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Something In The Air...

Wednesday 22nd May, same heavy cloud as yesterday, but still and not too cold. The swifts are satisfied with this weather, they were hawking under the cloud all morning, over the valley outside my window.

Today the Nature Conservation bodies of the UK published their ominously titles State Of Nature report, and as you would expect, it's not good news. Nor will there ever be good news for the State Of Nature, until all the people who don't care by natural inclination realise they need to care. Starting with our government, whose antics just get loonier and loonier, as if to make amends; while the real live loons (the great divers, whose cry is like the mourning of lost souls) are set to vanish. Along with the butterflies, the hedgehogs, the toads, the swifts. The bees. Hey, BBC, what about that other news item you posted today, all about the bumper apple crop, our reward for a long cold winter. Not without the bees, there won't be (to quote one of the few non-facetious comments this story garnered).

Anyway, that lovely lad in the keynote image today is Karlheinz Stockhausen, in commemoration of a rare performance of Stimmung that we attended on Saturday night in the Jubilee Library, courtesy of the estimable MOOT (a screaming party of swifts chasing us joyously down Roundhill Crescent, as we left the house). Six singers, one chord, and a medley of interwoven "lyrics", notably including the highly graphic erotic poetry Karlheinz had just written on his honeymoon (the piece is dedicated to his second wife, artist Mary Bauermeister). But the word means atmosphere, and I'm so taken with it I think I'll change the name of one of the characters in my current work-in-progress. Ah, 1968 and all that! I will not attempt to describe Stimmung to you, but the singers (Intimate Voices) were great, the Irishfusionrock on the Great Escape stage outside shut up after the first ten minutes; I personally loved it, and the venue wonderfuly well chosen. We don't often get to see what a beautiful majestic space the library hall is, with its floating mezzanine floor above. (But couldn't help reflecting, me, that the Council must have been mad to think we'd ever pay off the never-never...)

This afternoon have taken delivery of a breeding pair of 3 spined sticklebacks, from Carp Co of Kent. Buying sticklebacks is like buying a hamster btw: the livestock pretty much free, the packaging is the expensive bit. But better than taking them from some wild habitat, and I fell out with the idea of snow melt minnows. They have now vanished into the depths of the "wildlife pond", from whence I sincerly hope they will emerge to make forays on the mosquito larvae. I love nature, but I really refuse to live with a mosquito-ridden swamp at the bottom of the garden.

Picked up Alif the Unseen at the Jubilee yesterday. I wonder if I'll like it, having not very positive feelings about the Arab Spring, owing to the legend of its origins besides everything else. I mean The Slap.

A woman in uniform has the temerity to slap a man (actually she didn't) and this sparks off a glorious democratic Islamic revolution... Well, that's just great. That just about sums it up.

Of which more later, when we've been drowned at King Lear.

Un bel di vedremo

Friday 17th May, & the hundredth day of the hunger strike at Guantanamo. If you're interested, why not give President Obama a call on 1.202.456.1111? Tell him you fully support him in his committment to shut the place down, and what's wrong with today? If you're UK, you could tell him you're very willing to welcome Shaker Aamer back to London, so there's no problem here...

Cloudy afternoon with warmth in the air. How quickly the urban gardens have put on their summer plumage, since spring finally arrived. Even the walnut tree at the bottom of the hill is covered in blossom (I mean, chunky green catkins). How the blackbirds, the warblers and the dunnocks sing. This morning, early, one, two, three, no, four, no five, swifts, hawking and shrilling up in a clear, cold blue sky. They arrived at last yesterday evening. So few, but still, here they are, one more time. Hope it's a better season for them than 2012. Flying very high, they can't be nesting around here anymore, but somewhere not far away. I've heard there's a swift conservation thing going on around Brighton General, the old hospital that clambers along the top of the hill opposite my window: must check that out.

Good news! The HS2 project has been found wanting by the National Audit Office. Benefits unclear, huge funding gap. Yay! Spend (some of the money) elsewhere! The country will get a rail service that works, instead of this massive BIG CONCEPT friends-of-Dave money pit. Oh, wait a minute. The story's gone and vanished. There's a different one up on the BBC page now... Ah well.

Here's another glimmer of sense. The Thames Estuary Airport "should be rejected", and Heathrow should be improved instead. Excellent idea! (Relatively, in a country where any suggestion of putting the brakes on climate change just gets blank looks). I can dream.

Yet more good news (er, arguably): Deep Water Horizon bites. I wonder if BP really did beg Dave Cameron to help them wriggle out of the awful price of what they did. Who can tell? Bad timing, given the building row over petrol price-fixing. I wonder if they really are getting seriously damaged by naughty US lawyers, who have neither morals nor limits to their greed? Sounds far-fetched to me, but one can hope.


Nicola Griffith's Hild is "one of the most buzzed-about forthcoming novels of the year". Wow. Sounds exciting! Congratulations to Nicola.

And hurrahs for Jonathan Wright on the launch of his Adventure Rocketship! "Let's All Go To The Science Fiction Disco!" (I was supposed to contribute to this one, only it didn't work out)


Arne Dahl, the Swedish police procedural with a novel twist. He likes his happy endings, doesn't he? Hannibal the Cannibal x2, but I don't think we're going back for more, not even for the sake of the riveting and adorable Mads Mikkelsen. Gabriel tells people Mikkelsen is our "man-crush": leading me to point out that being a heterosexual (mostly) female, I'm entitled to call it an unqualifed crush). I am definitely going to get round to buying The Hunt, sick of waiting for it to turn up on a mocie channel. But "Hannibal?" Nah, I don't think so. The concept is rinsed out, the execution gory, grisly shallow and portentous. See, in my book, gory grisly and shallow is absolutely fine. But not that third thing.

And old movies, and the Channel Four news in case there's any more good jokes trending, like the BP thing aforementioned, or Nigel Farage calling people fascists...


Belinda Baur, Darkside. I liked "Blacklands" when it came out, I still like Bauer's deceptively simply, almost childish style, but this one seems a bit exploitative, and also features my very least favourite type of homicidal maniac.

Hakan Nesser, The Return. Solid stuff. Why is there a moody picture of a girl on every Nesser cover now? Really don't get it.

The Voice Of The Spirits Xavier-Marie Bonnot. I like this one. Quirky, intriguing and enjoyable, and the cops of Marseille are a breath of fresh air. Full of quotes from Claude Levi-Strauss, who was a hero of mine, long time ago. Reccommended.

All we read is thrillers now. Puzzles dark and dreadful. It worries me, but then I read the news again, oh boy, and I think I know why.

PS, click throught the keynote swift image to hear Maria Callas. Unearthly. A voice like no other. Sorry about the ad intro. There may be a nifty way to cut it out completely, but since I don't know how, just skip the first 15seconds

Kairos: 2 Days Free Download

Wednesday 8th May. Rain in the night, and a soft grey day to follow, a frog and a toad in the fish-pool (not together, of course: minding their own business at opposite ends). And now I realise what I've been missing for so long out there. Slugs and snails have appeared in force!

Kairos: Free download from Amazon Kindle May 10th and May 11th

It had to be added to the e-collection, for completism, but for years, I've thought of Kairos as terminally obsolete. All near-future sf is doomed to be blatantly at odds with the facts before long & often it doesn't matter a great deal: but who would want to read about such a shabby, debt-ridden, paranoid alternative present? This beleagured feminist bookshop owner, with her girlfriend going crazy on the scrapheap of graduate unemployment, and her scrabbling samizdat networks of protest. Their ex-friends, the well-heeled gay couple, in danger whenever they step out of their ghetto with the invisible walls. The unlikely great gulf that's opened up, swallowing the prosperity of the masses, in the heart of Western Civilisation... Homophobia? Thing of the past, to suggest otherwise is just insulting. Feminist? Can anyone even say the word without embarrassing themselves? Protest? Nobody does that! There's no such thing!

But time is a helix, and Otto Murray's world, now technically a fictional version of our recent past ("first decade of the twentyfirst century" is the only date you get for the action), looks weirdly familiar. Or at least I thought so, when I was preparing the text for epub*. The despair of the debt-ridden. Food Banks. Riots. Financial collapse. Second, third and more generations of the traditionally unemployed (or zero hours contracted), festering in the hinterland. The Secret State. Occupy and all that. And that "Islamic War" (though we don't call it that, and "we" have had troops on the ground; probably will have again), its shadow growing and growing... Strange omissions and skewed assumptions begin to stand out, like clumsy period touches in a novel supposed to be about the Eighties, but clearly written just the other day.

Those BREAKTHRU reps! Stalking the dissidents in their golden, sexed-up, angelic fancy-dress. Straight off Top Of The Pops, circa 1984. No digital networking devices (an absence that kept bothering me). And I notice I assumed there'd be a much heavier dependence on Nuclear Power by now. More serious accidents too, andpeople would just live with the consequences... Bit ahead of myself there, still: I blame Chernobyl. But I had the obsession with fancy food right down!

The shocking parts are still shocking. I remember, a friend of mine (Rachel Pollack, I think) said she really, really couldn't take what happens between Otto and her former best friend, James Esumare. She's dead right, it's awful. But it seemed necessary to me, and still does. Bad things, bad things come running out, when the old house falls down...

Reviews: One contemporary and one modern.

(NB, academic interest only. If by chance you'd like to read the book without knowing how things turn out, beware "spoilers" esp. in the Niall Harrison essay. Stuffed with them.)

"...a peculiarly British drabness..."

"...THERE are moments in life when you suspect yourself of harbouring old-fashioned notions..."

The Cosmic Background

Whatever else it is, Kairos definitely isn't anything like sci-fi anymore. Not a scrap. So why does the epub of this socially radical supernatural thriller share a cover design with the "Space Race", hard sf based Escape Plans? Sheer laziness?

Not at all! It's me method-acting, thinking like a real sci-fi publisher...

No, there's a proper reason. With Escape Plans, I made a conscious decision to tell the same story, the story of the Great Escape that sf longs for, as in Divine Endurance, but in a different context. When I got to Kairos I felt I had a theme and variations going. What if the people who long for change, who hunger and thirst for change, who endure persecution in the name of a new heaven and a new earth, should suddenly be overwhelmed by change itself, by the "moment" when everything leaps into another state, on the most humungous scale imaginable? They haven't a clue what's happening. This is not a disaster movie, nobody has a clue: and yet, inextricably, they are defining the outcome. Deciding which side up the coin lands just by being there; being the observers.

There's this version of the Standard Model (or there was, I haven't heard of it for a while), where the expansion of the universe ends in a contraction, called The Big Crunch. And then everything just starts expanding again, only with all the rules reversed.. That sounds appealing, I thought, as a lover of puns.

Didn't James Tiptree say, It'll never change, unless it all changes...?

Arguably, the yellow figure inscribed on the cosmic background should be a tesseract or something for Kairos, in homage to another ancient and dodgy supernatural thriller, called Many Dimensions. But I couldn't figure out how to draw a tesseract in Paint, so I had to make do.

*This e-edition is revised from the original 1988 hardcover digital files. There are no material changes, but it may not be identical with the Gollancz 1995 paperback.

Anyway, that's the lot. Kairos Free Download Amazon Kindle store May 10th May 11th

Our Neighbours...

Tuesday 7th May, a beautiful warm clear morning, soft overcast gathering now. Still no swifts but I won't give up on them yet. The migrants are all arriving late, and a pack of swifts were spotted yesterday, passing the Pointe de Grave and heading this way. Maybe we'll yet see them again here in Roundhill, one more time. See left for a photo of my neighbours, the gulls. Hobbies include dropping moss, pooing copiously, and staring at Milo through the landing window, on purpose to annoy him (Ginger is hard to wind up). Last week, one of the couple came up and rapped on the glass. But I am not yet scared. Time was, not so many years ago, our teeming colony of rooftop-nesting Herring Gulls kept us awake, screaming and yelling and having neighbourly fights, all the way from May to October. No longer... Silence of the Gulls. I'd like to think they've moved on, but their amber status on the RSPB list seems to tell me different. Population in steep decline, same old story. Even Herring Gulls! This is the second year these two have nested on my chimneystack, I know they lost at least one chick last year (found its broken little body). Hope they have better luck this time.

What a busy holiday weekend! Have been thanked by Ed Milliband for helping him to win a terrific victory (Honestly, Ed, it was nothing). Have walked out in the Ouse watermeadows, spying on fish and frogs and birds & collecting mud. Have set out to go bluebell-viewing (Saturday), but turned back owing to having noticed it was cold, grey, actually raining quite hard and those Weather Persons had been just plain LYING to us... Have temporarily wrecked my back, gardening on Sunday, and spent the really pretty day (Monday) flat on it, watching the sky...

Escape Plans, PS:

I'm charmed to see how many of you have taken up the free download challenge (passing 250, last time I looked. Wow); despite me trying to scare you off. If any of you actually reads the book, and can prove it, I'll have to think up some sort of prize. Another PS: the second of Peter's birthday books (the ones that failed to arrive and worried me) was Tubes, Andrew Blum "A Journey To The Centre Of The Internet". I thought this would be gonzo journalism, given Blum's Wired credentials, and I thought it would be an overnight sensation, given the content. It isn't and it wasn't, though it has taken off now. In fact the prose style, pedestrian and often clunky, is its weakest point (other weakest point, clearly a little bit gagged: these are people eg the mighty Google, you wouldn't want to mess with). But gripping, eventually, and a thorough education in what that cute term "the Cloud" really means. Not at all about the Systems that actually keep us alive, maybe, but still, an admirable profile of the digital entity (or entities) that was God: the way it happens in the real world

Escape Plans: 2 Days Free Download

Thursday 2nd May, blue sky, bright gardens & it's actually warm out there. And here's the epub cover of Escape Plans, which I've finally managed to make available on Kindle.

Download it for free on Monday 6th or Tuesday 7th May

One fine day, I realised the shocking truth: I was going to die. I remember the occasion distinctly. I know where I was (the Protestant Cemetery, Singapore); I know how old I was (28), I know how I was feeling (happy). I even know what I was wearing, all that's missing is exactly why this distant future event was suddenly immediate.

Maybe it was because all my dreams had come true. Ever since I could remember, I had longed to be an explorer, to fly away from Manchester, to fly away from grey England. I'd plotted the great escape & here I was, having an adventure, living the dream. Like Godfrey Gordon Gustvus Gore, I'd sailed away (Quantas flight really) to Singapore. Walked on tropic beaches, braved the waves on Kuta Beach: climbed volcanoes, seen the Ramayana Ballet by moonlight. Got very lost in Bali, wandering in the green rice fields. . . And I was writing a novel about the greatest escape of all. The end of our humanity, the costly, glorious breakthrough into a new heaven and a new earth.

Science Fiction's all about cool faraway places; travellers' tales. Everybody does it. But by the time Divine Endurance was published, I'd done with the borrowed Eastern Mysticism, the science indistinguishable from magic. I was getting into computers, teaching myself to program, loving The Right Stuff and The Soul Of A New Machine, (the 1981 version) and for my next trick (an attack of conscience, maybe?), I planned to stick to my own culture, and Western Mysticism, the monotheism that has shaped so much of modern science. And by "Western", I'm afraid I also mean you, dear Muslim cousins in the Faith: sorry about that. This time I would tell the story of the Great Escape (my favourite topic) in Space Age, hard science/fiction terms. No miracles, only strict, rational extrapolation from the cusp of the present. I had no idea I was thinking like a cyberpunk.

Things are not looking too good. The Space Race has run aground. The solar system is a cold desert, good for mining, or extreme tourism, really not worth the work or the expense of colonisation. The stars are out of reach, and worst news of all, where are those aliens? . What if the answer to Fermi's very good question is that they are not here because we are not there? What if there's a party going on, outside our sad bubble (I was very taken with Stephen Hawking's Bubble Universes), but we're not invited. Nobody can even reach us with an invitation. Maybe out there, beyond the crystal sphere, there is no death, there is no end to the adventure... We'll never know, it's not for us. For us, this is it, short lives, eternal exclusion.

Here we are, then. The VENTURans are descended (ie fictionally) from the heroes of the Space Race. They speak an evolved form of English called Acronymic. It's like listening-in to the chit-chat between Houston and an Apollo mission, a little hard for natural English speakers to follow. The Subs, the elite of the downtrodden masses left behind, firmly believe the best chance of getting out of jail is to become a machine process. True to Turing, they know (computer) logic operations cannot be bound by our bubble: the same rules must apply throughout the universe. They are also pretty hard to follow... Then there's ALIC, who blunders about being a tourist, so she can have a few things explained to her, for your benefit, dear reader (but not too many). There's Millie Mohun, who may or may not be a messenger from the Outside, come to tell us what we have to do to escape, out of the body of this death. And there's Yolande, the brilliant Sub intellectual, who takes the Millie idea and runs with it...

No miracles. Millie Mohun might be the Messenger. Or she might simply be a charismatic Sub teacher with a problem past. Nothing supernatural. Only the longing, and the mysterious way ALIC ends up, the feelings and the changes that she can't explain.

It's a challenging read. The critics, back then, were probably kinder than I deserved.

But it never occured to me that having an all female cast (except for one handsome young man, for decorative purposes) would be a problem. He even gets some of the best lines.

"lesbian tripe that chokes the reader with jargon"
Brian Stableford, Foundation

"If there was an award for the novel with the most acryonyms, this would win hands down" goodreads

"Cyberpunk SF is a very American product: the nearest thing to a British version is Gwyneth Jones's novel Escape Plans, which is fairly heavy going to begin with (lots of jargon and horrible acronyms) but opens out into a nastily persuasive vision of a future world where computer systems have been so absorbed into our environment that they virtually are the whole environment."
Dave Langford PCW Plus 1987

"Genuinely twisted..." Bruce Sterling, Cheap Truth 1986

You have been warned!

Free download, if you're still interested: Monday May 6th, Tuesday May 7th

Swifts, Sainsburys and the Bees

Wednesday 1st May, another clear blue sky day, a fraction more warmth than last week, but when did I last see the trees still bare on May day? I'd have to search the archives.

Why is it so cold?

It's the east wind.
It's a blocking system possibly caused by, erm, arctic meltwater or something odd like that
It's climate change, it means everyone gets more extreme weather more often & it can be just nasty, as well as weird and spectacular.
It's thermohaline circulation starting to break down, which would be so awful, nobody would tell us.
It's because the government won't pay any attention to the scientists
It's because there will be no votes in paying attention to climate change until things get much worse than this. Which they will.
It's the immigrants, they make it cold by taking our jobs.
It's the poor, they eat too much
It's the great turtle sneezing

Take your pick!

I made up that list in March, hopefully it's now out of date, and the weather will become glorious. It's been so cold and bitter down here, for so long, I only realised at the weekend that I should have been expecting the swifts, and searching the skies for them. Not this year. Some are coming in over Devon, but only a couple of vagrants have been spotted in Sussex. Will our surviving handful of Black Arrows make it to Brighton, one more time? I hope they do.

Sainsburys and the Bees

So, on Monday, the EU voted on the neonicotinoids, and a moratorium on their use was declared (a news item that lasted about 10 minutes on the BBC's front page, despite clearly attracting a huge amount of public interest). Our man Owen Patterson, despite our protests, despite overwhelming scientific, political and public support for a ban, voted as his natural loyalties dictated, in favour of Bayer and Syngenta (the makers of the pesticides)*. I suppose there's no use telling any of these people that you can't eat money.

On the other hand, I thought Sainsburys might listen to reason. Rival supermarket giant Waitrose had already told its suppliers they must stop using clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiametoxam on crops attractive to pollinators, before the vote. So why not? I decided to start lobbying. After all, they've got a lovely page about Bee Hotels up on Sainsburys plc. . . So far, I've asked them why they weren't following Waitrose's example, and @customerservices has told me (once they'd figured out what I was on about, sort of) that Sainsburys is committed to cuddling the environment, and loves all living things to bits, but outlawing dangerous yet profitable pesticides would be taking things too far. Now I've written again, asking them what they plan to do about the moratorium.

I'll let you know how I get on.


The Innkeepers, Indie horror (TUH!) which I was looking forward to but missed at the Dukes so I recorded it off the tv. Utterly futile. BUT we then watched Evil Dead II, as Gabriel was down for the weekend and had it by him. Utterly glorious, unequalled classic, although I'm not convinced streaming things through the Wii really works.

And the latest tv Swedish police procedural, "Arne Dahl" (why the writer gets that special billing I don't know; maybe a form of iconic jumper?). Grows on you.


New Scientist. For weeks I never get round to reading New Scientist, and I have been guilty of complaining that it's just the same old feature stories, recycled over and over since circa 1984; also guilty of gnashing my teeth over the dreadful tide of human interest and social issues material. Enough! Keep it for your Facebook page! But for some reason I've just been feasting on about a month's supply of really thrilling, nifty and exciting stuff. Top favourites, the vr development that will allow (eg) gamesplayers to run around loose in an immersive virtual world, never bumping into each other or walking through walls (unless the game wants them to); while actually confined in a room not much bigger than somebody's back bedroom. This is just what I needed for the games arenas in North Wind and Phoenix Cafe! And then last week (Quantum Deep Space, 20th April), finally, the experiment that tests quantum theory against general relativity. Satellite mediated, China facilitated, do the weird phenomena (eg, entanglement, and the collapsing wave function thing that backs quantum cryptography) survive in the bigger picture? Or do they vanish!

That's been a long time coming. Very exciting. And who will have the last laugh this time? Einstein or the good lord?


Good news from the Brighton front line: after a council meeting on 30th April, the Seven Dials elm (@saveourtree) is saved. More bad news from Brighton: yet another school playing field is to go under, if Mr Gove has his way & one of those new kind of private schools to go on top of it. Already used by several schools, the playing fields would be sacrificed and replaced by an influx of kids getting bused in from outside the area... Please consider signing the petition

*Honestly, I bet they don't even care, I bet they don't reward this toadying at all. It's just a lobbying reflex big corporations have: anybody wants to ban something we sell (eg tobacco cigarettes), we stop them, no holds barred. We don't think about it all. Because we can.