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Special Feature: No Child Born To Die

Ash Wednesday, low light, mild grey sky, light breeze. The goldfinches squabble on the thistle feeder, five is the most we've seen and that's probably all that remains of the small flock that used to frequent Linda and Ron's acacia tree cafe. Did they disperse, did some fall victim to that white beak disease? Anyway, here they are, flashing their amazing yellow underwings, and threatening each other with tiny grrr and getoff noises...

a pair of Great tits eating suet, have become very faithful. Yesterday a pair of blackbirds feeding on our holly berries. how big and strong they looked, beside the tiny mobsters.

& the content today is brought to you by Save The Children:

Here's a video:

Here's a "fantastic store cupboard soup" by Jamie Oliver:

But I'm not going to be making it because I already have my plans for this soup instead:

I can of chickpeas, drained
Or 6oz dried chickpeas, soaked overnight and drained
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 potato roughly chopped
about half a curly savoy cabbage, chopped
1 large tomato, peeled and chopped
Or 1-2 tablespoons of ready-chopped tomatoes
2tsp of tomato paste
one bunch dill, finely chopped (around 25-50g weight, according to taste)
3tsp vegetable stock powder and 1 litre water
Or 1 litre vegetable stock

Put them all together in a big pan. Bring to the boil. Simmer for at least an hour and a half, or until everything's really tender. Serve with yoghurt and strong bread.

This is from Mahdur Jaffery's Eastern Vegetarian Cookbook.

Except, mine is the old edition, so I'm not sure. But it's the thought that counts, & the thought is, eat frugally today, out of respect for the children who are starving. And do something to make their plight better known. Plenty of suggestions on the site.

The Soup

Monday 20th February, a frosty morning, ice on the pools, rime on the grass. Clear sky clouding over. And still no significant rain for us. There's going to be a serious drought in the South East of England this summer, we've been saying for months but I think we're past the point of no return now.

Really vintage birthday last week. Excellent presents, including a fancy trip to Stratford to see The Heresy of Love next weekend, and my very own Snow Leopard. Also I beat my boss, I rode my bicycle for the first time in 10 years and only fell off a bit, once, and the goldfinches found the thistle feeder. This week is dedicated to eating pancakes, embarking on Lenten detox, and composing GOH speech for Benelux, which is going to be about Ghosts, and Dreams, and Nothingness (I'm appearing as Ann Halam, in spirit).

Have read Twilight, finally (I fell asleep in the movie, could not see the point of that lad with the Jedward hairdo). Liked it for the first while, a lot better than I liked the first Harry Potter anyway, but then when it got to the lovely couple making-out in the meadow, was surprised to find how creepy... On the screen, I can see that you get a lovely Cinderella teen and a beautiful mythical monster teen. On the page, I just got the inescapable impression that this was a big grown up man manipulating, or as they say grooming, a helpless little girl. Still, me not teenage girl. Or father of teenage girls, which I believe is also a very enthusiastic target audience. Have also read #1 of The Hunger Games. Liked it and found it very readable, but didn't like it as much as Gregor the Overlander and his sister.... Reason, I suspect, is me not girly, so not interested in the reality show Cinderella aspect, whereas in the Battle Royale context me definitely shreddie. . But will persevere.

Saw Martha Marcie May Marlene, and thought it wonderfully creepy, but hard to rate because the other half of the equation (the yuppie couple) were such place-holders. They needed something to do, and I'm not saying they needed to be killed and eaten. Did I get faint hints that both these sisters had sexual abuse in their history? Something subtle and unsettling, anyway, to match M.girl's story.

Watched the first episode of Homeland last night. Psychotic high cadre CIA vs a ginge with a funny twitch and an unreasonably pretty wife, whose teenage daughter hates her, ho hum. What's this lone turned Marine going to do, grumbles Peter. Well, of course, he's going to assassinate the President, what else?

Have made the soup (red pepper and sweet potato). Have read New Scientist, have reluctantly set aside Why Beauty Is Truth (I'm up to quaternions, and Hamiltonian systems are looking good for the Remote Presence story). Have run out of distractions.

The Dickens Issue

Wednesday 8th February, ice still hard, very dry, grey skies. The birds have made a bit of a comeback: I've seen one of the female blackcaps two days running now, and great tit, hedge sparrow & one male chaffinch as well as my faithful blue tits & robin. Crowds of sparrows in my brother's garden yesterday.

Charles Dickens has been on my mind for the last couple of years, originally because of a novel he wrote called Bleak House, which, as you may remember, features a family civil action case, over a disputed inheritance. Jarndyce vs Jarndyce finally, at a leisurely pace and after ruining many lives (some of the recipients eagerly embracing their ruin, others just in the wrong family at the wrong time), completely destroys both the family and the inheritance, and absorbs all the money in legal fees... After trolling my way through Bleak House, and appreciating the anaesthetic effect of its deft storytelling, I later decided (never having been a fan) that I would set myself to read my way through the workd of the great Charles Dickens on my commute from Brighton to Manchester.

Previously, and apart from A Christmas Carol (which depends for a lot of its effect on the incomparably greater modern work, A Muppets' Christmas Carol) I'd only met Dickens novels as "set books" in secondary school. I remember being thrilled by the Magwich opening of, Great Expectations, and intrigued by the mysterious Miss Havisham and Estella (Estrella?) set up, but then the tide of coincidences began to roll in across the mudflats, and in the end I lost patience.Hard Times was memorable, in that I still remember Mr Gradgrind and his utilitarian philosophy of everything, but I don't remember being moved or gripped by the story... I think there was David Copperfield too, but can't recall a thing about that one, except for the dolly little child bride, about as much use as a hamster, who rather annoyed me. Meanwhile, all adult, ie non-classroom based, literary and intellectual opinion seemed agreed that Dickens was a sentimental hack, a big bit of a hypocrite and no great shakes as a novelist either. But I'm now an adult myself, so I know that fashions change & you can't tell fashion from reliable reporting until you try.

I started with Little Dorrit, for the very good reason that the tv version had recently been filmed using the Old Royal Naval College at Greenwich (aka these days Trinity College of Music) &, thus the modern mind, I've walked those hollowed pavements a few times so I felt a connection... Then resolved to start again at the beginning and read The Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist in succession, plus I ordered the Claire Tomalin biography from Father Christmas.

My verdict? Definitely a sentimental hack, and a big bit of a hypocrite. Had only one or two ideas for plots/characters/situations, which he recycled shamelessly and relentlessly. And no doubt the same will be true, mutatis mutandis, of the great fictioneer of our times when he (well, obviously, but okay, outside bet on J K Rowling) comes to be enshrined as a cultural icon... Of course (this is in response to Claire Tomalin's view on the subject) he "resorted to prostitutes", what's more, internal evidence suggests he preferred girls at least as young as anybody could possibly consider decent. In fact that's obviously why he quietly supported a small and kindly reformatory for getting girls off the streets. He was not heartless, and he had an imagination. He married the wrong woman, poor man, and visited his marital disappointment on a long parade of monstrous fictional females, to match the long parade of infuriating insolvent fathers. Which is forgiveable, I suppose, but it's harder to forgive the author of Nicolas Nickleby for fathering a mad succession of children he insisted he didn't want, and then sending the boys off to the most ghastly prisonhouse boarding schools, where they had to stay even over Christmas... His "never mind the quality feel the width" writing style led him into the mire again and again, with the last third or so of any given novel just about bound to collapse under its own weight. Little Dorrit is awful for this: I was embarrassed for the man. They say he worked hard at his meticulous plotting. I pay him the compliment of saying, frankly I do not believe it. On the other hand, he was a terrific, if self-indulgent (but the two things go together) natural storyteller, and a terrific master of the art of arousal; ie the vital art of gripping an audience's attention. And (further in response to Claire Tomalin) he certainly knew how the English talk and behave, how desperate, drunken prostitutes behave, how extravagent and wild the underclass can get. Seriously, you'd think he'd been studying such scenes all his life.

I salute him. But.

Pickwick Papers is mainly an interminable waste of time and space. And they don't half drink a lot. Stunning non-stop consumption, even by the standards of C21 UK.

Oliver Twist is the one I recommend, the pick of the bunch, coincidences & all

& then my mother died, and I have set the task aside.

Dry As A Bone: Science Fiction As The Art Of The Possible

Thursday 2nd February, hard frost, dry as bone, everything crackles, my hair whips around the brush, hard ice on the pools but not a feather of frost.

Noticed this yesterday, on the bbc:

Here's me apologising to Stephen Cass a few months ago, having cooked up a story for the Technology Review SF Anthology, out of two New Scientist articles, a dream and a quote from T.S.Eliot, when I was supposed to be writing about tech that might actually be on the horizon. I needn't have worried, apparently.

For our next trick, The Day After Tomorrow. Nothing spectacular going on here, but it's cold, even in Brighton. The cats huddle in the house, all day. Ginger exploring the back of my desk drawers, hoping for a secret passage to Narnia. Then at four in the morning they want to go out, presumably convinced it will be warmer in the dark.

Absence of birdlife continues. A pair of bluetits and the robins, that makes three visitors, because I only ever see one robin. A blackbird in passing, occasionally. No sign of the local flock of goldfinches, nNo finches of any variety, no thrushes, I haven't seen the blackcaps for a long long time. There's going to be an answer to this puzzle, and what's the betting it won't be "not to worry!"

Keynote picture is bare beech branches at Nuthurst, December

Sick As Dogs

Tuesday 31st January, a still, cold morning here in Brighton, no sign of interesting wintery showers as yet, but the temperature has certainly taken a fall.

Sick as dogs all last week, Peter and I competing with each other bitchily for the watch below, as we alternately crept about getting things done, pleading with a cranky boiler, or huddled under the duvet. Not a spectacular bug, but a mean one, crushing us to the ground, poison headache and continuous nausea combined. I started getting better on Sunday and felt such a rush of well-being, it was almost worth it. No it wasn't. At least we managed to celebrate Peter's birthday weekend first, and at least Gabriel (who has a competition this weekend coming) is getting off lightly.

So, belated welcome to the Year of the Water Dragon.

Reading, Alexander Puskin short stories, having seen them praised as the forerunners once too often to resist. A collection of engrossing fragments, uncut, unpolished shards, I really like his "flat" style (though it's still frustrating to be told I can't ever appreciate his wonderful poetry unless I become fluent in Russian); The Queen of Spades is the finished, perfect gem. Watching, a succession of movies recorded by Gabriel who then doesn't find the time to watch them. My Darling Clementine, such a beautiful movie, such beautiful cinematography, every proportion and every detail, I confess I passed over its political flaws without a pang... the "goodgirl waits smiling by the trail, badgirl does something interesting and dies"; the "homely, decent Manifest Destiny manifesto"; the "intellectuals go to the bad get tb and can only hope to die unnoted heroic deaths"... Didn't bother me at all. Scarface. The germ plasm of all Chicago-style Italian gangster movies since, inc the Al Pacino remake. Mm. No wonder the genre strikes me as so impoverished.
Gilda. Now that's an oddity. Peculiar, but very watchable. Rita Hayworth making the most of her assets is an education, should you have forgotten how much flimflam there is in the femme fatale concept.

And Borgen I don't know why I'm still watching this soap, so I suppose that makes it watchable, but for heaven's sake. By numbers, or what?

Went to see The Descendants last night, in the cold. Taken there only by the reviews, I thought (we all thought) it was very good, except the prolonged "cathartic" yelling at an effectively dead person element. Please. At least wait until you're alone in the room.

If I go to see Iron Lady, which you could not drag me to, but if, do I get my money back should I be disappointed that the last scene does not show Meryl Streep burning in hell?

The tree is a little beech in Stanmer woods, in the snow this time two years ago. i don't have enough photos of winter trees. Or any trees. So my project this year will be to remedy that. I will about the woodlands go... It's a little late, in my case, but an excellent plan.

Lack of birdlife in the garden continues.

Moral Capitalism

Friday 20th January, grey morning, but more light in the sky and currently it is not raining. The native daffodils have put on a growth spurt, all of an inch and a half high today, but they're in a very cool shady corner. Shop-daffodils are strapping adolescents, some already showing their flower buds, but I think no fair maids of February this year, despite the green winter. Dampness prevails, but the state of Ardingly reservoir is a benchmark. We need a lot of rain, unnatural amounts of rain, to get us back to what the health profession would call this patient's baseline There are just too many people living in Sussex now, and too much very thirsty agriculture. Ironically, unnatural amounts is what we're most likely to get, so here's sort-of hoping.

And so, goodbye Occupy St Paul's. Or at least, a loss of mandate for the campers. Me, I support the idea wholeheartedly, I want the revolt against Toxic Capitalism Run By Self-Confessed Psychopaths to be visible; even if I don't actually believe in capitalism anyway. Hey. Look! Occupy is working. It's working on David Cameron, Ed Milliband, and what's that other fellow? I know what these anarchic festivals of revolution look like close up (that's not Anarchist, btw); I know what they become. Haight-Ashbury wasn't all flowers and gentle, mind-opening highs, you know. But a shambolic, messy Occupy, or the LSX bonus-culture? Even the people of England, en masse, know there is no contest.

I don't believe in moral capitalism. But on the other hand, when Mr Ecover came on the tv yesterday, to explain this strange idea Dave had come up with, to the people at the BBC, I was immediately filled with a desire to go and clean a floor. That floor-cleaner of theirs smells so great, and its such a nice colour too. There's no point, says Mr Man, in making a good, righteous product nobody wants...But he doesn't, they don't. Consumers don't love the word Organic, they don't continue to favour ethically traded goods even in hard times, to punish themselves. The stuff is good, it's nice to buy good stuff, it feels good. We want more.

Still don't believe in it.

Paper Modelling vs Zelda (post-Christmas angst bulletin)

I have not given up on my duck-flying-an-aeroplane. That's just not true.

I'm getting back to it, as soon as I've finished this Water Temple.

The keynote image is Angmering beeches in Maytime. Trees will be the default feature, this year. I'm tired of my office photo

The Birches

Tuesday 17th January, 2012. Another in a series of clear nights, shell-pink dawns in a blue sky. A weekend of real frost, this morning at seven both the pools had ice on them, first time I've seen that this winter. Interestingly, the two little fish in the smaller aka wildlife pool were visible for the first time in weeks, swimming just under the ice, maybe they were curious? Or the ice was shelter and the sunshine warmed them? Anyway now, it's a grey afternoon and the mild weather is supposed to be back tomorrow. It's the old pattern from before our run of ice and snow winters, brief cold snaps; long unhealthily mild stretches. But not enough rain for us down here. We need a lot of rain.

Christmas and New Year long over, our first walk of 2012 on Sunday, a clear, crisp, sunny day. From Balcombe to the magnificent great Ouse Valley Viaduct, designed by Urpeth Ridpath, occupant of the Engineer's Tomb, such a landmark in King Death's Garden, builder (all in Latin) of the London to Brighton Railway. We lingered there a while, then onwards to Ardingly Reservoir. Last time we came this way, January 2007, the year of the floods. The fields were full of standing water, the reservoir full to the brim. We sat in the birdhide on a dark day, shivering and eating Christmas cake, watching crested grebes, gadwalls and wigeon, mallards and of course masses of geese. The Christmas cake's all gone, and the water's gone too. Plenty of people about, visiting the nature reserve on a fine sunday, but no kayakers, no sailors, just one lone fisherperson in a rowing boat, far out, beyond horrible huge expanses of exposed bank. Warnings of "deep mud" but I don't think so, the mud is dry and moss-grown. Hasn't been under water for months. Overheard on the lakepath: there's going to be no fish left by the summer, if it carries on at this rate. Mm. And then what will go next? But nothing's going to stop us carrying on at this rate. Nothing

But we sat in the hide, for old sake's sake (disappointingly, I had forgotten to put even apples in the bag) and watched the little birds instead. A tree creeper in the birch stems, neatly using its tail as a third leg; long tailed tits in the thicket. Then further along, cormorants and a heron; on Balcombe lake, we found the crested grebes. And so back to Balcombe village and the Half Moon, in a still, rosy twilight. Fancy a pint, says I, hopefully? But Peter is strong, full of new year's resolution, and says no. Not strong enough to resist crumpets and honey at home, however.

...but we go on counting our losses, and closer to home (for me). ALCS is telling me I can probably expect no more income from educational use of my work. That's the fee they pay for photocopying snippets, mostly. And I haven't heard from PLR lately. Not since their revised date for the modest share-out of Public Lending fees, warning me this may well be the last time, as their future is uncertain. Petty as these cuts may be, they're going to hurt people in the writing trade.

Saw The Artist, and thought it cute enough to cuddle, slight enough to avoid all suspicion that it might be one of those highbrow foreign things. Did I detect the safest possible little sigh of comment, in those title cards, at the refusal of "Hollywood" to read subtitles? Well, maybe this is the answer! Saw Hugo, in Manchester as it happens, at Salford Quays, the night before my mother's funeral, in a huge, filthy and spooky Multiplex..and thought it very attractive, a lovely boy's adventure for all the family, and there's no point in telling you what I thought was wrong. Have not seen Dreams Of A Life, because so far the only showing at The Dukes has been a Director's Q&A session and you have to be sharp to get those tickets.

Have watched Sherlock #2, and find the 2ns series much more polished, a little bit fascist, & very true to the original, in that the quirks and Holmes's party trick are most of it, the "detective stories" are actually a bit rubbish. Very watchable; very entertaining. We call a woman with power over the power-brokers a whore these days, not an "adventuress", how progressive, how unlike 1895! Didn't think much of the Hound of the Baskervilles, but I never thought it was a great Holmes story. Nobody will come with me to see Guy Ritchie's slap bang wallop version, sigh.

Have been reading Dickens, but that will wait. Also A Fish Trapped Inside the Wind, Christien Gholson, sent to me by the author as a thank you (he liked Life). Surrealist, charming, recommended by Karen Fowler and deservedly so. Set in Belgium, naturally, where in a town called Villon, a lost poet's lost poems serve as the mcguffin.

The Russian-loooking birch grove is not from the Balcombe walk, they're in Lodgesale Wood, near Nuthurst; the pines there are also really beautiful.

Home By Christmas

Friday, December 16th, a raw damp day, but plenty of light in the sky. It was snowing outside my window earlier, but it's not really cold enough for snow down here.

My mother died, early on Tuesday morning. Not unexpected, I've known since August she was on her way out: no dramatic change, when someone is dying of the plain system-failures of old age, but unmistakeable. But you know it's coming, you wait for the call then you forget to wait, and then it comes.

So, Tuesday morning I made the last of those train journeys, and joined my brother who'd driven up from London through the very wild weather of that night, and been at her bedside. By Wednesday afternoon it was all over bar the funeral, and we were clearing out her room, at the end-of-life place where she'd spent the last few weeks. David went to rustle up some more boxes, I looked out on the grounds from her window, at the beautiful towering bare beeches we'd hoped she might live to see in bud or leaf. It was snowing: a black cat scampered for cover, a big dog fox trotted slowly, from shrubbery to shrubbery across the icy drenched grass. Thinking, so this is it. She's free at last, and so am I. What on earth am I going to do with myself?

I'm sure I'll think of something.

Mary Rita Jones (Dugdale) 16.12.1920-13.12.2011 RIP

& this will be the last entry, for a while.

The Screen-saver

Tuesday 6th December, coldest day of the winter so far (but still not very cold, no frost here yet); still air, dull sky. Taking on the mantle of Linda and Ron, whose bird feeders were party central for so long, we've put up feeders of our own despite cats and squirrels. First customers today, two blue-tits, a robin and a garden warbler (the last after small insects on the buddleia). But will the goldfinches come back? Will we ever be party central? I hope so.

Spent longer than I planned with the Public Sector workers this time last week. Peter and I ambled down to the Level, expecting maybe forty or fifty die-hards, but no, there were thousands of die-hards, also a somewhat longer route for the march. And though (see earlier entries) I don't believe I'm entirely on the 99% team, I was glad to join the Iron-rice-bowl people. Firefighters, police, teachers, nurses, ambulance drivers; the gangs who take your rubbish away... Any modern state requires, and must support, vast armies of these public servants. The risk-averse, who save rather than spend, who choose, for security or out of conviction, to work for something other than profit; who either don't fancy their grifting chances of getting rich, quick or slow. Or simply don't fancy the idea... If they really went on strike, there would be trouble, but they won't do that, they'd have to be desperate, and that time is not here, not yet. They'll use these token days of action as a negotiating tool, and make whatever deal they can make. Good luck to them.

Maybe the open contempt Cameron expresses, on his own or through his sock-puppets, for the Public Sector workforce isn't really the way he'd like to spin it. Polarising opinion isn't the name of the game: the name of the game is poaching the opposition voters. This bluff rhetoric is for the faithful, meant to buy their support for the deeper austerity measures he knows are inevitable... But if he decides to talk like that, the way Osborne decided to speak with open contempt on protection of wildlife habitats, and all other "environmental issues", then first I have to wonder, what kind of picture do these censored, public gestures paint, of the private company our PM is keeping, off the record? And, oh dear, where does it all leave me, and the millions who share my opinions? What does the government of the UK plan to do with us, after giving up all hope of bringing us on board, and (politically) selling us off as toxic waste?

Anyway, the screen saver is on a hoarding, erected on the side of the Phoenix Art Gallery, big building beside The Level, housing the biggest arts organisation in the South East. It looks like rainbow coloured dunes, or like the coloured light on cloud, that lingers after the Antarctic sun has set for the winter (I saw that on Attenborough, of course). I wanted to know what it was and whether it was okay to take its photo, so I went indoors to ask. Huh, says my informant. The massive screen that's blocking the light from our studio spaces? That's for advertising. We had to put it up, we need the cash. What you see is just a filler, for when we haven't sold the space.

Ah, well. It's still pretty.

Watching: Lund II, and finding it a bit ordinary, and The Great British Property Scandal, for the most hopeful, positive and practical ideas I've seen on tv in a long time.

Reading: Jane Rogers, The Testament of Jessie Lamb. Okay now finished it, and still not totally convinced. This is a story about a teenage girl, getting tempted and falling in love with slow suicide, as young girls (& occasionally boys) are known to do, tho' usually the weapon of choice is simply not eating. She decides on this course because it seems to be her only free choice, the only power she can wield. Trouble is, I'm not the reader who can come to such a topic naively. I can't stop myself from asking, and pray tell, why would teenage girls feel that way? Why would they feel so powerless, and yet so vindictively powerful? But no, not here, because this is a superior non-genre kind of scifi, and everybody knows scifi doesn't do proper novels. Sigh. Oh well, it's probably just me, and I just don't like, as I said, the "Kill Everyone! In The Whole World!" Not unless it's funny.

The Gynoid Interview (With Danielle de Santiago)

Wednesday 30th November, chilly, calm morning, pale sun breaking through cloud. the wind has blown itself out for the moment, no rainstorms or flooding in Brighton or at least not yet. Solidarity: I'm going to be marching with the unions in an hour or so (alongside Peter). A very undisruptive route, from Victoria Gardens to the Level, if you know what that means. I totally support this day of action, down with the Bad Barons of Westminster, and their settled determination to make the rich richer, persecute the poor, and reduce the middle classes (historical aberation that we are!) to the level of upper servants. And what happened to that Robin Hood tax may I ask?

But meanwhile, here's an interview I did earlier this year with a most engaging, and sympathetic interviewer, Danielle de Santiago. (Never did get a copy of the magazine: ah well, it's true I don't speak German but I could have looked at the pictures. I think possibly Danielle decided the rest of the content wasn't suitable fare for an elderly English lady).

would you please introduce yourself to my readers and tell them who you are

I’m Gwyneth Jones, I’m English, my politics are Green, because I think about the future; my working habits are sedentary, but I go to the gym often, and dream of climbing mountains. I’m very fond of cats, also frogs. I’m fascinated by science and technology, and by myth and “fairytales”: to me this is all related, all about telling stories that try to explain how the world works, and how actions have consequences. Plus, I like extraordinary things, and believe purely material, “rational” explanations can never be adequate. I’m frequently identified as a feminist writer, but just as frequently rejected by feminists. I’ve been writing in different genres of the fantastic for many years.

you are the novelist who actually createt the term of "gynoid" for your novel Divine Endurance...can you please tell us what your inspiration was?

In science fiction terms I was inspired by Issac Asimov’s “Robot” stories, written long before real-world robotics had come anywhere near “creating” a humanoid robot. Actually the super-powered machine-in-human-form is is a much, much older idea in European culture, eg the Golem. Asimov followed that tradition, by pondering on the consequences. Would human beings become helpless, in the care of these devoted, super-intelligent, super-powerful machines? Would the servant become the master? I became fascinated by that puzzle too, and wrote a story about the “perfect servant”, and what she means in a far, far future world. Inventing the term “gynoid” was really incidental. Andros means “man” in Greek. An android is a man-like robot. Gyne means woman. It seemed obvious to me that a woman-like robot would be a gynoid. But Cho (the metagenetic gynoid) is a real character in the story, not just a gadget in human form. As the story developed, I think her feminine approach to her task of making people perfectly happy became important.

how can we imagien the gynoids you were having in mind back then?

Dolls. Cho is a doll, a fanstastically perfect toy. She has the life of a toy who does not know that she’s a toy, but yet doesn’t question that she is incomplete alone. She is empty inside until she can find her person, a human being she can look after and cherish forever. It doesn’t have to be a male human being. In fact, Cho’s lover will be a woman. Long after I wrote the book, I questioned what was behind the creation of Cho, in my own mind. I realised that in ways I myself been brought up to be a perfect, devoted companion. I wrote about this and you can find the essay here:

in your novel the gynoid is a female roboter slave...what was she created for?

She was created as a very exclusive, very expensive, incredibly dangerous kind of robot companion. Sexual pleasure is part of her repertoire, but she can do much, much more. Her long-gone human designers actually became very worried about the potential powers of these “angel dolls”. They tried to build safeguards, but the safeguards turned out to be catastrophically inadequate. Cho’s kind were programmed to satisfy the deepest of human desires. They found the deep desire for death in the human psyche, and death is what they have provided, for billions. By the time Cho emerges and goes in search of the remnant of humanity, the process is almost complete. It’s up to Cho and her lover, if possible, to find out what “the angel dolls” have done, and change this result. In other words the story of Cho is a fable about our relationship with machines. They are wonderful, they serve us devotedly, they can create a paradise of instant gratification for us. But they are also the engines of death.

today fembots/gynoids are still or rather even more a subject as people keep on beeing fascinated by the idea female robots ...of course that is mainly a male fantasie..of a sexy robot who is willing to satiesfy ally our wishes...what is your opinion about that and what do you think where these needs for artifical women comes from?

Simple! Men, and possibly women too, believe that artificial women will do what they are told. Now that functioning humanoid robots are becoming a real possibility, the idea of a male-formed humanoid robot may be too threatening. A machine that looks like a woman looks harmless and submissie (although this may be illusion). So it’s not all about sex, but obviously (male) sexual fantasies are important. As a sexual partner, a female-shaped humanoid robot promises to be as tolerant as a rubber doll. “She” will do anything, embarrassing or plain nasty, and the client doesn’t have to explain or negotiate. My accidental invention “gynoid” did not catch on in science fiction, the term “female android” is preferred, but I’ve noticed that whenever another author has used the term, the gynoid is always a sex-worker. As if there would be no point in giving a robot female form if “she” was not to be used for sex.

a lot people write about the contact between the subjects or erotica and science/technic...what do you think about that?

Years ago, when people first started using the internet, this globally dispersed machine seemed to have unlimited potential. Innovative science fiction writers, the Cyberpunks, were obsessed with the idea of fusion between humans and machines: a kind of erotic, disembodied, data-mediated nirbhana. Very soon after that, we realised that there were only two reliable ways to make money online: porn and gossip, which seemed like the real world’s ironic response to the science fiction dream.

Nowadays the internet is a huge part of many people’s lives, and we live with it like wearing an old sock. The image of the (usually male) geek, who gets turned on by gadgets, thrilled by killer applications, and avoids human contact is still a figure of fun. But sexual pleasure that happens in our heads, and doesn’t involve another person, certainly is closely related to other kinds of arousal. I can understand the idea that there is a thrill, like sex but beyond sex, in machine-mediated pleasure.

do you think that a gynoid like the one you had in mind will ever exist in the future?

No. Cho is a personification of an archetype, like Death or Love. She’s a real character, in the story, but she’s not a real prototype of some possible future robot. She’s The Machine, not any particular machine.

where do you see the social problems with the possible existance of fembots/gynoids?

The world is already full of flesh and blood fembots/gynoids, in the sense of sex-workers (including exploited wives and concubines) who are treated like blocks of wood, and do not have the power to negotiate human rights for themselves. There are plenty of human female domestic slaves too. What would be the difference? I fear that a significant “population” of non-sentient fembots/gynoids would only make it more difficult for real, flesh and blood working women to maintain their independence. But if they were sentient? If they were “man-made”, but whole human beings with human minds? Then they’d just be people, like the rest of us, another exploited underclass.

a very interesting aspect is the fact that the sex-robot fantasy seems to be a male only idea..or do you think that women feel the need for a male robo-slave as well?

The male robo-slave is not unknown in science fiction. In Joanna Russ’s famous feminist satire The Female Man, one of her characters is a futuristic, augmented female assassin (called Jael), who keeps a male robo-slave as a pet. He’s literally a pet, built from “chimpanzee germ plasm”, and controlled by digital impulses, but she uses him as a sextoy. Another US writer, Carolyn Cherryh, has written several novels featuring a subrace of synthetic humans called azi. Female characters in Cherryh’s books tend to be strong and determined, and are often in positions of rank and power. These women are not above exploiting male azi, as more or less willing sex-workers. I think both these fantasies have an appeal for women readers, and if (heterosexual programmed) male robo-slaves became available, I’m sure there would be a market for them.

if you could design yourself a would he be like?

I wouldn’t want to do that. If I designed a servitor, I wouldn’t want it in human form, I don’t have a place in my life for a slave, or even something that looks like a slave. If I designed a humanoid robot, I’d design it for a function that human beings couldn’t perform: like surviving in deep space or on an alien planet. I’d want to be able to inhabit the robot form by telepresence, so I could fly close to the sun or into the cloudy depths of a gas planet. It would be a “gynoid” when I was inhabiting it, obviously, but I wouldn’t worry about making it “male” or “female”.

one more question..please tell my readers about your recent book

My most recent book is called Spirit, it’s a retelling of The Count Of Monte Cristo, in a fantastical space opera setting, with a woman in the lead role. In the world of Spirit it’s against the law for an AI to be embodied in human form: with the exception of sex workers and street-level police officers. These two jobs are thought to be too psychologically and physically dangerous for human beings, and yet best conducted in human-shaped form. So there are bots, and they may look like women or men, but they aren’t artificial humans, they are fully sentient software agents, temporarily inhabiting human-shaped machines.


That's it. Now take a good look at Takashi Murakami's* little lady, dear readers, especially female readers. I mean the image I'm using as a keynote: Hiropon. Take a good long look, and think about it. Murakami didn't call his cornucopia girloid "heroin" (that's what's what Hiropon means) for nothing. You do not need, you really do not need that uplift bra, you don't need the underwiring, and you definitely don't need the silicone implants.

Well, correction: you don't need to militarise your assets, if you have any desire at all for women and men to treat each other like human beings.

Once the weapons are out, everyone loses.

*to be fair, I suspect Murakami came at his image the other way round, and his little girl with the huge tits is meant to say "A hugely toxic spiritually destructive drug is like a grotesquely desirable young woman." But the message is the same.

Occupy Another Way

Monday 28th November, wind has dropped, quiet skies blue and grey. Warm as early summer, and brillant sunshine yesterday. Colder last night, a clear moonless sky, and this morning the air feels chilly outdoors, which means not a lot, as this year without a summer slides into a year without a winter, but it cheers me up a little, irrationally.

Entries in this occasional secret-diary-in-an-unlocked-drawer have been interupted by a flurry of activity in my family's gothic Forever War. Seems I can sneak a few days behind the lines again, so where was I? The Athens Referendum that didn't happen, mm, the question having been rendered kind of superfluous by the advertising.

[Interestingly, the Communists in Greece and my favourite Devout Capitalist, Bill Bonner, over on The Daily Reckoning, hold exactly the same opinion on bailouts, and the economic crisis generally. Can't Pay? Don't Pay! Stop being so stupid, you cannot solve a debt crisis by piling on more debt! And (my favourite) Don't you Realise, Practically All of this idiotic mega-Euro-Aid money will go straight, same like Famine Aid in the most corrupt country in Africa, into the pockets of the worst offenders???! But nah, not really that interesting. Devout capitalists and devout communists have two defining qualities in common: they are obliged by conviction to be ruthless, and equally obliged (it's a rare hobby with the kind of politicians who get into office, sad to say) to be passionately, intelligently interested in economics.]

I visited Occupy St Pauls, during my absence, with Gabriel in tow: I donated some books and rations, and had a look around, very quietly. Gabriel read the posters, approved of some objectives, and disapproved of a young man soap-boxing a few of the faithful, who said "f**k" (often!) right in front of a church. Disrespect is a serious crime, in the eyes of our younger generation, have you noticed that? I took some phone-photos, but I can't show you, because our household network isn't working at the moment. Next time I'm passing, if they're still there, and I hope they will be, I'll take a copy of Kairos and overtly give it to someone. Kairos (1988) opens in St Pauls. I used to visit that echoing great shell often, when it was still free entry, and became attached to the memorials, particularly Viscount Melbourne's door, which seemed to me the Door In The Wall of all Doors In The Wall, that old genre favourite, the portal into another dimension, set in dark and mighty stone indeed. And guarded by the angels of the Last Trump, just to remind me that as far as we know, no matter what else gives, there is still only one way out of here....

So then I wrote a story about the opening of that door, and what might lie beyond the end of the world.

Meanwhile, the neutrinos that "travelled faster than light" in September are still hanging on, I see, and threatening the Standard Model in intriguing if not novel ways. Multiverses! Even tachyons are back! Hey, I remember tachyons, from Frijof Capra's The Dao Of Physics, not to mention Gregory Benford's Timescape. But I should be used to the I have been here before feeling: it's the fate of any onlooker on the science game. In fact, I've come to find theories and novel observations more appealing when they've grown up a bit, when they have some conversation: like quantum mechanics, for instance. Been around a long time, challenging the coolness-quotient (you can't believe this unless you're prepared to accept total weirdness as the basis of everything)... and now, only this year, the weirdness starts to give way before pure mechanical improvements, more delicate equipment that allows "us" (well, one or two of us) to observe superposition in the flesh (er, if I've got that right); quantum effects in the macro-world, and quantum uncertainty that does not mysteriously vanish, on the contrary it's all around us, essential to the processes of biology (cf Henry Nicholls, on uncertainty in biology and evolution). But how strange the timing of these things seems, don't you think? It's almost as if those neutrinos knew we needed a new order, a new mysterious explanation, to get us out of this cul-de-sac; to set us on a different path

Always, already, there is another way. A different path that we could take, a different universe we could be inhabiting, unawares, and if we just take the right turning, make the right measurement, we could be there, it could be our observed reality. I've been fascinated by this idea, this feeling, as long as I've been a science/fiction writer, because of the immensely fertile resonance between society, consciousness and science, on this cusp. A new universe in a tiny statistical deviation too far, trembling on the edge of becoming. A feeble grassroots movement, with barely a glimmer of existence, that could change the world.

And could it happen? Certainly, it's happened often. The twist in the tale is that when a mighty revolution is successful, everyone just thinks the world has always been this way. What, are you nuts?. There was never any weirdness in quantum mechanics, and infinite economic growth was always, obviously a most pernicious fiction.

OXI in Greece 2011 (Guest Post)

Wednesday 2nd November, Feast of All Souls, weather looks like November, grey and low, and feels like November, except for the temperature. October one of the warmest on record. Mild winter to come?

as I've already said, clawing back the wealth is not my target, I don't think it's a good target. I'm not into leftwing politics, and I think wealth is the enemy, plain and simple: but, on the other hand...

The picture and post below forwarded by Darko and Nena Suvin, for sharing:

Hello, Darko!
On Friday, October 28th, at the national greek aniversary of OXI [that is, NO], taking its name from the answer given to the Italian Ambassador carryng Mossolini's demand that the borders of Greece should open to the Italian army in 28.10.1940, which marked the entrance of Greece to the 2nd WW, all over Greece the official parades were taken over by the people, who chased away the representatives of the government and paraded themselves in most cities. In Salonica, where there was the centra military parade to take place [at the other cities it was high-school students' parades], the President of the Republic left protesting because of the "behaviour" of thousands of people and the military parade was abandoned, for the first time in Greek history after the 2nd WW. A 5-years old child sat at the President's of the Republic chair, and the schools and people paraded before him! At Heraclion people chased away the officials and resistance veterans sat at their chairs with the school children paraded before them. At Athens, where nobody was able to approach the Education Ministress and the parade went on "as usual" under Draconian police measures, some schools paraded waving black handkerchiefs before her, while others turned their faces away as soon as they approached her [and in the city of Trikala the schoolchildren turned their backs away from the officials, each school as it was arriving before them]. But I suppose that you will have seen some of those events...

What you haven't seen is that while all these were happening at the morning of 28.10.2011 a group of artists, authors and academics smuggled a big OXI sign into Acropolis, wrapped up round the body of an excellent theater actress under a very large coat. And we managed to demonstrate for more than half-an-hour in Acropolis itself! We managed to do it because every and all policemen were at the parades' battlegrounds at Syntagma and everywhere in Attiki and none managed to climb Acropolis in time. I'm sending you 3 You-tube address with very short films and 3 photograps. At the films the main slogan heard is: NO at 1940, NO again by us today, the occupation will be kicked out of Greece again. The first of the 2 songs heard is a 19th-century-song sung by the Cretan rebels at the various rebellions against the Turkish occupation, calling for armed resistance, which we sung at all the illegal demonstrations in Athens and Salonica during the 2 last years of the Military Junta and I hadn't sung or heard sung since. The second is the Greek National Anthem "Ode to Freedom", written by a great 18th-19th century poet, Dionysios Solomos, who was also a Garibaldist, about the 1821-1825 war for National Independence, which I had also not sung since the end of the dictatorship, some more than 30 years ago...

Could you further on this material to friends? My left artists-authors-academics group would greatly appreciate it!

A message from the Dean of St Paul's

Monday 31st October, a little cooler, clearing skies towards sunset

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as a manor of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Occupy The Cold Equations #2

Friday 28th October, a dark day, humid blustery breeze but no drop in temperature; threatening rain.

Campaigning season is on us again, but this year, since Gabriel is home and it's his room getting the treatment, I'm relegated to the DIY bench, to be brought on for the last half hour, so to speak, to gloss the woodwork, my traditional forte. Wednesday afternoon about 4, Peter comes rushing upstairs to my eyrie, Gwyneth, Gwyneth there's a hawk! I grabbed my binoculars but no, that's not necessary, she's right there, under my nose, on the bathroom roof below my window. A sparrowhawk, ashy brown wings spread, clutching a headless collared dove. Glares up at us, one fiery orange eye, and sweeps away to the apple tree in No 24's garden, to enjoy her meal in peace. Female because of her size, obviously, and an older woman too, because a sparrowhawk's irises start off clear yellow, they only turn that orangey amber with age.

The sparrowhawks live in King Death's Garden (Victorian cemetery across the Lewes Rd), in the tall trees.

Raptors live to be quite an age, but that bird could live and die, I thought, without ever meeting the moving edge of the Mass Extinction in which the whole world is currently plunged. It's a piecemeal edge, different rates and positions everywhere, but though it has certainly reached the UK, collared doves aren't likely to vanish. Along with woodpigeons they are thriving, on the increase in winter crops and intensive farming. Nor is she likely to be inconvenienced even if the tree-loss, which threatens several of our major species, "goes postal". Me, I miss the hedgehog (in drastic decline) a lot. And you know how I feel about frogs. And I envied her, but I can't let go of my fear of the future. The fear of what I will live to see, what my son will live to see...

& so to Occupy. There's a notorious vintage sci-fi story called "The Cold Equations". Read all about it in Richard Harter's article, but to cut a long essay short it involves a space freighter, a pilot, and a stowaway. The stowaway is unaware that she is literally too much for the system to bear. She has to go out of the airlock, or the freighter will inevitably founder, destroying pilot, stowaway and a valuable humanitarian* cargo together... Some have called this famous tale a covert troll-fest, catering to the portion of the sf audience that delights in any "scientific" excuse to imagine a pretty girl going splat. Others have denounced the practical failures of system involved. What a way to run a space freight company! What idiots! I wouldn't like to be the colonists, relying on such margin-shaving b*****ds for their medical support... But the system in The Cold Equations, with or without added splatter-porn, is not failing. The system is Capitalism, doing what it is designed to do. The Capitalist model of wealth creation requires a mass of people who get ejected out of the airlock, periodically. That's how they serve the cause, and this is something devout Capitalists must learn to accept with equanimity.

Its awfully, it's grossly unfair, but it works fine, because Capitalism also creates, inevitably, a nomenklatura, an interested class of people who are not wealthy, but who are wealthy enough, and who form a buffer state.

(I can't get my head around the equanimity of a wealthy UK director who can accept a 50% payrise, in the same year as 1.6 million children in the UK are already living in severe poverty. But I suppose it's no different from being an Evangelical Christian and accepting that everyone outside your church is going to burn in hell).

The Occupy movement has the weakness that it's a protest movement of the middle-classes. It gets its mass support from other middle-class people who are terrified to find themselves on the brink of that short walk in a hard vacuum, besides having a decent compassion for the masses already out there in the cold dark. Their form of demonstration elegantly (in the mathematical sense, not referring to the configuration of their tents) provides a living illustration of just how hard it is to live in a camp. To live cleanly, packed close together without sanitation, to keep warm without housing, to avoid criminality without law enforcement; to eat frugally and sustainably without access to a kitchen. & this alone is good reason to admire and praise them, unconditionally. But what if the machine can be made to work "properly"? What if comfort can be restored to the interested classes of Europe, and prosperity in the future can be promised, however speciously, to all the 6.99% billions and the 20 billions to come? How many of the protestors, up in arms against bankers and bonuses, would still be demanding "something new"?

The present economic crisis looks bad, but it's fixable. I know it can be done. Fossil fuels can still be extracted; there are mighty volumes of natural gas, even if the oil is running a little low. There are vast swathes of forest and wilderness that can still be cleared for agribusiness, and irrigated by desalination (I suppose). The oceans can be killed stone dead. And this is what will happen, and this is what must happen, even if it's fracking suicidal (as our lovely Energy Secretary* recently confessed, in a bizarre moment of clarity)...if the wealthy are to protect themselves, and the middle classes are to be given enough of a "share of the wealth" to shut them up again. But it's not what I'm looking for.

I don't want to share the wealth. I want the wealthy to share my frugal sufficiency. I don't want my Capitalist (second class) rights restored. I want those "rights" withdrawn from circulation. I don't want the right to a cheap flight to Barcelona for the weekend, a trip to Disneyland Florida, or a fortnight's holiday in the Maldives. I don't want a new gadget and a new car every six months, I don't want cheap petrol, or cheap energy of any kind, and I want to pay a fair price for my food and clothing. I will trade all these goodies, and more, for a future I can look forward to without dread and grief. I mean it. I'm trying to live it. Not because I think my pathetic, partial drop in the ocean can do any good, but simply because it makes me feel better.

Anyway. I thought the idea of Occupying Paternoster Square was bold and dangerous. The police in my country, especially the Met, are not safe to deal with. They know what their masters really want from them. The alternative of Occupying St Paul's churchyard seemed a bit namby-pamby, but I was wrong. I underestimated the Anglican church's devotion to Mammon. And what next?

I don't know, but I do know that a non-violent, non-sectarian Movement that makes people who were in despair feel better can be a very powerful force for positive change. (In a f****d up, partial and temporary way, nb. Success is dangerous). So here's hoping.

*the humanitarian cargo element in "The Cold Equations" has always set my teeth on edge. So transparent, so creepy.

** “Cutting carbon is not a luxury to be ditched when the going gets tough. It is essential to the survival of mankind as a species. The science is ever more clear. Cutting carbon is also a vital part of our recovery from the deepest recession since 1929. Then we had David Lloyd George’s Yellow Book: now we have Green Growth.” Chris Huhne's Lib Dem conference speech September 2011

Went to see We Need To Talk About Kevin on Sunday, convinced into it by Gabriel. Very impressed. Brilliant, inspired economy of film-making. Only remembered afterwards that this was the Lynne Ramsey who made Morven Caller, must be a decade ago now. Which struck me and Peter at the time as a rare true picture of a world, already passing away, which we had shared; in our cautious fashion.

I never thought of reading the book. What mass audience-makers admire in a novel (sensationalism, basically, and sentiment) only occasionally coincides what I want from a book & I thought that old "massacre in the gym" scenario wanted a documentary treatment. But now I'm curious, and I think I will.

The White Hind

Tuesday 18th October, rain and wind in the night, pale brilliant sunshine now, warm through glass, chilly outdoors.

Sunday 16th October we went out to the beechwoods of Angmering Estate, a foraging walk; wondering if we'd got it right this year. The straight and slim ranks of beeches still green, signs of recent and careful thinning everywhere, the harvest just over for this year. It's very soothing to be under their canopy, and think of nothing but the woods, the blue sky, the signs of autumn; for an hour or two. The tracks near Patching littered with sweet chestnuts, already picked over but we gleaned about a kilo from the leaf litter without even trying, or robbing the local squirrels and mice too much... the spiky urchin shells stinging our fingers, the nuts plump but mostly small, never mind they're okay to peel when they're fresh (says I, with optimistic amnesia, and because slightly addicted to wild gathering). No funghi bar a few large and ancient puffballs, because the woods were very dry, amazingly, alarmingly dry for October. Then we took a detour to the Woodman Arms (was, Hammerpot) for an impromptu lunch, ostensibly to give my foot a break; on the way met a remarkable caterpillar (see above, but that's not our photo, I've given you the benefit of a better nature photographer), and did not meet but maybe startled a goshawk, that went rowing and jinking away through the tree boles. Raptor action also evident in splattered rosettes of wood pigeon feathers, seems like there's been a lot of feasting going on all round.

On the way up from The Woodman, beyond the Estate paddocks, we went to investigate a tiny disused quarry, become a dump inevitably, and thereabouts I found the second four leaf clover in my life, which I have carefully preserved, but luck I don't expect. The luck is in the finding, the little thrill of unexpected treasure & then just a short way further, Peter spotted the white hind, a pure white red deer hind, watching us from a thicket of reddening bracken... She looked like a strange-shaped fallen branch, weathered white, until she moved, and kept on watching us, from farther off.

Wonder if the man with the highpowered rifle, whom we noticed twice, though he was trying hard not to be noticed, was trophy-hunting? Ah, well, Red deer must be culled. On the way back, in Patching meadow (where two or three Munjacs were browsing, quite unphased by passing walkers), we picked a box of juicy sloes, just because they were there. Now we'll have free sloe gin, as long as we buy the gin...and the sugar...

Reading: Sophie Mayer's collection, Incarnadine, which she sent to me when she ordered books from me last month. Really engaging and impressive cycle of poems. And the latest issue of Chroma (A Queer Literary Journal), from the same source, and curated, or edited by Sophie it has a sci-fi theme, or should I say (more like it) it turns out that scifi themes are interesting to literary young writers now, quite irrespective of genre. I liked the story called "Inhale" best, a small gem by Sandra Aland.

This signboard stands at the eaves of Patching meadow, obviously not a threat, after all aren't we in a National Park now? Isn't this land bound to be protected commons anyway. Not anymore, it looks like. The Chairman of the National Trust says: there is ample brownfield land available for development, but "we're up against some very rich and powerful people". So when do you think the proposed lobbying review will move in, to clean up that dirty shop? Not holding my breath, me.