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Sad News From The Frog Nursery

Monday 10th May, brilliant blue sky at 7am, swiftly shrouded: heavy cloud now with sun breaking through. Cold, dry, grey-skies Maytime weather pattern persists, same as it has for a decade. Except a bit colder.

Tragedy has struck. Overnight, between Saturday and Sunday, one of my froglets mysteriously disappeared. There's a faint chance it disappeared under its own steam, and we'll find a tiny shrivelled corpse under the furniture one day, but they don't usually climb out of the water until their tails have practically vanished. I'm afraid a simpler explanation comes to mind. I spent a couple of hours yelling at both the cats, whenever I saw them.



I'm sure that did a lot of good. Bowl now has a swiftly improvised cat-proof perspex cover.

On the plus side, a pair of newts have turned up in the fish pool, which is beautifully clear now. (And this possibly explains why there are zip, nada, not a single frog tadpole left alive in there) I hoped they might be Great Crested, which I have never seen in the wild, because one of them does seem to have a crest, but internet id swiftly proved them to be Smooth Newts. I wonder are they just passing through (newts get about a lot) or will they stay!

Many thanks to Matthew Johnson for a correction to my essay "Wild Hearts In Uniform". The correct derivation of Andrew "Ender" Wiggin's nickname will be added on Gwynethann real soon now. I meant to work on that site on Sunday, but I am a wastrel and made another attempt at the Cave Of Ordeals instead. (My last attempt was in March; then our big Wire fest, and other less pleasant things intervened, so RPG playing was put on hold). I have lost my edge, one loses an edge swiftly at my age, but I'll get it back.

I like it when people pay attention. & I like it very much when people who don't necessarily share my opinions find my criticism thoughtful and interesting. Not so happy about being found to be "angry", as in Farah Mendlesohn's review on Strange Horizons. You'd think, wouldn't you, that it would be a bigoted sf-misogynist, who would review work like mine and announce "Oooh, lookit that angry feminist! She's so angry". But I'm sure these female reviewers don't mean to be destructive. On the contrary, I feel I'm somewhat being used as a human shield. Gwyneth is "angry" because Farah can't afford to be; Gwyneth is "angry" because Cheryl can't afford to be (that was for Life in 2004). At least Cheryl's not so sure she's a feminist herself, these days (cf her review of Spirit,where we learn that "the feminists" are down on transexuals). . . And good for her on that. I don't think I'll ever convince Farah that her kind of feminism, a feminism that offends nobody in the boys' club, does no good to anyone. It doesn't even work as appeasement, because nowadays, the whole world having taken such a lurching swing to the right, at the dawn of this century, the hardline sf misogynists cannot be appeased.

It's not easy but it is possible to be out as a feminist, in UKSF. My long survival proves that. It'll be uncomfortable at times, and your books will catch a few mean, unscrupulous reviews: but whose books do not, no matter what their politics? And on the plus side, the respect you gain, for yourself and for feminism, from men and women of goodwill who may or may not share your opinions, will be the real thing.


Saturday May 8th, cold and cloudy, random bursts of fine chilly rain. Real Festival weather, as we say in our city. . . And how about those trainspotters! You won't see me say this very often, but down here in my sea of blue, and though I was very glad I had a different choice, I was proud of them. NB, if they fail to set the mainland adrift this time, that feeling will be withdrawn.

Election Fever

Friday 7th May, cloudy skies clearing to blue, a little late sunshine. Fairly cool.

Greetings from a small green dot in the midst of a sea of blue. . .

(my email heading for the day) I spent yesterday travelling up to Manchester and back, voting on the way to the station of course, and this felt a little strange, because twice in the Bold As Love series there's a crucial parliamentary vote, and both times, the perspective is given by one of the characters travelling, on trains, on the London Underground, and it's Springtime both times, too. Well, it would be, wouldn't it. I don't know if I looked at people and wondered how they'd vote, however: I had other things on my mind. Got back fairly late, stayed up until half past one, but then ran out of steam & went to bed, thinking on all those media people, the media-faces of the UK, and I don't usually really like any of them, but what fun they were having, staying up all night, all excited & I blessed them unaware, like the Ancient Mariner, for no reason except I liked to see them having fun. . .

Still feeling strange. I like coalition government, I think it is the future, and the fact that politicians do not like the idea is a very good reason to suspect it's a good thing. But here we are about to be ruled by not one but two fresh-faced Public Schoolboys, oh goodie, & not that I'm any sort of fan of Gordon Brown, not at all, but was it for this that my mother worked her little socks off in that long ago campaign in 1945? & yet Tim Farron got through, with a very handy-sized swing too, Caroline Lucas got the first Green seat, so we're sorted, me & mine (can't count Streatham, since the incumbents there are in Sao Paulo). and Gabriel rang me up to tell me he voted, first time (he's one of those bright-eyed hordes) & he had worked at it and taken an online questionaire (sp?) which showed the Party opinions with the labels torn off. and it turns out he is Green! (what a surprise, you may say).

Enough of this frivolity. I have legs! As of today, I have two froglets with four legs apiece.

Now that is definitely something to celebrate.

And here it is.

PS, the swifts are here.

Tadpoles In May

Wednesday 5th May, cloudy but warmer, few spots of rain around noon.

Here's the tadpole news: it's mixed. I had a big die-back in the yellow bucket, last week when the weather was very warm, and this week a moderate die-back in the plasterer's tub, no obvious reason why, except maybe that I had stopped covering the tub at night, and we've had a couple of very cold ones. On the plus side, my pets (the tadpoles reared indoors) are doing well. Two of them have well-developed back legs, a body shape that gets more defined by the hour and evil, glittering little eyes. . . (I've noticed this before, but it's purely an adolescent thing, never met a grown frog that didn't have perfectly mild-mannered gaze). I'm feeding them on the white of hardboiled egg, Peter having rejected the idea of stomped slug suspended on a thread as too disgusting & the other tadpole-rearing site suggestion, organic chicken breast, raw or cooked, as too ridiculous. (It doesn't have to be organic of course. One of the respondents gives a charming insight into her domestic habits: take a chunk of chicken tikka rinse it and "suspend on a thread".

The suspend on a thread thing is supposed to create an entertaining feeding frenzy, as the tads struggle to rear up and grab the tasty morsel, but I haven't tried it yet.

Many thanks to Ben Lund and Richard Palmer for their book orders, that's £25 so far to Amnesty and another £22 on the way.

Remember I said I'd enjoyed the Royal Society's 350th anniversary celebration essays, Seeing Further? I've now been invited, due to Sarah LeFanu, to speak at one of the celebratory events at the end of June. It's called Who Needs Men Anyway, and is all about the fragility of the Y chromosome. I'm to tell the people about the feminist science fiction angle. Thanks very much Sarah. I'll give it a go, how could I resist. More on this later.

Reading, Georgina Ferry's biography of Dorothy Hodgkin and enjoying it very much. In the past I've marked Dorothy Hodgkin down because, as you may know, our only female Nobel Laureate Chemist always maintained that being a woman had been no obstacle to her career. Easy enough for you to say, princess, was my verdict. Possibly you never noticed that you were rich and privileged. . . practically born with that proverbial £500 a year in your pocket.
But there's a lot more to it than that.

Watching: Saw The Ghost, thought it was okay. Watched the first episode of "Luther" Idris Elba's post-Stringer Bell debut on the tv last night. Won't be trying that again. Oh dear, oh dear. Crude, shallow, silly. We're back to that old favourite, lots and lots of running around meant to simulate urgency, the maverick cop with psychotic behaviour problems, and I do believe a Salander-copy-cat, the kooky, violent young female genius sidekick, but this time, hey, how cool, she's gone over to the Dark Side. Ridiculous.

And now, at last, back to work? I'm trying.

Seeing more things; things that are finished

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

Shell-Shock Chic

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

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

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

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

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

Things that didn't fit; seeing things further

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

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

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

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

Seeing Further ed. Bill Bryson

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

Gold Bunny

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good News

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

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

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

Happiness Like A Dagger; All Poetry

Tuesday 6th April, chilly sunshine, clear blue skies

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

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

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

No Care

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

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

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

Catriona McColl

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

Clarke Shortlist (Belated response)

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

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

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

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

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

Digital Economy and Vulture Funds

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Red Needles, Chamonix

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Wonder what will happen in 2010/11?

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

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

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

Nicely done. . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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