Blogging

Over the years I’ve written a lot of stuff online. Most of it was written for earlier versions of this blog and go lost in various changes to the site. On this page is some of the more interesting stuff I’ve carried over.

Note that, since most of this was dashed off quickly for the blog, it’s a little rougher round the edges than my published writing.

COMMENTS OFF, SPAM WINS

So, having discovered that one of the reasons this site was running like a dog was that it was being hit with hundreds of spam messages an hour, I’ve had to turn off comments and pingbacks on all posts and pages on the website for the time being.

Even with good anti-spam protection to load on the site was very, very heavy.

I apologise if you come across anything on the site you might have wanted to have a conversation about. Hopefully the storm will pass sooner rather than later.

Spam is a pain in the arse. Why anyone would want to bombard a site that gets a few thousand visits a month with a bajillion spam messages about knock-off handbags that nobody will ever see (or read, even if they could) is beyond me, but that’s the Internet for you.

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WORLDCON PANELLING

I, like lots of other people, got a bit excited when the organisers of Loncon3 sent out the draft schedule for this year’s Worldcon – but I’ve had some ongoing website problems, so it’s taken a while to get this online. But, at last, for anyone who might be interested, these are (provisionally, I think) the panels I’ll be appearing on at what looks like being an absolutely massive convention. Continue reading

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SOME THOUGHTS ON HOW LABOUR WINS IN 2015

So this year’s elections are over, and lots of people are using the results as an excuse to try and shift their favoured political parties around, so I thought: “Why should I miss out?” I don’t think the European election results are either disastrous or brilliant for Labour. You can’t look at the raw figures and say this performance (25%) isn’t good enough, because since 1999 the European elections haven’t looked anything like other British national votes. UKIP, the BNP and the Greens have all made different “breakthroughs” at Euro elections that haven’t been followed up in subsequent General Elections and, if I was a betting man, I’d be willing to bet that UKIP’s vote will fall back significantly before next year’s election. It is, of course, possible that this election has “broken the mould”, but the probability is always against breaks with history. Continue reading

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DOUBLE FRACTIONAL AWARD NOMINEE

specyfiction72ppiSo, the Hugo nominations are out, and there are a number of things I like and many things I have absolutely no interest in. In the end I weakened and nominated some stuff, just so I could feel properly entitled to moan at the final shortlist. I think four of the items I nominated made it onto the final list of 90 or so nominees – I’ll be expecting cash from the lucky few in the next post.

But the really important news about the Hugo nominations isn’t that some weird, slightly cultish, distinctly Tea Partyish, group of American writers have got their arses in gear to exploit the nomination process – anyone with a background in student politics will recognise the effect of organising lists in popular voting – Hackery101. It will be interesting to see if this is the start of a trend of progressive/reactionary organisation for awards. Continue reading

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SHORT FORM DRAMATIC PRESENTATION HUGO SUGGESTIONS

I have no interest in nominating anything for the Hugos, but people have been bemoaning the shortage of things they can nominate for the Short Form Dramatic Presentation category outside the usual television episodes. I like short movies, and think it’d be nice to see more of them recognised, so here are some short movies you could consider. I haven’t checked the eligibility but they’re all dated 2013 and all between 8-15 minutes long.

And, if you’re not interested in the Hugos either, hey, they’re still good little movies.

West of the Moon
Based loosely, apparently, on interviews with children about their dreams. This is kind of lovely, fantastic and peculiar. http://www.shortoftheweek.com/2013/05/06/west-of-the-moon/

 Record/Play
Time travel. It’s a familiar idea – how to change the past – but it’s very nicely done and affecting. http://www.shortoftheweek.com/2013/10/08/recordplay/

C: 299,792 km/s
A Kickstarted movie, and a really enjoyable one. Old-fashioned in style and production (complete with Sagan-ish inserts) it’s a pacy space story done well. http://www.shortoftheweek.com/2013/01/29/c-299792-kms/

Dr Easy
A robot doctor is sent into a siege situation. A Film4/Warp film with very high production values and Tom Hollander from Rev. It ends a bit abruptly. http://www.shortoftheweek.com/2013/06/21/dr-easy/

Expo
Unable to face the things she has lost and return home, a miner on the Moon makes a decision. A touch melodramatic and edging towards the sugary but nice. http://www.shortoftheweek.com/2013/05/16/expo/

Other options: I liked Cargo better than anything in The Walking Dead (http://www.shortoftheweek.com/2013/04/11/cargo/) but it’s touch obvious; A Little Bit Behind  (http://www.shortoftheweek.com/2013/04/23/a-little-bit-behind/) is a funny Australian effort but it’s really just a sketch;  From the Future With Love (http://www.shortoftheweek.com/2013/09/06/from-the-future-with-love/)  has near-future cops doing stuff – should have ended after the bit in the diner; Abe (http://www.shortoftheweek.com/2013/10/30/abe-2/) frankly a bit unpleasant, effectively a robot slasher movie, but undeniably well made.

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REVIEW OF THE ECHO AT ARCFINITY AND OTHER STUFF

the-echo-by-james-smytheSo my grumpy review of James Smythe’s The Echo is now online at Arcfinity.

I’m not normally bothered by the science being wrong in fantastic fiction if it makes the story better – that’s normally true when the author has made a deliberate choice to warp or twist reality. What bothered me by this book (and it’s prequel) is my feeling that the scientific stuff that was wrong didn’t add to the story – indeed that it distracted from it – and that the author was obviously capable of not making these mistakes.

I note that one paragraph from the review got edited out, that’s fair enough, it was too long, but it explains why I think the wrong science matters in this particular case. Continue reading

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‘TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE THE BSFA NOMINATION DEADLINE…

Okay, so, if I wanted this to be any use to anyone I’d have done it weeks ago, but I didn’t and there was always just one more book to try and squeeze in… And if I wanted this to be remotely interesting to anyone, I’d probably have written a long explanation as to why some of these books didn’t make my nominations – I have long and tedious explanations for the absence of both The Adjacent and Ancillary Justice from my nominations – but I didn’t have time.

The deadline for the British Science Fiction Awards nominations is tomorrow. If you can but haven’t nominated your favourites: DO IT NOW!

If anyone cares, here’s what I’ve nominated for the BSFA Awards this year: Continue reading

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THE ART OF POLITICAL FUTILITY

Last night my Twitter feed filled, briefly, with closely cropped images of protestors in V for Vendetta/Guy Fawkes masks making some noise outside the Houses of Parliament and comments criticising the BBC for not covering what was, obviously, an epoch-making event 1. I made some snarky comment about the size of the demonstration and its meaning in the greater scheme of things and got told by one enthusiastic responder: Continue reading

Notes:

  1. Of course the BBC did cover the demonstration – but this was considered insufficient
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WHICH CULTURE? ROBERTS VERSUS FRANZEN… SORT OF

Adam Roberts has written a (typically) interesting blog post about the division between the “Booker culture” that favours formally complex and “clever, clever” writing and the popular arts that have set “the parameters of the Great Human Revolution of 1950-2020”. You need to read his post to get the full force of his argument but, simplifying, he argues that there are three great forces of change that dominate our era: technology, globalisation – particularly the way it encourages (or forces) people to interact with different cultures – and the extension of childhood deeper into adult life. His point is that literary fiction, of the kind that dominates the Booker shortlists, fails to deal convincingly with any of these forces. Continue reading

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BRITISH UNIONS ARE FIGHTING THE WRONG BATTLE, AGAIN

I’m a strong supporter of Labour’s links with trade unions and the work of unions in general. I’ve worked for two different unions (more than ten years, in total) and the first thing I do in a new workplace is dig out the details of the recognised trade union – not always an easy job – and sign up. I’m a long-term member of the NUJ (my professional union) but I’ve also been a member of Unison, GMB and Amicus amongst others over the years.

Unions play a vital role in society and ordinary people need stronger unions. We live in an era where power has swung dramatically in favour of employers: jobs are outsourced, wages are falling, employment rights have been undermined, the public sector – the final bastion of mass union membership – is being more than decimated. We are at precisely at the moment when unions should be at the forefront of a battle on behalf of working people.

But, for far too long, the union movement has been pointing in the wrong direction. The relationship with the Labour Party is important – crucial, even – but unions’ real political strength never came from the internal wrangling of Labour politics. Generations of general secretaries have obsessed over getting their way at Labour Party Conference or in the National Executive, but all the while the real source of their influence has been slipping through their fingers. Continue reading

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REVIEW OF STRANGE BODIES AT ARCFINITY

strange_bodiesMy review of Marcel Theroux’s new novel, Strange Bodies, is online now at Arcfinity.

When this arrived in the post I realised that I had actually read Theroux’s previous novel – the Clarke Award nominated Far North – but had absolutely no recollection of what it was about. I spotted it on the shelf, reread the first chapter and remembered none of it. It had made no impression on me whatsoever. That was worrying.

Further inspection of Strange Bodies revealed a blurb from John Gray, the philosopher-prince of miserablism, on the rear in which he claimed that this novel challenges “everything we believe about what it means to be human”. My heart sank further. How many terrible reviews of terrible novels have I read which praise the exploration of “what it means to be human”? What else are novels about? What would be the point of a novel that didn’t explore what it meant to be human?

So, bad first impressions. Did the novel live down to my expectations? There’s only one way to find out – read the review.

(I think I’ve started to write trailers for my own reviews… that’s worrying.)

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MY FAVOURITE SHORT STORY (SORT OF…)

solarisrising2So with Solaris Rising 2 being released tomorrow, the people at Solaris asked the anthology’s authors (you can read my effort, “The First Dance”, in those pages along with some stories that are really, really good) to write something about our favourite short stories.

I couldn’t pick one.

So instead I talked a bit about the first science fiction short story that lodged itself firmly in my memory and that had a huge effect on the way I thought about the world, “The Star” by Arthur C Clarke.

You can read what I wrote by clicking here. And, by poking around a bit, you can read what the other contributors picked.

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TALES FROM TURKEY CITY: PUSHBUTTON WORDS

From issue 59 of Focus the fourth of my pieces of flash fiction “inspired” by the common writing errors and bad habits catalogued in The Turkey City Lexicon. This time, it’s all about pressing buttons with clichés.

Words used to evoke a cheap emotional response without engaging the intellect or the critical faculties. Commonly found in story titles, they include such bits of bogus lyricism as “star,” “dance,” “dream,” “song,” “tears” and “poet,” clichés calculated to render the SF audience misty-eyed and tender-hearted.

A Song to the Sea of Tears

The tears were warm on Alicia’s silken cheek. The movement of the ocean stirred a susurration, sea against shingle, that seemed to grow more insistent as she listened. Seagulls screamed, wheeled beneath fast-moving clouds, and turned inland. Alicia saw none of this.

Her true love was lost.
Continue reading

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SPECULATIVE FICTION 2012

specyfiction72ppiAnother publication announcement – let’s us hope this doesn’t start happening too often, I’m sure we’d all get terribly bored. This time it’s for a piece of non-fiction, my review/rant on Stina Leicht’s first two Fey and the Fallen books has been selected for Speculative Fiction 2012: The Best Online Reviews, Essays and Commentary

As is often the case, I find myself in the kind of company in which I have the vague sense that I’m the idiot boy in the corner that everyone is patting on the head and congratulating for only spilling a little of his weak lemon drink down the front of his shirt. I’m sure the Germans have a word for that…

Despite all this, I think this is book is a great idea and I’d have been buying it even if my essay wasn’t in there. I am, therefore, especially chuffed to have a piece included, and I’m looking forward to seeing which the other pieces that the editors, Jared Shurin and Justin Landon, have selected. And I’m already looking forward to the 2013 edition.

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WORDS OF ADVICE FOR GEORGE

So I was waiting for a work call and I picked up RH Tawney’s The Acquisitive Society off the top of a pile of books. Published in 1920, the introduction contained some good advice which, I fear – as I am now listening to George Osborne beat the UK’s head against a brick wall for another year – no one in government can hear.

There are times which are not ordinary, and in such times it is not enough to follow the road. It is necessary to know where it leads, and, if it leads nowhere, to follow another. The search for another involves reflection, which is uncongenial to the bustling people who describe themselves as practical, because they take things as they are and leave them as they are. But the practical thing for a traveller who is uncertain of his path is not to proceed with the utmost rapidity in the wrong direction: it is to consider how to find the right one. And the practical thing for a nation which has stumbled upon one of the turning points of history is not to behave as though nothing very important were involved, as if it did not matter whether it turned right or left, went up hill or down dale, provided that it continued doing with a little more energy what it has done hitherto; but to consider whether what it has done hitherto is wise and, if it is not wise, to alter it.

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SOLARIS RISING 2 AND ME

solarisrising2So busy with stuff I hadn’t noticed that the table of contents for Solaris Rising 2 had been announced. I’m chuffed to be in this book alongside a list of very fine writers.

I’m only slightly worried that I’m the one whose been stuck in to make everyone else look good.

Still, it’s a very good content list and Ian Whates has done an impressive job of putting it together. I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy. Continue reading

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ESKRAGH IN DARK FICTION MAGAZINE

Things have been quiet here for a few weeks and are likely to remain so for a while longer – apologies. However, I’d just like to draw your attention to the appearance of my story “Eskragh” in issue 12 (titled Night Legends) of Dark Fiction Magazine.Thanks to the editors for selecting it and transforming it so artfullly into a podcast.

It is a very strange thing to hear my words read by someone else – especially this story which is quite a personal tale. “Eskragh” first appeared in Albedo One.

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FRIDAY’S WORDS OF WISDOM: THE NEW FEW BY FERDINAND MOUNT

The blurb in the back of The New Few (or a Very British Oligarchy) by Ferdinand Mount (Simon & Schuster, 2012) rather modestly describes the author as a former columnist for The Spectator, Daily Telegraph and Sunday Times, editor of the TLS and former head of the Downing Street Policy Unit. What it omits is that his full title is Sir William Robert Ferdinand Mount, 3rd Baronet, that he was very largely responsible for the radical 1983 Tory manifesto that defined what we now call Thatcherism and that despite being too “wet” to ever be what Thatcher called “one of us” he is – having attended Eton and Cambridge and, amongst other things, served on the board of a merchant bank – most certainly “one of them”.

All that serves to make the first section of this book, an analysis of the way in which the bankers and executives have, over the last thirty years, steadily accreted to themselves obscene amounts of wealth and power a critique that is significantly more devastating than it might be have been had it come from another source. The second section, which looks at the state of our politics, is more problematic – Mount encounters a number moments of cognitive dissonances as the logic of the argument in the first half of his book conflicts with his patrician conservative outlook, but it still contains a number of interesting insights. The third section suffers slightly in that Mount’s enthusiasm and optimism regarding the Coalition government appears to have been overtaken by events in significant areas – this is a problem for any journalism published in book form. Nevertheless the programme of reforms Mount sets out in an attempt to reduce inequality and to rein in the power of the elite few who have taken onto themselves the power of oligarchs remains and interesting and potentially radical. Continue reading

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DEREK JACOBI, SHAKESPEARE, THE EARL OF OXFORD AND CLASS WAR

So last night I finally got around to watching Richard II, the first play in the Hollow Crown season currently running on BBC One. It was, I thought, a very strong production of what is quite a difficult play – lacking as it does an easily sympathetic protagonist and realistically portraying politics as a complex, knotty and morally uncertain business – which fails to provide anything that resembles a satisfyingly neat plot arc. Still, I enjoyed it and if you haven’t seen it yet, I recommend it.

Then I made the mistake of watching the accompanying documentary in which Derek Jacobi discussed the play. For the most part this was an interesting show, though perhaps it skewed too often towards the perspective of actors rather than talking to people who knew anything about the history of the era of either Richard or Shakespeare, or any real insight into politics. However it was spoiled, for me, by the ten minute diversion into the realms of Shakespeare-denial. I hadn’t realised that Jacobi was an “Oxfordian” – someone who believes that Shakespeare didn’t write the plays and attributes the works to John de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. Continue reading

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FRIDAY’S WORDS OF WISDOM: THE UPSIDE OF IRRATIONALITY BY DAN ARIELY

Dan Ariely is probably the best known voice in the popularization of behavioural economics. Behavioural economics represents the most significant challenge to the ideas of classical economic theorists built around notions of more-or-less perfectly rational individuals who calculate and diligently pursue narrow profit maximisation. Building on the insights of behavioural psychology – especially in its focus on the use of experimentation to examine how people actually act in certain situations, rather than how the “should” behave – behavioural economics offers often surprising insights that undermine many of the basic assumptions of the prevailing classical model. Ariely’s book The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home (Harper, 2011) follows up the excellent Predictably Irrational (HarperCollins 2009). As the title suggests this book seeks to place a more positive spin on our irrationality, making the case that our irrationality represents much of humanity’s better nature. And, crucially, Ariely argues that we should construct our social, economic and political structures on the an understanding of how people actually behave rather than how we imagine they will or should behave.

To be sure, there is a great deal to be learned from rational economics, but some of its assumptions—that people always make the best decisions, that mistakes are less likely when the decisions involve a lot of money, and that the market is self-correcting—can clearly lead to disastrous consequences. (104-6) Continue reading

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FRIDAY’S WORDS OF WISDOM: WHAT MONEY CAN’T BUY BY MICHAEL J SANDEL

Michael J Sandel opens What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2012) with a list (3-5) of some novel items that can be bought:

  • In California prisoners can pay $82 a night for better, quieter cells.
  • $8 to drive alone in a car pool lane during rush hour in Minneapolis.
  • Western couples can pay $6,250 for an Indian surrogate mother.
  • $500,000 will buy a green card and permanent residency in the US.
  • Hunting endangered black rhinos in South Africa: $150,000
  • Concierge doctor service – including 24 hour mobile phone number – up to $25,000 per year.
  • The right to emit one metric ton of carbon in the atmosphere, €13.

And some new ways to make money:

  • Sell tattooed advertising space on your body.
  • Act as a human guinea pig in drug trials.
  • Serve as a mercenary in Somalia or Afghanistan.
  • Stand in line overnight to secure a place in US Congressional hearing for a lobbyist.
  • As a student, get paid to read a book in Dallas.
  • Lose weight and get paid by your insurance company.
  • Buy life insurance for someone you don’t know who is sick or elderly.

The last three decades have been a period of market triumphalism and market values have invaded our life as never before. This is was not a choice we made but “economic imperialism” has spread stealthily so that the logic of buying and selling applies not just to material goods but the whole of life. The financial crisis has shaken faith in the practical application of markets, but has also raised other questions about the morality of markets. The issue is not just a few greedy bankers, we must ask what markets are for, what areas of our life do we want them to manage and whether there are some things that money can’t buy. Continue reading

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FILM REVIEW: IRON SKY – FALLING FOR FASCISM

The best joke in the Finnish Nazis-on-the-moon movie Iron Sky is, ironically, also the one that best demonstrates the film’s weaknesses. Idealistic Nazi teacher, Renate Richter (Julia Dietze), shows her young class a sharply edited (ten minutes long) version of Chaplin’s The Great Dictator and, as the Jewish barber disguised as Hynkel dances with the globe, she proclaims to her pupils that it demonstrates Chaplin’s “wish that one day the entire world should be held in the great Fuhrer’s wise and gentle hands”. It’s a cute moment, but the problem in invoking Chaplin’s classic is that it reminds the viewer that if you’re going to make a comedy about Nazis, you really better have something important to say about them.

Iron Sky fails this test. Indeed the biggest problem with this film is that it doesn’t really understand Nazis at all, and certainly fails to grasp why we should continue to abhor them. Continue reading

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FRIDAY’S WORDS OF WISDOM: THE TRIADS OF IRELAND BY KUNO MEYER

The Triads of Ireland by Kuno Meyer (1906, available from Project Gutenberg) is a collection of a specifically Irish form of poetry popular amongst Irish bards that probably date from the Ninth Century[i]. They are, as the name suggests, based on threes – they’re sometimes witty, sometimes profound, sometimes strange and I discovered them recently while reading David Greene and Frank O’Connor’s A Golden Treasury of Irish Poetry: AD 600 – 1200 (Macmillan, 1967). A lot of ancient Irish poetry has the kind of sparseness that we associate with Japanese verse (there are beautiful, brief, precise poems like “Writing Out Of Doors” and “Winter” in the Greene & O’Connor volume) and best of the triads seem, to me, to have a haiku-ish thing going on. They do make me wish that I’d paid more attention when people were trying to teach me Irish since something is lost in translation. Still, I was delighted to discover them.

Some of them are bland and for some of the meanings are long lost in history, like this one:

107. Three wonders of Ireland: the grave of the dwarf, the grave of Trawohelly, an echo near.

But, here are some of the finer examples that caught my eye – they either give an insight into the ancient mind, express wisdom that reaches across time, they just made me laugh or I found the images they evoke to be striking. Not all of them are exactly politically correct… and there’s quite a bit of ale. Continue reading

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REVIEW: STINA LEICHT’S THE FEY AND THE FALLEN (OR “POOR OULD IRELAND, AGAIN”)

I want to start this post by saying plainly that I believe that it is possible for writers to create important and insightful work about cultures to which they do not belong. There is a somewhat crude (but, it seems to me, increasingly common) form of postcolonial criticism – often proceeding from a partial, or second-hand, understanding of the work of Edward Said – which argues that this is not the case. At its most strongly stated, this position dismisses all use of “exotic” (usually third world) cultures and locations by “privileged” (usually first world) authors as straightforward cultural appropriation, simply reproducing and reinforcing power dynamics that were set in place by European imperialism. This can lead to the belief that the “right” to write about specific cultures, particularly marginalised or oppressed communities, belongs only to those from within that culture 1.

In disagreeing with the crudest form of this argument I don’t want to deny Said’s basic point: culture played and continues to play a key role in reinforcing the position of the powerful in relation to those they seek to dominate. Nor would I want to underplay the threat posed to marginalised groups by cultural appropriation. But, like Said, I believe that there are dangers in oversimplifying this issue. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. The definition of culture here is, for me, complicated. What “culture” is mine? How is my “ownership” of a culture proscribed by geographical, ethnic, social or temporal boundaries and how do I prove my “rights” to that culture? How far, for example, does my “Irishness” give me the right to write about those who have radically different histories within Ireland? There are obvious potential limits to my experiences – I can only speculate about the different perspectives that are afforded with different genders or ethnicities. In the deeply divided culture of Northern Ireland, how valid are my speculations about a Protestant (I’m Catholic) character even if we share many characteristics? And cultures are rapidly evolving things – I would similarly be speculating, for example, if I tried to write about someone whose character was formed in generations outside my own. The Northern Ireland I grew up in was radically different from the one my parents’ generation knew and it has changed even further for those who grow up in Northern Ireland today. I know the history but it is not my experience. I can get angry or upset when I read about what was done in the past but these sympathetic emotions are not the same as those that surface when I recall what happened to me and my friends. I am sceptical, therefore, about those who claim that they possess some unique signifiers that allows them to speak authoritatively for large groups of people who they describe as belonging to “their” culture.
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FRIDAY’S WORDS OF WISDOM: BEYOND OUTRAGE BY ROBERT REICH

Robert Reich has been banging on about the risks to advanced economies of increasing levels of inequality for longer than most.  The Work of Nations (published in 1991 and the book that got him headhunted by Bill Clinton’s campaign and, eventually, appointed as US Secretary of Labor) set out pretty accurately how the “global” economy would allow the elite to accumulate vast wealth while the rest were left behind, the steady squeezing of the middle class and the end of public investment. If things have turned out somewhat worse than Reich believed – the new class of “symbolic analysts” that he predicted emerging as an independent and powerful social force have (except for a few superstars) found their wages and status just as squeezed as those who worked in the “old” economy – he can, at least, always claim that he saw the shape of things more clearly than most.

Beyond Outrage: What has gone wrong with our economy and our democracy, and how to fix it (Alfred A Knopf, 2012 – eBook only[i]) is a snappily-titled extended essay that first tries to cut through the chaff about the causes of the problems facing America’s political and economic system and then makes a powerful case that collective action can still make a difference – that it is still possible to reverse the trends that threaten the democratic state.

Reich’s book is entirely focused on America – and particularly on trying to mobilise progressives to press for a more radical agenda for the forthcoming Presidential poll and beyond. However, there are obvious parallels in many of his arguments that apply beyond the borders of the US. Continue reading

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FRIDAY’S WORDS OF WISDOM: END THIS DEPRESSION NOW! BY PAUL KRUGMAN

I am slightly worried, given the brightly coloured cover of this book and the snappy title (screaming exclamation mark and all), that Paul Krugman’s End This Depression Now! (Melrose Road Partners, 2012) is going to end up in the hands of a lot of disappointed people looking for a quick fix for the their mental health problems. In fact, while Krugman does his best to be upbeat and make the case for a set of positive, quick and straightforward policies we can use to solve the current economic crisis, there’s a risk that reading about the shocking, self-interested and deliberately disingenuous decisions that have served to lengthen our current economic woes will only make those who are prone to melancholy feel even gloomier.

Paul Krugman [obligatory reference to Nobel laureate goes here] is a smart guy. Back in 1999 he published a book called The Return of Depression Economics – it was a book that I read and digested and used to parrot bits (usually without attribution – hey, I want to look smart too!) at the drop of a hat into conversations that were often only very tangentially concerned with economics. What I discovered, and I’m sure Krugman has experienced this a thousand-fold, is that in the good times no one likes to be warned of the disaster that is around the corner. No one, it turns out, makes passes at Cassandras who predict losses. Continue reading

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FRIDAY’S WORDS OF WISDOM: THE LONELY VOICE: A STUDY OF THE SHORT STORY BY FRANK O’CONNOR

I first read some of Frank O’Connor’s short stories (and translated Irish poetry) when I was at school and they made an impression because when I picked up a second hand collection recently, some of the stories came back to me word for word and, I realised, they’d been pickling in my brain for decades. So, when I discovered that he’d written a book called The Lonely Voice: A Study of the Short Story (Melville House Publishing, 2004), I was pestering the internet at once.

O’Connor was born in Cork in 1903, his best writing is a sharply observed insight into the world of my grandfather (who was about the same age) – rural Ireland seen through an amused, slightly cynical but generally sympathetic eye. The Lonely Voice, then, is a remarkable book to be written by a man who grew up in the poorest of circumstances and received little formal education. It is based upon a series of lectures he gave at Stanford University in the early 1960s, not long before he died, and it ranges widely across the “greats” of the short story form, with chapters on, amongst others, Maupassant, Turgenev, Flaubert and Chekhov. Continue reading

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REVIEW: DARK EDEN BY CHRIS BECKETT

Chris Beckett’s third novel, Dark Eden, is a complex thing. It draws, as the title suggests, on the ur-biblical theme of the fall from innocence but it is also the story of an isolated human community culturally (and physically) devolving. It belongs to a sfnal tradition that has its roots in works like Lord of the Flies by William Golding and Non-Stop by Brian Aldiss. From this, relatively familiar, starting point, Beckett teases out an examination of how power, in its variety of forms, is exercised within groups and how history is shaped and moulded by those exercising that power. The result is a psychologically rich, morally tangled and intelligently written novel.

The story opens 163 years after misadventure and disaster stranded two humans, Angela and Tommy, on a very strange planet. Dark Eden wanders without a sun, somewhere between galaxies, but heat drawn from the core supports a compellingly weird and believably intricate ecosystem.

“… and off we went again, under redlanterns and whitelanterns and spiketrees with flutterbyes darting and glittering all round us and bats chasing the flutterbyes and trees going hmmph, hmmph, hmmph like always, until it all blurred together in that hmmmmmmmmmmm that was the background of our lives.” Continue reading

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ESKRAGH UNPLUGGED

So, I did a recording of my story Eskragh for a friend, and then I thought about putting it up here. And then I didn’t. But since this seems to be an unofficial Irish-themed week on the blog and since I haven’t done this sort of thing before – what the hell.

This isn’t the most professionally recorded thing ever placed on the internet. And you’ll have to put up with both my accent and my slightly croaky voice making the whole thing more-or-less unintelligible but if you want to listen to me mangling my own story – rated (preposterously) as one of the best pieces of short fiction published last year by Tangent Online – then here’s your chance.

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REVIEW: DARK LIES THE ISLAND BY KEVIN BARRY

Dark Lies the Island (Jonathan Cape, 2012) is Kevin Barry’s second collection of short stories, following There are Little Kingdoms (2007) and his spectacular first novel, City of Bohane (2011). Given the long and rich history of Irish writers exploiting the short form, from the roots of the Irish oral storytelling tradition through the unavoidable James Joyce to the post-war Cork school, new writers are burdened with a weight of history that has the potential to crush flat their ability to express themselves. So when I say that Barry isn’t just a spearcarrier in that tradition but that he takes it forward and finds new ways of expressing himself within it, I’m aware that I’m ramping up the expectations to very high levels.

There are, of course, ways in which Barry’s short fiction reflects those that have gone before. You can, by turns, find in Barry’s writing those moments of epiphany, the concern with those struggling to stay afloat on the edges of our society and the flashes of humour that mark out the best of the Irish tradition (Joyce, O’Connor and Ó Faoláin, respectively), but Barry has a voice that is also distinctly his own. Not the least of his advantages is that he can offer a sometimes bitter reflection on the all-to-brief brush with economic good fortune that marks Ireland’s recent past as dramatically distinct from its deeper history. Continue reading

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REVIEW: CITY OF BOHANE BY KEVIN BARRY

This piece was written as part of the BSFA’s Vector Reviewers’ Poll for 2011. Vector reviewers get to nominate their five favourite books of the previous year. In 2011 my five were:

  • Silver Wind, Nina Allan (Eibonvale Press)
  • City of Bohane, Kevin Barry (Jonathan Cape)
  • The Islanders, Christopher Priest  (Gollancz)
  • By Light Alone, Adam Roberts (Gollancz)
  • Osama, Lavie Tidhar (PS Publishing)

I chose to focus on just one of them. I picked Kevin Barry’s City of Bohane primarily because I expected there would be plenty of other people smarter than me to heap praise on the other books I’d chosen…

The thing that strikes me about my list of favourite books of 2011 is that none of them come from the genre ‘core’. This is unusual for me. Adam Roberts’s By Light Alone probably comes closest to being a straightforward science fiction novel but, being by Adam Roberts, it’s anything but straightforward. If I had to recommend one book from 2011, though, it would be Kevin Barry’s City Of Bohane, which just edges out Chris Priest’s brilliant The Islanders. Continue reading

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FRIDAY’S WORDS OF WISDOM: DEFENDING POLITICS BY MATTHEW FLINDERS

Writing in defence of politics and, indeed, politicians is always a potentially risky pastime. The overwhelming public perception of politics is so cynically negative that anyone who speaks out in favour of those who take on public office is immediately the subject to suspicion (mostly of “being ambitious” or, more kindly, of “being niave”). And, often enough, politicians let you down and do stupid or venal things. There have been strange moments of cognitive estrangement this week reading Matthew Flinders’ Defending Politics (Oxford University Press, 2012) and agreeing with most (though not quite all) of what he writes while another Tory minister is revealed to have behaved like (at best) an idiot.

And yet, even as Jeremy Hunt’s foolishness or corruption deals another blow to the public image of politics, this week has also contained clear indications of the far higher price that accompanies the absence or abandonment of politics. In The Hague, the way in which Charles Taylor manipulated the bloody anarchy in Sierra Leone has been revealed. In Norway, Anders Breivik’s belief in the unassailable moral superiority of his opinions and the demonization of politicians led him to murder 77 people whose primary “crime” was a desire to make their community better. And, on a smaller scale, in Northern Ireland the absence of a trusted legal framework caused a mother to take her drug addict son to an alleyway and watch him get shot twice in the legs by vigilantes take the policing of a community into their own hands. Continue reading

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FRIDAY’S WORDS OF WISDOM: A COUNTRY IS NOT A COMPANY BY PAUL KRUGMAN

A Country is Not a Company by Paul Krugman, (Harvard Business School Classics, 2009) is a brief essay that highlights the fallacy behind the notion that success in business automatically provides individuals with the insight necessary contribute advice towards the management of a national economy.

A country is not a big corporation. The habits of mind that make a great business leader are not, in general, those that make a great economic analyst; an executive who has made $1 billion is rarely the right person to turn to for advice about a $6 trillion economy. Why should that be pointed out? After all neither businesspeople nor economists are usually very good poets, but so what? Yet many people (not least successful business executives themselves) believe that someone who has made a personal fortune will know how to make an entire nation more prosperous. In fact, his or her advice is often disastrously misguided. (1-2)

Krugman makes the point that the style of thinking necessary for success in business and success in economic policy-making are very different. He offers two examples of how the experience of running a successful business can actually lead people astray when they come to think about running national economies. First he looks at the relationship between exports and jobs and, second, at the relationship between foreign investment and trade balances. Continue reading

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FRIDAY’S WORDS OF WISDOM: CHRIS DEAN ON HOPE

Something different this week, because, some days, it feels like I’m living through a terrible remake of the 1980s directed by Uwe Boll…

The Redskins are a celebration of hope and pride. Amidst all the dross of the music scene, all the kajagoogoo-gaga imbecility and whinging shite, there’s, like, only a handful of bands that have got any spirit. And at a time when people are getting really battered, when the Tories are really sticking the boot in hard and it’s not like 1976 anymore, with just a million plus on the dole and a few cuts in welfare. It’s 1983 with three and a half million plus, four million unemployed and the Tories like systematically dismantling the whole of the welfare state and yet the hardest music that’s coming out is on the level of griping about the sorry state we’re in and the same hundred words rearranged a hundred different ways to paint the same sorry picture of misery. There’s too many rock and roll philosophers about, the point is not to interpret the world but to change it. And there’s three things, three things you need: Continue reading

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SOMETIMES IT REALLY IS ROCKET SCIENCE

I have in my clammy little paws my contributor copy of Rocket Science, the new anthology from Mutation Press, edited by the estimable Ian Sales. This fine looking volume of short stories and non-fiction features my tale of a (sort of) Mars mission, “Pathfinders”. Continue reading

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FROM THE FUNNY PAPERS: SPANDEX, ADD, THE NIGHTLY NEWS & MARIJUANAMAN

If Britain were going to have a superhero team made up of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual characters, then you’d expect them to live in Brighton. It’s the obvious choice. But that’s about the only predictable thing in Martin Eden’s indie comic series, Spandex. There’s an awful lot to like in these books, the twisty-turny storytelling, the simple, colourful and striking artwork, the memorable characters, and, for the most part, it all works extremely well. The fact that its lead characters are LGBT and that it deals smartly and sensitively with the issues raised by that fact is integral to the story, but it’s almost a bonus on top of what is (for want of a better word) straightforwardly engaging storytelling.

Eden originally conceived Spandex as taking the form of a single book containing five non-consecutive issues (1, 4, 8, 12 and 15) pulled from an imaginary on-going comic series, leaving the reader to fill in the continuity. As someone who grew up reading random issues of American Marvel comics I picked up (mostly on seaside holidays in Donegal), this struck me as a brilliant idea – this was precisely how I first encountered superhero comics. Continue reading

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THE CLARKE AWARD KERFUFFLE

I wasn’t going to comment on the Clarke Award kerfuffle caused by Chris Priest’s blog post about the shortcomings of the shortlist and his attack on the committee – but everyone else seems to be getting stuck in, so here is my somewhat late (I’m having internet connection problems) take on the situation. Continue reading

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BOOK REVIEW: IN THE MOUTH OF THE WHALE

I always have more than one book on the go at any given time.  There is always one novel and one work of non-fiction work (usually something on politics, history or economics) on the go. Actually, I’m usually part way through several works of non-fiction at any given time and, when I commuted, I was always reading two novels (one paperback for the train, one hardback for home). Since I’m not travelling regularly into London any more, however, these days it tends to be just one novel. Added to that, I read comics (or graphic novels, or whatever) and  subscribe to at least two dozen magazines.

I’m not saying you this to brag about how much I read – actually it’s a stupid habit since I’d be far better off concentrating on one thing at a time, but I lack that discipline. Continue reading

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FILM REVIEW: GHOST RIDER – SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE

Generally, when someone says a Hollywood blockbuster is “the worst film ever” my reaction is to ball my fingers into a fist and beat him soundly. It’s not that I want to defend big studio releases or even that I think The Matrix Revolutions, Pearl Harbour or John Carter are good films. They’re obviously not.

But… Worst. Film. Ever!?

Not even close.

The reason I want to beat the (patently wrong) opinion-spouting fool to within an inch of his life isn’t because he is displaying faulty critical judgement. It’s because he clearly hasn’t done the legwork necessary to have the right to an opinion on a matter of such importance.

He hasn’t seen what I’ve seen. He hasn’t been where I’ve been. He doesn’t know man. He just doesn’t know… Continue reading

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FRIDAY’S WORDS OF WISDOM: WHY SOME THINGS SHOULD NOT BE FOR SALE BY DEBRA SATZ

Why Some Things Should Not Be For Sale by Debra Satz is a work of political philosophy that critiques the assumptions that underlie much modern economic theory and the implications of those assumptions in the application of markets to real world problems.

Satz starts from the principle that markets have their value and their place but that both are, in the real world, limited. Markets are often conceived, by both neoliberals and egalitarians, as “an all-purpose remedy” for the defects of government and state control. But, as markets have been applied to new areas, new concerns have arisen about their morality. In arenas such as the sale of human organs, sex, reproductive services, blood diamonds, weapons and (medical and recreational) drugs the application of market solutions elicit very different reactions from markets in other commodities. Satz believes that such markets “strike many people as noxious, toxic to important human values. These markets evoke widespread discomfort and, in the extreme, revulsion.” (3). Continue reading

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FILM REVIEW: JOHN CARTER OF MARS

John Carter of Mars is going to go down in the history books as one of the biggest flops in cinema history . It might have been cheaper for Disney to actually build a pile of money and climb to Edgar Rice Burrough’s fabled Barsoom rather than make this film. The early reckoning is that the film will lose around $200 million – in simple cash terms, not allowing for inflation – that would make it the biggest flop in cinema history.

Which is notable, because while John Carter is dull – two long hours of unengaging piffle – it isn’t any more dull than a host of other blockbusters that justify their existence by raking back enough cash to keep the studio wheels turning. Continue reading

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FROM TURKEY CITY: DISCHISM

Since issue 58 of Focus is now off to the printer, I thought I’d put up this from issue 57 – the second in what appears to be an ongoing series of flash fiction pieces inspired by common writerly errors indentified by The Turkey City Lexicon. This is a slightly longer version than the one that saw print, which was cut to fit.

“Dischism”

The unwitting intrusion of the author’s physical surroundings, or the author’s own mental state, into the text of the story. Authors who smoke or drink while writing often drown or choke their characters with an endless supply of booze and cigs. In subtler forms of the Dischism, the characters complain of their confusion and indecision — when this is actually the author’s condition at the moment of writing, not theirs within the story. “Dischism” is named after the critic who diagnosed this syndrome. (Attr. Thomas M Disch)

The Turkey City Lexicon

Continue reading

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THE BSFA MARCH MAILING IS AT THE PRINTERS

A bumper mailing includes:

BSFA AWARDS BOOKLET 2011

Featuring all the shortlisted short stories…
The Silver Wind by Nina Allan
The Copenhagen Interpretation by Paul Cornell
Afterbirth by Kameron Hurley
Covehithe by China Miéville
Of Dawn by Al Robertson

 

 

Continue reading

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FILM REVIEW: PERFECT SENSE

No one should go into director David Mackenzie’s Perfect Sense expecting a light-hearted romp. This apocalyptic romance is a slow-burn – despite packing four separate-but-linked disasters into a brief 88 minute. Its characters exist on the edge of the world (well, Glasgow) and can only watch and wait, essentially incapable of influencing the flow of events, as the end of civilisation creeps inexorably towards them. The film’s focus is not on impressive special effects or derring-do but on the emotional turmoil of a damaged couple. Continue reading

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FRIDAY’S WORDS OF WISDOM: ZOMBIE ECONOMICS BY JOHN QUIGGIN

Despite the garish cover and silly title, John Quiggin’s Zombie Economics: How Dead Ideas Still Walk Among Us (Princeton University Press, 2010) is a book with a serious and timely intent – to rescue our societies from the disastrous effects of right-wing economic orthodoxy. Quiggin begins by quoting Keynes’ contention that practical men “are usually the slaves of some defunct economist” and that economists, philosophers and politicians tend to get stuck in patterns of thought that have long outlived their usefulness.

Ideas are long lived, often outliving their originators and taking new and different forms. Some ideas live on because they are useful. Others die and are forgotten. But even when they have proved themselves wrong and dangerous, ideas are very hard to kill. Even after the evidence seems to have killed them, they keep coming back. These ideas are neither alive nor dead; rather, as Paul Krugman has said, they are undead, or zombie ideas. (1) Continue reading

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FRIDAY’S WORDS OF WISDOM: ADAM ROBERTS “DOES GOD NEED A STARSHIP?”

This week I read Strange Divisions & Alien Territories: The Sub-genres of Science Fiction (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012) edited by Keith Brookes. It’s a collection of essays that, the blurb on the back says:

explores the sub-genres of science fiction from the perspective of a range of top SF authors, combining a critical viewpoint with exploration of the challenges and opportunities facing authors working in SF today.

I can’t honestly say that the book fulfils that blurb. As with most collections the quality of the essays varies – although in Strange Divisions & Alien Territories that range is broader than most with some very good pieces and some that, well, just aren’t[i]. A few too many of the essays descend into long lists of books that fit into various categories, lacking any critical framework. And a number of the essays (indeed many of the better examples) deal with topics that don’t seem, to me, to represent a “sub-genre” by any definition of that term. Adam Roberts writes about religion and sf, Paul di Filippo discusses people possessing superhuman powers and Tony Ballantyne considers post-humans in SF – these essays are interesting, but they seem to me to be discussions of themes within SF, not sub-genres. Continue reading

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HUGO AND OTHER NOSTALGIC MOVIES

Hugo is a beautifully made film with a big heart. Every frame is overflowing with the director, Martin Scorcese’s, obvious love and enthusiasm for the medium in which he has immersed himself during his career. Every part of the film fits together as neatly and as intricately as the clockwork mechanisms that feature so frequently through the course events. The wonderful cinematography, the precise framing and the spectacular use of 3D effects mean that Hugo is a magnificent spectacle, and a fitting monument to cinema as a medium of sensation.

But that’s not to say that Hugo is a particularly good film. Continue reading

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FRIDAY’S WORDS OF WISDOM: THE COST OF INEQUALITY BY STEWART LANSLEY

The Cost of Inequality: Three Decades of the Super-Rich and the Economy (Gibson Square, 2011) by Stewart Lansley is an interesting book that seeks to build on recent works, such as Wilkinson and Pickett’s The Spirit Level, by arguing that the case for a more equal distribution of national wealth isn’t just ethical and social but also economic. The grossly unequal distribution of wealth found (especially) in America and Britain has a destabilising effect that undermines profitability and economic growth and destroys industrial dynamism.

Lansley begins by rehearsing the increasingly well-known, but none-the-less strikng evidence for growing inequality in the UK and the US. Lansley identifies a “limit to the inequality that is consistent with economic stability and dynamism” and goes on to identify the creation of a two-track economy. Continue reading

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FROM THE FUNNY PAPERS: FEBRUARY 2012

One of the things that I’ve got back into thanks to the purchase of a tablet is regularly reading comics bought via Comixology. Having got the taste electronically, I’ve also started to pick up a number collected editions and graphic novels. So I thought I might start off putting together a monthly review of the stuff I’ve read. We’ll see how that works out, but here’s the first attempt, looking at a new Daredevil, Mystery Men and Goliath. Continue reading

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CHRONICLE

Chronicle is the story of three high school kids: Andrew, a “troubled” loner from a poor family with an abusive father and a sick mother; Matt, his smarter, more popular cousin; and Matt’s friend Steve, the token ethnic character. “Troubled” Andrew has recently taken to carrying around an improbably large video camera, which is lucky because almost at once Matt finds a mysterious hole making strange noises[i]. Displaying the utter lack of an instinct for self-preservation required of characters in lazily-scripted teen horror films, our witless trio plunge into the hole and get impregnated by a (presumably alien) monster. Instead of dying, or having something interesting leap from their chest, our boys get a superpower – telekinesis – and, in a single leap, they cease to be a group of annoying, whiny teens and become, instead, a group of annoying, whiny teens who can juggle Lego, crush things with their awesome brains, fly and get regular nosebleeds. Continue reading

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CLARKE AWARD SUBMISSIONS ANNOUNCED

So, the 60 novels submitted to the judges for consideration for this year’s Arthur C Clarke Award have been revealed over on Torque Control. There’s also a competition to pick the likely shortlist, which I’m not eligible to enter as I’m on the BSFA Committee – although I should make clear before going any further that this doesn’t mean I have any clue what the actual shortlist will include.

Looking through the list, I’ve read at least part of 16 of the novels that were submitted this year: Continue reading

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FRIDAY’S WORDS OF WISDOM: FIGUEIRA AND SPARTAN WOMEN

This week I have been reading Sparta: The Body Politic (The Classical Press of Wales, 2010, editors Anton Powell and Stephen Hodkinson), which contains a number of interesting essays on ancient Sparta but the one that really got me thinking was “Gynecocracy: How Women Policed Masculine Behaviour in Archaic and Classical Sparta” by Thomas J Figueira. In it Figueira looks at the evidence for gynaikokratia (“rule by women” – Aristotle’s phrase for “an unusual influence over public affairs and social relations” enjoyed by Spartan women) and the attitudes towards it. The essay  is interesting because while there are an increasing number of people writing about the economic, sexual and political influence of Spartan women and the notion of their “liberation” (or absence thereof), Figueira attempts a partial reconstruction of the social psychology of Spartan society (and non-Spartan Greek and Roman attitudes to it) based on the existing sources. Continue reading

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REVISITED: ANALOGIES, ECONOMICS AND THE AMERICAN DEBT “CRISIS”

I originally wrote a post attacking the household analogy for American debt on July 30, 2011. It remains one of the most frequently visited posts on the site. Yesterday Chris posted a lengthy (and sometimes angry) response. I wanted to reply to his points seriously and at length but it was uncomfortable doing that in the comments section (because my response was even longer) – so I’ve pulled it out as a separate post. Unfortunately, you may need to read the first post and Chris’s response for all of this to make sense. Continue reading

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FRIDAY’S WORDS OF WISDOM: ESTLUND’S DEMOCRATIC AUTHORITY

I’m a bit late to getting around to David Estlund’s Democratic Authority: A Philosophical Framework (Princeton, 2008) but it’s a major work of political philosophy. It is very much in the American tradition of political philosophy strongly influenced by John Rawls’s political liberalism. Estlund defends the core of that project and makes the case that a liberal political schema – a deliberative democratic process, universal suffrage, an attachment to fairness – remains the preferred  mechanism for organising a decent society but his justifications are distinctively his own. Continue reading

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FROM TURKEY CITY: CALL A RABBIT A SMEERP

Half term means I’ve not had much time to blog this week – but it does means I got to spend time with my daughter watching The Muppets, swimming and letting her thrash me at ten pin bowling (ahem!). Anyway, instead of something new, here’s something from Focus 56. I’ve been writing little pieces of flash fiction for Focus, the BSFA’s magazine for writers, to illustrate/make fun of some of the common errors made by writers as identified by The Turkey City Lexicon. This is the first one:

“Call a Rabbit a Smeerp”

A cheap technique for false exoticism, in which common elements of the real world are re-named for a fantastic milieu without any real alteration in their basic nature or behavior. “Smeerps” are especially common in fantasy worlds, where people often ride exotic steeds that look and act just like horses. (Attributed to James Blish.) Continue reading

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FRIDAY’S WORDS OF WISDOM: GRAMSCI

This week I picked up Andrew Pearman’s The Politics of New Labour: A Gramscian Analysis. It’s a book with a title that seems designed to disappoint readers as it isn’t really an analysis of New Labour, Gramscian or otherwise. Much of the book is an excuse for an ex-communist (turned Green) to complain that New Labour wasn’t communist enough. There are a lot of good reasons to criticise New Labour but complaining that they weren’t communist enough is a bit like kicking your cat because it doesn’t bark enough and calling that a “Gramscian analysis” is like claiming the kicking is a form of practical zoology. The book isn’t a total washout, however, as it does provide an interesting (though partial and shallow) history of the uses and abuses of Gramscian theory by various parts of the post-war British left.

There was one passage that struck a particular chord with me: Continue reading

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KILL LIST

Superficially, the opening passages of Kill List  could be taken as the introduction to another Brit-made gangster movie. The central characters, Jay and Gal are guns for hire – mercenaries who do very dirty work. They’ve got a history together, including a visit to Kiev eight months before that, it is suggested, went very wrong. Whatever happened in Kiev, Jay emerged damaged and hasn’t worked since. Money is running out, tensions are growing between Jay and Shel, his wife, and Gal is pestering him to take a new job.

The opening twenty minutes could be the set up for any other “just-one-more-job” crime movie. But no one who sits through Kill List’s first act could be in any doubt that there’s something much, much stranger going on here. The opening sequences are domestic, the relationships between Jay, Gal and Shel (Neil Maskell, Michael Smiley and MyAnna Buring – all excellent) are wholly convincing but the mood is brooding and almost unbearably tense – underscored by intimate camera work and a sparse, menacing score. Continue reading

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ROMNEY AND OSBORNE: ALIEN COMMUNIST SPIES?

Mitt Romney and George Osborne: Proof of an alien communist conspiracy sent to foment a worldwide revolution?[i]

Although I have no proof to support the assertions I am about to make,[ii] this article will argue that the leaders of the world’s conservative parties (and their fellow travellers in the global uprising that has become known as “The One Per Cent”[iii]) have been subject, over many decades, to infiltration by a cadre of alien communists. I want to claim, without much justification, that a group of long-term sleeper agents, now established in positions of influence, have been activated by their alien overlords in a concerted attempt to change the course of human history.

The goal of this (extremely unlikely) conspiracy is nothing less than a worldwide communist revolution and the creation of a single world state. Continue reading

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TAFT 2012

Science fiction doesn’t often do politics. There’s no shortage of sf writers willing to explore ideology or, more frequently, shove their personal ideology down a reader’s throat in the crudest way imaginable, but engagement with the real way that societies make policy decisions is not often the focus of interest[i]. However, Jason Heller’s debut novel, Taft 2012, is a sf&f book with a politician on the cover and a blurb on the back that makes clear that the story is concerned with an American presidential election campaign.

In Taft 2012 one-term US President William Howard Taft disappears on the day that Woodrow Wilson, who had just defeated Taft in the 1912 election, is to be inaugurated. One hundred years later, in a way that is never explained and doesn’t need to be, Taft emerges from the earth of the Rose Garden lawn during a presidential press conference and is immediately shot in the leg by the Secret Service. This miracle rebirth makes him a sensation so, as Taft attempts to come to terms with the 21st Century, he finds himself dragged back into the political turmoil of an election year and ends up campaigning again for the one post he never really wanted, US President. Continue reading

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FRIDAY’S WORDS OF WISDOM: SAPPHO

This week I have been reading the Penguin Classics edition of Sappho’s poetry (Stung With Love: Poems and Fragments). It is a wonderful little book full of extraordinary language. One thing that made me stop was this bit from Aaron Poochigian’s introduction

The Spartan poet Alcman’s First and Third Panthenia (‘Maiden’s Songs’, seventh century BCE) provide evidence of socially sanctioned homoerotic attachments. In the First a chorus of maidens expresses admiration for the awe-striking beauty of its chorus leaders, Agido and Hegesichora. In the Third the chorus looks on Astymeloisa’s beauty with “limb-loosening desire.”(xxv)

That phrase, “limb-loosening desire” is wonderful, a perfect invocation of lust – Sappho uses it (21 – trans. Poochigian):

That impossible predator,
Eros, the Limb-Loosener,
Bitter-sweetly and afresh
Savages my flesh.

I have fallen in love with the little moments in Sappho that stop your heart. Here’s another that made my limbs go loose (35).

May you bed down,
Head to breast, upon
The flesh
Of a plush
Companion.

These lines manage to be both spare and incredibly lush – so little says so much. One more (29)…

Moon and The Pleiades go down.
Midnight and the tryst pass by,
I, though, lie
Alone.

Isn’t that beautiful? And isn’t heartbreaking that perhaps 90% of Sappho’s poetry is lost to us?

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FRIDAY’S WORDS OF WISDOM: DEPT OF SIC GLORIA TRANSIT MUNDI…

…and also the department of, in the politics of image control, the more things change, the more things stay the same.

“A distinguished scholar of Macedonia and Alexander, the Cambridge historian GT Griffith, once observed with a certain amount of frustration: “It is one of the paradoxes of history (and of historiography) that this king… should have been handed down finally in history as an enigma.” Alexander had gone to the lengths of appointing an official historian, Kallisthenes, setting a dangerous precedent; and he always took immense care that his image – understood in the literal, physical sense as well as metaphorically – should be disseminated widely as possible throughout his empire in the forms that he personally had authorized and approved. Yet a fertile combination of nonsurvival of the contemporary primary literary sources, the survival of a relatively small number of contemporary official and unofficial documents, and the immense controversies that his career generated both during and long after his lifetime has ensured that attempting to reconstruct the historical Alexander is almost as problematic as trying to reconstruct the historical Jesus.”

Paul Cartledge, Introduction to The Landmark Arrian (xv-xvi)

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REAL STEEL

There is, when you think about it, a surprisingly long list of very good films about boxing. Consider just the biopics: Raging Bull (the story of Jake LaMotta); Somebody Up There Likes Me (Rocky Marciano); The Hurricane (Rubin Carter); Gentleman Jim (Jim Corbett); Cinderella Man (James J Braddock); and The Fighter (Micky Ward). On top of that can be added purely fictional stories like The Harder They Fall (Bogart’s last film), On the Waterfront, Rocky, Requiem for a Heavyweight, Million Dollar Baby, The Set Up and all the way back to the magnificent Wallace Beery in The Champ. And then there’s one of the finest documentaries about sport ever made: When We Were Kings.

The most affecting boxing movies are often stories of redemption, of strong men (and very occasionally, women) finding a space between the ropes where they can transcend their frailties. Despite the tough guys and the brutal fighting, boxing movies are most often tales of human weakness.

It’s a fact that makes Real Steel’s decision to remove the human from the ring either brave or stupid. Continue reading

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WHY DOES SF HATE ORDINARY PEOPLE?

I have been thinking recently that a lot of the science fiction books I’ve read in the last few months are particularly cruel about the lives of ordinary people. Take this passage by James Lovegrove in Redlaw, which attacks The Daily Mail reader mentality:

“There’s a reason why that rag is as popular as it is,” said Lambourne. “It mines a seam of middle-class paranoia, the dread of the comfortably-off that their prosperous existence could be upended at any moment, all their meagre privilege and material advantage snatched away. It exploits a flaw in the psyche of a particular stratum of society, very profitably.”

What’s notable about this passage is that it does not attack the journalists, editors, owners and supporters of The Daily Mail who pursue profit by cynically playing on their readers’ insecurities. Like most of us, the middle classes live in an unstable world where it is far from inconceivable that they might really lose the “meagre” comfort and security that they value and that everyone, not just the middle classes, seeks for themselves and their families. One might argue that The Daily Mail readers’ constant dread of impending disaster are entirely undertandable, even if they are not always logical. Mail readers are being ground in the maw of predatory capitalism along with the rest of us. That is not the same as having sympathy for the way that political and commercial interests seek to twist those insecurities to foster division and to turn fear into anger. But Lovegrove’s chooses not to attack The Daily Mail and its fellow travellers, in Redlaw he turns his fire on the people who feel insecure – they are the ones with a “flaw in the psyche”. Continue reading

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LOVE

Somewhere in the heart of Love is a very good short film being brutally battered to death by a writer/director intent on driving home his “VERY IMPORTANT MESSAGE” without subtlety. That’s not to say that there aren’t good things in Love, but you have to work to dig them out from a film that is almost buried beneath a landslide of indulgence, borrowed imagery and sloppy thinking.

Love is the story of an astronaut, Captain Miller, abandoned on the International Space Station in 2045 as a mysterious disaster engulfs the planet below. Miller is forced to come to terms with the fact that there will be no rescue and then try to cope with the extreme isolation. There’s a subplot that features an American Civil War Union soldier who escapes certain death in a bloody battle when he is sent to investigate something strange in the wilderness. The action in the film is also intercut with faux interviews of people opining about their experience of the wonders of love and the importance of relationships. Continue reading

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BSFA AWARDS NOMINATIONS: LAST CHANCE

If you’re a member of the BSFA and you didn’t get around to nominating your favourite novels, short stories, non-fiction and artwork for this year’s awards then you’ve got a final chance…

You can email your nominations to awards@bsfa.co.uk or you can go here and fill in the form.

You have until 10:00pm Thursday 19 January to take advantage of this opportunity to have your say.

You can see my list of nominations here http://www.mmcgrath.co.uk/?p=1620 but that’s just my ideas.

 

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THE GODS ARE LAUGHING

I’ve never avoided cracks in the pavements. I stroll with insouciance (but appropriate care, I’m not stupid) beneath ladders. I don’t check my horoscopes. I’ve never even sacrificed a small animal in the hope that its freshly spewed innards would provide some an insight into the future.

I have never been superstitious.

Never, that is, until I began submitting myself to the mind-breaking, soul-shattering, self-confidence-destroying exercise in futility and humiliation that is trying to get editors to accept (and, preferably, pay for) the stories I’ve written.

Now there are signs and portents everywhere. Continue reading

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BLAIRITES: THE NEW MILITANT?

The last time the Labour Party lost its place as the “natural party of government” at the end of the Wilson/Callaghan era in the late 1970s, the party descended into internal chaos and a state of open warfare existed between three poles in the party – the left and right of the Party hated each other and would do anything to see the other embarrassed, no matter how badly it damaged the Party in the eyes of the voters. Between these grinding stones were the bulk of the Party’s members in the centre, loathed by both sides as compromisers and traitors. Continue reading

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2011 BSFA AWARD NOMINATIONS

So it’s that time of year again, the deadline for nominations to the BSFA Awards is fast approaching (midnight on 13 January, if you haven’t done your duty yet) so it’s time to think about what I’d like to see on the shortlist. You can see what others have nominated here.

NOVELS
As usual lots of people online have complained about the quality of stuff they’ve read this year, but I felt like I had a rather good year of novel reading and coming up with a shortlist wasn’t hard – in fact I had more trouble narrowing the list down to a remotely sensible length. Continue reading

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IN DEFENCE OF DIANE ABBOT’S RIGHT TO SAY (STUPID) THINGS

So Diane Abbot got involved in a conversation about race relations in the UK and said something overly simplistic and stupid in a Tweet: “white people love playing “divide and rule”. We should not play their game #tacticasoldascolonialism”. Cue Twitterstorm and screeds of outraged commentary from the right and a ridiculous over-reaction from a Labour Party leadership (Ed Miliband phones her in the middle of a TV interview) that is increasingly terrified of race as an issue[i]. Continue reading

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“PROPER LITTLE SOLDIER” REVIEWED

My story, “Proper Little Soldier” was published a while ago by Ian Whates in his book Conflicts, which has recently been reviewed at the Pornokitsch website. This is what they said about my efforts…

Martin McGrath’s “Proper Little Soldiers” follows a young woman and her friends as they prowl a post-invasion landscape, fleeing their alien hunters. Mr. McGrath’s succinct prose leaves the horrors of the recent past to the imagination and instead focuses on the current predicament. The aliens hunt by echolocation and the scene where they’ve pinned down the protagonist is one of the most harrowing in the entire collection. Mr. McGrath concludes on a properly cinematic “we will rise again” sort of mantra, including the mandatory partner note of “…but at what cost?”.

I think that’s good. It’s nice to be harrowing, isn’t it?

Read the full review of all the stories in Conflicts here

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BOOKS OF 2012

So I was going to look back at the books I’d read last year, but everyone does that and why the hell would you be interested anyway? Instead, here’s a list of some of the books I’m looking forward to reading during 2012… any suggestions about what I might be missing are welcome.

Continue reading

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BY LIGHT ALONE

I’m going to spend some of this review taking issue with elements of Adam Roberts’ new novel, By Light Alone, so I think I should start off by staying up front that I thought this was both a thought-provoking and immensely enjoyable book. Indeed one of the reasons I’m going to spend so much time picking at bits of the book is that this it forces you to think about stuff, big stuff, big political stuff and I like books that do that.

It is also fair to declare that I have a bit of a peculiar relationship with Adam Roberts’ work. Ever since I first read Salt when it was published back in 2000 I’ve been convinced that he’s had the potential to be a very important author. I’ve bought and read all the novels and much of the short fiction he’s written under his own name since then (which excludes the many parodies he’s written under pseudonyms and excepting Swiftly, which I bought and never got around to reading – I still plan to get to it, one day). He’s a writer I greatly admire for his willingness to take on the aforementioned big stuff, for his willingness to explore different structures and styles and for the way in which he conducts a conversation with genre history without being bound by it. But I have to confess he isn’t always a writer whose books I’ve loved – see this review of Land of the Headless (2007) as an example. None of his novels have, for me, ever quite delivered what I have always believed he is capable of achieving, but some of them have contained moments of astonishing writing – for example the falling spaceman sequence in Gradisil. And lately Roberts has been on a roll, Yellow Blue Tibia and New Model Army were both hugely impressive novels – I especially liked New Model Army, and I’m still threatening to write an essay about the issues of democratic theory that book raises. Continue reading

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SOME REVIEWS OF ESKRAGH

I don’t normally do this on blog posts, but since it kind of links in with the piece I posted last week on reviews (and because Eskragh is going to be republished by Dark Fiction Magazine at some point in the relatively near future) I thought I’d post these quite different reviews of my story Eskragh, which was published in Albedo One #39. Both these reviews were published at the same time by Tangent Online – the reviews were put up at the end of July. Continue reading

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LIB DEMS, THE NHS & THE DOG THAT NEVER BARKED

Politics is a funny thing. Or, rather, people’s expectations in politics are funny.

Yesterday morning, I confess, I woke up rather confused. There seemed to be lots of people rushing around claiming that the Lords were going to save the NHS. Crossbenchers, Lib Dems and, god help us, Lord Owen, were going to “go rogue” and shoot holes in the government Bill. Continue reading

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REVIEWING: MY POSITION

Since the new Focus is almost ready to go, I thought I’d put my editorial from issue 56 online (this is a slightly longer version than the one that appeared in the magazine)…

I always seek out reviews of the stuff I get published. I know there are people who say they never look at a review, but I don’t really believe them. For me the point of writing is to tell stories to other people. Some people say they write only for themselves, not caring whether they’re read or if their work is liked. But what’s the point of that? If you’re telling stories to yourself, keep them in your head  –  the special effects are better and you don’t have to worry about the spelling.  And how come so many of those people get published? If they‘re only writing for themselves, how do the publishers get hold of their manuscripts? Do Orbit or Angry Robot have teams of housebreakers and hackers going round pinching pages from winsome artistic types? Continue reading

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FOCUS No. 57: CONTENTS

The latest issue of Focus is almost ready to go to the printers (along with another bumper Vector – hopefully they will be with members by the end of the month – barring delays and disasters.

Copies are available to BSFA members – if you’d like to read Focus, Vector and all the other cool stuff the BSFA produces go here and join now…

As well as my usual, scintillating and thrilling editorial (I know that’s the only reason you all pick up the magazine), the line-up for Focus 57 includes: Continue reading

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SO SMUG IT HURTS

So I was flicking through the property pages of the local paper – I’m not one of those people who obsesses about clambering to the top of the property ladder but I do occasionally indulge in a daydream about owning a house with a swimming pool. I like swimming. Anyway, I stumbled across a full page advert from fineandcountry.com advertising a £4.5 million property in Radlett which looks like it has a lovely swimming pool. And then I read the advert’s copy and well… Continue reading

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TRUTH, LIES AND THE INTERNET: SOME THOUGHTS

Demos yesterday published a new report “Truth, lies and the internet: A report into young people’s digital fluency” by Jamie Bartlett & Carl Miller. While it contains a number of points that can’t, reasonably, be disagreed with, it’s one of those reports about the “internet” that lacks a proper historical and social context, drawing parallels with history but then assuming that because the internet is “new” it’s challenges are some how sui generis. It bugged me enough to pen a fairly lengthy response… Continue reading

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IT’S TIME FOR LABOUR TO GET OFF ITS KNEES

So, Ed the Leader has spoken.

It was one of those speeches that I’ve got too used to as a member of the Labour Party where our representatives say some sensible things but then wrap them around a wad of stupidity calculated to appeal to the centre even as the right (Labour and Tory) and their sympathisers in the media succeed in dragging what is perceived to be the “centre ground” of British politics so far to the right that soon only people with Stretch Armstrong limbs will be able to comfortably reach it. Continue reading

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DEAD WATER

I appear to have misplaced my copy of Dead Water by Simon Ings, which is annoying and makes reviewing the book tricky because my notes are scribbled all over it. If anyone finds a copy in a second hand bookshop somewhere with the phrase “I fucking love this” repeatedly scratched in the margin in HB1 pencil, could you please send it back to me. Of course, thinking about it, it’s possible that those words might be scrawled over practically every copy of this book.

Dead Water is seriously good. Continue reading

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KOSMOS AT THE BFI: SOVIET HISTORY THROUGH AN SF LENS

It is a cliché to argue that science fiction is never about the future but always about the time in which it is made. Yet, as with many a cliché, there is often a nugget of truth beneath the grimy accumulation of lazy associations. So it was hard to watch the range of films that the British Film Institute put together as part of its Kosmos season – a celebration of (mostly) Russian (mostly) SF that ran through July & August 2011 – and not see them as marking out the ebbs and flows of the history of Eastern Europe’s and particularly Russia’s last century. In one sense this was all familiar ground to any fan of sf cinema. The screens were full of spaceships and heroes and aliens and there were lots of beautifully realised special effects to admire. Individually some of the films were even familiar either as arthouse classics like Solaris or through cheesy, recut American incarnations like First Spaceship on Venus (The Silent Star). And yet taken together there was something quite distinctive here – a cinema about a people’s hopes and fears for the future that has developed its own conventions and conducts its own conversations with its past and present.

It is always potentially misleading to see history as narrative but it is difficult to look at these films and not see an arc that rises to a peak of confidence and courage at the time of Sputnik, Gagarin’s and Kruschev’s interlude as leader of the USSR that gave birth to a cinema that was bright, outward-looking and hopeful. And then came the long retreat. The grim decline of the Breshnev decades created its own sf aesthetic – one with a focus that was increasingly internal and that seemed driven to the point of madness as the Soviet experiment collapsed into chaos.  And then in the aftermath – for it turns out that the end of Russian communism wasn’t the end of history –  came attempts to make sense of it all, the suffering and the glory.

Here, then, were monuments that marked the birth, brief flowering, long decline and legacy of the Soviet experiment.

Continue reading

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IS POLITICS “A LITANY OF FUTILITY”?

So watching the (mostly dreadful) debate in Parliament today about the riots, Paul Graham Raven (@PaulGrahamRaven) made a comment in a tweet that hoping for progressive change in politics in the “last decade feels like a litany of futility”. Being more of a pint-half-full person and slightly obsessive about the details – I decided to check.

There have been laws passed in the UK in the last decade that I believe are mistaken or downright stupid/wrong [Prevention of Terrorism Act (2005), Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (2005), Identity Cards Act (2006) – never implemented, various immigration, asylum and nationality acts, UK Borders Act (2007), Digital Economy Act 2010 are just a few of the examples] but in the interests of looking on the bright side – I thought I’d take a look back at the bills passed by Parliament in the last ten years and highlight some of the good things that have come out of our legislature. Continue reading

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AN EYE FOR AN EYE MAKES THE WHOLE WORLD BLIND

Watching the little shits who are causing the riots in London wreck and rob and burn their way through the streets can’t help but make you angry. The urge to give them some of their own medicine – to respond to violence with violence – is almost overwhelming. But it must be resisted.

You won’t often find me agreeing with a Conservative Home Secretary, but one thing Theresa May got right this morning was to reject the idea of rushing to put the army on London’s streets or to escalate things by bringing in “exotic” weaponry like water cannon, baton rounds or tear gas.

The cries on the rolling news channels for “something” that “must be done” are entirely understandable but they are also a seductive distraction from the real issue. Worse, to react by instinct rather than to think things through will have consequences that may last for generations. Continue reading

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ANALOGIES, ECONOMICS AND THE AMERICAN DEBT “CRISIS”

Perhaps the strangest and most depressing thing about the situation unfolding at the top of American politics this month has been how little of it has anything to do with the actual economic situation facing America. As I started writing this piece there was a senior Republican congressman on my television explaining how the Boehner plan (which would cut another $900bn of government spending out of an economy that was already finding growth hard to maintain) made sense. It was, he said, because when a family finds money tight they can’t go on eating steak and lobster, they have to cut back and have hotdogs and fries.

The comparison between the American government budget and a household budget has been a repeated theme in this unappealing bunfight. It’s a favourite narrative of the Tea Party and senators like Ron Paul. There’s a longer – but still simplistic – version of this argument here (from Reddit via boingboing) which describes the debt ceiling as like an individual’s relationship with their credit card.

It’s the kind of analogy that one has come to expect from American politics – folksy, simple and fundamentally wrong. Continue reading

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JOHN STUART MILL AND THE HORROR IN NORWAY

When faced with appalling events such as those that occured in Norway yesterday it can be difficult to respond rationally. The murder of so many young people who were guilty of nothing more than enthusiasm and idealism inspires pity, grief, anger and disbelief. There’s no reason that could excuse such an act but that it has been committed by a madman whose motivations appear to be driven by allegiance to a lunatic ideology of xenophobia and hatred strikes particularly hard at those who, like me, believe that politics (and even, sometimes, the conflict of fierce political argument) is a force for good in our society, an essential part of the struggle to create a better society.

There is a particular (though admittedly minor) irony in these events that Breivik, the man who appears to have brought this horror to pass, chose to use a quote [turns out it was a misquote - see comments below - I should have checked more carefully] from John Stuart Mill in one of his few public statements. In a twitter message a few days before the bombing in Oslo and the massacre on Utoeya he used this quote from Mill:

“One person with a belief is equal to the force of 100,000 who have only interests.” Continue reading

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DID THE NETWORK BEAT MURDOCH?

Judging by the excitement in some circles it appears that there are an awful lot of people who believe that something fundamental has changed this week as the disgraceful antics at the News of the World finally bubbled to the surface of the nation’s political consciousness. Murdoch’s News International empire has definitely taken a battering and News Corporation’s bid for BSkyB appears to have suffered significant damage, if it is not fatally wounded. Ed Milliband’s decision to stick his neck out and make a direct attack on News International represents the first time since Labour’s nadir in the 1980s (and the evisceration of first Michael Foot and then Neil Kinnock) that a party leader has been willing to be openly critical of Murdoch and his henchmen. Whatever the outcome, Milliband has been braver than I expected and he has dragged other politicians and the political debate with him. That clearly marks a very significant – and welcome – shift in British politics and it may yet prove a very damaging blow to Murdoch. Continue reading

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POLITICS, ECONOMICS, DEBT, SPENDING & GROWTH – INSPIRED BY AN SF STORY

So I was reading a story submitted by an author in a writing group I belong to and he’d decided to write a story with a political background. It was supposed to be set in the future but he couldn’t resist dropping in one of those slightly ranting asides about the present state of the nation that are the punji-stake-floored trap that skewer so many writers who decide to have a stab at writing explicitly about politics. These traps are particularly deadly if your understanding of the political situation is drawn only from the soul-sucking, half-witted jabbering that passes for political debate on our national media. Continue reading

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WOMEN IN SF: A SLIGHTLY RELUCTANT CONTRIBUTION TO THE DEBATE

If I’m honest if I don’t feel entirely comfortable with contributing to the women in science fiction debate that’s been filling the blogs and tweets of people whose opinion I like and respect (links below). It’s not that I don’t support equal opportunities for modern women writers (or even just women in general) or that I’m against promoting the neglected works of women writers of the past – on the contrary I fully support both the principles and the practice of what people are trying to do.

My concerns stem from an awareness of the fact that I’m probably not the best person to comment. For a start I’m, you know, a man and therefore this is not an area where I have experience of the pressures and the discrimination facing women writers trying to break through in the sf genre. I know how bloody hard it is as a white man trying to sell stories so I’m sympathetic to those with the same ambition who face higher hurdles but I can’t claim to know what that’s like. But the second, and more salient, point is that I’m a bit of an offender in the whole “ignoring-women-in-sf” thing. Continue reading

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WHY I’M NOT HAPPY WITH THE AV RESULT EVEN THOUGH I VOTED “NO”

So I voted no on the AV referendum (for reasons set out here), therefore you’d probably imagine I’m delighted with the result.

I’m not.

I’m angry. Continue reading

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WHY I’M VOTING “NO” TO AV EVEN THOUGH I SUPPORT ELECTORAL REFORM

Actually, that title should probably read, “Why I’m voting “No” to AV because I support electoral reform”…

Electoral reform is something I’ve been interested in for many years. I’ve been a bit of a nerd about electoral systems (amongst many other things) since university when I spent two years as the student union’s returning officer getting more familiar than anyone really needs to be with the intricacies of the voting system/form of torture that is sometimes called Single Transferable Vote (STV). I want a better electoral system, I support proportional representation and a major overhaul of our political structures.

Theoretically, therefore, I should be an ardent supporter of the “Yes” campaign in the forthcoming referendum. And, to be honest, if you’d told me before this campaign that I would be voting against an opportunity to introduce a different electoral system, I wouldn’t have believed you. But as it became clear what was actually on offer in the referendum I began to develop serious concerns and these have only been deepened as the debate goes on.

What follows is my attempt to explain to myself – I don’t expect anyone else to read this, it’s very long – the reasons behind my decision to vote “No” in the May 5th referendum, though I’ll do so with considerable regrets. Continue reading

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GENESIS

There is no point mincing my words. As a work of fiction, Bernard Beckett’s Genesis is a bit of a disaster. While there are interesting philosophical points raised, Beckett has made the fundamental mistake of forgetting that the first task of a novelist is to engage and entertain. If instruction is the author’s goal – and there is nothing fundamentally wrong with that aim – then it should emerge from the plot and characters. Genesis is too didactic. Beckett is too determined to teach us a lesson – even to the point that the story is told through the framing device of a viva voce examination. Continue reading

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JOURNEY INTO SPACE

Before starting this review I want to congratulate artist Chris Moore and the (uncredited) designer at Penguin responsible for the cover of this book. It was a brave design choice to park the title and author’s name on the little spaceship in the bottom left hand corner of the cover, but the masses of negative space created, and the minimalist feeling it lends the cover, immediately creates the feeling that this book is a classy artefact and delivers an image of smallness and isolation that is wholly apt. Very nice. Continue reading

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OTHER EARTHS: IN PRAISE OF A DOG EARED PAPERBACK

Does anyone need another reworking of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness? It’s not like there’s ever going to be a re-imagining of the story that’s more balls-to-the-wall than Apocalypse Now, so what more needs to be said. Continue reading

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BLINDSIGHT…

Or “In a Chinese Room, not far from the loo”

I have been a little unwell. Nothing serious, a stomach bug that my four-year-old daughter shrugged off without so much as a backward glance to check whether there was any puke in her curly locks (there was, we found it later) but which put dad in bed for two days. Rubbish? Me?

Of course being too sick to move far enough from the toilet for long enough to go to work but not so sick that you can’t sit up in bed with an endless supply of weak lemon drink does have advantages – like the chance to read, uninterrupted. Continue reading

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THEATRICAL SF

There’s piece on today’s Guardian theatre blog by Andrew Haydon that starts interestingly, wondering why science ficiton – which can make an impact in cinema, television and, of course, literature – isn’t embraced more by the theatre. He goes on to list a number of previous theatre sf productions – including Mark Ravenhill’s The Cut - and a number of more recent, smaller productions that all sound interesting – especially Unlimited Theatre’s work (anyone thought about approaching these guys for a con?). Continue reading

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THE EXECUTION CHANNEL

When I first picked up Ken MacLeod’s The Star Fraction in 1995 I hadn’t been reading much science fiction for a while but I had just picked up Red Mars, which had gone a long way to reigniting my interest and I was looking for more.

I don’t know what attracted me to MacLeod’s book – the black cover wasn’t that remarkable – but pick it up I did and read the blurb. Then I distinctly remember opening the book and reading the first chapter, dragged along by the opening action.

It was like someone had written a sf book just for me. Continue reading

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IRON MAN: CAPITALIST ICON?

Jonathan McCalmont’s always provocative SF Diplomat blog has published an interesting piece on Iron Man.

His reading of early Iron Man as a straightforward, modernist, anti-communist hero is perfectly defensible, but I’ve felt there was always something more to Iron Man/Tony Stark’s character that, typical of the work of Stan Lee, has meant that there was scope for the character to grow and adapt. Continue reading

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IN RESPONSE TO CRITICISM OF A REVIEW

Well, if nothing else it’s nice to see that I’ve made it to the top of someone’s list about something. Scott Edelman is upset by my review of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet at The Fix. Thanks to Niall at Torque Control for bringing this to my attention… I think. Continue reading

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ARTHUR C CLARKE

As I’m sure most of the sf fans reading this blog will know, Arthur C Clarke died today. In one sense the death of a 90 year old man who’d not been well for a very long time shouldn’t come as a shock – and yet I’m surprised and saddened. Continue reading

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