Posts Tagged ‘Anthony Burgess’

Private Eye: Literary Authors Now Turning to SF’s Robots for Subject Matter

April 17, 2019

According to this fortnight’s Private Eye, the British literary authors Ian McEwan, Jeanette Winterson and Kazuo Ishiguro are turning to the world of robots and AI for their next books. A brief snippet on page 34 of the issue for 19th April – 2nd May 2019 runs

For middle-aged authors looking for a reboot, the trendiness of artificial intelligence and robots is proving a godsend.

In Ian McEwan’s just-out Machines Like Me, a couple acquire a male synthetic human and a love triangle duly develops ( a set-up quite similar to the main storyline of Channel 4’s sci-fi drama Humans, with the robot’s gender switched).

In her forthcoming Frankissstein, Jeanette Winterson – unfazed by having missed last year’s Frankenstein anniversary – reworks Mary Shelley’s novel in a story featuring not only Victor Stein, a professor “leading the debate around AI”, but also a character who sells sex bots. Kazuo Ishiguro told the Oxford literary festival his next book will be about AI too… Who else? Rushdie? Amis? Jeffrey Archer? 

One of the complaints of the SF world back in the 1990s was that literary fiction, and writers like McEwan, Rushdie, Amis, Winterson and the rest of them were lifting ideas from Science Fiction to great critical acclaim, while the genre itself remained despised by literary critics and prizes. This seems to be yet another example.

Not all serious literary critics are dismissive of Science Fiction. The late J.G. Ballard and Ursula Le Guine managed to achieve mainstream critical appreciation, and some of the newspapers do give good review to SF books, like the Guardian and the I. And the years have passed since I heard the late Terry Pratchett speak at the Cheltenham Festival of Literary, telling the crowd that the Festival’s organisers seemed to look at him as if they expected him to give a talk on mending motorbikes. Brian Aldiss in his and Peter Wingrove’s history of SF, The Trillion  Year Spree, states that in the 1950s even pornography had a higher reputation among critics than Science Fiction. More recent critics and historians of the genre have pointed out that there never was quite the severe break between proper literature and Science Fiction in Britain as there was in America. Serious literary writers like Kingsley Amis and Anthony Burgess also wrote Science Fiction, as did C.S. Lewis and Conan Doyle. Nevertheless, I still get the impression that there is in certain literary quarters more than a little of the old literary disdain still remaining. Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is dystopian Science Fiction, but she has still sneered at the genre as ‘talking squids in space’ apparently.

And looking at the plots of some of the books mentioned in the Eye article, I wondered how many of the literary types reading these pieces would be aware of similar works by some of the great genre SF writers. If you’re talking about romances between humans and robots, there’s Tanith Lee’s The Silver Metal Lover, about a girl who has an affair with a robot, which is destroyed by jealous human males.  The robot scientist, Geoff Simons, mentions a series of SF tales about romances between people and robots, or the construction of sex robots, in his book Robots: The Quest for Living Machines (London: Cassell 1992) including Satisfaction Guaranteed (1951), by Isaac Asimov; Maria Bujanska’s Krwawa Maria (Bloody Mary), 1977, R. Forsyth’s ‘Silicon Valley of the Dolls’, 1979; The Pleasure Machines (1969); Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives (1974) and such as Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (1966) and Sins of the Fleshapoids.

As for Frankenstein, Brian Aldiss has argued that Mary Shelley’s classic should be regarded as the first real work of Science Fiction, as it was based on genuine science, as it was understood in the early 19th century. He also wrote a book inspired by Shelley, Frankenstein Unbound, which is split between Shelley’s time and a technological future. It was later filmed by the old producer of low-budget SF, Roger Corman.

Winterson has previous in taking themes from science/ science fiction. Way back in the 1990s, when everyone was getting very excited at discovering a Grand Unified Theory (GUT) or ‘theory of everything’, she wrote a book, GUT Symmetries, about it and parallel world. She’s also written novels of feminist Magic Realism, following the feminist fairy tales of Angela Carter. But the Polish author, Stanislaw Lem, who wrote Solaris, filmed by Andrei Tarkovsky, also wrote a series of tales about robots, The Cyberiad and Mortal Engines, set in a fairy tale universe in which robots were the dominant life form. Another of Lem’s books is a series of philosophical explorations of machine and human intelligence and nature from the point of view of a vast computer that has far surpassed the intellects of its human makers. Lem was a high-brow author, who, after winning various awards from the Science Fiction community, then went on to decry Science Fiction, so he personally shared the sneering view of some mainstream literary critics. However, his books are still well worth reading.

And any literary exploration of robots, AI and the human condition inevitably involves Asimov’s robots of the books I, Robot and the Caves of Steel, and his Three Laws of Robotics, as well as William Gibson and Cyberpunk. Cyberpunk’s a form of SF set in dystopian near futures, where humans are able to ‘jack into’ cyberspace, a Virtual Reality inside the Web, and where AIs have consciousness and some rights. The classics of this genre include Gibson’s Neuromancer, Count Zero, Burning Chrome and Mona Lisa Overdrive.  One of his novels, relevant to any literary discussion of humans and AI, was Idoru, about a man, who has an affair with a Virtual celebrity. Gibson was very hip with his worlds of urban decay and high-tech criminality mixed with the glamour of the super-rich and celebrities. Shortly after Idoru was published, one of the Japanese tech firms declared they had created the first, computer-generated rock star. There was a powerful impression, shared by Gibson himself, that the computer industry looked to his books for ideas without accepting that his books were also part of SF’s tradition of ‘literature as warning’. His futures had great AIs and cool Virtual Reality and hackers, but they also featured poverty, despair and a massive gap between rich and poor.

And then there’s the film Bladerunner, one of the great SF classics, and the problems it poses about humanity and human capacity for compassion within the narrative of the detective thriller. It’s another dystopian future, where animals are all but extinct and humanity has created a class of artificial slaves, replicants. These are indistinguishable from real humans, except through psychological testing. The final speech by the replicant leader, Roy Batty, ‘I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Set ships on fire off the shores of Orion’, written by actor Rutger Hauer, has itself become one of the classic speeches of cinema, and quoted and parodied by other SF writers.

In my opinion, whatever McEwan, Winterson and Ishiguro write about robots, genre writers will have got their first and done it better. And I wonder if the literary critics and award judges will recognise that when these books inevitably get put in for the Booker and other literary awards. And I also feel that when they are, these awards should be open to self-conscious genre writers. Because if the literary crowd can write about robots and win literary prizes for them, it’s only going to be snobbishness that keeps the genre SF writers from winning them too.  

TYT Nation on Calls for the Deportation of Jews & Immigrants and ‘Liberal Genocide’ at Trump Rally

March 12, 2017

More militant racism and hate from Trump’s Fascistic supporters. In this piece from TYT Nation, Jeff Waldorf, the host, comments on a video produced by Dan Cohen of the Real News of a pro-Trump rally at Maricopa County. This is only part of a much longer report by Cohen, which Waldorf urges his viewers to see. The clip shows some of the attendees, speakers and the emcee, Tim Horn, pouring out their hatred of the above groups. One man states that America is a Christian country, and that if immigrants don’t like it, they should leave. Another man, a Vietnam War veteran, claims that the Communists and ‘sharia law Muslims’ are in cahoots to bring down America, and that when ‘Sharia law Muslims’ enter a classroom, they kill all the children and other people in it. One of those interviewed is the 13 year old boy, who proudly claims to have started the chant ‘Build that wall!’ at one of the Orange Generalissimo’s rallies. As he’s speaking, the lad looks aside for one moment, and casually comments, ‘If she’s really that Jewish, she should go back to her own country’. One man also rants about how gays should go to Gaza. One of the speakers also declares that if they want to take their country back, they should free a few people from prison, and jail some others.

Horn claims that the Democrats are really ‘the Socialist Party of America’, because ‘liberals hate this country’ and have got into the schools and universities to brainwash its children and destroy it. One man even comments that he ‘can’t wait for that Liberal genocide’.

Waldorf makes some highly incisive observations on the way these people have themselves been misinformed and deliberated deceived by their leaders, the rich. The Left doesn’t hate America. They want to introduce free healthcare and better opportunities for the poor and immigrants, because they love their country and its people, and want everyone to benefit, including Republicans. He also points out that there are no plans to murder Republicans, but if we’re talking about Communists and Muslims, well, Ronald Reagan and the Republicans armed the Mujahideen to fight the Russians when they invaded Afghanistan. He goes on to say how these people are terribly afraid, afraid of anyone different from themselves, to the extent that they want to build this wall around America. It’s a fear based on ignorance. And as for that wall, it’s supposed to cost $25 billion, although no-one knows how that money is going to be raised, and it may well cost more far more. And that wall is not going to protect the rest of the country. ‘Good luck with building ‘sky-walls in New York to defend the city from planes’, Waldorf remarks sarcastically.

As for the Jewish girl, who’s supposed to go back to her own country, well, how can she? She’s an American. This is her country.

He also makes the point that the rich are behind this, deliberately creating and stoking this fear in order to keep the poor and middle class divided, so they can pick their pockets.

There are a number of points that leap out looking at this video. The first is the conspiracist thinking that believes that ‘the Left’ hates America, and has a deliberate policy of infiltrating America’s educational institutions. This is the old rubbish about ‘cultural Marxism’ trying to introduce ‘Communism’ by attacking European and American Christian, capitalist White culture. As for the stupid theories of an alliance between Islamists and Communists/ Leftists, the British novelists Anthony Burgess believed in that load of nonsense. Back in the 1980s he wrote a riposte to George Orwell’s great dystopian novel, called 1985. In this wretched book the trade unions ally with radical Muslims to bring about a totalitarian revolution. Burgess was one of the great figures of 20th century British literature, and used to make a great show of his erudition. Thus Private Eye called him, ‘the most pretentious man in English literature’. Well, it doesn’t matter how great a literary giant he was, he was still talking nonsense with that book. More recently, writers like Frederick Raphael have been spouting the same nonsense about how the remains of European Socialism will unite with the Muslims to start another holocaust of the Jews. Raphael gave a glowing review of a book with just this theme, set in the 2020s, about a decade ago in the page of the Spectator.

As for ‘sharia law’ Muslims killing children in American schools, no, they won’t. From what I’ve heard over here, much of the information warning the authorities of possible attacks from the Islamists comes from Muslims, who would like to live under Islamic law. There is clearly a problem here, as implementing such law would be divisive and deprive liberal or secular Muslims of the opportunity and ability to integrate into wider British society. Nevertheless, the point needs to be made that just because a Muslim believes in sharia law does not mean that they automatically support terrorism.

But if we are talking about extremely conservative Muslims, who have killed schoolchildren, then we should mention Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is a country governed by an extremely narrow and intolerant version of sharia law. Its armed forces have deliberately killed children, and other civilians in attacks on mosques, hospitals, factories and schools in neighbouring Yemen as part of their campaign against Shi’a Islam. The weapons they have used in these atrocities, including cluster bombs, which are banned under international treaty, have been sold to them by America and Britain.

Waldorf is also correct when he says that these fears are being stoked by the rich to divide America in order to pick the pockets of ordinary people. This is absolutely correct. Since Margaret Thatcher in England and Ronald Reagan in America took power at the dawn of the 1980s, there has been a massive transfer of wealth upwards from the poor and middle class to the rich as welfare programmes have been closed down, and industries privatised and deregulated. Wages have been deliberately kept stagnant. The earnings of the rich 1% have been massively inflated as they have enjoyed generous tax cut after tax cut. Meanwhile, those taxes have been transferred to the poor.

This policy is continuing under Donald Trump. Trump is repealing Obamacare, which will see millions of poor Americans deprived of affordable health insurance. He has done this in order to give even more tax cuts to the rich, while the poor will receive absolutely nothing of the kind. This is because corporations and the rich fund America’s politicians, who respond by doing exactly what their paymasters want. And what they want is a poor, cowed workforce deprived of all but the most minimal rights. It’s also the guiding vision of the British Conservative party.

The way to give prosperity back to ordinary Americans – and Brits – is for the ordinary people to unite, and not let themselves be deceived by lies and fearmongering about ‘liberals’, non-Whites, Jews and Muslims. We need to stand together, whatever our race or religion, to make sure that ordinary people, of whatever religious or non-religious persuasion or colour, have decent jobs, a proper welfare support infrastructure, and proper healthcare. Everything, in fact, which Trump in America and Theresa May in Britain wishes to deprive them.

Thatcher’s Role in the Radicalisation of British Muslims

November 4, 2014

With Britain now facing the renewed threat of an Islamist terrorist attack, and the rise of ISIS in Iraq, the Tories will no doubt once again be trying to present themselves as the true protectors of the British people and their liberty. It’s a risible claim. The Tories are actively reducing the unemployed to helots – state slaves – through the introduction of workfare and their use as unpaid labour for private enterprise. See the article I’ve reblogged this morning about a man refusing to perform unpaid work under the new workfare legislation for the firm that sacked him. They are also actively pressing those from the working and lower middle classes fortunate enough to be in paid unemployment into wage slavery in the Marxist sense by denying them rights in the workplace and forcing them into zero hours contracts, along with pay freezes and reductions. Traditional British justice is also being sold and denied, contrary to Magna Carta, as the government has severely cut legal aid, and, with their Lib Dem enablers, set up secret courts to try those accused of terrorism. These are truly Kafkaesque kangaroo courts, where vital evidence may be withheld from the defendant’s attorney if its disclosure is deemed a threat to national security.

Moreover, far from defending Britain from terrorism, Margaret Thatcher herself directly contributed to the growth of radical Islam in Britain. Firstly, by encouraging foreign Muslim terrorists to seek asylum in the UK, and secondly by removing the state welfare net, thus making already inward-looking Muslim communities in the UK even more introverted and disconnected from mainstream British society.

Islamist Terrorism Blowback from Campaign against Soviets in Afghanistan

Many political commentators have discussed the rise of domestic Islamist terrorism in the West as blowback from the Gulf War and the unprovoked invasion of Iraq, and the assistance given by the West and Saudi Arabia to the Mujahideen in Afghanistan. America and the Saudis provided them money and weapons as part of Reagan’s global campaign against Communism and the Soviet ‘evil empire’ to drive the Russians out of Afghanistan. Margaret Thatcher herself saw them as valuable allies in the war against Communism. In return for their assistance battling the Soviets, she allowed a number of radical Islamist terrorists to settle in Britain. Private Eye pointed out the immense immorality of this policy several times, noting that one of the terrorists given asylum here in the UK was a man, who had bombed an airliner taking schoolchildren to Moscow in order to kill the Soviet officers also aboard. The Soviets themselves were in absolutely no doubt who the Islamist terrorists would target next after they had succeeded in their aims of expelling them. A few years ago the Daily Mail even ran a piece on the role of the Afghan War in the rise of radical Islamism. This quoted a former high level Russian diplomat to the US as telling his American counterparts in no uncertain terms that ‘after they have finished with us, they will come for you’: a prediction that has come all too true.

Thatcher Gave Asylum to Islamist Terrorists

The favour shown by Thatcher to her mujahideen allies also goes some way to explaining why the police were initially completely uninterested in cracking down on radical, viciously intolerant Islamist preachers and mosques. A few years ago the police finally acted against the mosque in Finsbury Park, after the imam and preachers there were revealed to be actively preaching and recruiting jihad and terrorism, including the enslavement of non-Muslims if they travelled to the Dar al-Islam, the Islamic world. Despite clear evidence of terrorist activities, the authorities were extremely reluctant to close them down, to the horror of moderate British Muslims. The authorities were warned about the mosque by an Algerian Muslim, who contacted the police something like five times about the dangers they posed. His warnings were repeatedly ignored. Some of this reluctance to act against foreign terrorists on British soil may derive from traditional British attitudes dating back to the 19th century. The authorities were content to allow foreign terrorists and radicals, such as Russian revolutionaries, to seek asylum in Britain, so long as they didn’t pursue a terror campaign against Britain herself. The granting of asylum here by Thatcher herself to Islamist terrorists also suggest to me that Thatcher and her cabinet also actively discouraged any attempt to act against their anti-Communist allies, in the same way she embraced the Chilean Fascist butcher General Pinochet.

Conservative Welfare Reforms Cutting Secular Ties between Muslim and Non-Muslim

The French scholar, Alfred Kepel, also notes the role Thatcher’s cuts to the welfare state played in the development of Islamic radicalism in Britain in his book on the rise of religious militancy, The Revenge of God. Thatcher cut state aid to the poor and unemployed partly as a way of reinvigorating religious charities. She aimed to remove secular welfare provision, so that the poor and unemployed would have to return to private charity, including religious organisations, for support. Kepel points out that the faith best organised to do this was Islam. One of the Five Pillars of Islam, the fundamental practices at the heart of the faith, is the zakat or alms tax. Muslims are required to pay a tenth of their income to the mosque, to be distributed as alms to the community’s poor. Clearly there is absolutely nothing wrong in religious organisations – or anyone else – providing aid to the poor and needy. However, the removal of state support meant that many Muslims, who were already alienated from non-Muslim British society, became even more inward-looking. It helped to break down contact between communities, not promote it, and promoted a situation where suspicion and hostility towards non-Muslims could thrive in some.

Thus, whatever the Tories say to the contrary, and however Cameron acts now to present himself as protecting Britain against the threat of Islamist terrorism, his party and Margaret Thatcher herself are partly responsible for its growth and development here in the UK. Since 9/11 and 7/7 there have been numerous programmes trying to steer vulnerable and alienated Muslims away from the preachers of hate and terrorism. It’s a pity that this could not have been started earlier, and that others now are having mend the immense damage Thatcher did. Unfortunately, this does not seem to involve the restoration of the welfare state, which is forcing so many in Britain, regardless of their colour or religious convictions, in dire poverty. This needs to be stopped if we are ever to have again a united, prosperous British people.


Need for More Coverage of Muslim Demos against Radicals

There are a couple of other points that need to be made on the subject of Islamist radicalism and terrorism here in the UK. Firstly, moderate Muslims have complained that their demonstrations against the preachers of hate are ignored by the news media. There have been a number of marches and demonstrations by ordinary Muslims against the preachers of hate. I was told about one by my lecturer in Islam at college, who had seen a notice for it in the window of a local newsagents. Clearly, by ignoring the demos by ordinary Muslims against the radicals, creates a one-sided, distorted view of Islam in Britain. This needs to change.

Extreme Right Falsely Claiming Alliance between Left and Radical Islam – Disproved by Hope Not Hate

Secondly, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim organisations like the BNP and the English Defence league repeatedly claim in their propaganda that the Left, and anti-Fascists, are allies of the Islamist radicals. There’s a nasty little propaganda film on Youtube, for example, which claims that in ten years’ time Europe will be racked by civil war, as Nationalists battle the combined forces of the Left and Islam for dominance of the continent. Although extreme, these fears have also been promoted in a series of books, some of them by respected international literary figures. Way back in 1984, Anthony Burgess, the author of A Clockwork Orange, wrote his response to Orwell’s 1984. Burgess was harshly critical of the great British Socialist and the book’s status as a classic. In Burgess’ own book, 1985, Muslims and trade unionists join forces to try to take over Britain, plunging it into violence and terror. More recently, the Spectator reviewed one novel by a contemporary American author. This was set in alternative universe, where French Socialists have allied with radical Islam to set up a new holocaust against Europe’s Jews. These fantasies say much more about the Right-wing authors fears of the organised working class and the supposed Islamic threat than they do about reality. The anti-Fascist organisation, Hope Not Hate, for example, not only campaigns against White Fascism and racism, but also against Islamist radicalism and terrorism. This also needs to be more widely known in order to combat the propaganda of the extreme Right that anti-Fascist organisations are complicit in promoting Islamist terrorism as part of their own campaign to increase racial tension.