A Good Ten Year Old
This year, the World Science Fiction Convention attracts fans and professionals
to Scotland from all corners of the globe. You almost hear them asking:
why Glasgow? Why Scotland?
These are fair questions. Scotland might be a great place to trace
your ancestors, or take in a classic round of golf, or sample whisky
the way it should be made, but what has Scotland contributed to the
fields of the fantastic? On the face it, with its oral Celtic tradition
on one hand and its engineers and innovators on the other, Scotland
should have produced bags of fantasy and SF writers. The antecedents
are there --Robert Louis Stevenson, J.M. Barrie, James Hogg, George
MacDonald -- and there have been the occasional glimmerings down the
years -- David Lindsay, J.T. McIntosh, Alasdair Gray -- but until relatively
recently you could have counted Scots genre writers on the fingers of
At the last UK Worldcon, in 1995, also held in Glasgow, there were
few Scottish names on the list of attending authors. Iain M Banks, of
course, was highly conspicuous. But who else were the Scots stars of
1995? Ken McLeod and Jack Deighton both launched their novel careers
at that convention; Chris Boyce and Angus McAllister were also around,
but where was the rest of the local talent?
Well it's possible that there were a few drams of inspiration downed
in the SECC bar that year. Five days of rubbing shoulders with the biggest
names in the genre world set a few raw, rookie chins in a determined
fashion. You might think of it as a casking of talent and resolve.
Writers groups often get a bad press among the ranks of professional
writers. They're cliquey, they're bitchy, they're plagued by old ladies
writing poems about their cats, and they're also full of wannabes. While
the first three of these can, unfortunately, be true, the last is surely
a requisite. The Glasgow SF Writers' Circle, originally set up in the
late 1970s by Chris Boyce and Duncan Lunan, was resurrected by Lunan
in 1987 to give entrants for The Herald's short story competition a
venue for improving their work. From the very beginning the Circle had
three basic rules:
- anyone was welcome,
- criticism had to be both honest and constructive, and
- the aim was to progress each member's work towards the ultimate
goal of professional publication.
Towards professional publication. Pretty much the definition
By 1995, some of the Circle's members had achieved this goal. Lunan's
own stories had appeared in the likes of Analog, while Fergus
Bannon, Gary Gibson and Michael Cobley had been seen between the covers
of Interzone. Steps were being made in the right direction. To
celebrate this the Circle joined forces with its Edinburgh counterpart
to produce an anthology, Shipbuilding, which was distributed
free to members of the convention.
Ten years on, and that '95 spirit of inspiration has been distilled
and matured into a malt of pure determination that has toasted the beginnings
of several novel-writing careers, with Michael Cobley, Gary Gibson and
Hal Duncan all promoting new books at the 2005 Worldcon. The Glasgow
Writers have arrived, but this Scottish flourishing doesn't end there.
As well as Deighton, the East Coast Writers' Group now boast adopted
son, Charles Stross, among their number, and their off-shoot spoken-word
group, Writers Bloc regularly entertains packed Edinburgh audiences
with their dark and frequently blackly comic stories.
Banks and MacLeod have become giants of the field, as have Grant Morrison
and Mark Millar in the world of comics. Glasgow is home to Richard Morgan
and Muriel Gray, while the Lothians have seen the return of Deborah
Miller (AKA Miller Lau).
An event like the World Science Fiction Convention should live up to
its name: it should be truly global. Unlike the World Series, science
fiction and fantasy are not sports played and spectated on exclusively
by Americans; they are a cultural experience that is shared world-wide,
and in every corner of the globe the game is played with a local style,
cheered on in a different argot. You bring the Worldcon roadshow with
all of those legendary names to Toronto, or to Melbourne, or to Yokohama,
or even to Glasgow, it's going to be a whole different ball
game than you'll get in Anaheim, Boston or Chicago. More to the point,
an event on that scale is going to attract locals who may never have
attended a science fiction convention before, but will relish rubbing
shoulders with those famous writers. Maybe some of them will be wannabe
writers with their own politics, and their own language, and their world-view
unique to wherever it is they happen to live.
We look forward to raising a glass to them in years to come.
Elsewhere in infinity plus: