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Preview: The Early Days of a Better Nation

The Early Days of a Better Nation

Ken MacLeod's comments. The title comes from two quotes: “Work as if you lived in the early days of a better nation.”—Alasdair Gray. “If these are the early days of a better nation, there must be hope, and a hope of peace

Updated: 2018-02-12T06:49:58.354+00:00


Return of the return of the Martians


At the Edinburgh International Book Festival 2017 I chaired an event with Stephen Baxter on his new book The Massacre of Mankind, the first and only authorised sequel to The War of the Worlds. Baxter's account of his book and its inspiration was enlightening, wide-ranging, and sometimes surprising. The event is now available as a podcast, and well worth a listen -- even if you were actually there, because you can hear everything much better than you probably did on the day. Like the book, the podcast is better than the original.

Six reviews and an interview


My latest novel The Corporation Wars: Emergence (Amazon UK / US) has had some good reviews, in Scotland on Sunday and on the blogs of Forbidden Planet, Blue Book Balloon, Geek Chocolate, and SF Crowsnest.

For those who'd like to know how the story has shaped up so far, the first two volumes in the trilogy were reviewed by Paul Di Filippo in Locus. I've been interviewed about the latest book and the trilogy as a whole at MyLifeMyBooksMyEscape.

The Corporation Wars: Emergence, and other coming attractions


The Corporation Wars: Emergence, the final volume in the Corporation Wars trilogy, is due to be published on Thursday 28 September. It's available for pre-order on Amazon UK, and Amazon US. Last Sunday it got a long and appreciative review in Scotland on Sunday, so I have high hopes for it.

I'll be talking about it, the trilogy as a whole, and no doubt much else, at two forthcoming events. The first is at Portobello Book Festival on Saturday 7 October (17:30-18:30, Portobello Library, free).

The second is on Tuesday 17 October at Waterstones, Bath (18:15-19:45), which has a strong record for hosting SF events.

Speaking of events, the book's Event Horizon launch (below) was a blast, with a wide-ranging conversation ably steered by Andrew J Wilson and with book sales and signings organised by Transreal (which now has signed copies in stock). Shoreline's next Event Horizon, on Tuesday 10 October, looks set to exceed even their usual standard of brilliance and panache.

Event Horizon launches Emergence


Next Wednesday, 13th September, Edinburgh's monthly SF mini-festival Event Horizon is doing me the honour of launching my forthcoming novel The Corporation Wars: Emergence (available for pre-order here). By special courtesy of the publishers, advance copies will be on sale at the event. Caroline Grebbell and Russell Jones will kick off proceedings, followed by a conversation between me and Andrew J. Wilson, author, reviewer, and stalwart of the spoken word scene.

The evening starts at 7:30 pm at The Banshee Labyrinth, Scotland's most haunted pub and the venue for many science, SF and sceptic events. Admission FREE.

Mike Levy Project


Long-standing SF/F critic and fan Dr Farah Mendlesohn is asking for volunteers to help her complete a colleague's book after Mike Levy, likewise a much respected fan and critic, died very suddenly in April 2017. The book is on aliens in popular culture and she needs people to write about alien conspiracy theories. If you are willing to write 1000 words (credited, but unpaid*) on one of these topics by 1st September please contact her on to discuss your proposal.

The topics are:
Sun Ra
Alien Autopsy
National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) 540
Condon Report
Mack, John: Harvard experiments
UFO Hunters
Cover Ups
polar aliens
*There is no pay as the contracted pay for the entire book was relatively small and Farah has decided to donate the sum to the IAFA in Mike's name.

Edge-Lit 6


This weekend (Saturday 15 July) I'm a Guest of Honour at Edge-Lit 6 in Derby. This one-day event (tickets £30) packs in a programme that many a weekend-long convention or literary festival would be proud of. Sponsored by Writing Magazine, a sheaf of small presses and the Horror Writers Association UK, Edge-Lit has an impressive range of dealers' tables and an imposing line-up of guests and participants. Where else could you see and hear Joanne Harris, Stephen Baxter, Jeff Noon, Andrew Michael Hurley, Peter Newman, Samantha Shannon and a dozen more all on the same day? Having been a guest at Edge-Lit before, I know you can expect a lively atmosphere and interesting conversation, on and off the platform, all day and well into the evening.

I and Stephen Baxter will be talking with Tim Hunter about Arthur C. Clarke, and later I'll be giving a reading and Q&A. Check out the rest of the programme (pdf) here, and if you like what you see, book here.

Improbable Botany


Some years ago I wrote a story set in approximately the same world as that of my novel Intrusion. I'm still inordinately fond of its title: 'The Bicycle-Frame Tree Plantation Manager's Redundancy'. It was commissioned by Wayward, an innovative art, architecture and landscape practice. The bicycle-frame trees themselves featured in an exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery. I read an extract from the story at an event there, and was impressed and touched by the quality of the artwork associated with my story, as the other authors involved were with theirs.

I'm delighted to say that the anthology, edited by Gary Dalkin, is now about to see the light of day – but only if enough people believe in it. And they should! I mean, look at this:

It's sumptuous. Lush. And the content is unmissable:
Improbable Botany, a brand-new science fiction anthology about alien plant conquests, fantastical ecosystems, benevolent dictatorships and techno-utopias.

Part survival handbook, part page-turner, Improbable Botany is a fond companion piece to many of Wayward’s past collaborations and features newly commissioned short stories by ten multi-award winning science fiction authors: Ken MacLeod, Cherith Baldry, Eric Brown, Simon Morden, Adam Roberts, James Kennedy, Stephen Palmer, Justina Robson, Tricia Sullivan and Lisa Tuttle. The book has been edited by Gary Dalkin, a former judge of the Arthur C. Clarke Award and former editor of Vector: The Critical Journal of the British Science Fiction Association.

We are also delighted to say that Improbable Botany features incredibly rich and evocative jacket artwork, alongside six full-colour illustrations (which are being offered as A2 art prints to backers across multiple reward tiers), by Jonathan Burton – whose outstanding body of work has been featured by The Folio Society, Penguin Books, BAFTA, HarperCollins, Random House and The New York Times.

This is the book plants don't want you to read...
If you want to read it, back this project on Kickstarter.

If you don't ... well, you'll never know what the plants are whispering about.

Science fiction stars at biggest ever Edinburgh International Book Festival 2017


To my surprise and delight, I was asked last winter to be a Guest Selector for a strand of science fiction events at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, August 2017. Jenny Niven, then on secondment from the Scottish Book Trust, met me a few times to sketch out the strand. We wanted to highlight the global scope of SF and its relevance to the turbulent present. A lot of emailing, networking, arm-twisting, begging, and general to-and-fro followed. Nick Barley, the EIBF's Director, kept a watchful eye on our tiny flying saucer even as he juggled hundreds of heavier and faster-spinning plates. The EIBF staff worked the machinery behind the scenes. The practicalities of organising even a handful of author events are formidable. The EIBF staff took care of all that in the midst of a thousand other events. This year's Book Festival programme is the largest ever. It's a joy and an honour to be part of making science fiction a part of that. Many thanks to all who made it possible. This is the result:Imagining how the world could be different can throw new light on how it really is. Acclaimed Scottish science fiction author Ken MacLeod certainly does that, as do the writers he has chosen for this series of events. MacLeod brings leading SF, fantasy and horror writers to Edinburgh, with international stars Nalo Hopkinson and Ada Palmer alongside brilliant British authors including Charles Stross, Jo Walton and Adam Roberts. Never before has the Book Festival welcomed such a dazzling constellation of speculative fiction writers.On Tuesday 15 August at 6:30 I'll be talking with Stephen Baxter about his new novel The Massacre of Mankind, an authorised sequel to H. G. Wells's classic The War of the Worlds. Baxter's deep, wry appreciation of the Wellsian worldview has long been evident: The Time Ships, his blockbuster sequel to 'The Time Machine', still glows in my memory. On Wednesday 16 August 2017 at 7.15pm I'll be chairing a discussion with Charles Stross and Jo Walton on 'End Times, Crazy Years', to ask: what happens when reality outdoes dystopia, let alone satire? Charlie is well known for writing a kaleidoscopic range of possible and impossible futures, some of them set in Scotland, and he's now and then commented amusingly on the difficulty of writing near-future SF, especially any set in Scotland. Jo Walton (of whom more below) has an encyclopaedic knowledge of SF (and history, and much else) at her fingertips. Her work is as varied – in tone and genre – as Charlie's, or indeed almost anyone's. My own work comes up for discussion on Thursday 17 August at 2.30 pm, when I'm on with Charlie Fletcher, who, like me, has just completed a trilogy. Two very different worlds – Victorian fantasy and far-future space opera – will be brought into focus by the redoubtable and urbane chair Stuart Kelly, who has read everything. I've long been a proponent of the argument, which I first encountered in the work of Gary Westfahl, that informed and engaged criticism by active readers has shaped the SF genre perhaps more than any other, from the letter columns of Amazing Stories onward. Who better to test this contention with than two outstanding critics who are also outstanding writers? That's what's on offer on Thursday 17 August at 5.30 pm, when I chair a discussion between Adam Roberts and Jo Walton. My first encounter with Jo as a critic was online, way back in the 1990s, on the Usenet newsgroups rec.arts.sf.written and rec.arts.sf.fandom. Jo has flourished in the same vein since, and in writing strong SF and fantasy of her own. Adam Roberts brings a different set of critical tools to bear: he teaches English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of London, he's written several works of academic criticism of SF and fantasy, and so far this century he has written a novel just about every year. He's also a notorious pun-s[...]

The Modern Bonnie Prince


A few weeks ago I took a box-load of books to the local charity shop, and predictably saw a book I had to buy. That copy of Tom Nairn's The Break-Up of Britain (1981) had evidently been donated by a studious and appreciative reader. Neatly ruled pencil lines mark almost every page.

Such a reader, once, was I. Nairn's 'Anatomy of the Labour Party' (1964), was my first exposure to the menacing shadows on that hoary institution's X-ray. 'Old and New Nationalism' whose first version I pored over in the biblically tiny print of The Red Paper on Scotland (1975, edited by Gordon Brown) had a lasting effect on how I (and many of its readers) think about Scotland. 'The Left Against Europe?' a book-length essay not in this collection, was a bracing heresy at the time and a cold shower today. Anyone who doubts the continuing pertinence of The Enchanted Glass, Nairn's book on the British monarchy, should read this and weep.

Not all the essays remain as insightful. 'Northern Ireland: Relic or Portent?' which I first read in the short-lived left-nationalist magazine Calgacus, struck me even then as interesting but wrong. On a re-read, it's still interesting, and not just wrong but wrong-headed. Its misprision of the Northern Irish Protestant community was ludicrous, its prescription of Ulster Protestant nationhood as the deplorable but unavoidable solution perverse.

That false note aside, the rest resonates. The eponymous break-up has moved from the reviews and journals to the daily front pages. Often enough, in the past forty years, Nairn's diagnosis seemed over-stated. Perhaps it was. There are only so many times you can sound the alarm about 'the crisis of the British state' without the villagers turning sceptical.

Now the wolf is at the door.

The other Saturday I went to the Edinburgh People's Festival's conference on The Life and Legacy of Antonio Gramsci. Among the featured speakers was Ray Burnett, author of a seminal essay that may have alerted Tom Nairn to the possibility of applying Gramsci's analytical tools to Scottish society. Talk about unacknowledged legislators! Nairn's understanding of the peculiarities of the Scottish has become the common sense of the Scottish intelligentsia.

But where has it got us? The left in Scotland is weaker than when it first focused its microscope on what Burnett called the ‘azoic complexity’ of civil society. For Gramsci the modern prince was the political party. That prince has sometimes proved a Borgia. In Scotland it is merely a Stuart.

How many stars
would you give a Princess of Mars?


It's been two weeks since Boskone 54, so it's about time I wrote something about it.

Boskone is a long-established science fiction convention held in Boston, Mass. (Laboured explanation for non-fans: it's a con in Boston. Boskone is the name of the evil empire in the Lensman series by E. E. 'Doc' Smith). For many years the con has been run by the admirable New England Science Fiction Association, and this year I was the NESFA Press Guest. (I was a Guest of Honour at Boskone in 2006, and neglected to write a con report, though I did write up and blog my Guest of Honour talk).

Organisers Laurie Mann and Erin Underwood kindly included my wife Carol in the con's hospitality, and did a great job of organising our travel. Laurie Mann and Geri Sullivan gave us a warm welcome on arrival, and sent us up 15 storeys to a splendid room in the fine Westin Waterfront hotel. The view of Boston's skyscraper skyline was like a double-page spread in National Geographic, which my own photography quite failed to capture.

We had a great time at Boskone, and in Boston, one of our favourite cities. The experience rekindled my affection for SF fandom, and for America. I can't do justice to it all. I met lots of old friends, made some new ones, and enjoyed my own events and those I went to. The program was packed, and the social life of the con buzzed.

Special thanks to Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden, who took us out to dinner at Legal Seafoods with Jo Walton and Ada Palmer. Charles Stross interviewed me with great aplomb. The Hal Clement Science Speaker, Milton J. Davis, was remarkably gracious about a kaffeeklatch cataclysm that was entirely my fault, and favoured me with a wide-ranging conversation into the bargain.

I prepared for my final panel, on Edgar Rice Burroughs' A Princess of Mars, with a hasty e-book purchase and a re-read that continued on the plane to Boston. This gave rise to the accidentally lyrical question that popped up in my inbox from Amazon's algorithm, and hence my title. The eponymous oviparous princess herself, and a striking John Carter, featured in the work of the con's Official Artist, Dave Seeley, as a kick-ass heroine. I'd give her a lot of stars.

The Corporation Wars: Reviews


The second novel, and/or the first two, of my space opera trilogy have had some good reviews by well-respected reviewers: from Stuart Kelly in the Scotsman; from Joe Gordon at Forbidden Planet; and from Paul Di Filippo in Locus.

And there's more!

Joe Gordon also wrote generously about the first book and about my event at the Edinburgh Book Festival this summer. The lively and incredibly prolific blog MyLifeMyBooksMyEscape interviewed me about the series.

The third volume, Emergence, is due to be published by Orbit in September 2017.

What I've (not) been doing


Yesterday morning I finished a long short story for an interesting project I've been collaborating in: imagining and designing Heijplaat, a small community in Rotterdam, seventy years from now. I started work on this more or less as I finished writing Emergence, so this is the first time in a couple of years in which I haven't a deadline to meet.

What I've not been doing lately is blogging. The last time I put any effort into blogging and tweeting was in 2014, around the Scottish independence referendum. The time and effort would have been better spent on researching, outlining, planning and above all writing The Corporation Wars, for which I already had a contract. The two years since the end of 2014 have been a bit of a slog.

In the wider world it's been a rocky couple of years, 2016 in particular. I've refrained from commenting on events because I didn't want to get into arguments that would take up too much of my time.

But of course, getting into arguments is a choice. I could just write opinionated screeds and not bother to defend them. This works for actual columnists, after all.

Merry Christmas!

The Corporation Wars: Insurgence


The second book of my robot-revolt-in-space trilogy, The Corporation Wars: Insurgence is now available from Orbit, Amazon UK / US, and all good booksellers including Transreal Fiction, from which you can order signed and (if you like) personalised copies. Thanks to all who've already ordered -- I had an encouragingly high stack to deal with this afternoon.

The book has already received one two enthusiastic reviews.

A Glasgow Saturday Night


Tomorrow evening, Saturday 10 September 2016, I'll be reading and talking at this event in the lively Glasgow arts venue The Old Hairdresser's:

Details here.

Suggested donation £5.

The Realm of the Sentients


Not a bad title, eh? I wish I'd thought of it.

In fact it's for the Edinburgh International Book Festival event where I'll be talking about my latest book, The Corporation Wars: Dissidence tomorrow, Sunday 14 August, 8.30 pm to 9.30 pm.

The book has had some great reviews: in the Scotsman, the Guardian, and from the perceptive Edinburgh blogger Tychy, among others.

One of those others, very gratifyingly, is Warren Ellis:
Edinburgh SF axis. Charlie Stross somewhere in town, Iain Banks in North Queensferry, Ken MacLeod in South Queensferry. All very interested in culture and politics to differing degrees. Ken McLeod is the most outwardly political of the three, as a writer, being an old Trot. He's been playing with different genre models of late, and, in this first book of a trilogy, I wonder if he hasn't decided to try and play a more commercial game.

No more old political forms in this one. Brilliantly, he sets up a world war between Accelerationism and Neoreaction. He starts it in the near future and projects it into the far future and tangles it up with artificial conscious intelligence and a kind of Permanent Late Capitalism and it feels right up to the minute. He's hit the main vein of conversation about locks on artificial intelligence and living in simulations and exoplanetary exploitation and drone warfare and wraps it all into a remarkably human, funny and smartly-designed yarn.

It is, in fact, a king-hell commercial entertainment. It's not a small book, but it rips along on rockets - and makes you feel bad for a guy called Carlos The Terrorist into the bargain. And, yes, it is about politics, framed in a way that is science fictional in that it also speaks to the science-fictional condition we currently live in where such things actually exist as part of the fabric of our slightly insane world. If that makes any sense. Anyway. It's smart and very Edinburgh SF Axis and you will probably like it if you're in the mood for science fiction.

What more can I say? Be there or be square, that's what.

Another free evening of SF in Edinburgh


Is Science Fiction Past Its Sell-By Date?


This announcement is itself almost past its sell-by date, I know -- but here it is: tomorrow evening, Wednesday 18 May at 7.30, I'll be making a short introduction to a discussion of the above topic for Weegie Wednesday, Glasgow's writing network, at The Terrace Bar, CCA Glasgow, 350 Sauchiehall Street.

(Spoilers: no, it isn't, but not for the reasons you may think!)

The shape of things to come: books


Orbit have done a cover launch for my forthcoming space opera The Corporation Wars: Dissidence and very good it looks too.

They've also announced that it and the rest of the trilogy is to be published by Orbit in the US. The second volume, The Corporation Wars: Insurgence is due to be published in December 2016, and the third (provisionally titled The Corporation Wars: Emergence) in spring 2017.

The shape of things to come: events


Here's my schedule of public events for the coming year:

Next weekend, 17-20th March I'm a Guest of Honour at Deepcon 17, Fiuggi, Italy. (The other guest is Walter Koenig.) A small ebook collection (in English, and in Italian) of three of my short stories is coming from Future Fiction.

Friday 6 May at 7 pm I'm giving a talk, reading and signing at Central Library, Stirling for Off the Page, the Stirling Libraries' Book Festival.

11-12 June, Justina Robson and I are Guests of Honour at Fantasticon, Copenhagen, Denmark.

On Monday 1 August I'm giving a Creative Writing Masterclass at the Scottish Universities International Summer School.

29 October: Fangorn, Sarah Pinborough and I are Guests of Honour at Bristolcon, Bristol, UK.

And finally (for now) ... next year, I'm the NESFA Press Guest at Boskone 54, which will take place on Presidents Day Weekend (February 17-19, 2017) in Boston, MA at the Westin Waterfront Hotel.

Free evening of SF in Edinburgh


Looking Back


Well, it's been a year. In personal and family matters it's been a good one. In terms of work, though, it's been something of a forced march. Entirely my own fault: I was doing work in 2015 that I really should have done in 2014. Instead, I deluded myself that with enough research and planning in 2014, I'd be able to write the first draft of a novel at a speed I'd never attained before. This made me uncannily relaxed about giving a lot of attention to the Scottish independence referendum campaign, having a good time at Loncon 3, and so on. In a sense I was right: I did write two novels this year, but they each took longer than I'd allowed for and left little time for anything else. At the moment I have the page proofs of the first, the second is with my editor, and the third is due for delivery mid-April. The plan is for the books to be published at six-month intervals from May 2016, and so far it's on course. What's it about? Well ... The general title of the trilogy is The Corporation Wars, and the books are sub-titled Dissidence, Insurgence, and Emergence. It's a far-future space opera about uploaded dead war criminals conscripted to fight an outbreak of robot sentience in an extrasolar system, and kept sane by copious amounts of R&R in immersive VR environments, some of which are beta-tests of a planned future terraforming and some of which are based on fantasy RPGs. The conflict rapidly becomes much more complicated ... but has this been the plan all along, or has a clever stratagem all gone horribly wrong? So I've been busy. Among the other things this has left time for: Giving a course, with Mike Cobley, on writing SF and fantasy at Moniack Mhor; talking, with Nathan Coombs, about space and socialism at a Manchester Spring event (video here); delivering a keynote (links to video and transcript here) at FSCONS in Sweden; and taking part in various book and science festivals. This year I've written introductions to five Gollancz SF Masterworks, and articles on: 'progressive' SF and human progress; SF and personal change; and spies and double lives in future and alternate Scotlands. Not yet online is my enthusiastic review of Brian Cox's BBC2 series Human Universe, in the Summer 2015 issue of Perspectives. Not written this year, but published in 2015 for the first time after many vicissitudes, is a discussion with Sherryl Vint on animals, biotech and SF. I also responded to some very intelligent discussion for the Crooked Timber seminar on my novels. Over the past few months I've been reading every Scottish poem published in 2015 (a still ongoing project, as they keep on coming) to select and introduce the next of the annual Best Scottish Poems, an awesome responsibility and a new challenge. Among the things all this hasn't left time for is what ate so much of my time in 2014: involvement, however marginal, in actual political campaigning and argument. Next year? We'll see. Meanwhile, all the best for 2016! [...]

Tarbert Book Festival


At 2 p.m. this Saturday, 28 November, I'll be interviewed by Lisa Tuttle at Tarbert Book Festival on the Poems of Iain Banks and on my own writing. The whole programme is interesting and varied -- if you're in the area, do check it out.

(Click for larger view.)

Upcoming Engagements


I have three public events scheduled for this month.

First, at 7 pm on Wednesday 7 October, I'll be in Kilmarnock, talking about and reading from the Poems of Iain Banks, as part of East Ayreshire's book festival, Imprint.

The following week, on Thursday 15 October, I and Nathan Coombs will be discussing Socialism and space: Why humanity must look to the stars, at

7 pm at
The Ape and Apple
John Dalton St
Manchester M2 6HQ

Farther ahead but closer to home, I'll be reading at Deadhead Comics in Edinburgh, at a fantastic evening event from 7.30 on Thursday 29 October for Shoreline of Infinity, Scotland's new SF magazine.

Book Festival


Tomorrow, Sunday 23 August, I'll be at the Edinburgh International Book Festival talking about and reading from Poems by Iain Banks. The event is chaired by Stuart Kelly, who knew Iain well and chaired events with Iain and me several times, so it promises to be something special.

Details: Sun 23 Aug 2:15pm - 3:15pm Garden Theatre

Tickets (£10.00, £8.00 conc.) available here.

In case you can't make the event and the signing afterwards, you can pick up signed copies at the Waterstones on-site shop and local branches. And if you miss that, copies signed by me and (if you like) personalised will still be available from Transreal Fiction in Edinburgh.

Scotland after socialism


In 1979, the French radical intellectual Régis Debray tossed a tear-gas cannister into the complacent, cross-class nostalgia for May 1968. He saw the significance of les événements not as a failed overthrow of French capitalism, but a convulsive convergence with the wider West, saying (if memory serves) that 'We had to imagine ourselves as Chinese, in order to become Californians.'

I can't match his gloomy verve, but I'll make a similar suggestion about the lesser upheaval of 2015 in Scotland. This is a country that never took to New Labour, but has suffered and enjoyed all the changes in class composition and identity to which New Labour was a reaction. And yet we've cherished our self-image as keepers of the flame. Our refrain has been: 'We didn't leave Labour, Labour left us.'

Now, in the name of Old Labour values, we've overwhelmingly elected a party that stands on almost all issues to the right of even the present Labour Party, let alone that of Donald Dewar and John Smith. The SNP is a party with a fresh, charismatic leader who appeals to all classes and who proclaims a business-friendly programme in social-democratic language. In doing this she has enabled us to at last catch up with the post-socialist world, without losing face or backing down. We had to imagine ourselves as Venezuelans, in order to become Blairites.