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35 Thousand

March 28th, Saturday. Chilly, bright and clear am, heavy cold showers later.
Honour to those who in their lives are committed and guard their Thermoplyae. . . The G20 protest, peace march version. Stop bailing out the d***ed bankers, don't print money you idiot! Jobs, Green Recovery. A New Deal. Return to Victoria, walked down the river to Arundel St. where we collected our green hard hats from Avaaz and then hung about sightseeing for a while. Coot bobbing on the brown waves of the Thames, this is the King's Reach, dedicated as such 1935, nice bronze carp and so on by the river-steps. Memorial to the BN submarines killed in 2 World Wars. In the 1st they only got numbers (as they weren't expected to live long, maybe). In WW2 they got names. Spent some time helping an anarchist from Preston with his extremely frisky banner-bearing contraption, and who better than an anarchist to rely on the kindness of strangers. Off we go to Hyde Park, isn't the Queen Mary small, how great if we could get the rich back to the level where they'd fit inside, they'd still own as much as ever, but they'd need fewer golf courses. Hey, Faraday, hey all you bronze people, all you fine buildings, always something new to admire in this beautiful city.

A lot of EU and UK trade unions (and that's new), inevitable Socialist Workers and Communists of different stripes,the Four Horsemen of the Apocalpyse, two brass bands, the drummers, beat boxes on bicycle trailers. Palestine and StopWar, and Don't Attack Iran, of course. Lot of fancy dress, the young faux capitalists were fun, except I felt the (f) members shd have been wearing spike heels, their trainers (running shoes, cousins) were giving them away, like that high-heeled nun in The Lady Vanishes, . Invitations to the illegal raves next week were offered; I sang the Internationale with the Italians, only in French as I don't know any Italian and the English lyrics are cr*p and don't scan. We got behind the 4 horses, and wondered what the slow-marching police front row was there for? To make the whole thing look more impressive? Were they joining in? They wouldn't be out of place on this one, not at all. Everybody's got a job, pension, supermarket bill on the line, and if you're if not P****d off by now (as one homemade placard had it), you haven't been paying attention. Most, about half I'd say, are under thirty (and that's new).

But it's a rag bag, as always, and I'm an odd sort of rag myself. I wonder if there's a single other person here is thinking the way I am, about caddis fly larvae creeping around the bed of a stream, in their cases made of grains of sand and tiny twigs. The sparrows, lost. Cuckoos and skylarks, blackcaps and songthrushes, the she-frog I took out of our tiny water feature, grey-green, healthy looking young creature, hiding her pointed snout between her splayed, fairytale-fingered forefeet. The candled tower of a horse chestnut in bloom, the great oak trees, I would rather die than live without these things, and it's only through them that I understand what's happening. There is no doubt in my mind that there's only one real problem, the NUMBERS, the awesome burden of human success. But the problem is also the place where we'll find the cure. I believe that too. So few, sighed Peter, sounding oddly like the Steward of Minas Tirith. Nothing like the crowd for that first Stop The War. . . Yeah, right, that freezing February, few weeks before I gave up being English: and what good did it do to be so many, eh? Like I've said in another context, we're the symptom, not the cause, and if critical mass is reached, it won't be down to us early warners. It will be down to the trouble itself: objective effects scary enough to get Middle England (etc, etc) behind the anarchists, the NVDA brigade like next week. All we need to do is wait until they're paddling around here, and get close enough to critical mass to scare our so-called leaders into seeing the light. Gordon Brown (not him, the next PM, obviously) will look at the Youtube record of torched fast food joints, torn up runways, fighting in the streets: listen to the media and the voters howling "those people have a point, d**n it!" and say to himself, my goodness! Of course we must take this chance we've been offered, by the collapse of the unbelievably stupid finance system! So far and no further, here we turn the tide. Here's where we save the future! The future of the living world and our own.

Nah. We're here because we're here. Either it's a way of life (the old guard, who really would come out to ANY demo), or it's the young guard, who are coming back next week: who are ready to go to prison, to get beaten up, tasered, even shot, to guard the Springs; or it's the timid frogs such as me and my friend here, who have been paying attention, who come out because they can't bear not to, because it's a brief respite from the scariness of life surrounded by the KFC, 4X4, Ryanair tendency (including of course the substantial vintage champagne, red carpets, weekend in the Maldives wing), who will never see that there's a problem. Hell, there's not much left outside the bunker but we got champagne synthesisers haven't we?

When we finally reached Hyde Park we listened for a short time to Tony Robinson, various worthies from the Flood Countries of the South, and is that Bianca Jagger? Ate our sandwiches& drank hot chocolate in the shelter of a big oak tree, by a Speakers' Corner kiosk (listening to anarchists mutter about Socialist Workers in their Nike and their Umbro, tuh); and headed off down by the Serpentine, blossom trees and birdsong in the cold, sudden rain.

Peter asked me, d'you think there's any famous sf writers here? (He's always hoping I know someone famous). I gave it some thought: Theoretically, yes, but I can't really picture it, protest marches are so pathetic. Sf mavs either think teatrays in the sky are the answer, or else they're sure it's just the current scare story, like Global War, City-eating Floods, Famine, Over-population, Epidemics, Mass Extinction, an annoying distraction or good copy; it's not real

Those hard hats an excellent innovation. They keep the rain off, are not so much hassle as a placard on a stick, and add a certain pleasing conformity to the view for the camerapersons.

Instant Judgement on Robert Schumann

Friday March 27th, sun surfacing through overcast, after a chilly night Reading Clio Grey, of whom more later, and The Iliad, where I've reached the Battle By The River, Hector hasn't got long left now. Watching a lot of movies as I've been feeling poorly, Mildred Pierce, Once Upon A Time In The West, The Fifth Element (again).

Improving my musical knowledge (down to Gabriel of course, he starts playing the music, I start wondering, what was that guy like? What did his life and times have to do with his composition?): this week's composer is Schumann. Reminds me of Bruce Sterling, a bit (sorry, Bruce, I know you're not mad). Esp. the selfless early career, putting passionate criticism and the Good Of The Genre before his own art, and not even realising it. The not-in-the-best-of-tempers manifestos against moribund convention, the revolutionary brotherhood of correct thought, to which you could get elected without your knowledge. Also the reckless mixing of media. Music written to illustrate details in a novel (Papillons) which of course everyone cool will get, because of course everyone cool knows the novel off by heart just like Robert does. I ended up not really liking most of what we have on CD, because it's too puzzling, too literary, and I haven't any desire to read the Wertheroid novels. They've vanished, and I bet it's with good reason.

The story about disabling his hand is less extreme than I thought, in fact my arbitrarily chosen biographer gave the distinct impression that it was a good excuse to stay out of the virtuoso bloodbath. Shame about the story of that ultra-romantic marriage, it really doesn't stand up. Oh Clara, you are my equal in all things, we are twin souls, we are beyond convention! Ah, at last you are mine! No, you can't go on tour. Didn't I say I need you to stay at home and bring up twenty kids. . ? He wrecked her career for as long as he was able (an uphill job, as Clara Wiek was incredibly talented, ditto hardworking, already famous & knew how to work a crowd), and though she submitted, though she became the fierce champion of his faltering genius, picking fights left right and centre, I don't think she forgave him. Not until he was safely on the way out. . . She didn't visit him much in that horrible aslyum. Where he certainly didn't deserve to end up, whatever it was that was wrong with him. All right, he jumped in the river, okay he'd been admitting to psychotic symptoms, but all the heroes of those turgid novels "admit" to psychotic symptoms, they never stop: how can your soul be in torment without a few waking nightmares?, it's de rigeur And in the end, when nobody would listen, he starved himself to death. Nasty way to go.

NB, my research for this entry, such as it was, involved reading Robert Schumann his life and work by Ronald Taylor, probably not the best place to start, a pedestrian biography and not great on musical analysis; but it was in the library! And listening to these two disks. Richter is as a God, I am reliably told, but I like Jonathan Biss.

Richter, playing Schubert's Wanderer and Schumann Papillons & Fantasie 17

Jonathan Biss, Fantasie 17 etc

He championed Chopin, when nobody understood what Chopin really was (cannons disguised by flowers is a Schumann quote), he railed against mediocrity, he had his faults but he was okay. I ought to listen to more, esp. the songs, and Kindersznesen (not for children; about being a child). Next in this series, Shostakovich: closet dissident or pillar of Stalinism?

Really, I'm practising having categories, after all these years: see if I can be a proper blogger.

Castles 2008

layered cloud, moving towards twilight

Cracked it. Castles Made Of Sand, remastered, complete and unabridged. The file had got corrupted on disk, which does not bode well for my off-site storage but anyway, here's Castles, the 2008 edition, free online.

Spring Officially Began Last Friday. . .

Monday 23rd March, cool sun, light overcast, spring gardens full of candy colours below my window.
I have nothing more to say, except thanks to Anne O'Donnell for an Aleutians Trilogy book order: really I'm just posting my Lenten Alcohol fast tally.

Reading: Clio Grey, The Envoy of the Black Pine My latest librarybooks find, more later.

Wondering about, 1.The Nebula Weekend, & if I really need to nominate an accepter/deliverator should "The Tomb Wife" win in the short stories, problem arising as neither of my US editors will be there. Interim conclusion, think I'll cross that bridge if I come to it. 2. The G20/Climate Change Protests. Justice and Peace on the 28th March, StopWar on 1st April. Neither of them exactly my agenda but I think I'll probably settle for the 28th, as I'm getting the three line whip from CAFOD on that one. Let's face it, I'm really more of a CAFOD type, more bothered about Guantanamo at Calais than eager fomenting anarchist revolution (but don't let me put you off!). Plus, amusing though it is to see the Bold As Love precursor scenario taking to the streets again, just like the nineties, eh?, that's not what I'm researching right now. Plus, I like animals. If I go to prison, I don't want them to say it was for frightening a shy and sensitive police horse.

Deciding not to go and see. Watchmen.

Book Sales, Bold As Love downloads

Weather same as it was ten minutes ago. Bright sun, blue sky.

At last. Finally I can get into my homepage again, and here's the URl for the updated Book Sales page, for Gwyneth Jones and Ann Halam. Note that you can now use PayPal:
Book Sales

Plus, the reinstated free download of Bold As Love, re-edited, complete and unabridged. Castles Made Of Sand to follow, when I've figured out what's wrong with the pdf:

Bold As Love

Castles Made Of Sand

Plus, from Specusphere, another review of Spirit:

Spirit reviewed by Ian Banks

Frogwatch, spawn death.

Wednesday 18th March, another beautiful blue sky day.

Every morning, the blackbird (or a different one, maybe one of those four juveniles I've been watching since last spring) singing his heart out: in the back gardens this year, so we don't wake to music, we have to get out of bed. . . But a star can choose his venue.

Frogwatch, sadly my first bucket of spawn didn't make it. The eggs were fertile but the jelly disintegrated, leaving the embryos with nothing to feed on. Ominous, but not yet fatal. Call it frost damage (it was still very cold when this was laid) and hope for the second sitting. But the females I've seen are all very stressed, very red. One new clump of spawn so far, I think it's fertile and the sun is shining. . .

One never sees frogs out in the Sussex countryside now. Deleted by pesticide run off, apparently.

Darwin Was Wrong: For readers of "Life"

Many thanks to Ben Lund for his Bold As Love book orders. That's £36.50 to Amnesty International (whose website I can't reach this morning, for some reason).

& congratulations to Lynne Jamneck and all the Periphery collection authors, the anthology is a finalist for the Lambda awards.

I wonder what's happened my story for When It Changed, the Geoff Ryman anthology? The Anthology's still up on Amazon, allegedly due out in May. Must ask Geoff.

It was 1997. Intrigued by the discoveries I'd made about the Biology field (while researching the biology of sexual difference, and possible alternative evolutionary-engines for aliens), I'd decided to write a real-life science fiction about the career of a woman in Biological Science, who stumbles on something strange, and has an idea that just won't let her go. . . And now, at last, I see that "Anna's" discovery has hit the tipping point. (Immensely creditable but of course inadequate nineteenth-century model of evolution dethroned. The complexity and interconnectedness of the development of life on earth recognised; horizontal transfer of genetic material mediated by an ether full of viruses proposed) This is the bit I like best:

"Other cases of HGT (horizontal gene transfer) in multicellular organisms are coming in thick and fast. HGT has been documented in insects, fish and plants, and a few years ago a piece of snake DNA was found in cows. The most likely agents of this genetic shuffling are viruses, which constantly cut and paste DNA from one genome to another, often across great taxonomic distances. In fact, by some reckonings, 40 to 50 per cent of the human genome consists of DNA imported horizontally by viruses..."

Readers of Life may remember the scientific revolution championed by Clare Gresley, Anna's mentor in the wilderness. . .

Read the article, at You won't find Lyn Margulis's name, even though there's a big section on endosymbiosis. Or Barbara McClintock's name. Or Susan Lindquist. &I wouldn't think this was worth mentioning except that the article is full of men's names, some of them ancient, and though truth will out, meanwhile what passes for "science" is all about fame (a sarcasm has been deleted here); about getting more attention, more links. Nobody's saying "Darwin was wrong" about the enumbers game of fitness selection
an immensely satifying insight; of universal application

And then there's the Selfish Gene, different but related false image... (read another recent article on NS: The Selfless Gene), A few years ago, I was a teaching assistant at an Arvon science fiction course run by Colin Greenland. One of the students asked me, smiling indulgently, why are you so down on Richard Dawkins? Because he's peddling ideology in the name of science, I said. Much worse (because we're none of us free from ideology), he's corrupting the minds of the idiotic many, such as yourself, who cannot tell the difference between scientific thinking and hero-worship*.

Now off you go, dear readers who are offended by this post(I doubt if there'll be many, but I suppose a few tortured souls come here to make sure I'm still being annoying...). Cleanse yourselves by offering incense to Darwin's shrine. You may need to sacrifice a white mouse or two, with the proper rituals. Don't forget to read the entrails. For your gods are jealous gods.

*No, of course I didn't. I'm an honest mercenary, and I don't pick fights with students unless I think they are worth it, eh Trent?

Trains and trains and trains

Thursday 12th March, grey skies

... I'm spending my life on trains, last night a very dodgy sandwich from M&S foods M/c Piccadilly reminded me why it's worth taking your own rations. Even texts from the Milan:United game failed to console me. At least you could say I'm following this year's pleasantly retro change of the seasons very closely. A pair of lapwings and several buzzards in Staffordshire, enlivening a rather deadly landscape.

Forgotten war-in-a-teacup, me and the media giant. For the record, I'm still locked out of my Virgin (was ntlworld) page. Hoping to get back in "in three to five working days". So they say. They've been saying that since New Year.

Eleven Days

Saturday 7th March, beautiful day

Classical Relief was pretty good, the jokes old fashioned, Alfred Brendel's poetry a revelation (and rather scary), Nicola Benedetti took a right pasting, good for her. Stylophone chorus splendid. Quarter final also splendid, tho' watching til the whistle blew had me legging it across Waterloo Bridge in boots not meant for sprinting and most undignified fashion. Luckily Hannah didn't bawl me out as I deserved & we weren't actually late.

Now it's Sunday, and I've finished The Keep Jennifer Egan, of which I'd heard much. It was fun, it was very New York, small world, disconcerting finale. Hadn't we already decided that stuff about turning the Castle of Unease into a detox hotel for the well-heeled was, er, rubbish on many levels? A deep comic book. Have started the plasterer's tub nursery, the yearly ritual. Half a bucket of spawn so far, wow that water's cold, cold and crawling with weird living things, down there in the dark, that squirm away from my hand. Dead eldritch.

NS Doom and C4 Gloom, respectively

Friday 6th March, beautiful day, blue sky, bright sun, crisp air

Have read the doom laden Gaia Vince article about 4 degrees of warming. Thinks: okay, but something a bit hooky about this, something wrong with the tone, maybe? Almost malicious, and that's not the attitude. So I checked its fortunes on newscientist dot com. Sure enough, 280 comments and counting, almost without exception absolutely pointless, respondents evenly divided between idiots and bullies who might as well be scrapping over which end to attack a breakfast egg. Moderate these fools, New Scientist! Moderate about 90% of them off your over-heated page, until you find a level of sanity, it must be in there somewhere!

It's a shame about internet comments. It sounded like a good idea, but it really isn't, is it.

Have watched #1 of Red Riding. Obviously it's a misfortune, not a failing, that any police procedural set in 1974 is going to be haunted by Life On Mars, but I'm still not convinced. There are people who believe that style over substance is not a weakness if the style is gritty and grim. There's people knee-jerk reverently respectful of any show that acknowledges UK police brutality (well, okay, West Riding Police were famous for it at the time. . .) no need for any frills like plot, character, motivation. I'm not one of either of them.

Classic Relief!

Wednesday, 4th March. Calm skies after a night of wind and rain. Frog action in the pond has been playful and relaxed for about a week. This morning I see the holiday is over, the males have started clasping, the grim business of reproduction has begun.

Metempsychosis of the Machine: Out in the wind and rain last night, to see Slumdog at the Marina. Great show, terrific soundtrack. An expertly crafted, cruel and sentimental fairytale -the qualification is not an insult, all proper fairytales are both cruel and sentimental-, telling of the savage greed of poverty, the singleminded determination of the one that got away (keep your eyes on the prize, slumdogs); the "Jimmy Cagney" hero's death of the underworld system's luckless dupe;the dream girl, as good as she is beautiful, teasingly dangled and finally bestowed as the reward of virtue. A perfect Hollywood depression movie!

But enough of this frivolity. I'm here today with the serious yet delightful purpose of exhorting you to flock to Classic Relief, an extraordinary evening of laughter and great music, 7th March, 7.30pm at the Royal Festival Hall, South Bank, where among others you'll have a chance to see my lad Gabriel, luminary of the "stylophone chorus", eight Trinity Music College students in DJs and bowties (he assures me he can borrow the kit) playing The Ride Of The Valkyrie on tiny little primitive synthesisers. I thought he said xylophone, but no, it's electronica. After I'd bought the tickets I asked innocently, and will I see you after? Er, no, says my loving son. There's sort of a party. Ah well, Meet Mum in the foyer, party with the famous poet Alfred Brendel... I take his point

Interestingly, we watched Repo Man again the other night, and Peter spotted an actual stylophone, played by Emilio Estevez as he leans against a phone box, in one of the punk/rom gang scenes. So that's how you can check it out. Great movie, another excellent soundtrack. It hasn't lost its freshness, and yet so evocative of the early eighties. That cohabitation, punks, goths and New Romantics, sounds so bizarre and yet it seemed so natural at the time: as it appears here.

Fair Maids Of February

Monday March 2nd, weather same as it was an hour ago

Saturday, 28th March, a cool, still, calm day; grey cushiony clouds netted in a web of gilt, light the colour of candlelight. We drove out to Duncton to visit the famous native daffodils. This is all heathland, sandy underfoot, deadened, soundless walking through the tall pinewoods of Duncton Common, fenced transition to Lavington, the National Trust's purist swathes of last year's heather. Not quite the season for adders, but plenty of birds. At Burton House we admired the old Norman church, with some remarkable C16 brasses, including Lady Elizabeth Goring, kneeling at prayer in a heraldic tabard and riding dress. Why the male attire? Lost in the mists of time, but she's the only woman dressed like this on any C16 memorial in England (It says here, in the guide provided). Shallow indents in the stone show where her husband and her children used to be pinned. Further on, by a clear murmuring, winding stream, sheaves of perfect snowdrops warned us we'd come too early for the show on the headland above. Darn it, the host, the throng beneath the trees all present but all but a handful still firmly sheathed. Never mind, even one small native daffodil, candlelight trumpet, gold rays, freshly unfurled, is easily worth a walk in the woods.

Shock, horror, the pub at Graffam, The Foresters' Arms (more heraldry) is SHUT. As in foreclosed, as of 12 Feb, with the sticker for the Good Pub Guide 2009 still in the window. We suspect the proud insistence on "Traditional Hours" may have been the leasees' undoing. You just can't not be open all afternoon, especially at weekends, when every other pub in the countryside has capitulated. So, anyway, we had sandwiches and coffee at the village shop instead, and probably were no worse off. See that tally up at the top? That's my lenten alcohol fast. Can't say I feel hugely renewed or purified yet, but I'm sure it's going to do me good.

The Art Of Murder

Monday 2nd March, frost on the grass at seven, bright crisp morning of early spring.

The Art Of Murder, Jose Carlos Somoza. Deserves a post all of its own. Compelling, penetrating, extraordinary. To my mind a considerable advance on The Athenian Murders: far less self-consciously clever, far more immersive. Somoza takes on the phenomenon of Modern Art (ie, roughly, non-figurative to conceptual, latter part of C20 to present day), as an index of moral nullity, in a futuristic setting where human beings who have elected to become "canvases" for fashionable artists, have become staggeringly valuable objects. Need I tell you that a curiously substantial proportion of these canvases are adolescent or pre-pubertal girls and boys? That they are generally displayed nude, in brutally stressful, titillating poses? Already there's a big undercover market for the horrific, low-rent version of this trade in exquisitely altered and contorted living bodies, now someone has started butchering really valuable works. . .

For me, don't know if Somoza would agree, there's a powerful subtext about the massively profitable edifice of modern art, as the replacement, or the current form, of religion, and specifically the Catholic Church: the world of The Art Of Murder is dominated by corrupt cardinals, fraudulent miracles, deranged saints, a bizarre, suffering God. A fanatical Inquisitor, and a troubled unbeliever form the traditional pair of investigators; the two main characters on the other side of the action are Bruno van Tysch, at once a monstrous God, priest and sacrifice; and Clara Reyes, the iron-willed, utterly dedicated young "canvas" who finds a route to true transcendence in the fake revelations and impossible (profit-driven) demands of her Church. It's not a criticism to say the mystery is no mystery: this is not a puzzle, it's a fantastic spectacle, painted on the "canvas" of C21 Europe's beloved police-procedural serial-killer story. The dismount, however is a slight disappointment, as the void closes and "normal services" are resumed. The monstrous God/priest Bruno turns out to be rather un-interesting, and his relationship with Clara never really goes anywhere. So, four stars not five on one reading. If I was reviewing, I'd read it twice of course, and might well see things differently

The Art Of Murder is presented as a thriller, but I read it slowly because I didn't want to leave Somoza's repellent, fascinating world. Highly reccommended. I don't know if it was noticed in genre circles, but if I'd known about this when it came out in translation (2004), I'd have been lobbying hard for both the Tiptree jury and the Clarke jury to take it on board.