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Gwyneth Jones on Social Networks

Monday 26th September. Indian summer yesterday, we walked by the sea, sharing two ices between three and admiring the volley-ball meet at the Barefoot cafe, but this is a cool, tossing grey morning, where has the sun gone?

To whom it may concern. If I get a Linkedin invitation from someone I know well, or someone with whom I've had recent contact that makes the invitation plausible, I accept. If the invitation has no provenance and comes without a personal message, I will always ignore it. That way, I never inadvertantly accept automatically generated invites.

Monday morning, as I've been promising myself, clearing off my Facebook page. As I've said before, I'm not really one for social networks, never will be, the whole thing is too corporate and controlling, and I like to be in charge of my own sandwich. But welcome aboard to all new friends, though you won't see much from me, personally, barring use of Facebook wall as free advertising for Avaaz alerts and such.

Time to come indoors...

Thursday 15th September, crisp bright morning, the next storm-tail not due until the weekend. Did I say crisp? Apparently there was a frost in parts of the UK last night, "in rural areas". That's good enough for me. Time to come indoors, citrus trees.

They won't be sorry, fresh air hasn't been fun this year. Not a single lemon made it. (The other citrus doesn't have fruit, it'll never be big enough, it's a pip-grown I-don't-know-what in a pot, kind of bonsai, very ancient.)

Many thanks to Sophie Mayer for her book order, £21.25 relayed to Amnesty International.

Arctic Ice Melt in the news again, and the Common Dreams comment-teamsters as usual have a lot to say. I finally read Cormac McCarthy's The Road this summer, and am now puzzled by reports that the catastrophe is "unidentified". Surely that's blatantly a Nuclear Winter/following a Global Nuclear War scenario? Or possibly, or both, a fantasy-heightened record of the mournful adventure of fatherhood. You mean everything to this kid, he worships you and keeps you holy, and then in the end he just grows up and moves on. As an sf reader, I found this slipstream novel engaging, moving, old-fashioned and highly conventional. Where have you been since 1960?, sort of thing. Touching, yes, but disturbing in its message: in short, nothing can be done, and no change in behaviour is required or even advised. Nuclear Winter or Capitalist Summer, we just plod on, we dauntless pursuers of life, liberty and happiness, plundering whatever supplies we find, and it will all come right in the end.

Hm. No wonder book and movie made such a hit with the public.

The Twelve Planets: Summer put to bed

Wednesday 14th September, a blue and sunny September day between the tails of the Atlantic gales, a slight cool breeze, the tangled autumn garden full of spiders, opportunistic tomatoes smothering the rosemary bush, and bully teazels making goldfinch food (that's their story) in the cottage garden patch.

Finally, finally the summer without a summer may have been debriefed, although I'm still booked this Friday morning to courier Gabriel's suit and good white shirt up to London for a lunchtime concert with Marianne (soprano) at Regent Hall, Oxford Street, Friday 16th 1pm. Come along if you like, it's free entry. The Walton songs (lyrics by Edith Sitwell) and the Debussy songs are my favourites, the Debussy so beautiful.

I've been reading The Twelve Planets' latest selections, and enjoying them very much, starting with Deborah Biancotti: police procedural with a sinister undertow of the weird, progressing through Tansy Rayner Roberts (Romanpunk), Lucy Sussex (Thief of Lives), and Sue Iles (Nightside). These collections, just four stories in a slim paperback, are an excellent idea, a tasting menu of Australasian female genre writers. Romanpunk has an intriguing twist on the noble vampire and mortal girlfriend* story (see, these vampires are really Lamia, they're Roman in origin, and very well connected, but they find the C21 street has its uses). Ever wondered why pretty-boy Caligula was such an unmitigated horror in private life? Or why Nero was finally forced to kill his mother? Refreshingly, unlike Buffy, the mortal girlfriend is not allergic to education and actually has a life... Lucy Sussex I can safely say needs no introduction: I loved her beautiful story about modern and ancient Babylon, "Alchemy". Sue Iles has created a daunting, yet not hopeless day after tomorrow Western Australia; linked stories all set in the same moment, the moment, for various characters, when you realise that climate change has won, and civilisation is not coming back. So you stop mourning, and you move on... Made me wish there was a novel.

Someone said, recently, the Finnish sf community gives me hope for the future of the genre... These Australians give me hope for the future of female, and even feminist, writers in sf.

Saw The Guard, don't think it was a patch on In Bruges, a gem of a movie. My two Irish companions were better pleased, but we were agreed on uneven as a final verdict. I'd have added annoyingly self-satisfied; there, I did. Also saw Amoldovar's The Skin I Live In, and then a week later, Les Yeux Sans Visage, (warning, spoilers if you follow the link, but if you read my blog you don't care about spoilers, do you?); the original version, which I've been wanting to see for years, only lovefilm would never send it to me... Thanks to the Duke's cunning timing I did actually enjoy the Amoldovar (a late Amoldovar, rather over-fed: and you could hear the great man thinking, damn it, I love Les Yeux, I long to remake it, to praise it, to enshrine it in my own work, shot by shot and almost frame by frame, but I am going to shove transgender surgery in here anyway. I know It's stupid, but it's my favourite thing and I don't care!. My god, what a difference. Les Yeux Sans Visage is wonderful, so stylish, so truly full of pity and terror too.

Getting back to the long-delayed novel. Accepting no more invitations or commissions certainly not until after Katcon, a wild weekend by the North Sea in March, how could I resist? People say they don't like winter, they hate grey November, January and February are the slough of despond. Couldn't disagree more. Summer summer summer, always some kind of hell.

Madame de Stael & the Globalisation Salon

Friday 9th Sept, unpleasant weather, a breathless, heavy, humid morning, thick grey mist and cloud down to the rooftops across the valley. Think this dead air effect may be because the tail of another big storm (Hurricane Katia) is on its way. Birdsong again. I think the robins must have a late brood.

This post is in belated response to a comment from Alison Smith, about Mme de Stael, back in May. Alison, you mention P D James, Annie Lennox. I thought of Bianca Jagger, Arundjati Roy... But Germaine de Stael wasn't exactly a human rights defender, or a lady of mercy, or an oustandingly charitable and righteous wealthy WAG. I think we have to shift up a few gears, and I think we have to accept she was no angel. She was (to paraphrase a famous description of Einstein's emotional and sexual behaviour) "a very normal woman". She was an old-fashioned establishment figure, whose novels were laden with convention: who had no problem with her privileges, who sought wealth and position; a lifelong Daddy's girl, who traded shamelessly on her feminine charms. Yet still, she commands my immense respect. There hasn't been a woman like her, operating on her level in world affairs, since she bowed out.

So let's imagine... Imagine the daughter of a hugely important, unimpeachably liberal and honest financial advisor to the White House, possibly Canadian or Mexican by birth; anyway, a bit of a foreigner. That would be, I think, the modern equivalent of Jacques Necker, Swiss financial minister to Louis XVI, who lit the fuse for the revolution of 1789. I'm scratching my head over a name, so, cut a long story short: imagine if Obama himself were thrown out of office, after providing the assist for a coup by the Progressives? They find him totally discredited. He's thrown so hard that he actually has to leave the USA, and goes into dignified retirement, with Michelle, in the Pacific somewhere not far from Hawaii. His only daughter, or his older daughter, say, has cunningly got herself married to somebody safe from the displeasure of the new regime (Germaine was married off at thirteen, to acquire a patent of nobility for the family, a prize she herself treasured all her life: the deal was decently conducted, the marriage wasn't consummated until she was eighteen). Anyway, Malia Ann, at first trading on her father's name, starts a blog. This blog, liberal, principled, outspoken, incredibly well connected and well informed, is a total internet sensation. Nobody can shut her down, nobody can shut her up, she has friends on all sides, and shrugs of the occasional death threat. (Her best-selling books go platinum instantly, but they are just spin-off.) Everyone, every single member of our bizarrely varied C21 global High Society reads Malia Ann, from Hu Jintao to Victoria Beckham; from Shanghai to Sao Paulo, from Tehran to Los Angeles. From Mark Kermode to Angela Merkel. Even the Pope reads Malia-Ann: you just have to. He probably consults her when he's preparing his encyclicals.

It's important that she looks like a simple woman of the people, of the Coming Race, but she isn't really a peasant or a sans culotte, so (be clear about this) she isn't threatening to the bankers and the Ministers, she just makes them want to be admired in her terms: not the terms of War is Profitable and Greed is Good... It's important that she has no office, and belongs to no party. Imagine what a counterweight she'd be to our feral elite: how they'd be dragged towards decency by her decent, liberal and humane voice. How they'd be held in check, instead of treating the world (as they do now) as their playground, and their blood-spattered larder.

It can't last. The Progressives, after a period of turmoil, finally throw up a new pretender for the throne of Leader of the World. He's nominally Progressive, like Obama before him, but soon he shows his fangs. He wants Malia Ann on his side, and she rather fancies the position of being his restraining guide, but it doesn't work out. When Malia Ann tries to get herself recruited as his Muse, he tells her the most celebrated woman should be the one who bears the most babies. So that's the end of that flirtation...and Malia-Ann becomes radicalised at last, and pays the price.

Anyway, I just wanted to explain what and who Germaine de Stael was, this barely-famous historical figure, so eclipsed now (as a writer) by, say, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. And the moral of the story is that I can explain, now, because for the first time since her day a woman like Germaine makes sense. Conversation was her passion, and the medium of her power: and now, again, different technology, different scale, it's the conversation that matters, the unstoppable conversation that rules the world.

Other moral, put not your trust in patriarchy. Not if you want to last.

Germaine died at 51, I think because she never recovered from a dangerously late pregnancy, but the story doesn't end there. It ends in a quietly well-heeled country house, many generations later, on another planet (as good as), with a soft spoken android guide, who really has no idea why Germaine was famous, except that she's one of the ancestors...

In Geneva again this July, we finally managed to make the visit to Coppet, the manor house to which Jacques Necker retired, when the French Revolutionary government no longer had a use for him, and which later became the HQ in exile of his redoubtable daughter. Listed among the Castles of Switzerland, Its actually a restrained C18th manor house, close to Nyons, on the shore of Lac Leman; still occupied by the present Comte de Haussonville, the property having descended through Germaine's daughter Albertine, duchesse de Broglie, and Albertine's daughter, Louise d'Haussonville. The rooms we saw, restored to what they were in Mme De Stael's time, are simple, stone tiled, cool and graceful. Aside from the inevitable family portraits, including a massive King Louis in white satin (sort of thing monarchs of the ancien regime used to hand out, as marks of great favour), it has the air of a slightly primitive country retreat, a place to rough it in comfort for the visitors from Paris. There's not much sign of Germaine's public and literary career. Our guide seemed mildly bemused when I bought the second volume of D'Allemagne, (the book that made Napoleon so furious); the only copy in stock, from the gift shop. A guided visit to Coppet today is all about family, nobility; the honour of having been passed down in the same line for nine generations; romantic celebrity connections. Juliette (Mme Recamier) is the star among these, what a beautiful creature she was. And a true friend too.

I Walk Into The Picture

Thursday 8th September, cool and grey, glimpses of sun, the air outdoors heavy and humid, but no rain yet. The gale winds have died down completely now. There's been a bird singing, a robin I think, first birdsong in the garden for a long time.

In the last week of July, the night after the first of three alcoholic and carnivorous meals shared in Geneva, I slept uneasily and dreamed I was at a festival. It was in steep forest, the teepees, benders, tents, log huts, buried in bracken and mossy thickets along hillsides. I was looking for someone Norwegian called Anna Petersen (see what I did there, my husband is called Peter). I found her, dressed in pale blue denims: tall and slim, with black rough hair, white skin and blue eyes. She was some kind of leader of this politically engaged festival. She'd been trying to get in touch with Ax Preston, I was here to tell her that Ax Preston doesn't exist, he's a fictional character. And if you've read the books, I said, you'll know Ax didn't change the world, he didn't think that was possible, he only tried to change it, for a while. I'm not that kind of Utopian, I explained, like a child, absentmindedly dropping the make-believe. I'm afraid of that route. Ideally, I'd be trying to make the best world we can of what's already here, what's in us. But that's not what's happening now, it isn't what happened in the books. This is a time for saving what you can. The dream went off on a tangent after that. There were foxes, friendly little foxes in the tents with the people, and I copped a couple of flirty, definitely sexual advances (from men). I realised they didn't know how old I was, I didn't know what I looked like in this dream of course. Have you ever looked in a mirror in a dream?; I felt I ought to explain, only it was embarrassing.

Long afterwards, I realised the figure I called Anna Petersen had looked very like my best friend Mary Curran, only the Mary of a long time ago.

I rarely if ever dream about my fiction, in any shape or form, but I suppose I couldn't help it, in this summer without a summer. The faces of those children (adults really, but my son is twenty four, so children to me) lined up on the screen. Watching NASDAQ tumble, on the tv in the departure lounge at Gatwick, as I broke my non-flying vow -not really broke it, I'll fly for a serious family reason. Watching the fighting in the streets in Manchester, on another tv in an outrageous Celtic Tiger Years gin-palace of a bar in Peter's hometown, in the early hours.

My treat. If you write about full-on scifi disaster-futures (Nuclear Winter swallows us; Yellowstone blows its top; the Flood or the Ice Age engulfs us in an afternoon), I suppose you don't get these flashes, much less have them strengthen over years and years. My ruin was cumulative and slow, the Devil's work; not an Act Of God.

To get back to Les Aiguilles Rouges. The picture above is of me, unbelievably cold and wet, walking into my jigsaw picture, sadly with zero co-operation from the weather around Mont Blanc. If you look carefully, you can see the glacier called the Mer du Glace, across the Chamonix valley, but of course no needles, and if there had been, they couldn't have been reflected in sunset or dawn light in the Cheserys lakelets. That would take very different timing. As it was, I was forced to pretend I was Tommy Voeckler, utterly determined to hang onto the yellow jersey one more time, to set a pace that got us back to La Flegere for the last telephorique down to the valley. One lives and learns. Next time, maybe.

But the flowers were beautiful.

On the last evening, me very footsore with the trouble that's going to ground me completely one of these years, we took a short stroll up a tiny, raspberry dangling path between the chalets of Les Mousseaux to find John Ruskin's stone: Ruskin placed here in honour by local worthies on a great medallion set in a granite boulder, wood sorrel and wild strawberries clustering around it, under steep forest trees: really like the grounds of Brantwood, oddly enough. Looking remarkably rugged, wild haired and Beethovian, I must say. 1925. He loved Chamonix, of course. He'd hate it now, but he'd be wrong to get too upset, it's just like Cumbria. You don't have to go very far, to leave the crowds. We were alone most of the time.

Did someone say, yeah, well look at the weather you went out in...

You have a point.

The Abundant Lake: An Illustrated Post

Thursday 14th July, mild silvery overcast warm sun, a still morning. The keynote is a video of Gabriel playing young composer Alex Drosos's The Abundant Lake, a very cool piece, cool water, abundant numbers if that means anything to you (Gabriel's dad very pleased by the mathematical connection), the performance was for Alex's final.

Monday we walked out in the evening, from Woodingdean along the Juggs Road track to Castle Hill, down through sheets of vivid rosebay willowherb and between walls of bramble to the flowers and butterflies in the combe, out the other end past the old lost damson orchard, up again over the hill & down the Bostle path and the lane into Rottingdean, under battalions of swifts to Kipling's garden and a sojourn at the Black Horse, which was rather gloomy and very quiet, and back along the undercliff walk. A very still evening, an old-gold three-quarter moon in a mist, the sea hardly making a sound, gracile black-headed gulls, (a pleasing change from the brutish herring gulls who have made Roundhill Crescent their clifftop colony), sleeping on the water, turned up at both ends The Tour is on the tv, the last two-legged tadpoles, four-legged tadpoles and mini-frogs have been released, the year is about to break in half, no long trip this time just a short holiday, Geneva and Chamonix where I hope to keep my promise to self and walk into my jigsaw picture of Les Aiguilles Rouges, but still, symbolically and from old habit this is the changeover, the end of my summer term.

A mailing from Orion? Whoa, that's weird, what can it be? To be approached with caution, but it's okay, only the SFX team deciding to elect Ax Preston as one of their Summer Reading feature's sf heroes. I'm touched, SFX people, and to satisfy Ax's multitude of eager fans here's the great dictator's portrait by Bryan Talbot.

Hoping to polish off my review of Paul Bleton's intriguing study of French espionage fiction (see what I did there?) La Cristallisation de L'Ombre today. And pay my library fines, post my letters cancel the milk and all that. It's time to hit the road.

The Ironing...

A stormy, grey windy and rainy day, clearing to soft skies, and this apparently is the weather that tadpoles like: the inhabitants of the tub outdoors, so reclusive I wondered if they were all dead, are romping around, & I have moved 2 four-legs to the swamp. Inominate hip-hops, as only pets have to suffer the indignity of cute names.

Good news this week, MIT TR are going to use my story in their Fall SF project, which I was afraid they would turn down as I stretched the brief a bit, my innovation not exactly close-to-the-market.

The story that attracted TR's attention "The Voyage Out" is one I wrote for Lynne Jamneck's well-received anthology Periphery, back in 2008, soon to be released as an ebook by Untreed Reads. "The Voyage Out" also features in Tales For Canterbury, a benefit anthology for the New Zealand Red Cross Earthquake appeal.

Moving in mysterious ways, God has caused me to do the ironing. I Never do the ironing, Peter is going to be stunned. It's purely the result of trying to write 600 words for the Guardian on a Friday afternoon.

Spoilt Rich Ladies

Wednesday 6th July, the brief spell of fine weather broke last night, rain at 7 this morning, now cool and clearing skies, a fresh breeze.

Sunday 2nd we went walking, from Beeding Hill to Devil's Dyke along the South Downs Way, then down to Poynings and back along the bottom land, where the barley is in a parlous state, between the rows cracked clay in hexagonal patterns like pack-ice forming; seems like the year can't recover from that terrible long dry spring. But already it's July, and everything has changed, the grasses seeding, the trees in their heaviest green, purple hardknott, indigo bugloss, straggling bedstraw and coarse cow parsley in the hedgerows, scabious and bird's foot trefoil, selfheal and wild thyme in the cropped turf, a flock of shorn ewes lying and strolling, still lovingingly close to their plump full-grown lambs. Purple and yellow flowers, fizzing stars of Traveller's Joy it's Bold As Love time again. I realise I've missed a whole season, or at least the whole of June disappeared. Never saw the orchids, and that's a sharp loss, since the number of orchid seasons I have left is getting far too easy to count.

Sadly, the Royal Oak at Poynings is no longer the home of the best pub sandwiches in the world, ever. It has become a huge, bustling gastro-pub, teeming with sunday lunchers, cuisine school of TTFWYCG. I had the razor clams, a Great British Menu type delicacy (obviously favoured for looking cool, like rhubarb), just about edible on this showing, and I shan't be trying them again unless I really am a shipwrecked sailor. No bread, though they came served in a bowl of milky sauce, (bread has become a luxury trimming; which is an essay in itself). Anyway, serves me right, but what about those awful "baby ribs"?

I think Spoilt Rich Ladies is fair. We were spoilt rotten, my generation, born in a socialist Utopia: free health and education for all. But if we hadn't been spoilt, kids with cr*p accents from lower class backgrounds going to University instead of into factories or into service, leaving home on a sort of government funded mass-market Grand Tour, making our souls when we should have been learning a trade or buckling down to make babies and mind machines, how would we ever have imagined we could change the world? & some of the changes did stick, & became widely appreciated & are still rated as normal. As Charles Darwin himself would have agreed, fitness selection is a terrific insight, but this should not blind us to the fact that it's the survival of the unfittest that counts...or how would change ever happen? How would the spoilt girls who became feminists ever have woken up to the plight of women worldwide, and been open to join the struggle against appalling injustice, if we had not been arrogant and trusting enough to believe our own problems with patriarchy could be fixed?

Even in the US, according to Joanna Russ, Feminism was midwifed by economic growth boosted by WWII. Hence the bitterness of the generation of Squashed Women, who brought up feminist-to-be daughters determined Not To Become Their Mothers. I've had a correspondence about this with a Facebook friend of mine, Fariba Parvizi, when she was studying sf in Tehran: what's obvious is that young women, recruited for the war effort enjoyed formative years of economic independence and self esteem in the work place, felt demoted and dumped when relegated back to household duties. What's less obvious is that in fifties US the role of household manager was vanishing too, domestic skills commodified, housewives demoted to consumers, the Age of the Desperate Housewife was dawning, idleness & cheap readymade food going mass-market, so even the poor took the hit. Double whammy, as they say.

Anyway, so I'm not all that ashamed of being spoilt, and "not knowing I was born" as a young woman. Sometimes it takes privileged innocence to say, enough is enough!

Slightly ashamed of the razor clams, however.

More links. Watch this video from Fukushima prefecture, it's pretty startling.

This charmer's explanation for talking such insulting nonsense? He didn't want doctors to flee the area.

Miss Dynamite has joined the swamp. Jay-Zee sadly did not make it. That's seven.

Didn't Buy. Won't Pay!

Friday 1st July, a cool, clear blue morning, the swifts, brilliant sun.

A rather harsh reading of The Cherry Orchard, NT live at the Duke's with Gabriel last night. Excellent cast gave fine performances but funny how a production setting out to be funny, "as Chekov intended" makes it hard to pity anybody, even (or especially not) the Turgenevish starry eyed young leads. The younger generation's verdict was harsh too, too much making speeches (he's right about that) but we both thought it picked up after the interval.

Just for the record, and in no way advocating any breaking of windows or chainings to railings, this member of the public is fully in sympathy with the 30th June protesters. My husband is a maths teacher in FE (or was, he spends at least half his time making and fixing databases these days). Long ago, knowing full well he was settling for a low salary, with the compensation of good benefits, but that if he remained a teacher he would never get any richer, he chose to work in the public sector, not for BP or Lloyds Bank. Money's not everything, he was able to spend a lot of time being a proper father too. He is not responsible for the financial services disaster. Why should he be the one paying for it, while the bankers whose pathological model of money management made the mess, stay rich and get richer? Let the bankers bail out the government.

People can and do make this connection, you know. No matter how earnestly our lovely PM wrings his hands over the irresponsible behaviour of the modestly paid.

Shora to Shari'a

Thursday 30th June, Nordic summer weather: cool breezes, showers, flowers, a pretty blue and white sky. Yesteday evening little Justin was released, and that makes six hip hops.

At the end of May I was at the Hay on Wye Fringe Festival, “How The Light Gets In”. A refreshing weekend all round, but I was gripped by a solo talk on “The Islamic Inquisition” by Iranian broadcaster, and exiled campaigner against the Islamic Republic of Iran, Maryam Namazie.

It was trenchant stuff, a fearless condemnation of the vile, totalitarian movement that has overwhelmed Islam: fearless condemnation of “sexual apartheid”; of the brutal indoctrinaire bullying that is the rule, not the exception, in UK Muslim Schools and in Islamist-dominated UK universities like Bradford. Fearless condemnation of the savage misogyny displayed by many Muslim women themselves, under Islamist regimes. Ban the Burqua she said. Don’t hesitate, just do it. Ban all Faith Schools, it’s the only way, you can’t pick and choose. Adult women can decide to wear a headscarf of their own free will, but the veiling and muffling of little girls is child abuse. Name it so. She struck us all as extraordinarily courageous. One man said he feared for her so much, she ought to have an armed beside her. But the real issue for us was not Namazie’s heroic defiance. It was “liberal” UK society’s reflex response to Multiculturalism. Multiculturalism, says Namazie, gives rights to cultures and religions, and strips rights from individuals. It gives the bullies power. Shari’a “courts”, already operating in the Islamic Community in the UK, deny women’s and children’s civil and human rights. They create a state within the state, where women and children are legally abused, and this is the UK’s idea of respect and support...

I went away chastened, wondering what I could do, and what I couldn’t do. I could petition against Shari’a law in the UK, and I’ve put my name to that. What about banning Faith schools, what about the burqua? I believe her about the schools, I know about the heartbreaking state of affairs at Bradford uni, I agree about the burqua, in principle, but think of the fall-out. Denounce Islam itself, wholesale? I can’t do that! The brave see everything in black and white, for the rest of us it’s not that simple.

In Bold As Love I wrote about an Islamic State of Yorkshire, in our near future, and a pocket-sized shooting war. I wasn’t kidding, but I was dreaming hopefully, which is why that fictional episode ended reasonably well. But it’s a different world now, from the way things were in 1999. However we got here, and the so-called Western Powers know how deep, dirty and twisted that story is, anyone who says today that Islamism is an aggressive totalitarian movement, inflexibly bent on world domination, is stating an obvious truth. So take a stand. But what if you take a stand, only to find your organisation seems to have aligned itself with a different set of monsters? How do you untangle all the strands, in this information and counter-information drenched world, to be sure who you’re working for before you sign your name?

What if you insist that Multiculturalism is a Feminist issue? That a woman has a right to her traditional lifestyle, and then she chooses a way of life that appalls you?

I still have a couple of Riot Grrl stickers up on my wall (one of them, ironically, partly obscured by a framed James Tiptree Jnr Award poster), but I’ve never really seen the point of Third Wave Feminism. It was a recruitment drive, to attract a younger crowd. Okay, but what for? Not for political activism, we were shelving the boring, dreary sexual politics. No breaking windows or chaining themselves to railings to overthrow the system, then... So what are the cool young feminists going to do? Vote for the Feminist Party’s pro-Woman manifesto, like any other gullible self-interested punters? Is that all? It was outreach, for groups and ethnicities excluded by Feminism’s Spoilt Rich Ladies (I'm sorry, I mean White Middle Class College Educated North American) image. Fine, but why the new brandname? What was it about the message that was too hard for People of Difference, the world over, to grasp? The GLBT community knows nothing of discrimination on the grounds of gender? Non-North Americans, and even Non-White Americans, aren’t bright enough to spot inherent abuses in the social construction of sexual difference? It doesn’t make sense.

I decided I’d be one of the people who stuck with the original script. Live and let live, it’s a personal decision, and I’m a writer with feminist opinions, no kind of Feminist authority. But I’ve become concerned, I was concerned before I heard Namazie speak, about some side-effects of the Third Wave that perhaps nobody could have foreseen.

Back in the nineteen sixties a woman called Alice Sheldon decided to use a male pseudonym for her stories and novels: then as now, it’s much easier to get the sf public to read work by men. The sexual content of her work was thrilling, the feminist thought and the analytical mind behind the stories impressive. She was showered with honours, by Great Men of the genre, fans and pioneering feminists alike, until the day she was unmasked. For decades, nobody could deny what Alice’s masquerade had proved. She had made injustice visible, and the modern history of feminist sf would have been very different without James Tiptree Jnr. But Alice Sheldon was a woman who found being a woman difficult: this is blindingly obvious in her writing, published and private. What if there’s a Third Wave, totally apolitical solution to the predicament of the Angry, Difficult Woman? Who cannot be contained in her society’s feminine mode? You don’t like being a woman? You probably aren’t a woman! Stop tormenting yourself, change your gender and all will be well.

Losing Tiptree to friendly fire is startling. A low blow to any woman, in any field of endeavour, who has had the temerity to stand up and say, no, this is not a man’s world, I am your equal here... And what if those who control our destinies got onto this neat idea? Non-elective re-assignment for unwomanly babes and cissy men?*. But aside from throwing up a cunning way to suppress women’s writing, she wrote it but she was transgendered, and a scifi scenario, the real, natural multiplicity and fluidity of human sexual identity is a legitimate challenge for feminism. Multiculturalist “Feminism” is something else.

& they say Multicultural, but I've noticed it’s always Islam, really. Even if that term is being used in ignorance or too carelessly (me guilty; I believe Namazie knew what she was doing):

If you’re even reading this post, I hope and believe you’d never contemplate declaring that Female Genital Mutilation is empowering...

(My own view on this subject has been unshakeable, since an AIUK Women's Action Committee conference I helped to organise, where two extremely competent and forthright West African feminists from FORWARD lead a workshop, out of which came our successful campaign to get AI to name FGM as torture)

... Or that a woman wearing trousers (or a skirt, or tied her scarf too high, or tied her scarf too low, there is no fixed rule) deserves the lash. Or that an adulteress deserves death by stoning; correction, that anyone, whatever their alleged crime, deserves death by stoning. Or Shari’a is a good system for women, relieves them of responsibility and teaches them contented submission. You wouldn’t say any of that, surely. But it’s a slippery slope, and I know the Third Wave is on it. I don’t care who you are, I particularly don’t care what colour your skin is, where your grandparents were born or how you worship. If you are even close to the place where you might agree it’s okay to hold a little girl down and cut off her clitoris*, because she’s a Kono, it’s part of their ancient tradition, and we have to respect that... You horrify me, frankly.

I just don’t know how Third Wave Feminism got started on reverencing blatantly misogynist traditional practices. Don’t you remember? How your mothers, your grandmothers and great-grandmothers, had to fight like the devil against the misogynist practices of their God-fearing, traditional communities? Fight against the tears and outrage of their “shamed” families? If they hadn’t defied the laws of family, church, or embodied in state legislation, that said they couldn’t have an education, couldn’t join the professions, have the vote, couldn’t have their own money; had no right to bring up their own children, there wouldn’t be any Feminism. You wouldn’t exist.

It doesn’t mean you have to give up baking apple pie, you know. Or celebrating your culture’s feastdays, or observing your culture’s fasts. Nor, on the other hand, does it mean insisting people who come and live in the same country have to adopt your comfort rituals. Tradition is like the social construction of sexual difference: it’s not worthless, it’s good in parts, it’s just not, ever, a moral force in itself. And most of it, at any given time, isn’t ancient at all, by the way... Let all that stuff go into free fall, let it sink or swim, let nostalgia and affection look after the cultural trimmings.

For any kind of women’s liberation tradition is exactly what has to change, but tradition does change. The pernicious form, Fundamentalism, is the real enemy. But I won’t start on the US-generated varieties of that poison. Or how I feel about the Third Wave’s creepy relationship with the sex-traffic industry, either... This was supposed to be about Islam; Maryam Namazie; speaking out.

To me feminism is not about numbers, or academic territory. Or world domination, or building a Fortress of Specialness. It’s about making injustice visible, and working to remove the abuses. It’s about Utopian, One World politics, certainly (because it’ll never change, unless the whole thing changes), but never at the cost of failing to engage with the here and now. I think it’s far, far too soon to say it’s not about the battle of the sexes anymore. On the contrary, the battle gets more baroque and more blatant as this bizarre century finds its feet: this age of intensifying selective female infanticide, of genitoplasty to make little girls into ersatz little boys, of industrial scale sex trafficking, of forced marriages and "honour" killings and domestic slavery still rife, and of course, rape as a weapon of war. All these vicious war against women "traditions" wholely unimpressed by economic growth, professional status or sophisticated lifestyle nb. But most of all, and here comes the heresy, to me feminism isn’t about Feminism. It’s about feminist reforms, getting them across to the general public, getting them accepted as normal, ordinary human decency. I think the Second Wave (if you insist on this PRish Waves thing) covers all that. And if I could ever write the books and stories I want to write, and the public could read them and call them interesting, exciting, unusual, annoying, whatever, but never even notice that they were also feminist, I’d call that winning.

Meanwhile, wherever women are prosperous the Pro-Woman party keeps growing: cheerfully self-interested. Oblivious to the evils of the system —based on permanent warfare and run by psychopaths— that gives them their self-affirming careers, their pretty finery; the shiny cars, the smart gadgets, the Lady Gaga shows. Convinced, despite the occasional brush with a “male sexist dinosaur”, that tomorrow belongs to them. A mixed blessing, the Womanists, but there you go, without the water the fish will die, and maybe this is the way it has to be. Two tribes, competing for the same territory; until the balance tips. Remember what Karl Marx said? The right conditions for revolution will be created by capitalism itself, and woe betide you if you try anything before then. The Russian Marxists wouldn’t listen, they went ahead and held a revolution anyway, and Joe Stalin betided them. I think we can do without another one of those.

But does tomorrow belong to anyone? Would you want it? Last week they told us the oceans are dying, really dying, really fast. Did you notice? Are you scared yet?


*This what if? Can be found explored, sort of, in Shadow Man, Melissa Scott

*If you are adult, and your need is compelling, by all means have your own clitoris cut off. But maybe also consider therapy?

Before I forget...

Wednesday 29th June, cooling breeze, clouds gathering.

Up to the British Library yesterday, to join a panel called Aliens and the Imagination, but I'll have to imagine most of it, as I was waylaid (delightfully, I love adventures) by a torrential rainstorm and a lightning strike, and forced to take a wandering ride in a swish coach requisitioned by National Rail, around the Sussex countryside, before finally, by a pleasing coincidence, catching a train to the Ufologists meet from East Grinstead, home of the Church of Scientology. I just caught Gareth Edwards presentation on "How I made Monsters" and it was very cute, sort of the 21st Century version of Blue Peter "I used a wiggly piece of string and it really looks like giant tentacles, if you squint a bit". Except with creative use of library of basic digital effects, bit of photoshop and that, it really did! Impressive can-do attitude.

Anyway, before I forget, I promised I'd post my 100 word vampire story, inexplicably passed over by Timmi Duchamp when she was choosing stuff for The Universe Of Things. It genuinely is posted on my website, but you'd never find it without a search party:

The Vampire

(An Internet Romance)

He admired her wit; guessed at beauty. At first she spoke through software agents, soon her blood was sweet. She was a princess, he a creature of the night. The virtual world was their wonderland, their passion was exquisite, they agreed to meet. His prey could be a hairy-fisted trucker, what does the body matter? Souls unite.The restaurant was bright, cool fountains played. He wore his cape, she wore the wreath of flowers she had promised. He saw her eyes light up with joy, but he walked away forever. She was twelve years' old, and he was not a monster.

Also before I forget, it's Clarion Write-a-thon time again, and here's the URL:

It'll be fun, and it's a good cause. All proceeds go to supporting student scholarships and investment in future courses.

Either/Or:Progress vs Utopia

Tuesday 21st June, a grey solstice, not raining right now, & warmer than the last few days. Awful slugfest going on in the pretty flowers I admired last post.

Either/Or? In support of the guest blogpost I did for the British Library Out Of This World Blog (Perfect Worlds), I've put up the notes and images for the presentation I did at the Danish national convention a couple of years ago (that's Copenhagen in the keynote photo, btw). Musing on the real world history of Progress versus Utopia in the years since the Declaration of the Rights Of Man, and on the reflection of this history in the mirror of science fiction. Here's the link:

You may think the format looks sinisterly familiar. Yes, I did. I gave them a Powerpoint!
(Well, I thought it was funny...)

Never Again

Friday 17th June, a dark and stormy morning.

Here's one of those links I should have added earlier this week: the Never Again anthology, published by Grey Friar press, edited by Allyson Bird and Joel Lane. A stellar collection, a passionate statement from the writers of the weird. The storynotes posted by simon marshall jones are well worth looking at.

Anyway, if you are in Brighton and can make it to the Amnesty Bookshop on Sydney Street 7.00pm to 8.30pm tomorrow evening, you will be rewarded with readings by Tony Richards and Roseanne Rabinowitz (but not, unfortunately, Lisa Tuttle, who can't make it).

Lauren re-joined the wild, yesterday evening, and that makes five. There'll be a pause now. Lauren's been by far the most forward of the Next Generation of hiphops (the first being the Liszt Concert Six, as you'll remember). None of her brothers and sisters even has back legs yet.

Rain, wonderful rain. Suddenly the garden is flowery again, first time since April really. And my tuberoses have finally deigned to make an appearence, so I should be happy but why can't we have any flashy bits. Flashy bits all over the weather map last night, what did Brighton do wrong? It's so unfair.

The Elms: This Anomalous Region I Live In

Tuesday 14th June, clear blue morning after a wet (good!) stubbornly cold (have they really broken the Gulf Stream? #file under fantasists, be careful what you wish for) and ominously windy weekend... a handful of swifts hawking high over the valley.

Apparently two of the great elms in Preston Park fell in the strong winds on Friday night, which does not mean we had a hurricane here, it probably means the trees were on the way out anyway. I can hope they'd reached their natural span (and therefore not infectious, just sadly cannot ever be replaced), but on the way to the station on Thursday, up to London for Gabriel's final recital at Trinity, we spotted this ringed tree from the bus. It's that dreaded time of year again. I went to have a closer look yesterday, and saw what the Dutch Elm Disease watch calls "flagging", which doesn't mean exactly what you think, it means a visible flag of dry dead leaves, on an otherwise okay-looking tree, showing up brown in the green of early summer foliage. This means the tree must be felled, as it is a danger to its neighbours, and there is no treatment, no cure. It's awfully sad. It hurts, and I'm not alone in feeling this way. I've seen people, just any old people in my part of Brighton, where the remaining elms round the Level are such an icon, touch a condemned elm, and just stand there, poor thing, so sorry. When I was taking this photo, same thing happened, just another passer-by, so sorry. Everything must go. What would be my perfect world? It's gone, and I'm afraid its not coming back. It was the one where we could look at the trees, at the natural world, and think I'm ephemeral, you are forever.

There's a site where you can sign up to be a Dutch Elm Disease Volunteer. I've done that, even though I'm guessing it only means walking around in this last, failing refuge, and spotting another doomed tree, but I don't expect to be called. It'll be like the time ESSC asked for lookerers to watch the sheep on our bits of urban downland. They'll be snowed under.

Gabriel's recital was lovely. The boy done reasonably good, he felt and we felt. Lot of beer and white wine, with the young people and Philip Fowke, their teacher: sunshine and showers, roses on the walls of the Brewery Garden, and so long, the Old Naval College, the River, the glittering towers of the Isle of Dogs. The everlasting period-setting film crew invasions (If it wasn't Little Dorrit it was Johnny Depp.)

A Links round up seems to be called for, looking at my inbox:

Writers, if you didn't like the Google Book Settlement and cheered at its apparent defeat, you should check this out, from the indefatigable Gill Spraggs who is still on the case. All is not well.

Fairytale enthusiasts, on Seven Miles of Steel Thistles Kath Langrish is starting another round of her "Fairytale Reflections" from a posse of illustrious authors (and eventually Ann Halam). Terri Windling kicking off.

&the BartoBar crew have captured Al Reynolds this time

Not going to bother telling you about 38% and Health Reform. That one seems to be over.

I thought there were more but never mind. Enough, for now.

Meeting The Beasts

Tuesday 7th June, a cool and rain-washed morning, me returning to my desk after a long, fun & very refreshing weekend. Finally got the photos I took of Ai Wei Wei's Summer Palace animals processed off my phone onto Picasa. I took these the day I went up to London to do the item on Woman's Hour on "is sf still a male dominated genre?". (I hope the flurry of media interest in that question has passed. Every time I've been asked, I've felt more strongly that this is a UK fandom issue, it isn't for me to address & I really should not be commenting). But anyway, not all bad: I have Woman's Hour to thank for getting me to Somerset House before the 26th June, which was a real favour. Iwish I'd taken at least one of the whole Fountain Court, but I didn't think my camera phone could handle the pitiless, brilliant light of noon that day (which was when I got there), so I only snapped a few of the beasts for form's sake. Unexpectedly successful.

Yet another example of what a false path reverencing the randomness of art is. Art Is Not Random. I did wonder why Brave Ai had decided to make these charming Chinese Zodiac animals (i think I liked the Rat best), but then, duh, made the historical connection. I remember the Looting of the Summer Palace from researching Rainbow Bridge (this is how I learn most of what I've ever learned about my world, so you see, writing sf is good for something); and the bronze animal heads, lost among so much precious national treasure. The Opium Wars are less than a huge deal to me, being spoiled for choice, among so many shameful military operations in my country's past & present...but that incident still means something to China. And here they are, reborn, beautiful and compelling simplicity. Why on earth have the Chinese put this patriot, this great artist, so eloquent for his country, in prison? It's really nuts. Hm, that didn't quite come out right... no more nuts that putting so many others in prison, no more nuts than China's defiant devotion to the death penalty.

Frog culture update: Dre and Lil' Kim have now joined Biggy & Shakira. Dizzee, an exceptionally lively little rascal, will be making his debut in the swamp this evening. & That's all the survivors of the Liszt Concert Six, not a bad rate. What a tiny operation this is, compared to Mother Nature's way, and the way things used to be even in our small garden, but ah well.

Have re-viewed Inception, and now know exactly when I lost interest 1st time, it's that interminable Lara/Bond snow fortress sequence, there comes a point when you think, sorry, but I'm just bored now... But that was a long way in, after all, and the byplay between (fantasy science) exposition and the special effects really fun. Didn't mind the comic book plot either & found most of the ensemble extremely watchable. Still didn't like the Dreamlike Lost Wife And Kids strand (soon to be reprised in Shutter Island). The problem is that "Mal" is never seen in life, only post-mortem as a figment of Cobb's imagination. Making her, by definition, no more interesting than any of the other dream-artefacts that look like people, and all the time spent on her story bit empty.

Strange hauntings of modernity#: Sunday afternoon, the Great Escape panel team had a conversation, sparked off by Andrew Copson, about our late entry/general lack of interest in twitter. This had the weird effect of causing me to twitter in my head all the way home, eg This Great Western sandwich is so vile, I wonder how old it is, and how the bread became so dank and tacky... But there were hundreds. I tweeted one of them, posthumously as it were, just to mark the moment. Probably the last twitter will hear from @annhalam until Avaaz's next poke.