#NotEnoughSciFi: Time of the Clockwork Dutchmen

It’s been a while since the last #NotEnoughSciFi, an occasional series looking at works of science fiction and fantasy which I think might be useful for organisations, institutions, companies, and communities which are trying to get ready for the shape of things to come. See previous entries here.

I had a glorious time with a book last week. Something that hadn’t happened since I was a kid.

I was busy at work and didn’t have much time for leisure reading. So when I started Ian Tregillis‘ novel The Mechanical, I only expected to manage a half-hour or so a night before falling asleep.

Instead, I stayed up through the night to finish the book. The next evening, I started the second volume of the trilogy which The Mechanical begins. On the third night, bleary but compelled, I finished Tregillis’ series. I spent my nights lost in his world. It was heaven on earth.

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The series – called The Alchemy Wars trilogy – is a work of fantasy, not science fiction. It is set in an alternate version of the year 1926 which owes as much to the 17th century as the 20th, where the Dutch and French are the warring European powers whose conflict has shaped global history.

So why does it have anything to teach us in 2019? Read more

#NotEnoughSciFi: Feels, Facts, and Reason

#NotEnoughSciFi is an occasional series looking at works of science fiction and fantasy which I think might be useful for organisations, institutions, companies and communities which are trying to get ready for the shape of things to come. See previous entries here.

These days, it can feel as if reason, facts, and truth themselves are under assault. As if the institutions and professions – the academy, journalism, research, librarianship – which have allowed many of us to understand and discuss the world on common ground are beleaguered.

In pop culture, can we find new ways of imagining these figures for the coming world? Do science fiction, fantasy, and the study of our society overlap and can this overlap help us?

I’ve just finished a couple of books which turned out to converge in weird and useful ways: William Davies’ Nervous States: How Feeling Took Over the World and Una McCormack’s production history and critical response to a 1980s BBC TV serial, The Curse of Fenric. Read more

Postcards from the Future: Behind the Scenes at Wondrous Strange #notenoughscifi

Imagine letting your community dream wildly of the world to come.

Imagine collaborating on a future history spanning millennia.

Imagine turning public space into something that was wondrous and strange.

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As part of our time-travel themed festival of weirdness, storytelling, art and science at Ann Arbor District Library, we asked visitors to write postcards from the future.

We collected over 80 tales stretching from 2018 to the year 5000.

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Wondrous Strange at Ann Arbor District Libraries

I’m just back from a week delivering training and community engagement for Ann Arbor District Libraries, an acclaimed public library service in Michigan, USA.

The micro-residency culminated in an all-ages half-day event called “Wondrous Strange”, blending play, history, prophecy, technology, art, craft, science fiction, time travel, and storytelling.

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Wondrous Strange was an opportunity for the Ann Arbor community to venture into an imagined world blending fact and fiction, and to create their own shared stories and experiences stretching from recorded history into the distant future.

More on my Michigan visit soon, but for now here’s a short video from last Sunday’s session.

#NotEnoughSciFi – Hope and Holodecks Revisited

This week in Michigan, I’m leading a series of talks, workshops, and pilot sessions on immersive play and live-action experiences in libraries and other community settings.

To tie in with these sessions, I’ve written a little piece about Hope and Holodecks – incorporating Blade Runner, Star Trek, Captain America….and Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion.

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Look, I think one day we’ll get holodecks.

That was what Star Trek: The Next Generation called the interactive, fully immersive spaces where crew members could conjure ultrarealistic, AI-driven virtual experiences of play, sport, storytelling, historical research, or even technical experimentation.

I think one day they’ll arrive.

I think that whatever the library becomes or is replaced by in the future will look a lot like the holodeck. Instead of summoning information in containers like books or web pages, it will feel like an immersive, flowing sensory and social experience.

It won’t be libraries or other knowledge institutions that develop them, though – it costs too much money.

What’s interesting about how Star Trek imagines that experience is not the pseudoscientific technology behind it. It’s how fluent all the characters are in its use.

They walk into that magic space, summon a story or game or simulation, and tailor it to their requirements. Read more

Artists Ettamodern & Scribbletronics visit University of Southern Queensland

As part of this week’s Astronomy Festival at the University of Southern Queensland, we’re joined by Melbourne artists Wendy Catling and Peter Miller, aka Ettamodern and Scribbletronics.

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Wendy is an artist, designer and teacher who employs light to create works on paper and fabric – particularly blueprint-style ‘cyanotypes’. Her prints are held in the collections of Warrnambool Art Gallery, the Australian National Gallery, and private owners.

Peter is a composer, sound designer, and audio-visual artist whose work includes sound design for films The Ring and Rango and additional design for Mad Max: Fury Road, as well as a sound installation in the Qantas first-class lounges in Sydney and Melbourne.

I’ve previously worked with Ettamodern and Scribbletronics on the Time Travel Detectives roleplay, which was built around two of Peter’s digital artworks. This children’s event blended steampunk adventure, optical illusions, and tablet technology to help kids explore Australia’s past and the scientific method.

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On this visit, Wendy and Peter will join USQ staff, students, and the wider community to explore new opportunities to work at the meeting point of art, science, and community engagement. Find out more at the University of Southern Queensland’s website.

#NotEnoughScifi: John M. Ford & the Funny Business / Coda

We come to the final instalment of this series on the forgotten but brilliant science fiction writer John M. Ford.

Over the last few posts, we’ve looked at how he made nifty comedy out of the Star Trek franchise, and how his interest in games allowed him to lend nuance to the usual goodies-vs-baddies-in-space shenanigans when he was playing in other people’s universes.

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We also thought about why thinking science-fictionally matters when we try to find new ways of doing things for our communities, our organisations, ourselves. And we considered how good ideas move between the world on the page and the world beyond it.

I wanted to end by coming back to Ford’s actual life in Minneapolis. Read more

#NotEnoughScifi: John M. Ford & the Funny Business / Part 3

I started reading obscure author John M. Ford’s Star Trek books recently and I was blown away by how good they are.

I mentioned this online and other Ford fans started coming out of the woodwork:

Then I picked up a rulebook for a roleplaying game – GURPS Infinite Worlds – to research a time-travel-themed event I’m working on with a client.

Of course, whose name did I find among the co-authors?

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Ford wasn’t just a novelist or poet – he also worked on role-playing games, devising scenarios and background material that other people could use to play out their own stories.

The past couple of years I’ve been working on ways to use such games for professional development, so I was pretty excited to have Ford come back into my life so soon.

Not only did he work on Infinite Worlds – a time-travel/parallel universe setting which, as the title suggests, can encompass almost any other scenario or genre – but he created an award-winning caper for the game Paranoia, and a manual for people who wanted to play as the traditionally villainous Klingons in the Star Trek game.

And here’s where we come back round to Ford’s novels, and to the making of fun and brilliant things in the cracks and spaces of big-money enterprises.

Here is where we talk about The Final Reflection.

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#NotEnoughScifi: John M. Ford & the Funny Business / Part 2

Life is messy. The structures and services we design need to reflect that.

Creative responses to the world resist programming and procedure. You have to be flexible when you seek to address the challenges of this uncertain, unpredictable existence.

And if you’re going to plan and scheme a better future, that process should be intellectually stimulating, exciting: fun, even. Because if a vision of the future doesn’t engage, convince, and inspire, how are you going to make it work?

Let’s talk about Star Trek.

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#NotEnoughScifi: John M. Ford & the Funny Business / Part 1

I’ve been thinking about where we go next.

It’s a big part of my job, which essentially has two sides.

One of them is connecting and coaching people to bring their own bright ideas to fruition: finding resources, partners, and opportunities for them to realise marvellous initiatives.

Another part is scouting out the unmarked territory, the unknown spaces beyond service models and strategic visions, the opportunities we hadn’t even considered yet.

That includes using speculative fiction, sci-fi, and fantasy as a way of thinking about how things could be different…and what comes next.

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