Transcript of Ken MacLeod video

Science fiction in Scotland

Transcript of science fiction author Ken MacLeod's filmed talk.

I'm Ken MacLeod, I'm a science fiction writer, I live near Edinburgh and I've written 12 novels over the past 12 or 13 years or so.

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

Actually what inspired me to become a science fiction writer, I guess, was reading science fiction. Like many people, I came across it in my early teens quite by chance although I had read science fiction before as boys' adventures and so forth.

But the first time I came across a book that was, as it were, presented as science fiction was 'Rocket to Limbo' by Alan E Nourse who wrote many books mainly for young people. And it was in the junior library in Greenock where I grew up.

Once I read that book I was completely hooked. And I guess for an embarrassingly long number of years actually, the next ten years or so, I probably didn't voluntarily read any fiction other than science fiction.

Amazingly, this got me as far as first year English at university. However I never actually thought of myself as potentially a writer unlike my friend Iain Banks who had formed the ambition to be a writer at some astonishing age and set out persistently to do it.

No, what SF inspired me to do was to want to be a scientist. However, I wasn't terribly good at maths so I ended up with the least mathematical degree available, a zoology degree.

I went off and did research in bio-mechanics and every so often I would make some really amateurish attempt to write a story. I would proudly send it off to whatever magazine was publishing SF at that time in the UK and gradually collected a few rejection slips.

The stories were all pretty dire. I think the … what's the opposite of zenith? … the nadir of this attempt to go into science fiction by the normal route of writing short stories and having them published in magazines was when I sent a story to 'Interzone'. This was the main British science fiction magazine in the early '90s and the rejection slip kindly suggested that I try submitting my stories to local fanzines.

So I submitted my story to a local fanzine, 'New Dawn Fades' many of whose contributors have gone on to greater things and they rejected it! So after that there was nothing for it but to write a novel.

More seriously, I had had ideas for science fiction novels for quite a number of years. I had plenty of ideas.

[Question on screen] Where did you get these ideas from?

I'm basically just an interested lay person for almost all areas of science including computers to be honest. I read 'New Scientist' from cover to cover more or less every week. I follow science websites and you know, click on any science-related links. There's also my twitter feed and this kind of thing. That's how I keep up-to-date as much as I can with science and technology developments.

I've also, if I could add, have done a little bit of work in the area of public engagement with science through my residency in 2009 at the Genomics Forum at Edinburgh University. That's a small part of a network of sociological institutions, of social scientists who study natural scientists at work as it were.

I had to keep biting my tongue when I first started off at the Genomics Forum because I kept saying things like 'social scientists and actual scientists' — ah, no!

[Question on screen] Do you think there is a uniquely Scottish dimension to science fiction writing?

Science fiction is kind of unique in terms of genre and in terms of mainstream fiction in relation to its nationality. It's a very consciously international, or at least international in the English speaking world sense.

I think that science fiction as a genre has offered Scottish writers the opportunity to write for an international audience and become somewhat more cosmopolitan than they otherwise might be.

Not that that's necessarily, you know, a wonderful selling point. As we see from the crime genre having a very Scottish-focused and local approach works very well in appealing to an international audience.


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