Transcript of Charles Stross video

Science fiction in Scotland

Transcript of science fiction author Charles Stross's filmed talk.

Hi, I'm Charlie Stross, I write as Charles Stross and I write science fiction. My favourite way of describing this is, I tell lies for money!

[Question on screen] What inspired you to become a science fiction writer?

Well, that's a hard one, because some people grow up knowing they want to become a premiere league footballer. Some people's ambition is to join the military or to design fashion.

I just sort of somehow internalised a very weird idea that I wanted to be an author from a young age. Don't ask me how. It might have been watching my mother when I was about six trying to write a novel at the kitchen table. But I somehow internalised this completely bizarre idea that it was a perfectly legitimate thing for an adult to want to do.

The science fiction bit perhaps comes from my reading habits from an early age. Another aspect of it, though, is one of the most formative influences on my youth. This was being woken up at about five o'clock in the morning — which was pretty unusual when you're four-and-a-half / five years old — brought downstairs and sat in front of the black-and-white television set showing this flickering, very grainy image of a guy in a really big white suit climbing down a ladder.

It was, of course, the Apollo 11 moon landing. And for the next six months I was mad keen to grow up to be an astronaut, until reality began to intrude and, you know, it was: 'No astronaut for you'.

[Question on screen] Where do you get your ideas for your novels from?

I believe it's probably impossible to write a literary, hyper-realist, modern work of fiction without taking into account cell phones, the internet, hacking, US Air Force drone strikes in Afghanistan, and any number of things which were the meat and bread of science fiction in the 1970s.

So as far as inspiration goes, I've been moving over the past decade paradoxically back towards the mainstream, to studying human behaviour in a fairly exact mode. But from the point of view of examining how we respond to changes in the technological eco-system we inhabit.

Part of this involves keeping current with trends and changes in technology and the sciences. Part of it is also observing the human uses of new technologies which are utterly unexpected and very very strange.

For example, in the late 1980s it became obvious that you could put a photo detector on a silicon chip and manufacture essentially the optical sensor of a digital camera, very cheaply.

By the 1990s I was reading outlandish proposals by scientists that you could, in principle, manufacture these camera chips for five pence each.

What are you going to do with them? Imbed them in telephones? Well, funnily enough that's exactly what we got. And your traditional nuts and bolts-mode science fiction narrative would have examined the physical hardware of making a phone containing a camera. Hey, we can take photographs and send them to each other!

This would have completely missed the bigger picture which is, what are human beings going to do with these?

We have all sorts of strange alarm stories, witch hunts and panics. For example, 'happy slapping' — the practice of disaffected youth running up to and assaulting a random stranger while one of their friends films the activity and uploads it to YouTube.

Or we have 'sexting' — the habit of American school kids and teens of sending topless photographs between their phones, which has resulted in prosecutors in the [United] States running mad and prosecuting teenagers for child pornography offences facilitated entirely by that strange five-pence camera on a chip.

What human beings do with technology is far more interesting than the technologies themselves. It tells us something about the human condition. Technologies expand the range of possible human behaviours. I find it kind of fascinating to try and see how this takes place and what human beings are going to do with them.

[Question on screen] Can you give us your definition of science fiction?

First you need to define fiction. I would define fiction as lies we tell in an attempt to explore the human condition. If it's not a lie then presumably it's real or perceived as real so you could argue its documentary or a work of non-fiction.

Fiction is constructive, creative lies. Science fiction arguably is entertaining and insightful lies that explore the human condition if we make changes to some of the constants around us.

If we postulate that the speed of light is something we can beat or that we can build time machines, or that there are aliens out there, how do people deal with these consequences?

It's actually very very rare indeed to find a work of science fiction that isn't, at it's heart, about human beings.


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