The Analogue Age

In 1990, I got a HMV voucher when I got my student railcard. We didn't have a CD player, so I had to trudge round London to find a shop that still sold vinyl. I got a copy of The Pogue's Hell's Ditch. So even by then, CDs had pretty much displaced vinyl. CDs had a more convenient form factor and better sound quality (although how much that should really matter for pop music is another matter), although there was the supposed issue with cliping of the high frequencies.

By 2006, when I went to the big Virgin (or whatever it was called by then) on Oxford Street with Nancy, the shop had quite a big vinyl section, so vinyl fetishisation was well underway a decade ago. Once you have MP3s, CDs are pretty much redundant, Innovator's Dilemma and all that. AS I said, how much does the low bitrate really affect the listening experience. And now we have Spotify and it's possible to access huge swathes of the back catalogue of recorded music if you have an internet connection for free (with ads, natch). You can't do that for books or videos.

So anyone who is young and into vinyl is probably also listening to music from online sources, indeed, is probably mainly listening to it from such sources. As an object, it is easier to fetish an LP than a CD. It's got more physical heft, a larger surface area and you get the crackle of the needle in the grove. Not so great, of course, if you have to move a few thousand LPs. Or if you house burns down.

The early 1970s Doctor Who annuals I have contain a couple of articles predicting that in the future people would be more in handicrafts. People have being trying to get back to basics for millennia. The greatest pleasures of life are analogue. Shooting the breeze down the pub with your mates. Food. Sex. Virtue isn't its own reward. You might be stop Icelandic teenagers from drinking, smoking, taking drugs and having sex by getting them to play football for hours a night, but I'm not sure how that works a 48. The rainbow seen on the walk in the woods is a joy, but it only goes so far. The moment passes.            

Hipsters seek authenticity, but so did hippies. In the 1990s, David Foster Wallace was pursuing the New Sincerity. We know things it's terrible that the kids are spending so much time online. Virtual relationships aren't real relationship. People were bleating that in the 1980s. Then we were worried about the very analogue technology of television. People spend hours a night watching American primetime TV. Wallace himself did. They were passively consuming brain-corroding material. Now, we're passively consuming brain-corroding material on Facebook and Twitter. Although surely there's a degree of symmetry on Facebook at least. Content is not king and people will always want to talk to other people as Paul said.

I don't know if Wallace saw The Wire, but he did live into the start of the Golden Age of Television. (Second? Third? But not in Britain with the possible exception of NuWho.) Would we want to wish away the boxed set and Netflix. Television is digital now. We might hope that people will magically give up their iPhones and Fires, but we don't really expect them to give up television after more than sixty years. Not now, not when it has finally got good, not when the tv drama has established itself as the C21st art form. (at least for the time being). But then Wallace might have seen binging on a boxed set as little more that what the characters do in Infinite Jest with the Entertainment. Then again, isn't that supposed to be a mindless pleasure (to get back to Pynchon). Would Wallace have felt so bad if we had been inhaling hours a night of True Detective and Breaking Bad in the 1970s?

But a lot of this comes down to Kids These Days. I'm 48. I had a telly in my room at Oxford and, by January 1987, a colour one. Colour is better. Bigger is better. High resolution, it turned out in the end, is better. But it was still fairly unusual then to have one. We had to engage in healthy outdoor pursuits. Not so much in Oxford, of course, but who knows what it's like to be teenager. Well, teenagers. People were playing computer games in the mid-1980s and look were that landed us. Brexit and Trump. But there's always going to be something corrupting the kids. Penny dreadfuls, gangster flicks, horror comics, US cop shows, first person shooters, Snapchat.    

When I was a kid, I wanted the Doctor to come to Preston  in order to take me away from here. Russell T. Davies wants to set the series in Swansea. (Cardiff in the end.) But, of course, I want to write my Preston novel and here I am back in the Infinite City, thirty years on. Ulysses on the Ribble is set in Preston on 1 October 1986, but that is a world that is completely lost to us now. But it's just the same. Or not. And what of 2047? I will still be younger than my mother. I come from somewhere, I lived in my childhood in the same house, I am there right now typing this. I can't get away from that even I wanted to, nit entirely, that weight of time will leave a mark.

As we've said (and, yes, I do need to do more on this), the past is always both more and less like the present (and so the future). At 48, I get night terrors and one of the causes of that dreadful existential nausea is the lack of searoom. At 18, you might still be anything. But surely at 48, you should be that thing that you are going to be. I think Bill McKibben even says that in one of his books (probably Enough) and that didn't help me in the early 2000s in Waterston's Piccadilly. (We have been talking here, indirectly, of McKibben's NYR review of David Sax's The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter.) In your early twenties, you might not know what you want to do with your life. But the time you get to your early thirties, you've gained the wisdom to know that it is whatever you are doing and you are happier because you no longer have to worry about all the other things you could be because you are what you are.

I don't feel like that. I'd be better if I did. Sure, I'd be better writing my novel in long hand with a fountain pen on the creamy pages of a Moleskine notebook, rather than wilfing. That's a given. But there's a lot of object fetishisation there. I don't think McKibben would like that. Perhaps we would be happier in a post-apocalyptic society in an Oregon valley telling one another stories (but with washing machines). Always Coming Home came with a tape of songs to accompany the novel. Now, there's an analogue technology.    

Too much is never enough. The hipsters probably aren't going to give up their iPhones no matter how artisanal gin they distill. We don't yet know if Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality will be the Next Big Things. AGI will be one in the eye for the materialists. We might soon enough be non-random fluctuations in the quantum vacuum. Until then, we and the kids will have to be content to be ineluctably both analogue and digital.                           

"[T]he truly vast Doctor Who Expanded Universe"

One of the things that I like about Doctor Who is that there is so much of it. There is always something new and unexpected to discover. After seven years of my grand watch, I am still only up to "A Christmas Carol", so still two seasons of Smith, two seasons of Capaldi, half a season of Sarah Jane, a full season of Torchwood, Class and whatever of Chibnall's DW we have by then.   

There are huge amounts of Big Finish stuff as well as hundreds of NAs/MAs/EDAs/PDAs. That's the thing. Steve was talking about Mark Morris and an anthology Mark's editing. But what I didn't realise is just how much DW Mark has written. One might wonder how I could have missed it, but there are so many DW novels and so many Big Finish audios that it is easy for someone to slip through the filter, especially if you are not systemically trying to place everything in its true context. So just how many surprises are there lurking in just the 1990s-2000s Virgin/BBC DW books or the Big Finish audios? OK, in grand scheme of things, they may not be particularly world-shattering, but they will still be surprises.

Year Zero

But perhaps not what you might expecting. Having said that, there's a definite sense that the world has somehow ended up on a suboptimal timeline globally. But what about those personal Jonbar Junctions?

One of my great regrets goes back to the late 1990s. By mid-1997, I was living in Woking and had finished my PhD. David was always living in Woking by then. We did do some work on parallel Fear of Thirty projects. Indeed. (So, in fact, that's another one.) Anyway, David had done some work on an outline for a sequel to "Pyramids of Mars", which, I think, had received some encouragement from Steve. David mentioned that Doctor Who fans met at the Fitzroy and that the BBC was publishing seasons of DW novels. But though I had a copy of The Discontinuity Guide by then and borrowed a tape of "The Talons of Wang Chiang" off David at the time I didn't take up the DW cudgel.

But this was a huge mistake. The late 1990s was a time when one could potentially inculcate oneself into the Fitzroy crowd and get some traction with the editors of the DW novels on the strength purely of sounding plausible. I also recall David mentioning an invite to a book launch of a novel (probably Longbarrow) by Mark Morris, a friend of Steve's and a guest of the PSFG. What I didn't know until yesterday is that Mark has written several DW novels! So that could have been another in. So it is even frustrating than I knew.

The EDA/PDA range was published from 1997 to 2005, so it's quite an extended period that we could have slotted into. In 1997, one might propose either a The Diamond Age-style DW novel or A Fire Upon the Deep one. By 1999, we would also have a Cryptonomicon one. But who knows what David and I might have come up with.

There were a couple of ideas I did come up with myself. In Year Zero, the Doctor arrives somewhere on Earth on 19 January 2036. He does something and then has to pop forward a year to 19 January 2037. Nothing obviously has changed much. He then pop forwards again to 19 January 2038. When he discovers that everybody has disappeared.

Of course, the Doctor pretty quickly starts suspecting what has happened. So he goes back to 19 July 2037 and notices that quite a lot has changed in six months. He then goes to 19 October 2037 and realises that there is something very definitely afoot.

References to "The War Machines" and "The Green Death" amongst other stories would be made. The Doctor, natch, is fully familiar with Technological Singularities. But he knows one didn't happen on Earth in 2038. So just what is going on?

So we get a DW novel about the Singularity and some explanation at the end about the timelines get resolved. This likely involves the post-Singularity Eschaton being time-active and able to manipulate divergent timelines (as the Doctor can). This leads into the sequel or at least thematic successor, Continuity Error (there is a Moffat short story called "Continuity Errors"). Although Miles/Wood and Parkin have made pretty good fixes of trying to create semi-coherent continuities for DW and it is, in some ways, surprising how far you can get, it is pretty clear that one has to posit a multitude of timelines within the Whoniverse. Leaving aside the UNIT dating problem, it's pretty clear that the 2017 continuity does include the UK having an established Mars programme in the early-mid-late 1970s ("The Ambassadors of Death" 1970), much less a Jupiter programme five years later ("The Android Invasion", 1975). So just how do we reconcile all these inconsistent timelines? (An interesting question is how much this had been addressed in the existing canon.)        

So, in another universe, David and I, worked up some outlines, wrote some sample chapters, got involved in DW fandom, bagged a commission, and had a DW novel or two published in the late 1990s/early 200s. Could this have happened? The EDA/PDAs are not as well-regarded as the Virgin NAs/MAs. Some of them probably aren't very good. Miles's Alien Bodies is not without its virtues and is not badly written, but I can't say I was bowled over by the sheer power of his prose. Aaronvitch's highly influential novelisation of his "Remembrance of the Daleks", is pretty bad, although that's a Target novel. Perhaps Cornell's stuff really was a cut above this, but I don';t think the bar was unjumpably high. The problem was then and is now getting the stuff finished. And the sad thing is I don't have the sea room any more that I had in the late 2000s or even, of course, the mid-2000s, So what can I actually get done in six months in Seattle?     

Day Zero

We have reached that point. We will have four years of this or, more likely, eight, or perhaps only a few weeks. But Trump has said he is going to be busy on his first day. Not sure when that is. We could head back to the Oval Office in the afternoon and get signing. I heard he's having the weekend off. It might be Monday before he gets round to signing anything. Work/life balance is important. 

Things could be worse. You could be living in Britain. In America, the Governor of California can promise to launch a climate research satellite if NOAA doesn't. Perhaps Nicola Sturgeon might want to do that. But here we don't have the layers of subsidiarity to protect us from the gale of non-creative destruction. We all just the full blast.   

If There is Hope, It is with Calico

AI or, if you prefer, machine learning, is enjoying something of a boom at the moment. Of course, the idea of AI has been around since the 1940s and IBM has been a global behemoth for generations. But it is significant that large companies are retooling themselves as AI companies. IBM, of course, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook. What are companies like Oracle and Salesforce up to I wonder? Google, the most successful company of the last twenty years uses AI to serve better ads and is an explicitly A(G)I company and, through Alphabet, a Singularitarian one. Even Apple is jumping on the AI bandwagon.

And that's the rub. It's sickening to see tech executives sucking up to Trump at Trump Tower. But, of course, these are all Masters of the Universe. Google and Facebook and Amazon and Apple are by their natures as corporation sociopathic entities and they are managed by people who might similar kinds of backgrounds to me, but are also now extremely successful business executives and extremely wealthy. I might be able to scrape a little bit off the bottom, but I hardly exist in their world. They might not care about me. But it seems governments care even less in the post-truth era of Trump and Brexit. The US should be launching an Apollo-level programme to abolish ageing. But if it is to be done, it's going to be done by Calico (i.e. Alphabet i.e. Google) or some similar private organisations. Silicon Valley is now our last, best hope. And that's a pretty terrifying thought too.        

A Piece of Paper

To another industrial wasteland in Cheshire yesterday this time to somewhere on the edgelands of Warrington to collect my passport. Not sure why they don't just send them back to you directly. I suppose they did look at my driver's licence. Anyway, I have my passport - and it has the correct annotation. So, yes, I will be in Seattle within probably three weeks. Gulp!

In America, Trump is about to assume office. Brexit on the other hand is for life. Trump will be gone in eight years or four or perhaps even sooner. I understand the headbangers won't want to replace with him Pence until after the mid-terms so that Pence gets two full terms. That means at least two years of Trump. But then Pence can take one for the team. I doubt anyone other than Pence cares about Pence. It's going to be grim in the US and there's only so much that city and state governments can do. And none of that helps much if there is a shooting war. Seattle's booming at the moment, but booms can end and end suddenly. It is not as though the web and APIs and machine learning are going to go anywhere though. But the geopolitical risks in America are probably understated. As for Europe, I have a flat in London. Perhaps the libertopians might be able to come up with some formula that does not reduce London to the status of a glorified Guernsey. Perhaps there might be a tech industry left in the UK in 5 or 10 years. Perhaps it might be possible to live in London or even the North-West (or Scotland). The future's always uncertain, but it's even more uncertain now than it is has been in recent years because of Trump and Brexit and the rise of neonationalism. (Had HRC and Remain win, it could have been business as usual.) And then there is the question of what do I want personally. And how might I get it if it is possible to get it at all.      

23rd and East Madison

Looks as though we may have bagged an apartment in Seattle. The application process is in progress, so it should all go through. I'll be in Madison Park, close to 23rd and East Madison at the Summit at Madison Park, I hope. (Fingers crossed.)

Rentals tend to be a bit different over there. A lot of apartment buildings are let by the apartment by the owner/managers, so there are fewer UK-style buy-to-lets. There are a lot of apartment buildings of various ages in Seattle and a lot of new builds with the current boom there. The buildings tend to have "facilities" such as communal decks and lounges and be pet-friendly,. Well, I won't be having any pets, but I will be using the gym. With my knee, I can use the treadmill a bit, but it will probably be mostly cycling machine and cross-trainer. But it will be very exciting to get to have own neighbourhood of Seattle (indeed, of course, neighbourhoods with the office and Capitol Hill) and it is close to an excellent French restaurant that I have been to as well as several other promising sounding restaurants.    

Too Much is Never Enough

Brexit, Trump, Seattle, a weekend expedition to Norfolk, too much caffeine today, Sherlock. Sometimes it feels as though there is too much going on in the world and sometimes that too much is going on in my head. And not enough of it is good. I really do have to give up caffeine altogether, I think. Feeling wired and yet simultaneously strangely enervated. I didn't sleep particularly well in King's Lynn. I was out of my zone over the weekend in a lot of ways. I need an early night. But it is not as though things are going to be calming down for me any time in the foreseeable future. 


Seattle is a very writerly city. There are probably more writers or would-be writers and novels written there and set there per head of population than just about anywhere else on the planet. A cursory Google reveals many lists of Seattle books and several Seattle novels that have appeared over the last couple of decades. Perhaps the most noteworthy I have come across so far is Jonathan Raban's Waxwings, which does feature amongst other characters a British ex-pat and is set in the first tech boom. Raban got a profile in The Guardian the other day. Waxwings got a review from Colin Greenland in The Guardian, loving homaged in the novel's Wikipedia article, as well as on in the LRB. Much to chew on there, just to het started. Yes, I do feel there is too much going on in my head and body at the moment. (This is not a new thing.)  The question is how I can tap into the Seattle writing scene in just 6 months and what I can do that's constructive around the experience. As I knew back in 2006, those novels won't write themselves. 

The Great Seattle Novel

Though I had a few guidebooks from 2010, I found a couple of late 1990s/early 2000s ones for Seattle in the Oxfam bookshop in Brighton over New Year including a Mini Rough Guide from July 1998(!). (There does not seem to be a current edition.) Well, the city has changed a lot in 19 years. Hell, it's changed a lot in 19 months, I understand. (So come on, Rough Guide!) Nevertheless old guidebooks are fascinating, and, of course, being a Rough Guide, it includes a Contexts section. There are quite a few non-fiction books recommended and two novels, Coupland's Microserfs, which I have read and Guterson's Snow Falling on Cedars, which I have, but it's in a box in London.

Neither is really a Seattle novel. The Guterson was a big hit at the time, but it's about an island in Puget Sound. Microserfs is fascinating and a real historical curio as as a description of a startup in the years just before the web, and certainly has stuck with me over two decades. But the action switches from Seattle/Redmond after about 100 pages. The bits about Microsoft were more interesting to me than the bits about the startup. I might not feel that now so much, but it seemed clear that Coupland changed tack when he ran out of Microsoft material (I think the Seattle parts might either have been a article or researched for one) and he couldn't be bothered making up more stuff about Microsoft/Seattle. I suppose he had the startup research to use.

Films do rather better (17 listed, but, again, how many are really Seattle films?), but it's novels I'm after. Twenty years on there must be a definitive Seattle novel out there now (I was reading about a new novel set there the other day). And, of course, I know have to write my own Seattle novel. I wonder what that's going to be like?