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The Great Escape/The Games

Monday 30th May, cold and grey and still no rain for the south east.

As You Like It on Friday night was great, the birds sang, the wind even died down. We were almost warm on our rug, and glad to be groundlings (though I think actual C16/17 groundlings stood up, or walked about like promenaders?); those who had brought chairs being condemned to what looked like rather chilly isolation. The Great White Silence was grim in parts, especially the counter-tenor singing Abide With Me, and although I remembered them fondly from Ponting's book "The Great White South", I wd have to agree with those who have complained there are too many penguins & not enough sightings of Scott. But a fascinating record, amazing survival of early film-making. Didn't make it to the Freedom Picnic after that, as the hour was getting late and the weather so miserable. & so farewell Brighton festival, for another year. Absolute stand-outs for me were As You Like It, and Lief Ove Andsnes at Glyndebourne, but Craig and Max's set at The Foundry (was, Pedestrian Arms) pretty nice too.

Howthelightgetsin#n: have just posted "The Games" on my homepage. This is in response to a briefing discussion with Rhian Sanville last week, on "The Great Escape" panel about Fantasy. It's a long essay, and of course long out of date, but NB even in 2002: How strangely far we've come from the deserts of the mid-C20th, when only a few oddly talented and/or unhealthily obsessive adults could still process fantasy at all. And the way my thirteen and fourteen year old respondents were well aware that His Dark Materials in print was far richer than the games that currently obsessed them, and impossible to compress.

Bold As Love On Kindle

Friday 27th May, weather hasn't changed.

When I discovered, about a month ago (thanks to Boing Boing) that Amazon Kindle had made its restrictive practices optional, the time had come. It seems to have taken ages, despite being a very simple process, but anyway, here's the first wave: the second editions of all five of the Rock and Roll Reich books are on Kindle.(The link to Kindle UK is on the sidebar to your right nb).

Next wave will be Ann Halam's mid-period backlist (from Dr Franklin onward, Orion has the e-rights).

The older books, eg the Daymaker trilogy, will take a little longer, because they'll have to be scanned. It'll be a while before Escape Plans gets the treatment I'm afraid.

Besides Attack the Block, I've been watching Heimat 1; also looking forward to Inception, which lovefilm has just sent me. I had great expectations when it came out, but then felt what I'd seen was just a caper with fancy special effects that were (fatally) not v. well integrated with a rather slight plot, shades of The Matrix in fact. So I'm keen to see it again.

& of course Brighton Festival. This evening As You Like It outdoors, Beaufort 6 breeze and cold grey clouds, just so we know what the joy of exile in the forest really feels like. We'd better wrap up warm.

The Higgs and I: A Science Fiction Writer's Apology

Friday 28th May, weather same as it was an hour ago, minus some wind chill and plus a few reluctant drops of rain.

The Ultimate Particle? Back in 1984, I think, (of course, I was a mere child at the time) I found out about the Higgs Boson -and bubble universes, and the possibility that we're living in the middle of a cosmic void (fooled by lensing effects that seem to show a busy neighbourhood)- in a series of articles for New Scientist by Stephen Hawking. The science fiction novel I wrote under the influence of these things is called Escape Plans, an adventure set on a far future alternate Earth. Very little read, it's just too impenetrably geeky, as obviously I had to strip out all identifying features such as terms like "Big Bang" "Standard Model" "Higgs" "waves" and so forth. Also, I was convinced I had to write it in a special SPACE RACE COMPUTERESE jargon I had devised...

I decided I would bite the bullet and re-read it myself, first time in twenty-odd years, and I have tracked down the Higgs Boson passage, see below:

"A long time ago," I said, "there was a lab assistant called EAROM*, a highly skilled science Code Reader. She was working on a project to librate the mass of the universe. As you know, that's impossible. The equations just won't stabilise. For a while after we discovered we were in a trapped region this was looked on as a hopeful line of research. EAROM imagined an esosteric particle with a property called co-presence-"

"Connection," murmured Dat

"Sorry. An esoteric connection. The 4-dimensional mass of these particles, or connections -or this connection- would make up the balance. EAROM said that if these particles existed they must exist in the whole universe. If you see what I mean. Not just in our area. I suppose Yolande thinks Millie must have co-present particles in her, and that this proves we have them too. We have to find them, and that's the way it's done."

Himem frowned.
Dat smiled.

"You've described the Intersection, Alice. The solution that all Subs hope for... In the beginning light and matter were one. Something tore them apart, and in that event we were trapped here. The Intersection is what closes the gap again..."

*Electrically alterable read only memory. All the characters had computerese names, the high class folks had acronyms, the underclass had instructions, mostly from Basic.

Anyway, just thought I'd share that with you.

On a more intelligible note, we went to see Attack the Block last night and it is FANTASTIC. The best rollercoaster ride I've had at the movies in a long, long time. Never a dull nanosecond, truly. In Wyndham Tower, by Ballard Street, one dark Bonfire Night in South London, a heroic battle is fought and won. Very lively triffids this time round!

Speak Friend, and Enter

Friday 28th May, cold grey and blustery morning.

Have just spent about three quarters of an hour studying the Serendipity support pages in abstruse depth, trying to figure out how to link from my blog to the Gwyneth Jones Kindle store entires, bewildered by the fact that I seemed to have had no problem last time I did this and consistently failing to notice the bit where it says "Some plug-ins are very simple". Hahaha. Very funny.

NB, comment from Alison Smith, sorry you've had to wait for a response. I'll get back to Mme de Stael soon

Fracking Unlikely: Protect the children of Fukushima

Thursday 26th May, cold grey and blustery. That's Chris the climber, by the way. The swift box is up, and now we have to advertise, with our "swift cries" CD, and see what happens. Yesterday evening, while I worked, the swifts were hawking after insects in a gulf of blue beside me, shrilling faintly, black arrow wings trilling, but so few of them. Ah, well. It's an act of hope. Two more froglets made it to the fourlegged stage, but sadly Christina fell by the wayside, as sometimes they do. Shakira released on Tuesday, same location as Biggy (who has been seen since release, looking lively though very tiny, so that's good to know).

So now I'm told that the fracking off the coast of Lancashire is perfectly harmless, and fools like me ought to shut up and trust the Energy Industry. Don't we know there's a war on? Well, yet I do, but my war is not about fighting for the shareholders' right to large dividends. Nor yet the people's god-given right to cheap fossil fuel energy. You see, I'm not an expert. I don't know exactly how the methane got into the drinking water around the US fracking, to such an extent that the water would catch fire if you applied a matchflame, and I don't know how the toxic chemicals got into the ground water (is there some kind of by-catch of non-fuel gaseous compounds? That has to be released to wander off wherever it likes?). What I do know is that the Deep Water Horizon spill was not an "Act of God", it was an act of human error and human negligence, driven by human greed, arrogance and contempt for regulation. This has been publicly acknowledged. Likewise, the meltdown at Fukushima... (oh, come on, call a spade a spade). My god, you can say "the risks are small", but how would you like to live there, and be one of the people wondering if your little child would be one of those get the cancers? Anyway, Fukushima wasn't an "Act of God" either. It was an act of not replacing dangerously obsolete technology, in a blatantly high risk situation. Driven by same forces as above. Okay, I know the Nuclear Industry is doomed to high risk situations, and that problem is bound to get worse (without any acts of deliberate malice, if that distinction means anything), it's the nature of the beast, given a reactor's huge appetite for water, but that's not my fault, and if the insurance against accidents would be cripplingly expensive, that's for a reason. Really, if you were my eighteen year old son, Nuclear Power Industry, and you were trying to convince me it was okay for you to drive without insurance, because honestly, there's never going to be a problem what do you think I should tell you?

So no, I don't trust you. Try behaving like grown ups, and I might. Oh, but wait, which grown ups?

The trigger for this renewed spluttering is here:

And the petition about Fukushima is here:

Welcome to Heaven

Monday 23rd May, cold grey and blustery. Still no rain for the South of England.

Welcome to Heaven, sisters and brothers. Or maybe hell, who knows. Of course, what is puzzling those people who think they are the Chosen who failed to get Raptured, to one or the other of those destinations, is that they don't know that really, everyone got raptured, but they are now mere shadows (maybe without souls, like vampires?), left with the rest of us to make sure we damned, or blessed, don't spot that the end of the world really happened...

This whole 21st century zeitgeist thing is getting amazingly baroque, don't you think? And however weird, the US heartland is only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.

Me, wherever I am, I'm happy because Gabriel and Alex won the John Halford Contemporary Music prize for a pianist and composer duo last week. Down for the weekend, he played the Stockhausen for us yesterday. It's mysterious how a Stockhausen piano piece manages to be so gripping, it's like magic. And Alex's piece is great, it's a river, see, flowing into a lake, but the lake is a mathematical lake.

I would probably follow Gabriel anywhere, & so would Peter, but I'm really glad it's this strange, compelling C20 music. My ears probably couldn't take a lot of death metal at their age

Anyway, I just thought I'd tell you I've posted The Grass Princess, my World Fantasy winning story, which I've been meaning to do for a while.

Going to put the swift box up today, and if we survive that, more later.

Fracking Impossible

Tuesday 17th May, weather the same as last week:thick grey cloud, breaking to sun, cool air, chilly nights. Six weeks since we've had significant rain in the south of England. Even the dimmest and chirpiest of weather persons have stopped congratulating us.

I haven't seen much of the swifts, but I'm not extra concerned, I don't know what they do but we don't see much of the few who still return, in poor weather. I've still ordered my swift box, because I promised myself I would, and intend to risk life and limb (well, somebody's life and limb) affixing it high up and in shade, under our eaves. Symbol of good faith.

Avaaz, 38degrees, RSPB, Soil Association, Compassion In World Farming, the roll call grows. Uganda death penalty for gays got offed, at least a respite, now what? I'm looking for somewhere to register my protest against the fracking wells off the coast of Lancashire, so far no petitions: only found the local group and WWF.

The Alchemists. Now this is a puzzle: Cameron discovers Green (again), & starts making a noise about his Super Renewables agenda, at the same time as he's eagerly encouraging and handing out permissions for the worst form of fossil-fuel barrel-scraping yet devised. He's going to prove how GREEN he is, by injecting viciously toxic chemicals into Lancashire's drinking water. Hard to believe, eh? It's happening, right now. What on earth's going on? Please, don't attempt to believe both, you'll hurt yourself. It's simple, really. One of these two projects is a complete fabrication, a con trick feeding on the follies, vanities and vices of mankind, most notably greed-induced credulity. Guess which.

On a more positive note, the first froglet of the year has been launched. Biggy, always the most hench of the LC5, got his or her four legs last Friday, and proved so anxious to leap out of the bowl we transferred the little escapologist to the swamp (was "Wildlife Pool") on Saturday. Bon voyage, Biggy. NB, call me superstitious, but there is not a Tupac tadpole.

Summer, summer

Wednesday, 11th of May. Still morning, neither warm nor cool, a quilt of gilt and grey cloud. Tantalising feel of water in the air.

Both the yellow roses are in fine bloom, Chris the climber and The German Rose. These are nicknames: Chris was bred by a man called Chris, the German has a fugitive scent like fragrant German wine. The pears and plums have set, pears already decimated by cursed tree rats. Greenhouse is a wilderness of desperate seedlings, triage well overdue. I vow I will, will, save some of their lives today.

Where have I been all this time? Well, I was on holiday, and it was very nice thank you, but then other things happened, for instance my cat Ginger has been poorly, which means a lot to me. She's better now & I hope she stays off the sicklist. Also Brighton Festival previews, inc a private view last Friday, over the hill and across the Park in leafy Surrenden, where I actually bought a painting! (Ha, no I didn't, I couldn't afford the painting, but am now proud possessor of a short-run print of Lost In A Rage, by my friend Jacq Aris.) & the world has changed dramatically, of course. Not. You will have noticed that Osama Bin Laden has been offed, unfortunately rather not James Bond style (in the sixties, these things were managed so much more discreetly); and the response of the US President will have chilled some. We must conclude that it takes worse, darker times than the spasms of our current global politics, to wake the spirit of humanity. It took the Thirties (which were not nice!), six years of war, and an industrial scale genocide in the heart of "the Developed World" to get to Nuremburg. Shall we congratulate ourselves that the evil is no longer "banal", it's all exciting and video-gamey these days? Don't think so.*

May I draw your attention to Fukushima Prefecture? One of those inconvenient wars that has been purposefully forgotten, eh? So, if I'm so clever, do I have an answer to the awful energy gap? YES I DO. USE LESS ENERGY. That's not a sackcloth and ashes austerity programme, it's a wide open field for investment, enterprise, ingenuity.

Enough of this frivolity. My freebie-sheet for "How The Light Gets In" turned up in my inbox yesterday (or maybe last week? Things have been a little slack at this desk). I never know what to do, am I supposed to ask for one small piece of cake, like a good girl, or should I check a variety of boxes, on the assumption that most of the talks/events will already be subscribed by paying customers. Anyway, I've chosen The Islamist Inquisition Maryam Narnazie (really keen to hear her) (Event 307); Cyborg Nation Kevin Warwick (Event 309); the Shooting Star Party on Saturday night & following DJ night; a Platonic breakfast walk along the Wye on Sunday morning (Event 341), and Genes, Memes and Temes, Susan Blackmore, (Even 339). & me, I'm only scratching the surface of the second weekend. I think you can tell from this greedy buffet plate how spoilt for choice you will be yourselves, if you decide to add this fest to your summer plans.

*Eerie thing about the Nuremburg sites, they all home in on the "banality of evil" quote (which used to drive me nuts when I was a young writer and it was very popular in uksf circles). And then they go on to make the German war criminals sound so much more like Barrack Obama, David Cameron than say, any Feudal Despot nutcases of North Africa and the Levant, ostensibly perfectly normal, decent men, "they couldn't fully appreciate the human consequences of their career motivated decisions". Ouch!

And the swifts are back. They arrived here last Friday.

How The Light Gets In

Maundy Thursday 21st April, weather same as it was twenty minutes ago, possibly even a little warmer.

How The Light Gets In, the Philosophy and Music Festival at Hay on Wye, last weekend in May first weekend in June, is open for business. What's it for? I'm not totally sure, but it slightly reminds me of those Cyberfuture happenings at Warwick U., way back in the early nineties, strange cyborg goings on, live body modification and rough-cut neurological experiments, partnering deep and knotty Edge of the Future debate. Here morphed with a tentshow Music Festival... Almost sounds like Rivermead, in Bold As Love; except without the squalor. Or the violence, I assume. Check it out, the line-up is amazing.

I'm going to be there, panel-talking beside the illustrious about the ordinary and the fabulous (I think), and about particle physics if you can believe it (well, I can be the silly one, and I do have a tenuous imaginary connection). Don't know if I'll be sleeping in a tent.

When did you last cry...?

Back in Brighton again. The sun is shining, it's incredibly warm. I should be making hay, but I think I'll stay in doors and work at my desk.

When did I last cry? This morning, when I read a report of the systematic abuse of doctors and nurses who are treating wounded protestors in Bahrain. I write letters for Amnesty International Urgent Action: to put it bluntly, that means not the most urgent or dreadful abuses of human rights, more those acute cases where the Urgent Action team senses the possibility of movement, if a rush of protests can be organised. Somebody just got snatched, or some evidence has turned up about the detention location of a long-lost disappeared person (or a body) etc. But nothing like this, this is powers beyond. This is the heart of darkness doing what the hell it likes, while the so-called West sc**ws around in hapless Libya, by arrangement.

Precious Bane. I wish it was gone, I really do. AND YET I still drive my car, occasionally.

At least Bradley Manning is out of his torture cell.

And Avaaz is gaining ground, global grassroots

If anyone in our so-called government has the gall to send me one of their Happiness Quizzes, I am definitely going to spoil my ballot.

Social Mobility

Wednesday 6th April, another "beautiful day". We're having a bit of a drought in the South of England & ironically getting congratulated on it every night. On the other hand, the day is really beautiful.

Social Mobility, social mobility, hmm... Of course, it's very, very important that some of the fabulously fat cats, cuisine entrepreneurs, media moguls and merchant bankers of the next generation started life in deprived estates, and I can see how that would make it easier for Nick Clegg to sleep at night. But it's not really what I was worried about. The poor we have always with us, the materially poor are not going to go away either. They can't all find room at the top. I was worried about making the bottom more comfortable, making sure there's a safety net of concern and care, day-centres, social clubs, homework clubs, breakfast clubs, health care, medical and domestic support, all of that. That's what a more equal society means to me. Not just fixing it so that a few can leap the gulf from unacceptable poverty to repulsive riches.

This years tadpoles are doing fine, by the way. I gave them their first lettuce this morning, and they got the idea at once. (Yes, that's last year's photo. Even I have to admit, there really isn't much difference between one bowl of tads and another).

Reading: Bright Earth by Philip Ball. Really gripping and satifying popular science (with plenty of chemistry) about the history of colour.
Devastated by: discovery that Buffy Season 7 is not being aired, after Season 6 finale on Monday night. How can Syfy do this to me! Buffy brings back such memories, it's been so great revisiting them all, even through the grim post-mortem reality-rash in 6.
We're going to have to borrow Dan's DVD, which sort of reduces the magic.

Asia Times reports Obama Saud pact (April Fool's Day links)

Saturday April 2nd, clear sunshine

I know I said I wasn't interested, but I couldn't help wondering. Obviously, the Libya rebels aren't dangerous to the status quo, not really, but the Sauds and the no-fly how does that work, so had to read this when it turned up:

And the cuts begin to bite. Last messages have reached me from the friends I made a few years ago in SET and other UK bodies. This is from the arts, just one of many casualties in retreat to the bunker of the virtual, art/comment magazine Mute.

Beautiful weather, but I'm home alone and intend to spend as much of the time as possible staying that way. I need some aloneness, away from the keyboard. Need to sort out a few knots, in the fertile calm induced by lying in bed, reading and partly reading, sustained by cups of tea.

Except I have to go on an expedition in search of a lost phone, not mine.

Shame vs Guilt?

Thursday 31st March, a grey rainy morning, bringing out all the candy-colours of spring. Good to have a little rain. Last night, in the cold dusk, I opened my window to listen to the blackcap, singing and singing, piercing sweet.

So Diana Wynne Jones is gone, and that's sad, but what a good life to celebrate. She played a very fine innings, seems to me. Wrote a lot of great books, had many friends, many fans and will be missed by a lot of people.

Still following, irrisistibly, the story of my long ago celebrity acquaintance, Fukushima. I find the report that the "troubled" reactors will be scrapped the most heartening for many days, and maybe the first rational move. Worryingly radioactive seawater. Is that news? What on earth did the people, near and far, expect? I was moved, yesterday, to look up the old saw about Japan, and shame vs guilt culture, famous and influential mass psychology paper of the post-WWII period. Self congratulatory, of course, but anyway here's a link: (of course Islam is now the un-American culture with the massive flaw, but I can't help that. Still think there's something in it.) Moved further to propose that nations and sovereign states that practice Shame Culture should be banned from using Nuclear Energy. The two just don't mix. Ironically, shame is supposed to be the strategy in collectivist society, guilt the practice where the individual is the perceived social unit. But collectivism is just where shame doesn't work! Pretending it didn't happen, so as not to lose face, is a very sensible response eg in the case of an individual with a self-esteem issue, not so great in the case of full or partial meltdown in a wrecked reactor.

Guilt is good. Guilt takes responsibility, and gets things fixed. What's wrong with that?

What's that you say? Japan no different from the rest of the world, really. Not to mention all corporate culture is exclusively run on shame culture lines? Oh, well, okay. That's a bigger problem.

But guilt is still good.

The Killing: Forgotten dreams

Monday 28th March, a cool grey morning, sunshine breaking through by lunchtime. Nursing another cold, weak of will, I have just spent the whole morning reading New Scientist and answering a journalist's questions about gynoids.

And that was The Killing. And what do you know, after all that gripping, sombre and ingenious misdirection, the butler did it & didn't I say so? You ask Peter, he'll tell you. Sara Lund could have saved herself much trouble and grief if she had called me, soon as I'd seen the first episode.

Gwyneth, help me out, so I can go to Sweden and not rip my life apart. Who did it?

Lund, look no further. It was that weevilly-looking bloke, with the crumpled soft face and kind of cringing manner, who works for the Birk Larsens like some kind of family retainer. What's he doing there? He's a fifth wheel, the tell-tale extra body who can be hanging around for no other reason but to be the murderer. He's your man.

The Cave Of Forgotten Dreams on the other hand, retained its mystery. Who were they, what were they doing in that cavern, 32,000 years ago: leaving barely any trace of their occupation bar the cave lions, the horses, the rhinos, the auroch, the bison. Was there simply no barrier between the new-born mind and hand, could everybody draw like that? Or was this a genius, creating in ritual dedication? Was it just Bent Little Finger, and maybe a mate or two, whiling away the time while caught by a snowstorm or something? Or has the blanket of crystal deposited by the millenia smothered a more detailed, purposeful story? I had my doubts about the "bison embracing the sex of a human female", just couldn't see it; on the other hand I waited in vain for someone to explain the reddish skinny elephant, apparently standing on its back legs, with sort of dusters on its feet... Bewildered by the editing that seemed to have been done by a kid on work experience, I will treasure the final image for a long time: the cave painters were human beings. I am as an albino alligator, with fabulous yellow eyes, drifting in a synthetic radioactive swamp.

That's so cool! I embrace this vision!

Eve Teasing

Friday 25th March, another beautiful Spring day, clear skies, very warm.

Well, well, "Eve teasing" as a BBC human interest news item, it must be a slow day, oh wait, no it isn't. Funny how things come round again, like unanswered questions. So why do women "dress provocatively"? To defend themselves against the catcalls, of course. High heels to make them look bigger, because men are taller, duh-uh. And by the height of the fashion you may judge the level of unease. The rest of the costume? It's supposed to placate, signalling that you accept your status as sex object, and to intimidate, signalling you're a really well-endowed sex object.

Do these strategies work? No!

Will women ever try a different approach? Well, one solution is to ditch the "I am sex on legs" armour, dress for your own comfort, convenience and pleasure, and accept any polite signs of appreciation you may still collect with goodwill. This is not infallible but has worked fairly well for me, and practice must make perfect, because I find it works better and better as the decades go by. There's also the full chador. Highly reccommended, by those who habitually use it (with the added value that you can wear the tackiest, tartiest kit you like, underneath!) . Unfortunately, this package includes getting stoned to death for being raped, etc, which makes some women wary.

Will men ever give up this often-not-so-covert aggression? Of course they will! Peer pressure would easily do it. But don't hold your breath

Other answer: they do, from time to time. Men and women on the street both, for a while, realise what's going on, and treat each other with more respect. And from time to time, for a while, those who know that permanent warfare is incompatible with democracy and justice get a hearing. I've seen that happen, too.

Still hoping for the best for Fukushima, but hmm. I'd be glad to get good news of the guys in hospital.