DAVID RAIN: A SMALL REMEMBRANCE

Back at the end of 2010 I interviewed David Rain for the British Science Fiction Association’s Focus (no.54, 2011) – a magazine for writers. David was programme leader for the MA in Creative Writing at Middlesex University, which was at that time unique in having a science fiction thread to its teaching, and I was a freelancer. David passed away this week after a long illness. In one of those weird quirks, I now teach at Middlesex in the same department as David – though I never really got the chance to get to know him. However his loss has had an obvious impact on those who he worked with and taught.

David had written the Orokon fantasy series as Tom Arden and had been twice nominated for the British Fantasy Society’s Awards and had also written a number of well-received literary novels under his own name

Anyway, I thought I’d put the interview up on the blog as a small, inadequate remembrance. Continue reading

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LABOUR’S BETRAYAL OF SYRIA

War has always been a topic that has caused the Labour Party problems and it seems increasingly possible that whether or not Britain should bomb Syria has the potential to create deep, and possibly irreparable, splits in the modern party. There’s a particular oddness in this situation, since Britain’s capacity to have any significant influence in Syria is almost zero. But the symbolism is crucial, I suppose. It is, however, depressing that this moral debate has become a weapon in the battles of Labour factionalism.

Over the last week I have listened to those who oppose war at any cost and I wonder if some of them are aware that people are dying in their thousands at the hands of ISIS and Assad (and, indeed, those who are opposing both of these regimes). As long as they don’t have anything darkening their conscience this group seems willing to turn a blind eye to slaughter done by others. Not so much “Stop The War” as “Stop Some Wars”. By the same token, I listen to some of those who support intervention and I hear no realistic plan to achieve meaningful change in the region – nothing that dissuades me from the belief that, for many, bombing Syria is about satisfying a desire to smash someone, anyone, in frustration at not being able to do anything useful. Continue reading

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LABOUR’S ELECTORAL SURGE: UPDATED

So, in my last post I responded to a post that claimed that there was a resurgence of Labour support identified in local election results. I thought I’d follow that up with a more detailed look at how things are going.

Labour local election results

The chart above tracks the change in The Labour Party’s share of the vote in local authority by-election results since the beginning of October and the trendline marking the overall direction of travel.

The most recent results show a very definite decline in Labour’s electoral fortunes.  Continue reading

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IS THERE A LABOUR SURGE?

A recent article in Tribune claimed that: “Big swings to Labour are being reported in a number of council by-elections since Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the party.” As far as it goes, it’s certainly true that some swings to Labour in local authority by-elections have been good, but the article then goes on to claim “Labour’s surge in membership at grassroots level is starting to pay off in getting councillors re-elected and in one case gaining a seat.” And that masks a somewhat more complex truth about the current electoral situation.

In the last month there have been 21 local authority by-elections. In three Labour didn’t stand: Hellingly (Wealden), Chatteris (Cambridgeshire) and Aird & Loch Ness (Highlands) and one, Bolsover South, was previously an uncontested Labour seat so change figures are meaningless.

That leaves seventeen contested local authority by-elections in the last month. In those by-elections Labour’s vote went up in nine and down in eight. Continue reading

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REVIEW: THE BEES BY LALINE PAULL

The Bees CoverWhy would an author write a story in which the main characters are bees? One reason might be simply that bees are interesting little creatures – fascinatingly social, successful, widespread and apocryphally busy – and we are intimately familiar with them. Their hives and lives offer the writer useful opportunities for allegory and metaphor. Or, perhaps, though we are familiar with bees their experiences are so entirely outside our own that they can also play the role of exotic aliens – seeing the same world as we do but in a radically different way. A third reason might be that as the bee struggles with environmental disruption – climate change, disease, pesticides – these little bugs offer the writer an opportunity to comment on humanity’s dysfunctional relationship with nature.

Laline Paull’s debut novel, The Bees, uses bits of all three of these elements, and part of its weakness is trying to do too much without being convincing about any one point, but it’s worth starting by discussing what the book does rather well. In imagining the bee society – dominated by females and with a central character driven by a powerful maternal instinct – this book’s most interesting aspect is the prominence it gives to the female view. The peculiar institutions of the hive are driven by sisterhoods and the central character’s concerns are distinctively womanly. Some reviews compare the book to Margaret Atwoods’ The Handmaid’s Tale and, while it’s a comparison which doesn’t do this slighter novel many favours, some resonances are clear. Continue reading

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REVIEW: DARK STAR BY OLIVER LANGMEAD

Untold riches and global celebrity? Whatever it was that possessed Oliver Langmead to write Dark Star, we must hope that it was neither of the above. Because who, in their right mind, writes a science fiction/noir detective story (and it is very noir, almost pitch black) in the form of an epic poem? And who, in their right mind, buys such a book?

Reader, I have no answers to any of these questions. Indeed Dark Star is a riddle I have totally failed to solve. In many respects it is a very conventional novel. Its science fictional part – a human pioneer society gradually devolving on a strange planet – is every bit as familiar as its detective elements – a burnt out cop caught in a web of corruption that’s far above his pay grade. The setting is pleasingly peculiar – the story take place on Vox, a city on a world that circles a star that emits no light. Darkness presses in on all sides and this has created a society where light has become a conspicuous sign of wealth and privilege. There is an underclass, condemned to perpetual darkness, who are desperate, vaguely threatening, but ultimately helpless. This weirdness, however, is undercut by familiarity – the streets our protagonists (Virgil and Dante – I know, right?) walk are not alien, they have been worn smooth by the shoe leather of ten thousand hard-boiled shamuses who passed this way before. This rubbing together of the strangeness of place and the conventional familiarity of the detectives’ milieu – corrupt colleagues, dodgy dealing city officials and unworldly scientists – results in a whole that is an uneasy and not always satisfying compromise. Continue reading

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SUMMARY EXECUTION: BOTH WRONG AND STUPID

So David Allen Green (@jackofkent) wrote a very good piece about the legal questions around yesterday’s  government announcement that it had used a drone to kill a British citizen fighting in Syria for ISIS. I’m not a lawyer, but his reasoning seems eminently sound.

There are also, I think, sound moral reasons why a government shouldn’t do things like this – even when the person they are targeting is a very bad man planning to do very bad things. I have no problem with people like ISIS getting a good hard smack around the head – they are murderous wretches whose threat isn’t to the West (they best they can hope to inflict on us are relative pinpricks) but to their neighbours – and the poorest and most vulnerable of their neighbours at that. At the same time, I think the decision by the government to take on the positions of judge, jury and executioner on a case like this opens a moral trapdoor that could swallow us all.

But another good reason for thinking that this action is wrong is political. Continue reading

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IT WAS HARRIET WOT WON IT

I have quite admired Harriet Harman in the past, insofar as, as a woman on the left of British politics, she’s had to put up with a lot of shit thrown her way and she’s coped with it with a certain amount of grace and occasional flashes of humour. However, I fear that when the history of this period of Labour politics is written her reputation is going to be tainted by her final, brief, but disastrous period as interim Labour leader.

When(if?) Jeremy Corbyn wins, he had better have a bunch of flowers ready for her, because Harman (and whoever has been advising her) has done more than anyone (certainly more than Corbyn himself) to ensure his victory. Continue reading

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WHAT THE LABOUR PARTY IS FOR: OR, WHERE YOU CAN SHOVE YOUR IDEOLOGICAL PURITY

One of the many weird things about the Labour leadership election has been, as a member for 20 years, getting lectured about Labour values by people who – to my certain knowledge – have never been members of the Labour Party, are not members of the Labour Party, have spent a great deal of time attacking the Labour Party, but who now feel that they have some god-given right to instruct me on my “duty” in this election.

At the start of the campaign most of this pontification was coming from the right and it was in support of Liz Kendall. As the campaign has gone on, increasing amounts of it has come from the left and is in support of Jeremy Corbyn. As the weeks have passed the debate on both sides has become foam-flecked and ranting. Anyone who dares to disagree is a “red tory”, a “crypto-communist” or a “traitor” – a selection of the more friendly epithets thrown at me lately by both sides.

I’ve never voted for the winner of a Labour leadership election. I didn’t vote for Smith or Blair – I could afford to be contrary in these elections, to be sure, since their victories were assured but in both cases my vote went to the candidates I thought represented Labour’s left-of-centre (Gould and Prescott). I didn’t vote for Ed Miliband as my first choice either. So I don’t suppose Kendall or Corbyn’s campaigns will be particularly fussed that I’m not voting for them. Continue reading

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MARK FERGUSON IS BEING WRONG ABOUT KEYNES AND BUDGET SURPLUSES

Mark Ferguson seemed like a decent, thoughtful bloke who did good work as editor of LabourList, so I was disappointed when he announced he was going to work for Liz Kendall’s campaign. I was even more disappointed today when he went out of his way to (i) misrepresent the work of Keynes and (ii) appear to set the stage for Kendall’s campaign to fall into a gaping hole dug for them by George Osborne.

He said this today on Twitter…

and then linked to this older blog piece. I’m assuming that this signals thinking within Kendall’s campaign that suggests that they are looking to find a way to “neutralise” Osborne’s latest trap by falling straight into it. Continue reading

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