Thursday, May 28, 2009

I Squeak Therefore I Am

Sticking the human FOXP2 gene in mice is a good start - next, chimpanzees?

Human Footprints

'Inspired by our 10th anniversary, the Earth Observatory has pulled together a special series of NASA satellite images documenting how our world has changed during the previous decade.'

Watch Dubai grow in Sim City style. See the Arul Sea dry up. Watch the late-summer extent of Arctic sea ice shrink.

Some of thing we can do may be big, but they aren't clever.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

My Dark Angel

The best way to build a career in genre fiction is to find a groove and stick with it. Write an open-ended series about a jazz/blues/reggae-loving detective with a permanent life crisis. Write a ten volume fantasy trilogy. And then do it again. Write a series of novels and stories set in a future history. The last is how I started out, but after a bunch of short stories and three novels (400 Billion Stars, Secret Harmonies, Eternal Light), I veered off into the left-field with the Chinese-Messiah-on-Mars chop-socky epic Red Dust. And I followed that up with Pasquale’s Angel, an alternate history novel set in Florence in the early sixteenth century, a couple of decades after Leonardo da Vinci kickstarted an Industrial Revolution.

I’d long had an ambition to write something about Leonardo da Vinci, if only because I was fascinated by his undisciplined genius, and more than half in love with the cloudy myths that obscured the realities of his life (if you want a bracing antidote to those myths, try Charles Nicholl’s Leonardo da Vinci: The Flights of the Mind, or Serge Bramly’s Leonardo: The Artist and the Man). He didn’t see any boundaries between arts and science, an attitude that was catnip to a novelist whose day job was a scientific research, and who’d had to make a choice between science and the arts at a tender age. That was the prevailing attitude of his age, of course, but Leonardo also seemed to be a man out of time, dreaming of technologies impossible to realise with contemporary materials and power sources. Any SF writer worth their salt must surely sympathise.

As it turned out, for much of the novel, Leonardo is a shadowy, mythic figure raised above and isolated from the world he’s created - you don’t need to be a critic to unriddle that metaphor. If there’s one consistent thread in my work, it’s identification with those caught up in plots that are larger than they ever understand: and so here, as our hero hooks up with consulting detective Niccolo Machiavegli, prowls the mean streets and tries to foil a filthy Spanish plot to bring down the government of his city state.

Did I also mention that it’s a noir novel?

I had a lot of fun writing it, and even more fun researching it. Luckily, one of the greatest living Leonardo scholars, Martin Kemp, was working in St Andrews University at the time, which meant that I had access to a couple of shelves of research material in the library. I never did dare to approach Professor Kemp about my funny little idea, though. And I’ve still never visited Florence. One day, one day . . . But it won’t be the same as the Florence of my mind, with its dark satanic mills, and acetylene-lit streets crowded with every kind of vaporetto.

I like the cover of the new paperback a lot. Although I also very much like the cover of the original hardback and paperback, in which Jim Burns captured Pasquale to the life; authors often dislike seeing renderings by others of their hero and heroine because they don’t match up with their internal pictures. In this case, Jim read my mind with perfect fidelity.

Uncommonly Good

It's a wet Wednesday here in Londontown, but this - William Shattner, Joe Jackson, and the Ben Folds Five covering Pulp's 'Common People' - cheered me up no end.

Monday, May 25, 2009

'Crimes And Glory'

Over the past month, Subterranean Press have been posting episodes of my novella 'Crimes and Glory' in their online magazine. The final episode's now up.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Upcoming Appearance

Cheltenham Science Festival, June 3rd

S27 Town Hall 6.30 – 7.30pm £7 (£6)
Most scientists and governments agree
that testing on animals should be avoided
wherever possible, and in the UK it is a legal
requirement. Could there be a time when
scientists might finally be able to give up
testing on animals altogether? Cell biologist
Kelly BéruBé, Catherine Gayle from the
Virtual Physiological Human project and
science fiction writer Paul McAuley join New
Scientist Editor Roger Highfield to explore
animal alternatives now and for the future.

In association with New Scientist
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