You’re Still Not Reading Enough Sci Fi, Pt. 1

I bet it’s true.

I’m not even talking about reading for pleasure; I’m not worried about whether you’re a geek or not. Geeks have inherited the earth; look at movies and TV screens and, oh, here’s the New Yorker with a Harry Potter reference in a headline about Trump’s budget.

I’m talking about reading these things – both science fiction and fantasy – for work.

These genres are incredibly useful ways of writing about our world from an odd angle, of positing changes and exploring their implications, or making manifest things which in our everyday lives go unnoticed or unspoken.

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I’ve always been pretty geeky, but I drifted away from this kind of reading for a while. I haven’t followed the genre trends or individual authors’ careers the way I might have as a teen.

Then I got working on projects which explore the borderland between fiction and reality: the time travellers, the island of librarians, the inevitable zombies. I got serious about finding ways to use games and roleplay to help communities and institutions think about the world to come.

That could be future-facing writers’ workshops in regional Australia, or games of The Thing from the Future, or toy robot case studies for health professionals – it could even be Escher-inspired 3D biographical comics – but in each case it brought me back to the delights of speculative fiction, the simultaneously wild and disciplined genre of stories asking: what if things were different?

Wild and disciplined at once? Well, yes; doesn’t the best of this writing posit a fantastic change and then carefully follow through the consequences and implications of that change?

An underrated example of this is Joss Whedon’s TV show Dollhouse, which imagined a technology for rewriting and overwriting people’s personalities and then worked its way, episode by episode, through all the possible uses, abuses, and inadvertent consequences of such a device.
 
TV sci-fi is great and the drama can be both compelling and relevant – there’s a reason we’re all watching Westworld just as anxieties surge about artificial intelligence and human identity – but I also enjoy the thoroughness of a good piece of prose sci-fi – and sometimes a writer from the past can prove more useful than you’d expect.

So this week on the blog, each day I’m going to point you towards some speculative fiction from the past or present which might be useful when we think about the shape of things to come. Get ready to get stuck in…

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Let’s Do Something Awesome

I’m off to the Australian capital Canberra tomorrow to work with Libraries ACT on their annual training day.

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We’ll be looking at creative approaches to community engagement, and sharing some neat little tools from my team, including the WELCOME Toolkit for programme design. Read more

Writing the Digital Future: Dispatches from Bundaberg

I’m joining the team from Queensland University of Technology’s Writing the Digital Futures project to deliver a two-day creative writing event in Bundaberg next month.

It’s part of the broader Digital Futures season at the State Library of Queensland this year.

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“Dispatches from Bundy: Visions from the Future, Stories From the Past” will blend digital media, oral storytelling, play, speculative fiction, and archival materials to help local people explore the past, present, and future of their town.

You can join in the fun on 4th-5th March, and check out the flyer here..

Marvellous, Electrical: Play Both

“I want to see technology used for good, but I’m fascinated by the possibilities for destruction!”

Joel Edmondson, CEO of Queensland’s QMusic network talks digital technology, music beyond entertainment, mysterious orchestras in the middle of the ocean, and the “nefarious, sulphuric beginning of life” in this week’s Marvellous, Electrical.

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Read “Play Both” here.

Digital Inclusion Forum, Sydney, 16 November

On Wednesday 16th November, I’ll be moderating panels and giving a short plenary at GoDigi’s Digital Inclusion Forum in Sydney.

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Sydney Opera House, by Wikipedia user Hpeterswald – used under a CC BY-SA 3.0 licence

We’ll hear about innovation and equity, digital technology and social housing, and accessibility in the information age – from speakers like Rachel Thomson of Australia Post, Ishtar Vij of Google, and Laurie Patton of Internet Australia.

You can find out more about the Forum, and the accompanying Expo and Pop-Up Festival, at the GoDigi website.

It’s free to attend, so if you’re in Sydney and interested in our digital future, come along and say hi.

Losing control in digital space: Liberact 2016

Last month I spoke at the Liberact conference of digital interactive experiences.

My paper was ‘Play, Chance, and Comics: Losing Control In Digital Space’.

Annotated whiteboard at a Brisbane gym

We explored comics, creativity…and what digital designers could learn from the noticeboard at a gym.

You can see an annotated PDF download of my presentation here.

Hope and Holodecks

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Like anyone, I worry about the future.

Right now we’re on the cusp of Trumpocalypse. Even if Donald J. doesn’t get to power, the US – and the world – will have to face the consequences of his campaign. The US election is the second scary vote in the English-speaking world this year, after Brexit – and look at how riven that’s left British culture and society.

And yet – I feel hopeful.

I’ve just been reading Digital Identity 3.0 (PDF download), a report from the Chair of Digital Economy at Queensland University of Technology.

Read more

What are you playing at? Digital comics at the Writing Platform

Why would an Aussie library get its designers to build a drag and drop comics website?

Aren’t there already plenty of free comic makers online?

What are you even playing at?

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The Writing Platform, a joint venture by Bath Spa University in the UK and QUT in Australia, has my latest piece, on the new remixable comic maker from State Library of Queensland.

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Read more about the State Library’s Comic Maker at The Writing Platform.

You Have Been Upgraded

The British Library has bumped me up from a “project worker” to Creative/Researcher at British Library Labs.

Just words but it’s always nice to have a punctuation mark in your job title. You can take it out and use it to defend yourself in single combat if need be. Especially as it turns out the “/” mark is called a Solidus.

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Read about my dual role over at the British Library Labs blog.

We The Humanities: Interview with Simon Groth, if:book

This week you can find me over at @wethehumanities, a rotating Twitter account where people working in the humanities get to share ideas, experiences, and stories. I’m using my week to talk about the grey areas between fact and fiction, dream and experience, stories and everyday life – as well as people who cross back and forth over the walls of universities and academic institutions.

Today we’re joined by Simon Groth, a Brisbane-based writer and editor who also leads if:book Australia, exploring the future of literature in the digital age.

Simon is currently completing a doctoral thesis at Queensland University of Technology, which “sits somewhere between creative writing and media studies.” 

He explains:

I’m looking at how digital tools can be (and are being) used to change the relationship between writers and readers. In particular, I’ve been fascinated by the technical innovation of experimental writers from around the 1960s. These writers took radical steps such as removing the binding of books in order to give the reader greater control over the narrative.

Part of what I’m investigating is how contemporary digital tools can bring greater nuance and subtlety to this kind of innovation. It also means I have to write a novel-length work without a predetermined order of chapters, which at some point I’ll be turning over to a small group of ‘play testers’. Basically, it’s been a three-year study into how I like to make things difficult for myself.

Read more