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The French Have A Word For It/The Difficult Utopia

Wednesday September 29th, damp morning, a mild interval in a chilly start to the autumn, grey skies, spider webs.

Grey skies, revision work, conversations with Gabriel, failure to find the Brown Card Folder, left by the grand piano, it should be obvious, no it isn't! Actually, it isn't anywhere, and I'm, far too vulnerable to these excuses to leave my desk. What is the man from the bank of England really saying to "savers"? He's saying, mate, you can save up for your funeral expenses if you like, but possibly you have not noticed, you are poor. Only rich people are supposed to be able to live on the income from accumulated capital. The poor are many, the rich are few, that's the arrangement, always has been: this is not a moral issue. There was a bit of a glitch for a few decades, normal services have been resumed. Get used to it.

Definitely a science fiction issue. Possibility of a Movement! But a U-turn will first be necessary.

I like the french word for it, decroissance. Sounds like a real word, unlike that "degrowth". But of course it's a promise of hurt; and hurt for the poor, first and worst, same as most kinds of trouble. Ideally, decroissance doesn't mean no public health, no sewage treatment, no road repairs, no education except for the elite. What it has to mean, no matter how fair the distribution of wealth, is putting the brakes on the global culture of stuff-accumulation, and that's obviously the most painful idea in the world, to the devotees, both the ignorant many and the greedy few. No more the everlasting new phone, new car, new washing machine.

What on earth's Stephen Fry going to do? (that's the "lets go and visit all the lovely animals on the brink of extinction" presenter, who confessed he can't possibly resist yet another latest new phone) Or any other gadget-greedy soi-disant liberal?

See how that term "ideally", meaning, "if things go well", immediately made you think "this isn't going to happen"?

Ah, well. Yesterday Peter saw a kingfisher, flash of blue on the stream that runs through the old railway land by his college. That's good luck. Also, I saw a frog in the soi-disant wildlife pool:that's minor good luck too, at this time of year. Something good will happen.

Follow this link for bar-to-bar's treatment of Gwyneth Jones. Perhaps the White Queen would have preferred a meeting of equals in a cosy alcohol den, but as I feared, it was not to be. In virtuality we meet ourselves as others see us: it can be terrifying.

None of the effects you are about to experience are faked. Tibor Moricz is an inteviewer like no other, and a very brave man!

Tigers are better looking

Friday 24th September, luminous cloud burning off. So far, it's going to be another day of autumn sunshine, no sign of the high winds.

Haha! I've finally found a practical use for those Twitter and Facebook accounts. I can pester people! When NGOs hopefully ask me if they can contact all the people in my email address book, to spread the word on Drop The Debt and the like, I always turn the idea down. It's intrusive, it's chugging, and it would only look like spam. But Facebook and Twitter, that's different.

Last Saturday, harvest foraging from Robertsbridge to Bodiam, retracing a springtime walk we made when David & Ruth &co were staying just over the border, but this time driving to Robertsbridge as the Kent trains are being routed via Hayward's Heath at weekends, and that's a Ryanjourney. Why do the papers and the BBC always say there's "a bumper crop" of nuts and berries? It'd be a strange September if the hedges weren't full of sloes (we picked our share) and blackberries, hips and haws and crab-apples. Actually, this year the apples have been disappointing so far; sharp and late. An old pasture thick with dark green fairy rings delayed us, plentiful supplies of field mushrooms. I hoped for boletus, "edible and delicious" in the heathy woodland, but found only interesting non-edible species. On the way back, despite the helpful due west sunset arrangement of the equinox, and a high-sailing three-quarter moon, we got a little lost. The bowl on the right holds specimens of a beautiful Amanita, called The Blusher (not eaten) picked in Wennow Wood in deep twiglight. The other handsome devil, probably an Agaricus, I couldn't positively identify, except it wasn't as I'd hoped a Parasol variant, so we didn't eat that one either. I'm not careless with my fungi (famous last words).

What luxury to be lost in a wood on the Kent Sussex border in deep twilight. To find your way out to a lane, and walk down the hill to the river in the moonlight, pale strawbales in the glittering shorn fields; to the convivial lights of a roadside village pub, and pass like ghosts. . .

Animal Alterity I have to take issue with Sherryl Vint over the Eqba's righteous cleansing operation on planet Earth. Far as I can tell, if you invent imaginary aliens who are going to hygenically dispose of 6billion surplus humans for you at a stroke, that is a sentimental solution. How about if you imagine the Extreme Greens as people like us, taking the job on? Six billion corpses, mm. That's quite a stink.

On the other hand, I have never read anything by Karen Traviss. She fit the old !SFnal Tomboy! profile so exactly, I thought I already knew her work well. . . I should give her a try, but clearly you don't start with Judge.

And last night (finally getting there) we watched the Tigers In Bhutan show. How lovely it was, and how thrilling. All those different big cats! And the pika, and the dried medicinal caterpillar with fungus growing out of its head. But I was afraid. Don't tell! I kept thinking. Don't tell! I just hope none of those dxxxxd Traditional Medicine tycoons were paying too much attention.

The Sword, The Mirror and the Jewel

Tuesday September 14th, cool morning, herring gulls crying, grey skies thick with rain.

I used to think the Studio Ghibli movies were stateless, set in some Cloud Cuckoo land, a Japanese cartoon version of the Fairytale Mediaeval Europe invented by Disney. Then I saw Tokyo Story, a grim and rather repellent Great Movie by Kurosawa, and there was Miyasaki's lost country, right there: the crooked roofs, the jumbled little streets, the causewayed paths between the rice paddies, a homely countryside close by the tumbling haphazard low-rise warren of the industrial city. (reminding me very much of the outskirts of Manchester, when I was a child myself).

I used to think Zelda and Final Fantasy were Stateless fantasies, the seemingly bizarre and arbitrary cod-mediaeval features the product of random, deracinated game-developers' imaginations. Now I know different, and I've just been reminded how far from rootless they are, these landscapes, these eternal pilgrimages from shrine to shrine (or dungeon!); these treasures that we must obtain, at lengthy cost. I'm reading The Confessions of Lady Nijo, an old paperback I picked up on the South Bank bookstalls, on my birthday trip to London, in February. I have a small collection of Heian ladies' writing, but though this one was new to me, I didn't rate it at first glance, just bought it on reflex: it was a late work, two hundred years after Genji, and written (it says here) with the explicit purpose of restoring the lady's family fortunes. Derivative, I thought. Bound to be dilute, formulaic and feeble. I was completely wrong. It's true, Genji keeps coming up in the first three books. Parties are staged to recreate episodes in the incomparable (fictional!) Genji's court life. Courtiers, and court ladies like Nijo, imitate the poems, the actions, the emotions of Murasaki Shikibu's characters. Of course I don't know how much of this is part of Nijo's cunning plan to ride on the classic writer's trailing sleeves, and how much Genjification really happened. It's weirdly modern, though. Then comes the best bit. "Nijo", concubine from childhood to one retired emperor (the indulgent GoFukakusa, who has never really objected to the girl having private lovers on the side), is in a dire predicament over Gofukakusa's conviction that she's having a clandestine affair with another retired emperor, Gofukakusa's brother-enemy. She's lost her protector, and the knives are out at court. You know what, she decides. I'm sick of it all anyway: and sets out one morning, dressed as a Buddhist nun, on a life of pilgrimage. Here's the passage, that prompted this post.

"A sacred mirror made by a god to reflect the image of the sun goddess was enshrined at Koasakuma. It is said that it was once stolen and dropped into deep water. When it was revovered and presented at the shrine, the goddess spoke through an oracle: "I have vowed to save all living things, even the fishes in the boundless sea". Then, by its own power, the mirror vanished from the shrine and reappeared on the top of a rock, beside which grew a lone cherry tree. At high tide the mirror lodged in the top of the tree; at low tide it remained on the rock. . . " Confessions of Lady Nijo, tr Karen Brazell

Nah, it's probably impossible to convey the little thrill of pleasure those words, connecting me to the greater half of Zelda's cultural sources, give me. Never mind

Now I want to see Top Girls, the Caryl Churchill play in which Nijo is a character. Except I think she's a fount of mature wisdom in the play, whereas I just met an engagingly fallible human being.

Speaking of mature wisdom, here's the latest from bar to bar, featuring that grand old man of hellish anarchy and angelic mayhem, Hal Duncan

*Ouch. I just imagined a Lady Nijo tv series, probably hosted by Julia Bradbury, a poetic walking tour (with sea voyages) around Japan. Awful thought!

Oh well, what do I know. Maybe that literary pilgrimage has been big in Japan for decades. The Lady Nijo Trail.


Thursday 9th September, damp garden, cool air, warm sunlight, blue sky and luminous cloud.

Reviewing the galleys for a story collection that spans thirty years is a salutory task.

It's nom de guerre, not nomme de guerre. I wonder how long that howler's been lying there, unquestioned by several copy-editors and proof-readers including me. Since the story first appeared in Interzone, I bet.

Colloidal cracking. Weirdly okay as an expression, but definitely a mistake. The well-known symptom of dry-rot infestation in an awful old wreck of a house is cuboidal cracking. I ought to know. I'm currently a reluctant expert on dry rot, again.

The pathological reluctance of Gwyneth Ann Jones to make up different names for her fictional characters. I can remember that Gwyneth Ann Jones character stating trenchantly on a convention panel platform that her characters didn't mean a thing to her. They weren't people they were labels, and she was too well aware that every "character" is really just a part the writer is playing. Didn't go down well. Did I know I was doing it? Ann, Anna? Of course I did. Francis, Frances, Francois? I think that one just sneaked in and established itself. On the other hand, the writers Francois Villon, Francois Voltaire and Francois Rene De Chateaubriand have meant something to me for a very long time; my father was deeply francophile, which had a big effect on me, I'm very fond of animals, and the other derivation of the name is supposed to be "free-man".

Guessing at near-future terms. The great William Gibson said, science fiction is not predictive, it's about the present (paraphrase). I totally agree, but in staging these dramas about our age's science/technology in collision with human society, we all make judgement calls on the sets, the decor, the language, etiquette, costumes of the future. I clearly thought I was onto something with "virtuality" (like, a reality, see, but virtual. . .) but nope, virtual world swept the board. I really was onto something with subscriber soap. The idea is, instead of watching highly trained celebrities wash their dirty underwear in public on so-called Reality TV, subscribers get their houses wired up for interactive surveillance, and anybody on the network can watch anybody else's little adventures, upsets and dramas of daily life. No holds barred exposure is hardcore, but "everybody" loves this game, and "everybody" starts acting as if they're in a soap opera the whole time (or in the Big Brother House). . . Spot the difference. I never was a docile consumer.

Merle is the French word for the black European thrush, the bird we call a blackbird in English, it makes a pretty name for a woman. Thrush, of course, is the name of the yeast infection. The pun's convoluted, but I'll let it stand.

What's left? A couple of stories deliberately suppressed, a couple of orphans (eg North Light) that simply never got chosen for reprinting. I hope I don't get pathologically convinced I have to make up another collection's worth before I die. Madness.

Curious Variant Form of the Online Interview (From Bar to Bar)

Friday 3rd September, clear blue skies, brisk autumnal temperature.

A curious variant form of the Online Interview landed on my desk a couple of months ago, courtesy of Kim Newman. It's a kind of prose-poem, in which the interviewer encounters the interviewed in a virtual version of the artist's (actually, both participants are artists) fictional world; not the world of a specific novel or story, but the ambience. I don't know, maybe "frombartobar" invokes not only the chance, somewhat altered-state encounter in half-light but the vital, elusive and universal ambience of a material alcohol den, the pan-cultural location so dear to many of our hearts,

Anyway, here Tibor Moricz interviews Kim Newman

Here, Jean Claude Dunyach

Here, Libby Ginway and here the artist's recent review of his experiences

I've been interviewed. I don't know if "I" so to speak, will make it to the gallery. Gwyneth Jones World may be a degree of separation too far.