This is the view from the Amtrak Coast Starlight train as it journeys through Oregon, from Seattle to Los Angeles. I took it this summer, after wrapping up a gig with ASU’s Center for Science and the Imagination at a publishing event in Vancouver. I’ve wanted to take this particular train trip since first hearing about it, years ago. The part of me that is still a child watching a Betamax copy of North by Northwest taped from TV remains fascinated by train travel, by the opportunity to see a country reeling away behind you like a film strip, and the opportunity to meet people you’d never meet, otherwise. But to take the trip my parents and I used to drive so often, this time by myself and on my own dime, seemed like an affirmation of my adulthood.
I tend not to write these, mostly because I’m absorbed in Twitter and other end of year tasks. But I realized that I actually had a novel and a couple of publicly-available short stories come out this year, instead of half-finished novels and science fiction prototypes that never travel outside a board room. (Although I did write those, too.) So, without further ado:
I’ve said it before, but SNEAKERS told us more about the future than HACKERS did. https://t.co/C6LLXpCH84
— Madeline Ashby (@MadelineAshby) June 18, 2016
I have a deep and abiding love for Sneakers, Phil Alden Robinson’s film, penned in part by Lawrence Lasker, who also wrote War Games. Like that film it’s also a critique of how technology and power intersect. But instead of cute-but-scrawny Matthew Broderick, it has rumpled-but-sexy Robert Redford. I’m not saying that Sneakers is entirely responsible for my sexuality, but, well, I invite you to check out my wedding photos. More importantly, it’s a much better film than its contemporary, Hackers, which is basically about Hot Topic employees fighting computer graphics. I’ve probably watched Sneakers at least twenty times. I was nine when it came out. I probably first saw it around the age of ten, when it appeared on VHS. As a kid, it was one of my favourite movies. And it still is.
The only thing was, I never really identified with Mary McDonnell’s character. She’s The Girl, in case you didn’t know. Because, you know, There Can Be Only One. It’s her job in the story to rope-a-dope an engineer by getting him to say the right word (“I just love the word passport,” she coos) that will allow the guys entry to Playtronics Industries. Also she gives them the use of her townhouse for a while, which quickly becomes more of a treehouse, strewn with computer parts and someone else’s garbage. The point is, she’s basically there to be attractive enough to seduce the mark. Growing up, I knew that would never, and could never, be me.
Which is why I thought about gender-swapping the story.
— Madeline Ashby (@MadelineAshby) June 18, 2016
And, well, the idea wouldn’t leave me alone. You see where this is going, right? I mean, it’s not like I have too many secrets.
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While I was away on the Company Tour (which I really need to write up), I received an invitation to participate on a panel on science fiction and futurism at San Diego Comic Con. A friend of mine couldn’t do it, and recommended me, instead.
I know, right? I am a very lucky person. (Very lucky, and very grateful.)
About three weeks ago, my friends at the ASU Center for Science and the Imagination asked me to join them at the annual meeting of the Society for Scholarly Publishing for a “book sprint.” I’ve done similar sprints with them before — in collaboration with the WorldBank’s EVOKE project, I wrote a complete 10-page comic book script on the future of human trafficking. But knowing that my airfare would be paid for, I started to wonder if I could turn this into visit to my parents, who live about four hours away from Vancouver in Twin Peaks country.
And then I started to wonder: could I see more people? Could I finally hang out with some of the collaborators and clients and friends who had invited me out to the West Coast after our various engagements?
The reviews are in! (At least, some of them are.) In addition to blurbs from Charlie Stross, Seanan McGuire, and Chuck Wendig, here are some other reviews for Company Town, which is finally out today! So if you were thinking about picking the book up but wanted to wait for some professional opinions on the matter, here you are:
Company Town comes out next week, (although Chapters Indigo in Canada seems to be shelving it already!), and so I thought it was time for me to put up some of the music I listened to while I was writing it (and re-writing it, and re-writing it yet again).
There are some odd combinations here. Waylon Jennings and Portishead. The Irrepressibles and Lucinda Williams. Nine Inch Nails and Carly Simon. Smatterings of the Manhunter soundtrack. (I watched Manhunter at least once a night for a solid month, during one particular re-write.) Reviewers have been saying that Company Town straddles a lot of genres, and so does this playlist.
One thing there isn’t: a whole lot of Newfoundland jigs or reels or chanteys, even though the novel takes place there. There also isn’t any K-pop, although one character is a former K-pop idol. (Fun fact: Hwa abhors K-pop, mostly because her mother used to make her learn all her old dance routines.) If you have recommendations for either of those genres, let me know.
The playlist happens in roughly chronological order. If you notice a shift in tone as the set plays out, it’s because the tone of the novel is changing. And if you read quickly, you’ll probably be able to feel these tones shifting both in the air and on the page. There’s over four hours of music, here. And while the book isn’t what I’d call slim, it’s also not exactly a doorstop. You can probably manage some synchronicity if you have a comfy chair, a locked door, and a well-stocked bar. Enjoy!
A while back, the amazing people at FuturEverything invited me to Manchester to give a talk at their festival. I had watched the festival from afar via Twitter for years, and I felt like the cool kids (Goth-cool, not preppie-cool) had finally invited me to their lunch table.
Only their lunch table was Manchester Town Hall, which is a Victorian neo-Gothic cathedral to municipal goings-on, complete with gargoyles, crenellations, murals, stained glass, brass chandeliers, and odd little mosaics depicting bees. “It’s a worker bee,” one of the volunteers told me, in a very helpful tone that was not all reminiscent of an extra in The Wicker Man.*