Welcome to the first stop on Gollancz’s The Smoke Blog Tour. I have a guest post to share with you all today. Simon Ings is an amazingly surreal and though-provoking author who has written an extensive list of superb reads. The Smoke is his latest release and I have a guest post from Simon all about his time writing the novel between two very different cities and how that came to influence the plot and characters within his novel. I really enjoyed this guest post as I know very little about Dubai and I am always happy to read more of Simon’s writing. Enjoy the post and make sure to check out all the other excellent blogs that are sharing plenty more details and reviews of The Smoke this week.
About Simon Ings
Simon Ings is the author of eight previous novels (some science fiction, some not) and two works of non-fiction, including the Baillie Gifford longlisted STALIN AND THE SCIENTISTS. His debut novel HOT HEAD was widely acclaimed. He is the arts editor of New Scientist magazine and splits his time between a sweltering penthouse in Dubai (not his) and possibly the coldest flat in London.
The Smoke ~ Synopsis
Humanity has been split into three different species. Mutual incomprehension has fractured the globe. As humans race to be the first of their kind to reach the stars, another Great War looms.
For you that means returning to Yorkshire and the town of your birth, where factories churn out the parts for gigantic spaceships. You’re done with the pretentions of the capital and its unfathomable architecture. You’re done with the people of the Bund, their easy superiority and unstoppable spread throughout the city of London and beyond. You’re done with Georgy Chernoy and his questionable defeat of death. You’re done with his daughter, Fel, and losing all the time. You’re done with love.
But soon enough you will find yourself in the Smoke again, drawn back to the life you thought you’d left behind.
You’re done with love. But love’s not done with you.
Pick up a copy of The Smoke here: Gollancz / Amazon UK / Goodreads
Living in The Smoke: Dubai, Tolerance, and Runaway Capital
Recently the governing council announced that Dubai was going to be measurably one of the happiest cities on earth. They set metrics for this task, and a date for its completion: 2020, handy for the upcoming expo. A week later, the street I live on when I’m here — the four-lane highway connecting the Burj to the DIFC — was renamed Happiness Street. A week after that, on the way back to London, my cab passed a large government building. A ten-storey-high yellow smiley icon had been draped across its face.
Dubai is the most easily satirised city on earth: so visibly hungry for status and acceptance, so proud and at the same time so labile, so desperate to please. It’s a city built, literally, on sand, without much history or heritage. When my father came through here, it was a mud fort and a handful of coral-and-wattle shacks. When I first visited in the 1990s, it was still a building site. Then there are the horror stories: Bangladeshi construction workers housed in virtual prison camps; the environmental toll wreaked by ventures like the Palm and the World.
From London, where I spend most of my time, it’s surprisingly hard to work out where the cutting-edge journalism about Dubai leaves off and the spurious anecdotal racism begins. For one thing, what was true of Dubai last year is almost certainly not true of Dubai today. I can remember when workers’ conditions really were bad. Now their employers win global safety awards. I remember turtles vanishing from the coast; if I get up early enough and I can now spot them on public beaches.
Dubai used to be a haven for the drugs trade; now it’s the world’s diamond trading capital (sorry, Amsterdam). And on and on and on: it’s the second safest city on earth after Bergen, for heaven’s sake. It’s also one of the most female-friendly and hassle-free conurbations on earth. There more women than men in university-level STEM education here, and the minister for happiness (not her whole job title) is an ebullient woman who assured me when I met her that in the tradition of Islam, God really does answer prayers (none of your weak-kneed C-of-E “contemplations” here).
Having spent enough time here, even an atheist like me begins to see her point. This place has already answered some very specific prayers. For instance: talk to a taxi driver. They all say much the same thing. That they came here a year, or five years, or ten years ago. That they have a family. An apartment. And the clincher: “Life is easy here.” Which is to say: When I order something, it arrives. If my water supply gets cut off, I can phone up and the company will fix the problem. When I forget to renew my car tax, I know how much the fine will be. The vast majority of Dubai’s residents (and residents themselves are 80 per cent of the population) hail from places where the working day was a blizzard of bribery, false promises, delays, mendacity and even violence. Dubai’s anything but perfect but compared to vast swathes of the earth it’s easy — and easiness, for those who have lacked it, is paradisal.
Here’s the deal: we’re not here to let the perfect get in the way of the good. You don’t come here to take over the government. You’re not here to ask awkward questions. You’re here to work. In return, you are entitled to expect that things that aren’t right today will be put right tomorrow. So get with the programme, and if things don’t improve, there’s an entire ministry here dedicated to escalating your customer complaints.
There’s a word for this kind of can-do, bolt-it-together-as-you-go kind of civics. It’s called capitalism. Later, if you have enough money, you can clad it with free speech and a sense of belonging (Dubai is already, by far, the most liberal state in the Middle East). But this is the engine block, the drive train, the wheels…
Capitalism is the best, fastest, safest, most manoeuvrable cultural vehicle ever designed — only it doesn’t have any brakes. And while in the west capitalism ran out of road years ago — and is doing a very good job of eating itself, laying waste to the very civics it made possible — in the UAE, in this literal sandpit, of course runaway capitalism smacks of the divine and the miraculous. The Smoke was written out of the creeping dislocations I began to feel, living between London and Dubai. But the book only acquired its focus, it only became writeable, when the British public voted to leave the European Union. At this point The Smoke became less about the future’s ambiguous promises, and much more about the power of the past to betray that future.
Normally, science fiction exterminates the present. It wants to focus on an imagined future, and so it dreams the present away. (No amount of cyberpunk motley can disguise this fact.) I wanted The Smoke to be different. I wanted it to leave the present intact: fearful for the future, resentful of it, driven to nostalgia, and prone to all those little xenophobias we’d like to think we’ve outgrown (but we never do).
And I wanted to write from the point of view of that present. Because when your wage packet is in the balance, you really do have a future something to fear. And you really do have a future someone to resent.
Why else would the citizens of a country that basically ran the European Union ever vote to leave it?
As for the future my hero tries to handle, cannot handle, tries to abandon, yet cannot repudiate — what of that?
I wanted to scrape off its whiteness. (Has there ever been a whiter idea than the Singularity?) I wanted characters in my book to be able to point and say (as the clever papers say of Dubai and its neighbours, constantly), “Oh, that’s not the future. That’s merely what those people are like.”
Because let’s be clear here: while the past can and does frequently betray the future, the future always has the last laugh. It betrays us all. It renders us obsolete. Then it kills us.
I joke to my London friends that in Dubai, I’m living the ultimate J G Ballard dream: a penthouse apartment in 33-floor tower built on top of a deserted shopping mall in the middle of a desert. It’s a good dream. When we get to Mars, I sincerely hope our settlements will look and function as well as downtown Dubai: a city with customers, not citizens, where the doors are sealed against a hostile environment, air must be paid for upfront and the only way this whole gimcrack enterprise can survive is to expand. Ian MacDonald would hate it, and have good reasons for his horror, but I maintain that there is comfort to be snatched in such a world, and happiness.
We’re doing something new here: never let the perfect get in the way of the good.
At other times, I honestly don’t know whether this dream I’m living is good or bad. And that, my friends, is because it has nothing to do with me.
If I went to the window right now and pressed my forehead against the glass, I would see lines of lime-green Lamborghinis gridlocked against a setting sun. This, like it or not, is all the natural world we have to look forward to. This, my friends, is the garden.
I wonder what will evolve here to take our place?
Thanks for dropping in to check out this brilliant guest post that… Simon Ings is one of the most unique authors I have had the pleasure of coming across in my blogging travels. I am glad I got the chance to share some insights in his work. The Smoke is certainly a different kind of read but I was captivated by the world that Ings has created here. Gollancz are supporting plenty of superb authors in 2018 so make sure you check them all out. Also check out all the exciting upcoming blog tour posts over the coming days to find out plenty more about what The Smoke is all about.
One thought on “The Smoke by Simon Ings (Guest Post) @Gollancz @simonings #BlogTour #GuestPost #TheSmoke #Gollancz”
Huh, this was an entirely interesting guest [post to read! Thank you for sharing… I’m not quite in a position to elaborate what this post made me think because… well, I am still thinking… very interesting and some food for thought! 🙂
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