Come see Arc in Amsterdam


On the afternoon of Sunday 24 February, Arc visits the Netherlands to explore the dark universe as guests of Sonic Acts, a long-running Dutch festival exploring the interzone between art, music and science.

The invitation a very happy coincidence for us as Arc‘s first edition of 2013, out soon, focuses on the fact that most of our universe is missing.

Come see us if you can: Alastair Reynolds will be riffing mischievously off Fermi’s paradox, science writer Frank Swain will map where the wild things are, I’ll explain why a theory of vision that ignored light completely served us well for over 800 years, and Tim Maughan will offer us a first glimpse of his experimental AR entertainment Watching Paint Die.

(I’m especially looking forward to that as I’ve just received Tim’s latest story for Arc – a cracking sequel to Paintwork called Ghost Hardware.)

Sonic Acts 2013 runs from Thursday 21 to Sunday 24 February. (Here’s the programme.) Arc’s bit of it runs from 1.30 to 3.30 on Sunday afternoon, in a former gaol called De Balie. They say it’s a chic theatre cafe-restaurant now, but I’m beginning to wonder if there isn’t a pattern developing here.

Last time I did something with Sonic Acts they put me up in a student house next door to Joseph Fritzl.


Conference & Festival Passepartout 80 euro
24 Feb day and evening 25 euro
24 Feb day: Conference 20 euro

Follow the event on Twitter:

@arcfinity @sonicacts @aquilarift @sciencepunk @simonings @timmaughan

Of Martians and machines

1908: The Island (work in progress)

Thought arises, not from matter, but from the way it is organised. Alexander Bogdanov, science fiction pioneer, philosopher, physician, Lenin’s friend and rival, explored the idea of automating society. The West calls this cybernetics and it fuels consumer culture. But in the Soviet Union, Bogdanov’s philosophy was discredited and suppressed. On Tuesday 18 December at 7.30pm I’ll be asking why the Soviets abandoned their early dreams of automating Man.

The talk’s at Pushkin House, 5A Bloomsbury Square, London WC1A 2TA, and you can find more details here.

Let maths illuminate your life!

Thanks to the review I wrote of Thinking in Numbers, an excellent collection of essays about the psychology and culture of numbers, the RSA has invited me along to talk with the author Daniel Tammett on 27 Nov 2012 at 13:00. Follow this link for details of venue etc; you can also follow the event remotely through the following links

BioPunk comes to the Durham Literary Festival

On Saturday 27 October, 2012 I’ll be reading from and discussing “The Wrestler”, one of the stories that make up Bio-Punk: stories from the far side of research. It’s a new anthology edited by Ra Page of Comma Press, pairing up writers and scientists. (Dr Ian Vincent McGonigle was my collaborator on “The Wrestler”: he’s currently studying Socio-Cultural Anthropology at the University of Chicago, with research interests in bioethics, epistemology, ethno-pharmacology and medical anthropology.)
Other writers in the anthology include Toby Litt, Sara Maitland, Adam Marek, Justina Robson, Jane Rogers and Dilys Rose.
On Saturday, Dilys and her collaborator Dr Jane Haley will be with me at Durham Town Hall at 2pm to launch the book with readings and discussion. Thanks to Waterstones Newcastle for their support, and the long-suffering Rebecca Wilkie of New Writing North for finding me the correct train ticket. (I was LOST, I tell, you LOST, the Interwebs had BROKEN…)

Electric Shadows

From 12-14 October 2012, the Kontraste Festival – curated by Sonic Acts – reverberates across Krems, a pretty town on the Danube famous for its art galleries, staggeringly good white wine, and one of the world’s best preserved panopticon prisons. On Saturday I’ll be discussing how, adapted as we are to a rich visual world, we will have to learn to tolerate the limited colour palette and visual monotony of the rest of the universe. This is one of the more left-field contributions; for the most part the weekend is filled with a wild assortment of scientifically literate sound artists Playing with Our Brains. This sort of thing:


There’s also a film programme, like this:


with a touch of this:


If you can’t make it up the Danube, there’s always the book.

Finally, I get to meet Bruce again…

… after a gap of – what? Twenty years? Last time I saw him he and William Gibson were launching their steampunk collaboration on an indifferent British public – further evidence, if any were needed, that to succeed in this game what you need most is longevity and a taste for the slow hand-clap.

Anyway, Bruce Sterling, Rachel Armstrong, Warren Ellis and I are going to be in Eindhoven, designing the city of the future this coming weekend, in a free event organised by Liam Young of Tomorrows Thoughts Today.

The exhibition Under Tomorrow’s Sky will open on August 10 at MU. (See and for updates.) Our weekend-long public think tank kicks off the project by debating the social, cultural, ethical and environmental consequences of emerging technologies.

“Eavesdrop on the conversations, take part in the debates on what the future city may be and contribute to the discussions on why such speculations on tomorrow may be of critical importance for today.”

To which I would add: buttonhole me afterwards and we’ll go get a drink.

Emmasingel 20
5611 AZ Eindhoven
T +31402961663
Saturday June 16 start at 8 pm
Sunday June 17 start at 11 am
Free entrance

Keep Friday free: we’re plotting the return of Lawrence Durrell

It’s time we revalued “the old boy”. Poet. Excoriator of Pudding Island (the British Isles to you). Cocksman. Loudmouth. Shit. Author of experimental novels. Tipped for the Nobel. Despised then and now for writing seriously and sincerely about sex.

I want to save him from the lovies. From the old club-room farts with their tales of “Dear Larry”. From the cryptocolonial world-builders, the literary pudendum-collectors, the ex-pat snob-fantasists. I want people to remember Durrell’s teeth. His breath. His savage, uncompromising, funny-weird, gut-wrenching prose. And when the British Library came along asking, did I want to chair and contribute to a panel about Lawrence Durrell today? well, I grabbed at the chance, all the while thinking, Can’t they get anyone, well, let’s face it, bigger?

No. They cannot. (Faber got Jan Morris to write a new foreword to the Alexandria Quartet recently. I’ve read it: a pompous, contemptuous flob. Please God DBC Pierre does a better job with The Black Book.)

Why is it proving such an uphill struggle to recast Durrell for a new generation? For an answer, I fear we need look no further than the title to this week’s event: Reach Upwards to the Affirming Sun. Yes, I know where this line comes from, and yes, I still hate it. Reach upwards to the affirming sun, indeed – forgetting that Durrell was the all-time undisputed master of bathos. One might just as well have quoted from The Black Book:

The robin sits upon the bough
The postman has a nasty cough

which at least has some energy about it. But we’re lumbered. Reach Upwards to the Affirming Sun: Lawrence Durrell in 2012 takes place from 18.30 to 20.00 this Friday, 15 June 2012, at the Conference Centre, British Library,
96 Euston Road

Joining me – and fielding some very different opinions – will be Nicoletta Demetriou, Andrew McKie, and Joanna Hodgkin, author of Amateurs in Eden, The Story of a Bohemian Marriage: Nancy and Lawrence Durrell.

Do come if you can and watch the fur fly. The evening costs £7.50 / £5 concessions, and don’t forget the Old Boy’s secret sign (revealed below)

Healthify yourself!

Come along on Wednesday 16 May at 7pm to the last of my talks at Pushkin House; I’m exploring Russia’s unsung sciences of the mind.



The way we teach and care for our children owes much to a handful of largely forgotten Russian pioneers. Years after their deaths, the psychoanalyst Sabina Spielrein, the psychologist Lev Vygotsky and the pioneering neuroscientist Alexander Luria have an unseen influence over our everyday thinking. In our factories and offices, too, Soviet psychology plays a role, fitting us to our tasks, ensuring our safety and our health. Our assumptions about health care and the role of the state all owe a huge debt to the Soviet example.

Tickets: £7, conc. £5 (Friends of Pushkin House, students and OAPs)

More details here