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That Tuition Fee Scam, Links roundup

Friday 26th November, a cold dry day, frost on the roofs, ice on the pools. Frosty nights, Orion clear and bright framed in the long window on the landing, the stars of the sword sadly faint, betelgeuse an orange spark; and in the dark before dawn, Venus a dab of brilliant green glitter in the south east. Maybe it'll snow down here tomorrow...

That tuition fees scam. Correction, the students aren't protesting and their teachers aren't supporting them because the students are resentful of a price hike that's part of the country's much needed austerity drive. Many of those out on the streets are out there in despair, having good reason to fear they never mind those who come after them will never be paying the massively increased fees: since their earnings will never reach the £21,000 p.a. threshold. They will be in debt for life, effectively indentured to the State. The protest is against the Government's cunning plan (following in New Labour's footsteps, let it be said) to use Higher Education as a source of direct revenue. The increased fees are meant to finance more university places, the irrational goal is to have, at the least, around 50% of all eighteen year olds absorbed by perfectly useless "degree courses" in what will still be called "Higher Education"; while at the same time funding and staffing cuts make it completely impossible for the universities to provide goods fit for purpose, in teaching and knowledge resources.

It doesn't make sense. Seed corn must not be ground. But it's Capitalism's most evil dream come true. More and more customers, higher and higher prices, less and less value. That Nice Mr Cameron should be happy, and why not? The window-breaking will pass, the poor children will have to stop crying and eat their cold porridge, which is as it should be. But That Nice Mr Clegg is a marvel, isn't he. He ought to be in pictures. Something by Hogarth, I think. The Liberal's Progress, what d'you think?

Oh, excuse me, of course the elite will be fine (students and institutions both) because they are rich to start with. I shouldn't forget to mention that.

The photo is one I took in Paris, November 2003, the now-legendary Anti-Pub action. It seemed to fit the bill better than a police kettle and window-breakers montage.

Links round up:
Al Robertson ("Golden") reprises Wm Gibson's Gernsback Continuum, with the wry 21st century twist that visions of a shiny perfect future that never happened bring hope and longing rather than disquiet. Somebody's messing around wickedly with a rockstar's most personal intellectual property, in the P K Dick continuum revisited by Chris Butler ("Have Guitar, Will Travel"). A feisty and well-connected heroine, in a far future space opera setting not a billion light years from Mr Ian M. Banks's Culture, has adventures on the edge of time and space (Lavie Tidhar, "Lode Stars"). . . The one I liked best (it's still lingering in my mind right now) was the more contemporary-feeling "Dolls", (Colin P.Davis),somewhere in Fred Pohl territory, and as a bonus there's a whimsical miniature from Tanith Lee. Respect for the traditions of genre, uniformly solid writing and a refreshingly international feel, what more could you ask? Cunningly placed for Christmas shoppers, The Immersion Book of SF bodes well for Carmelo Rafala's Brighton based Immersion Press.

I hadn't heard from Mute Magazine for quite a while (original home of a very dirty, Swiftian story of mine, I Am An Anarchist, warning this is not pleasant material). Have they just found me again, or are the art and culture radical zineists having a growth spurt? Anyway, check them out. There seems to be a lot going on & I wish I could make it to the launch of No Room To Move. I'm very interested in public art at the moment.

Last but not least, don't forget From-Bar-to-Bar. Still running the most innovative and daring sf/related interviews on the planet. Charles Stross and Jeff Vandermeer are two of the victims to look out for.


Wednesday 17th November. First white roofs of the season, yesterday, but this morning milder air returns with more wind and rain. No floods yet in Sussex.

Walking out in the autumn woods on Sunday, Angmering estate. The woodland paths were not dry! We got wet, and found the sweet chestnuts long gone, rotted or eaten, the fungi sodden, but the beeches in the last of their autumn glory as always seeming more beautiful than ever. Holly bushes thick with scarlet, amazingly intense in the gloom of a dark November afternoon (it means there was a hard winter, you know; not that there's going to be one. See how even weather myths change and evolve? I picked up that new one somewhere recently, can't remember where). I'd show you the pictures, but they were on Peter's phone, which sadly he mislaid at Belfast airport yesterday.

Next time we visit those woods it will probably be for the bluebells.

Finished restoring Phoenix Café last night. I've just sent it off to Kath Wilhelm at Aqueduct Press, so that's a job done (I hope, and barring a few queries). The Ebook Aleutian Trilogy, all new, revised edition, is on the road again, and off my hands. Just for fun, (it really is funny), here's a recent discussion of the Gollancz edition Or rather the cover, a far more amusing topic.

And finally! Lovefilm is sending me Pandora and the Flying Dutchman. I've only had that movie on my list, high priority, (on reserve from the moment I found out it was going to be re-released) for about three years.

All Students Are Equal

Up to Manchester again, a bright chilly day in the middle of a week of wind and rain. Seen on Victoria station: the sme hand written legend repeated on several teeshirts: "ALL STUDENTS ARE EQUAL. SOME STUDENTS ARE MORE EQUAL. . . and they'd run out of space, for "THAN OTHERS". Thus a literary heritage is debased by copyists' errors, even while being sincerely revered. Good on you, kids, I thought. You won't win, but, but, it's the refusal to shut up that matters. It's saying something that distinguishes you from a doormat.

Also thought of walking up to one of these bobbing gaggles and straggles of bright-eyed youth, on Victoria and on Euston concourse, and expressing my good wishes, but decided against. Contented myself with looking at the young women's feet; was glad to see their footwear was uniformly sensible. None of those wicked toe-cleavage ballet pumps.

Autumn leaves picked up in the park for my mother. "I'll never go there again", she says, tragically. Though sorry to burst her bubble, I pointed out we could take a taxi to go tree-peeping right now. But she didn't feel well enough. "When I'm better". Yes, I know when that will be.

And back in time to watch the Derby in Brighton: United proudly maintaining their flatlined, not-losing form. Sigh.

On the Level

Tuesday 9th November, less rain and wind than yesterday (which was a day for sandbags at the back door); thick cloud suffused with light; a fresher air. To whom it may concern: if you either live in Brighton and Hove, or you'd like to see urban green spaces preserved, spare a thought for The Level, a wide open flat green space in the centre of Brighton, bordered by the last stand of European Elms, historic preserve of fairs, festivals, football, people practising their juggling, tai chi, staggering babies, dogs racing after sticks, lunchtime escapes to fresh air under a wide sky, or just a place to sit and talk, lie down and stare at the clouds. They say that underarm bowling (or was it overarm, I forget) was established here: anyway, some of the rules and customs of cricket were hammered out on the Level, two hundred years ago. The Council has been muttering about developing this resource, or "restoring the Level" (where are those spending cuts when you need them, eh?): this now turns out to mean a large chunk being cut out of the North End, the open green space: for the provision of a new skatepark, and a cafe. There's a cafe at the South End of the Level, and a skatepark too. It needs refurbishing, so by all means let it be refurbished. Leave the North End green.

So, here's the petition. Please sign up.

About that (Space) Opera Thing:

Finished restoring North Wind for the ebook edition, and sent it off to Aqueduct. It's a favourite of mine, of all my books (cf Midnight Lamp, must be something about middle episodes) White Queen*is Wagnerian, tragic and seems more contemporary now than it did in 1990 (the near future being eerily upon us, my subject being "how does a decent, moral person become a terrorist?). Phoenix Cafe is weird and decadent and shockingly sexy (Puccini). North Wind is a fairytale of forgiveness (Mozart), an adventure, a romance of the Great Game, written in those innocent years when people believed war was wrong, and something we should be trying to put behind us.

You don't need to read the Aleutian Trilogy before you read Spirit, that's like saying you have to read the Silmarillion before you can tackle The Lord Of The Rings. The earlier stories are very different, and the narrative connection's very slight. But North Wind is the one I'd reccommend, for its own sake.

Although possible not for your average UK sf fan.

*Speaking of "Speaking Aleutian". Funny thing, in 1991 when I arrived in Madison Wisconsin, courtesy of the Tiptree Award win, I had the feeling that the people who'd read the book (ie the Tiptree judges) were expecting Braemar Wilson. I felt the weird disjoint, when Gwyneth Jones turned out to be me, not an exquisite, cynical. tortured soul of a hyperfeminine media star.

Even scrubbed up, I'm not much of a natty dresser.

Also just finished reading Alone In Berlin, Mm. I suppose it does deserve all those five star reviews, but in the end, it has no fresh insights, no revelation. The resistance of ordinary German people to the appalling Nazi machine was a painful, long-drawn out and isolated, pitiful little business. Think we knew that.

Red Sky, Purple Sage, Crushed Pine, Autumn Falls, Meteor Silver. . .

Red Sky in the morning, a flamboyant dawn, Monday 25th of October. On the Saturday night we'd had people round for dinner (My B'stilla went very well, to my amazement; I believe Peter's signature chicken and preserved lemon tagine has been better). Half term week, we said. We're going to decorate the stairwell! A slightly anxious silence ensued. The biggest room in the house, said Dinah. Those high ceilings. . . But we always do our own decorating, except that one time when we went off on holiday, leaving ourselves at the mercy of the colour scheme we thought we'd picked out from those pesky colour cards. . .and spent the next twenty years sleeping in a neapolitan candy ice cream parlour. Undeterred, we plunged into dust bunnies and sugar soap, knuckle-eating sanding blocks, evil hateful extending ladders and paint-rollers on poles.

There must be an easier way. Something brilliant and new.

There probably is, only we are ignorant of the modern world, and only know the way to B&Q

Are you sure about Purple Sage, Peter? Please try to put The Grateful Dead connection out of your mind, and visualise how long we're likely to live with this.

That bxxxxxd Silver Meteor. I hate it. It lacks the single most important characteristic of paint. It sticks to nothing except me, and anything I wish I hadn't touched.

By Wednesday afternoon we had discovered Green, and though Green swiftly discovered a lot of places it should not, we felt we were in sight of the distant goal.

Thankfully, we always cook for about twenty and then invite four people, so that dinner party was still sustaining us with high-grade leftovers.

Friday evening, oh, I was so tired, and somebody left the door to the basement open. A cat came up the stairs. If it had been Milo. . . well, it was Ginger, curious and unperturbed, sniffing at the sticky crushed pine skirting boards, eyeing up the ladders. There was a moment (for which I take full responsibility) when I should have grabbed my paint kettle, and I grabbed for the cat instead.

My God. Alas, how easily things go wrong. . . and in classic style, I suspect it wasn't the accident, it was our frantic attempts to recover the situation. She's on my knee now, wearing an Elizabethan Collar of clear plastic. I hope and believe she's going to be okay, but after we'd got the paint off, the fur fell out of her right inner thigh and her armpit, and she licked the raw places and got herself an infection. Meanwhile, my right hand, savaged with furious determination in the vet's office, swelled up like a balloon, and Peter has interesting puncture scars inside his left elbow.

We'd been planning to go and see the late night show of Enter The Void . We went to see it on Saturday afternoon instead. Not really the right ambience. The trippiness had to struggle to get through the painkillers, far as I was concerned. But a good cult movie, nonetheless.

Trouble is, I've really gone off Crushed Pine.

The Social Network: First Frost

Thursday 21st October, bright sky; chill air. Definitely crispy out in the garden at 7am, which makes this the first frosty morning of the autumn for us, though not for the UK.

Tuesday night, down to the Dukes to see The Social Network, on Gabriel's earnest reccommendation (But Gabriel, surely you must have noticed I'm not interested in Facebook, and not excited about money?. . . Oh, okay, since it's a piece of your world. . .) It was pretty good. We thought Timberlake (Sean Parker) took a very good part, very natural, and the Mark Zuckerburg actor, Jessie Eisenberg, was excellent. I barely got bored at all. In ways, this reminded me of the movie version of UK political sitcom The Thick Of It (In the Loop 2009). The same almost total concentration on the chilling, painful frivolity of young men in positions of status and power: the same young female voice, offering exasperated commentary from a distance: either disgusted -that would be Erica, the girl who resists Mark's resentful advances, played by Rooney Mara-; or pitying (that would be the young lawyer who passes final judgement on the lad, I think played by Rachida Jones).

We live in a young male world, it says here. There is no alternative, this is it. Girls are either rapacious WAGS, disposable groupies, (shedloads of drug-and-alcohol soaked Asiatic cuties!); or they're some kind of alien life form: superior, benign, and helpless.

Dunno if I'm in a position to argue with that view.

But did you ever notice, with all the evolutionary psychology arguments banging on about what women should be like, or should not do (such as science, such as expect promotion at Larry Summers' Harvard) because they are female animals, you rarely hear what evolution says about the young male hordes, being pronounced as social gospel. They're supposed to die, that's what they're supposed to do. Maybe what I liked best about this movie (and cf Fight Club, not surprisingly), is that Zuckerberg, in Fincher's view, is well aware of this. I know I'm supposed to die. It's written all over Jessie Eisenberg's sad little defensive blank of a face.

The illustration? That's North Wind, from At The Back Of The North Wind, George MacDonald. I'm auditioning cover images for the Aqueduct Press ebook edition of the Aleutian Trilogy. She represents worldly misfortune, ruin and grief. Which is I suppose what our young male world quite rightly fears must ensue, from their point of view, if Women's Liberation should ever become a serious force*.

George MacDonald approves of her, actually. What an old misery eh?

The Downs

Friday 15th October, grey still and cool. Birdsong returning to the garden, as it does at this time of year.

Sunday 10th October, clear blue skies, we take the 79 bus up to Ditchling Beacon. Wildlife spotting at the bus-stop (I'm easily bored), I started counting ladybirds on a garden wall. Ladybird larvae too, creeping around in curious numbers.

Peter: Are those the bad guys?

Gwyneth: I don't think we're doing that anymore, they're just immigrants now. (These East Asian ladybirds, where are they flocking from?) They've moved in, fait accompli.

Yes, indeed, they are harlequins. About this time of year they are looking for somewhere to hide, just like the natives: a bark crevice, a hole in a concrete plinth, to doze away the winter. What are the larvae looking for? I suspect they're about to pupate, how interesting, on a plastered concrete wall?; but here's the bus.

This is kind of a utility walk, for a day when we haven't the time to get further away from town. On the new turned earth, ready for winter wheat, Herring gulls are following the plough, doing like gulls are supposed to do in the Ladybird "What To Look For In Autumn": urban scavengers looking rather amazed at themselves

Hey, just look at us. How positively bucolic!
Still, it's nice to get out.

Walking from Ditchling Beacon, down to the village of Ditchling, a kestrel hanging below us, poised in the air; out the other side & across the downs to the Clayton Windmills, back to the Beacon by Steadman Common. Some of the time on the South Downs Way itself, always on well-trodden tracks, this is a part of the downs that has lost some detail, become coarsened by use rather than by agribusiness, on its way to getting the feeling of a municipal park, but even so, under these wide blue skies, a fresh breeze chasing around us, Sussex is still so beautiful. Ropes of translucent bryony berries, hawthorns thick with matt ruby haws, wild roses covered in flask-shaped carnelian hips, but no fungi, because no undisturbed pasture; no foraging except for some kindling.

I've had a nudge from the Sussex Wildlife Trust, must fill in the DEFRA questionnaire at surveymonkey. How do you feel you benefit from the natural environment?

What am I supposed to say to that. I don't care if I benefit or not. I want this beauty to exist for its own reasons, I owe the Downs, they don't owe me a thing.

Ich bin ein piece of the natural environment. I don't have a separate existence.

Which parts of the natural environment matter most to you?

Maybe I'll put TREES, lay off my trees you pedants, which is somewhat a dig at the Wildlife Trust itself, currently gripped by a passion for reverting to the ice age vegetation of this area.

No, I won't.

I Cannot Read The Fiery Letters. . .

Thursday 7th October. Yesterday, just at sunset, a huge weather front crossed our sky in a sweep of marvellous colour. Was that the rain saying, so long for now? This morning, crisp and fair.

Hey, a letter from Speranza. What can it be? A response to an Amnesty International Action? I don't think Strasbourg was on any of my recent recipient-lists. No, it's an invitation to write for an anthology, something sf or fantasy, for young people. (For free, I hasten to add, it's a proper project, no snouts in the trough here). Has to be somehow related to one of the Human Rights Convention articles relating to children; the anthology being published under the umbrella of a programme titled, with my favourite Futuristic Utopian Megastate's usual elegant concision "Building A Europe For And With Children".

Anyway, it sounds okay to me and I've signed up. If I write a story that gets accepted, I'll let you know.

I have just spent about half an hour patiently trying to post a comment on the Aqueduct Press blog. Anyone with any sense would have thought, a glitch: quit and started again later, but I'm used to attempting these trials about a zillion times before I succeed so I kept on and on, ghryleebs, mmmgsheba, cantelsin. . .

Wrong every time. I am hopeless. Sumbitted it to the human moderator instead.

Cuticle Damage at the Contemporary Music Ensemble

Tuesday 5th October, grey skies, mild, a fine drizzle. Looks like bountiful autumn has been and gone, for now. I actively like walking over the downs in wet wild October weather, but looking out of this window at the draggled colourless garden, I can only long for spring.

30th September, up to Blackheath Halls for a reprise that might well become an institution, the second Trinity Contemporary Music Ensemble Concert. Our principal motivation of course the pianists, Gabriel Jones and Lydia Aoki, but the music grows on you. Met Gabriel at the station and took him for a quick Italian at Zero Degrees, (it's on the Greenwich Meridian see, comes highly reccommended). See your child, feed your child, even if your child is forty seven and a High Court Judge, it's a law of nature. G jnr's sober dandy ensemble (Gabriel with cufflinks!) somewhat marred by a seen better days black woolly jumper with raggedy cuffs: it's a trick of the trade, saves the sides of the hands from getting bruised purple when piano abuse is called for; he proudly showed us the blackened and bloody cuticles caused by violent glissando work. What did I like? (what do i remember?). I liked husk, paul newland, with the countdown screens and all the spaces inbetween (and a slight technical hitch I'm afraid I took for part of the score, until the pianist got restive). The Hammerhawk stephen montague, that's the violent one, Blond Afrodite. . . Gregory Rose, and The Dream Cat, Deirdre Gribbin, the deceptively conventional chamber piece. The student pieces just went by too fast, but I remember Double Rainbow, because of the daft youtube video association, and Anthropogenic was clever, it's carbon emissions, see, the gases translated into chords, Contemporary Music is full of puns.

And then, the next night, a biography of Vaughan Williams turned up on the telly. What a shifty great amorous old hearth rug, what a giant human badger he was. . .and in the middle of it suddenly found myself listening to the roots of what I'd heard at Blackheath Halls in a piece of music I've known all my life, and never thought remotely weird or "challenging", how could I? It was a favourite with my parents. But it is.

I think they really know where they're coming from, those Trinity Contemporary Music people.

And then, the night after that, it was an Eighties reunion, in the upper room at what used to be The Richmond, down in Brighton by the sea, & Dinah & I were dancing, the sole representatives of the old front row, to The Jungle and This Colour. It never rains but it pours.

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.

Here's a thought

Tuesday 31st July, clear and bright, pure blue skies.
Here's a thought. If 17, 18, 19, millions of lives have been utterly disrupted (various estimates), and the people of the UK (at least) have been scraping out their pockets, for the sake of the Holy Month or the teachings of the prophet Jesu, or whatever inspires us Infidels to compassion, isn't it ludicrous that Pakistan, as well as struggling under the burden of climate-change related civil unrest, and decades of political corruption, has to suffer this huge ecomomic catastrophe while still servicing the old monster post-colonial debt? If you think this is nuts, then let somebody know. Here's the link:

Here's another thought, somewhat more frivolous. The Cheltenham Literature Festival has an exciting Science Fiction strand this year, curated by China Mieville, including a history of genre event in the Inkpot Tent on Sunday afternoon. Of course if you are in the region you want to come along, and I hope you can make it. Full details and a preview/review can be found here at Torque Control.