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NHS Risk Register; The White Bears

Thursday 29th March, another brilliant high pressure day, and drought is closing in, though it's going to be cold tonight, and that pattern continues for the forseeable, say the weather people. The dry bright tundra, having been booted out of the Arctic, has come to camp on us, like polar bears, like the sign and symbol White Bears in Suzy Charnas's The Furies, anyone remember them?

The NHS risk register: the leaked document, as my MP remarks, certainly shows why our lovely government was "so deeply worried" by the idea of its contents being made public. More coverage here:

It's not too late to stop some of these destructive changes. Caroline Lucas for one will be keeping up the pressure.

We all take our news from different sources. Gabriel gets his from facebook, which (despite my serious reservations about the business model) is a good source for breaking news. Peter buys The Independent. I always look at New Scientist, to find out the way the wind's blowing, and also the BBC page, because I'm interested to know what I'm supposed to think. But then there's Common Dream, which persists in painting a much more doomy picture via eg the radiation hazard at Fukushima.

I tend to believe Common Dream (and The Japan Times) on this one. But the BBC and NS are both doing a good job, in their way.

National Planning Framework

Wednesday 28th March, yet another day of brilliant sunshine and cloudless blue. The spawn I moved to the nursery tub has now hatched, and the tadpoles are swimming, looking fine. I'm not so sure about the spawn that's staying in the pool, as Ginger found it and chomped it, she loves frogspawn, before I could move it out to the centre. She hasn't fallen in, I'd have noticed, and the spawn is no longer visible, maybe it disintegrated and they hatched, but I can't see them.

And so, the new, game-changing, much feared (by the National Trust, RSPB et al) and much anticipated (by the construction industry and housing developers) National Planning Framework has been unveiled, but so quietly, so very quietly... I wonder what's going on. Cautious relief appears to be the message from the lovers of the English countryside and the living world, so far. Good news for me as I am one of them, and also because I am not daft, and I have seen what happens if you let the unrregulated developers loose & it is not affordable housing in places with the infrastructure, where people want to live. Do I need to say Crash? Do I need to say Ireland? Spain? Italy? But what about the interested parties? The boss of mega construction plant company JCB, and property developers Argent Group eg*. Did they, and those other guys, really waste their dinner money, while Cameron was smiling behind his hand, and setting their ingenuous donations aside for really good causes? Time alone will tell.

Very glad, as an interested party in that I'm fond of Cumbria, about the Ulverston Glaxo factory news, though. So that's two cautious relief stories.

Preparing for the Oxford Sunday Times Literary event tomorrow evening doomed me to review the great Shrinking Female UK SF Writers story of last summer (and extending about a year before that I think). In which I am immortalised playing the part of Aunt Sally. Ah well, someone had to do it. I have learned two things. 1. It is over; 2. The comments on the MindMeld on the Russ Pledge really would suck out your soul, & that's no matter where your sympathies lie. I was warned, thank you whoever you were, some voice lost in those mazes, but I'm a fool and got my soul sucked anyway.

Watching: Still following Homeland, which is a lot more fun than any of the succession of sci-fi/futuristic thriller start-ups of the past decade, and none the worse for the fact that it's all so uniformly repellent. Which is so real, don't you think? Considering the subject matter. But I almost wish I didn't know this was originally an Israeli show; that makes a little too much sense.

Still loving Scott and Bailey, cop-shop soap opera starring three terrific women in great parts; except I start to miss the general public. The cops, they have lives. The criminals, they are feral appalling sleaze-bags. Anyone else is a glimpsed cypher, usually being awkward. I think Lund I (aka The Killing) is on my mind, as a shining example of best practice in this respect.

I've finally taken some new tree pictures! The featured tree this entry: standard beech, Stanmer Park, 24th March.

Many thanks to Beneluxcon, for raising £71.50 for the Freedom FromTorture Medical Foundation

*and their lovely wives, of course. Shame on me.

Female Hard SF Online; ebooks; estories; eself-publishing

Tuesday 20th March. Frost on the grass at dawn yesterday. Today, a grey morning, after days of powder-blue skies. We have live, healthy frogspawn. Not a lot, but enough to get by. I've flushed out the small pool, it now awaits live pond water from the Heart of Reeds. But we might have to give it up, there just isn't enough rain to sustain such a tiny puddle in good health.

This entry is in response to Kathryn Cramer's facebook query. (I'm sorry Kathyrn, but you must have noticed I don't have thoughts on Facebook, I mainly have Avaaz petitions & the like: my advertising, in response to their idea of the products I would love...) You'll see that there are no ads at all here, unless you count the links to my Kindle ebooks. I'm not a fanatical puritan (here I am blogging), but you can call me an idiot: I don't like the idea of being eaten alive by these very large evil parasites & I won't co-operate.

Anyway, your query was about the relative viability of an online anthology of "female authored hard sf".

I think the online anthology is far more likely to see the light of day: simply because I can't see any mainstream sf publisher touching the idea. Even the most dedicated small presses (eq Aqueduct) would have to think carefully. Sf readers, online readers very much included, simply don't believe in hard sf written by women, and this is so widely true of fandom, non-fandom keen readers and the general public, your proposed anthology risks being almost totally ignored. On the other hand there are idealists of the genre to whom "hard sf" means something different, and rather special. So for ambitious young female writers your project could be an opportunity. When you're starting out, getting noticed by just one or two significant people can be very heart-warming.

If anyone invited me to write for such an anthology, I'd probably say no, for the reasons above, but I'd offer a reprint to show my goodwill (I fancy The Fulcrum, for you).

But what is hard sf? The idealists would say "exciting fiction about real science" You have to be a man to write it; women can be praised for trying. The popular vote, empirically, seems to be for mechanical engineering, weapons, and go-faster-striped starfighters. I suspect it's one of those things readers judge by a feeling.

There was a discussion about the value to writers of the various new forms of publishing, at Beneluxcon last weekend. My feeling (we didn't get to our final comments, we ran out of time and the space was needed for an award ceremony) is that e-publishing, like printing on demand, through some agent like Smashwords, Amazon or the American Book Centre can't yet replace getting published professionally, and maybe never will. Publishers are many-talented people, or teams, who do work few writers can absorb into their own schedules. But maybe the e-venues have replaced the vanished, unpretentious, bookstall and subscription printed magazines etc, where a writer could get a first taste of publication, and even an encouraging little bit of money. So that's a good thing.

Meanwhile, I'm e-publishing my backlist, in principle if not in any hurry, for completely different reasons. Not to do with piracy, either. It's the new laws roaming around the horizon about orphan works. I may not even be affected, but I don't like the sound of them, and you know how it is these days. Any time you find yourself saying "it'll never happen, it's too awful, corrupt, illegal and unjust..." You will be wrong.

Just when we'd agreed not to spend any money this year, having "done" Brighton Festival so thoroughly last year, along comes The Musician's Body. What a fantastic programme. Unmissable items!

Ghosts, Dreams,Nothingness

Thursday 15th March, same high pressure weather, only more so. In the early morning, white mist with the sun through it, all the branches of the little elm and the red maple sparkling with dew. It's going to be warm

Short entry: the Ghosts talk is now uploaded, read it here:

Short reading list:

(two contrasting online essays on "The Great God Pan")


The House By The Churchyard Sheridan Le Fanu. 1863. In my opinion, the best of Le Fanu's "Mystery and the Supernatural" novels. There's at least one no-kidding ghost story embedded in the expansive narrative, but the spooky element is mostly (as in "Green Tea") in the mind; in a mood of darkness. Features some excellent CSI work. Seek it out.

The Red Tree Caitlin Kiernan. A fine example of an updated Lovecraft scenario, using the same layered narrative as the classics. Madness or demons from the pit, unspeakable orgies or just difficult sexual fantasies. And did she actually murder anyone? I really don't know.

The Art Of Opposition

Wednesday 14th March, and another misty morning. The nights are sharp, the afternoon skies clear and powder blue. One mass of frogspawn, in the wrong pool; of which I've carefully removed a lump to the plasterer's tub, don't like disturbing it, but the fish are not safe company. The smaller pool needs flushing out, there's just not been enough rain. And not much on the horizon.

Didn't get round to reporting on my visit to the NHS frontline rally in Central Hall last week, and there isn't in fact a lot to say. The hall was packed, the ambience was of a revivalist meeting. Everytime anyone on the platform said "Nye Bevan"* or "Save Our NHS" the crowd roared, clapped and in many cases stood up, to express their emotion. If anyone said "DO WE WANT THIS BILL?" everyone roared NO!. Any more complex statements, eg from clinical staff, were received in a silence that seemed, if only by contrast, bewildered. (Give us a clue, what are we supposed to roar now?) A couple of times hecklers proposing wholesale strike action were removed. I don't know if the peacemaking letter addressed to the PM by Dr Clare Gerada the chair of the Royal College Of General Practitioners was already known to the organisers, but I'm sure everybody up there was feeling that all this we shall fight them on the beaches was a kind of sad ritual, that must be respected. Only comedian and former psychiatric nurse even mentioned that the rot had set in in the eighties, when cleaning hospitals first went out to the cheapest tender. Now, in a few years, we're set to be going all the way to the USA and beyond. Health insurance firms getting disgustingly fat, the poor living in fear. Interestingly, the only two speakers actually engaged in government, Lib Dem MP Andrew George, and reprimanded Cumbrian Medical Officer John Ashton, both explained to us, in just about so many words, that there was no hope, because Dave could not possibly climb down,(no matter if he was perfectly convinced by the general protests that his Health and Social Care Bill was ruinous and cruel). It's a man thing. The guy can't help it, the size of his virility would be in question...

(Nonsense, btw. It's a profit motive thing.)

What I missed was any tough talk about a way forward, strategy and tactics for fighting the defeat. Fighting the defeat is what opposition in government is supposed to be about. You don't give up, if you are the forces of the Good State, in bad times like these. You keep out of trouble as long as is humanly possible (not any further!), and you keep hauling the other way, by all means you can possibly invent. You never do nothing because you can't do much. I suppose it wasn't the setting.

So, oh well, I suppose I'm happier now.

So, anyway, I found a page with a cogent explanation of the crash of the urban sparrow population, and now I know what we have to do in the fledgling season. Feed live meal worms. It's worth trying.

Must flush out that pool, and get some new dipped live pondwater from the Heart of Reeds.

And many thanks to Beneluxcon, for helping me to make £71.50 from selling my books for the Freedom From Torture medical foundation

GOH talk on Ghosts will be made available soon.

*My parents disagreed with Bevan btw. They wanted the Health Service means-tested (like access to Higher Education was) from the get-go. But I don't know. I went to University with some absolute toffs who were on the full grant. Were they poor, were they hell. Their parents had good accountants.

Ladies, shall we join the gentlemen...

Wednesday 7th March, a dark and stormy morning out there, but no rain for us today apparently.

Coalminer's Daughter. Finished The Hunger Games tril. The tale of Bathsheba Everdene (I'm sorry, I mean Katniss Everdeen, but I kept thinking of Far From The Madding Crowd, because this proud coal-miner's daughter in the sticks has three contrasting suitors, and spends the trilogy choosing between them)*. Verdict, the first was very readable, gripping and even inspired, in the way it combined teen reality tv princess and sadistic tv wipeout game. The second installment had middle-book-of-trilogy, let's just go round the circuit again, disease. Can't be helped, commercial fiction will do this. If the target audience doesn't have any objection (and clearly they don't) why not repeat a winning formula at least once? The third installment was a lot more substantial, but when the tv wipeout game morphs into a vicious civil war between the two political factions in this remnant of the USA (hey, lets call them the Republicans and the Democrats), the first person narrative becomes really inadequate, in my opinion.

I suppose the trouble is, Katniss isn't officer material. There's no reason why she should be, her name was just picked out of a hat. But there's no reason why she shouldn't be, and for me this was a bum choice on Collins's part. It means we get a full-on war, told from the point of view of a deracinated and paranoid squaddie, who happens to have been picked out to be Poster Girl for the conflict; who doesn't care what's going on, doesn't have any witty asides, and who dismisses all the politics and all the war-room discussions as nothing to do with her. And her Forrest Gump "I was just here and they made me a hero" act definitely isn't sweetened by any naive good-hearted charm.

The failure in the narrative is one reason why I won't be recommending this series. The second is that though you might have thought, in your innocence, since aimed at shaping the minds of young teens, that this would be an "anti-war" story, it certainly is not! This is a story that glorifies militarism, much in the same way as Bigelow's "It's incredibly cool to be a damaged vet!"The Hurt Locker.

Still, it kept me reading and got me posting. The movies may well be better fun. Though if Katniss is going to come out on screen as "a futuristic Joan of Arc" there are going to be a lot of changes!

Also consumed, Charlize Theron in Young Adult. Suckered by the trailer, which includes every single one of the three good lines, along with the rest of the full house at The Dukes. We sat in stony silence, all of us. Respect to Theron, she did a very good job, but what I saw was bitchy, shallow point-scoring, directed at all and sundry: spiteful and not funny. Net result, I worried that I was judging Juno harshly when I found it a little sickly. No longer.

People understand and even approve when you say you don't like the way everything in the world is about men, and male-dominated values. Unfortunately they just get purely bewildered when you say you don't like the ladies' section of this man's world, and don't aspire to be admired there.

You don't want to be a man, and you don't want to be a woman either? Huh? What can she possibly mean?

Ah, well. It's a koan.

*You've read the books, and you thought Katniss only had two guys after her? No, she has three. The third being a tyrannical older man, arguably quite insane; whose imperious love-gifts and favours are a feature of the whole series; who fascinates her, and for whom she develops a strange kind of respect.