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Instant Judgement on Robert Schumann

Friday March 27th, sun surfacing through overcast, after a chilly night Reading Clio Grey, of whom more later, and The Iliad, where I've reached the Battle By The River, Hector hasn't got long left now. Watching a lot of movies as I've been feeling poorly, Mildred Pierce, Once Upon A Time In The West, The Fifth Element (again).

Improving my musical knowledge (down to Gabriel of course, he starts playing the music, I start wondering, what was that guy like? What did his life and times have to do with his composition?): this week's composer is Schumann. Reminds me of Bruce Sterling, a bit (sorry, Bruce, I know you're not mad). Esp. the selfless early career, putting passionate criticism and the Good Of The Genre before his own art, and not even realising it. The not-in-the-best-of-tempers manifestos against moribund convention, the revolutionary brotherhood of correct thought, to which you could get elected without your knowledge. Also the reckless mixing of media. Music written to illustrate details in a novel (Papillons) which of course everyone cool will get, because of course everyone cool knows the novel off by heart just like Robert does. I ended up not really liking most of what we have on CD, because it's too puzzling, too literary, and I haven't any desire to read the Wertheroid novels. They've vanished, and I bet it's with good reason.

The story about disabling his hand is less extreme than I thought, in fact my arbitrarily chosen biographer gave the distinct impression that it was a good excuse to stay out of the virtuoso bloodbath. Shame about the story of that ultra-romantic marriage, it really doesn't stand up. Oh Clara, you are my equal in all things, we are twin souls, we are beyond convention! Ah, at last you are mine! No, you can't go on tour. Didn't I say I need you to stay at home and bring up twenty kids. . ? He wrecked her career for as long as he was able (an uphill job, as Clara Wiek was incredibly talented, ditto hardworking, already famous & knew how to work a crowd), and though she submitted, though she became the fierce champion of his faltering genius, picking fights left right and centre, I don't think she forgave him. Not until he was safely on the way out. . . She didn't visit him much in that horrible aslyum. Where he certainly didn't deserve to end up, whatever it was that was wrong with him. All right, he jumped in the river, okay he'd been admitting to psychotic symptoms, but all the heroes of those turgid novels "admit" to psychotic symptoms, they never stop: how can your soul be in torment without a few waking nightmares?, it's de rigeur And in the end, when nobody would listen, he starved himself to death. Nasty way to go.

NB, my research for this entry, such as it was, involved reading Robert Schumann his life and work by Ronald Taylor, probably not the best place to start, a pedestrian biography and not great on musical analysis; but it was in the library! And listening to these two disks. Richter is as a God, I am reliably told, but I like Jonathan Biss.

Richter, playing Schubert's Wanderer and Schumann Papillons & Fantasie 17

Jonathan Biss, Fantasie 17 etc

He championed Chopin, when nobody understood what Chopin really was (cannons disguised by flowers is a Schumann quote), he railed against mediocrity, he had his faults but he was okay. I ought to listen to more, esp. the songs, and Kindersznesen (not for children; about being a child). Next in this series, Shostakovich: closet dissident or pillar of Stalinism?

Really, I'm practising having categories, after all these years: see if I can be a proper blogger.

Castles 2008

layered cloud, moving towards twilight

Cracked it. Castles Made Of Sand, remastered, complete and unabridged. The file had got corrupted on disk, which does not bode well for my off-site storage but anyway, here's Castles, the 2008 edition, free online.

Spring Officially Began Last Friday. . .

Monday 23rd March, cool sun, light overcast, spring gardens full of candy colours below my window.
I have nothing more to say, except thanks to Anne O'Donnell for an Aleutians Trilogy book order: really I'm just posting my Lenten Alcohol fast tally.

Reading: Clio Grey, The Envoy of the Black Pine My latest librarybooks find, more later.

Wondering about, 1.The Nebula Weekend, & if I really need to nominate an accepter/deliverator should "The Tomb Wife" win in the short stories, problem arising as neither of my US editors will be there. Interim conclusion, think I'll cross that bridge if I come to it. 2. The G20/Climate Change Protests. Justice and Peace on the 28th March, StopWar on 1st April. Neither of them exactly my agenda but I think I'll probably settle for the 28th, as I'm getting the three line whip from CAFOD on that one. Let's face it, I'm really more of a CAFOD type, more bothered about Guantanamo at Calais than eager fomenting anarchist revolution (but don't let me put you off!). Plus, amusing though it is to see the Bold As Love precursor scenario taking to the streets again, just like the nineties, eh?, that's not what I'm researching right now. Plus, I like animals. If I go to prison, I don't want them to say it was for frightening a shy and sensitive police horse.

Deciding not to go and see. Watchmen.

Book Sales, Bold As Love downloads

Weather same as it was ten minutes ago. Bright sun, blue sky.

At last. Finally I can get into my homepage again, and here's the URl for the updated Book Sales page, for Gwyneth Jones and Ann Halam. Note that you can now use PayPal:
Book Sales

Plus, the reinstated free download of Bold As Love, re-edited, complete and unabridged. Castles Made Of Sand to follow, when I've figured out what's wrong with the pdf:

Bold As Love

Castles Made Of Sand

Plus, from Specusphere, another review of Spirit:

Spirit reviewed by Ian Banks

Frogwatch, spawn death.

Wednesday 18th March, another beautiful blue sky day.

Every morning, the blackbird (or a different one, maybe one of those four juveniles I've been watching since last spring) singing his heart out: in the back gardens this year, so we don't wake to music, we have to get out of bed. . . But a star can choose his venue.

Frogwatch, sadly my first bucket of spawn didn't make it. The eggs were fertile but the jelly disintegrated, leaving the embryos with nothing to feed on. Ominous, but not yet fatal. Call it frost damage (it was still very cold when this was laid) and hope for the second sitting. But the females I've seen are all very stressed, very red. One new clump of spawn so far, I think it's fertile and the sun is shining. . .

One never sees frogs out in the Sussex countryside now. Deleted by pesticide run off, apparently.

Darwin Was Wrong: For readers of "Life"

Many thanks to Ben Lund for his Bold As Love book orders. That's £36.50 to Amnesty International (whose website I can't reach this morning, for some reason).

& congratulations to Lynne Jamneck and all the Periphery collection authors, the anthology is a finalist for the Lambda awards.

I wonder what's happened my story for When It Changed, the Geoff Ryman anthology? The Anthology's still up on Amazon, allegedly due out in May. Must ask Geoff.

It was 1997. Intrigued by the discoveries I'd made about the Biology field (while researching the biology of sexual difference, and possible alternative evolutionary-engines for aliens), I'd decided to write a real-life science fiction about the career of a woman in Biological Science, who stumbles on something strange, and has an idea that just won't let her go. . . And now, at last, I see that "Anna's" discovery has hit the tipping point. (Immensely creditable but of course inadequate nineteenth-century model of evolution dethroned. The complexity and interconnectedness of the development of life on earth recognised; horizontal transfer of genetic material mediated by an ether full of viruses proposed) This is the bit I like best:

"Other cases of HGT (horizontal gene transfer) in multicellular organisms are coming in thick and fast. HGT has been documented in insects, fish and plants, and a few years ago a piece of snake DNA was found in cows. The most likely agents of this genetic shuffling are viruses, which constantly cut and paste DNA from one genome to another, often across great taxonomic distances. In fact, by some reckonings, 40 to 50 per cent of the human genome consists of DNA imported horizontally by viruses..."

Readers of Life may remember the scientific revolution championed by Clare Gresley, Anna's mentor in the wilderness. . .

Read the article, at You won't find Lyn Margulis's name, even though there's a big section on endosymbiosis. Or Barbara McClintock's name. Or Susan Lindquist. &I wouldn't think this was worth mentioning except that the article is full of men's names, some of them ancient, and though truth will out, meanwhile what passes for "science" is all about fame (a sarcasm has been deleted here); about getting more attention, more links. Nobody's saying "Darwin was wrong" about the enumbers game of fitness selection
an immensely satifying insight; of universal application

And then there's the Selfish Gene, different but related false image... (read another recent article on NS: The Selfless Gene), A few years ago, I was a teaching assistant at an Arvon science fiction course run by Colin Greenland. One of the students asked me, smiling indulgently, why are you so down on Richard Dawkins? Because he's peddling ideology in the name of science, I said. Much worse (because we're none of us free from ideology), he's corrupting the minds of the idiotic many, such as yourself, who cannot tell the difference between scientific thinking and hero-worship*.

Now off you go, dear readers who are offended by this post(I doubt if there'll be many, but I suppose a few tortured souls come here to make sure I'm still being annoying...). Cleanse yourselves by offering incense to Darwin's shrine. You may need to sacrifice a white mouse or two, with the proper rituals. Don't forget to read the entrails. For your gods are jealous gods.

*No, of course I didn't. I'm an honest mercenary, and I don't pick fights with students unless I think they are worth it, eh Trent?

Trains and trains and trains

Thursday 12th March, grey skies

... I'm spending my life on trains, last night a very dodgy sandwich from M&S foods M/c Piccadilly reminded me why it's worth taking your own rations. Even texts from the Milan:United game failed to console me. At least you could say I'm following this year's pleasantly retro change of the seasons very closely. A pair of lapwings and several buzzards in Staffordshire, enlivening a rather deadly landscape.

Forgotten war-in-a-teacup, me and the media giant. For the record, I'm still locked out of my Virgin (was ntlworld) page. Hoping to get back in "in three to five working days". So they say. They've been saying that since New Year.

Eleven Days

Saturday 7th March, beautiful day

Classical Relief was pretty good, the jokes old fashioned, Alfred Brendel's poetry a revelation (and rather scary), Nicola Benedetti took a right pasting, good for her. Stylophone chorus splendid. Quarter final also splendid, tho' watching til the whistle blew had me legging it across Waterloo Bridge in boots not meant for sprinting and most undignified fashion. Luckily Hannah didn't bawl me out as I deserved & we weren't actually late.

Now it's Sunday, and I've finished The Keep Jennifer Egan, of which I'd heard much. It was fun, it was very New York, small world, disconcerting finale. Hadn't we already decided that stuff about turning the Castle of Unease into a detox hotel for the well-heeled was, er, rubbish on many levels? A deep comic book. Have started the plasterer's tub nursery, the yearly ritual. Half a bucket of spawn so far, wow that water's cold, cold and crawling with weird living things, down there in the dark, that squirm away from my hand. Dead eldritch.

NS Doom and C4 Gloom, respectively

Friday 6th March, beautiful day, blue sky, bright sun, crisp air

Have read the doom laden Gaia Vince article about 4 degrees of warming. Thinks: okay, but something a bit hooky about this, something wrong with the tone, maybe? Almost malicious, and that's not the attitude. So I checked its fortunes on newscientist dot com. Sure enough, 280 comments and counting, almost without exception absolutely pointless, respondents evenly divided between idiots and bullies who might as well be scrapping over which end to attack a breakfast egg. Moderate these fools, New Scientist! Moderate about 90% of them off your over-heated page, until you find a level of sanity, it must be in there somewhere!

It's a shame about internet comments. It sounded like a good idea, but it really isn't, is it.

Have watched #1 of Red Riding. Obviously it's a misfortune, not a failing, that any police procedural set in 1974 is going to be haunted by Life On Mars, but I'm still not convinced. There are people who believe that style over substance is not a weakness if the style is gritty and grim. There's people knee-jerk reverently respectful of any show that acknowledges UK police brutality (well, okay, West Riding Police were famous for it at the time. . .) no need for any frills like plot, character, motivation. I'm not one of either of them.

Classic Relief!

Wednesday, 4th March. Calm skies after a night of wind and rain. Frog action in the pond has been playful and relaxed for about a week. This morning I see the holiday is over, the males have started clasping, the grim business of reproduction has begun.

Metempsychosis of the Machine: Out in the wind and rain last night, to see Slumdog at the Marina. Great show, terrific soundtrack. An expertly crafted, cruel and sentimental fairytale -the qualification is not an insult, all proper fairytales are both cruel and sentimental-, telling of the savage greed of poverty, the singleminded determination of the one that got away (keep your eyes on the prize, slumdogs); the "Jimmy Cagney" hero's death of the underworld system's luckless dupe;the dream girl, as good as she is beautiful, teasingly dangled and finally bestowed as the reward of virtue. A perfect Hollywood depression movie!

But enough of this frivolity. I'm here today with the serious yet delightful purpose of exhorting you to flock to Classic Relief, an extraordinary evening of laughter and great music, 7th March, 7.30pm at the Royal Festival Hall, South Bank, where among others you'll have a chance to see my lad Gabriel, luminary of the "stylophone chorus", eight Trinity Music College students in DJs and bowties (he assures me he can borrow the kit) playing The Ride Of The Valkyrie on tiny little primitive synthesisers. I thought he said xylophone, but no, it's electronica. After I'd bought the tickets I asked innocently, and will I see you after? Er, no, says my loving son. There's sort of a party. Ah well, Meet Mum in the foyer, party with the famous poet Alfred Brendel... I take his point

Interestingly, we watched Repo Man again the other night, and Peter spotted an actual stylophone, played by Emilio Estevez as he leans against a phone box, in one of the punk/rom gang scenes. So that's how you can check it out. Great movie, another excellent soundtrack. It hasn't lost its freshness, and yet so evocative of the early eighties. That cohabitation, punks, goths and New Romantics, sounds so bizarre and yet it seemed so natural at the time: as it appears here.

Fair Maids Of February

Monday March 2nd, weather same as it was an hour ago

Saturday, 28th March, a cool, still, calm day; grey cushiony clouds netted in a web of gilt, light the colour of candlelight. We drove out to Duncton to visit the famous native daffodils. This is all heathland, sandy underfoot, deadened, soundless walking through the tall pinewoods of Duncton Common, fenced transition to Lavington, the National Trust's purist swathes of last year's heather. Not quite the season for adders, but plenty of birds. At Burton House we admired the old Norman church, with some remarkable C16 brasses, including Lady Elizabeth Goring, kneeling at prayer in a heraldic tabard and riding dress. Why the male attire? Lost in the mists of time, but she's the only woman dressed like this on any C16 memorial in England (It says here, in the guide provided). Shallow indents in the stone show where her husband and her children used to be pinned. Further on, by a clear murmuring, winding stream, sheaves of perfect snowdrops warned us we'd come too early for the show on the headland above. Darn it, the host, the throng beneath the trees all present but all but a handful still firmly sheathed. Never mind, even one small native daffodil, candlelight trumpet, gold rays, freshly unfurled, is easily worth a walk in the woods.

Shock, horror, the pub at Graffam, The Foresters' Arms (more heraldry) is SHUT. As in foreclosed, as of 12 Feb, with the sticker for the Good Pub Guide 2009 still in the window. We suspect the proud insistence on "Traditional Hours" may have been the leasees' undoing. You just can't not be open all afternoon, especially at weekends, when every other pub in the countryside has capitulated. So, anyway, we had sandwiches and coffee at the village shop instead, and probably were no worse off. See that tally up at the top? That's my lenten alcohol fast. Can't say I feel hugely renewed or purified yet, but I'm sure it's going to do me good.

The Art Of Murder

Monday 2nd March, frost on the grass at seven, bright crisp morning of early spring.

The Art Of Murder, Jose Carlos Somoza. Deserves a post all of its own. Compelling, penetrating, extraordinary. To my mind a considerable advance on The Athenian Murders: far less self-consciously clever, far more immersive. Somoza takes on the phenomenon of Modern Art (ie, roughly, non-figurative to conceptual, latter part of C20 to present day), as an index of moral nullity, in a futuristic setting where human beings who have elected to become "canvases" for fashionable artists, have become staggeringly valuable objects. Need I tell you that a curiously substantial proportion of these canvases are adolescent or pre-pubertal girls and boys? That they are generally displayed nude, in brutally stressful, titillating poses? Already there's a big undercover market for the horrific, low-rent version of this trade in exquisitely altered and contorted living bodies, now someone has started butchering really valuable works. . .

For me, don't know if Somoza would agree, there's a powerful subtext about the massively profitable edifice of modern art, as the replacement, or the current form, of religion, and specifically the Catholic Church: the world of The Art Of Murder is dominated by corrupt cardinals, fraudulent miracles, deranged saints, a bizarre, suffering God. A fanatical Inquisitor, and a troubled unbeliever form the traditional pair of investigators; the two main characters on the other side of the action are Bruno van Tysch, at once a monstrous God, priest and sacrifice; and Clara Reyes, the iron-willed, utterly dedicated young "canvas" who finds a route to true transcendence in the fake revelations and impossible (profit-driven) demands of her Church. It's not a criticism to say the mystery is no mystery: this is not a puzzle, it's a fantastic spectacle, painted on the "canvas" of C21 Europe's beloved police-procedural serial-killer story. The dismount, however is a slight disappointment, as the void closes and "normal services" are resumed. The monstrous God/priest Bruno turns out to be rather un-interesting, and his relationship with Clara never really goes anywhere. So, four stars not five on one reading. If I was reviewing, I'd read it twice of course, and might well see things differently

The Art Of Murder is presented as a thriller, but I read it slowly because I didn't want to leave Somoza's repellent, fascinating world. Highly reccommended. I don't know if it was noticed in genre circles, but if I'd known about this when it came out in translation (2004), I'd have been lobbying hard for both the Tiptree jury and the Clarke jury to take it on board.

More On Spirit

Thursday 26th February
not much change, same low skies. Frog action in the pond, and my first Camellia.

More reviews of Spirit:

Brighton-based Gwyneth Jones' SF work had focused on Bold As Love, five books that explore utopianism and environmental politics via the bizarre, but quite brilliant, notion of rock musicians taking the reins of power. But how do you follow that? Initially, it seems, Jones has opted for light relief because Spirit has been trailed as a srollicking re-engineering of Alexandre Dumas's classic The Count Of Monet Cristo and, in part, that's exactly what it is. We follow the sotry of Bibi who, imprisoned for two decades, plots revenge after secret coordinates lead her to untold riches. Yet Jones never relies wholley on Dumas's template. This is also a serious, grown-up novel that riffs on current concerns by, for example, casting as its outsider heroine a woman born into a fundamentalist, tribal society.
Jonathan Wright, BBC Focus

Bob's book blog review of Spirit

Liviu's review of Spirit (one of the first)

Duncan Lawie's review on The Zone

I like 'em all, of course I do, or they wouldn't be linked here!, Jonathan Wright gets posted in full because his isn't available on line; but I have a special soft spot for Harry Ritchie in The Mail On Sunday, for his "warning, warning, astonishing adjective imminent, female SF writer Gwyneth Jones. . . "

I'm going to miss my father. I keep thinking of him, now that the parade's gone by. Family matters continue to occupy me, it'll be a while before I get my life back (but one never does, after such a transition, it will be a different life). Meanwhile, I watched Ivan The Terrible Part II last night, it was terrific, in spite of (because of) bearing as little relation to the historical notes provided as Shakespeare's Macbeth does to the historical record. Fantastically stylised, fantastic Prokofiev movie music. If they carry on like this I'll have to forgive LoveFilm for their relentless delivery of ancient culturally improving movies that certainly were not my "high priority" titles. Also watched Ghosts Of Mars, through not having the will to switch the telly off.

Reading: Charles McCarry's post-9/11 revival, Old Boys Can the grey tigers of the old school CIA reach the secret location in the Central Asian desert, where along with the Kirghiz Light, one can discover the secret scroll revealing that Jesus was a Roman agent, and Paul of Tarsus his case-officer??? Or will grizzly Osama bin Laden (okay, another name, and invented by McCarry 35 yrs ago) get to this world-destroying treasure first???

I've just discovered McCarry, which puzzled me, as I've been very curious about the fantasy/fiction half-life of World War II, for several years (cf Bold As Love). Oh, now I see. The first one I snagged was catch-up, filling in the ancient history of his main characters. Really it's Cold War spook nostalgia (though that means a world frozen in time circa 1945/50) In Old Boys the project is rolling back the callous, stupid current regime, and reinstating the old-school decent-conservative God's on our side days, when CIA operatives were a league of maverick gentlemen, doing good by stealth. Ah, how we all miss those guys! . . . It's nice enough, it's travelogue with violence, and interesting things to eat (which our heroes can't digest as they are all over 70 and used to proper American food). Don't think I'll pick up another.

Spirit, Gollancz, The Clarke

Ash Wednesday, 25th February 2009
cool, grey, low skies.

Jon Sullivan cover art for Spirit

SFX 178

The Guardian, 17th january

The Times Online

Fantasy Book Critic

reviewed in the mail on sunday

homepage SPIRIT entry with downloads

I've been rather preoccupied for the last two or three months (how time flies). Back at my desk for a brief spell last week, I finally looked at the reviews that had been arriving, from Gollancz and other sources, & also found I had an email from Tom Hunter, with a link to the list of books submitted for the Arthur C. Clarke award. That's funny, it was just a new space opera, nothing too noteworthy, but I'm sure I had a book out, a bit of a strange date, but definitely 2008. I wonder why...

A few emails later, and to resolve any confusion in the select band I call my reading public, I can now confirm (I think!) that due to circumstances beyond my control Spirit, Or The Princess Of Bois Dormant has been declared a 2009 title in some contexts, 2008 in others. Sort of. Ah, well. That's the way it goes. Anyway, I may yet do an explanations page, with some of my own refs for the novel, for those who wonder where the usual maniacal deconstruction has gone; meanwhile at least I've restored the link from here to the SPIRIT and Buonarotti downloads.

I'll get the hang of these Serendipity tools in time, I'm sure

Desmond Jones 21st September 1910-4th February 2009

Sunday 8th February, Brighton
Cold and grey, but no sign of frost or snow.

My father, who had been very ill since early December, died last Wednesday. He had a very good innings, a very interesting life: and he was the person who taught me how to tell stories. I've been up in Manchester for a couple of days, mainly with my mother in their Care Home. I'll be back in Manchester soon and it'll be a while before I'm really back at my desk.
My father on his 94th birthday