I'm five days away from a Wired deadline and I can't work out what to write. So I thought I'd write some notes on here and see if it helps.
Normally I have a decent sense of my theme but am desperately short of stuff to flesh it out. This time I've got a big bag of stuff that seems like it might fit together but no idea how to do it. And, actually it might be two pieces, or three or none.
So, here are the disconnected bits:
Something About The Lack of Futureness
It's hard to miss the missing future in science fiction. Zero History feels like it's set in the past, actually last year, when we were all obsessed with tactical pants and I was still updating EBCB. I went to see Mr Gibson talk last night and he said it might be true that his last three books were a pinhole portrait of the first decade of the 21st century. And it struck me that maybe all his books are that, he's been approaching them from a long way in the past, imagining what they might be like. Now he's in them, capturing portraits of the now. Soon he'll be doing history.
I sometimes think all this talk of atemporality is an abdication of sci-fi responsibility. SF writers seem very keen to deny that they're writing about the future. They're not doing prediction, they're telling us about the now. OK. Well. Pack it in and get on with some prediction.
Anyway. It's not just sci-fi. I'm also depressed about the lack of future in fashion. Every hep shop seems to be full of tweeds and leather and carefully authentic bits of restrained artisinal fashion. I think most of Shoreditch would be wondering around in a leather apron if it could. With pipe and beard and rickets. Every new coffee shop and organic foodery seems to be the same. Wood, brushed metal, bits of knackered toys on shelves. And blackboards. Everywhere there's blackboards.
Cafes used to be models of the future. Shiny and modern and pushy. Fashion used to be the same - space age fabrics, bizarre concoctions. Trainers used to look like they'd been transported in from another dimension, now they look like they were found in an estate sale.
It seems like there's something about steampunk in here too. Another abdication of futureness. It's like sci-goth. (And, is there something about the massive cultural succes of goth and its children? It seems that, in the evolutionary sorting of youth culture, goth is now an eternal fixture. Every pie has a slice of goth. There are goth morris men. Disney has a goth varient. Within 20 years we'll have a goth PM.)
If we're looking for futurey fashion it feels like it won't take inspiration from space. It'll either come from biotec or human enhancements like these. I'd love to see what Acronym would do with exoskeletons. Or WTAPs. Or Armani. Or D&G. What would that be like?
Union vs League
I think there's something in the fact that Ralph Lauren and all those preppy brands are so obsessed with rugby. But it's rugby union, and a particular flavour of union too - gentlemanly, posh, floppy. The world would be a better place, or at least a more interesting and future-facing one, if the catwalks were full of fashions inspired by Rugby League.
While we're talking about fashion I always feel like I want to talk about pockets. Clothes just haven't evolved fast enough to cope with the stuff we have to carry these days. Those large, technologically oriented gentlemen you sometimes see in fishing vests are trying to solve that problem. But they don't look cool. There must be a stylish way to have many pockets - tactical practicality - without looking like you're pretending to be an assassin.
Also: Fashion's obsession with military and workwear feels like another dead end, a mined seam. Where else is there?
Cory vs Bill
Then, last night, I went to see Cory Doctorow interviewing William Gibson. I rather hoped they'd give me the answer. They didn't but they gave a lot of great thoughts.These are the bits I wrote down:
They talked about bohemias. Whether they existed any more, or were now distributed. ("There's no Emo Quarter" - CD) Or had been co-opted by corporations. (Having just finished The Conquest of Cool I was especially struck by the binariness (word?) of this idea. Bohemias are never separate from the merchants, they inform and are part of each other.)
Mr Gibson mentioned Bruce Sterling saying that maybe bohemias were the dreamtime of industrial societies and wondered what that implied for a post-industrial society (and made me wonder about whether you'd need to create new bohemias if you wanted to re-industrialise, which would seem like a good idea.)
Mr Gibson said he thought his early novels were full of horrible visions of technology and was astonished when people felt like they wanted to build them.
Unrelatedly he also said he'd seen some bearded youth in Covent Garden looking very like DH Lawrence. He suggested that maybe DH Lawrence was now more significant as a visual icon than as a writer.
These two thoughts seized me because I'd found it very hard, all evening, not to spend the whole time wondering where he'd got his jacket with the cool pen pockets on the forearm. And made me think that wheras his novels used to be manuals for building the future they're now very stylish, extended product catalogues. Like Noir LL Bean. (Though that felt wrong - they're much better than that.)
Side note: he talked about how the arrival of the word processor enabled/caused much of the writing approach of The Difference Engine. ( Sterling "You can airbrush the joins and file the seriel numbers off anything.")
His explanation for why his novels have snapped to the now is that there's not enough solid present around on which to erect a plausible future. There are too many wild cards around. Writing something set in 2060 demands you address so many issues that we know about now, but can't imagine how they'll pan out, that convincing prediction becomes impossible. That made sense to me.
That's what I've got in the pot. I'm not sure if it'll make a pie yet. Or what sort. Or whether it might be actually be a soup. But I've got it on the boil, writing it down has helped. Sorry to have bothered you.