Technology & Exploitation

In a recent post in Locus Online, Science Fiction is a Luddite Literature, Cory Doctorow writes about how science fiction and Luddism concern themselves with the same question: “not merely what technology does, but who it does it for and who it does it to.” In other words: “the social relations that governed its use.”

Doctorow dispels the myth that luddites fought against technology and argues that they instead opposed the exploitation of workers when automation made production of textiles faster and cheaper. It’s not hard to guess who reaped the benefits: Not the workers who manned the machines for longer and longer hours, but the wealthy industrialists who owned them.

Some would say those days are behind us. But are they? Most of our clothing comes from developing countries whose workers earn less than it costs to live. Similarly, the motor manufacturing industry in Australia has vastly shrunk for the same reasons. As a result, manufacturers and retailers enjoy higher profits and consumers buy products at a lower price.

But what about the workers? The ones whose rights have either been eroded or are nonexistent, whose efforts lead to longer hours and less pay?

Back in the 60’s my dad was a production supervisor in a big brand bread factory. He worked terrible hours starting at 2am and earned a miserly salary. Someone had told him he wasn’t allowed to join a union, but I suspect he probably could have.

We lived in a working class western Sydney suburb in a cheaply-built fibro house with a tiny mortgage, but my parents could barely make ends meet. At 40 years old, my dad was diagnosed with emphysema. Yes, he was a smoker, but he was also exposed to flour-laden air every working night, a common cause of bakers asthma. He also lost the tips of two fingers when they got caught up in the workings of one of the machines.

My grandfather fared even worse. A merchant seaman, he lost the use of his hands in a boiler accident in the 1930s. As a result, my mum grew up in poverty and was pulled out of school and sent to work as a machinist in a clothing factory at the age of fourteen. She told us some terrible stories about that!

These days, despite a few positive steps in the right direction, workers are still subjected to wage theft, unsafe conditions, wage freezes and regressive tax systems that keep many people on or below the poverty line. Meanwhile mega corporations strive for record-breaking profits.

Science fiction writers have not only been critiquing, but also predicting these kind of scenarios for decades. The movie, Metropolis (1927) is a very early example. And more recently Elysium (2013).

A notable example in books is: HG Wells’s prophetic The Sleeper Awakes (1910) where a 19th C activist is transported to the year 2100 to find the workforce is still facing oppression. Another is The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi (2009) where the world is controlled by big corporations.

Steampunk also contributes to the critique, but through a backward looking lens. One of my favourites is The Iron Dragon’s Daughter (1994) by Michael Swanwick, which begins in a factory where slaves manufacture flying dragon automatons. Another is Worldshaker (2009) by Richard Harland, where workers toil in the lower decks of a city-sized roving machine, the industrial equivalent of a Howl’s Moving Castle on wheels.

Texts such as these inspired my own novel, The Eternal Machine. As did Emile Zola’s Germinal (1885) and the many books of Charles Dickens.

The exploitation of factory workers may well have began with the Industrial Revolution, but its roots went back further than that in the medieval feudal system, and earlier still. Hundreds of years later, the injustices and inequalities continue unabated.

Feature Image by Siggy Nowak from Pixabay

Book News: The Eternal Machine

The trailer is here…

Thumbnail images adapted from images by: 
Jessicahyde (Adobe), frenta (Adobe) & Atelier Sommerland (Adobe)

After nearly 14 years of writing, rewriting, sending out, waiting for rejections, rewriting, sending out, waiting for more rejections, rewriting, sending out, waiting, rewriting, sending out, waiting, forever and ever…

I finally opted to self-publish.

That was over a year ago, and I realised that if this book was to end up being anything worth finding its way into the world I needed to put it through a professional editing process.

Three times: structural, line edit, and copy edit.

Thanks to these two fabulous Aussie editors Pete Kempshall and Amanda J Spedding that process was most enjoyable, especially now everything has been polished up to a standard I am super excited to promote.

Why has it taken me so long to do this? Why did I get so many rejections? Why am I self-publishing? I’ll blog about that later.

Meanwhile, my debut novel, The Eternal Machine, is a steampunk, fantasy/science fictional alternative reality set in an Australian city where magic and science are equally valid disciplines. It is now available for pre-order worldwide at Amazon, including US, Australia & UK. Currently only the ebook is being offered, but there will also be a paperback as soon as I’ve finished my layouts and the cover is ready.

Here’s the blurb

A woman with the strength to rebel.
A shapeshifter who wears the souls of the dead.
Together, they face a lethal enemy.

Em helped create it. Now she must craft its defeat.

In a city owned by industrialists, Em sells her magic to make ends meet. The extraction procedure is brutal and potentially deadly. Desperate for change, she joins an underground resistance movement to weaponize her magic and stop the abuse of workers.

Meanwhile, a mysterious voice wakes Ruk from a decades-long slumber and compels him to become human. He wants to break free but is torn between his shapeshifter instincts and the needs of the soul that sustains him.

On streets haunted by outcasts and predatory automatons, a new danger emerges – an ever-growing corruption of magic and science. Em and Ruk must put aside their differences and pursue it – each for their own reasons.

What they discover will forever change their lives.

Or end them…

Story in Aurealis #145

I’m super pleased to announce my SF/Dark Fantasy short story, “She who Played for Morrocks” is now available here at Smashwords for AUD$2.99.

The story is about two different species of human who both value music and each acknowledges the other’s sentience. Their attempts to respect each other are muddied by preconceptions, misunderstandings and instinct.

And what a beautiful cover for this issue, by Atelier Sommerland.

Aurealis Awards Shortlist Announced

The 2017 Australian Aurealis Awards Shortlist went live yesterday morning and what a fine line-up it turned out to be. As a member of the judging panel for the Science Fiction Novel Category, it was great to see all those months of reading bear fruit. I can’t say any more until after the award ceremony at Swancon in Perth over Easter, except that it was an honour to take part. Congratulations to everyone shortlisted.

Review in The West Australian

My story, ‘Deeper than Flesh and Closer’, has been mentioned again, this time in a review for the anthology, Belong in The West Australian (25/1/11) in the monthly column ‘writingWA Recommends’:

“The stories are challenging and fascinating, interesting and compelling, alien and familiar. My favourite was Carol Ryles’ ‘Deeper than Flesh and Closer’; I hope to see the story expanded into a series about the Glyr who live in such close communion with the Rhizome”

I was particularly pleased with these comments as ‘Deeper than Flesh and Closer’ was originally planned as part of a short story collection about the Glyr. I’m still working on it, and now have added incentive.

Belong can be purchased at Indie Books Online, and The Book Depository.

Reviews for Deeper Than Flesh and Closer

The stories [Belong, ed. Russell B Farr] are challenging and fascinating, interesting and compelling, alien and familiar. My favourite was Carol Ryles’ ‘Deeper than Flesh and Closer’; I hope to see the story expanded into a series about the Glyr who live in such close communion with the Rhizome…( writingWA Recommends, The West Australian, 25/1/11.)

…a fine pure SF story about conflict between people living in a heavily bio-tech oriented village and others living in cities who fear the “nants” that support the bio-tech. (Rich Horton, Fantasy Magazine)

…is a story about coming back to where you came from. Sometimes the changes go more than skin deep and sometimes they don’t appear to be changes at all… This is an evocative and haunting story about the changes that take place to a place and people that we think we know through history and story, but haven’t experienced. (Ian Banks, Specusphere)