Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Albedo One Issue 41 Released with Iain M Banks Interview

Issue 41 of Albedo One has just been released, and this issue features an interview I conducted with Iain M. Banks.  

Issue 41

Having set ourselves the considerable challenge of following our last issue of Albedo One (number 40) with its bumper 100 pages featuring no less than 12 fine stories, we now proudly present our latest issue. Issue 41 features an interview by David Conyers with Iain M. Banks and boasts the same redesigned look from issue 40 with interior artwork accompanying the fiction.
The issue features stories by Bruce McAllister ("Demon") and Eric Brown ("Differences"). We also proudly present the three winning stories of the International Aeon Award 2010 Short Fiction Contest, "Aethra" by Michalis Manolios, "Pinocchio" by Jacob Garbe and "A Room of Empty Frames" by Robin Maginn. Further excellent fiction is provided by Peter C. Loftus ("Reflected Glory"), Judy Klass ("Lost Highway Travellers") and Francisco Mejia ("Nathan Swindle and the Citadel"). The issue continues our programme of translations with an English translation of Jan J.B. Kuiper's surreal fantasy "Blavatsky's Knee", translated from Dutch by Roelof Goudriaan.
We are also proud to feature the three winning stories from the 2010 John West Fantasy Writing Competition. Students aged 11 to 20 from all over Ireland were asked to ‘feed their imaginations’ and compose a short story based in the fantasy/science fiction genre. Almost 5,000 entries were received from students nationwide. The competition judges were Frank P. Ryan and A. J. Healy. The winners were 13 year old Lauren Mulvihill (the overall winner) from Dungarvan, Co. Waterford, with "Ways of Making Maths More Interesting", 12 year old Kathy Cronin from Tralee, Co. Kerry, who won the ‘Senior Primary Category’ and 17 year old Aaron Elbel from Killarney, Co. Kerry, who won the ‘Senior Secondary Category’. Albedo One is delighted to see the writing of speculative fiction receive such an impetus in Irish schools.
Issue 41 of Albedo One features cover art by Richard Wagner and the interior artwork comes courtesy of Anastasia Alexandrin. It is available for purchase now in low-cost pdf format and will be available for purchase in print in the coming days.

Extract from the Interview:

David: You’ve been using the Culture in numerous novels since 1987 with the release of Consider Phlebas, and at lot has changed since then in our understanding of science and in technological advan cements. Do you find it difficult keeping the Culture setting relevant with respect to these developments?

Iain: Not too difficult; partly this is luck and partly cunning plan. I set the Culture in what for us would be a medium range future, but where a lot of the gizmology has either shrunk to the point you can’t see it or been put to the task of making things look like a much earlier, even lo-tech version of paradise, largely for aesthetic reasons. The ships are effectively the Culture’s mega-cities, while the places where the vast majority of people live – the Orbitals – are generally quite rural or even apparently wild, with all the infrastructure and fast transport stuff hidden on the underside, in vacuum. Any engineering and storage space is inside the mountains, which are mostly hollow. I just decided really early on – partly from looking at how and where people with vast amounts of money/power have chosen to live their lives throughout history – that what people really like is lots of space both outside and in, with a view over unspoiled countryside, though with the connectivity of a city. So that’s what Orbitals have. (The ones featured in the stories so far, anyway; probably about time to mix that up a little.)
The same idea of using hi-tech to go back to something earlier also applies to Culture humans themselves; I did think of Borg-like amendments and uploading into all sorts of techy and bio weirdness – and all that does happen and is mentioned in the stories – but I decided that in the end the machines (builtfrom-scratch machines) would always do that stuff better, so humans – after going through a civilisational phase of trying everything – would mostly revert to being recognisably human, though with significant changes. All the Culture bodily bio-upgradings are just the things I thought it would be cool to have, like drug glands, slower ageing, a wider visible radiation spectrum, the ability to change sex, pain control etc. There’s also the assumption that all the humans are just born smart; my working premise has always been that if I was a Culture citizen, I’d be of slightly below average intelligence (and, trust me, I have a – probably unjustifiably – high opinion of my own cleverness).
Making the ships fully sentient and masters/mistresses of their own destiny seemed obvious too, back in the Seventies when I was putting all this stuff together. It appeared clear that strong and constantly improving AI would be here by the time we had true interstellar travel and that having a human captain issuing orders to a ship AI would be as comical as a human being bossed about by a flea.
The idea is that machines can do everything better than humans except be human (and, arguably, have fun), so let the humans not even bother trying to compete in other areas, and concentrate on being human. Putting all this far enough in the future, and after that phase of trying out the sort of stuff that Transhumanists here on Earth are talking about now seemed like a good way of future-proofing the stories right from the start. Oh, and terminals; I kind of got that right; terminals are the smart phones of the future, though it’s almost all done by voice. Again, for a while they’d have been implanted, but that would just have been a fashion.
Happily, the cosmology behind the scenes in the Culture stories (the whole nested universes thing) is so insane that even the discovery of dark matter, dark energy and so on made nary a dent in its essential ludicrousness; it’s as absurd now as it was then.

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