This Conversation Interrupted By The Republican National Congress

http://storify.com/AlasdairStuart/in-which-the-rnc-waste-their-money

 

The above tweet is, especially if you’re of the Conservative bent, completely inoffensive. It isn’t even particularly offensive if you’re not a Republican or a Conservative. It’s probably mockable, and the gentleman’s name will surely join Wolf Blitzer and Zach Bampf in the list of ridiculous political names my father has been collecting for years. But no, as you can see, it’s about as inoffensive as 140 characters can get.

Except for the fact that it turned up, marked ‘PROMOTED TWEET’ in my timeline this morning.

 

Now, let’s take a look at the three ways this is a very, very bad thing shall we?

 

Firstly, I’m not the target audience for these people. Truthfully, I may be about as far from the target audience for any Conservative political party as it’s possible to be and still be a white middle class guy. I grew up under a Conservative government in the UK in the 1980s, the son of a teacher and a nurse. This meant that I spent my entire adolescence watching their careers and their mid-term physical and mental health, get picked apart seemingly on a whim by a group of politicians who didn’t even live on the same island that I did but essentially had the power of life and death over my future, and the future of my parents. At the same time as growing up, surviving the most important exams of my life and dealing with the death of my closest friend, aged 17. The polite way of describing how I view the Right-wing political parties is with a healthy mistrust, the impolite way involves a lot of much, much shorter words.

 

Secondly, well, I’m not actually a resident of this country. I’ve been here since May, with a brief sojourn back to the UK in the middle, and I love it here. I love how wide and open and calm the American countryside is, I love how San Francisco is a city built on intelligence, love, tolerance and style. I love the fact that we drive past the head offices for Facebook and Google almost every day and I love the bottomless coffee cup so much that I may write poetry to it when we go back to the UK next week. But, I am not, nor have I ever been, a citizen of the USA. I wouldn’t vote for the Republicans if I could, but as I can’t, it strikes me as a dollar or two the Republican party could have spent elsewhere.

 

Thirdly, and this is the really egregious one, the fact that Twitter is selling space in people’s timelines for political advertising is obscene. I don’t read newspapers regularly, I gave up on the UK TV news, aside from the occasional Channel 4 bulletin a couple of years ago and whilst I check in with Radio 4 regularly, I haven’t listened to it for four months and, frankly, haven’t missed it.

The reasons for this are twofold; firstly, the UK news industry as a whole has got progressively more agenda-driven over the last couple of years and secondly, because none of it can keep up with the speed of signal you get online. Twitter, in particular, is an incredibly fast moving hosepipe of signal which has absolutely no filter on it. I’ve lost count of the amount of times Twitter has been the only reliable line of communication and the social change it’s been a major part of.  Laurie Penny’s reportage from the front line of the Student debt protests alone is a stark example of the difference between the editorialized story and on site experience. In situations like this, there’s no polish and crucially, no agenda, just raw experience transmitted to you at 140 characters at a time. Crucially, what editorializing there is can be steered and filtered depending on who you follow. There’s still an editor but it’s you. Want your feed to be filled with Right wing news? It can be. Want it to be filled with Left wing news? It can be. Want it to be filled with professional martial artists, writers, artists, podcasters and friends? I do, so that’s what mine is. My stream, my choices, my information.

 

Until now.

 

To be absolutely clear, Twitter selling advertising is questionable. Twitter selling advertising to a political party is repulsive, because it flies in the face of everything that Twitter is built around; your choices, your information, the sculpting of a meaningful signal from the noise that we all sometimes feel like we’re drowning in. I would, and sadly probably will have reason to, feel the same way about the Democrats buying advertising space, or, assuming the 21st century eventually arrives in UK politics, the ConDems or Labour doing the same thing. It’s, literally, an attempt to steer the conversation, and when it happens in a medium so protean, so easy to sculpt and modify on your own terms, it feels like a violation of privacy and personal space. Whatever your political leanings, that’s no way to join a conversation.

Want to talk to me about the article? Come see me on Twitter at @alasdairstuart or email me.

Managing The Conversation

I’m experimenting with the shape I leave on the internet. You’ll see more of this in the coming weeks, but for now I’m channeling communication a little more, working a little smarter. One of the ways I’m doing that is through how I communicate with people online, which is why you’ll see this line at the bottom of each post:

Want to talk to me about the article? Come see me on Twitter at @alasdairstuart or email me.

It’s also why comments will remain off for the forseeable future.  It’s because I’m trying to even the conversational playing field. Anonymity on the internet is both a blessing and a curse. In the past I’ve received comments from people who genuinely don’t like me for reasons they view as legitimate. That’s fine: I stay out of their way, they stay out of mine, we agree to disagree. But I’ve also been on the receiving end of intentionally malicious drivebys, and I don’t need to put up with that. Wheaton’s law is very much in effect here and always will be.

if you’d like talk to me about the blog, or movies, or just about anything else, please use the links. Especially Twitter, I’m there far too much anyway and always glad for the company. Or, to put it another way…

 

Want to talk to me about the article? Come see me on Twitter at @alasdairstuart or email me.

 

Where’s Al?-The Bigger on the Inside Edition Part 2

Journalism

I filed my first story for a national newspaper this month. The Guardian are producing two ‘Guides to the Night’ at the end of October and the Guide editor, Phil Daoust, contacted me about writing a piece about telling ghost stories to live audiences.
It was massive fun to do, covering environment, story, audience and performance and it really helped me focus in on the mechanics of storytelling. The piece is scheduled for print on October 24th and I even get a photograph, hopefully looking moody standing in an archway. I suit archways.

I’ve also had two pieces published by SFX recently; the first covering the apparent discovery that the melanin in human hair could be used as a conductor in solar cells instead of silicone. It’s a dizzying claim that promises that solar cells could be produced for a quarter of their current cost and, in turn, offers up the possibility of cheap, affordable electricity for some of the world’s most inaccessible places. It’s a dizzying, beautiful concept which sounds too good to be true.

Which, unfortunately, it was. Not long after I filed the piece the student who’d made the discovery admitted it was a fraud. It’s a real shame too as it’s one of those ideas that should work.

My second pieces was much more successful, thanks largely to FantasyCon actually taking place instead of people just claiming it did. My Con report went live this week and includes details of books by Mike Shevdon and John Lenahan, my role in the BFS Awards ceremony and the news that Being Human novels are due next year. Parts of this piece are also scheduled to turn up in the magazine itself as part of their convention round-up.

Fiction
More Twitter fiction, just a single one this time, sold to Jetse Devries’ excellent Outshine and published on September 10th. It’s a tiny little piece but I like it, and would I think, rather like to live in the city it describes.

Roleplaying

With the game just a couple of months away, I can now announce that I’m one of the senior scenario writers on the Doctor Who Roleplaying Game. Or, to put it another way, two decades upstream? 12-year old Al is a very, very happy kid knowing he still has this gig to look forward to.

I’ve not just got to play in the official Doctor Who universe I’ve also got to shape it a little bit, expanding a couple of the lesser alien races and building an interesting little playground that should make a fun location for players to bounce off from time to time. I’ve had immense fun and the two scenarios I’ve got in the game are a nice combination of classic Who (Something nasty in the green and pleasant land, let’s solve things with science! Run! Run some more!) and my own unique style (Government conspiracies! Brave new world! Radio 4!). I’m both very excited and a little nervous about how they, and the adventure seeds I contributed, are going to be received. Not long to go now…

Reviews

A few years ago, I contributed a story to Andrew Hook’s ‘The Alsiso Project’ anthology. It was a gloriously odd idea, taking a spelling mistake and using it as the starting point for twenty three completely unique stories. Mine was a lecture, delivered by someone who has discovered that Alsiso is the name for something we haven’t quite reached yet, a linguistic tenth planet of sorts.

It was also pretty much hated on release, which is fine, each to their own after all. However, CERN Zoo just put up a spectacularly good review of both the book and my story which I’ve linked to here. I always rather liked my Alsiso story and it’s a real pleasure to see someone else does too.

So there we go, a busy couple of months. Thanks for sticking with me and check back soon for more pop culture goodness.

Where’s Al?

Because some people have asked about this, I’m going to put up some links to where I can be found online at the moment.

Podcasting

The excellent ‘Raising Eddie‘ is up at Pseudopod this week by Mark Felps and read by Cayenne Chris Conroy.  It’s a great story and as usual, I’ve done the intro and outro.

I also narrated ‘Castor on Troubled Waters‘ for Podcastle last week.  Written by Rhys Hughes it’s the story of one man, lots of pirates and a series of unlikely coincidences.

Journalism

I’m part of SFX’s team of bloggers and my most recent piece went up this week.  Called ‘Surviving the Zomblogalypse‘ it’s about the aptly named Zomblogalypse.com, a web series about traditional flat sharing concerns like doing the shopping, who does the washing up, the rise of the undead and what the exact rules of ‘meat legs’ are.

I’ve been blogging for SFX for a while now and it’s led me to some really interesting subjects including these beautiful aerial robot penguins (Yes, really) and this piece, about why geeks have in fact won and some of us have no idea what to do next.

Meanwhile my reviews of the pilot episode of Warehouse 13 and what may be the only episode of Virtuality are up at Total Sci Fi.

Fiction

I’ve been doing a lot of Twitter fiction recently.  It’s a fascinating form, telling a story in less space than most song lyrics and I’ve sold several to some of the major Twitter anthologies.  One of the first, Thaumatrope, archives its stories by author and mine can be found here.

I also sold this piece to Nanoism which is the second oddest thing I’ve ever written but still makes me smile.

Hub

Over at Hub which I’m now editing, our most recent issue features short fiction from Simon Frayne, a piece about sexuality in Torchwood, an interview with the creator of Usagi Yojimbo, Stan Sakai and reviews including Moon and Torchwood: Children of Earth, the latter contributed by me.