Alt.Fiction brings you an extensive programme of Horror, Fantasy and Science Fiction literature events. Our flagship Alt.Fiction Literature Festival has been running since 2006 with an exciting mix of panels, readings, workshops and podcasts. Featuring leading authors, agents and editors, it is a celebration of all things genre fiction. In 2010, Alt.Fiction became a Writing East Midlands brand, evolving in to a year round programme of events taking place across the East Midlands and beyond.
We’re excited to be delivering our first two day festival in Derby this June, as wellas more intimate evenings throughout the year, with leading lights in Science Fiction such as Iain M. Banks, to interactive panels with industry experts. Alt.Fiction’s events are for fans and writers alike.We invite you to join us on a tour-de-force of alternative fiction!
I haven’t missed an AF since they started and they just keep getting better and better! When it moved from the Assembly Rooms to Quad last year, I was a bit worried that the smaller venue might not be able to cope. True, there isn’t as much milling-about space as over the square but this year confirmed that the panels and workshops are far better served by Quad. Also, the newly refurbed Quad cafe was a wonderful place to author spot:
The best instance of this was when I was sitting and chatting with Tony Ballantyne and Ian Sales. We were, as usual, talking about favourite authors and I was wanking on about Jon Courtenay Grimwood and how much I love his books and would love to know what he’s up to / when the next book is out. Ian piped up, “Why don’t you ask him – he’s sitting over there!”
Sure enough he was, so I went and got the snap above. That’s the joy of AF, you pay a tiny amount of money for what you get: panels and workshops from the top authors in their genres. I went to every panel I could and I heard so much amazing advice for budding writers that it put my entire year of taking Creative Writing at Derby Uni to shame. It was an intense weekend, I can’t seriously pick out any highlights because everything I attended was of such a high calibre. One thing I can say: every panel needs more Sarah Pinborough! 🙂
This year’s guest of honour was Alastair Reynolds. He delivered an intimate, funny ramble about his career and I was quite bewildered that I was sitting there, listening to yet another of my favourite authors speak in person.
Alt.Fiction 2011 ticked every box for me and then some. I had sooo many chats with people, talked about so much SF, politics, films, music. The only downside of AF is that it makes me realise how isolated I am the rest of the year. The net is fine and all but there’s something special about meeting and conversing with other geeks in person.
Alt.Fiction 2007 is a one day event in Derby featuring leading UK talent in science-fiction, fantasy and horror writing. The event is in its second year and is proud to present great authors such as Iain M Banks, Harry Harrison, Ramsey Campbell, Mike Carey, Graham Joyce and many more.
Alt.Fiction consists of four rooms, offering you a choice of 28 sessions throughout the day featuring nearly 40 fantastic writers. You’ll have access to a wide range of sessions including workshops, discussions, readings, Q+As and book launches, making Alt.Fiction 2007 a day not to be missed for readers and budding writers.
The event takes place on 28 April 2007 at the Darwin Suite, Assembly Rooms. Doors open 11am for 12pm start. Final session ends at 8.45pm. Tickets cost £20 (£15 concessions)
(Source: Derby Council)
What a brilliant day. Even though it was all a bit last minute for me as I didn’t even know it was on till yesterday morning, I managed not to miss too much. I even took part in a writing workshop, by accident. That’s what happens if you follow authors around.
I got there late and missed the talk with Peter Hamilton and Tony Ballantyne. This was a pisser as I love both those authors. So, I wandered up to the stage, hoping to at least get a couple of mooncalf glimpses of them. Luckily, I’d written my name on my badge and Tony said, “Jyoti – hello!” (I’ve emailed him before, trying to set up an interview that never panned out due to my rubbishness). Then I made my confession to Tony:
Even though I’ve been an SF fan for the last 32 years, I’ve never been to any kind of convention before. I’ve always been a bit too shy.
Well, Tony then took me under his wing and introduced me to loads of people. Yep, I’ve forgotten all of their names! But they were all very friendly. The vibe was so positive, so… well, familial is the only way I can describe it. All of us there were fans. Whether we’d come for the SF, fantasy or horror, we’re the kids who grew up with their noses buried in books, shunning the sunshine to escape into fantastic worlds.
I realised then that I was with my kin. Here were people that would understand my rambling about Inconstant Moon or I’m In Marsport Without Hilda or Flowers For Algernon or All My Sins Remembered. These were my brother and sister geeks!
In the afternoon, I heard this man speak:
Yes. Harry fucking Harrison! In the flesh! Unless you’re an SF nut, you won’t understand just how much this means to me.
I’ve been reading this man’s stories since I was eight years old! He’s written both some of the finest short stories and novels I’ve ever read. And every ounce of the wit, wonder and energy of Harrison’s writing was there when he spoke. I felt so privileged, being able to sit there and listen to anecdotes about John Campbell and Isaac Asimov.
The last session of the event was this feller:
Iain M. Banks. (I’m using the ‘M’ as he was there in his massive, fuck-off spaceship, SF capacity.) His talk, and the Q+A session that followed it, was both funny and very illuminating. Banks got a lot of serious stuff over covered with fluffiness. We heard about the snobby “proper” literature world vs. the SF community, the perils of having books adapted for the screen, the reason his SF pseudonym is so crappy (and could have been Johnny Glenlivet). But the best bit for me was hearing the author read the prologue to his next Culture novel, ‘Matter,’ which isn’t released till next February. It’s going to be a doozy, I can tell you…
I felt very lucky to spend the last half of the day in the company of Tony Ballantyne and Roy Gray. We went for a meal after it finished and, again, we could have talked all night. I felt so at home with these people I’d only met that day, it was quite spooky. Just finding out that Tony’s also a Greg Egan fan made me so happy! But, forgetful as always, I was having such a good time that I forgot to get pics of them. 🙁
Oh dear… I had hoped for a better critique but sentences like:
“His transcendence and invisibility are part of what he is, which is not the case with the Loch Ness monster.”
– uhh, what? And just why is that “not the case” with the Loch Ness Monster. There is no difference between the LNM and God, apart from there are pictures of Nessie. Again, a bald-faced assertion, with no logical support, is presented as an obvious truth. This is the basis of all religion.
“He is the answer to why there is something rather than nothing.”
– means precisely nothing. More to the point, why do religionists say that a universe without cause is untenable but then have no problem in accepting a creator with no cause?
“He is what sustains all things in being by his love; and this would still be the case even if the universe had no beginning. To say that he brought it into being ex nihilo is not a measure of how very clever he is, but to suggest that he did it out of love rather than need.”
– more absolute flummery… Replace ‘He’ in that with ‘Flying Spaghetti Monster‘ and you’ll see how foolish all of Eagleton’s rhapsodising is.
“Because the universe is God’s, it shares in his life, which is the life of freedom.”
– What? Hey Terry, how about this: ‘Because the Universe is made of cheese, it must be made by a gigantic, all-loving mouse.’ It makes exactly as much sense as your sentence.
“Yet the Apocalypse is far more likely to be the product of them [scientists] than the work of religion. Swap you the Inquisition for chemical warfare.”
– totally missing the point here. Whose finger will be on the button? You might as well blame a blacksmith for making a sword.
“but as far as I know his anti-religious diatribes have never been matched in his work by a critique of the global capitalism that generates the hatred, anxiety, insecurity and sense of humiliation that breed fundamentalism.”
– This is the weakest crticism: in the past three years, Dawkins has campaigned against the war more than any other high-profile British academic. He’s also been one of the most outspoken critics of the Bush government and their agenda of global military dominance.
By the end of the review, Eagleton has descended into bashing ‘rationalists’ and launching into sarcastic ad-hominem attacks on the “middle-class liberal rationalist.” Only the truly religious would consider being rational as a defect, some kind of crippling palsy of the normally devout mind.
In fact, it’s a piss-poor review in that the meat of it is Eagleton proclaiming his vision of Christianity. Fair enough, a review of Dawkins is a great opportunity to preach and, if you’re a Christian, it’s your duty to spread the truth of your beliefs. But it should be more accurately labelled a sermon than a review.
It’s also quite misleading as to Dawkins’ tone. Reading this review, one would never guess that Dawkins has devoted an entire section to the beauty of the Bible as great literature and the importance of not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Thuddingly predictably, Eagleton calls Dawkins a philistine which is an insult to both Dawkins (in the sense that Eagleton hurls the word) and the poor-old, much maligned Philistines. One would think such a high moral authority as Eagleton, far more educated and intelligent than me (he’s Professor of English Literature at Manchester University), would avoid lazy racist epithets. Or am I being the nigger in the woodpile here?
The only way any of Eagleton’s review makes sense is if you’re already a fellow believer in his particular tooth-fairy. In fact, if you go through Eagleton’s article and replace God and Jesus with ‘Spiderman’ it makes far more sense.
I finished Richard Dawkins latest love-letter to reason recently and I have to say…
If you only read one book this year, make it this one.
This book couldn’t be more timely or needed. Around us, demagogues like Jack Straw, Bin Laden and Bush attack and defend various religions, always from the perspective that their own religion is, of course, the true one. Whether it’s headscarves or evolution, religion is in our headlines every day. Sectarianism is spreading in our world like an Old Testament plague of boils.
It seems the world is mad. Poisoned by fairytales elevated to the status of truths.
Dawkins’ clear, precise epidemiology of religion is masterful. He doesn’t care whether what he writes will offend Christians, Jews, Muslims, Mormons – whatever it is, he’s against it! (If that “it” is a religion.)
I became an atheist at around eight years old. I suddenly realised that all the prayers we were told to recite, all the inane ritual and rite of religion was claptrap. God, Jesus whoever were exactly as real as Father Christmas, the Great Pumpkin or Spiderman. Judaism and Christianity were dreamt up by genocidal maniacs thousands of years ago. And if you want to know why I say genocidal, have a look at how all-loving God told his people to treat the Midianites, Amorites, Hittites and many other “heathens.”
The God Delusion exposes the horror at the heart of the religious texts followed by the three Abrahamic religions. These polytheistic faiths all stem from texts which encourage genocide, murder, conversion by conquest and the rape of one’s own daughter in preference to consensual homosexuality. Of course, the texts have as many laudable, moral passages as they do vicious, nasty ones but that’s precisely the point that Dawkins raises: should we base our societies on or let them be directed by these incoherent, lunatic myths?
Chapter by chapter, Dawkins takes the (often asinine) questions hurled at him and patiently, logically answers them. From alleged “proofs” of God’s existence (all of them mind-bogglingly stupid) to the old chestnut about Hitler and Stalin being atheists (Hitler was actually a Catholic) and therefore atheism leading to immorality.
He also makes the best point I’ve ever heard about the pernicious influence of religion on children, one which I’ll repeat now:
How can a child be called a “Muslim child” or “Christian child?” How can a child possibly know what religion it believes in? If you met someone that pointed at their six-year-old daughter and said, “She’s a MARXIST child!” or “She’s a REPUBLICAN child,” you would rightly think they’re totally insane and call child protection.
And yet, we let people indoctrinate innocent children, we let them be educated into the most irrational, damaging beliefs in separate schools.
If you can have Muslim or Roman Catholic schools, why can’t you have socialist or Tory schools?
Note that Dawkins isn’t demanding that schools teach an atheist viewpoint, he’s saying that the child should be free to decide for themselves, when they’re old enough. They shouldn’t have any one worldview shoved down their throats. Education should be giving them the tools with which to think rationally about all the possibilities out there and make an informed choice.
But, of course, education is the enemy of religious thought. Religions would wither and die if they didn’t indoctrinate the children of their followers. Religion is, after all, purely an accident of birth. You may be reading this as a devout Christian but if you’d been born three thousand years ago, you would have worshipped another god just as devoutly.
Basically, here are the precepts of all successful religions:
1. This religion is true, all others false and blasphemous.
2. Raise your children to believe in this religion or all-loving God will PUNISH YOU.
3. You are the chosen people. Unbelievers are worthless and should either be killed or maybe converted.
4. Once you’ve finished killing them, take their land and spread this religion.
5. Spread the word of this religion or God will PUNISH YOU.
5. If you die fighting for this religion, God will REWARD YOU (maybe with 72 virgins in heaven).
Attached to the above, you’ll often find totally pointless dietary proscriptions, clothing advice and, of course, plenty about what to do with our genitals. Apparently the Creator Of The Universe, of every photon and electron, every galaxy and grain of sand is highly bothered by how often we’re wanking and who we fancy. An amazingly prurient deity, don’t you think?
In the chapter ‘Roots Of Religion,’ Dawkins examines why we’re religious: does the delusion of supernatural forces spring from a biological base? Is there an evolutionary advantage to being religious? The most fascinating part of this chapter is when he relates the rise of cargo cults. After reading this example, any rational person would conclude, as Dawkins does, that Christianity, Judaism and Islam are merely successful variants of these delusions: cargo cults spread worldwide.
As an atheist, I often get asked where I get my morality from. After all, don’t I just make it up as a go along, having no dusty 1000+ year old text to turn to? Dawkins turns this around and shows how, rather than morality growing out of religion, religion grows out of our innate moral sense. This is a startlingly obvious conclusion, unless you’re a fundamentalist and then you sincerely believe any non-follower is damned. Pity about all those millions of humans who lived and died before your pet faith was established, innit?
Reading this book was delightful. After watching what passes for news on my telly, it was refreshing and invigorating. Religion is inimical to our freedom, to our very existence. It enervates our societies, setting human against human, community against community. Where we need to be united simply as humans, religion fractures us into warring, insane shards.
Look around you. It’s a small world, getting smaller every day. Unless we manage to leave, we’re all going to have to learn how to live in peace with each other.
We have to leave the childish, tribal nonsense of religion behind. We have to grow up and start reasoning rather than merely believing.
I’ve had a couple of emails lately from peeps curious about what books I read. So here’s a little list of authors I’ve enjoyed in the past year or so:
Joe Haldeman, Andrea Dworkin, Philip Roth, Tricia Sullivan, Neal Asher, Terry Jones, John Gribbin, Murray Gell-Man, Lev Davidovich Bronstein, Edward Said, Richard Feynman, Stephen Pinker, Nelson George, Vernor Vinge, Nancy Kress, Greg Egan, Isaac Asimov, Steven Rose, Emma Goldman, Kurt Vonnegut, Douglas Kellner, Helen Fisher, Maurice Brinton, Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, Rudy Rucker, Noam Chomsky, James Patrick Kelly, Jean Aitchison, Larry Niven, Linda Wiliams, Jean Paul Sartre, Justina Robson, James Blish, Phil K. Dick, Wilhelm Reich, Helen Fisher, Ted Grant, Roger Penrose, Richard Dawkins.
Some of them write fiction, some non-fiction, some both. Plug ’em into Google if you’re curious now…
This is an essential read. This is a mind-blowing book. This book will change you.
I believe all of the previous statements to be true.
Richard Dawkins has been a hero of mine for years, ever since I read ‘The Selfish Gene.’ So many things fell into place when I read that book, so many questions I’d had about evolution were answered.
Now, with ‘The Ancestor’s Tale,’ Dawkins has vaulted over that first classic and his other marvellous books as well. What’s it about? Well…
The Ancestor’s Tale is a pilgrimage back through time; a journey on which we meet up with fellow pilgrims along the route as we and they converge on our common ancestors. Chimpanzees join us at about 6 million years in the past, gorillas at 7 million years, orang utans at 14 million years, as we stride on together, a growing band.
The journey provides the setting for a collection of some 40 tales. Each explores an aspect of evolutionary biology through the stories of characters met along the way or glimpsed from afar – the Elephant Bird’s Tale, the Marsupial Mole’s Tale, the Coelacanth’s Tale. Together they give a deep understanding of the processes that have shaped life on Earth: convergent evolution, the isolation of populations, continental drift, the great extinctions.
The tales are interspersed with prologues detailing the journey, route maps showing joining lineages, and life-like reconstructions of our common ancestors. The Ancestor’s Tale represents a pilgrimage on an unimaginable scale: our goal is four billion years away, and the number of pilgrims joining us grows vast – ultimately encompassing all living creatures..
I found this book incredibly hard to put down (also hard to pick up because it’s quite heavy). It was as gripping as any thriller I’ve read, I kept thinking, ‘I’ll stop reading in a bit’ and then I’d look at the clock and it would be 6am. There aren’t many non-fiction books that are readable for seven hours solidly.
Every page contains a new revelation, every sentence forces you to abandon conventional, sloppy thinking about life on Earth. And I don’t just mean all the bullshit religions that Dawkins has as little time for as I do. No, Dawkins slides the reader into new perspectives, makes us examine the accepted “truths” we’ve previously left alone. This book is as unsettling and intellectually subversive as anything written by Sartre or Marx.
Here’s a little example. Have you seen Ice Age? It’s a funny film, I enjoyed it. Apart from one part, the depiction of the dodos. Now, I know it’s only a bit of fun, I know it’s not claiming to be natural history. But I find it sad it reinforces the common stereotype of the dodo: that it died out because it was too stupid/tasty/ungainly. As Dawkins reveals, the truth about the dodo is far sadder and uglier:
The very name dodo comes from the Portuguese for stupid. Stupid is unfair. When Portuguese sailors arrived on Mauritius in 1507, the abundant dodos were completely tame, and approached the sailors in a trusting manner.
Alas for trust.
They were clubbed to death by Portuguese, and later Dutch, sailors – even though they were deemed “unpalatable”. Presumably it was “sport”. Extinction took less than two centuries. Humans introduced dogs, pigs, rats and religious refugees. The first three ate dodo eggs, and the last planted sugar cane and destroyed habitats.
So, don’t laugh at the dodo. It’s just another victim of the human talent for genocide. Or should that be species-cide? Imagine this relative of the pigeon, ambling up to the new arrivals on its island, quite un-prepared for their savagery and unable to fly away. But hold on – how could losing the power of flight ever be an advantage to a bird? Surely that’s against evolutionary theory? Huh?
The ancestors of the dodos had wings. They took a long time to evolve, why not hang on to them in case one day they might come in useful again? Alas (for the dodo) that is not the way evolution thinks.
Evolution, or its driving engine natural selection, has no foresight. In every generation within every species, the individuals best equipped to survive and reproduce contribute more than their fair share of genes to the next generation. The consequence, blind as it is, is the nearest approach to foresight that nature admits.
Wings might be useful a million years hence when sailors arrive with clubs. But wings will not help a bird contribute genes to the next generation, in the immediate here and now. On the contrary, wings, and especially the massive breast muscles needed to power them, are an expensive luxury. Shrink them, and the resources saved can now be spent on something more immediately useful such as eggs: immediately useful for surviving and reproducing the very genes that programmed the shrinkage.
Dawkins is masterly here: he draws the reader in with a good story and then explains the scientific background of that story, most often from an un-expected angle. That’s why this is such a surprising book. I’m not a scientist but I’ve read many books about biology and evolutionary theory by Dawkins, Stephen Jay Gould, Susan Blackmore and others. And yet, I found ‘The Ancestor’s Tale’ to be a joy, a train of lovely surprises rather than a trudge through familiar territory.
There’s a brilliant bit about race where he demolishes the “scientific” argument for racism. How alike do any two chimpanzees look to you? Well, they’re many times more un-related than any two humans you chose to pick at random. Why? Because of an evolutionary bottleneck. Dawkins is compellingly clear and forceful in his argument here, giving explanations for our exaggerated “racial” differences in terms of adaptation and sexual selection. I only wish that Nazis could read.
I also love the way this isn’t a dry, academic tome. Dawkins lets his slip show much more than in his previous works. Within the first few chapters, he disses George W. Bush at least three times, as well as getting in his usual, welcome digs at religion and other irrational nonsense. If you’re a fundamentalist Christian, Creationist, Republican, Bush-loving nutjob, this isn’t the book for you. Stick to fairy tales like the Bible, then your head won’t hurt from ingesting inconvenient facts.
But if you want to understand yourself, humanity and the world around you more clearly, read this book.
In a world where men who believe in gods and ghosties control nuclear stockpiles, this book is a welcome beacon of reason and sanity.
Oh, and one final point. What do all religions have in common? They all place humans at the top of creation, lording it over the mere beasts. Funny that, innit? Humans just happen to reckon humans are the most important species. But have a look at this family tree (nicked from here) of Eukaryotes (organisms whose cells have nuclei):
Can you spot where we are? Up in that little sub-branch of a sub-branch labelled ‘Animals?’ Surely if god existed and made his favoured species in his image it’s equally likely that god is a toadstool rather than a piffling human?
What’s the most important, dominant form of life? If you took a rational look at all life on Earth, if you acknowledged humanity’s unimportance in the great scheme of things, perhaps you’d have to conclude that god is a bacterium.