Critical Mass is an Adelaide-based SF discussion group that continues to meet after many, many years of existence. For a long time it was based around a volunteer speaker each month, and some of the best talks I’ve had the opportunity to listen to come from those guest speakers. I will always remember John Foyster’s awe-inspiring demolition of one page from Dan Simmons’ Hyperion, Zoran’s introduction to the Thomas Carnacki books, and Julliette’s discussion of Mary Sue in fan fiction.
To survive a group like Critical Mass has to reinvent itself periodically, especially when attendance numbers fall and the demand on each attendee to find time to prepare 2-3 talks in a year becomes a problem. The latest “reinvention” involves Andrew’s plan of asking members to read their choice of short stories or novellas from a shared list and then discuss what they thought with the group. It can’t be done every month, but when it is hard to find speakers it is a nice technique that I’ve found has helped to remind me of how much I enjoy reading, although admittedly it has done as much to remind me of how I prefer the world building of the longer forms than I do short fiction.
This month we had a typical selection of short stories, most of which were excellent. One stood out, though, as it heavily polarised the group, from those who though it was excellent to those who thought very much the opposite: Pat Cadigan’s AI and the Trolley Problem. While I admit that I had problems with the conclusion, I was delighted to think about the philosophy underlying the story, as not only did it explore the obvious Trolley Problem, but it even touched on issues such as autonomy, responsibility and behaviourism. Many years ago, when I was following my dream of maximising my unemployability my Masters thesis was on ethics and AI, thus when I see it being explored by such a writer as Pat Cadigan I am simply delighted.
Along with Critical Mass, other events have managed to pull me back into old loves. The new Doctor brought me back to Doctor Who after several seasons of disinterest, only to respond much as Christine does in her article (so much promise, but ultimately, so shallow). Writing about Kickstarter reminded me of backing Harry Connolly’s fantasy series, which in turn led me to look up Twenty Palaces, and that led to re-reading the novels in order to catch up with a novella that I had missed. A short story that was discussed at Critical Mass reminded me that I had yet to finish Max Gladstone’s The Craft Sequence, and now I’ve probably read more novels in the past two weeks than I have in the previous year. I have finally started stealing back time to enjoy SF, and it feels good.
At any rate, I hope this issue pulls others back into old loves, or you find something new to try.