to calm me down. Lying on my floor for seven minutes and forty-six seconds gave me sufficient resolve to make a move (of sorts). While this girl and I never went being good friends, we are to this day still friends.

I also talk a lot about Battlestar Galactica being my favourite TV show. It’s got spaceships, explosions, head-frakkin’ storylines and complex characters. But it also has the absolute genius of Bear McCreary’s score. It really shines through in the second season, when McCreary steps out from the shadow of Richard Gibbs, composer for the mini-series who helped McCreary with the season one score. The music is just perfect, gorgeous instrumentals that are a feast for the ears. “Something Dark is Coming” from the episode “Lay Down Your Burdens, Part One” is a masterpiece. In the third season, a particularly delightful treat is “Battlestar Sonatica”.

When it comes to evoking emotions, there’s one track in particular I will cite. Fair warning, my explanation is likely to contain spoilers, so look away now if you want to avoid them.

“Resurrection Hub”. From the season four episode “The Hub”. In the episode, Colonial Fleet pilots, in conjunction with rebel Cylons, attack the Resurrection Hub, the central nexus for the Cylon ability to download their consciousness into new bodies – essentially cheating death. At the climax of the battle, the track strikes up as the Colonial pilots in their Vipers inflict massive damage on the Resurrection Hub, before firing salvos of nuclear missiles into it. As the music plays, as the nukes fly and strike, something...haunting hits you. Whenever I remember the song, as much as I love it, as much as it is a beautiful piece, there is something so poignant and funereal about it. Even though these are the Cylons, the bad guys, McCreary’s music makes me mourn the destruction of the Resurrection Hub.

This post has been a long time coming. I’ve wanted to wax lyrical about the genius of Bear McCreary’s compositions and it was discovering the Don’t Stop the Music campaign, hearing someone else talk about the importance of music to them, that I realised how to say it. Because it’s not just about Bear McCreary being a genius. It’s not just about the soundtrack to Guardians of the Galaxy being a masterpiece of 70s and 80s popular music. It’s the impact music has on us, the emotions it evokes from us, the joy we derive in listening, composing, playing. So, in addition to waving a flag of geeky appreciation for Bear McCreary, here’s a flag for the importance of music. Learning to play it and just listen and appreciate it. Don’t Stop the Music. It’s easy to support. If you have any musical instruments looking like Halloween decorations from all the cobwebs and dust gathering upon them, take them along to a local Oxfam and donate it. To find out how to do more, visit

I can’t play an instrument, but when I’m writing, music saves my soul.