Today is Getting Things Done day. I hate that. It's not getting writing done, it's dealing with the paperwork that piles up and up and up that I keep putting off. So I've spent my time chasing up the Driving Agency, Tax office, bank, insurance - a long boring list. Like anyone who works for themselves, I'm always horrified by how complicated everyone else (companies, government) make such simple things. Throw in the anti-money laundering laws that we now have in the UK, that require you to produce a variety of proof-of-identity documents, and we drop into the beyond-parody universe. As a result, I have to spend days like this. Given that I'm not writing, and therefore not earning, do you think the Taxman will give me a refund for the day, after all it's mainly government bureaucracy which is depriving me of a living? No? Didn't think so.
This brings me in a roundabout sort of way to a theme I dropped from the Void Trilogy before I actually started writing it. I was going to illustrate life on a Higher world. This is a culture where every physical need is more or less taken care of by replicators and AI systems. Everything we work for today - house, food, clothes, ipods, is all a basic right. It's only when you want to do something large - build a starship, research the core of a nearby moon, turn asteroids into sculptures- that you have to request additional funding. So you get committees forming, made up of the appropriate experts, to decide if you should have these funds from the central account. So far, fairly simple. Except, of course, this has been going on for centuries, so now everything gets determined by committee. You get people forming groups to deal with any subject that possibly exists. And of course they all believe they're important and relative, and issue pronouncements about something on the other side of the galaxy, expecting people to defer to them.
All moderately amusing - at least in the chapter outlines. A narrative strand following one such political events committee pompously pronouncing on the Pilgrimage would be a perfect way for me as an author to illustrate the kind of life any Higher lives. Except, as today has reminded me, it's incredibly boring. In fact this is precisely the reason I started reading SF in the first place, back when I was in my early teens. To escape this kind of crap. And now here it is following me into space. Ah well, at least I had the editorial sense to spare you, my readers, from this stuff. So if I ever get asked if there was extra material that I cut out, and could it ever be restored, as they did with Stranger in a Strange Land, I can give a very positive NO for an answer.
Which leaves me with last weekend, and the Utopials festival in Nantes. My first French SF convention, and most enjoyable it was too. Given that they fed the guests a huge buffet for every meal of every day it's a wonder I managed to waddle back down to my car at the end of it. This, my fellow guests and I decided, was the standard we'd want from UK conventions from now on. They also had a perfect translator service, so when I was my turn to be interviewed on stage, and I don't speak French, and my interviewer didn't speak English, it didn't matter. Everyone had headphones, and were able to listen to an instantaneous translation. Brilliant. It was like a mini-UN in the main hall. So big thanks to the organizers for inviting me, and my publishers Bragelonne and Pocket for looking after me while I was there.
Nantes is also where the Jules Verne museum is situated. I spent a morning wondering round that. I didn't know before, but apparently he wrote about 60 books (If I manage 20 by the time I shut down my word processor I'll consider it a major achievement). I also saw pages of the From The Earth To the Moon manuscript, where in the margin he was doing calculations for trajectories and orbits. Wow. And of course he had several houses, and a thirty metre steam-engine yacht. SF writers plainly did a lot better for themselves in those days.
So tonight I'm off to a birthday party for Sara Bush, the matriarch of the Ice Citadel. What, you thought she was fiction?
Peter F. Hamilton