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Seeing more things; things that are finished

Monday 26th April, weather same as it was five minutes ago:

Shell-Shock Chic

Anyway, besides finishing Seeing Further over the weekend (definitely worth getting out of the library, if not buying), I finally watched The Hurt Locker, which had been the top of my high priority list on Love Film for about a year. Do they take any notice?, do they h**l. If you ever show the slightest preference for unorthodox titles, that's what you get until they have run out of other takers for the current hits. Or at least that's my impression. My verdict, it's certainly intense, every shot intense, and that's the director's art, and that's its Wow factor. But if anyone found out anything they didn't know about how "war brutalises young men and makes them psychotic" I am sorry for that person. Plus, for an anti-war movie, this is an awful lot like playing Counterstrike (which I cite because i happen to know, from years ago, substitute Call of Duty or whatever war-porn game you like best).

I was puzzled as to how a really great, hard-hitting Iraq war movie was an Oscar movie too, in this day & age. Now I get it. The fact is, if you want to make an anti-war movie, you have to ask the audience to admire the people would rather be doing something else. Whereas if you want to make an intense, rich, passionate portrait of men at war, and what heroically awful consequences their heroic exploits have for the psyche, that is not what you will choose to do.

Hm. To be fair, I have no idea if Bigelow was even intending an anti-war message. Being "against the Iraq War" doesn't necessarily mean being "against" the absolutely gorgeously strong images War affords, and you can't have the images without the real life version.

Things finished with. As of last Friday, that's the script of the US version of my career-spanning short story collection (interestingly different choice of stories from Grazing The Long Acre: and I had nothing to do with the line-up) done and dusted, cover image chosen and everything. Could be out in October from Aqueduct.

There's bread and cheese upon the shelf
If you want anymore you can sing it yourself

Things that didn't fit; seeing things further

Monday 26th April, a change in the weather at last, a grey soft sky; feels cool

Something that didn't fit into the Masterworks intro I was writing: I'm not a fan of the multiverse* or "many worlds" proposal, because I must be missing something: I don't see that it gets us anywhere. Supposing it's true that every possible (ie not self-contradictory/ self-destructive) variant on the State of all States exists, and ours is one version in a stunningly huge sea of the possibilities, that still leaves us with the problem that "many worlds" was supposed to solve: ie the fact that we cannot make the laws of physics add up. Quantum mechanics won't reconcile with Newtonian mechanics here, and there's that 90% of "missing mass" issue, here, which nobody can resolve, though not for want of trying. Plus, saying we live here because this is the Goldilocks Universe where everything is just right, is just crypto-Intelligent Design by stealth.

I like Joanna Russ's version, the braided possibilities of The Female Man, because it offers what seems to me a really satisfying insight. 1. There is only one other "universe" or "cosmos" we can compare, for complexity, indefiniteness (is that a word?), multiplicity, with the one we perceive "out there" & that is the human self. Every time you lay down a memory, every time you recall a memory, a new neuronal self springs into being; each of us is a multiverse. And yet, unless clinically insane, each of these multiverses can resolve, a trick we manage all the time (like the four Js at the end of the story) into a coherent single whole.

*I like strings, because strings remind me that "Electrons are not things" (I think it was David Bohm said that, but might be remembering wrong). I don't like those extra dimensions. I think they are a joke. This is because I am old enough to have been taught c17th century history of ideas as an undergraduate at Sussex University. I remember the mad cat's cradle that was the pre-Copernican system, just before it went bust. Just the loops people were jumping through, trying to explain the retrograde motion of Mars, if Mars was orbiting the Earth, was a sight to behold. So I look at the struggle to make the appearences conform to our present ideas, I think epicycles, and I'm just convinced something's going to give, there's a gestalt flip hovering in the wings, that will blow all this scrabbing away

Seeing Further ed. Bill Bryson

Why so cosmological all of a sudden. Partly Russ, and partly Peter gave me this essay collection published for the Royal Society's 350th birthday, for my birthday this year. Just finished it. Inevitably I found it patchy, liked some essays, bounced off others, but it was very nostalgic, given my distant past. I liked Neal Stephenson's piece on Monads, because I thought Leibnitz was wonderful when I first met his work. I liked the chapter on bridges by Henry Petroski, because it was so concrete, and the great beasts in the pictures so brilliant. & I really liked Oliver Morton's Art/Science piece on Land Art (eg Andy Goldsworthy) & unravelling those weaselly expressions "saving the Planet", "saving the Environment". Cogent and unexpectedly poetic. Georgina Ferry was inspiring, and about the only entry (no, I checked, it WAS the only entry) that featured women doing science. And special mention to Gregory Benford, for the "Darwin-Wallace Theory". About time somebody started a movement in that direction

Gold Bunny

Wednesday 21st April, weather unchanged, still the same dry, brilliant, somewhat pitiless, high pressure blue skies, scool breezes and clear nights.

Last night we ate my last two little Gold Bunnies & that's the end of the holidays.

The tadpoles are thriving, having been left in Gabriel's tender care: some of the garden not so good, boy has mind like machine: he will do what you ask, faithfully, despite his huge committment to Ravel and Ligoti (sp?), but you have to give him specific instructions, he's never going to say to himself, hm, a drying breeze, no rain for days, bet the camellias and the pot chrysanths need a drench. . .

I gather the planes are back online today. Shame, says I, having been untouched by Icelandic Volcano Travel Chaos, because as you know, I don't fly. Nice to see the online muttering do we really need those d**n things, why don't we just save them for urgent need and special occasions?. C'mon, Gaia, please keep it on this benign scale, but do it again! Do it again!

My particular pet tadpoles, still being reared indoors, are so big and fat they're close to having back legs.

And as for Maytime, here's hoping for better suits, but I live in Brighton, Pavilion, so I'm sorted.

Good News

Friday 9th April, clear and bright, powder blue sky, sun like honey

You don't often see that heading on a Gwyneth Jones blogpost, do you? However, yesterday the Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Bill became UK law, and that's worth celebrating.

Plus, the infamous Clause 43 has been deleted from the Digital Economy Bill, and whether you're a photographer, a writer, or any kind of artist, you should be very, very grateful to the people, eg Gill Spraggs at author's rights who would not let that Clause get by them.

Happiness Like A Dagger; All Poetry

Tuesday 6th April, chilly sunshine, clear blue skies

Why am I not outdoors? Because I'm drafting the intro for The Female Man, Gollancz masterworks, (Nov 2010) and because I'm waiting for the pianotuner to finish!

(there's something weird about the synopsis etc of same on wikipedia. Can't quite put my finger on it, but the tone is odd)

In my break, something completely different: I got a letter from Catriona McColl of Ayrshire, reminding me that we'd met once, years ago (at school, when I was visiting as Ann Halam). She's doing fine, she's been working as a Carer, going to college and is buying her own house, but she's still writing sometimes and included this poem with her letter:

No Care

It was dark with only the flickering light from candles
It was quiet with only the sound from a ticking clock
As I sat, a sense of complete relaxation came across me
Like a soul leaving its body
No thoughts, no feelings, no noise

As I sat, calmness in my head and heart, a sly smile slithered across my face. . .
Happiness had found a confused and lonely heart, and pierced it like a dagger

As I sat, realisation hit me like a brick, this feeling was real. . .
this life had just begun

Catriona McColl

Mostly, when you meet kids in Creative Writing workshops, they do what they're supposed to do, well or badly. Or else they give you aggravation (because they're not volunteers). Or they just wait politely for the session to be over. Very, very occasionally, you meet someone with an unforced, original voice, & you may even hear from them again. I realised that what Cat needed was a forum, and more feedback than I could provide, so (I never write poetry myself) I checked out a few sites and settled on No contraindications on robtex, this place seems to be the business.

Clarke Shortlist (Belated response)

I have never seen so many sweet violets in Sussex, never. Easter Monday, mild, weak sun through cloud. Tadpoles thriving, and gradually being moved to the wildlife pond, but sadly one of our fish, known only as Red One (we gave up naming them, due to rapid turnover, and then these two lived for years) has succumbed to the attentions of a fishing cat. It survived the attack, but died later in the emergency ward. . .

Deeply engrossed all last week in the grim interactive gothic novel my family is still enacting, but yes, with thanks to those who inquired, I have noticed that Spirit is shortlisted for the Arthur C Clarke award. An unlikely candidate!, given various constraints, not least that it only got submitted by Gollancz after special pleading. Still, never mind. There are strong books on this short list, April 28th will come, and I'll be delighted for the winner.

Did you know, Escape Plans, the Ur-novel of this protracted sequence, was shortlisted for the very first Arthur C Clarke award, in 1987? Isn't that remarkable.

Hi Jesper, and thanks for your comment on the Dragon Tattoo. . .

I agree! In the first book Salander's computer-whizzness didn't worry me. This obviously isn't realist fiction, and I'm used to the same phenomenon in sf, where some applied technology (eg genetic engineering) works exactly like magic, but I'm supposed to suspend disbelief because the terms and language are "scientific". In the second book I thought Salander's "hacker" credentials really fell apart, and the third, even to my small knowledge of computers, was worse. Also left slightly feeling that if I winced at the computer stuff, real investigative journalists might be grimacing madly at flaws invisible to me. . . But this is still ace bestseller material. It's like a movie being Oscar material: a mystery when you look closely, instantly recognisable from the proper distance.

Digital Economy and Vulture Funds

Wednesday 24th March, very mild, cloud rising and clearing as the afternoon declines. Did I say, on that walk from Woodingdean to Lewes, I never saw so many sweet violets before. These, in the thumbnail, running all along the foot of an old wall by the Downs Hotel, unphased by busy road at their feet. The scent, a delicate blend of Parma sherbert and dog wee. . . presumably passing dogs either like the odour and give it their seal of approval, or else hate it and try to do everyone a good turn by providing their own Febreze.

If you were involved in the Drop the Debt movement a few years back, you probably got an emergency email a week or so ago, over the sabotaging of the Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Bill: a private member's move, that had cross-party support and was about to become law, to protect the poorest countries in the world from toxic lawyers. Here's the link if you'd still like to do something to support that: Sadly, though we may have hoped that the toxic lobbying behind that last minute "objection" from Christopher Chope was private enterprise too, it seems that Mr Cameron may well have approved their attitude:

It shouldn't be this way. Justice and Peace should be the openly avowed objectives of the State, globally and locally. Greed and Hypocrisy, those two pillars of the English nation, should be the country's shadow-self, skulking in corners, afraid to speak their own names. Would it were so.

While I'm at it, here's news of another Bill that's going to be law before you know it: a link to Gill Spraggs' post on the Digital Economy Bill. An issue that definitely wants watching. Plus her detailed take on Clause 43

Small item in New Scientist: Surveys have shown that when people insulate their housing to the nth, the saving on energy consumption is considerably less than predicted, for the people are more interested in comfort than conservation, and having stuffed their cavity walls, filled the loft with foam and double-glazed everything else, they then tend to turn the heat up. Same sort of thing happens when Gordon Brown, who doesn't have a clue, or want one, on Environmental Issues, decides to embrace Greenwash. Hence the High Speed Rail Network proposal, a Big, Big, Flagship project that will Save the Planet (as less people will fly from London to Birmingham) so that means huge spending on a completely new build, while leaving the existing network languishing, is perfectly okay. It's having your cake and eating it too! Shame it isn't actually going to connect with Heathrow, but that's a footnote. Here's Christian Woolmar's take:

Hm. Maybe I should have headed this "please do not read unless you already agree with me". But though it sounds like a ranting set of links, that's because of my grumpy temper this afternoon. Your actual respondents are an even-handed lot, and worth anybody's attention.

The Red Needles, Chamonix

Tuesday 23rd March, low cloud and mist, cool. How quickly Spring catches up. Everything's changed since ten days ago. Such an epic winter it's been, I'm sorry to see it go, but I can never resist the spring.
Hazel catkins have expanded, primroses burst into flower on the banks, one of my native daffodils has opened, buds popping open on the hawthorn, visible on the little blackthorn where there were only dead-looking twigs. Frog action, modest but healthy, in the fishpool, clumps of spawn moved into the "wildlife pool" (it has yet to catch on with the wildlife, tho' a couple of frogs have been seen visiting). On Sunday Peter and I walked the Jugg's Road to Lewes from Woodingdean (Jugg's Road: the fishwives of Brighthelmstone carried jugs full of fresh fish to the nearest town this way, long time ago). It's a walk for skies and landscape curves, not detail, so much of the downs under the plough, price of wheat must have gone up again I guess. Very beautiful under that powdery blue sky of early Spring, and uncountable larks, shouting and shouting. We inspected the dewponds on Kingston Hill for amphibs, saw nothing but some charming little snails, tiny glittering beetles scooting around in the submerged grasses, tiny dots of smaller animals. Hey, since we doped our "wildlife pool" with genuine pond water (from the dipping spot at the Heart of Reeds) maybe we'll get some of these.

The Aiguilles Rouges are featured because that's a detail from the jigsaw that saw me through the winter (as some of you may know, I work on jigsaws while thinking out what to do about chapter seven, and is that character superfluous etc; yes, just like Ax Preston). I usually favour art-jigsaws, I thought it was because of my superior aesthetics, I now concede it's because landscape can be just impossibly hard, making nonsense of my writer's meditation technique. Still, I won't forget them, and they're on a must see list now. Got to walk that black bridge.

Reading/watching. The Brian Cox series on the Solar System, and liking it very much.

Also just finished the Dragon Tattoo books. Excellent best-seller material, wads and wads of simple journalistic prose hung on the hook of a textbook Grimm fairytale. Have to say, the second one was the weakest, possibly because the "diversion", an exposé of sex-trafficking (so well-done in the first, when it was an exposé of corrupt financier's empire), completely failed to deliver. Curious about the titles, I found a page discussing the phenomenon: where I learned that the translator's name is a pseudonym, because the real person, translator with a major reputation, had his name taken off the books. . . Also learned that the title "Men Who Hate Women" was rejected for the English version (though not for any other European market) "because people would think it was Non-Fiction, and be offended". Isn't that interesting!

Have to say #2: not to speak ill of the dead and all, and I do know how it probably happens and why (It's all in Clover, Men, Women and Chainsaws) But for a bloke who is so outraged about men hating women, Stieg Larsson has to have spent a great deal of time thinking about young, almost pre-pubertal women suffering aggravated rape, young women getting murdered by sexual torture, women of all varieties getting persecuted and insulted in all kinds of ways. And so it goes, that's what fairytales are always about, after all.

Have to say #3. The Handsome Prince goes missing. . . It's true what you've heard about the movie. Salander is played by someone who looks a lot less like a starved and alienated stray kitten than she should, but our hero is played by someone who is going to puzzle audiences very much indeed, as the second and third episodes appear, and all the fabulously beautiful intellectual bodybuilding ladies crawl at his feet, begging to have his babies.

Elizabeth, how kind of you to ask after the tadpoles. Here they are, getting on fine.


Wednesday 10th March, a high-pressure dry blue sky, warm sun, keen breeze; not so bitterly keen as it was yesterday.

Update on the tadpoles. I now have two colonies indoors, one lively, feather-gilled and feeding on lettuce, the second a few days behind and with a few more casualties in the mix. Outdoors, development is much slowed by the cold, tho' I cover the tubs over at night. No more spawn has appeared, the single remaining mating pair returned to their endeavours today, after being under the ice since last week.

I brought my two clumps of spawn in thinking they might be dead, like last year; or that it would only be for a day or two. Now my goal is to rear at least fifteen or twenty froglets & I think I have them indoors for the rest of the month, unless the weather changes. I might buy a magnifying glass.

In my diary for 2009, same date, it says "this has been the coldest, longest winter for a decade". The truth is, by my record winters down here in Brighton have been colder, in terms of days/nights of frost, for quite a while: cold that I'd have thought unusual in Brighton thirty years ago, interrupting spells of well above average temperatures. Chaotic winters, you might say. We didn't get the overly warm periods this time.

Wonder what will happen in 2010/11?

The Spawn Dilemma ("frogs are my canaries" obsession#n)

Thursday 4th March, blue sky, bright sun, chill air but no ice or frost. This entry photo stars my cat Ginger, dressed in a table napkin. She's fond of dressing up. Napkins, newspapers, anything that could cover a cat. . .
What shall I do about the spawn? This time last year, our fishpool was a heaving mass of amorous frogs, but none of their spawn survived. Most wasn't fertile, maybe some succumbed to a March cold snap. Many individuals seemed very stressed (reddish skin, skeletal thin) though I didn't see any definite signs of the "red leg" disease. This year, let us say the over-population problem seems to have been resolved. There's one mating pair in the fishpool, nothing going on in the new small pool, and I have two batches of spawn. The first laid is fertile: I have commas indoors and creased oblong eggs outside.

I think I'll bring the whole of the first lot indoors, leave the second lot outside, see how that works.

Nicely done. . .

Tuesday 2nd March, white roofs blue sky, no commas yer. Second batch of spawn in the dead flag leaves, tightly pursed bundle of jelly, hope it's warmer inside there. To be moved from fish pool when small pool ice has melted.

Working as I do in a genre that has been assuming the imminent demise of printed fiction for decades, and expecting (with or without enthusiasm, depending whether you are an Orwellite or an Asimovian) total Panopticon culture maybe even longer, I don't know why I'm worried. I'll live in the unregulated chinks, for as long as they survive and same as I do right now. Much of my fiction/nonfiction is free online already & it gets distributed okay, or at anyrate better than I could expect from the Giant Nothing Evil Team.

However, the Google Book Settlement Resistance thing gathers momentum, run by people who are old fashioned enough to act as if they have a voice in the design of governance: and good for them. Here's Gill Spraggs' statement from the Google Books Breakfast last week: Discuss!

The Bookseller reported recently the government sees it as "right" that
the Publishers Association "leads" the UK's response to the Google
Settlement. I've been asked to point out that the rights that the
settlement would license to Google are rights to works created by
authors; rights that in a huge number of cases belong to authors;
publishers may hold licenses to them, but authors own the copyrights.
Many of the rights to out-of-print books have reverted to their authors.
Authors are very big stakeholders in this business; and many of us are
feeling that we are not being taken sufficiently into account. It is
authors who by their original creative work produce the value on which
the entire publishing industry depends.

In this country professional book authors who have looked into the
Google Settlement hate it. I am talking about authors who license their
books to trade publishers in return for an advance on royalties, and who
have built their careers wholly or partly round writing; authors who
sell books in large numbers, and authors who are hoping that their
latest book will break out into the big time. Witness the many UK names
on the opt-out list, an amazing range of talent that spans the genres,
the generations and the political spectrum. The debate among authors in
the run up to the opt-out deadline was focused on the best way to escape
from the thing: opt out, or opt in and remove your books. I know several
who have taken the latter course; anecdotally, I know there are others,
probably very many. Some are relying on promises from their publishers
to pull their books from Google's database. I can only find one
professional UK book author who has praised the settlement: Maureen
Duffy, Honorary President of ALCS and a representative plaintiff.

The Settlement has been a PR disaster for Google. Authors worldwide
write blogs that are read by fans, friends, family, and many wannabe
authors. In recent months, comments on forums and blogs have become
increasingly hostile to Google. This includes comments on news sites,
and even, remarkably, in geek strongholds like the famous Slashdot site.

Google claims that out-of-print books are of no economic value, and that
the settlement is the only way that authors can benefit from them.
Professional authors know this is nonsense. Winning an award; getting a
TV or movie deal; bringing out a new book in a series; writing in a
genre that comes into vogue, or on a theme that becomes topical; all
these things and more can 'breathe new life' into an author's
out-of-print backlist. Authors who believe their works have value, to
themselves, to publishers and to other entertainment media want deals
with advances and promotion, negotiated on the best terms that the
market for their works will bear. They are not impressed by the prospect
of being buried amid millions of books in some online bookstack. They do
not believe that mass-licensing arrangements for the benefit of content
aggregators is a way to run a healthy book industry, or make the
profession of authorship either economically tenable or creatively

The Google Book Settlement is objectionable not just in its details -
though there are many objectionable things about it - but fundamentally,
in the way that copyright-owners are opted by default into a scheme for
reproducing, selling and sublicensing their works. I cannot put it
better than William Cavanaugh, the attorney who presented the case for
the US Department of Justice at the Fairness Hearing: he said that the
settlement 'essentially turn[s] copyright law on its head because it
eviscerates the requirement of prior approval from the copyright holder'.

Without prior approval, there is no copyright. Copyright is a right to
authorize reproduction.

Here's something else that Cavanaugh said: 'It is the right to control
one's work that creates the incentive to produce it.'

Every age gets the culture that it pays for: pays for in money, and pays
for in respect.

The market in e-books is taking off. If we let the market take its
course, then, a few years down the line, most in-copyright books of
value will be available, permanently, in e-editions. Given demand,
publishers, some of them specialists, will track down and negotiate with
the copyright-owners of those scarce but sought-after academic
monographs, those out-of-print novels whose authors still have a
following, and most of the rest of the misnamed 'lost books'.

Time enough after that to worry about the rest of the books, the
so-called orphans, and the books that nobody wants.

There is nothing new about reprint publishing. What is new is that the
web makes it possible to efficiently match the niche publication with
its readers, and the costs of keeping a digital work available are very

We can have a diverse, innovative market in e-books or we can have a
Google monopoly. We can have a publishing environment in which authors
whose works are in demand will be properly paid, because there will be
competing outlets for their work. Or we can write RIP over literature
in the long forms: the novel, the memoir, trade-published non-fiction,
and Google Books shall be its mausoleum.

We don't need the Google Book Settlement: what we need is what we have,
a living culture, generating real value.

Get in touch with Gill, or join the author rights group, via the blog:


The Digital Economy Bill sounds as if it also wants watching. The danger of losing copyright law is bad enough, but our Government (and I don't just mean the party in power, they are none of them to be trusted), thoroughly corrupted by the War On Terrorism, shouldn't be allowed near anything that gives them further unregulated surveillance access.


About three years ago (I think it was), I had a request from PS, would I write an introduction for Stephen Palmer's new novel? I think that would be okay, says I. Only I'd have to read the book before I could say yes definitely, wouldn't I? Send it along. Time passes, I'm not concerned, PS publishing is madly overstretched, they'll get round to sending me the script down the line. Eventually I forget the whole thing. Saturday morning last, packet arrives. It's the four colour printed ARC for Stephen Palmer's new novel. Uncorrected proofs, introduction by Gwyneth Jones to follow; due out in June. Whoa! I think I'm introducing this book! Never mind, it wasn't very likely I'd turn Mr Palmer down, I've read Memory Seed and Muzzeinland, it's only March, I'll just do what I can


Tuesday 23rd February, not raining right now and the sky is a brighter shade of grey.

One ball of fresh spawn, though I've seen only one frog, definitely not carrying a freight of eggs, and no mating action. The spawn doesn't look too good but I moved it out of the fish pool anyway.

Last year there was a lot of action, but all the spawn died. Same complete loss in 2006. In 2007, 2008, tads survived and about 20 or so succeeded in becoming froglets.


Monday February 22nd, February fill-dyke. It's still winter further north, here it's just rain, a raw fresh air, huge puddles when I sneaked out between downpours.

Warning, this post is mainly of interest to Rock&Roll Reich fans.

Band of Gypsys 2nd edition free online

When he read Bold As Love (published Aug 2001), Kim Stanley Robinson told me it was one of the few books that year that could have been written after 9/11. I'm not totally sure what Stan meant, but in fact the first three Bold As Love books were "written" before September 2001. I had them all worked out, just had to fill in the details. I don't think it made any difference. People talk about "9/11": for me it was 03/03. It was March 2003 when I knew I'd woken up in a different world, and a worse world (of course, it depends on your point of view). As I've said elsewhere, by my reckoning "9/11" was a proposal. Hey George, sez "Osama". You're cute. How about you and me wreck Western Civilisation together, hell, we can wreck Islam too, I don't care. Let's destroy everything that's decent in both our worlds! C'mon, it'll be fun! In March 2003 the courtship was over, the marriage was consummated. Tony and George leapt joyfully into their mentor's arms.

So in my chronology, Band of Gypsys was the first post 9/11 episode. The consequences can be seen from page one, in which my "West Wing"-style benign US President gets written out of the script. That wasn't meant to happen: I just couldn't stand the sight of him. Another consequence is that the other three stories were out of my reach & the online 2nd editions had minimal changes. Band Of Gypsys is set in the world I'm living in now, and has had a complete overhaul.
It's still as loopy as ever, don't worry.

"Ax's government tried to sentence him to assisted suicide a few weeks ago, after an incident involving a high-ranking official. When he refused to cooperate they gave him a palace to live in and a tv show of his own, on which he'll continue to criticise government policy. . ."

In the original plan, this one was supposed to cover Ax's "Second Chamber Presidency", how it ended, and the whole adventure of the Chinese invasion. But the book got too long and unwieldy, I was running out of time and I didn't like the way the action fell into two completely different halves. That's why Band, unlike the other episodes, ends on a cliffhanger.

Moomins Unmasked (The True Deceiver)

Ash Wednesday, 17th February, clear skies, mouse ice, 9 shoots of native daffodils now, and a frog vertical in the weeds, seeming to look up from under the ice in the little new pool. Alive or dead? Can't tell until the sun warms it. Christmas reading feature, final entry

There are two women. One is young and harsh and good with figures. The other is an old, sweet-natured, unworldly artist. Both are outsiders in a small Nordic community: the old woman isolated by status in her big house, the young woman isolated by nature, and by her ambivalent status as the community's fixer; she solves minor business problems, but her solutions make people uneasy. There's a dog, controlled but untamed companion; there's the harsh girl's simple-minded brother. There are other characters, serving to illustrate the central problem. The young woman wants something from the old woman. Basically, she wants a share of the old woman's wealth, but the catch is that she cannot bear to ask for the money, to earn the money, or to deserve the money. Her self-esteem requires her to ask nothing of the world, she has to take. But she has to take by what she considers fair means, and that means (it turns out) by besting the old woman in mind games.

The clueless old woman paints pictures of the forest floor. Her ability to concentrate on the finest detail of what's going on in the living world, right under everyone's feet,is her obsession. Somehow, a population of cute rabbits, rabbits with flowery fur, invaded this passionate life's work. The flowery rabbits irritate her, but they have made her famous. She's plagued by floods of letters from little children, which she tries to take seriously, and floods of international business proposals: which she does not take seriously. She lets herself be cheated, because she isn't interested in figures and she doesn't care.

If you are a Moomin fan, and since this is Tove Jansson talking, you will get the picture. You loved The Summer House, you loved A Winter Book; you may find this one a little disquieting. You may find yourself thinking, hang on, I don't know if I want to know this. . .

The whole action of the novel is contained by the dark, icy snowlit months of a Nordic winter, during which the calculating young woman strips the old artist of her elective naivety about business and other matters, and the old artist strips the calculating young woman of her pride and her self-containment. It's a gripping introverts' adventure, I can't explain how such petty drama and unsparing candour can be so attractive. Like, let me see, Cranford distilled to a fiery strength, but with the cosy warmth and light surgically removed. I think it's the old artist who turns out to be the stronger (did you guess?) but you must make up your own mind.

Spoiler warning, don't get too attached to the flowery rabbits. But if you didn't know already that the Moomins are really people, showing the very peculiar, almost chilling, characteristics that quite ordinary people display (Nordic or not; when you look close, with an unsparing eye); then I can't help you.

Digital Future

Tuesday 16th February, much milder. A grey, damp, breezy morning, a charm of goldfinches squabbling

Here's something I've been waiting to post. Gill Spraggs analysis and investigation of the Google Book Settlement (spoiler warning: she's not in favour of those Do No Evil lads' approach to the Digital Future) now has a blog and a mailing list

If you're a writer and you think you've opted out but you've had no confirmation you can check your name on the lawyers' list of no-thanks responders:

Look carefully, the name order is a bit weird

In the genre world, Ursula Le Guin is also being very active.

Now what? Just saying no is easy enough, if you have an ounce of bloody-mindedness in you, and what writer does not, you can easily skip through the Do No Evil team's obstacle course. Thinking of another way, and putting it into practice, especially supposing you are not incredibly rich and powerful: that's the challenge.