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Intercalary 1

Roumeli Greece:2013 Friday 16th August, grey skies, cool air and a soft rain through the morning; warmth and light coming through now. Coincidentally, grey skies, cool air and a full-on thunderstorm met us in Ioannina, Western Greece last month, the day before this photograph was taken, which we hadn't expected. I love thunderstorms, so I didn't mind at all.

Blood on the streets of Cairo as the ill-starred revolutionary "Arab Spring" descends into Terror, in the oldest continually civilised country on Earth.

Cuadrilla announce they are 'scaling back' their prospective fracking operation at Balcombe (Fields Of Gold), in the face of determined, nationally organised, Non Violent Direct Action; and local opposition. They'll pop up again. Cuadrilla have consistently treated the local authorities at Balcombe, and the regulatory authorities concerned in the permissions they've needed, with contempt. Like the leaders of our current government, they seem convinced that the people will take anything they say as gospel, and nobody can see what they are actually doing,.

I'll be staying away from Balcombe this weekend. I fully support the protest, including acts of mass civil disobedience, as long as it remains non-violent, and yet I feel for the people of the village, (not to mention the rest of the inhabitants of this lovely place) and the stress they have to bear.

Reading Experimentalism Otherwise, Benjamin Piekut. Gabriel wanted me to read the introduction to this book (about the avant garde music movement in New York in the sixties), but when I started it I couldn't put it down. Absolutely fascinating, and I was twelve in 1964, but in a weird way, I was there. The feeling that everything had to be thrown up in the air and all hierarchies dissolved reached even the faculty at my my convent girls' school (honest, it did!). There's also an analysis of the Jazz Composers Guild & all the politics surrounding Jazz vs Free Jazz, and the Civil Rights Movement vs nascent Black Power, that's amazingly like an analysis of whatwas kicking off in science fiction, in the same exact times. I kept expecting to come across Chip Delanyor Joanna Russ, but I didn't. Just Yoko Ono, and of course Iggy Pop. Penetrating, incisive art history. Highly recommended.

Watching I saw Wadjda at the Duke Of Yorks last Tuesday. It's about a little girl who wants a bike, and her cunning plan to raise the money by winning a Q'ran recital competition at her school. It's wonderful, I loved it, you must go to see it. Haifaa Al Mansour is a genius, and the cast were all amazing. The beauty of Wadjda's recitation of the sura is heart-stopping, and so painful, knowing what we know: she has been taught by her mother, who is in the perilous position of a... no, I won't spoil it. Nice blog entry from this new (to me) woman blogger I've found, too.

Also, late last night, after I'd trounced the Wind Temple boss, a rather inexplicable Spike Lee caper movie, Inside Man, featuring several high class names doing not very much, eg Jodie Foster as some kind of uber-fixer, whose whole part consists of smiling in a very superior way; repeat ad lib. It passed the time pleasantly.

Keynote image is the serai mosque, inner citadel of Ali Pasha (Byron was here, in amazing number of costume changes, circa 1809). This is another shot of the same place, in the rain, taken from the Byzantine Museum restaurant terrace. Nice time there. Once or twice on our travels I meditated a foreign correspondent blog post, but the Wifi was just too shaky. I'm still meditating publishing an account of our tour around the Roumeli here. We had some brilliant experiences. Maybe I'll get round to it.

White Grapes And Scarlet Tigers

Wednesday 10th July, midmorning, shrilling swifts right over my head in the garden, brilliant flowers, blue skies and warm sun. The cats are sulking, but they'll be okay. The tadpole tub has been emptied, the kindergarten by the wildlife pool (with access to the adult world for amphibians) has been stocked with back-legs, the four-leg froglets released to brave the miniature pikes (sticklebacks), but not the goldfish. Gabriel is back in England, after his epic bike ride across La Belle France to the World Wide festival at Sete, and by the way, the story that the French are sunk in gloom is a story. Such adventures, such music and drinking and dancing, and then yesterday the tale of the good holiday that nearly went bad. But mid-Tour, how could the French railway guards refuse the pleas of a sweat-dripping francophile young cyclist, just caned it to Montpellier, desperate to take his Specialised on their no bikes! train to Lille. They could not, bless them. And that's the end of 2012-2013 for me, tho' I'll be back in mid August for an intercalendary pause, and about time too says my left hand, v. keen for a break from incessant typing.

& Among all the end of the world is nigh issues I could gripe about, a tribute and my best wishes to Husam Helmi, spokesperson for the Syrian Non-Violence Movement, co-founder of Enab Baladi, the newspaper of the Non-Violence Movement. I talked to him and heard him speak, and he has convinced me that There Is a Non-Violence Movement, that started operations against the Assad regime 2003, years before this suspect "Arab Spring" thing was founded on that Slap. Enab Baladi means white grapes, it's what his home town was famous for, their wonderful dessert grapes. Before they became famous for being massacred. Do not dismiss Syria. Or Eygpt. Just don't arm the rebels, the Islamists, or anyone else.

Anyway, so long: off to join the circus again.

The keynote picture is a pair of scarlet tigers, scarce in some places apparently but not in our gardens at this time of year. These moths are famous for their "tameness". They really have no fear. They think they've taken care of that angle with the Red For Danger costume, and they'll climb onto your finger to be admired. Not dangerous to us, their beauty works just as well.



Happy Birthday Ginger

Wednesday 26th June. Blue sky fading to white, one swift hurrying for the horizon at 9.15, obviously late for work. Getting cooler again. It's past midsummer and did you know there is still snow enough to ski on Ben Nevis? Wow. Anyway, it's my cat Ginger's birthday, she is twelve, so I thought I'd celebrate with a bouncing totoro.

My friend Maude is always sending me Youtube links & not always puppies. Usually I find the Obamas just repellent, and not least when hugging the Irish, but this is one Prresidential Visit highlight I had to share. It's just wonderful:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QIMucHfUMyg

Sumatra's Burning

Friday 21st June. Sumatra's burning again. The blaze must be quite a size, given the effects in Singapore and Malaysia, and cynic that I am, I'm thinking, that's not the small landowners, it's the Palm Oil firms, kind of accidentally getting rid of the annoying scraps of stuff still been getting in their way... I am heartsick, and I'm muttering, I didn't know there was that much rainforest left. But what do I know? & Jakarta makes no apology, there's a surprise. Photo courtesy of the Wall Street Journal account

On Wednesday it was summer, did you notice? We sat out late and watched the swifts, swarming in a pure blue evening sky. Now there's a cold persistent mist outside my window, and the full moon of the solstice has been cancelled, I'm afraid.

Reading

Alif The Unseen: Easy-reading updated version of Aladdin by a New Jersey girl, currently a convert to Islam and married to an Eygptian: set in a fictional modern Muslim city somewhere near the Persian Gulf, but with magic: in which Aladdin is a white, no, sorry, grey hat hacker (with a sideline in obsessive stalking of old flames); the Djinn is pretty cool, and the princess is a bold, shallow, unveiled no-good who gives up her virginity FAR too easily, and is thoroughly trounced by the full-veiled, FGM certified (at least, the Djinn reckons she's been "cut", and I think he'd know), "Wahhabi"-fan Girl Next Door. Comes unravelled at the end. I'm not kidding, this book is easy to read and enjoyable, even if the fun is punctuated by the occasional sharp intake of breath. And I'm not taking G. Willow Wilson to task for Disneyfying serious issues in her adopted culture, or even for popping up in her own fantasy: not my business. I'm just rather startled at the number of people who should know better, including plenty female respondents on amazon.com, who apparently loved this without reservation, rating Dina the girl next door a simply great role model, a feisty, independent heroine. Do they even know what female genital mutilation entails? How would they like it, if an old boyfriend (in a place where an unmarried young woman's "virtue" is her right to stay alive) sent the sheet stained with their virgin blood round to their Dad's house, with an extremely tactless message to the effect, I think this is something of yours, babe... Enough.

Boneland The third episode in Alan Garner's Weirdstone trilogy. I'm mildly addicted to amazon reviews: I often find them more illuminating than the professional kind. & I find I agree with many of the uk respondents on Boneland. It's sparse and beautiful, and it has all the ingredients you'd expect, the cosmology, the Stone Age, the majestic symmetry of time, etc; it's a pretty-good effort at imagining what happens to the adult, who was once a child character in a classic children's fantasy. And sometimes this slender volume buckles under the weight of its content.

Distractingly, I kept thinking of William Mayne's Earthfasts, also featuring Sleepers Under The Hill, and lightning strikes, & also I was disappointed in the ending. I thought Colin deserved a proper story not just the same old, same old boy-loses-goddess, boy-finds-goddess thing. And then I just wished there was more. I don't remember what happens at the end of The Moon Of Gomrath. I'll have to read it, and the Weirdstone, again.

Forgot to mention: the Forever War (I mean, my private, family affair) ended today.


GITMO detention permanent

Sunday 16th June, blue skies after morning drizzle. Just back from the Sewing Guernica Project for half an hour in the Jubilee Library, a kind of ritual act of art as protest, as i understand it, the banner gets created in public, by women and men who haven't, most of them, done much sewing before (plus a core team of experts), and this will be going on all summer, in various venues. Me, I can sew, not so great at small talk, which is a handicap... The swifts haven't been around for a few days. I hope they come back.


So, http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/06/14-2 the House of Representatives has voted to keep GITMO open and for the detention of prisoners never charged, and cleared of any wrong-doing, to continue forever.

Hard to get your head around the world we live in, is it not? Cannibal pie.

Sewing Guernica is at the Jubilee library next Sunday too, and at the Friends' Meeting House in Middle Street the week after, if you feel like dropping in. Materials provided! Mind you sign your needle in and out. Dangerous things, sewing needles...

Common Dreams urgently needs more donations, btw, and it provides a vital service. If you feel you could give them some money (whether or not you're in the US), please do.

The Landscape Of Fear

Friday 14th June, grey and perishing cold.

Loved Caroline Lucas's teeshirt stunt in the Commons, and her quick-witted connection between this modest white teeshirt, deemed offensive, inappropriate dress, and the half-naked "glamour models" relentlessly assaulting us, from the pages of a national newspaper. . . and then I remembered an article I read in last week's New Scientist, called "Landscape of Fear". It was based on an animal behaviour survey in Yellowstone Park, meant to see how the elk population was responding now wolves have been reintroduced. The received theory is that predators keep prey species in check by eating them. The discovery was that the process works by intimidation alone. Where the elks can smell wolves, where they can see signs of wolves, they can't thrive. Physical condition suffers, reproduction rate suffers, population goes down. Young elk don't play, stressed adults leave the meadows, and retreat into the forest, where food is harder to find. "it was like looking at two different countries" says the scientist. "One at peace and one at war." Conclusion: top predators don't have to kill, their kills are relatively infrequent and isolated events, compared to their mere presence. They just have to be around, being scary. . .

This is what men do to women, I thought. They don't have to rape and kill (and if actual violence against women were aberrant behaviour, it would hardly have the same impact). It's the relentless, "harmless" low-level intimidation that keeps women "in their place", that's what does the trick.

I remember how I felt in the Seventies, and even the Eighties. How close change seemed, how I could walk with my head up; how sure I was that the men I counted as friends in sf genre understood what equality meant, and could be trusted. But after a while, I knew had to change my mind. I knew it would be much harder than I'd thought, because nobody, ever gives up entrenched privilege and unjust powers without a long, dogged struggle. And it had to be a non-violent struggle, this dogged one step forward two steps back mission to make the world a better place, whatever form it takes, and no matter how long it might take, because once the weapons are out, everybody loses. And then it was September 2001, and I knew that women the world over, not only in the overt warzones, would be living in a landscape of fear again.

I am so proud of the young women of today, the ones who stand up, who speak out, even in this landscape of fear; even despite the endless intimidation.
I have such respect for them.

Fields Of Gold

Tuesday 11th June, cold and grey, with a light persistent drizzle. Yesterday was well omened and productive, good work on the latest project, studied my greek, saw the swifts racing about over my head at 7.30am (I'm beginning to believe our tiny colony here is secure, for a while) and spotted a stickleback! The first sighting since they were decanted into the "wildlife" pool back in mid May. (But we knew they were okay, as the mosquito larvae horde vanished). Today I have achieved absolutely nowt except lose my latest phone photos in the depths of Picasa and spend about 3 hours trying to locate them; fail to spot an Afghan Women's Rights petition that was staring me in the face, fail to buy any "organic" apples because they were all generic monsters from Argentina, and go for a swim. Oh wait, I got my my hair cut. And bought some tomatoes.

There, that's my contribution to the NSA's scrapbook for the day. I feel I may have been cheating on them, since I use Facebook to advertise for Avaaz and Compassion In World Farming and the like, whereas this blog is usually short on idle life-logging.


I Kid You Not

So cultural since Stimmung, I don't know where to start. King Lear in St Nicolas Gardens (bit of a wash-out, sadly. No magic, no tragic grandeur and even the weather more dismal than spectacular), Hamlet at Stratford on Avon, Gabriel Jones and Marianne Wright at Charlton House, standing in for an absent friend (lovely, of course, especially the Debussy set). David Farr's/Jonathan Slinger's Hamlet didn't please everyone and I agree with most of the criticisms in the Spectator review (although I loved the jumpers-touch, personally). Ophelia was a bland schoolgirl, Hamlet was Prufrock, and the rest of 'em hardly differentiated. Yet somehow it was gripping, from start to finish, & when I say Slinger's look of dazzled, radiant relief, when he has finally achieved his task, will stay with me, I am not being funny.

We ate in the rooftop restaurant, and how beautiful the Avon and its trees looked, under a blue-washed evening sky, katoprasino, as the greeks say, greener than green. But were not tempted by the playful idea of a mock-child pie.

Pleased by the month's early sales figures on my Bold as Love ebooks (nb, it does not take much to please me!), may I reccommend the Bold As Love website: really not bad, considering the tools I had, and the complete absence of any training (I just made it up). Except it's a little alarming to note how much of what I saw and imagined ahead, but thought was either wildly exaggerated, pure fantasy or "really" a hundred years away, is with us now. Even Devolution for Wales, my goodness. The Band of Gypsys page is the best effort, I think.

http://www.boldaslove.co.uk/

May I also draw your attention to the original gwynethann site, where you'll find a wealth of stories and essays, not all of them annoyingly formatted in strange designs, and there's usually a download button. (I've been locked out of gwynethann for a while, as my ancient form of Dreamweaver can't talk to Windows 8, but I have plans)

http://homepage.ntlworld.com/gwynethann/

Calling All. . . Clarion Alumni and Friends

If you are working on a writing project this summer, please consider signing up yourself for the annual Clarion write-a-thon:

What is a write-a-thon, anyway? It's just like a walk-a-thon. But instead of walking, we're writing, and instead of making pledges per mile, we're making pledges per word, chapter, or story. Writers get support, encouragement and motivation, and the option of joining or creating a team of other writers. Those who care about the writers in their life get a way to show their support. And money is raised for a literally fantastic cause -- the Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers' Workshop. For further details, go to http://clarionwriteathon.org

The keynote image today is the buttercup meadows at Balcombe, East Sussex, an Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty, I never saw them so beautiful as this year, and look your last, because Cuadrilla is about to start tearing them apart. I kid you not. And for what? Why destroy this beauty, in the face of the passionate resistance of the locals? Why add more and worse poison to the poisonous cocktail already being forced down our throats? Even if it's successful, even if it wasn't another giant leap towards setting our feet on Cormac McCarthy's Road, SHALE GAS MINING WILL NOT REDUCE THE PRICE OF GAS. I think you can believe it, when the firms involved tell us so themselves. So why? Kid pie... There's no end to it, is there.

Something In The Air...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Un bel di vedremo

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

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

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

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

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

Congratulations

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

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

Watching:

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

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

Reading

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

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

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

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


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


Kairos: 2 Days Free Download

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviews: One contemporary and one modern.


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


http://sfmistressworks.wordpress.com/2011/08/08/kairos-gwyneth-jones-2/


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

http://archive.catholicherald.co.uk/article/27th-january-1989/6/bleak-and-cruel-in-a-cheerless-new-world

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


The Cosmic Background

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Our Neighbours...

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

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


Escape Plans, PS:

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

Escape Plans: 2 Days Free Download

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You have been warned!

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


Swifts, Sainsburys and the Bees

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

Why is it so cold?

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

Take your pick!

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

Sainsburys and the Bees

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

http://en.avaaz.org/1326/eu-ban-bee-killing-pesticides-bayer

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

I'll let you know how I get on.


Watching

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

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

Reading

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

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

Clictivism

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

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

Ash Dieback: Season Two

Tuesday 23rd April. Cold sea, warm sun. Morning mist takes a while to clear, down here by the seaside, but when it burns off the skies are blue, the afternoons pleasant enough for people in the street to shed layers. The meal worms vanish swiftly, the goldfinches flirt about, and the blackbirds sing and sing. My tadpoles are doing well.

Spring at last, and the waiting is over, the seeing has begun. What's going to happen to the ash trees? Will they be gone in a decade, devastating our landscape?

Over the winter the defra scorecard has shown a steady increase in infected sites (484 currently): but outside East Anglia these sites are still, almost without exception, infected new plantings, ie, nursery reared saplings imported from infected countries in continental Europe, or else (which is the way the Woodland Trust got caught out) seedlings from the UK, exported to continental European nurseries; infected while reared there and then imported back here). How are things going to change, when the buds begin to break? Maybe not at all. Maybe chalara fraxinea doesn't actually spread like wildfire over here? Maybe the infection hits resistance as soon as it leaves East Anglia? Or some other kind of obstacle? Or maybe, and more likely, alas, the defra survey is just very limited... I have no idea.

I was reminded, up in Cumbria, how important these trees are to me. The lovely wayward growth of their branches in winter, their place in folklore (ash will be late this year, held back by the long, cold winter). Those iconic black buds, and the individual trees that have become part of my psychological landscape. I wish there was something I could do. A few weeks ago I asked the Sussex Wildlife Trust what plans they had for responding to the outbreak. Monitoring the ash woodlands on their reserves? Identifying and reported infections, and keeping an eye out for resistance? Maybe training volunteers to help with that task? Or with clearing away infected leaf litter, so the trees don't get re-infected? (It takes several doses of the fungus to overwhelm a tree of any size, & the spores lurk in fallen leaves) I got a cheerful "no not really! We just plan to let it happen" response. And the advice that, though it will be "frustrating" to watch so many trees die, I'd better get used to it. The same message is repeated in the latest SWT mailing to members. A little frustrating, indeed: but understandable, I suppose. There's an awful lot of ash trees in Sussex, especially in the West. In West Sussex, second most wooded county in England, holding 40% of our surviving ancient woodland, the dominant broad-leaved tree is ash, and they're all over the place, not neatly concentrated.

On the other hand, information is power, or sometimes consolation.

I was bemused at first by news that the Forestry Commission plan to combat chalara involved planting 250,000 young ash trees. What's the use of that? They'll just die! But the saplings are to be planted in East Anglia, native stock, genetically diverse, they will be exposed to infection and hopefully some of them will prove resistant.

I've learned from other sources (actually, a Gardener's World article, which I take to be fairly trustworthy), that it's not a complete wipe-out. Young trees will certainly die if they get infected, and in months not years. Trees from 10-20 years old will probably succumb, a little more slowly. Trees from 20-40 yrs have a better chance of fighting off the infection, they will get sick, but survive for years. And "There is little evidence that mature trees, over 40 yrs old, will ever be overwhelmed by the disease alone..."

So that's good news. With the caveat that a tree struggling with a serious fungal infection is far more vulnerable to other pests and trauma.

Anyway, here's what the National Trust has to say:

http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/article-1355776163480/

& here's a report from Plant Science

http://www.plantsci.org.uk/news/ash-dieback-research-funding-and-policy-news-3-april-2013

Coda:

In Cumbria a couple of weeks ago we met the larch tree killer, phytophthora ramorum, face to face: there's an infection in the Japanese Garden, Eskdale Green. But all the larches are on their way out, along with most of the mature conifers, no matter what. To be replaced by native woodland (leaving an awful Paschendale landscape of stumps in the meantime; it's not a pretty process) Ironic, huh? Wordsworth fulminated against those larches, but by my time they were beautiful: vivid green in spring, red-gold in autumn, haunt of red squirrels, goldcrests; silence. . . It's natural, it's normal, all things must pass, pests will come and go, and occasionally we must expect a devastating disease (cf the Great Wine Blight): the "nature" we have made will recover, with help.

The threats just mustn't come too thick and fast, or our managed, anthropogenic "nature" will not change and move on. It will become degraded, impoverished and unrecognisable. Intervention needs to be stepped up, on every scale, to deal with the world we live in, not the "let nature take its course" world we may fondly remember.

Occupy Sussex

Monday 21st April, light rain overnight, followed by another fine day, chill breeze, honey sun, soft cloud. It is definitely Spring. As we walked up through Stanmer Park on Friday evening, bud-break was all around us in the young trees, including the threatened ash, and looking richer than in other years; and while we were eating at Stanmer Pub, a bat flitted over the cricket lawn outside, in the calm evening.

To the Magistrates Court last Thursday, in solidarity with the four students arrested during the heavy-handed police action to break up the Occupation of Bramber House (a protest against privatisation: you can read about it here: http://sussexagainstprivatization.wordpress.com/save-the-occupation/ and here: http://www.defendtherighttoprotest.org/brutal-eviction-of-sussex-students-today/ Conversation turned to colour-bagging. Red is the People's Flag; True Blue is Tory. Orangey gold is (among other afiliations) whatstheirnames, the didn'tyouusedtobetheLiberals. Green is the Party of Social Justice, and the Environment (Davy Jones, prospective Green Party parliamentary candidate for Kemptown, had turned up too. Good for him). Pink is spoken for, the Rainbow is spoken for. Can we have yellow as the colour of Protest? It's not going to work. Yellow is the colour of nondenominational warning, watch out; the police and others have got dibbs on it. It's the Imperial colour in China, anyway.

But I commend these young people. It's heartening to know (from #Occupy Sussex that the University of Central Lancashire sity today decided to drop privatisation plans. So, not quite in vain, kids. Even if you do get criminal records.

Watching

Most of Zefirelli's Hamlet movie last night. Pretty dire! (despite Glenn Close's sprightly, manic Gertrude: clearly maxed-out on mother's little helpers). But at least Peter now knows that this elusive play is indeed stuffed with quotations.

And Broadchurch. Who did it, eh? If this had been the real world, my money would have been on that strange bloke who has popped up from time to time, proffering messages from the beyond, but I must have missed the episode where he is put out of the running. Also Scott and Bailey although I'm getting a bit tired (already, two shows in) of the Ooop North stereotyping. I don't even like Manchester, I was just born there, but there's more to the old Blingsville that this. London is not the only great city in the UK, or even in England, thanks.

Buying

Sorted out the palm oil free soap. If you feel like splashing out look no further than the RSPB Dipper range: http://shopping.rspb.org.uk/gifts-toys/skinny-dipper-toiletries.html

We are currently using Aleppo Gold, the entry level one, and it's fine. Thick primitive chunks, smelling of bay laurel, very long lasting. Oliva is also good, and you're likely to have a local stockist.


Reading

Just finished Mark Crocker and Richard Mabey's Birds Britannica, that Peter got me for my birthday. I loved this book, mighty tome that it is; you wouldn't want to drop it on your foot. Not enough pictures, though. & it's chilling to realise how many more household name bird populations have plunged, just in the last few years (since this quirky catalogue was compiled ie). The swift, the skylark, the lapwing, the cuckoo. . . I could go on. I won't.

Sword at Sunset & The Once And Future King. Arthuriana classics I bought 2nd hand for Peter, when I thought his birthday books wouldn't arrive. Was meaning to buy them for his ereader, but got warned off by reviews of the quality of the transcription (I keep running into this issue). Sword At Sunset, Rosemary Sutcliff (1963), richly supplied with gory, set-piece battles, lovingly worked out; an unexpected wealth of heart-catching, nature writing. Tiny bit fascist. It's absorbing, but grim, far grimmer than I remembered it The certainty of doom and of personal disaster are ever present. Sort of Arthur as Macbeth. (I probably didn't mind this when I was a teenager, probably just found it romantic). The Once And Future King, T H White. Some people swear by this one, but the famous love affair doesn't half go on a bit. I'll think I'll stick with The Sword In The Stone. And memo to self, re-read The Goshawk.