Brain Reel #23

The ego fuelling hype, book tour planning, time is so damn precious

Hey you lot,

I’m writing this from a hotel overlooking Lake Windemere. I’ve been here with Lawrence since Thursday, I’ve read 3 books in 3 days, I’m feeling good.

I hope you guys are having a glorious weekend too - whatever might be your equivalent of a ‘glorious weekend’.


🔬 Science Reel 🔬

This week I’ve been pondering the role of the media in covering the deep tech and science startup world.

I’ve been asked to moderate a panel on the theme at Slush (on Fri 22nd, for anyone else going), but I’m the only person from the media on there. And I’m moderating. Which means I’m meant to be the one asking questions…to people all from the business side.

Don’t get me wrong, the panellists are all brilliant people, very capable of having balanced opinions, and I’m excited for the session. But in case I don’t manage to get the nuance out (as the panel might end up being understandably quite one-sided), I wanted to write my thoughts here:

I think the science and tech media has a lot to answer for when it comes to covering complex topics such as quantum computing, biotech and energy - I have literally just wrote a book about it, after all - but I also think that companies, universities and investors are equally complicit in the wrong messages reaching the public. Hype is *needed* to get support behind complex ideas, but what I think those outside the media sometimes fail to understand is that not all journalists are ‘in’ on the hype train. Not all journalists know that what you’re communicating is over the top. They don’t live in your world.

Some journalists *are* cognizant of the game that deep tech hype is, and they’ll write and cover the field accordingly (I try my best in this respect), but unfortunately, the ‘deep tech startup’ beat is not one many outlets have, and one that not many journalists cover (yet). I myself have had issues when pitching stories - the editors ask if it’s a science story, or a tech startup story, or a business story. In reality, it’s all of the above, but it has to land in one of those sections. And when you tell the story through the lens of only one of those sections, hype will be misconstrued, statements will be misunderstood, and the ‘real’ story will be lost in the segmentation of the piece into a category not right for it.

Yes, good journalists check many sources. Yes, good journalists do research. But many journalists take the press release as gospel, under pressure to publish more, quick. And the digital tech PR / media / startup world - which is *far* easier to understand and gain context around - churns out pieces like no one’s business.

When deep tech startups ask how they should get their story out, I *always* say that they should pitch the outlets that understand their world, if they don’t want to be tarnished with the ‘overhyped’ brush. But despite this, many deep tech startups say they want the TechCrunch / WIRED coverage of their raise / release / whatever else. Those outlets are great, but they are not deep tech outlets. So unless you pitch to a deep tech journalist who writes for them (most likely freelance) OR to a deep tech (industry) outlet, your story is almost certainly going to get misconstrued. The ego involved in the bid for the TechCrunch / WIRED piece is getting in the way of the message.

I guess I see it as everyone’s responsibility to do better. The media gets blamed for a lot, and rightly so on some counts, but business, VCs, and academics also need to take responsibility for getting their stories out correctly.

It’s their job too.


📖 Book Reel 📖

As some of you know, I started a wee YouTube series on my book publishing / writing journey!! I’ve posted 4 episodes so far covering agents, publishers, first drafts, research planning and all sorts, and I’d *love* it if you’d give my channel a wee subscribe :)

Quick update on where we’re at with Smoke & Mirrors:

  • I’ve started planning the ‘tour’ next year after the book comes out. I’m not sure I want to go around bookshops all over the UK (despite my LOVE of bookshops) - mainly because I’ve heard its not the best tactic for nonfiction authors. Instead, I’m planning on doing events at coworking spaces / popular venues for the tech / science / startup crowd, and inviting awesome local scientists / technologists / thinkers to join me on stage for a discussion - reckon this will be far more interesting for folk to attend as opposed to me reading out the intro and then signing copies. If you know of a space, or an awesome person I should invite as a speaker, in your town - do shout! I haven’t finalised the locations, so I’m all ears!

  • I’m travelling a lot the next two weeks, and was really hoping the physical proofread copy would land in my postbox ahead of going away, but alas it has not. Which means I’m probably going to have to read it pretty speedily when I get back to London…and this does not bode well considering how terrible I am at spotting mistakes in my own writing. All of this is to say that if there are any comma splices or spelling errors in the final manuscript, you can blame Royal Mail, ok?

  • Still looking for recommendations for who I should send ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) to - this is for people who might write reviews of the books in big media outlets, as well as well-known people who might provide a quote for the front / back cover. Any suggestions of people I should send ARCs to? Hit reply :)

(Pre-order links for ‘Smoke & Mirrors: How Hype Obscures the Future and How to See Past It’ for your bookstore of choice: Amazon or Foyles or Waterstones, or Blackwells or Wordery or Book Depository..!)


🧐 Musing Reel 🧐

So I mentioned I’ve read three books since Thursday - two of those were fiction, which is most likely how I’ve managed to read so much so fast.

I find fiction far easier to get through, but not always quite as fulfilling. Not in the sense that I don’t enjoy it as much - I love reading, full stop - but I’m a bit of a slave to my own wee brain saying things like ‘yeah but this is just LEISURE if you’re not learning’, or ‘if you’re not making connections between the fiction and something _profound_, then it’s *just* reading’ etc.

Yes yes yes I know, I’ve been on holiday and so why does it matter (/ give yourself a break you twat / seriously no wonder you’re approaching burnout woman), but this really is the reality of how my brain works.

I know that I don’t find it easy to do something ‘just for the sake of it’. I know that I’m far too easily pulled into that world of self-care-for-productivity-enhancement.

But I also feel the effects of ‘information FOMO’, as it were. I don’t want to do or read or watch something at the expense of something else. Not because I want to be productive or do more work; but because I’m haunted by the books I’ll never get to read, the TV shows I’ll never get to watch, the countries I’ll never get to visit - there just isn’t enough time. Maybe that’s why recommendations mean so much to me: I want to have some level of confidence that it won’t be a waste of my time.

Maybe it’s because my life is just particularly hectic right now, or because my close family member is particularly ill right now, or because my career feels like it’s recently shifted into the ‘this is it’ phase…whatever it is, time feels so damn precious.

I’m a big fan of the phrase ‘if you worry, you suffer twice’, and so I try my best to not worry about things like wasting time (so I then don’t waste more time worrying and end up spiraling into a hole etc…)

All of that is to say I’m going to take December off client work. I want time. I’m not sure yet what I’ll use it for, but I want to spend less of it - even just for a month - worrying that it’s going to waste.


📌 Tip Reel 📌

(If you’re not already following me on Instagram, I write some more fleshed-out book reviews on there if you fancy that kind of a thing (amongst the regular freelance / travel / London photos that is!) - give them a wee look here)

Books I’m reading right now:

  • How To Run a City Like Amazon, and Other Fables (Should cities be run like businesses? Should city services and infrastructure be run by businesses? The stories and essays in this book explore how a city might look, feel and function if the business models, practices and technologies of 38 different companies were applied to the running of cities. They ask: what would it be like to live in a city administered using the business model of Amazon (or Apple, IKEA, Pornhub, Spotify, Tinder, Uber, etc.) or a city where critical public services are delivered by these companies?)

  • Conan Doyle to the Defence (“After a wealthy woman was brutally murdered in her Glasgow home in 1908, the police found a convenient suspect in Oscar Slater, an immigrant Jewish cardsharp. Though he was known to be innocent, Slater was tried, convicted, and consigned to life at hard labor. Outraged by this injustice, Arthur Conan Doyle, already world renowned as the creator of Sherlock Holmes, used the methods of his most famous character to reinvestigate the case, ultimately winning Slater’s freedom.”)

  • Born to be Posthumous (Based on newly uncovered correspondence and interviews with personalities as diverse as John Ashbery, Donald Hall, Lemony Snicket, Neil Gaiman, and Anna Sui, Born to be Posthumous draws back the curtain on the eccentric genius and mysterious life of Edward Gorey.)

I absolutely *loved* The Missing Cryptoqueen podcast from Jamie Bartlett, Georgia Catt and BBC Sounds, and I’ve been very much enjoying following along with Matthew Russell Lee (Inner City Press)’s coverage of Ruja’s brother’s NYC court case. (Get involved with the podcast if you’re not hooked already..!)

I just started subscribing to The Syllabus, by Evgeny Morozov, which is a personalised (to an extent, by categories) newsletter which is so far providing me with some fascinating reads. He pulls together journalism, academic papers (but you can say you want more of one or the other if you like), and all sorts of videos, podcasts and articles from across the internet. Recommend.


➡️ Next Reel ➡️


✍️ Work Reel ✍️


Find me elsewhere on TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoodreadsInstagramMedium, or through my website.

Until next time,
Gemma 🚀


Gemma Milne is a Science & Tech Writer, currently writing a book about hype and idealism in science and tech, is Co-Founder of Science: Disrupt, and loves a bit of public speaking.

Brain Reel #22

Science fraud, responsibility of 'futurists', and who should I send ARCs to?

Hey you lot,

Long time no speak! Hope everyone’s had a cracking last few months :)

It’s been crazy busy with travelling and family stuff for the last wee while, but I’ve been missing chatting to you lot, so much so, that I’m going to give the whole weekly newsletter a shot to see if that might keep me a little more disciplined..!

(/see you in 3 months again haha…)

In all seriousness, this wee newsletter is dead special to me - I love hearing from you guys with each edition going out, and it’s so nice to write without being edited (despite the spelling mistakes…) So I’m excited to prioritise this a bit more, and stop putting it behind the paid client work which doesn’t quite fulfil me in the same way.

With that, shall we?


🔬 Science Reel 🔬

I’ve been thinking and writing a lot recently on science fraud - I had a piece in The Times a few weeks ago (online version on Raconteur here), and on Wednesday, my profile on the incredible ‘Sherlock Holmes of Science’ Elisabeth Bik publishes on Medium’s science outlet OneZero.

Science fraud is totally fascinating. Instead of trying to trick a system to steal money, like most other forms of fraud, most science fraud is to gain prestige. Yes that might eventually lead to money, but predominantly it’s about getting your name and ‘your’ work published in the most prestigious journals. For those not in academia, it’s the equivalent of a journalist cheating their way into the New York Times or The Guardian ‘just to get the name’.

It’s the strange incentive structures that exist within academia that make it so fascinating to me. Most folk think I like writing about science because new discoveries are cool - and yes there’s an element of that - but mainly it’s because I think the whole system of research, taking inventions to market, and all the bits in between is completely bonkers.

There’s the guy who got caught rejecting papers he was peer reviewing, ensuring the didn’t get published in the journals he was assessing for, who then went off and published them under his own name elsewhere. There’s the woman who edited the images of Pfizer cancer research and published the results with regards to new drugs being created. Like, science crime is completely mad. I don’t understand why more folk don’t follow it..!

Speaking of which, a few places to keep tabs if I’ve convinced you to get involved:


📖 Book Reel 📖

As some of you know, I started a wee YouTube series on my book publishing / writing journey!! I’ve posted 4 episodes so far covering agents, publishers, first drafts, research planning and all sorts, and I’d *love* it if you’d give my channel a wee subscribe :)

Quick update on where we’re at with Smoke & Mirrors:

  • I have the first cover options now!! We’re doing second versions of a few of the ones the designer mocked up, but in short, I’m super happy with how they’re looking! Hopefully will get to reveal it publicly soon…

  • We’re into the proofreading stage with the manuscript - so I’m waiting for the publisher to send me a physical proof that I’ve to go through WITH A PEN and try to find mistakes. I have *the worst* attention to detail, so, fortunately, a professional proofreader will also be doing this simultaneously.

  • Next will be sending out ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) - this is for people who might write reviews of the books in big media outlets, as well as well-known people who might provide a quote for the front / back cover. Any suggestions of people I should send ARCs to? Hit reply :)

What’s happening with book number 2:

  • I’m heading to lovely Devon in December to work on the proposal for this eeek! 3 days at Urban Writer’s Retreat, and my plan is to get the intro to the proposal (essentially the intro to the book, outlining what it’s about, why it needs written, and why I’m right to write it), the chapter outlines (bullet points on what’s in each one, and the order), and the market comps (similar books / authors), all complete ready for my agent to tell me whether or not we think we can sell it…

(Pre-order links for ‘Smoke & Mirrors: How Hype Obscures the Future and How to See Past It’ for your bookstore of choice: Amazon or Foyles or Waterstones, or Blackwells or Wordery or Book Depository..!)


🧐 Musing Reel 🧐

I’ve been thinking a lot about the responsibility of futurists - ‘futurists’ meaning anyone who writes or speaks about the future (journalists, scientists, public intellectuals, VCs on Twitter, you name it) - and how that links back to the work I do.

(Note: I absolutely detest the term ‘futurist’ and do not identify with it at all, but couldn’t think of another catch-all term right now…)

‘Smoke & Mirrors’ has been a long project, but I’m conscious that by publishing it in April and then moving onto the next thing (whilst promoting the ideas presented in the book), I won’t really get to build upon all those months of research and interviews and thinking. It feels like a shallow way to do things: write a book, put it out into the world, get more Twitter followers, move on.

I didn’t write the book so I could ‘have written a book’ - I wrote it because I genuinely think that if more people feel empowered to critically think in areas they don’t feel expert in, hype wouldn’t have such a powerful (detrimental) role and, ultimately, the world would be a better place.

My book isn’t going to change that alone, so my recent musings have been centred around what I can do (AFTER the book is out and I have some TIME) to keep that wee mission alive. Maybe a research project, maybe more writing on that specific theme, maybe teaching, maybe working with an organisation that already does that - who knows.

Just putting the musing out there, I guess…


📌 Tip Reel 📌

(If you’re not already following me on Instagram, I write some more fleshed-out book reviews on there if you fancy that kind of a thing (amongst the regular freelance / travel / London photos that is!) - give them a wee look here)

Books I’m reading right now:

  • A Field Guide to Getting Lost (In this investigation into loss, losing and being lost, Rebecca Solnit explores the challenges of living with uncertainty. A Field Guide to Getting Lost takes in subjects as eclectic as memory and mapmaking, Hitchcock movies and Renaissance painting.)

  • Queens of the Kingdom (The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is one of the most mysterious and secretive societies in modern times and the lives of the women living there is perhaps the most intriguing aspect of all. What do the women of Saudi Arabia really think about their lives?)

  • Born to be Posthumous (Based on newly uncovered correspondence and interviews with personalities as diverse as John Ashbery, Donald Hall, Lemony Snicket, Neil Gaiman, and Anna Sui, Born to be Posthumous draws back the curtain on the eccentric genius and mysterious life of Edward Gorey.)

The Netflix documentary ‘Tell Me Who I Am’ is incredible. It’s slow and quiet and beautiful - about twin brothers, one of whom lost his memory at 18, and the other helps fill it back in…but holds back one big family secret in the process. It’s stunning. Go watch.

I stumbled upon this podcast called ‘Our Opinions Are Correct’ with 2 hosts - one a science fiction writer who loves science, one a science journalist who writes science fiction - and their episode on the history of Afrofuturism. It got me thinking and rethinking and pondering and more.


➡️ Next Reel ➡️


✍️ Work Reel ✍️


Find me elsewhere on TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoodreadsInstagramMedium, or through my website.

Until next time,
Gemma 🚀


Gemma Milne is a Science & Tech Writer, currently writing a book about hype and idealism in science and tech, is Co-Founder of Science: Disrupt, and loves a bit of public speaking.

Brain Reel #21

The magic of IP, my Book YouTube channel is *LIVE*, feelings on the tip of my tongue

Hey lovely email pals,

Hope you’re all having fab Septembers so far! I’ve just got back from travel and conference galore, spanning Italy and the European Space Agency, Frankfurt and the Mercedes and SXSW conference meConvention, and London with an incredible student competition involving 300 students from the UK, US and China..! Feeling very inspired, grateful and a little lacking in sleep - and reminded how powerful these conferences and trips are when it comes to switching my mindset and mood (for the better).

What conferences and trips have you guys got planned? I’d love to hear about any events not already on my radar… hit reply and let me know!


🔬 Science Reel 🔬

I’ve been thinking about IP recently. (Yep: Intellectual Property.)

To most people, IP is unbelievably boring. To me - it’s totally fascinating. The whole world of IP strategy and law is full of intriguing stories, such as those surrounding patent trolls for instance.

I was chatting to my forensic scientist pal Dr Ruth Morgan last week. She hosted this incredible sounding art / science discussion where people from all different sectors and disciplines came together to see what might come out of their discussion: what they had in common, what themes were most pertinent across the board, and so on.

She mentioned to me a magician who was explaining about the dilemma they have around protecting their tricks. See, if they invent a new magic trick, the minute they perform it, other magicians will try to copy the effect (maybe using a different method of sleight of hand, maybe not). The question then is this: how do they protect their magic tricks, and more importantly, keep people paying for their shows or online content etc?

It got me thinking about the difference between IP in areas such as biotech versus digital apps. In biotech, new drugs or molecules almost certainly have to be protected from copying in order for the inventor or company behind them to get financing to take them to market: the investors want to know that the invention is protected. In digital apps, most of them are super easy to copy (how many Uber / Lyfts etc are there?) The protection of the code is less important; it’s more about how fast the company can capture the market or convince regulators or attract new customers.

For magicians, then, maybe it’s more about on-stage personality or ability to sell tickets as opposed to protection of particular tricks. I suspect there’s plenty of magicians who would disagree with me, in the same way many digital tech startups would say their code or algorithms or whatever else are totally unique to them and is what makes them special. Deeptech startups would almost certainly disagree with my prodding of the importance of IP.

When I talk to deeptech and science startups, I ask them what the deal is with their IP. It’s important. And they normally have very good answers (i.e. they own it).

But I also ask them about their marketing strategy, about their business chops, about their staff. And their answers are normally much poorer.

‘If you build it, they will come’, is a fallacy. And maybe we need a bit of a shift in the way we hold IP in such esteem if we’re keen to get more science out of the lab and into the real world.

Maybe we need to rethink not how we protect our magic tricks, and more about how we get bums on seats.


📖 Book Reel 📖

So - as promised - I started a wee YouTube series on my book publishing / writing journey!! I’ve loved making the first 2 episodes (the first on how I got the book deal, the second on how traditional publishing works), and I’d *love* it if you’d give my channel a wee subscribe :) The next few episodes are going to cover research, structuring, writing retreats, making time for writing, motivation, STAYING SANE, and all sorts. As I mention at the end of each video, pop any questions in the comments and I’ll make sure to answer them in a Q&A video at some point..!

If you’re not bothered about writing a book, but love READING books, you’re also in luck!! As I’m also going to start uploading interviews with authors, chats with fellow book nerds about favourite books, and more. I guess I’m becoming a #booktuber haha?

But yeah, please give it a subscribe! It would mean a lot to me.

Quick update on where we’re at with Smoke & Mirrors:

  • I got my copyedited manuscript back early a few days ago, so this afternoon’s task is kicking off the next edit..! It’s due back on Sunday, so this week looks to be a bit of a book immersion kind of job, but right now I’m feeling super psyched to know PROGRESS is happening..!

  • I’m awaiting news re US and Canada deal…hopefully will have updates to share soon 🤞🤞🤞

What’s happening with book number 2:

  • I had my first research interview yesterday with a professor of the topic I’m looking to tackle. I was pretty nervous before we jumped on Skype, worried that he’d laugh me out his laptop screen and tell me that my thesis just doesn’t really fit with what’s going on in the research field…but instead, he was unbelievably reassuring and generous with his time and, most importantly, excited about my ideas. What a feeling of validation that was, I tell you.

  • The plan right now is to work on the proposal with my agent and work out if it’s a doable idea for a book. I’m going to write a couple of pages of ‘what this book is about / why I’m right to write it / why it needs to exist’, showing off the narrative arc, a few examples and the writing style. If Laura likes it / thinks it’s sellable, we’ll move onto the sample chapter and all the rest for the proposal. Eek!

(Pre-order links for ‘Smoke & Mirrors: How Hype Obscures the Future and How to See Past It’ for your bookstore of choice: Amazon or Foyles or Waterstones, or Blackwells or Wordery or Book Depository..!)


🧐 Musing Reel 🧐

I’m writing this part of the newsletter at a different time than the others - and I’m not feeling quite as hyped as I was when I was writing the other sections. Few family things means my compartmentalisation starts to be less effective at keeping the go-go-go engine running, and when this happens, I’m less able to express what’s going on in my head. (Which makes for a pretty hopeless ‘musing reel’ section of a newsletter..! Hope you’ll bear with me.)

It’s funny how sometimes you can feel so able to say what you mean, and others, completely at a loss. Like it’s on the tip of your tongue but at the front of your forehead, but also completely vague. Like when someone asks how you are, and you genuinely don’t know how to answer the question.

I’m good. I’m fine. I’m great, actually. Life for me right now is amazing.

But it’s not like that for everyone in my immediate vicinity. And in order for me to keep going with my own life, I compartmentalise. I dip in and out as much as I am able - both from a logistical / calendar perspective, as well as from a mental energy POV.

I know that pulling back or slowing down not only doesn’t help anything, it’s not what I want to do. And I feel guilty about that. So very guilty.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that right now I’m feeling a pull from both ends of the emotion spectrum. And I don’t think we really have good words for that.

Or maybe we do, and they’re just on the tip of my tongue, evading the tips of my fingers on the keyboard.


📌 Tip Reel 📌

(If you’re not already following me on Instagram, I write some more fleshed-out book reviews on there if you fancy that kind of a thing (amongst the regular freelance / travel / London photos that is!) - give them a wee look here)

Books I’m reading right now:

  • On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (“On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family's history that began before he was born – a history whose epicentre is rooted in Vietnam – and serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known, all of it leading to an unforgettable revelation.”)

  • Finding George Orwell in Burma (“In this intrepid and brilliant memoir, Emma Larkin tells of the year she spent travelling through Burma, using as a compass the life and work of George Orwell, whom many of Burma's underground teahouse intellectuals call simply "the prophet". In stirring, insightful prose, she provides a powerful reckoning with one of the world's least free countries.”)

  • Conan Doyle for the Defence(“After a wealthy woman was brutally murdered in her Glasgow home in 1908, the police found a convenient suspect in Oscar Slater, an immigrant Jewish cardsharp. Though he was known to be innocent, Slater was tried, convicted, and consigned to life at hard labor. Outraged by this injustice, Arthur Conan Doyle, already world renowned as the creator of Sherlock Holmes, used the methods of his most famous character to reinvestigate the case, ultimately winning Slater’s freedom.”)

This piece about millennial obsession with interior design porn is SO. ON. POINT.

I saw an incredible talk/performance/DJ set (yep!) at meConvention by Sheree Renée Thomas about Afrofuturism (when the video is out online, get involved people) and I immediately started following the hashtag on Instagram. The art is insane. I suggest you do the same.

I’ve been watching the Anna Wintour Masterclass videos recently, and despite knowing almost zero about the fashion industry, my god it’s fascinating! If you have a Masterclass membership, highly recommend. (And if not, I really do recommend Masterclass - I also love the Neil Gaiman and Malcolm Gladwell classes).


➡️ Next Reel ➡️


✍️ Work Reel ✍️


Find me elsewhere on TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoodreadsInstagramMedium, or through my website.

Until next time,
Gemma 🚀


Gemma Milne is a Science & Tech Writer, currently writing a book about hype and idealism in science and tech, is Co-Founder of Science: Disrupt, and loves a bit of public speaking.

Brain Reel #20

Am I snobby about science?, book TWO is kicking off, how I read so much

Hey you lot,

Writing this issue from sunny London, where I’m keeping everything crossed that it starts to properly turn into Autumn this week. I spotted some leaves falling off an auburn tree at the weekend; and I can’t describe the excitement I felt for less sticky tube journeys, JACKETS, cooler breezes, and not dying of heat exhaustion every night when I go to bed in my greenhouse of a flat.

I’m also super excited as I’m joining a members’ club this week after finally admitting to myself that I want a gym-cum-workspace that is *fancy*, and that going for the cheaper ones doesn’t motivate me to turn up - which ultimately is a bigger waste of money. Being freelance sometimes means not having a fixed space, and so I spend so much time travelling all over town for meetings. I’m psyched to have a central place to ‘go to work’ to when I’m in town, and invite people to me instead!

So it’s safe to say I’m looking forward to September - hope you guys are psyched about this month too…


🔬 Science Reel 🔬

I read Jeanette Winterson’s Manbooker Longlist nominee novel ‘Frankissstein’ last week and I’ve been left pondering something.

(Before I explain, let me first say that this book is ace and I highly recommend reading it, despite how mental the blurb is.)

I don’t know if it’s just me, but I find when fiction books reference something real and timely like ‘she unlocked her iPhone’, it loses me. It takes me out of the story and into the real world. It feels ‘cheap’ somehow…

Well, this book has a lot about AI, transhumanism, robots and general ‘future of humanity’ themes throughout, and at some points, I found the references to tech and science super jarring - giving me that same ‘cheap’ feel. It’s not that they were incorrect or clunky or even too dumbed down, it was just that they felt a little forced.

Let me give you an example. At one point, ‘Nick Bostrom at the Oxford University Future of Humanity Institute’ is referenced alongside a mention of the singularity. Now, for those of us who work in this field or take an active interest, we know that Bostrom is a good person to reference for this in the real world, but he’s certainly not the only person, and he’s arguably the more ‘general public’ reference considering his famous book ‘Superintelligence’. But then for those who don’t know him or the world deeply enough for the reference to make sense, there was no other context to explain WHY he was being mentioned, so it was completely frivolous and not at all helpful for the scene’s narrative.

Which means it seems like it was there to nod to the technologists, like a note from the author to say ‘I know who he is! I understand your world!’…but it was done in such a way that it simply felt like name-dropping. It felt like Winterson wanted to show us that she’s ‘on our side’ or knowledgeable, or worthy of our attention…but it didn’t feel like that. It felt like someone who has read only one article on AI, or gone to one conference, and references the same thing over and over in a bid to sound ‘part of it’.

Again - I *loved* this book! And I have huge respect for Jeanette Winterson. And I’m sure she is pretty clued up on AI and tech and all sorts - she must be, in order for her to write such a timely, funny and thought-provoking novel.

I can’t get away from the fact, though, that those bits made me recoil somewhat. Like someone is trying to mimic your accent and getting it wrong, but you don’t want to be mean and call it out. Or someone is trying to tell you what bars are great in your hometown when they’ve been there only once, and you feel like they’ve only got a shallow understanding, but there’s no point in pointing it out for fear of sounding like a dick.

Unless of course this was all deliberate on the part of the author - to make us tech and science buffs feel that jarring feeling; to make us pay attention. Or maybe I’m just being too ‘protective’ of the science and tech world, though considering I just wrote a whole book on the problem of hype within, might suggest I’m not too defensive? Or maybe it’s like when you moan about your family members, but won’t stand for anyone else moaning about them…? Am I just snobby?

I’m still pondering, I haven’t got to the bottom of why those bits (and there were a lot of them) made me recoil so much. I don’t know if it’s me or it’s the book. So if anyone has any clue what I’m on about or might be able to offer any examples of feeling the same way, I’m all ears…!

And please PLEASE don’t take this as a cue that you won’t enjoy the book. Despite those heebie jeebies throughout, I still loved it.


📖 Book Reel 📖

Quick update on where we’re at with Smoke & Mirrors:

  • The manuscript is with the copy editor and the legal team, and I should get both the legal changes (if any) back in the next week or so, and the copy edits (i.e. a 300-400 page Word doc with track-changes throughout……….) back on September 25th - so at the moment, I’m just waiting!

  • The cover has been briefed, and I sent over some more thoughts / ideas at the request of my editor over the weekend, so hopefully some initial ideas will be winging their way towards me in the next week or so…eek!

  • The meeting with the publicist has been scheduled for end of Nov, which initially sounds like an AGE away, but Sept/Oct is insanely busy for the publishing industry with Christmas titles as well as the Frankfurt Book Fair, so I’m trying my best to accept that proper marketing planning has to be put on hold for a wee while…

  • …and while it’s Frankfurt Book Fair season, my agent will be going out to the US market to start the sale of the American rights, which I’m super pumped about (right now, my book is confirmed to be published in English all over the world, minus US & Canada - we held back these rights until the manuscript was complete to try to negotiate a better deal - I’ll maybe do an interview with someone explaining book rights on the YouTube series I’m planning on book stuff, if that’s of interest? And maybe one about the 2 biggest book fairs / seasons?)

And a new update for you too…

  • Research for the SECOND BOOK has kicked off!!!

  • I’m beyond excited about it

  • I’m not yet going to share what it’s about publicly, frankly because I haven’t got to the crux of what I’m trying to say yet, but as this section is about book journey, it didn’t feel right not to include it. Hopefully it will be helpful / interesting to document the full journey from ideation to (hopefully) publication of this new one too…I don’t think I’ll be able to keep my mouth shut for long though tbf so maybe the cat will be out the bag sooner rather than later…

  • Although, that’s not to say it’s an _entirely_ new project. See, I’ve had this itch needing scratched around the topic for well over a year now. I guess this moment is more of the ‘right let’s actually give this a go’ moment, as opposed to the ‘pondering’ time. As in, I’ve sent an email to someone saying I’m writing this book, asking for an interview. I’ve asked a few close friends for feedback on the idea. I’ve started scoping out the flow of the proposal. I’ve told my agent the rough idea. In short, I’ve moved from the ‘wouldn’t that be cool’ phase to the ‘well let’s see if this actually has legs’ phase.

(Pre-order links for ‘Smoke & Mirrors: How Hype Obscures the Future and How to See Past It’ for your bookstore of choice: Amazon or Foyles or Waterstones, or Blackwells or Wordery or Book Depository..!)


🧐 Musing Reel 🧐

Someone asked me the other day how I read so many books. There are so many blogs and articles and even BOOKS out there to teach you how to read faster, or pick books better, or take notes on books etc etc - but I just really quickly wanted to share my own few thoughts on reading more:

The short answer is: it’s the standard activity I do in the evenings in my flat.

Yesterday (Sunday) I read a whole book, despite it being (for me) quite a full day.

It went like this: 7am got up; 8.30am went to Science Museum and Natural History Museum for a wander (this is not my usual Sunday, I was scoping out their bookstores!); 12.30pm lunch; 2pm went to London Review of Books and spent all my money; 4.30pm went home; 5.30pm started reading ‘Perennial Seller’ by Ryan Holiday; 9pm made dinner; 9.45pm back to reading; 10.30pm finished book, bed.

Of course, littered through this was chatting to my boyfriend and bits and bobs of pottering, but the main thing was that I was hardly on my phone, and I sat down and read. That was my evening activity. The TV wasn’t on. Instead of spending 5 hours watching Netflix back to back, or scrolling, I read.

I’ve not always been like this, and of course there are still many evenings when I squirrel my time away on Twitter and Instagram. Or times when I try to read but I’m not taking anything in and it takes so much longer. But if I want to read, I read. It’s not any more anti-social than silently watching Netflix together. My boyfriend is normally in the same room as me, doing his own stuff. We look up and chat often; we make dinner together etc - but I read, and he does whatever he wants to do. Sometimes he wants to watch TV, so I’ll go read in the bedroom / on our balcony…and sometimes I’ll join him of course. (It’s worth noting I’m also just not much of a TV or film buff, so don’t really care to watch it unless Lawrence really wants to show me something he thinks I’ll like.)

Granted I know I’m quite a speedy reader, but I also just spend a lot of my time reading. It’s not just an activity I do on the tube or just before bed - I read in an afternoon, or for a few hours in the morning, or instead of TV at night. I don’t feel guilty about spending time reading as a) I love it, and b) I can rationalise why it is useful / productive etc if and when those little demons creep into my brain (which they often do).

I also switch books often so I’m reading more than one at once - it means if I feel ‘not in the mood’ for one particular book, I can pick up something else so I’m still reading, as opposed to getting stuck on something not right for my levels of tiredness or whatever.

I love to read; I want to read; so I read. For me, it really is that simple.


📌 Tip Reel 📌

If you’re not already following me on Instagram, I write some more fleshed-out book reviews on there if you fancy that kind of a thing (amongst the regular freelance / travel / London photos that is!) - give them a wee look here

Books I’m reading right now:

  • Conan Doyle for the Defence (“After a wealthy woman was brutally murdered in her Glasgow home in 1908, the police found a convenient suspect in Oscar Slater, an immigrant Jewish cardsharp. Though he was known to be innocent, Slater was tried, convicted, and consigned to life at hard labor. Outraged by this injustice, Arthur Conan Doyle, already world renowned as the creator of Sherlock Holmes, used the methods of his most famous character to reinvestigate the case, ultimately winning Slater’s freedom.”)

  • The Great American Sports Page (“Spanning nearly a century, The Great American Sports Page presents essential columns from more than three dozen masters of the press-box craft. These unforgettable dispatches from World Series, Super Bowls, and title bouts for the ages were written on deadline with passion, spontaneity, humour, and a gift for the memorable phrase.”)

  • Tyrant: Shakespeare On Power (“How does a truly disastrous leader – a sociopath, a demagogue, a tyrant – come to power? How, and why, does a tyrant hold on to power? And what goes on in the hidden recesses of the tyrant's soul? For help in understanding our most urgent contemporary dilemmas, William Shakespeare has no peer.”)

  • Milkman - I’m really struggling with this one, been reading it for ages now, but determined to get through it as so many have told me it’s worth it for the payoff..!

I’m a bit obsessed with these Buzzfeed Draw-Off videos where they get cartoonists and illustrators to draw cartoon characters from memory / in their own style. Cracking to see their thought-process, and considering being an artist at Pixar was a childhood dream, they bring up allllll the feels for me.

ChinAI is a *FAB* newsletter that translates and shares AI papers written by Chinese scientists, into English. Awesome to be able to, even in a small way, keep up with the research coming out of arguably the most important market right now… (relatively technical, just FYI, but worth the challenge)


➡️ Next Reel ➡️


✍️ Work Reel ✍️


Find me elsewhere on TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoodreadsInstagramMedium, or through my website.

Until next time,
Gemma 🚀


Gemma Milne is a Science & Tech Writer, currently writing a book about hype and idealism in science and tech, is Co-Founder of Science: Disrupt, and loves a bit of public speaking.

Brain Reel #19

Science & art collide, PRE-ORDERS ARE LIVE, and leading a life of the mind

Hey pals,

I’m writing this from beautiful, nay, STUNNING, Portugal. We’re somewhere in the hills, about an hour and a half’s drive from Porto, staying at a mate’s family’s place. I’m here with 3 pals, 2 of whom are also writing (the other subjected me to the most horrific HIIT session yesterday and has given me a million book recommendations), and - yet again - I’m reminded of how bloody lucky I am.

I find being surrounded by other people writing not only super inspiring, but very helpful in feeling understood. We can all sit together and break down our chapters, our characters (in the case of the pal writing this insane fantasy series), our work-writing-balance woes, both our big and our small plans…all without worrying that we’re ‘going on a bit’ or boring people or talking far too ‘ether-ally’ or whatever.

Hope you’re feeling fab today too pals.


🔬 Science Reel 🔬

I was super lucky to get a curator’s tour of The Barbican’s AI: More Than Human exhibition last week and pals I cannot recommend it highly enough.

I must admit I was skeptical. I feel for those of us who work in tech and science, AI is given so much airtime that I wasn’t sure if an exhibition aimed at a more general audience was going to add much to what I already knew. While this was true to a large degree at the exhibition, what was so powerful for me was actually the way it was explored from an entirely different, deeper perspective. I won’t ruin it for you if you fancy going (it shuts 26th Aug so be quick!), other than saying that I was really taken by the story the exhibition weaves through it, and the sheer amount of live and/or original research that was conducted especially for the exhibition.

It got me thinking about the role of art in science. Most of the time, art is considered a means of communicating science. Of ‘bringing it to life’, of questioning its implications, of visualising what can’t be seen. More and more, though, I’m seeing efforts coming from the art world where research and direct contribution to the development of the science or technology is happening in the pieces themselves. For example, one of the exhibits explores bias in facial recognition, and the fact that many systems don’t recognise black faces. So the artist photographed thousands of black people all over the world, and created a whole new dataset of their faces, upon which algorithms can now be trained to. For the exhibit, privacy rules meant that the actual photographs couldn’t be shown, so instead the artist trained a generation algorithm to create black faces from scratch, based on the dataset, and so the photos on show are entirely computer generated, prompting questions about deep fakes and all sorts.

I also think a lot about the fashion industry and its links to biotech. The spider silk dresses, the mushroom leather bags…the ‘normalisation’ of these new materials, through Paris fashion week and making them trendy. Driving demand, to eventually lower costs.

Art and its associated industries has much to offer science. But the ivory tower of science doesn’t always see or appreciate that. There’s more to art than communication and ethics-questioning, and our science and tech world would do well to open its eyes to this in a whole new way.


📖 Book Reel 📖

So this last fortnight there have been lots of exciting moving parts with the book which I’m delighted about. Firstly, it’s now into the next round of edits, which is going to be a thorough read-through but not yet copy-editing. I’ll probably take a bit of time off to go through them when they come back as this is the first extensive edit and I’m under no illusion it’ll be light feedback! Second, book cover ideas are coming back in the next two weeks! EEK! Super excited for this. Third, I’ve now been assigned a publicist, so I’ll be meeting up with her soon to start chatting through how on Earth we’re going to sell this thing…

And fourth, most exciting of all, the book is now officially out for pre-orders!! As in, people can go onto Amazon or Waterstones or Foyles or Wordery wherever they like to buy books from and actually go and order it, like, right now..! It’s been live for the last few days and it’s still not really sunk in to be honest. People are sending me screenshots of their receipts and I’m like HOW?!

The cover and the blurb / copy is placeholder for now, which is maybe why it still doesn’t really feel real to some degree. But it’s there, and it’s real, and now an entirely new challenge begins in terms of convincing people to part with their pennies for my words and thoughts and pages.

I’ve had many different kinds of ups and downs with confidence throughout this whole process. From feeling like I ‘shouldn’t’ be writing the book as I’m not expert enough; or feeling like I ‘shouldn’t’ email that person for an interview as they’re too important for me; to feeling like I ‘shouldn’t’ be talking about the book yet as it’s not fully formed and finished; or feeling like I ‘shouldn’t’ be doing any of this as I’m not a trained writer …and so on.

The book going out to pre-order is extremely exciting and terrifying in equal measure. Not just in the sense of ‘oh will people like it’ but in the sense of, simply, what if it just fades into insignificance. What if now it’s out there, my hunch about people finding this topic interesting just wasn’t correct? I’m sure the confidence will continue to fluctuate and most likely be in over- and under-drive even more so as the release date approaches, but for now, I’m just trying my best to enjoy the feeling of this whole thing slowly but surely becoming more real.

(If you want to go pre-order yourself, you can do so on Amazon or Foyles or Waterstones, or Blackwells or Wordery or Book Depository..! HOW WILD!!)


🧐 Musing Reel 🧐

While I’ve been here in Portugal, I’ve been thinking about how much time I spend on my own.

I’m here with 3 other fabulous women - old friends and new - and I’m having an absolutely glorious time.

Yesterday, I had a few hours to myself when I wasn’t writing and wasn’t with the others (as they were in the sun and I needed to be in the shade #scottishskin), so I took myself off to read. And while I was reading, my mind wandered, and my thoughts starting whizzing.

It felt like that moment: putting your headphones in first thing in the morning, and the music is the first proper sound you’ve heard that day. Or when the audiobook narrator or the podcast host has suddenly re-entered your life after you’ve been asleep. It’s like the world has switched back on.

And so I realised that I hadn’t really ‘thought’ while I’d been here.

Yes while I’m writing I’m thinking, and yes we’re not all speaking to each other every minute of every day here in Portugal, and yes, many of our conversations have been thought-provoking and fascinating and meaningful.

But those few hours felt different. It felt more like what I’m used to. Which is being alone, and spending a lot of time in my own head. Whilst not working or meeting or speaking or ticking things off my to-do list.

Don’t get me wrong - I love being on my own. I travel alone a lot, and I love it. I work alone most of the time, and I love it. And I hadn’t realised how much thinking and pondering and self-reflection and coming-up-with-new-ideas I do.

It made me think about that recent Guardian article about women not feeling or being able to have time to themselves. It made me think about when I had a full-time job full of meetings and open plan offices and social events almost every evening. It made me think about when I lived with 3 other people as flatmates, and how I was rarely in the flat by myself. It made me think of how before I started travelling alone with work, I would have balked at the idea of a solo restaurant trip, a solo hike, a solo museum trip, a solo anything really.

There was a line in this piece about motherhood and writing I read last week that really stuck with me. She’s talking about why she’s finding it hard to be her full creative self while she has kids, and says:

The problem is not in what I am doing. The problem is in what I am not doing, which is writing every day, but which is also leading a life of the mind.

What a privilege it is, in this moment in my own wee life, to lead a life of the mind.


📌 Tip Reel 📌

Books I’m reading right now:

  • The Great American Sports Page (“Spanning nearly a century, The Great American Sports Page presents essential columns from more than three dozen masters of the press-box craft. These unforgettable dispatches from World Series, Super Bowls, and title bouts for the ages were written on deadline with passion, spontaneity, humour, and a gift for the memorable phrase.”)

  • Tyrant: Shakespeare On Power (“How does a truly disastrous leader – a sociopath, a demagogue, a tyrant – come to power? How, and why, does a tyrant hold on to power? And what goes on in the hidden recesses of the tyrant's soul? For help in understanding our most urgent contemporary dilemmas, William Shakespeare has no peer.”)

  • Frankissstein (“What will happen when homo sapiens is no longer the smartest being on the planet? Jeanette Winterson shows us how much closer we are to that future than we realise. Funny and furious, bold and clear-sighted, Frankissstein is a love story about life itself.”)

Podcasts I think you’ll love:

  • The Sport of Kings (Human/Ordinary): Incredible dive into Melbourne’s amateur wrestling scene, which ends with WWE coming to town. I don’t know how else to sell this episode to you than to just simply tell you that I have no interest in wrestling but this little sojourn into that world - particularly the amateur one - was fascinating, poignant and well worth the listen.

  • The Clearing: This is on *right now* - latest episode went out yesterday - and I’m HOOKED: When April Balascio was 40 years old, something she’d feared for decades was finally proven true. Her father, Edward Wayne Edwards, really was a murderer. The Clearing is about what came after April called a detective in 2009 to tell him about her suspicions — a call that led to her father’s arrest and eventual conviction on multiple murders — and tracks the emotional journey as she and host Josh Dean dig back into her childhood, unravel the truth of her father’s life, and overturn a viral online narrative that had turned Edward Wayne Edwards into a kind of serial killer caricature.”


➡️ Next Reel ➡️


✍️ Work Reel ✍️


Find me elsewhere on TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoodreadsInstagramMedium, or through my website.

Until next time,
Gemma 🚀


Gemma Milne is a Science & Tech Writer, currently writing a book about hype and idealism in science and tech, is Co-Founder of Science: Disrupt, and loves a bit of public speaking.

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