Monday, 28 October 2013

Hollywood Halloween news from Ian Watson...

Sci-Fi Film To Be Put On Ice? 

Steve Spellborg’s proposed sci-fi movie The Silent Ones, due to feature  hundreds of Emperor Penguins awaiting the return to Earth of superscience birdlike aliens, has enraged environmentalists.

Crowds of Emperors, the tallest of penguins, stand motionless on the ice for several months during the snowstorms of the Antarctic winter while incubating their eggs with their feet.  In Spellborg’s story they’re all standing expecting something – the return of a mother ship, which duly arrives, and on to which they all will waddle, rather as in his 1981 blockbuster Abductions of the Third Sort.  In The Silent Ones an obsessed ornithologist, haunted by dreams, will battle his way to the frozen south with his ufologist girlfriend.

An Emperor Penguin yesterday, without his egg...

Conservationists protest that all the light and heat produced by the film crews may poach the penguins’ eggs, or make those hatch prematurely, and fear that the puzzled penguins might become psychotic.

In a press statement released yesterday at 6.30 pm Hollywood time, Spellborg declared his determination to commence location shooting by Christmas, and insisted that no penguins, nor their eggs, will be harmed physically nor psychologically during the making of The Silent Ones.  To minimise disturbance and ecological impact, the living quarters of the location film crew will be in a nuclear submarine which the US navy has now pledged to put at his disposal, and which will stay submerged as much as possible.

Monday, 21 October 2013

"I like to, uh, you know, edit...", an article by Mark West

NSFWG member Mark West on editing.  The chapbook story mentioned, "What Gets Left Behind", was critiqued by the group during the summer of 2011 and published in 2012

You know how, sometimes, you enjoy an activity that’s a little bit uncool - or disliked by others - and although you maintain your love of it, it’s always under a cloak of secrecy?  Well rather than stand there, hands in pockets and a tinge of blush in my cheeks, I’ll stand proud and say it loud - I like editing.

There, I’ve said it.  Admittedly, half the people who started reading this have now gone off to do something a little more exciting instead, but for those who are left - thank you - bear with me.

According to Stephen King’s brilliant (and, I’d say, fairly essential) memoir of the craft, “On Writing”, there are two types of writer - the ‘taker-out’ and the ‘putter-in’ - and all of us, broadly, fall into one of those camps.  My friend Gary McMahon is a ‘putter-in’ and his early drafts are astonishingly concise - by comparison, even I struggle to get through a reading of my first draft.  In fact, it’s become a matter of absurd pride to me that nobody else has ever read one of my first drafts - I tried it once, about fifteen years ago and I’m still waiting for the feedback.  My first draft is the dumping ground, the place where everything I know about the story comes out (and I often have to write things I know won’t survive the draft, just so I can completely understand the characters journey from point A to point B).  That works for me, because when I go back to the second draft, I have plenty of material to work on.  It also means I cut a lot out - my novel “In The Rain With The Dead”, for instance, was 126,000 words in first draft and published as 104,000 words.

Editing is essential, as important a part of the process as coming up with the idea and the act of committing it to paper.  In fact, if you want a timeline, it’s - think of a story, write the story, edit the crap out of it.  Editing is where you refine what you have in your head, where you refine that personal and original vision into prose that’s tight and concise enough for everyone else to see that same vision.

What’s also important to remember is that not every writer makes a good editor.  Yes, most of us can pick up some grammatical errors or punctuation problems but hey, if you’re like me and have an occasional issue with apostrophes, if you got it wrong the first time, you’ll probably get it wrong when you redraft too.  So here’s my advice - get some readers in.  I tend to call my happy little band “pre-readers”, but I’ve seen them referred to as ‘beta-readers’ too - it doesn’t matter what name they go under, get them.  And audition them too because a reader who loves everything a writer puts out isn’t any use in the editing process at all.

I’ve been very lucky, to build up a steady band of pre-readers over the years.  I have my kid sister (and boy, is she a tough crowd to please!), a few non-writer friends (one works in medicine and puts me right on matters of grue and gore, whilst another is scathing even about stuff he likes), a handful of writers for the technical side of things and my wife, who looks at the whole package.  I’m also lucky enough to belong to an excellent writing group - Northampton SF Writers - and they are very thorough.  For individual projects, I might draft other people in, but the core remains the same.  And what purpose do they serve?  They read what I consider to be an edited draft and then have at it - does it work for them, does the language flow, do the set-pieces work, do characters name or attributes change (as can happen), is it believable (story AND character) and, most important of all, did they enjoy it?  I take in their comments and read all of them, even if I end up ignoring perhaps 50% of them.  I’ll make changes where I can plainly see I’m wrong or, if they all say something is rubbish and I disagree, I’ll make the change and see how it works for myself.  Then I’ll move onto the next draft and get that pre-read too (though by a smaller crowd this time - strangely, for some people, one run is enough).

The key thing is, the pool of writers grows larger every day, the call to the buying public gets louder every day and you need to stand out from that throng.  One way is to have a story as tight as you can possibly get it.

With electronic publishing now a viable means for just about anybody with Word and Internet access, editing is more important than ever.  Some people reading this will remember the PublishAmerica business, around 2000/2001, where there suddenly seemed to be thousands of horror novels being published, most with dreadfully designed covers and poor use of fonts, all of them proclaiming themselves the next big thing in horror.  In my experience - yes, I read some - the covers weren’t the worst of it and the closest they got to horror was that they were nigh on unreadable.  The same, if it isn’t already (thinking of that lady who wrote “The Greek Seaman”), is undoubtedly going to be true of Smashwords and Kindle.

Horror is an odd genre, in a lot of ways.  I love it, because it’s rich and varied and covers the spectrum of human experience.  Others love it because when it hits, it hits big.  Think of the paperback horror boom in the 80s, when anything with a skeleton on a black cover could get published.  Was it quality stuff?  No, of course it wasn’t and the poor quality of it helped to sour readers on the genre.  I think that happened with the PublishAmerica issue - people bought the next big things in horror only to discover that they were poorly written, sloppily edited rubbish.  So what happens then? That’s right, another bust for the genre as consumers are fearful of taking a chance on new horror, in fear that “its like wot tht idiot writ”.

As an example (and breaking my cardinal rule), here’s a comparison between the first draft of "What Gets Left Behind" (my Spectral Press chapbook) and the third:

1st draft
The summer holidays were already underway and, for Mike and his best friend Geoff, the endless sunny days lay ahead of them like uncharted waters, holding promise of adventure and fun.  Having been to see “Raiders of The Lost Ark” at the old ABC in town earlier in the month, on their own, had only fuelled their imagination.  Mike now owned a brown fedora hat his uncle had picked up for him from Heyton, though he’d had to take off the ‘Kiss Me Quick’ band from around it.

It’s not bad, is it?  It wouldn’t win any prizes, but it gets the point across and there’s a nice little bit of nostalgia in there.  But how does it affect the story?  Does it slow it down, does it branch off, is it necessary?

3rd draft
The summer holidays were already underway and, for Mike and his best friend Geoff, the endless days lay ahead of them like uncharted water, promising adventure and fun.  Having seen “Raiders Of The Lost Ark” at the old ABC earlier in the month only fuelled their imaginations.

The thrust is still there, but you read it and go - you know the kids are on holiday, that they’re looking for adventure and that Indiana Jones is going to be a factor.  That’s all you need to know.

The best editing in the world won’t make up for poor writing, but good editing and good writing can combine to make your story much more powerful.  Maybe powerful enough for the casual reader to think ‘Hey, I liked that, I wonder if he has anything else out?’

Edit, people, it’s what makes your words make sense.

This originally appeared on Steve Lockley's Confessions of a technophobe website, as part of a series on writing tips from various authors, in June 2011.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Kubricked, an article by Ian Watson

Emilio d’Alessandro, Christiane Kubrick, and Ian 
at the Festival Internazionale della Fantascienza in Trieste, September 2001

Early in 1990, the phone rang.  Stanley Kubrick’s assistant asked me to visit the film-maker at his home near St Albans.  Why could not be disclosed.  A chauffeur would come.  I must read material sent by motorbike courier. 
I’d heard rumours of a project for a film about a robot boy.  Due to the secrecy, and a sense of entering a lion’s den, I opted to drive my own car.       
Stanley lived in enigmatic seclusion for years near St Albans, nowhere near Hollywood.  Actually, he wasn’t at all the misanthropic hermit portrayed by journalists peeved at being unable to report much about him.  He was a devoted husband and father, and constantly companionable by phone with people worldwide.  But he was very focused on his art.   
            My memory of that first meeting with Stanley fades into umpteen subsequent meetings, but the impression which abides (since Stanley’s appearance never changed) was of a quizzical scruffy figure, bespectacled eyelids hooded, receding hair and beard untidy, dressed in baggy trousers, a jacket with lots of pockets and pens, and tatty old trainers – along with a quirky amiable dry humour and an intensity of focus which could jump disconcertingly from one topic to another far remote.
I never mastered the lay-out of the manor house, but its labyrinth included a mini-movie theatre where Stanley could study the latest screen releases, a sepulchral computer room where two cats who never saw the light of day glided like wraiths, a billiard room where Stanley and I were to sit brainstorming for untold hours -- and a huge cheery kitchen where I would share lunches with Stanley.  Gorgeous floral paintings by Stanley’s wife Christiana brightened walls.
Lunches remained exactly the same for weeks, since if Stanley liked something he persisted with it until he tired.  First, were Chinese take-aways ferried in by Stanley’s chauffeur Emilio.  Next, vegetarian cooks were hired, till they proved not to be true vegetarians.  Finally, Stanley would poach salmon in the microwave, a skill of which he was proud.
Stanley gave me a book about artificial intelligence and a copy of Pinocchio, the tale of the puppet who yearned to be a real boy.  The movie he planned was to be a futuristic fairy-tale robot version, spinning off from a vignette by Brian Aldiss, but the plot-line had bogged down.  Would I write a 12,000 word story, doing whatever I wished with the material?
Three weeks later I mailed the result, and Stanley wanted to meet me again.  Any illusion that I’d created a usable story-line evaporated fast.  My story was no use for the project – bye-bye story, never to see the light of day – but Stanley liked the way I’d gone about writing it.  Would I work with him on a week-by-week basis? 
For almost a year I was to be Stanley’s mind-slave, writing scenes in the morning to fax around noon for long discussion by phone in the evening, or being collected by Emilio to arrive for lunch and an afternoon of mental gymnastics.  A sign on a wall nearby said: Here we snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. 

Stanley initially asked whether alcohol would hamper my performance, but I assured him that beer was necessary to my thought processes.  So a hospitable crackle would come over the short-wave radio: “Bucket of beer for Ian!”  In the big manor house,  communications with Stanley were often by radio.  One day I’d been nattering to Stanley’s assistants Tony and Leon for almost an hour when Stanley walked in and glared.  “You’re supposed to tell me when Ian gets here.”  “Your radio isn’t switched on, Stanley…” they replied.  Perfect organisation could sometimes break down. 
Even ordinary conversations with Stanley could be disconcerting since he would suddenly shift to an entirely different theme, as if he’d lost interest in what was of consuming interest a moment earlier.  When we were discussing the story line, these veerings became extreme.  What if our robot boy`s teddy bear has a kangaroo pouch to keep things in?   Next moment: will the next government  introduce currency controls immediately they gain power?  After a spot of politics, back to our story: how about a café where robots hang out, pretending to drink?
I decided that Stanley’s intention, whether deliberate or instinctive, was to maintain mental intensity hour after hour, never mind how exhausting this might be – a way of sustaining and heightening my performance, and his own too perhaps, which has left some people who worked with him feeling drained dry.  What he wanted, he didn’t exactly know.  It was up to me as soothsayer to guess.  Yet he was remoselessly logical in finding loopholes in lovely proposed scenes, little hair-cracks which could rapidly widen into uncrossable chasms. 
Story conferences were like building houses of cards, often doomed to collapse just when I was hoping to leave with scribbled notes to turn into scenes.  Stanley Kubrick only wanted the absolute best – for the story, or for the resident cats and dogs; and plugging away at something about which he had an instinct must eventually bear fruit.  Was it 58 times that Stanley reshot Jack Nicholson crossing a street in The Shining in the hope, as Stanley told me, that something interesting would happen? 
Early on I’d established a protective cordon by telling Stanley that I would only work weekdays.  When one plot mishap escalated into a catastrophe, Stanley eyed me gravely.  “There’s a lot of money in this for you, Ian” – referring to the pie-in-the-sky bonus.  Distraught at the suggestion that I might work all weekend or not go to bed, I retorted, “There’s no point in threatening me with money.  I’m not mainly motivated by it.” Stanley gaped at me in bewilderment.  By five in the afternoon, we could both be fairly wiped out.  We shambled towards an editing suite, where Stanley stared blankly at his aide, Leon.  “Do you know where Leon is?” he asked.  “I am Leon,” said Leon. 
            As a model for how robots should talk, I must watch Peter Sellers as the retarded gardener in Being There.   I faxed: “You are beautiful.  I have a clean dick.”  (“That’s more like it,” Stanley told me.)  “You are a goddess.  May I sit in your car?”  Stanley would instruct me to “Stop writing dialogue!  Just describe it!”  Then change his mind: “No, write it all in dialogue!”  I was beginning to feel like a deranged robot myself.  A Robo-Scribe, with contradictory programs.   
It was as if each morning I started writing an entirely new short story which I was soon forced to abandon, only to begin another story next day.  This could be irksome for an author, though as Stanley said to me when I tried to defend a scene, “The trouble with you writers is you think your words are immortal.”  On the inside of the manor house door was a notice: DO NOT LET DOGS OUT.  As I prepared to depart one day, Stanley paused by the notice and growled, “It should say writers too.”  
While filming Eyes Wide Shut, after the umpteenth take of a scene, Stanley said deadpan to a frazzled Tom Cruise at the height of his career, “Don’t worry, I’ll make a star of you yet.”  In a similar way, Stanley seemed determined to make a writer of me yet!  Stanley adopted the role of mentor with Tom Cruise – whose marriage broke up not long after Stanley filmed him repeatedly simulating sex with his wife Nicole Kidman – although we should not speak of cause and effect!  What was happening to me was a prolonged master class in the construction of a story.
Stanley Kubrick hated coincidences in a story.  In  fact, real life is full of bizarre coincidences.  Spanish friends were once driving me to Málaga.  The motorway was very foggy.  “You can go a bit faster,” I encouraged.  “Nothing can come in this direction.  Unless,” I added merrily, “there’s an elephant on the road.”  “No elephants in Spain since Hannibal!” said the driver.  Nearer to Málaga suddenly the fog cleared, and in a field beside the motorway stood… an elephant.  Did it belong to a circus…? You can’t put such things into a story because they’d be unbelievable.  Fiction needs to be more logical than real life. 
            Kubrick`s long-suffering, loyal chauffeur  Emilio’s dearest wish was to retire to his vineyard south of Monte Cassino.  He’d kept practical matters ticking over at the manor house for ages.  When you’re invaluable to Stanley it’s difficult to escape or to have a life.  Emilio did give notice.  Three years’ notice, so Stanley could replace him.  Of course Stanley completely ignored this.
            Emilio and I got on well together so I started learning Italian.  “Stanley è nostro zio,” we would chorus: Stanley is our uncle.  It was Emilio who explained how Stanley could always be wearing exactly the same clothes, which whilst rumpled had not become filthy.  When Stanley found something he liked, he bought many spares.  He wasn’t dressed in the same jacket and trousers but in duplicates all in much the same state.  
Originally Emilio drove Stanley in a Mercedes with a sunshine roof.  During the filming of The Shining Stanley’s favourite food for several weeks on end had been Big Macs.  Finishing one of these in the car while Emilio was chauffeuring him, Stanley crumpled up the rubbish, spied the open sunshine roof, and threw the wrappings out.  The wind promptly tossed them back in, all over him.  “Fuck,” said Stanley, “this car isn’t much good.” 
            A joke – but could it be that Stanley had become slightly detached from reality?  When Emilio was driving him to a computer fair in London, Stanley became puzzled.  “Why are there all these cars on the road?”  “Because people go to work, Stanley.”  “Why don’t they work at home?”  “Why are you in a car, Stanley?”
            Stanley loved acquiring things.  “Do you know what the essence of movie-making is?” Stanley asked me.  “It’s buying lots of things.”  One day I arrived with a canvas bag, essential to transport the increasing bulk of mutually contradictory printouts.  Stanley admired the bag, which came free with a bottle of French aftershave which I hadn’t wanted.  “That is a very good bag, Ian.”  “Well, you can’t have it,” I told him, “unless you buy a bottle of aftershave.”  Promptly he picked up a phone.  “Tony, call Boots in St Albans…”  Two bottles of aftershave and two bags remained in stock.  “Tony, drive into St Albans and get both now.”  Not long after, Tony delivered the goods to our story conference.  Happily Stanley ripped the cellophane off one bag, and patted it.  Two months later bottles and bags were still in the same place on the carpet.
When Full Metal Jacket was being filmed in England a whole plastic replica Vietnamese jungle was air-freighted in from California.  Next morning Stanley walked on set, took one look at it, and said, “I don’t like it.  Get rid of it.”  The technicians shared out the trees, giving a new look to gardens in North London, and a real jungle was delivered instead, palm trees uprooted from Spain. 
            What seemed to me caprice was perhaps perfectionism, the exploring of every possible avenue.  “We need some sort of weird landscape for this story.”  “How about surreal, like Max Ernst?” I asked.  Immediately Tony was sent to Charing Cross Road to buy every available volume about Max Ernst.  Taking the pile home with me, I wrote surrealistically and faxed off the result.  “It’s just a woman in a flowerpot,” sighed Stanley.  “Forget it.” 
            October arrived.  We were sitting in the kitchen, door open to the sunlit patio, when I spied a bee on the floor.  “There’s a bee on the floor,” I pointed out.  “Will it sting me?” Stanley asked immediately.   Mortality worried him, which is why he would never fly in a plane, although he had qualified for a pilot’s licence, which convinced him how dangerous flying is.  I rose to inspect the bee – it looked worn out.   “Don’t kill it, Ian!  Sit down!”  I’d no intention of killing the poor bee.  Bravely Stanley said, “I’ll put it outside.”  So he found a crystal dome and some stiff card and manouevered the bee under the glass.  “You stay here,” he ordered, in case I might sneak after him, intent on assassinating the bee.  Presently he returned proudly from the herb garden.  “I found a place for it.” 
            A mischievous imp  prompted me.   “You know,” I said, “the nights are frosty.”   “Do you mean you think the bee might die?”  “It might, Stanley, outside.”  “Now you’ve made me guilty.”  Back into the garden he headed, while I got on watching CNN.  Many minutes passed till he reappeared, bee under glass once more.  “What do suppose bees eat?”  “I think maybe honey,” I suggested.  So we raided the larder for a big pot of honey, and he spooned out a volcano-like mound next to the bee.  Then we explored unused rooms of the house for a safe place throughout the coming winter.  Only once this was sorted out could we tackle the problems of the little lost robot-boy and his teddy bear companion. 
Demands for story conferences escalated.  Twice a week, fine.  Three times, well okay.  Four times a week was definitely disruptive and mental turmoil caught up with me.  Given free rein, Stanley would be ever more demanding till you could become a drained husk.  I would be completed Kubricked, and that wouldn’t help the story.  I would become like the writer in The Shining, dementedly typing  All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy over and over, only in my case the words would be teddy bear and robot boy.
“Ian,” said Emilio,  “you have to be firm.”  So I refused a story conference.  When next I turned up, Stanley said plaintively, “I thought you liked coming down here.”   “I do,” I said,  “I just need to get my confidence back.”  “Ian, you are very confident,” responded Stanley, though I didn’t feel so at the time. 
At the end of the year, Stanley told me to write the whole story up in ninety pages.  “I hope there’s some emotion in it, Ian,” he confided.  “Put some vaginal jelly on the words,” a tip not often entrusted to writers.  Blessedly, the resulting pages made sense.
            Alas, Stanley became despondent; but he did me the kindness of phoning to say so, unlike his brusque dismissals of previous failed collaborators. I couldn’t have worked with him for so long if I hadn’t liked him, and I did feel there was a special relationship, of avuncular mentor and wayward apprentice.     
Three months later, Stanley recovered heart and phoned: “This is one of the world’s great stories.  Will you write a short synopsis I can show to people?”  Maybe his earlier doldrums were because he had Kubricked himself, rather than me.
            The quest continued…
After Stanley died of overwork on Eyes Wide Shut, Steven Spielberg made the robot Pinocchio, entitled A.I. Artificial Intelligence, in the same way Stanley himself would have made it, as a homage, and using my screen story and variant scenes I’d written.  A.I. was the fourth-highest earner worldwide in 2001, partly because Japanese housewives went several times to watch my sex robot Gigolo Joe.  But we aren’t interested in money – it’s getting the story right that counts.  Stanley showed me how.

How effective was Stanley’s mentoring?  In 2003 an American publisher brought out a new novel by me, to which I’d devoted much care and effort.  At one point a character asks another, “How will I recognize your brother?”  The correct answer would be: “You saw him in the previous chapter, idiot.”  Whoops!  I hadn’t noticed, nor did the editor, nor reviewers nor readers.  I think- I know-  Stanley would have spotted this.  Nevertheless I do continue to strive for a watertight story, and in this task Stanley Kubrick is rarely far from my mind.

The full version of this article can be found at Ian's site here.

This version was originally broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in 2010

(c) Ian Watson 2010, all rights reserved

Monday, 7 October 2013

Utopia vs Dystopia: The SF Writer's Dilemma, an article by Rod Rees

I was asked to speak at the Zagreb Literary Festival last week and as a result found myself on a panel discussing the subject ‘New Utopias’.
I have to say it was a subject that left me a little flummoxed and the reason was simple: I had never thought about writing a story that had anything other than a dystopian setting. Utopias seemed … boring. Sitting in one of Zagreb’s wonderful open air cafes enjoying a beer and the late summer sunshine I got to wondering why this should be.
I suppose the obvious answer is that a dystopia offers much more plot traction than a utopia – I mean a world where everything is hunky-dory is hardly one to get the adrenaline pumping – but maybe there’s more to it than that. Maybe humanity (and despite what they might believe, SF writers are at least part human) is frightened of utopias, a contrary thought especially when I find myself living in a world obsessed with global warming, rising sea-levels, terrorist atrocities, melt-down in the Middle East to name just a few of the current disasters de jour.
But this alarmist tendency is in itself odd especially as, since the Second World War, things have taken a distinct turn for the better: there have been no world wars (and the casualties sustained in the ‘regional wars’ are as nothing when contrasted to their pre-war equivalents), the standard of living of most people has improved beyond recognition (check out India and China as examples of that), contagious diseases like smallpox and polio have been mastered, and the world (on balance) is a much more tolerant place free of maniacal dictators. But pessimism is still rife.
And the more I considered this conundrum the more I came back to the idea that humanity is frightened of living in a perfect world. So what are the features of a utopia that frighten people? These are my thoughts on the subject aka Rod Rees’ Vision of Utopia:
·         A utopia would be a perfect meritocracy where talent and effort are the sole determinants of success and of position in society. Not something most of society would embrace. I suspect (and I’m no biologist) that humankind has a pre-disposition to promote the pan-generational success of the family for the simple reason that by doing so the long-term propagation of the family’s DNA is enhanced. This is why inheritance of wealth and status looms so large in human history (most wars have been fought to ensure the survival of one ruling clan or another). A utopian society would render this scramble to hereditary success obsolete.
·         A utopia would be a society where you could believe and act in whatever way you chose as long as these do not impinge on any contrary/conflicting beliefs or actions espoused by other members of society. Of course, this is flies in the face of politico-religious reality. Politico-religious systems are evangelical in nature: you’ve only to see how avidly elections are fought to recognise that. A politico-religious system wants/needs adherents and the more of them it can get, the better. There’s a competitive aspect to all this too: all politico-religious systems are triumphalist … half of the joy of winning is the sight of the other party losing. A utopia would see the peaceful co-existence of all belief systems, an idea which is, well, utopian in its stupidity. Everyone loves a winner … draws are boring.
·         A utopian society would be one where there was no privacy. Of course, to ensure the perfection of a utopian world everything must be known, there can be no secrets and no privacy – and why should there be any when there is no criticism or condemnation.  But privacy and secrecy is the bedrock of society …
Reading this I am struck by the thought that, believe it or not (like it or not) the world is en route towards a utopian existence.
The rise of the cyber-algorithmic manipulation of human affairs will inevitably mean that jobs based on rote-learning and experience (doctors, pharmacists, truck drivers etc.) will be made redundant and only those of us with a mathematical bent will have any real influence (the Pareto Principle applied to society). This would create the ultimate meritocracy: inherited wealth/power would be trumped by brain power.
The world has become a more tolerant place, this attested to by the burgeoning  acceptance of gender equality, of gay rights and the increasing secularisation of society.
And finally, the increasing and increasingly pervasive nature of surveillance means that privacy is, to all intents and purposes, dead.
Yeah, utopia here we come.

I was on my third beer when the answer to my puzzle suggested itself. SF writers steer clear of utopias because they’re a damned sight more frightening then dystopias … and a damned sight more likely to occur.

Rod Rees can be found on the Net here -