Just a reminder for London-area people that I’ll be interviewed at the British Science Fiction Association event next Wednesday, 24 October– and for people outside the London area, you can follow along on the livestream at the BSFA’s Twitter feed.
Driving Ambition is now available to download for the Kobo and the Kindle– arguably a good way to read a book about virtual systems, artificial intelligences, and beings who exist only online.
Print copies will be available later, and I’ll post ordering links when that happens.
Just thought I’d mention that my first novel, Driving Ambition, a tale of murder, labour relations, and self-driving cars, has had its launch event at Can-Con.
Here is a video of me reading the first chapter…
Britons: I’ll be interviewed live at the BSFA meeting on 24 October, and will bring copies for sale. Canadians: There are copies available at Can-Con. Everyone: I’ll be posting an ordering link as soon as I have one.
Last episode, I said I’d talk about uniforms and clothing at the Car Factory, so here it is, as promised.
There are always rules about what you can and can’t wear on the line. Jewelry and metal fastenings can damage the car; dangly bits of anything can potentially get you injured or killed. This is also, by the way, why visitors to the line wore white lab coats and safety goggles; not only did it make them easy to identify, but it covered up anything which might scratch the metal or catch on equipment.
Shortly before I started at the Factory, worker dress was: 1) soft trousers, without external studs or fasteners (zips were OK so long as they were covered), and 2) T-shirts, with, as far as I know, minimal restrictions as to style and content.
The plant also had uniform jackets, though in practice you were unlikely to get one unless you’d worked there for more than about six months, as the jackets were new enough to have a backlog. There were three different styles for workers, team leaders and managers, and they were hugely popular. You’d see them all around town as an expression of team spirit, if you like.
By the time I started, the under-jacket uniform had switched to 1) the abovementioned soft trousers, and 2) company-branded T-shirts, in three different colours (colour-coded to the three plant shifts).
The uniforms were nice-looking, and there were obvious advantages to wearing them: no worries about someone taking offense at someone else’s T-shirt, for instance. But, getting back to Factory Working While Female, there was another issue as well.
One morning, I rolled out of bed at five AM as usual, showered, put on the factory uniform, rubbed face cream on my face, and put on lip balm. Except I didn’t. By accident, I’d put on lip gloss. Pretty, sparkly lip gloss.
Now, there was no rule against wearing lip gloss on the line. Makeup in general wasn’t worn, because it could rub off on things and get them dirty (and besides, who wants that sort of fuss and bother in the morning when you’re just going to be spending all day slinging electrical testing equipment). Lip gloss wouldn’t do that, though, and it made a nice change from the usual no-makeup-face I wore on the line. So I didn’t really think anything of it.
But it definitely got a reaction from my teammates, male and female.
“Hey, you’re looking good there!”
“Done something new with your look?”
“That really suits you, you know?”
None of it negative, but everyone clearly noticed. Even something as small as sparkly lip gloss.
Not long after, one of the other women on the team was due some leave, and was talking about what she’d do with it. “First thing,” she said, “I’m going to get a manicure. And then I’m going to put on makeup, and a really frilly dress.”
It’s worth pointing out here that, although most people think of women factory hands as looking like Rosie The Riveter or the machinists from Made In Dagenham, where plant uniforms are charmingly accessorised with a nice (if practical) hairdo, a colourful scarf, some bright lipstick, a blouse just visible under the overalls… none of that was going on in the Car Factory. Nobody was wearing lip gloss, except by mistake. Nobody was wearing their hair in anything but the most practical styles. Necklaces were permissible, so long as you could tuck them into your shirt, but you saw more of those on the men (many of whom liked those big, chunky, gold chains favoured by hip-hop artists) than the women.
Now, it’s not something I’ve analysed in detail. But once I thought about it, it began to seem a lot like protective camouflage. Not a denial of being a woman or a pretense of being a man, but a way of saying, through dress and accessory, that gender doesn’t matter. That everybody at the factory is, essentially, just a body, same as any other body. That the important bits are the legs, the arms, and the head.
So, as well as health, safety, protection and preventing unexpected disputes on the line, the uniform also erased gender divides. It’s debatable to what extent this was a Good Thing, in that it undoubtedly helped generate a non-hostile atmosphere towards women, versus a Problem, in that it also reinforced native categories to the effect that it was not normal to Be Female on a car assembly line. But it was certainly a way of showing how even the smallest details of the workplace environment matter.
I’d liked the rock crystal pendant skull so much, I bought another from the same shop. This one’s a little larger (and it’s one you’ll often see me wearing at cons when I’m in my Pirate Queen outfit). It’s also jade, which is associated with longevity, death and the afterlife, so appropriate for a story whose narrator lies in suspended animation, generating fantasy metaphors for the virtual work they do.
In my final undergraduate year, I did an ethnographic study of a drag cabaret which ran out of a bar in the Gay Village near the university. I’ll blog about it more later, but at the moment all I want to say is that I was unusually lucky and was able to get two actual, grown-up, academic publications out of it.
Although the bar was pretty well-known, I anonymised it in the study by calling it The Fifty-Four.
Sometime later, I started seriously writing fiction. One of the types of fiction I write is a series of intermittent dark fantasy stories set in and around a Gay Village which is essentially a fictionalised version of the abovementioned Gay Village near the university.
In the first published story, “The Kindly Race,” I needed a name for a village bar that had a drag cabaret.
I called it The Fifty-Four.
Let’s just say it was my way of contributing to the debate of whether or not ethnography is just another kind of storytelling.
If you like this blog, you’re going to love this novel:
“In the not-too-distant future, intelligent Things are recognized as sentient beings–but do they have the same rights as humans? And what about the free-floating Intelligents deep within the Internet. Thompson Jennings is a man with unique problems and unique abilities–he can interface between the human and machine worlds, acting as a go-between in labour negotiations and other disputes. But when one his clients, a sentient taxicab, is murdered, his problems multiply and his abilities are stretched to the limit.”
Every time I sell a work of fiction, I buy a crystal skull. This is the one that started it.
I’d started sending out flash fiction and poetry, nervously. I’d promised myself that I’d buy something nice the first time I sold something.
I got a rejection slip from Asimov. They’re a big market, hard to crack, especially for a beginning writer. I wasn’t surprised.
Shortly afterwards, I got an e-mail from Asimov.
“Sorry, you haven’t managed to sell those poems, have you?”
I was indeed surprised.
No, I hadn’t, and yes, I was happy to sell them.
I made less than £10 out of it once I’d cashed the foreign cheque (they didn’t do Paypal at the time). I spent the money on Something Nice, namely, a skull necklace I’d had my eye on. I thought it was appropriate; skulls being the house of creativity and symbolic of the characters I’d created.
It also started a trend.
Everything in this blog is based on my real experience.
None of it is a remotely factual representation of my real experience.
You can insert your favourite argument about fiction versus objective truth, from Clifford and Marcus’ postmodern manifesto Writing Culture, to Akira Kurosawa’s film Rashomon, to the first chapter of Armistead Maupin’s The Night Listener. But to shorten it down: These are my real experience, but rendered into a good story.
Sometimes this means putting down my experiences exactly as I remember them—with all the subjectivity that entails.
Sometimes that means deliberate editing, for story or confidentiality reasons.
Sometimes this means I just forget things. I’ve had time to do this. It happens.
So, if you happen to be someone who find yourself here in this blog, and says, “well, I don’t remember it that way….” Then please, write a story about it.
I’ve written mine.