Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris due in the autumn; "Out of Tune book 2" edited by Jonathan Maberry, and "Crises and Conflicts" edited by Ian Whates, available now; and Lara Croft: the Blade of Gwynnever, due for release in September.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Another Political Notion

I didn't want That Man Trump to adorn this blog again,
so, here's a picture of a white, middle-class, privileged
woman, who's starting to feel quite strongly about some stuff
I was chatting with a friend today about her plans to leave the country. She has a ten year plan to take up residence in Spain.

Well… Good for her.

I just wonder what her chances are of fulfilling that plan.

Of course, plans are made for changing, and they change all the time, but what if she doesn’t want this plan to change? Will she still have a say in where she lives in a decade’s time?

We voted for Brexit… At least, I didn’t, but enough people did to make our break with the EU and our European cousins a very real possibility; some would call it a foregone conclusion.

We’re right at the very beginning of the exiting process, and, so far, I’m tempted to think that we’re making a pig’s ear of it. I have a feeling that a great many Europeans feel that way too. Of course, many of them are seeking their own moves to the right of politics, and, perhaps, even their own ways of leaving the Union.

America has moved dramatically to the right of the political spectrum, too, with the election of That Man Trump.

So, could it be that globalisation is on the way out? And if that’s the case, what could it mean for all of us?

Will the Liberal Elite in the United States seek to abandon what they might consider to be the sinking ship of their homeland… And, if they don’t abandon it now, for just how long will they be prepared to grit their teeth and hang on for grim death? Will one Trump term be enough to motivate them to leave? Will two?

The thing is, if Trump goes through with his xenophobic plans and closes America’s borders, and if the EU breaks up and more stringent border controls are implemented, will anybody be able to move freely around the globe, or choose where in the World they live?

We saw this in the second half of the century with China and Russia. Movement in or out was difficult and often impossible for dissidents.

It’s a strong word, isn’t it? Dissident! But these are strange times, and our language is bound to react to the changes that are taking place in the World.

If movement is possible, if the Liberal Elite in America, who now have a colossal fight on their hands to live out their principles, decide to quit their country, where will they go?

Well, I guess they’ll come here. They’ll come to the UK and to Europe, and it will be the kind of Brain Drain that the UK talked about in the second half of the last century, when so many young, educated people emigrated to America, Canada and Australia for a better standard of living. We call it the Talent Drain, now, because some still believe the UK is losing too many of its best and brightest.

It used to be about money. Perhaps, in the not too distant future the Brain Drain will become about ideologies.

Here’s the thing, though, with Brexit and a move to the right, the UK is also talking about clamping down on immigration. Will we allow American migrants into the UK? Well, we just might, because it appears to me that the stance against immigration is actually a reaction against particular kinds of immigrants: those who fall into the categories of having a native foreign language or a different religion or complexion from the majority of Britons.

We seemed to have a great many more problems with immigrants from our Indian and West Indian commonwealth countries in the second half of the last century than we ever did with the Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans, who also chose to make the UK their home.

So, if we all become less tolerant of foreigners, it won’t only be the needy who miss the boat (as it were). My native English speaking friend might find that she’s not very welcome in Spain.

Conversely, a friend of mine in America, whose politics are Liberal and whose calling is academic, has children who can claim dual nationality. What will their situation be in a couple of decades time? That Man Trump is claiming America for the Americans right now. He plans to close America’s borders. He was cheered long and loudly for proposing That Wall. 

What concerns me is what happens after he closes America’s borders. If life doesn’t improve for white middle America, who will they turn on next? It won’t be undocumented aliens, because they will have been banished already. Will they turn on Hispanic Americans or the black population? And when they’ve done their worst with them, will it be the Jews? Will religious intolerance take over? And when that phase is complete, will America turn on its citizens of dual nationality.

OK… I’ve taken this thought a long way down a very rough path, but you get my drift.

Martin Niemoller made a good point well, and he made it more than sixty years ago. I think it might be time to take another look at what he said. And, not for nothing, this is quoted by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Why Trump Won

So… This is what happens.
The Guardian Reports on Donald Trumps Election

When politicians lack humility, when their compassion doesn’t spread far and wide enough, and when they appeal to the nasty side of human nature… This is what happens.

There are a great many theories about why and how Donald Trump was able to get elected as President of the United States of America, but, in the end, I think it’s all rather simple.

I called this election on Monday, and I think that in some ways I was spot on.

The majority of Americans are white, the majority of them are blue-colour or labouring, many do not have college degrees. They have been the in the majority since North America was colonised, and they remain in the majority.

The biggest single problem is pride.

Everyone should be able to take some pride in some aspects of their lives, and in small ways, many of us can. The Liberal intellectual minority certainly can.

What does the average white man have to take pride in? They are not compensated adequately for their labours, and they feel that they are not respected, or even recognised by their political representatives, by the very Liberal elite that took such a trouncing in yesterday’s election.

The fact is, Donald Trump doesn’t see these people either, he simply had the wit to appeal to their sense of pride, and it paid off.

In middle America, in the first half of the last century, electricity came late, and much of the population lived without power and had to collect water, but they had their pride. 

Pride can be based on many things. Sadly, in middle American in the first half of the last century, that pride was based on a pecking order. A man might have to labour ten or twelve hours a day, he might have no power in his home or workplace, and he might have to collect the water he used, but he could still feel superior to more than half of the population. He could still feel superior to women, and he could still feel superior to the black population.

It’s not pretty, is it?

With the introduction of human rights, with the Liberal elite’s efforts to further the causes of women and ethnic minorities, the standing of white men fell. It has been falling ever since.

In a fair and just world, we should all be treated equally, and I’m a huge advocate for that, but when you’re in the majority and your standing in society appears to be falling all the time, eventually you will revolt.

Donald Trump gave white, middle American men someone to stand behind.

We talk about black lives mattering, and we talk about equal rights for women. The Liberal elite is on the side of the Hispanics and the Muslims, and rightly so, but each step towards equal rights for all, drives the average white man deeper into the mire. Their self-esteem is shattered.

Pride can be a destructive emotion, particularly on this scale. It can be frighteningly damaging, and, as the old saying goes, it often comes before a fall.

Will America fall? Can the clock be turned back?

The fact is that turning the clock back is what Trump is trying to do, but women and black America, and many other minorities have had to fight their corners, and fight hard. Progress is a wonderful thing, if only we could all see it. White middle America isn’t being talked about, and they resent it.

When minorities fight, progress is incredibly slow.

When the majority fights back, change can be ugly and it can happen very fast.

Trump took the pin out of the grenade.

Perhaps the Liberal elite should have taken notice sooner, rather than thinking that men who simply want to feel safer, richer and more important are stupid. They aren’t stupid, they’re angry… And that never ends well.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Thoughts on the Presidential Election

The Candidates Debate, reported by the Guardian
So, tomorrow marks the end of the latest American Presidential campaign as the voters go to the polls… I can’t help saying Huzzah! that the campaign is over. But, what the hell is coming next? 

I’m interested in politics, so I tend to follow elections, and I’ve never seen one fought quite like this in America. The Republican candidate appears to be popular with the disaffected, and the Democratic candidate doesn’t appear to be popular with anyone, including a great many Democrat voters.

The campaign hasn’t been interesting in terms of policy debates, it’s been a kind of freak show, not because Hilary Clinton is a freak, but because it’s almost impossible to stand on a stage with Trump and actually manage to look good. It’s like wrestling a jellyfish.

This would all be pretty amusing if it wasn’t a terrible combination of tragic and dangerous.

I’m not sure American politics will ever be the same again.

I wrote a couple of blogs about the British referendum to leave the EU, earlier in the year. (you can read them here and here, here, here and here). It was all very uncomfortable, depressing and bizarre, and it seems like politics everywhere are looking more and more like this. 

I wondered whether the Americans would look at what we did, with regard to Brexit, and take it as a cautionary tale. On the liberal left, they appear to be saying, ‘What the hell did you do?’, but the liberal left is a pretty small minority in America, based around the most international cities of New York and LA. The rest of America seems to be saying, ‘Bravo for taking back your country!’

Hilary Clinton might be unpopular, and for several good reasons. She’s also a seasoned politician, she’s extraordinarily clever and driven, and she has an understanding of what the job she’s running for entails.

Donald Trump is all mouth and trousers. He doesn’t employ rhetoric, he scaremongers, and then he claims to be the only person who can fix the problems he’s generated or magnified.

And yet, the American people seem to have accepted him as a viable candidate for President of the USA.

I don’t know why we have reached this position, but it would seem that the First World’s peoples aren't very happy. They want to protest, and they want change. They protest and seek change in the strangest places, though.

The British haven’t been content with the government for a long time. David Cameron managed to blame everything on Clegg and the Liberal Democrats during the coalition. He put a Lib-Dem in front of every unpopular policy he rolled out. He sacrificed a party that might have moderated him for the sake of politics. The Liberal Democrats were seen as the fly in the ointment, and a second Conservative government ensued. When nothing got better, and a number of things appeared to get worse, the British public began to revolt.

David Cameron, one of the most hated politicians in the UK, was in favour of remaining in the EU, and if it wasn’t bad enough having to ally one's vote with the Prime Minister, no one wanted the status quo if it meant living with the mess we’ve been living with for the past two terms of government. Offer a disgruntled public change, and they’ll grab it with both hands. The change the British were offered might not have been understood by many, and it might not have been change in the best interests of the country, but since when did any of that matter when it came to protesting?

Despite President Obama’s rather good record as President, the Americans seem to be seeking change, too. They were offered change in the forms of Bernie Saunders and Donald Trump. The Democratic Party ran scared of electing someone who might be called a Socialist. The Republicans took the reactionary approach. They dug in their heels as all angry voters tend to do. They went to the right, because that’s where they feel safest, and Donald Trump has only reinforced this in his scare tactics.

It’s easy for the liberal intellectual elite to believe that those who disagree with them are stupid. They aren’t stupid. They know that they want to feel safer, richer and more important. People living from pay cheque to pay cheque don’t want to give anything away or have anything taken from them. The problem is, if you’ve never done it, it’s impossible to imagine the pressure that living on the breadline exerts on an individual or a family.

The Americans have a dream built into their very fabric: the American Dream. Donald Trump has persuaded many of them that if he’s in charge of law and order, if he closes America’s border, and if he negotiates trade agreements, all Americans will have the chance to live that dream. To many, Hillary Clinton is merely part of the establishment that Americans feel has let them down in the past. Of course, Donald Trump doesn’t mention how he’s going to achieve any of his goals, only that he is, but he says it clearly and fervently enough to be believed by many.

America is in a battle royal over its future, right now, and if enough people are scared enough, and if they dig their heels in, we could well see Donald Trump winning this election.

If Brexit taught us anything, it’s that the apparently impossible happens pretty easily.

Wednesday night is going to be a long one for me. I’ll be sitting up watching the results come in, hoping and praying that this dangerous man doesn’t take the top job. But, if he does, it will be the will of the people, and, in a democracy, there’s no sensible way to argue with that.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Black Mirror

I tend not to be an early adopter of new TV shows.

There’s quite a lot of pretty decent stuff happening in TV, theses days… Some of it superior to cinema, and with the advent of Netflix and Amazon, we rarely find ourselves short of something good to watch.

I tend to let others do the hard work, though. I wait for people I like, whose judgement I trust, to recommend the best of what’s on offer.

There are exceptions to the rule. I found Orange is the New Black before it was a huge hit, and it’s still odd to me that more people haven’t seen Last Chance U or Unreal, both of which I rate.

TV does tend to be a bit feast or famine, though, and, recently, we found ourselves wanting something new.

Lots of people had been recommending Black Mirror, so it seemed like a good time to try it.

I tend to prefer series, where stories can build over a period of time, so I’d ignored Black Mirror on the strength that these are discrete stories… There’s nothing wrong with an anthology, of course, it’s simply about preference.

Charlie Brooker talking about Black Mirror in the Guardian,way back in 2011
I am, however, a big fan of Charlie Brooker. I used to love his TV column in the Guardian. He always strikes me as quite a clever man, and he married a Blue Peter presenter… What’s not to like.

I watched the first episode of series one on my own, and then had a chat with the husband about it. He thought that the show had got better, so we sat down together to watch the first episode of series three.

Among the good, there is so much rubbish TV around that watching something a little more cerebral seemed like a nice choice. The stories are quite clever and the writing’s good.

The two episodes I’ve seen of Black Mirror reminded me of the old Plays for Today on the BBC, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

It led me to think about what Black Mirror is and whether it fits any genre. I suppose it’s satire, of a kind, although, with politics in the world playing out the way they are, it’s pretty hard to be satirical. Black Mirror doesn’t seem to me to be SF in any meaningful way, and, while it can be pretty dark, it isn’t really horror.

I guess what Black Mirror might be is Literary Fiction for Television. That’s OK, too.

The problem is, I didn’t find the two episodes I watched terribly enthralling, and I did want to be enthralled. The writing was good and the ideas weren’t bad, either. The problem with the ideas was that they’re the kinds of ideas that have been floating around in SF for a couple of decades. The problem with the delivery wasn’t that it wasn’t slick, but that neither of the stories I watched seemed to go anywhere very interesting. Sadly, they were predictable.

The acting was great, the set-ups worked, production values were good… All of this should have resulted in something top notch.

I shall continue to watch Black Mirror, not to see what happens or where it goes, but to try to examine why something ostensibly this good didn’t satisfy me.

In the end, perhaps it was because these stories failed in the sympathy/empathy departments.

Yes, the two stories I watched could easily  happen in the real world in ten minutes flat, but that wasn’t enough to call this SF, or for me to feel sympathy with the set-up or empathy with the characters.

Clever is always good to see, and, no doubt, there will be stories that deliver more emotionally… It’s odd, because Brooker always seemed so very engaged to me… Angry, perhaps, and rightly so, but certainly engaged. I found these two stories rather cold.

On the whole, I can’t help thinking we probably need more television like this. In the end, I don’t know whether we’ll get it. This kind of television isn’t cheap to make, and it relies on a large and loyal audience. So far, so good. This falls between so many stools, however, that I’m not sure it can hit the mainstream hard enough to really last, and I’m not sure it can keep its audience, which seems to me to be made up of a lot of geeks and nerds who might begin to expect more satisfying stories that go further.

We shall see, but, for the moment, I think I’ll reserve judgement on this until I’ve seen more episodes, except to say that if Charlie Brooker intended to write Tales of the Unexpected for the twenty-first century, this is probably it.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Savant since the launch

Savant, by me... out now
So… Savant’s been out for a couple of weeks, now.

I don’t know what I expected from this book launch; it’s not as if I haven’t launched books before.

This was different, though, because this was all me… Just me. I wasn’t writing for a franchise; this was not a tie-in book. No one had any control over the writing of this novel, but me.

I wrote the boot seven years ago, and I sold it to Solaris over a year ago, so this has been a long time coming.

I do a lot of the husband’s publicity, and it’s me that checks his reviews. It was kinda weird doing the same thing for this book.

I was excited and fearful at the same time.

Of course, I had a bit of a head-start, because Pat Cadigan blurbed Savant. I love Pat, and I admire her work… Not for nothing, she’s won just about every SF/F award going, some of them more than once. Her approval made me feel a little more confident than I had when first I sold the book.

Around about the time of the launch Adam Roberts said some very nice things about Savant on Twitter. He didn’t have to, but I was very happy that he did. I always really enjoy Adam’s work, and I admire his intellect, so I was thrilled when he seemed to like the book.

By the time the novel launched, I didn’t really care what anyone thought of it, because two of the SF writers that I most admire gave it the thumb’s up. Who could possibly ask for more.

As it turns out, Savant has received more. SFX and Starburst magazines have both given it nice reviews, as have a number of book bloggers. There are even reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

I think, perhaps, my favourite comments came from my old friend Shane McElligott. He’s a dude, and I’m thrilled that he took the time to read the book and to review it. It’s very much appreciated.

I was invited by Chuck Wendig to write a guest blog on five things I learned while writing this novel. It might not be exactly what you’re expecting, but do feel free to pop over and read it.

I’ve done more publicity for this novel than I have ever had to do before. Since a lot of my work is written in collaboration with the husband, he tends to do interviews and appearances. I guess this is something that I’ll have to get used to. I did interviews for the Qwillery blogspot and SFX Magazine, and I’ve written blog posts for Chuck Wendig’s Terribleminds and for Barnes and Noble.

Tomorrow night, I get to do my first solo Skype interview… So that’ll be fun, although I have no clue what I’m going to say, or how I’m going to fill an hour. Fortunately, I happen to know that the interviewer is a nice guy, so I’m hoping he’ll hold my hand through the whole thing.

I guess the one advantage I have over many first-time writers is that the husband has been doing this for a long time, and I’m often in the wings watching. 

How hard can it possibly be?

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

The Fine Art of Distraction

We were away for a few days last week. We do that from time to time, for stimulus, to work and do research… for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes we just take a couple of days off to recharge our batteries.

When we go away, we try to find places that have little or no wi-fi, no tv, no landlines… No distractions. That’s a good thing, I think. We all need a break from the constant bustle of the internet.

As it turned out, we did have a little bit of intermittent internet while we were away, and it’s a good job, too, because work came in for both of us; the husband had stuff to do on Monday and Wednesday, and I had stuff to do on Tuesday and Thursday. We were four for four… That isn’t unusual.

So, we did try to hook up to the internet when we needed to trade e-mails. Like many people, I have the habit of checking my social networks any time that I’m on-line. This is partly to do with work, but also because it’s an innocent distraction: there are kittens. 

It’s not difficult to spend quite substantial chunks of time being distracted by FaceBook posts, by Twitter, and by all manner of gifs and photos and other ephemera. Because, let’s face it, all that stuff is ephemeral: There and gone in no time.

With my intermittent, unreliable wi-fi last week, I still clicked and scrolled, but the clicking and scrolling was slow, and I gave up pretty quickly. There was nothing I couldn’t live without.

So, the next question had to be, Why on Earth do I spend time clicking and scrolling, and looking at stuff? If waiting a second for something makes it undesirable, what was the attraction in the first place?

It’s not that I don’t ever find anything worth finding; the point is we give little value to that which comes very easily, and the internet makes everything come to us very easily, particularly when the wi-fi’s going at full-tilt.

Stimulus is good, and browsing is good. I like to browse bookshops, and I like to flick through newspapers and magazines. Of course, it’s possible to find things that you’re probably not looking for in bookshops and newsagents.

The problem with the internet is the filter bubble that comes with it. We are constantly being second guessed so that the web can deliver the things it thinks we will like most. This isn’t just dull, it’s also dangerous.

If we are only shown the things closely adjacent to things we’ve seen before, we’ll all be funnelled into tiny little compartments. Our brains, our imaginations will atrophy.

But that’s not the worst of it. The worst of it is that our thoughts, ideas, ideologies, politics etc will all be filtered down.

I buy a pair of white sports socks on the internet, and suddenly, when I type in ‘socks’, I get more sports socks. I like the white sports socks, so I buy some more. Suddenly, when I type in ‘socks’, I get white sports socks… Buy two pairs in the same brand, and suddenly all I’m offered is white sports socks from one brand.

The truth is, when I bought the socks, they might have been an aberration. I might not, as a general rule, be a white sports socks person. I might be a multi-coloured toe-sock person. Trouble is, now, I feel as if I must be a white sports socks person, because that's what the internet perceives me to be. Now, it becomes increasingly difficult to find any other sock in any other colour by any other maker.

Now think about that in terms of politics.

Let’s just suppose I’m a Republican (yeah… I’m really not. Smiles), so I look up that man Donny Trump on the internet. The more I look, the more right wing, Donny-loving reports come into my sphere. My field of view is narrowed. I stop seeing Democrats, let alone independents. I’m persuaded to think that Donny is the only man out there. I might not be a natural Trump supporter, and had I been offered a more balanced diet, I might choose not to vote for him. The trouble is, that’s what the internet thinks I am because that’s where the filter bubble has taken me.
Widely available, and well worth the read

No wonder politics is polarising.

I don’t think anyone believes that Trump would have made it this far, even a decade ago, let alone twenty or fifty or a hundred years ago. But, the internet wasn’t as influential even a decade ago, the filter bubble wasn’t nearly as sophisticated as it is now.

Is this a coincidence? I don’t know.

I do know that I plan to do a lot less idle clicking and scrolling, and any steps I can take to defeat the bubble, I’ll be trying very hard to do.

Read The Filter Bubble by Eli Pariser. It’ll scare the pants off you. 

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Why We All Need Feminism

The last blog I wrote was entitled ‘The Cost of Being Female’.  It was about a young woman who got a parking fine for being a few minutes late back to her car. She’d done everything right: parked close to the venue in a well-lit, safe, town-centre facility, paid the maximum for the time-limited space, and organised someone to walk her back to her car at the end of the evening. Unfortunately, she had to wait for her friend, making her a few minutes late back to the car. She followed this up by doing the right thing and asking for the fine to be waived for mitigating circumstances. Obviously, that didn’t happen.

There are all kinds of costs associated with being a woman in a man’s world. One of those costs is to be bullied on the internet.

Honestly, I don't get trolled very much, despite being a fairly vocal feminist.

I was trolled for this post, first on Twitter, and then in the comments section of the blog.

I chose not to engage. There is very little point trying to talk to someone who has chosen a path through life. It felt like a waste of my time and energy.

I mentioned the trolling on my FaceBook page, and got a lot of responses, more than half of them from men, who were horrified by the troll. One of my friends posted a long reply to the troll, but he did it on my FB page because, for some reason, he was unable to comment on my blog. I re-posted his comment there on his behalf, and with his agreement.

It didn’t help… I guess it was never going to. It was quite interesting watching the whole d├ębacle unfold, though.

I had stepped away.

Men don’t do that.

I’m ambivalent about that.

I stepped away because I felt sure that there was nothing I could do to moderate the thinking of the troll. I didn’t feel as if it made me less of a feminist, but I was able to shrug off my anger, because this is what we’ve all become very used to.

I didn’t need defending. I could very easily have defended myself if I’d felt the need… But, defended myself against what? What is the point of engaging with this kind of person? He is entrenched, just as I am, I suppose.

But do we simply go back to our respective corners and ignore the fact that this man is a bully, a coward, and, potentially, a threat?

A man… more than one, in fact, came to my defence… Or, perhaps, he was simply standing up for what he believed in. And there’s certainly part of me that admires that.

The end result was ugly, though. Was it uglier than the troll? I don’t know… probably not… It was ugly, nevertheless. Did the troll capitulate and was his thinking changed? Absolutely not. If anything he became even more abusive and more entrenched.

The troll is not only a misogynist, he also appears to be racist and homophobic… The holy triumvirate of the far right, particularly in his home nation.

The men who weighed in on him and called him out, did what feminists have been saying that good men should do. I admire that. It’s wonderful to have such staunch allies.

They weren’t effective, though, and some of the things they said, while possibly true, were pretty unpleasant.

So, in the end, I’m ambivalent about all of this.

On the one hand, I’m very proud to have male friends who embrace equality for all of us… On the other hand, they are men, and men are pugnacious; they attack and defend, and hostilities escalate.

Perhaps, this is the real reason we need feminism. These were good men, doing the right thing, and it all still looks ugly to women like me.

I have the great good fortune of associating with some wonderful men
Here are some of my favourites.