There are reasons why the modern pop star should be encouraged to sing and not to talk. Apart from the fact that the modern variety has depressingly little to say, when they do say something, it tends to be as intelligent and well-considered as something shouted by a drunk staggering out of a chip shop at 3am on a Friday night. Case in point: I saw a BBC news item on the (so far) failed UK Mars mission. Myleene Klass was in there somewhere, apparently as an interested party. She told a reporter that part of her fascination grew not only out of the gosh-wow of we're-going-to-mars, but also out of national pride. I can't quote her verbatim, but it was something like -

"I'm very proud that this time we've set out to land something on Mars, that it's British, rather than, say, the Americans or the Soviets'.

The Soviets?

Well, at least her heart's in the right place ...


I'm back! With a really crappy 56k connection to boot. I'm now living in a new house a mile or two down the road from the old one, on the opposite side of the Clyde.

It's an area which is sort of up and coming, in the sense that a) the BBC are relocating around the corner from the part of the city I used to live in, and apart from their new premises a new road and foot bridge will be built to service it, and b) house prices around here have subsequently been going through the roof.

I'm not quite ready to get back into doing any major blogging just yet - I don't have a desk for the pc yet, which means I'm writing this lying on my stomach across the futon with the monitor and box sitting on the floor. Not the most comfortable position (the books get written on an ancient laptop, thereby circumventing this problem). So once things are fully unpacked and sorted out, things can get a little back on track.

Hope you have a nice christmas, nicer than ours has turned out to be so far - MJ got made redundant. A nice touch, considering it was Christmas. But it was only a crappy part-time stopgap job, so it's not really the greatest loss in the world.

In the meantime, I didn't manage to get the current draft of Against Gravity finished for Christmas - now I'm aiming for the start of New Year. Almost there, almost there ...


Posting may be intermittent for the next short while, since I cancelled my cable, tv and phone package yesterday in preparation (I hope) for moving house. I thought I could go cold turkey from the internet for, say, a week until I moved and got a new connection sorted out, and was proved stunningly wrong within a few short hours. Which is why I'm posting this from a cafe.

But with the pressure of trying to buy a house, finish the current draft of Against Gravity, and juggle finances, the energy I currently have left over for blogging is relatively minimal. Once I'm settled and I have a place to live sorted out, then I can be a little more relaxed and do things like take care of this blog. So if things get quiet until just after Christmas or perhaps until New Year, don't be too surprised. I'll keep you posted.


Sitting in the Offshore Cafe near Great Western Road this evening, with MJ, both of us having realised we were bored out of our skulls; if this goes on much longer, I may be forced to take drastic steps and buy an Xbox. Notable things that occurred: I had my first fudge brownie. Very nice. I also read through today's Guardian and found a certain article so alternately horrifying, amusing and inspiring that I felt drive to post this link. It concerns literary agent Andrew Wylie (aka The Jackal), who represents Martin Amis, and apparently once hired Benazir Bhutto for the specific purpose of charming Salman Rushdie:

From The Guardian:
'Did he really sign up Benazir Bhutto just to impress Salman?
"Um." Sniff. "Yes."
Does she know that?
Sigh. "Yeah, I think she probably does."
And did she have words with him about it?
"She did. She said [of Rushdie], he's a filthy pornographer." '

My rewrite of Against Gravity, by the way, is hovering at close to the halfway mark.


Hopefully, I'll be moving house sometime next week, so this may be my last weekend in my rented flat in the West End. Although I'll be glad to be moving, I do have a lot of associated memories with this place. In terms of this blog, I wrote the novel that got me my book contract here, although I'll be finishing the second in the new place.

I didn't my write my first, unpublished book here. That was written between jobs in another flat in the West End, just off of Byres Road. I was between jobs - or to be more precise, signing on for six months between the end of one job and the start of another - so I wrote Touched by an Angel there. I've been thinking about this a lot recently, since I dug it up recently and started reading it, and enjoying it. Because that's the curious thing; even though you can remember writing a book that's several years old, even though you know what the next sentence is going to say, you have a remarkable degree of separation that somehow allows you to read your own book almost as if someone else had written it.

What else? I got in touch with a local writer, Richard Morgan, who got a lot of attention for his first novel Altered Carbon, and he ended up joining myself and some others at our writer's workshop Tuesday past: it seemed strange to me that we could have someone who's close to being a major author writing sf, living in Glasgow, and whom we hadn't met. So we did something about it. In this way, Richard met some of the other people who write science fiction in Glasgow - myself and Duncan Lunan in particular, plus one or two others, although a couple of people who'd been wanting to drop by weren't able to make it.


I really should be posting entries more often, but I'm currently in a kind of limbo while I wait and find out if I'm going to get the loan I need from the bank in order to buy my new house. This has taken the form of a series of peaks and troughs, as the bank first give me one answer, then another. Frankly, I'm going spare.

As a result, I've not felt much like blogging. I've not felt much like writing either, but I don't have any choice, so I write anyway. About a quarter of the way through what I intend to be the final (fourth) draft, although that's not counting less substantial drafts where I check for spelling mistakes, consistency, and maybe now that I think of it a bit of detail. Part of it's set in Edinburgh, but up until now I've not actually said anything about the city. That's the kind of detail you leave until the end, once you've got the story sorted out.

What else? Apparently the typesetter really liked Angel Stations, so there you go.


There's an excellent record store in the West End of Glasgow called Fopp, now part of a national chain of the same name. Apart from selling a lot of records, they've got in the habit of selling remaindered and new books at cut-down prices, with the distinction that the books they sell are frequently the kind of quality stuff you really want to buy, but at ridiculously cheap prices. Average paperback prices are £5, or even just £3.

The reason for carrying out this piece of free advertising is that someone in the company has bought up an enormous quantity of remaindered copies of the SF Masterworks and Fantasy Masterworks books released by Gollancz. Fopp are selling them all - I think it's all of them - for £3 each. Very worth your time, I think.

And no, they're not paying me to do this.


Catastrophe! Okay, maybe not that bad, but ... I'd been promised a page for acknowledgements, and it seems Pan forgot to account for this when they were putting together my page proofs. Of course, it may not entirely have helped that I only got around to actually writing the acknowledgements in the past week, being, of course, the king of doing it at the last minute ...

However, I've now been informed I can get some kind of acknowledgements in, but not much of one since there is space on the copyright page (apparently putting a short acknowledgements here is not unusual). It's not what I was hoping for ... but still better than nothing.

I'm going to ask them to put the full acknowledgements, however, into the mass market paperback when it comes out. So ... I was going to name check pretty much everybody I ever met ...ish, and so yes, your name (this being for those concerned) was going to be in there; except now it isn't. Arse. I'll probably end up posting the full acknowledgements here closer to the publication date, since that way it might feel less, well, bad.
Some time tomorrow, unless something goes horribly, horribly wrong, I'm paying over a shocking amount of money to a lawyer who is handling my purchase of a house on the south side of Glasgow. You should know I have a deeply paranoid side to my character, in that I always assume the worst. This is because I am frequently right. See that bloke sitting in a chair with the storm all around while that bleeding bird keeps squawking 'Nevermore'? That's me.

To my great relief MJ now has her own bicycle, which means she can't destroy mine anymore (sample quote: 'well, they didn't signpost the stairway properly, therefore it's not my fault I rode your bike down two dozen stone steps at speed and now it makes a squeaking noise and the handlebars don't feel quite right anymore'). If my bike had feelings, its current mental state would be 'haunted, possibly emotionally scarred'. Now it merely cowers in the hallway with a certain reproachful silence.


Today I got my hands on the page proofs for Angel Stations. So I looked through the pages, looked at my name at the top of the page, the name of the book on the frontispiece ...

... looked at my name and the name of the book again, and thought, hmm.

Not sure about that font.

It's a bit weird seeing my story laid out all proper book-like and all, even as a series of laserprints. I have to read through it now and find all the horrid spelling mistakes and inaccuracies I will undoubtedly miss due to my having long become blind to the words. I haven't seen any cover art yet - that's still in the future, perhaps in the next couple of months.

The fourth draft of Against Gravity blazes ahead. Somebody told me they thought the title was a bit anaemic - bland. I didn't think so: I thought it sounded sort of classy. I suggested 'Labrats'. He said, maybe. But I think I still prefer Against Gravity. Still, name changes are always worth thinking about. I read somewhere that Tricia Sullivan's new novel Maul was originally going to be titled Y: A Chromosome. I prefer Maul.

In a sense, the fourth draft has stopped for the moment. What I'm actually doing is writing down a very detailed description of absolutely everything that happens in the book. This is worthwhile, as when I did it for Angel Stations I realised at a relatively late point that the same scene repeated itself twice, with marginally different wording. Quelle horreur! This way, I know exactly where everyone is, when, and what they're saying to each other.

The other I'm finding useful on this draft is a different way of making notes. Instead of scribbling them down or typing them up in a separate document, I'm inserting them directly into the text in brackets and in bold (like this). So that way while I'm writing I can pick myself up on any even potential serious errors that might occur (did I say this twenty pages ago, and why has this character just changed sex?).

You get the idea.

I was going to go through to Edinburgh this Friday to see the Writer's Bloc do a Halloween reading, but it turns out it wasn't actually on Halloween, as I'd been informed, but a couple of days before, which I hadn't been informed of. I know, I've checked. Dammit. I was looking forward to that, too. Well, next time, I guess ... or maybe in the next life, at this rate ...


Last night I went to a new writer's group to give moral support to MJ, who harbours a desire to be the next Virginia Woolf minus the schizophrenia and suicidal tendencies. The group turned out to be located in a quite pleasant building in the West End, where rooms are hired out in the evenings. Although the ad we'd found in Hillhead Library hadn't been particularly clear on what they actually did, it soon became clear the structure was much more in the form of a class than the short story workshops I'm more familiar with. Fair enough: it's the kind of thing MJ's been looking for. So before the class started we watched other people come in, seeming like a fairly representative cross-section of West Enders. I started thinking this could turn out to be interesting. Even positive.

That feeling didn't last for long.

I didn't take part in the class myself: I'd already made it clear I was just there to give MJ moral support, since if you're not used to it, it can be a little unnerving to walk into a room filled with complete strangers and talk about your writing. I could have taken part, but I was deadbeat. I'd been out the previous night helping Al celebrate his birthday as well as attending the Glasgow SF Writer's Circle, and the only writing I could think about was the fourth draft of Against Gravity. Besides, I'd already asked MJ not to bring up the subject of my having a book deal, since I wasn't there to be a 'writer': I was there to provide her with moral support.

Now, if you're the kind of person who isn't very confident about their ability to write - if you think you need help to deal with the basics, or if you just think you need a kick up the arse to get motivated - then that's great. Some of the writers there turned out to be pretty good, and I had the impression they were getting something out of the class as a whole. The evening was structured in two halves, with the participants writing something based on the tutor's suggestions, taking a tea break, then coming back to read their stuff out. Far and away not the kind of process we're famililar with in the Glasgow SF Writer's Circle, but a valid process nonetheless. I watched the first half of the process with interest.

So picture the scene: it's the teabreak, we're all in the kitchen. The tutor comes over to say hello to MJ, and tell her a little bit more about the class. She got a little nervous and mentioned that I had a novel coming out.


So the tutor asks me what kind of book it is.

Science fiction, I said.

Can you see where this is going?

Pregnant silence. In order to fill which, I said - in an attempt to direct the conversation back towards MJ - that her tastes are different from mine: she doesn't read science fiction, but does enjoy a lot of classic 19th Century Literature as well as more contemporary work.

What I expected the tutor to do was to turn his attention back to MJ and ask her more about her interests. Before he did this, round about the point I was saying the words 'Mandy doesn't read sf herself ...' the tutor starts nodding his head emphatically and saying 'Very wise. Very Wise' (note emphasis).

Which is round about the point I started having vivid fantasies of punching the tutor. Hard. On the nose.

After the teabreak, we went back upstairs so people could read their stories out, and I could sit with my arms folded staring daggers at the tutor. What particularly pisses me off is that he wasn't even a particularly good tutor: he mumbled, his ideas were rubbish, and he didn't exactly exude authority. I could, quite literally, run that class myself blindfolded, gagged, and submerged in a tank of hungry sharks. And this ... twat ... rubbishes my chosen field of literature.

But the really interesting thing I came away with (apart from a murderous dislike for the man) is that I could run a class. Easily. What I really want to know (and would make me seethe) was if the tutor was being paid to run the class. Quite possibly, he is; the Scottish Arts Council does provide funds to community groups to run a variety of workshops, and I'm already in the process of signing up to a list of available authors that the SAC provides to such groups, although the process is slightly more complicated than I'm describing here.

Still. Twat.


Third draft of Angel Stations done and dusted, in final editing session of epic proportions. Now feeling mildly, I don't know, staggered. Immediately resaved the relevant file as 'Angel Stations - Draft 4', and I expect it to get anywhere up to Draft 6 or 7 before I even begin to think it's ready for the editor. I'll probably get on with that later today.

Caught Kill Bill at the UGC on Saturday night and spent most of my time there with my jaw hanging open, really. The most astonishingly violent thing I have seen, ever. But it is also very, very good. I think a lot of people thought he might have peaked with Pulp Fiction, but Kill Bill offers clear evidence that this is not the case.


I've noticed my name has now appeared on the front page of the Tor Uk website, which is nice, because that flash animation they had running there the past year was starting to look a bit long in the tooth. In case you're not aware of it, they have a forum running there which includes other Tor authors like Neal Asher, Jeffrey Ford, Pat Cadigan and others.


I'd been hoping to see Neal Stephenson speaking at one of the big bookshops in Glasgow as part of the promotional tour for his new book Quicksilver, tomorrow night, but it appears to have been cancelled. On the other hand, I caught something on BBC4 (again) I haven't seen since the early seventies, when I was an awful lot younger. It was part of a one-night Nigel Kneale retrospective, a documentary followed by a showing of The Stone Tape, about a research group trying to develop new recording technologies finding themselves sequestered in what turns out to be a haunted house. Naturally, they set out to try and get to the root of what the ghost is, using every piece of scientific equipment available to them. Naturally, things don't work out quite the way they expect them to.

It was enjoyable, but what made it seem like a historical artefact (apart from the clothes) was the rather dodgy and casual racism employed. Plus, the female lead (Jane Asher), supposedly a respected programmer, spent most of her time screaming and fainting and 'becoming emotional'. Perhaps you can't really expect much more for a show filmed in 1972. Still, even with the passage of time, and despite special effects barely one step up from shining a torch in a dark room and waving it about a bit, it was surprisingly atmospheric.

Funny, though, that in the preceding documentary, they chose not to mention Kneale's mid-seventies series 'Beasts,' which scared the crap out of me when I was about ten.

With any luck, I'll have finished the third draft of Against Gravity in the next few days. Then I'm going to spend probably an inordinately large amount of time tidying it up, plus possibly one or two more major changes, depending on what I think would make the story better. I've been wondering if one of the main supporting characters would be better if he became a she, and combined with the main female supporting character. Which is probably going to be as confusing as it sounds, but we'll see how things progress.


Busy. Most of the way through the Against Gravity rewrite, and well ahead of schedule. However, I'm still not posting so frequently since there are other (good, but stressful) things going on in my life: mostly, trying to buy a house. This doesn't leave me much time for things like blog entries.

However, I do feel driven to mention I enjoyed the JG Ballard series on BBC4 that ran over the past week or so, including new dramatisations of two stories: The Enormous Space, and Low-Flying Aircraft. There was also a rerun of 13 to Arcturus, a BBC play of the story of the same name that originally aired in 1965: not a particularly brilliant rendition, but interesting in a sort of 'cultural archaeology' sense: primarily the antiquated-looking 'Dan Dare' uniforms worn by the actors, complete with those little shoulderpads that come to a point. I wonder if this all started with the film version of Things To Come? Also interesting to watch the actors go through their scenes while ripping through a lung-blackening quantity of cigarettes. Of the other two dramatisations, Enormous Space (retitled 'Home' here) was probably the best. I always have the feeling, though, that dramatisations of work by writers like Ballard - who, to me, gain some of their appeal in the surreality of their writing; the 'strangeness' that first attracted me to science fiction when I was a kid - tend to try too hard to rationalise what's taking place.

'Home', the hour-long movie of Enormous Space, seemed to me to try a little too hard to rationalise the protagonist's withdrawal into his mind as nothing more than a descent into madness. Sure, you can read it like that, but what's really enjoyable about the story for me is the idea of a house/space becoming an almost infinite area worthy of exploring in the most literal sense. It's a theme that turns up in Ballard's books a lot. Or maybe I'm just being picky, and 'Home' was the better interpretation, and I'd rather groove off the strangeness of the story in a way that implies the expansion of the physical space of the house is objective, rather than subjective.


A few months ago I workshopped an early draft of Against Gravity, and was warned by a member of the Glasgow SF Writer's Circle who knows of such things that it was unlikely some form of shuttle launch could take place using a converted oil platform (obviously my shuttle would be rather more advanced and probably a lot smaller than the current variety, being part of a story set over a century from now), even one where the launch crew were situated on a nearby ship.

In fact, it probably could; I watched a documentary on Discovery the other night about a group called SeaLaunch who launch satellites from a converted oil platform which can be floated into position pretty much anywhere in the world, the whole operation controlled at launch-time from a nearby ship. Okay, it's unmanned rockets rather than manned shuttles of some futuristic variety, but I was pleased to see my idea had already panned out in reality.

Sea Launch
So things maybe do work out in the end - I'm still waiting for final word, but I may indeed have finally bought a house. It's a one bedroom property on the south side, about fifteen minutes cycle or half an hour's walk or twenty minutes on the subway from the West End; it has a huge kitchen, but I'm going to have to rent a room out to make it more affordable. It's big and spacious and bright with a really nice garden out back, so even with myself and Mandy and whoever we get in to rent a room, it won't feel too crowded.

The way these things work in Scotland, everything is 'subject to conclusions', meaning either party can pull out for whatever reasons until the ink is signed on the contract. Nothing is definite until then. However, I spoke to my financial advisor's lawyer, who told me if I could manage a certain sum then I had the property - only a little over what I did offer. So I gave him the go-ahead.

What else? I'd been intending to go and see a band I really like tonight called Elbow playing at Glasgow University, but this looks unlikely as Mandy is down with sinusitis. I've called one or two people, but either they can't make it or their mobile phones are switched off. To the fields of Hades with ye, people who never switch their bleeding mobiles on ...


Checking in here, really; I haven't abandoned my blog, I've just had a great deal weighing on my mind in terms of attempting to buy a house, if humanly possible. Time will tell, and it looks like I'll be spending a great deal more than I had previously intended, but needs must.

In the meantime, I found a site I always knew would have to be built. I'm going to repost come the Worldcon here in '05 as a dire and necessary warning to any visitors from afar not familiar with the culture in this fair city of Glasgow. The site is www.glasgowsurvival.co.uk, and acts as much as anything else as a guide to Neds. 'Ned' is a generic term referring to socially and economically disenfranchised youths frequently easily observable due to their uniform habit of wearing white sports gear and baseball caps. They are generally to be avoided. No, make that almost always; as a social phemonenon, they're probably one of the worst things about Scotland, and Glasgow in particular. The site in general doesn't run us down so much, but it does provide a genuinely useful and frequently hilarious alternative to the rather more anemic and sugar-coated official website guides to the city usually administered by the Scottish Tourist Board. If you're coming to Glasgow, read it and be forewarned.

There are really two Glasgows in much the same way as there are two New Yorks, depending on your social background and your relative wealth and opportunities in life. There's the deNiro New York of Taxi Driver, dirty, sleazy, and dangerous, filled with the worst excesses of human nature and lonesome potentially psychotic drifters; and then there's Woody Allen' New York, of writers and artists suffering midlife crises in splendid high-ceilinged apartments overlooking Central Park. Two worlds coexisting, side by side, aware of each other's existence yet doing their best to ignore each other.

I live in the West End of Glasgow - at least for the moment and possibly not for much longer - and I can see this same difference here. You can walk down Sauchiehall Street in the city centre on a Saturday evening and see fights, sirens going off, people chucking bottles at each other, you name it. Football in Glasgow is at times little more than an excuse for barely sublimated religious street warfare. Things are changing, but only slowly.

By contrast, I went for a walk through the West End the other day and found a middle aged guy playing Robert Johnson numbers with slide guitar as part of a small demonstration by a coalition of pressure groups like CND and others. I watched and listened for a while, with the University as a backdrop. It's like a whole other universe compared to other parts of the city. It's only because I may be moving a relatively short distance from the area that I can bear moving at all. A couple of feet away from me while I was listening was a half-finished carving of a leaping white tiger, shaped out of a tree trunk. I looked around some second-hand bookshops - the West End is infested with them - and on the way back, found the blues concert was over. A woman was speaking over a microphone to a small audience about the oppression of the Falun Gong religion (I think that's how you spell it) in China, while some women in traditional Chinese costume performed movements that were presumably a part of the religion. If they tried that in Parkhead up the East End, they'd be bottled off in minutes. I saw an ad for a new complex of modern flats in Parkhead, at the other end of the city, which went out of its way to emphasise the security aspects of controlled electric gates and high walls. Yep, gated communities come to Glasgow.

A considerable contrast.


This is rather fascinating, appealing as it does to the giggling nerd who hides like some malevolent spirit deep within my brain. Not merely the idea of a floating city in the shape of a pyramid several magnitudes larger than Giza, but the nifty online browser-controllable animations of same:

Saturday night, found my way to the cinema to see, on a whim, a new British horror thriller called Underworld, which might briefly be described as hilarious tosh, albeit reasonably well-made, utterly over the top, and heavily marketed to the leather-dusters-and-pouting end of the teen goth market. Best thing about it is Kate Beckinsale, in skin tight leather. I rather suspect this might lead to a sudden fashion amongst certain women to attempt to cop Beckinsale's look in the movie. God, I hope so ...
From www.copperblue.co.uk:

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in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is
taht the frist and lsat ltteer is at the rghit pclae. The rset can be
a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is
bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by it slef but the wrod as a
So for the past couple of weeks I guess I've lost that bloggin' feeling. I have been a touch preoccupied with trying to find a new house to live in, while the price of a house in Glasgow is sailing far out of my view and waving bye-bye as it goes.

The redraft of Against Gravity is about two-thirds through, with what feel like substantial changes. I've noticed an online page about Novacon, the UK November convention which tends to focus on writing much more than it does on other media, and played with the idea of going for the weekend (depending on who else is going). I do need a break - and the Eastercon earlier this year was the nearest thing I've had to an actual holiday in some time. I'm iffy about conventions, because I've frequently found that the majority of people I speak to at them are the same people I speak to anyway up here in Glasgow, but I was thinking the other day about how much things have changed. Ten to fifteen years ago, I went fairly regularly to conventions up this way, because I liked to hear talks by authors I admired. The whole 'fan' side of it never interested me.

Ten to fifteen years ago, you got people like Harlan Ellison and John Brunner at sf conventions, giants of the field. You don't get them anymore - at least the ones who are still alive - or so it seems to me anyway. Yes, there's Banks, and others like him, but it's the ones who got you when you were still too young to wriggle away that draw your attention, and an awful lot of them are now either dead or too old to travel.

So it's a curious thing, to find myself in a position where, having finally achieved - at least for a while - the goal of becoming a paid sf novelist, I find my enthusiasm for conventions waning. I can remember a time when the idea of being at a convention, not merely as a reader - but as a writer, one with real books either on the shelves or soon to be on them - deeply enticing. Now I'm there, it seems surprisingly easy to forget this.


So ... I'm back. Been busy, which is why I've not been around in a while, and to be honest there's not been a great deal to write about. I've spent a lot of time looking at houses, and doing a little extra work in freelance design to boost the income before christmas.

The third (and considerable) draft of Against Gravity continues, and the final, absolutely final, changes to Angel Stations are now away in the post, so hopefully I can rest easy now on that front. I'm past the halfway mark on the AG rewrite. I've been in touch, in the meantime, with the Writer's Bloc group of 'performing' writers over on the East Coast, who are intending to put something together in Edinburgh for Halloween ... which should be interesting.


For the past two days I've been driving myself hard over the third draft of Against Gravity, struggling with the problem of how to integrate a huge amount of expository and worldbuilding information into a story without being overly blunt about it and just hammering the reader with page after page of non-plot-driving exposition. I've hit on a solution: cheating.

It's not really, actually. I took a look through my bookshelves - particularly the Joe Haldeman books, since he's quite good at this kind of thing - and I've begun integrating a lot of need-to-know information into the text in the form of tv interview excerpts, sections from encyclopaedias, court journals, anything that seems to help build a world external to the characters that still involves them utterly.

I've been thinking for a long while that it's the writers who have to struggle the most to get a book deal who actually have an advantage over the rest of us. Look at Iain Banks: he wrote several novels before he sold his first. I can think of a good few authors in the genre who wrote up to half a million words before finally selling a book. Myself, I sold the second book I'd written, the first unlikely ever to be published in its current form. I may actually be at a disadvantage because of this: those other writers, Banks and his ilk, had a few extra years to learn the craft of plotting and storytelling so that by the time they achieved publication, they had overcome certain obstacles that stand in the way of a writer struggling to learn his art.

I do struggle with character motivation, most of the time: I have a bad habit of letting characters get swept away by the plot, so that they're carried along heedless rather than instigating events themselves. I now understand why this is so. When I was younger, one of my favourite writers was Philip K. Dick, and he was a writer who liked to focus on utterly ordinary people much of the time, people with ordinary non-taking-over-the-universe ambitions. I myself prefer the idea of writing about people who aren't exceptionally brilliant, or courageous. However, I am now confronting the notion that in the type of fiction I write, it is perhaps best to focus a story around those who are truly extraordinary, rather than ordinary. I won't bore you by citing examples from books I've read, but I've found plenty of evidence for both sides of my argument with myself.

But I'll get around it. I always do.


Here's a tip for your lunchtime browsing. Go to google.com, type 'weapons of mass destruction' into the search box, and then click the 'i'm feeling lucky' box.

Then read the error message very, very carefully.
I always wondered if I'd know when I'd reached that stage in life where middle age ceases to be far away, and starts to thunder towards you at breakneck speed. I now realise that this stage in life manifests itself in a sudden obsession with mortgages and interior design. However, to make it clear. I am not middle-aged. I am approaching middle age, and indeed may never become middle aged.

Self-delusional? Au contraire. I honestly believe becoming middle-aged is much more a state of mind than a physical state of being. Modern society is nowadays directed towards the concept of the eternal teenager. Is that what I think of myself as? Don't know, but whatever I think of myself as, it's not middle-aged.

Middle-aged men wear side-parted hair. They wear chunky patterned sweaters from Marks & Spencers, creased slacks from same (usually modelled in floor display giant-sized photos by gracefully ageing models pointing out to sea), and aviator spectacles. Terrifyingly enough, it is only as I type these very words that I realise I have perfectly described someone I know. Although now into middle-aged territory, I don't recall this person dressing any other way since I met him, and he must have been just past thirty at the time, almost thirteen years ago. It is also the way the man who runs the design & print shop I freelance at dresses.

Middle-aged people will, like said employer, fail to understand anyone under the age of forty, let alone twenty-one. To illustrate: said employer received a request from a local rock & metal nightclub to put together some designs for tickets for a gig by a couple of metal bands. I recall him flicking through books of clip-art and coming up with ... some jazzy-looking, fifties-style cocktail glasses. A man adrift, indeed, in the stormy cultural waters of the early twenty-first century, and unlikely to be rescued. I managed to persuade him to let me use something else.

(Here's a tip. If you ever ask a printshop to design anything, the amount of effort they put into the design is directly proportional to how much money you're paying them. In most cases, the effort amounts to half an hour of design, incorporating approximately 105 seconds worth of artwork origination. There is a fundamental conflict between the person running a printshop and the person doing the design work that makes itself known at this point: the business owner wants the job done and out of the way pronto. The designer wants to do something nice. Fast work and decent design are frequently incompatible. However, the printshop owner, being the one who pays the designer, usually wins. Ergo, why your printshop frequently gives you printed product that looks like mince.

Another tip: if you want a book of tickets designed for your band Killdozer, don't ask someone who dresses like a golfing catalogue and wears aviator spectacles. Curiously enough, if you ask someone wearing a Killdozer t-shirt to design a golfing catalogue, you get something that looks like a golfing catalogue.)

On the other hand, people who refuse to believe they are anywhere near middle-aged will shop in Gap. I shop in Gap. I shop in Gap with the weary knowledge that it is a sure sign of someone who refuses to believe they are anywhere near being middle-aged. Which I'm not, I can assure you. However, there is a point in life where killdozer t-shirts and ponytails cease to be as effective as when you were twenty, and Gap nicely fills the, er, gap between where you used to shop (probably called Pretty Hate Machine and located in some dank basement), and where you were always afraid you'd end up shopping (Marks & Spencer).

Which is all probably the longest route possible to saying I spent most of the past week looking at yet more houses. I am likely to opt for Ibrox/Cessnock, which is just over the Clyde from the West End, ten minutes walk from the SECC, where the Worldcon will be held in 2005. There is a cycle and pedestrian bridge which connects the two areas, and you can cycle from one to the other in perhaps fifteen minutes. A subway station is also located conveniently nearby. I'm buying a two bedroom house in order to rent out a room and make the mortgage more affordable. I've been assured a lot of people rent rooms and property in the area, so I'm certainly hoping that's the case. But also, and more importantly, property in this area goes for about a third of what the equivalent goes for in much of the West End, making it a very attractive proposition. Hopefully I am within a few weeks of making a final decision.


There's a brilliant essay by M. John Harrison in this month's Locus (I don't usually buy it because it's expensive, but this one is on the New Space Opera, which yanks my bell) which just about sums up everything that's good and great about space opera in one go. I can't help but excerpt a piece of it here:

"You've flown the Schwarschild Radius. You've fought vacuum battles. You've seen a star or two, you'll admit to that, but you've never seen anything like this tiny, ten-million-year-old artifact, whose boundaries are indeterminable,whose purpose is unclear. It's a communications device. It's a weapon from an ancient war still being slugged out by automated vessels in cometary orbits around a sun no one but you has ever seen. It was dug up from the site of a civilisation whose remaining texts confront the desparate last throw: racial suicide in the face of an undescribed threat."

There's more, so much more, but what's interesting about the essays in this issue of Locus is the influence of Harrison on space opera, a genre that previously featured two-dimensional heroes with simplistic, 'moral' drives. Harrison apparently helped introduce the 'amoral' to the genre, along with others, but for a younger writer like myself I've never known anything else. I tried reading 'Doc' Smith, and found it unreadable and dreary. I grew up reading writers like Bear and Benford, as well as Asimov and Clarke, though I think it's writers like Benford who proved by far the greater influence.
House hunting is turning out to be a depressing experience. I've looked at several properties in the past several days and the choice is twofold: either get a decent house in an area I don't want to live in, or get a crap house in an area I do want to live in. Not only that, the crap house in the decent area could cost twice as much as somewhere twice as large and in much better condition and in an area that is in itself just fine, but ... just not the area I'm looking for, which is the West End of Glasgow.

Places I've looked at in the past week:
a huge city centre property undecorated in forty years for offers over 65k with flammable roof tiles, artexed walls, no electricity, needing rewiring, needing replumbing, next to a motorway, decorated in the most tasteless early Seventies style, replete with fake 'cabin' style false ceilings and walls.
A two bedroom property in Anniesland, a couple of miles from the West End but easy commuting distance: see all of the above, but with electricity, which is unfortunate, because then you can see how ghastly the goddamn shoebox is. Same price, which is a joke. Bleak, bleak, bleak: the guy who lives there bought it ten years ago, and it didn't take a great deal of imagination to see no woman had crossed that threshold in all that time.
A two bedroom property near Queen's Park on the South Side. Glorious. Varnished floorboards, huge kitchen, two bedrooms, gigantic lounge, nice street, a minute's walk from the park, and the more of this sentence I write the more I wonder how crazy I am for not putting in an offer. Why didn't I? Because it's not the West End. Aaargh. And for five grand less.
And today, the piece de resistance: same description as above, in Bank Street, in the West End, just about big enough to bludgeon a cat to death by swinging it in small tight circles. In the West End, estate agents usually recommend putting in an offer a third over the advertised price, which is a huge amount of money.

It's weird, because I used to live on the south side and really liked it there. It's where I grew up. But the West End has a 'bohemian charm', I guess you'd call it. There's nowhere else in Scotland outside of Edinburgh quite like it. Artists, writers, tv directors and actors ... the place is stuffed with creatives, giving it the flavour people have told me they get in equivalent areas in other cities, like Greenwich Village in New York (not that I've ever been there, so can't compare). Large parts of the rest of the city are going to the dogs, though the south side is generally okay. However, I did have a bad experience with an aggressive beggar on my trip to the south side. Apparently he didn't know the meaning of the word 'no', even when repeated several times. That worried me.

So what next? Back to the south side, I think. Maybe I'm just going to have to bite the bullet.


I thought of writing about this in a jokey fashion, but it's just too appalling for levity. From Wired News:

"Brian Robertson was just months away from graduation at Moore High School in Moore, Oklahoma, last year when he found the beginnings of what he thought was a short story on a school computer. He copied the file to another computer, added some paragraphs to the initial text and then promptly got arrested.

Robertson, who was 18 when he wrote the story, was charged with a felony count of planning to cause serious bodily harm or death. The story he wrote, titled "Evacuation Orders," (PDF) described preparations for an armed invasion of his school that included directions to unnamed fellow commandos to kill the senior class principal and then plant plastic explosives around the campus."

So basically some loser kid in the States writes a story in what is admittedly not the best of taste for the same reasons as many people write fiction when they're younger; as a way of expressing and releasing feelings and emotions they otherwise find it difficult to express. It's a slightly more mature variation on the way child psychology recognises as a core part of its practice that younger children will express their feelings in the form of drawings and paintings, which they use to illustrate their lives and the adults around them. When you objectify your life in this way - through art, through writing - you can learn to see it with new eyes. Not to say, of course, that those doing so - children - are intellectually aware enough to realise this.

It all illustrates a problem I have with writing fiction, in that real life has a nasty habit of outdoing me in terms of how rotten people can be to each other. It's a dangerous sign that a lot of people don't know the difference between imagination and intention; it is, quite literally, treating literature as thoughtcrime. To write about it, is to do it.

What the kid's story does tell me is that there's probably a vast lack of communication between pupils and staff, and that whoever wrote the original part of the story (as the article says, Robertson claims to have found the majority of it on acomputer) may just have had some issues. I believe the generic term for this is teenager.

I think one of the reasons this horrified me as much as it did is that it came on the wake of reading a Guardian Online article about mass burnings of cd's of the Dixie Chicks. Not because people think they're bad, but because they dissed George Bush. The article describes the ordeal the Guardian journalists went through when they arrived in a US airport and told an immigration officer they were in the country to interview the Dixie Chicks. The officer said something about stringing the Dixies up by the neck, and immediately hauled them off to have their bags searched, delaying them long enough to miss a connecting flight. Maybe it's just because i'm British and things seem a little easier-going over here, but the terrifying implication is that this kind of vast intolerance for points of view outside of the rigidly patriotic and right-leaning is extremely widespread.

Well, duh, I imagine some of you saying to your screens.


Yes, I have been a bit quiet lately. I'll tell you why, but you'd better hope you're not squeamish, because this is going to get icky.

I had a long-anticipated eye operation on Monday afternoon, under local anaesthetic, at a local hospital. I've had a bad cataract in my right eye for several years, gradually getting worse, probably attributable to using prescription topical (ie external on the skin, not internal pill) steroids to control and abate eczema, which I've suffered from to varying degrees since early childhood. It's very much under control these days, but in my twenties and teens it frequently made my life rather miserable. However, the medicines can affect your eyesight with prolonged use. And if anybody out there is thinking they would never use steroids, well, you get them all the time, when you go to the dentist, or every time you whip out your inhaler if you're asthmatic. My quality of life would have been zero without those steroids at certain points in my life. If you met me nowadays, you might have a hard time telling. That wasn't always the case.

I was operated on under local anaesthetic; painkilling stuff was swabbed around my eye, and then several injections were made above and below the eyelids (not in them). My sight faded to near-black in my right eye. Then, to the tune of a tape of '60's soul classics, a small cut was made in the surface of my eye, and into the internal membrane that houses my cataract-damaged lens. The lens was sliced into several sections working through this incision, and then ultrasound was used to liquidise it in situ, before the resulting liquid was sucked out through a tube. Then, the new lens was placed inside.

I didn't see that much because they cover up both of your eyes. However, as is apparently often the case, sight began to come back in the damaged eye, in the form of bright overhead lights and vague scalpel-like blurry shapes and hands and what might have been the outline of faces. There was one interesting optical effect resulting from the new plastic lens being manipulated in its new home in my eyeball; shifted around to fit, I suspect. There was a new doctor just transferred to the eye ward getting a running commentary from my surgeon as he worked - he was showing her what he was doing while Gloria Gaynor maxed out of a cheap ghettoblaster - but I couldn't really make out what he was saying through his surgical mask. Finally, one small microscopic permanent stitch to hold the eyeflap in place, and that was me. Sat around in a waiting room with a plastic shield over the eye for an hour or so while the anaesthetic wore off and I read magazines.

So, that was my Monday. Mostly, I waited around for something to happen; the procedure itself only took about fifteen to twenty minutes, I'd say. It was sort of ... interesting. Intellectually I wasn't bothered at all by having somebody poke at my eye - I couldn't feel anything after all ... but definitely a bit weird.

So how is my eyesight? Until Monday, I was seeing everything through a kind of vaguely porno soft-focus - or about 5% gaussian blur in the left eye (which also has a much, much milder cataract) and 20% minimum in the left eye, if you're a graphic designer. It takes a couple of weeks for the eye to learn to focus with the new lens, but already things seem clearer ...

... almost too clear ... I went on an insane cleaning jag in my rented flat when I realised how dirty the kitchen was. Bought a wad of soap pads and scourers and went cer-razy. Walking up the road on Monday evening, I kept staring at the back of my hand like some acid-drenched '60's casualty. All those little crinkly wrinkly bits ... where the hell did they come from? Oh that's right, I can see them now. If I look through my right eye alone, everything's got a vaguely misty, smoothed-out, almost cinematic look to it. Through the new lens, although still a touch blurry for the next few days, it's like freaking robo-vision - everything's just too damn clear, like seeing a videotape. And talk about sharp!

You know, by some people's definitions, this makes me a cyborg, heh ...

Partly because of that, and partly because I've been running around looking at flats I might want to buy, I'm not getting as much work done on Against Gravity as I might like. Nevertheless, I'm about a quarter of the way through the rewrite, which means I'm probably further ahead now than I thought I would be.


I had an interesting thought while corresponding with an occasional reader of this blog who's trying to write her first novel, and complains about being completely convinced anything she would put together would just completely suck. I believe this is known in the analyst trade as a 'lack of confidence', and it's one of the two main reasons people don't manage to fulfill an ambition of writing a book. The other reason is, careers. People with careers tend to have to put those careers first, unless they're prepared to go so far as putting that career to one side and concentrating instead on the bookwriting.

There's a movie called New York Stories which is a series of short films about New York by various directors released as a single picture. One of the movies stars Nick Nolte (I think) as a successful artist who suffers from constant doubt. In this respect, he's a very typical artist (or writer, or whatever); there's a scene where his agent tries to persuade him to get started on stuff for this year's show.

"Forget it, I don't have it any more. My stuff sucks." (or words to that effect)
"You say this every year," comes the agent's reply, exasperated. "And every year you do the show. And then it comes round again."
"This time I really mean it," he says. "I've lost it, Louie (or Malcolm, or Lennie, or whatever it is). I'm not doing a show this year."

Of course, he makes the show. Everything goes great. This is remarkably like the process that goes through the minds of, I'd say, the vast majority of writers. If you want a motivating emotion for writing a book, you'd probably have to assign a big chunk of it to fear. Not just fear of personal failure, but fear of failure in front of both your peers and the reading and writing community as a whole.

When I wrote my first book, Touched by an Angel, I wasn't working, and during those six months of unemployment I found the will and the time to write a book. I tell you this because I think there might be people reading this who feel they lack the skill or the talent to write a decent book. Well, maybe you're good and maybe you're bad, but you'll never know until you actually do it.

The way I worked it out in my head was this: even if I only wrote twenty words in a day, it was twenty words more than I'd had before. Also, I would not stop if I thought my writing sucked. That wasn't the point - it shouldn't be yours either. I wanted to finish it more than I cared if it was any good or not. The point was, did I have the stamina to write a minimum 100,000 words of consecutive text? Yes I did. Persistence is to some degree the mark of a writer. Is your writing good, bad, whatever? Doesn't matter. You just write. That's your motivation; not to be good, or to be bad, because these are value judgements you can ill afford, when you run the danger of the little voice in your head telling you you aren't good enough, that of course your writing sucks, and you're wasting your time. The mark of a writer is in the ability to ignore those voices of doubt and DO IT ANYWAY.

Remember; for every thousand talented writers, there are maybe a half dozen at most who ever actually do anything about it. Everyone knows someone who could out-write a famous novelist - a someone with maybe one story published in a small-press. You hear about this kind of thing. Frankly if it isn't used, if it's left dormant, talent is worthless, literally worthless. If you're a talented writer and you do something about it, then you're lucky because you have a good shot at recognition. As for the rest of us, we may not write the next Harry Potter or To Kill a Mockingbird, but if we persist we stand a chance at enjoying a career that makes us feel like we're engaged in something worthwhile, that gives us a far greater sense of satisfaction and creative enjoyment than many 9 to 5 jobs do.

For myself, that first book never sold. It got me an agent, but after three years it didnt' sell. Pan liked it, but not enough to buy it. They asked if I had anything else, and as it turned out I'd just started out the first draft of Angel Stations a few months before, having not written anything novel-length for a few years. As I'm sure you know now, they bought Angel Stations. I'm already a quarter of the way through the second draft of my second book. The lesson being: persistence is everything. Touched by an Angel may not have sold, but I did gain the experience of what it felt like to write a book, to be able to quantify the experience in my mind, and that's what made it possible for me to write further novel-length material.


Sigh. I was going to go see Dave Gorman at the Edinburgh Festival but it's sold out. In the meantime, I've been reading a book by his ex-flatmate Danny Wallace, 'Join Me', which I greatly recommend. I'd try and tell you what it's about, but you probably wouldn't believe me ... it's a non-fiction book (really) and has a website at www.join-me.co.uk.

The heat is leaving me feeling run down. Hottest day ever, possibly since the Earth formed, on Sunday, despite which I plough ahead with the rewrite on Against Gravity. I wait with trepidation the outcome of my flat-buying activities. By the end of this week I may have bought a house, or more likely not; nonetheless, the possibility is there. If it does work out, you can all come to my flatwarming party. All of you. Yes, even you.

The other week, I received an email of the cover and back cover blurbs for Angel Stations, which make for interesting reading. Their suggestion for the cover quote is 'A race against time -- to rescue the only other world with intelligent life from galactic disaster'. Well, it's certainly dramatic. I was hoping for 'a devastating work far surpassing the total outcome of science fiction novels to date', but they seem to have ignored that one. The back cover blurb is surprisingly similar to the one I came up with myself, but I won't be posting that here until it's been finalised.

In the meantime, and if there's nothing on t'telly and you're stuck for something to read, let me heartily recommend Iain Banks' 'Dead Air', which I just finished myself. Quite possibly among the finer of his mainstream works.


One of the occasional joys of living in a class-structured society like the United Kingdom is the sheer joy of seeing open class warfare, particularly when expressed in the form of a television documentary series; to whit, Young Posh and Loaded, which seems designed to boost the income of dentists by creating a frenzy of mass tooth-grinding up and down the country every time this program airs. I feel duty-bound to record for posterity not only the voice-over for one young lad, still only 23 and already buying and selling million-pound properties, but the implied class hatred for what we in the fair North (or at least the majority of the people I know) like to describe as stuck-up Tory Oiks badly in need of a spanking with a sledgehammer. After expounding upon his surely well-considered views on 'layabouts, the unemployed, gypsies, the homeless, they make a hundred quid a day so why don't they start up their own business and be just like me', the voice-over referred to the young lad's financial hand-up from 'mummy and daddy'.

Now, when that voice-over person said 'mummy and daddy', every ounce of hatred held by even the distantly liberal working in television towards such people seemed expressed in those simple words. The voice-over didn't so much say 'a bit of a financial hand from mummy and daddy', as it clearly expressed, albeit visible only via a certain strain in the voice, 'a financial hand up from mummy and daddy, and when the revolution comes, you miserable little greasy-faced arse, you will most definitely be first up against the wall so we can listen to your miserable bleating for one more minute before we lay in with the steel-capped boots of righteous indignation'.

Or some such.

There. I feel much better now. I have been busy this week; regrettably not so much over Against Gravity, though it is making progress, though not quite as rapidly as I might have hoped. This is due to extenuating circumstances; I have been looking at houses. One in particular, at the very edge of Glasgow's West End (teetering, even, you might say), for a depressingly large sum of money, but nonetheless still within my financial grasp. It is being surveyed on Monday, so I shall wait and see; I am hopeful, but nervous.

Lastly, but not least, I have discovered I even have a presence on the German Amazon. The delight inherent in this is, unfortunately, balanced by the sad discovery that my publishers are also the ones responsible for inflicting Jeffrey Archer upon the world.


A long weekend in Tighnabruaich (I'm not even sure where that is myself, except it's a very long drive into very much the middle of Scottish nowhere) to visit my dad and his second wife, in the company of my half-brother Rory and his girlfriend. My father now lives in a converted police station, of all places; the living room has a curious raised platform where, apparently, the cells once were - the lower part of the room being where the local constable once (the date above the doorway is 1894) kept his office. Everyone in my family but me seems to enjoy being in places where really nothing ever happens at all, whereas I feel unstimulated unless I am in the most urban circumstances.

On returning home, a random whim produced this result in Amazon UK - I think a small Mexican Wave is in order. You can't get much more official than that, can you? Although I do note that Amazon lists the publication date for Angel Stations as somewhat earlier than the August I'd been told. In the meantime, I have the front and back cover blurbs to look over.


More on the Edinburgh Book Festival, and some light thrown on why there was no sf genre presence. It turns out to be downright positive. I received an email from a member of my writer's circle who is originally from Edinburgh, and apparently "Catherine Lockerbie [director of the festival] is one of SF's supporters - it was she who started publishing Andrew J Wilson's SF review columns when she was Books Editor at The Scotsman and, as she points out in her letter [to Mike, as mentioned in a previous entry], her first year in charge did see a significant SF strand; to expect that every year, however, is to misunderstand the nature of the Edinburgh Book Festival."

So in fact, the person in charge of the Book Festival is on our side. It turns out that there was a heavily genre-related stream a few years ago, but basically nobody turned up. Why is this? My own suspicion is that the Festival is so completely seen as a mainstream-related affair that it simply wouldn't occur to people in my own area of publishing to attend normally. Also - less positively - is it possible we've become so enamoured of our cosy conventions that we've missed a chance to make a connection between the stuff we write, and the stuff everybody else writes? It seems there was extensive advertising in the genre press - I don't know precisely where, but Interzone and The Third Alternative would seem likely suspects - but even that wasn't enough to bring the crowds.

In a few months, I think I'll write my own letter to Ms. Lockerbie, and suggest that if she does intend to have any kind of genre-related strand at next year's festival, she could do worse than look at local writers. Edinburgh, after all has McLeod and Stross as well as others (and some called Banks or something), Glasgow has Richard Morgan (author of Altered Carbon), Mike Cobley, and, er, me. Miller Lau is somewhere oop north as well, I believe, and I'm sure there's others.

Otherwise, I'm still struggling to rename the black hats in Angel Stations. I spoke to my editor and we decided to chuck anything that has 'Eden' in it. At the moment, that gives me two possible replacements for 'edenists'.

The first is Mr. Lavery's own suggestion, 'Morists', after Sir Thomas More, inventor of the word utopia, and author of what cold very easily be regarded as a piece of Renaissance sf, about a meeting with a sailor from a far-off island of liberty and equality called 'utopia'. It sounds strangely dry to me, more like some secret society of elderly patricians planning Victorian skullduggery in a closeted Cambridge hall in the name of a proto-bolshevik English revolution. But it could work, though I'd have to rewrite the paragraph that describes the origin of the black hats.

The other one, which I'm tipping towards at the moment despite it's being a little more complicated, is 'scheolians' or 'scheolans': 'Scheol' is the name for the land of the dead in certain religions, which might, in the context of the black hat religion, be the name of Earth, the place from which they seek to escape. Precisely which religions 'scheol' originates from, however, I haven't found particularly immediately despite googling (it tends to throw up goth bands). Still, it has a ring. Or does 'Morists' have that special ring to it? Opinions are always welcome.


Well, I got some good news. The rewrites on Angel Stations are in the clear - or at least that's what my agent told me - so it looks like the book will be coming out as a trade paperback in August 2004 (hey, just in time for the Edinburgh Book Festival ...), the mass market paperback (fly my pretties, fly) a year on from that.

Apart from that, the whole thing with trying to find an alternative name for the bad guys in Angel Stations is starting to get silly. I thought of Eden Alternative (either a low budget sf movie made in 1962, probably starring a porn actress, or else it's a fanzine as someone pointed out), then I thought of Hegira (it's just too Islamic, when the cult is supposed to be based around Western millenarianism.) Eden Faith (retired '60's singer).

I'm probably doomed. Current runners are: Edenate, which has a certain charm, except what would you call a member of the Edenate? I have a dark suspicion it would be an Edenist ... Or as a friend Craig suggested, I could give 'Eden' a suffix from another language - if a Russian one, then Edentsi.

Much thinking must be done.


I was pleasantly surprised to stumble across a complete pdf download of Eric Drexler's seminal pop-science book on nanotechnology, 'Engines of Creation', during a research-browse for the second draft of Against Gravity. It's stored on the website of a nanotech-related group called the Foresight Institute, which I think may have been founded by Drexler himself. Never one to hoard, I present the link here.


I've been struggling the past couple of days to come up with an alternative name for a religious cult in Angel Stations. They had previously been called the Edenists, but some months ago I had one of those slap the head with the palm of your hand moments when I picked up a Peter Hamilton book and realised one of the primary factors in it is a group called the Edenists.

Obviously I had to change it, but every time I come up with something, someone else comes up with a reasonable alternative. I had one a while back with the acronym MOL .. and then lost the note saying what it stood for. It may have been ministry of light which, yes, does sound a bit insipid, but it would have allowed me to call them mollies ... and then someone else told me it was 18th century slang for gay men.

Next up was Hegira, but it's too Islamic. Pity, because it sounds good. But it's too specific, too central to the Islamic religion. So what next?

At this moment - how I feel about it in a couple of days time is another matter - I'm thinking halfway back to where I started from, calling them something like the Eden Alternative. Clunky, but it's got that skiffy ring. And it's definitely not Edenists. Mind you, the phrase does crop up a good few times if you run a google search, but at least it's not misleading (like Hegira, implying it's an islamic cult), and it doesn't tread on anyone's toes (ie Hamilton, so far)

Of course, I'm open to suggestions ...


I feel like I should have a fanfare here ... nothing important really, it's just that Neal Asher was asking for a blurb for Angel Stations, and god knows it's not like anybody who doesn't actually know me has any idea what the damn thing is actually about ... so here's a blurb, taken from the web site i'll be putting up a bit closer to the time. I felt I needed to check things out with my editor before I really felt too comfortable talking about it.

"Elias Murray, ex-soldier, haunted by the effects of genetic manipulation, and on the run from the gangs of 26th Century London; Kim Amoto, lonely rock hermit, imprisoned by her own guilt and the encoded memories of her dead lover; Ernst Vaughn, would-be messiah; and Ursu, a priest on a distant alien planet who must betray his own, very real god in order to save his people.
How they come together, and how their fate is entangled with one of the worlds accessible through the Angel Stations - vast hyperspace terminals created by the race known only as the Angels - is a journey to the heart of a billion-year old war, whose original purpose and meaning has been long forgotten ... "

So there you go, and hope that satisfies your curiousity Neal (yeah, wonder how the above would sound with one of those growly voices you get over Hollywood trailers)- I'd have stuck it up on the Tor UK forums there, but i'm still more of a wannabe media whore than the full blown variety yet.

Trust me though, I'll get there. I'll get there.

So I told people I was going to take a break from writing (yeah, right) but instead I'm keeping myself partly busy at least thinking about what to do with the second nov (sitting around staring at the pretty flowers) and trying to think of ways to direct the plot in the next draft. Do I go for a major overhaul of the way the plot is laid out (alternate chapters set in past and present) or opt for something gentler? Probably something gentler - that makes the change between 'past' and 'present' seem less abrupt. One or two characters will get combined into one. One or two characters will remain roughly the same in their motivation, while undergoing entire history and motivation overhauls. I suspect the hero will be a good bit darker, really screwed up - if my writing is up for it.

I think I'm looking at at least two (no more than three) major drafts, with one or two mini-drafts floating around in there somewhere.


I just stumbled across a piece of news on the Locus website saying that Earthlight, a fairly prestigious imprint owned by Simon and Schuster in the UK, is to close down. I followed a link for more details on the website Publisher's News, but it led nowhere. I wonder what happens now? There's another local author called Mike Cobley who has a three book deal with Earthlight, two of which are actually out. Does this mean a new imprint, or Mike and the rest will be absorbed into the general body of fiction put out by s and s, or something more ominous?

What I do know is that John Jarrold used to be the editor at Earthlight. While he was there, he bought Mike's books. He was also later involved in the buying process for Angel Stations and Against Gravity (While I was writing this sentence, I got a phone call from Mike who'd just received an email from me asking what he knew. It turns out he knew nothing about it).

This doesn't affect me - my deal is with Tor UK, a sf imprint with a company (Pan) that previously had no sf imprint - a testament to the success of Peter Lavery's writers (cross your fingers and hope he wasn't wrong about me). I won't speculate on the political and economic motives for the closure, but what little I do know about the nefarious in and outs of the publishing industry does tell me that frequently imprints and authors get dropped not because they're not making money, not even because they're making lots of money, but because they're not making buckets of money. Or at least that's what it seems like to me at times, browsing endless tables of pastel blue books with yellow lettering by women whose first name always seems to be 'Jenny' (Nowadays they call it chick-lit, but in the olden days they called it 'romance').


I was very interested to stumble across a piece of cut and paste javascript that apparently allows you to insert regularly updated news headlines and links from sf crowsnest, one of the oldest sf news sites around, into your web page. Naturally I thought I'd see if I could get this into a blog column, and it worked just fine. So from now on you'll find said links if you just scroll down the page a little bit. Neat.

Neal Asher just pointed out not to worry too much about our editor's 'savage pencil' technique, which is good, because now I can stop having those dreams where, bizarrely enough, I actually found myself line-editing my manuscript in my sleep. Not sleepwalking, mind ... I've just about got the damn thing memorised in its entirety as it is ...


With all the tender, hanky-waving emotion of Dr Frankenstein bludgeoning his creation to death while screaming 'die, monster, die!' I finally forced myself to email off the revised, edited draft of Angel Stations to my editor this evening. I was trying to explain to someone the other night why I was still holding back, and the best way I could explain it was by referring to the old tale of the thief who breaks into a house and, convinced he hasn't erased all his fingerprints, is still shining every surface in the house when the police turn up the next morning to arrest him. I keep going over the manuscript, thinking '... there must be something I've missed in here ... something!'

The novel was planned out to a certain degree, but with this particular work I let myself drift from the original notes somewhat and, possibly because I was too busy sitting straggly-haired in an armchair with a laptop, rocking backwards and forwards while making vaguely psychotic whining noises, I neglected to thoroughly update the outline to match the changed text. As a result, an early scan of the text revealed one or two huge clunkers which ended up being entirely deleted. To whit: two scenes perhaps forty pages apart in which exactly the same thing happens. One of them was in no way in the service of the story, so out it went. Flensed.

Other minor errors also occurred to me on yet further scans, and these were also corrected, nonetheless leading to the paranoid fear that somewhere in there, I'd missed something. However, it's off to the publishers now. Whether further revisions may yet occur remains to be seen: but for the moment, goodbye, fare thee well and good riddance ...


The series on the history of the novel I mentioned in the last blog turned out to be fascinating. I don't think it's at all going to be oriented towards genre, but that's fine, as they're doing a good job looking at the way fiction evolved into its current form over the past few centuries. The programme begins with Defoe writing a satirical tract called 'The Shortest Way with Dissenters' in the voice of a fictional clergyman ... except the authorities decided people wouldn't realise the clergyman wasn't real, and locked him in stocks. Supposedly, this is one of the beginning points for the use of a fictional narrator's voice (Of course, plays were written in this way prior to Defoe, but until this period in history, the idea of having more than one book - ie the Bible - was still pretty new).

There's a nice article in Wired about the possibilities for technological invisibility cloaks ... it mentions a really nice trick that simply never occured to me. Stick a webcam on your back, plug it into your laptop, hold the laptop screen out from your chest, and you can be seen through. If I had a webcam, maybe I'd give it a shot.

But the article also made me wonder about an idea ... say you had a t-shirt, embedded with tens of thousands of tiny, tiny camera lenses wired into a chip somewhere, all linked in. Programmed so that one side - perhaps the back - projected an image of what was behind the wearer onto the front side of the shirt? Just a thought. Or maybe they'd be illegal, since it might make breaking and entering a lot easier?

Workshopped my second book Against Gravity last night, which left me thinking about the next draft. I can never get the shape of a book into my head until other people read it and tell me what they read. I suspect two or three characters may be consolidated into one.


Apparently Channel Four will be running a four-part series on the history of the novel from this Saturday on, which should be interesting. Unsurprisingly, and perhaps inevitably, the website associated with the series doesn't seem to hint at any sf-nal presence, although not having actually seen the series yet I could, of course, be very wrong. Wells is in there, however; and even Alisdair Gray. William Burroughs floated across the screen during the trailer as well. At the very least, it'll be interesting if they 'dirty' themselves by touching on the general pre-war boom in cheap paperbacks and magazines with novel reprints.

For some reason, this reminds me of a recent conversation. I met someone 'in the know' for a quick chat in a coffee shop about house prices, mortgages etc. I mentioned I'd got a book contract and he perked up.

"Oh, very good," he said. "What kind of thing is it?"

"Science fiction," I said.

Long, blank stare. Several seconds passed during which he said nothing. He reached down, picked up his coffee, stared out the window at the street beyond while sipping it. He looked either embarrassed or angry. I couldn't quite figure out which.

"Anyway," he said, and changed the subject.


I feel somehow duty-bound to record certain details of a party that took place recently amongst certain of my acquaintances; most specifically, an annual bash at which two members of the writer's circle - craig and phil - due to the narrow period between their birthdays, have for some considerable time held joint birthday parties.

It should be said that these are frequently fancy-dress parties, and just so you know, I dressed up as me. Which is what I wear every year. I hate fancy dress. I hate wearing suits. I hate wearing anything I don't want to wear, whether it's a suit, a kilt or a bugs bunny costume. Nothing will ever entice me, ever, to venture into a masquerade at a science fiction convention, nor to witness such an event without rolling into a ball on the floor and alternately howling pitifully and tearing clumps of hair out from my scalp.

Which all brings me to my conversation with Dr Evil.

Dr Evil accompanied a poetess from Edinburgh called Jane - I can't recall Evil's real name - and at one point, when questioned about my blossoming career as a professional author, I discoursed in some fashion about my plans for RWK, various details of which I have discussed in some form or another at other points in this blog. Primarily I spoke with Jane, and about my idea that virtual communities currently represented by games such as Everquest might, in the future, evolve into such powerful entities as to have considerable influence upon the politics of the real world.

Throughout all this, Dr Evil stood, drink in hand, nodding decisively as I touched on various issues. I was pleased to find out the reason he was nodding was that he's the author of a phd thesis on ... virtual communities. And he thought it was a good idea.

So I've got not only a good idea, but an idea that gets phd approval. Nice one.

Now all I need is a good story to go with the good idea ...


Finished the edits on Angel Stations yesterday morning still bleary from staying out late the night before; another marathon session in front of an increasingly geriatric laptop which I keep having to squint at, interspersed with bouts of tapping at the screen until it snaps back to being more readable.

It is a very old laptop, and not long for this world, I fear. I celebrated the end of the edits by listening to Henry Rollins spoken-word performances on earphones late into Sunday night, which caused sufficient cackling, gurgling and sniggering to elicit semi-comatose glares from Mandy.

I am being queried by Mr Asher - and hello Neal, if you're reading this - over in the author's forum at www.toruk.com, in the 'welcome to tor' section under Neal's name. So you may find me engaged in dialogue there.
I've come to that pleasant moment when I can say the edits on Stations are finished. I'll be workshopping the other book, Against Gravity, at the writer's circle next week, which should be interesting. In the meantime, I can relax


Mike Cobley makes some points in his shadowjournal blog about this year's Edinburgh Book Festival, which appears to have a particular dearth of genre fiction in it this year. It does seem a shame that the festival lacks scope in relation to types of writing outside of quite narrow parameters - particularly considering that these days Edinburgh is home to writers like Iain Banks, Ken Macleod and Charles Stross, none of whom are exactly lacking in profile these days.

To a great degree, the Scottish Arts Council's remit is to particularly support forms of writing which promote and help preserve Scottish culture, a fine aim in itself, but a remit which I suspect may be insufficiently clear in its definition of 'culture'. Harsher critics might be led to accuse such a remit of being a device for weeding out authors straying from what might be called 'haggis and heather' style of literature.

I should say I don't particularly see things this way myself; primarily I think it's a problem of communication. Mind you, I worked briefly in a very large Glasgow bookshop several years ago where one manager in particular was particularly prone to loudly declaiming science fiction as unfit even for children, particularly - or so it seemed to me - when I was in the vicinity. Precisely what advantage this gave the speaker still escapes me, although upon her own departure I did gather she was bound for Edinburgh to work as an organiser for the Book Festival ...

Since I wrote that last line there, Mike actually rung me up. Now he's threatening to organise a pavement protest outside the Festival if they refuse to have at least one genre-oriented event. Well, that remains to be seen, but just remember - Down With This Sort of Thing, eh?


An epic editing session got me to within twenty pages of the Angel Stations manuscript this afternoon. It should be done by Sunday sometime, after which I'll still have to read through the whole manuscript again with considerable attention to detail. I'd already warned my editor I felt the last section of the book needed the most editing, and as expected I've doen my own pruning and re-shaping as well as my editor's own suggestions. It's been an interesting experience altogether, albeit an extremely exhausting and laborious one.

Going over the whole manuscript to do the final tweaking shouldn't take too long, but I'll still need to do it soon, since I want to get into the second novel which is being workshopped with my writer's group in several days time. However, I've decided I need some kind of a break, so once I feel reasonably happy with Stations, I'll relax a bit for a week or two - or until I get bored and crank up the laptop.

I got a nice welcoming message from Neal Asher, one of the other writers contracted to Tor UK. I wonder how he found the blog? Random google search perhaps, or are more people reading this? Perhaps I should start asking people. I do get a certain number of hits per day, but its hard to tell just where they're coming from and who they are. Primarily other science fiction writers, I greatly suspect; the evidence so far certainly seems to suggest so. Well, that's ok, because I read all their blogs too.


The slog through the edits on Angel Stations is becoming harder now that I'm onto the last quarter of the manuscript, mainly because this is the section of the book which I had least opportunity to revise before the book deal appeared and knocked me all for six. Now I'm not only carrying out the suggested edits, I'm also reorganising the text to make more sense overall - including switching whole chapters around to make more chronological sense. I'm still hoping to finish this within the next fortnight, since the other book, Against Gravity, is getting workshopped at the writer's circle in two week's time, and it would be nice to get Stations out of the way for now so I can concentrate on that.

Meanwhile, out there in the real world, I found something very alarming on the BBC news site, about the American Government exporting anti-abortion laws to other countries by threatening to withdraw vital aid from those who refuse to co-operate. From the article;

"The anti-abortion movement is growing stronger under Bush. (He has) reinstated an old policy from the Reagan days (that) the United States will not allow its overseas aid money to be used to fund groups that carry out or provide any kind of advice or information about abortion.
"Hundreds of women's health organisations in the poorest nations of the world - places where maternal mortality and infant death are high - faced a tough choice. Either sign the gag rule and be silenced on abortion, or refuse and lose millions of dollars in US aid.
"Most refused to sign. As a result, thousands of family planning clinics across the developing world have closed their doors, making access to vital contraceptives hard to come by."

Apparently, abortion is already illegal in Ethiopia where half of all female fatalities are due to botched back-street abortions. Clinics that give the pill free to countless women in underprivileged societies are shutting down because they can no longer afford to operate ... because their funding has been withdrawn.

And further:
"In the region of Nazareth in Ethiopia's highland plains, Amare Badada of the Ethiopian Family Guidance Association lists rape, forced marriage and genital mutilation as part of daily life for women.
"'These women will always find a way to abort somehow," he said. "If they are forced to give birth they throw the children into latrines or abandon them for the hyenas to eat them.' Mr Badada refused to sign the gag rule, and has since watched his organisation's family planning clinics close down one after the other. In the region of Nazareth, there were 54 clinics last year. Next year there will be just 10."

Remember that line: many of these pregnancies are due to rape and forced marriage. There are still many, many countries where a woman's status as a human being is barely recognised, if at all. These are not women choosing to have babies. Others become prostitutes because it's a choice between that or starving to death. The social and physical result is devastating; that anyone could have doubts about the efficacy and rightness of free access to abortion continues to appall me. It seems to me a basic human right that a woman should have control over her body. Not only do these women not have control over their own basic biological functions, legislators from other countries who have never known hunger, or real fear, who are not forced to hide their faces when they go out in public, appear to be in a position of sufficient power as to degrade the quality of their life even further.

One can only wonder if it would be the same if those affected were men. One more jaw-dropping morsel: apparently Bush promised to spend at least fifteen billion dollars in the fight against Aids. What isn't so well known, apparently, is that a third of this money goes to faith-based, abstinence-oriented organisations.

All around the world, the lives of women who are not in any position to be able to stand up for themselves are being treated with the cursory disdain of a Roman emperor.


I've set myself a schedule of editing fifteen pages of Angel Stations a day. At the moment work at the printing business is wrapping sometime between two and three in the afternoon. I come home, eat and chill for an hour/hour and a half until my motor's running again, rip through ten or so pages on the laptop over about an hour, then go cycling on my new Ridgeback for anywhere between an hour and two hours. Come home, watch some telly, do another five pages.

I could actually probably do more on the book front, but I'm working myself into the ground in some ways. At fifteen pages a day, I'll have the edits finished in just under a fortnight - not next Thursday, but the Thursday after that, or just before. I may do more, but only if it gets a little quieter at my other job.

I'd forgotten how much I love cycling. Today I cycled down to an area called Govanhill, which is generally run down in some parts - though when some people say 'run down', they really mean 'full of people I don't want to live next door to'. meaning people who aren't white. Fortunately all of the people I know socially are rather more enlightened than this; when I hear people say such things, they tend to be a good bit older - say, the age-range of my parents.

But there are some who express such unpleasant views. This makes me uncomfortable. The part of Govanhill which is primarily populated by Indians and Pakistanis is a very colourful ... vibrant kind of area. It feels very busy, very alive. More so than many other parts of Glasgow, which feel sterile and empty by comparison. I liked it. For a few years I attended an immensely multi-cultural primary school near to Govanhill, populated by all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds. It was great. Previously my folks had sent me to an expensive, fee-based school from a very early age, but they ran out of money and I had to attend a state school. Shock horror, eh? I'm not sure if there even were any coloured kids at that school. Maybe one, or two, literally.

I was in the area partly because it was somewhere to go on the bike, partly because I've considered house-buying in the area of Queen's Park, which is adjacent to Govanhill. At the moment, I'm actually a little more inclined towards Ibrox, where one of the football stadiums is, because I realised I can cycle across the river and get there in not much more than ten minutes from where I currently am, and once the new roadbridge is built down that way (the BBC are apparently moving there) it'll be even closer to the extremely popular (and therefore incredibly expensive) West End.
Watching the news this morning, I discovered that a breakthrough in research has led scientists to identify the taste of peanuts with the same chemicals that kill a couple of dozen people with nut allergies every year - apparently the taste is the result of chemicals generated during the roasting process. Further, the chemicals produced are the result of 'the peanut's response to extreme trauma'. Take away the roasting process, however, and you lose all the delicious yummy flavour.

'Extreme trauma'. In other words, peanuts taste like peanuts because they get scared during the roasting process.

So if peanuts taste the way they do because we roast 'em before we eat 'em, does that mean when Cthulhu, dark overlord of the abyss beyond time consumes a mortal soul, we taste like peanut?


On the other hand ....

Chris Lawson in his Frankenblog tells an interesting story about food riots in Africa last year after - apparently - Green pressure groups tried to prevent gm food being given to people who were in desperate need of it. According to Lawson, "In the midst of a calamitous drought, the Zambian government took advisement from green-left NGOs and decided to ban 12,000 tonnes of GM maize. This sparked an uprising and villagers looted 500 bags of GM maize from the storage depot.
The police were called in, and at the end of their investigation nine people were arrested and nearly half of the food had been forcibly recovered from starving villagers and put back in the storage depot."

Which brings to mind the whole problem of just how much you can trust your sources of information, but Lawson mentions that anyway. Which is one of the problems with even so much as dipping an interested toe into political issues; whatever view you hear from any side is unlikely to be impartial and balanced, will always serve - unsurprisingly - the political stance of the person to whom you are speaking. I don't know Lawson's political views; if he turned out to be say, distinctly right-wing, would that mean that I, someone who describes themselves as a believer in democratic socialism and a strong welfare state, could no longer trust his views?

On the other hand, I'll be interested to see what happens in the case of the 'dodgy dossier', which was used to help justify the British involvement in the war on Iraq, which later turned out to have been plagiarised from someone's phd ... Jack Straw, looking incredibly uneasy during the televised enquiry, passed the buck onto Alistair Campbell, head of Blair's press department, with all the eagerness of a schoolkid standing in front of the blazing ruins of his school with a box of matches in one hand and pointing at his mate next to him and saying 'it was him, sir'.


I had an interesting conversation Friday night with a chap who turned out to be a Member of the Scottish Parliament for the Green Party. I have a curious love/hate relationship with the Greens. Prior to the mid-nineties, I might have described myself as fairly green. I'd voted for them once or twice. Then I started working at a place called the Glasgow Environment Centre, designing their newspaper and flyers and so forth on a part-time basis. That's when I stopped thinking of myself as a Green. Now, some of the people that came in there were seriously hardcore - people who lived in trees, literally; particularly people who lived on-site at a local park (Pollok) which had been granted generations before to the people of Glasgow in perpetuity. They were protesting - quite rightly, along with many local residents who previously hadn't had a political thought in their life - against the building of an enormous motorway right through the heart of this enormous swathe of natural woodland preserved along with surrounding parkland in the heart of the city.


As I got to know some of these people better, I found strains of thought amongst them which I found at times incredible. While by no means suggesting that they were in any way genuinely representative of the majority of people who either worked for or supported the Green Party, it was pretty clear to me that at least several of them weren't too wild about having to deal with things like, say, democratic process, in order to achieve their aims. Most worrying was when one or two previously apparently quite rational Green activists suggested that one solution to the problem of the deforestation by people living in South America was to go there and kill as many of them as necessary until they stopped.

A little bit of background; the Environment Centre was explicitly a local government funded scheme with a heavy bias to employing people who hadn't worked in a while. When I started there, I'd been unemployed and miserable for a year. I still suffered bouts of extreme illness which meant I sometimes turned up at the office, then turned around and went back home. The illness is eczema, by the way. I've had it chronically since I was a baby, but have it much more under control these days. The Environment Centre was for me an enormously good thing, as I had a solid experience of working in an office-y environment (mind you, no suits; combats, t-shirts and bicycles were positively de rigeur.) I've barely been out of employment since my year there, and I still feel gratitude for the experience.

However, because it was funded by the government, and one of its primary functions was to produce a monthly newsletter for the people of Glasgow about environmental issues, they basically couldn't say anything which might contradict the local government's own stated policies, since this might well lead to the severing of funds to keep the place running. Hamstrung and tied, basically. Unfortunately, most of the heavily Green workers there had other ideas; to them, the local council was the enemy; the local council was responsible for the new Pollok road-building. Because of this, the editor of the newsletter continually produced copy which the controlling body of the Centre simply would not accept. Because of that, the monthly newsletter was functionally bi-annual while I was there, producing precisely two issues during my time.

I found I had a great deal of spare time on my hands.

Now, the people hired to work at the Environment Centre had a point. Clearly, part of the Centre's raison d'etre was so the local council could point at it and say how much they were helping generate environmental awareness for the city. The people producing the newsletter and their co-workers would rightly say their hands were tied, as to address any environmental issues meant addressing the blatant faults of the local council, and on and on, round and round in a circle.

So why do I not feel as much sympathy for my fellow co-workers at the Centre as I might?

Put it this way. One article I had to typeset, written by the editor, concerned his suggestions for improving the environment vis-a-vis cars and congestion. His suggestion - and I swear, he wasn't taking the piss - was to remove cars entirely from the whole city, and force everyone - and I mean everyone - to ride around on horseback. He further suggested stables for these horses, placed conveniently close to football stadiums.

Can you imagine sixty thousand people descending on Hampden or somewhere for an Old Firm match on horseback? Just exactly how much horseshit would that generate? And it's not like you can just park the things. And what about feeding them? How in the name of whatever do you get all that feed into the city?

Hmm, maybe .... by trucking it in??

It was about this point that I began to detect a certain contempt for other people not just on the part of this particular individual, but of many who passed through the Centre. Again, not a contempt shared by the majority, but enough so - along with many other incidents too numerous to mention - that made me reconsider describing myself as a Green.

So anyway, it was nice to have a civilised, reasonable conversation with a member of the Green Party and think that yes, David Icke really was an aberration. The conversation centred around GM foods. Now, I've got to tell you, as a science fiction writer, I'm fascinated by the whole idea. After all, we've been genetically modifying crops and livestock for as long as civilisation has existed. GM provides a shortcut to the same end, but without taking generations of breeding and slowly gathered knowledge. I'm aware of certain arguments against gm; whether or not such genetically modified crops can be kept separate from natural crops.

Personally, I tend towards a degree of shoulder-shrugging on this. If it can happen, it will happen. I shook my head when politicians used to come on television and say ways had to be found to prevent human beings from ever being cloned. Whether or not it happens to be right to do so is one thing; whether it happens regardless is another. This is how the world changes beyond recognition for some people as they get older; how you wake up an old person one day, in a world you possibly have trouble recognising. The world changes, and what was unacceptable a few years ago suddenly becomes acceptable. Like live sex on Big Brother, or gay Bishops being elected in the Anglican Church, or many other signs of the time now and throughtout history; things that some people simply can't tolerate because their world view won't allow them to. The same, I suspect, will happen with subjects like human cloning and the control of gm food. It might not be the best future by any means, but it'll still be the one our grandchildren will wake up in.

But one thing the guy said really stuck with me. It was something that simply hadn't occured to me at all: gm crops and their relationship to globalisation. He pointed me to a couple of websites which, he told me, threw an interesting light on precisely who benefits from the development of genetically modified crops.

Let me tell you, what I found scares the crap out of me. This following is from an article by George Monbiot, first published in The Guardian: follow the Monbiot link here to read it in full.

A brief excerpt: "The principal issue, perpetually and deliberately ignored by government, many scientists, most of the media and, needless to say, the questionnaire being used to test public opinion, is the corporate takeover of the foodchain. By patenting transferred genes and the technology associated with them, then buying up the competing seed merchants and seed breeding centres, the biotech companies can exert control over the crops at every stage of production and sale. Farmers are reduced to their sub-contracted agents. This has devastating implications for food security in the poor world: food is removed from local marketing networks, and therefore the mouths of local people, and gravitates instead towards sources of hard currency. This problem is compounded by the fact that (and this is another perpetually neglected issue) most of the acreage of GM crops is devoted to producing not food for humans, but feed for animals."

Make of that what you will, but again it brings up another, more general argument. We live in a modern civilised world entirely because of science and rational discourse. But to what degree do we have control over the research process? The money comes from those who can finance it, and that's almost always big business or governments, usually the two tied in together. It would be about this point that many of the Greens I met previously would suggest that science was responsible for what was wrong with our world, but I know you all out there reading this know better than that.