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Charles Stross seminar at Crooked Timber

January 28th, 2009

Among other things, I’ve been busy over the last few months putting together a Crooked Timber book event discussing the work of Scottish science fiction writer Charles Stross. The idea is that members of the CT group, and some invited guests write posts on the book(s) in question, the author responds and the whole thing is thrown open to comments. Our guest line-up this time is stellar, including Brad DeLong, Paul Krugman and Ken MacLeod. If you’re interested in SF, the literature of ideas in general or the future of book reviewing, go and have a look.

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  1. nanks
    January 28th, 2009 at 12:38 | #1

    Stross is the greatest – although Greg Egan is no slouch either

  2. Ben
    January 28th, 2009 at 12:44 | #2

    Agreed. Accelerando is possibly one of the best sf books written.

  3. January 28th, 2009 at 22:53 | #3

    JQ, if you check you will find that Stross is probably not Scottish, he just lives in Scotland; you should probably confirm the matter with him. And before you come back saying that that is the definition of Scottish, no, it isn’t. Celtic systems are by ancestry and affinity, not location, which is how Compton Mackenzie (a Scottish Nationalist, among other things) or George MacDonald Fraser could be Scottish despite being born in England or Eamon de Valera (my first cousin once removed’s godfather, among other things) could be Irish despite being born in the USA (though that did make him a US citizen under their system, which saved him from the firing squad).

  4. Alanna
    January 29th, 2009 at 05:20 | #4

    Great – new reading. PM #3 Eamon de Valera – such a lovely musical name. I almost called my son Eamon but was overruled by conservatives in the family! I shouldnt have listened – so its a scottish name?

  5. jquiggin
    January 29th, 2009 at 06:14 | #5

    PML, being an Australian, I usually refer to people by nationality rather than ethnicity. The thousands of new citizens who were naturalized on Australia Day are Australians, Rupert Murdoch is not. That’s pretty unambiguous here (even if John Howard tried to fudge it in Murdoch’s case). Similarly, there are terms such as “Celt” or “Gael” that refer only to ancestry.

    “Scottish” or “British” can be used either way, but as I say, I tend to use the first.

  6. January 29th, 2009 at 09:38 | #6

    Alanna, my cousin is from the Irish side of my family.

    JQ, by that reckoning you should call Stross British, and “Scottish” cannot apply at all, to anyone. To a Scot, unless he is of Scottish connection and ancestry (which I suggested you check), he is no true Scot. If you are using the term to refer to a mere resident of Scotland, you are not only abusing custom and the Scottish sense of identity but the continuity and consistency of language that lets it do its job.

  7. Droo
    January 29th, 2009 at 12:32 | #7

    I’d like to vote for Ken Macleod being the best SF writer in English at the moment. His works are a brilliant blend of science, politics, and cultural criticism. Fantastic work.

  8. Alanna
    January 30th, 2009 at 03:34 | #8

    PM#6 My family is split ancestry as well PM. I have an irish side and english side (and a grandmother from the irish side who refused, all her life, to stand up for the british national anthem, “God save the Queen” at the movies causing my father to cringe in embarrassment, as he tells it, as a child).

  9. Warbo
    January 31st, 2009 at 21:33 | #9

    PML, by your definition, as I understand it, I am a Scot, being half descended from Scots, despite having spent a mere 10 days or so of my life in Scotland: while my friend Baljinder, of Punjabi ancestry, who was born in Glasgow and lived her whole life there before going to university in England, is not.

    I think that’s what you’re saying. Apologies if I’m misrepresenting you; but if I’ve got it right, I think your definition (and your suggestion that that’s how most Scots think) is wrong.

  10. February 1st, 2009 at 15:05 | #10

    No, Warbo, although you are surprisingly close. The thing is ancestry and affinity, i.e. connection (in the case of Ireland, it was long ago recognised that people who went native were more Irish than the “mere” or pure Irish, Hiberniores Hibernis ipsis). My father was a Scot born in Dundee, yet towards the end of his life, going back to Scotland for a study visit pursuing a hobby interest in the Roman campaigns north of the border, he remarked that few Scots would take him for Scottish. Unlike his older brother for whom it happened in his twenties, he had been caught up in wartime activities in his early teens and taken out of Scotland, which was young enough for him to lose his accent – yet my uncle Jim was still discernibly Scottish despite having been born in British Guiana (something that later caused him problems getting paperwork as a Naval Attache in Washington). But I had myself seen my father change his behaviour on family trips back, starting to read the Scotsman and take high tea and so on almost as a ritual, putting on a mantle of Scottishness. Contrariwise, names like Fleming and Ingliss denote where their owners’ ancestors came from – Flanders and England – but they are thoroughly Scottish. One can say the same of Robert the Bruce.

    So to get back to it, depending on circumstances you may or may not self identify and be recognised as Scottish (it sounds as though not), and your friend probably would – but not simply from being there or being born there, rather from it having rubbed off from the Scots found there, as it were. But there are definite self identifying Scots in Canada who are several generations separated; they were able to maintain the continuity and tradition even without the geography.

    In my own particular case, with a Scottish father and Irish mother but born in London, I self identify as most definitely not English but generally British in the same large sense that Menzies did (which has led modern critics who did not understand it to accuse him of being confused).

    Getting back to where I started from, whether Stross himself is a Scot cannot be simply established by just looking at where he lives or his birthplace, though that suggests he is not. The most practical thing would be to ask him, rather than going on preconception based on a criterion that only applies to non-Celtic traditions.

  11. James Haughton
    February 3rd, 2009 at 12:16 | #11

    Hey JQ,
    Having read your contribution on accelerando, I was a bit disappointed to see no mention of Manfred’s plan to introduce non-market socialism via a network of (genetic algorithm running or similar) price setting software agents. Like the old euro socialist proposed shadow pricing system, cybernetised. As objects turn into spimes, it’s going to occur to someone to let them figure out how much they should cost. Cf Alan Cottrell and Paul Cockshott on whether modern computers can solve the socialist calculation problem: http://www.macs.hw.ac.uk/~greg/publications/ccm.IJUC07.pdf

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