It’s that season again, and we’re having awards arguments 101 for the umpteenth year in a row. Nothing changes. I am tired of the same old same old, because nothing has moved forward one iota in all the time we’ve been having these debates. I thought about a magisterial silence, but that doesn’t really work. So I thought in the end that I would write a post to round up my discontents, so that in years to come I could simply point back to this post as my contribution to each new iteration of awards arguments 101. I am, therefore, writing this as a way of staying silent on the subject. Continue reading
Advertising does not do what most people think it does. It does not sell. What advertising does is create the circumstances, the atmosphere, in which selling might be done. The best that advertising can do is make people feel well disposed towards X, and perhaps think that X might be just what they need. Most people, including most clients of advertising agencies, do not understand this. There are, I suspect, people who work in advertising who do not understand this. Which is probably why so much advertising is bad.
The best illustration I have seen of this, the best demonstration of what advertising is about, is the film No (Pablo Larrain, 2012). Continue reading
The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt is an excellent book. It offers an engaging narrative about how Poggio Bracciolini rediscovered De rerum natura by Lucretius in a German monastery in the winter of 1417, and how the Epicurean ideas espoused in that poem then disseminated among European humanists. These ideas provided a direct challenge to the philosophical hegemony of the Catholic church just at a point when the church was starting to come under threat on both the theological and the political front. (The reason Poggio was free to hunt for old manuscripts was that he was a papal secretary, and his master, who was one of three rival claimants to the throne of St Peter at that point, had just been forced to resign and was now imprisoned. This political disarray within the papacy allowed Europe’s secular rulers increasingly to flex their muscles. Meanwhile, the theological rule of the church was being challenged by groups like the Hussites of Bohemia whose radical thinking would, within the century, feed into the Protestant Reformation.) Continue reading
[Note: the title means what it says. These are a few random thoughts that occurred to me while I was reading yesterday, because there seemed to be a congruence between what I was reading and thoughts about science fiction that have been troubling me for some time. I have not attempted to turn this into a coherent essay, nor do I know whether I will try to do so in future.]
I have been troubled for some time by science fictions that involve god as an active participant in the events of the story. This occurs in books as varied as Forever Free by Joe Haldeman and Mainspring by Jay Lake. In this, I am making no complaint about the appearance of religion in a science fiction novel, since religion is part of the experience of being human. But the idea that a god, a supernatural being, might play a direct and practical role in human affairs seems to me to run counter to something intrinsic in science fiction.
I have the same troubled feeling when I encounter stories that feature a timeless war between the forces of good and evil. It feels out of place in something that presents itself as science fiction.
And yet I have never been able to put my finger on precisely what it is that makes me uneasy about this. Continue reading
Artemis Cooper’s superb biography of Patrick Leigh Fermor begins with an extraordinary evocation of his childhood.
The local children taught him how to run his hand up the dried stems of wild sorrel, and feel his palm swell with the kibbled seeds that he threw to the wind. They scrambled into half-used ricks and jumped; it was prickly but soft, so you sank into the sweet-smelling hay. They helped him clamber into the saddles of old apple trees, but soon he would be able to hoist himself into tall trees like the bigger boys. Then he would climb into the topmost branches, invisible, hidden by leaves, and no one would be able to find him. For now he hid in sheds and barns, and sometimes behind the big double doors leading into the yard of the Wheatsheaf, and people shouted, ‘Paddy-Mike, where are you?’ while he hugged himself because no one could see him, and no one knew where he was.
It was the last summer of the Great War. Patrick Leigh Fermor was not quite four years old and living with family friends in rural Northamptonshire. By the summer of 1919, before he was five, his mother would have returned from India and taken him to live in London. He would never return to that rural idyll. Continue reading
This last year I deliberately cut back on the amount of reviewing I was doing, because 2011 was just mad. The reduction in reviewing also seems to have had the knock-on effect of cutting down the amount I read. Just over 70 books this year, which was a comfortable amount. As ever, I have put in bold the ones I really rate. Continue reading
When I wrote the first part of What Rough Beast, I wasn’t altogether sure that a second part would follow. True, the more topics I touched upon the more that seemed to demand my attention, and I certainly hadn’t covered everything I wanted to write about. But at the same time, I assumed interest in the debate would recede, or at least move on, and I didn’t want to flog a dead horse. Moreover, the first part had proven quite time-consuming to write, and I did have other things to do; it seemed perfectly possible that I simply wouldn’t have the chance to write part two.
But then, people like Christopher Priest started asking when the second part would appear. And the ripples from my original essay never quite seem to have gone away.
I have tended to ignore responses of the ‘reviewer heal thyself’ variety (there were quite a lot of them), if only because anything that starts with the assumption that the problem lies entirely in my perception of science fiction doesn’t actually leave any way that I, at least, can take forward the discussion. Nevertheless, there continue to be interesting pieces that pick up on or reference the exhaustion debate. These are just some of those I’ve noticed since the first part of What Rough Beast: Continue reading