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Four Posts About Life

And now the end is near . . . It's very sad, but never mind, it's been great, I'm delighted to have been in such good company (not to say humbled by some of your levels of committment to the project!). So long, Elizabeth Hand (Aestival Tide), Kathe Koja (Cypher), Pat Murphy (Points Of Departure), K.W.Jeter (Dark Seeker), Lewis Shiner (Frontera), William Barton (Acts of Conscience), Kay Kenyon (Maximum Ice), Walter Jon Williams (Knight Moves) & Sarah Zettel (Reclamation), I salute you all.

A big thank you to Timmi Duchamp and her crew at The Aqueduct Press, publishers of Life, for supporting me and letting me join this project.

And a special salute and thank you to Jason Chen, and to Lisa S Mason (Summer of Love), our tireless and amazingly organised curator.

& Congratulations to everyone who invested a few dollars (or a few dollars more!) in this wonderful story bundle.

I'm saying goodbye now, because I don't quite know when the lights go out on the PKDick award storybundle event; as I am English, I live in Brighton, and I am rubbish at timezones. Maybe I'll say goodbye again tomorrow, UK time. If so, see you then. If not, here's a reprise of the four posts I've posted about "Life" these last three weeks:

Margaret Atwood and the Third Wave

Women In Science

Life Is A Road Movie

Life Has A Cover Story

Enjoy your storybundles!

Suffragette Review on Ada Lovelace Day

No red carpet protestors at the Brighton opening of Suffragette last night, (no red carpet, of course) just the Brighton branch of the brand new (March 2015) Women's Equality Party, with green and purples rosettes and sashes: (and the best of good luck to them) The movie? For me, it was good, but not terrific. I thought it was great the way they focused on the use of early movie technology and covert cameras. I wasn't sure about the way the Pankhursts were reduced to Meryl Streep beaming fatuously out of an upstairs window. And In the end I felt a bit let down. Firstly on a purely visceral level, because the movie chooses to ends on a bum note: fade to sad and the rest is silence; instead of a chorus of Mary Ethyl Smyth's March Of The Women. Secondly by the whole decision to present Emily Davison's Derby Day stunt as the climax of the Suffrage campaign (definitely not true!), and worse, the fudged suggestion that Davison's act amounted to suicide (I don't think so), but this suicide bomb created a hugely trending social media event, so the tactic was justified. (Ouch. On reflection, you can see why the movie, having struck this note, fades out uneasily).

"It felt very 21st century in a way" says Abi Morgan, screenwriter. (Interview with Caroline Criado Perez). Indeed.

Like any dissatisfied critic, I sat there as the credits rolled, writing my own version of the scenario, which I have now figured out pretty nicely. Carey Mulligan, great in her role as the "inarticulate but eloquent footsoldier" is seen hero-worshipping Emmeline Pankhurst from a distance, as in the crowd scene as in the movie, BUT, she actually connects with Sylvia (that's Sylvia in the photo, by far my favourite Pankhurst). "Maud" and Emily both volunteer for the stunt of trying to attach a WSPU scarf to the bridle of the King's Horse on Derby day. They are seen practicing this stunt (with Sylvia, who disapproves, it's too dangerous). They study the course, agreeing on the Tattersham corner; with expert, female advice (I'm sure you could find or create a female, WSPU sympathising racegoer and gee-gee fancier if you tried). In a word, they are organised. On Derby day, by chance Emily gets in, "Maud Watts" doesn't. Emily dies, & the media event follows. The suffragettes, however, are not last seen wallowing in an orgy of white lilies; they are seen in a montage of the very interesting subsequent events.1914: Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst "patriotically" ditch the struggle and join the War Effort. Maud Watts is disgusted and goes on working for peace and justice, and the welfare of working women, alongside Sylvia & her comrades. She is seen (rather tight-lipped, yet still determined) welcoming the1918 victory for well-heeled women over 30 . . . Now you can fade out to the roll call of the votes for women international roster, but over a rousing chorus of the March of the Women

Okay, more than you wanted to know. The movie made her think, you are saying to yourselves. So she dissed it. I hate it when reviewers do that . . .


The Third Wave

"Feminism is having a new wave. The first was about the vote; the second was about identity and . . . the pressure cooker of women being in the home; this third wave is about violence. It’s about women being murdered and raped. It’s more self defence than self assertion."


If you have a strong aversion to extreme examples of sexism and discrimination, this is probably not the book for you. Rena McGee, reviewing Life

"Daz stared at the muddy river. “If you don't understand, I don't think I can tell you. Anna, where you and I live, women's rights is old news. Intelligent women want to be judged on their own merits and find the whole feminist thing embarrassing and whiney. But here, where I come from... it's a can of worms. If you start applying the concept of ‘human rights” to women, in Asia and Africa, you uncover a holocaust . . . (and) It's getting worse, not better."

I never took to Third Wave Feminism. By the time it reached me, TWF was Feminism Lite. Not so much a compromise between feminism, and women who identified primarily as African Americans; and who didn't want to condemn misogynist male behaviour, because that involved stigmatising the African American male. Not so much Grrls Can Be Punks Too . . ! More a kind of fancy diet food, whereby "we" can be just as righteous as Second Wave Feminists, without giving up any of our sexy, feminine treats! Lapdancing, power-heels, the pretty dresses, the boob-jobs, the whole armoury, yum! It just wasn't for me.

But I can definitely get on board Margaret Atwood's Third Wave. Rape, murder, mutilation . . . Film-maker Leslee Udin's movie India's Daughter, examining the horrific attitudes of India's men, revealed in the wake of the 2012 Delhi gang-rape case. The women of Forward (Tackling Female Genital Mutilation) whom I first met at an Amnesty International UK conference, in 1994. They were Africans, but not in the least sentimental about African traditional culture, male or female. No more than I feel sentimental about the misogynist traditions of the UK; why should they? People like these are my Third Wave Feminists. You can probably all think of your own examples, at home or abroad; wherever you are.

The FGM situation in the UK has not improved. Far from it. All sorts of brutal pressures on women and girls, the world over are getting worse, not better, in this twentyfirst century. The indignant, feisty, so-called Second Wave Feminism of the Sixties and Seventies starts to look pitifully naive.


“I think,” said Anna slowly, “that human sexuality will be changed. This thing is not a fashionable fad: it’s bound to change everything, some way or other. And I think it doesn't matter. In the liberal world we already live as if people can choose at whim whether to take on a “male” or “female” lifestyle . . . In time, TY may create a situation where there are no genetic traits exclusive to “men” or “women”: when sexual difference is in the individual, not a case of belonging to one half of the species or the other. Will that be a lot different from the way we are now?"

My lack of interest in transgender issues has upset some readers of Life. "I wish Anna didn't have to be so cis and heterosexual", said one Goodreads reviewer. But as I couldn't help knowing, after the research I did, the "third sex" phenomenon is nothing new. People who don't feel themselves to be either one sex nor the other; people who are sexual mosaics (often a benign condition; sometimes, before successful treatments, a life of misery). Women who choose to live as men, men who choose to live as women; "inters" and all shades between, have been around forever, in every culture. It's a perfectly normal situation. What's new, what would be new, would be a world where sexual difference does not define a person's chances in life. This is the hope, and the ever-receding goal, that I call feminism.

Why aren't we there yet? Why aren't we even nearly there?

Because feminism is hard. Feminism is hard, and the world is huge. Changing this huge world of seven billions and counting is far, far more of a proposition than "we" imagined, back in the naive Seventies. We have a long way to go, that's all.


Space is hard, as they say at NASA, when we demand to know what happened to that dream about colonising the galaxy. Feminism is hard too. We'll get there.

This entry is the fourth in a series inspired by the PKDick award storybundle. Available only for a few more days. Offer ends on the 15th October!


Saturday 10th October, in company with other people inspired by Friends of the Earth all over the country, Peter and I went to Barclays Bank on North St. I closed my account, as promised, talked to the cashier about why I was doing it (what's fracking? he asked. I've never heard of it. . . ) and handed in a letter for Mr Daniel Quinlan, the Branch Manager. (One cannot have an appointment to see the Branch Manager, that's not allowed). Then we stood on the steps and handed out flyers to the customers as they passed. The bank staff did not molest us or discourage us in any way.

What was it all about? Third Energy, a company 97% owned by Barclays Bank Group, is proposing shale gas fracking operations in Rydale, starting with 19 wells, on the borders of the North York Moors National Park. Very unwelcome precedents are involved. Read all about it here: And here's a quick summary:

This is the first time a high street bank has been openly involved in backing fracking in the UK.

This would be the first "exploratory" operation on the borders of a National Park (& as you know, if you've been paying attention, that means also permission to drill horizontally under the National Park)

& thirdly, we just don't want the extreme energy industry to get started in the UK.

Plus, of course, a fine opportunity for me to display my Barclays Is Cancelled artwork again!

Life Is About Women In Science

1996: I had been writing science fiction for more than a decade, without ever going near a lab. For the "Anna Senoz" novel I needed to enlist a scientist, and this was alarming. I asked someone I knew at the University of Sussex, UK, to be my matchmaker. Could he find a Molecular Biologist, preferably female, willing to talk to a scifi writer? Someone who might even let me come into a lab, and be a fly on the wall? Eventually, Dr Jane Davies agreed to see me. One morning in November, I approached Dr Davies’s office door. I thought I'd state my case, go away and wait for her decision. I was concerned because I would have to talk about feminism right away, or I'd be under false pretences. In my experience successful professional women were very wary of that word. It's demeaning.

I saw a woman in a white coat, a few years older than myself; with a warm smile. I stumbled through my intro and then, Dr Davies showing no signs of impatience; unprepared and probably babbling, I began to tell my story-

"Anna isn't interested in sexual politics. Or any kind of politics. She's not anti-feminist, she'd say she just wants to be treated like a human being. She's secretly, wildly ambitious. She’s heading for a First but she gets derailed, by bad luck involving a male student who probably resents her talent. She ends up in human fertility studies. Then she spots something, a tiny change in a sample of male sex chromosomes, which she sees at once could have weird implications . . . I know the X and Y don't usually exchange bases, but could they? And could something like that happen, and for generations it would appear and disappear, the way I need it to do?”

I trembled every time I had to use a technical term. Mitochondria, how do you pronounce that?

"She keeps coming back to the thing she saw, losing it and finding it again, getting more and more excited. She knows it's the key to a BIG discovery, about life itself, but she also knows that the sex angle will be her downfall. It's what happens to women in science in real life. They keep running up against the sex angle. The story’s meant to be read doubly . . .

I have pages of scribbled notes from this meeting. I have no notes about my state of mind. My sense of astonished daring, my feeling that I'd entered a sanctuary, a holy place where I had never expected to tread, was no part of the interview. But it was to become part of Anna:

A transfer of material from the Y to the X?
The X and the Y don't usually exchange recombination, they're too different in shape, but there is a small area where this male donation could happen-
What's needed is a horizontal transfer
Transposons. What about transpons?
(Transposons were my big idea-)
What do you see? When that happens? A band changes in size?
Spontaneous change causes transposable elements to mobilise.
At least 10/15% of our DNA is made up of transposable elements.
They can act like viruses... She would note this change, publish a paper in "Trends in Genetics" a scientific journalist would pick it up from a database
Very bad news if your supervisor doesn't know what's in your graduate paper. If it's published without her supervisor's name, that's a crushing blow-

I hadn’t decided when my story would be set when I walked into Dr Davies' office. The near future? As we mapped out Anna's career (a game of snakes and ladders: and that's not going to change), I made an instant decision. She starts from 1996. From the here and now. She knows nothing about Seventies Feminism (She’ll have a crazy feminist friend, but she’ll never take her seriously). She's eighteen, proud and brave, and the Spice Girls have just released "Wannabe" . . .

She gets a good first degree
A science department gets a quota of grants
Your supervisor puts you on a project
For three years. It's not enough time.
The nature of lab-based science makes it impossible to survive for the fourth year. Industry sponsored studentships, for top-up grant support. Student works w. industrial partner, but no guaranteed employment.
Many supervisors use their students as technicians, you could end up without much choice of work.
In academic science you can keep going on short term contracts. But you have to have a permanent job by 35-40. Teaching, administration, grant organisation.
Publish! Publish! Publish!
Her own research is always going to have to give-

Not many young women in science will suffer all the crushing blows Anna struggles to survive; Life is fiction, a fairytale about how change, real change in the world comes about: how difficult it is for change to take root, how many false starts and dead ends litter the route (the establishment of a benign mutation has exactly the same drunkard's walk of a path) . . . But every single one of them has endured, or ignored, relentless, casual, intimidation and denigration from male fellow students, and then, most likely more of the same casual, relentless intimidation and denigration from an adult male mentor or supervisor (the case of Dr Tim Hunt's unguarded comments earlier this year is not unusual). Women are far more likely than men to be struggling from one short term contract to another, well into their thirties or forties. Experimental science is demanding, unforgiving work: it's (still) usually women who have to choose between career success and family committments. And in the face of all these obstacles, they also have to make the less obvious choice: between compliance and protest. Nobody loves a whistleblower. You're dedicated, inspired; desperate to get on. What do you do?

Sf feminists, fans and reviewers were very critical of Anna's catalogue of disasters; and of her response. Why so negative? Why doesn't she stand up for herself? It's just unbelievable! . Women in science (the women trying to change science) felt differently. In 2006 I joined an event at Hay Festival, reading from Life; as the preamble to a discussion run by Clem Herman and the pioneers of SET (women in Science Engineering and Technology). Due to a natural confusion about my role, I somehow ended up attempting to answer questions about the maths and science curricula in UK schools: I did my best.

In October 2007 I joined the same gang at the WiSER conference at Maastricht University (Get More Women Into Science Education And Research). The trifling task of giving a reading from Life earned me the right to be a fly on the wall in this terrific pop-up lab of ideas. So much to be said, so much energy, so many pathways opening for women returning to, embarking on, succeeding in, careers in Science, Engineering, Research. An inspirational young astronomer and instrument-engineer, Maggie Aderin-Pocok was there, talking about giant telescopes. I felt I was close to change; real change in the world. It was thrilling. I wrote it up for Aqueduct:

One step forward, two steps back. Change happens.

Read your copy of the latest Gender Science and Technology journal, ed Clem Herman, here:

extracts above are from a chapter called "True Life Science Fiction": Tactical BioPolitics: Art, Activism and Technoscience: eds Beatrix da Costa and Kavita Philips; MIT Press, Cambridge Massachusetts; July 2008


This post, the third in a series, has been brought to you by the PKDick award storybundle.

My Fracking Round Up: Barclays Is Cancelled

Monday October 5th, a chilly day, grey skies, interludes of driving rain. It's a long time since I had a fracking round up, and maybe no wonder. Such a rising tide of disasters engulfing the world; and not so slowly now. Such a vomiting of dreadful promises pouring out of George Osborne's Westminster, what's a comprehensive carve up of the National Parks and the countryside among so many? Hardly seems relevant, does it, next to a staggering refugee crisis, the killer floods, the wildfires, the war-fuelling famines. Still, it's a hobby, and this week I shall close my foreign cheques account at Bad Baron Barclays and from now on plan to rely entirely on my much smaller building society bank, and Transferwise for foreign transactions (I hate paypal).

Read helpful guides about why and how to move your money here:

and here:

Read all about the action I'm joining here:

And all about the last straw for me and Barclays here. (Nostalgic to see the same ingenuous, transparent deceptions and tame "experts" employed by the industry, just like we saw in Sussex.)

Meanwhile, preparations for drilling at the only remaining active Sussex site, at Broadford Bridge near Billingshurst, remain at a standstill, as my old Wisborough Green friends Celtique Energie are still "tied up in a legal dispute" with their backers Magellan Petroleum. Something about Celtique owing Magellan $2mn and Celtique is like: can't pay, won't pay!

& here's another little ray of sunshine:

Many thanks to Ruth Hayhurst for all the brilliant drillordrop links

So, it's now 4pm, and having listened twice to the pieces Gabriel is going to play tomorrow (filling in for the song recital after Marianne had to cancel), having made pumpkin soup, baked bread, read New Scientist, created my funky Barclays Is Cancelled visual (as you can see, this took hours of painstaking effort); reviewed the fracking situation out there, and otherwise frittered my time, clearly I am not going to do much more with the day, and another PKDick story bundle catchup will wait until tomorrow.

But finally, just in from Athena Andreadis: here's a preview of the beautiful cover for her new anthology "To Shape The Dark" (which has a story by me in it). Read about the anthology here: