Friday, September 18, 2009

Gardens Of The Sun, Part Three, Chapter Two(i)

Loc Ifrahim was up in the junkyard station, in orbit around Dione, when news of the death of the president of Greater Brazil splashed across the TPA net. It was a shock, but not unexpected. The woman had been almost two centuries old, and in her dotage. And she’d never recovered from the death of her husband. Still, she’d been a power, and now there was a vacuum, and various alliances in the great families would be manoeuvring to fill it as soon as possible after the state funeral. Loc began to calculate what it might mean for the TPA. What it might mean for him.


Thursday, September 17, 2009


Philip K Dick had a word for it: kipple. I think he may also have called it gubble at one point but he definitely called it kipple in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, and a couple of other books I would check, but my paperback copies of his books are behind a bunch of other paperbacks because my fiction paperback shelves, for A - M at least, are double-ranked. I have too many books. Well, you can’t have too many books of course. No, the problem is that I don’t have enough space for all the books I have bought (I just bought another today, David Foster Wallace’s A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again). I have many metres of bookshelves, but I also have a lot of books. I don’t have enough room for them all. I don’t even have enough room for all of my books. That is, complimentary copies of the books I wrote, and anthologies in which I have a short story, and other people’s books for which I wrote introductions. Mass-market paperbacks of six of my books were published in the UK this month, a trade paperback of one of those titles is about to be published in the US, and another title will be published in hardback and trade paperback in the UK at the beginning of next month. I have been sent multiple copies of all of them. Not to mention two copies of the Nightshade Best SF and Fantasy of the Year, because its editor Jonathan Strahan, was kind enough to include one of my stories. Not to mention the books by other people that I’ve bought this month (seven, so far). Really, I have to admit, I have too many books. I’ve been trying to firefight the problem by getting rid of some of them. You keep books because you like them, individually and collectively, and because you think, one day, you might want to read them again. But this month I’ve been going through my books weeding out ones that I positively, definitely am not going to read again, because I already have too many books I haven’t yet read. So far, I’ve made three trips to the local charity shop, and I’ve just found a few more books I can bear to part with today. It helps, a little. But the books - and CDs and DVDs, don’t get me started on those - keep coming.

Not to mention all the other stuff that we all accumulate, that over time loses usefulness and context and becomes kipple. Not garbage - wrappers and wet lettuce leaves and coffee grounds - but ancient electronic gadgets and kitchenware, broken toys, old shoes, lone socks. And so on, and so forth. Stuff we should throw out or sell on eBay or give away but can’t because it still wakens a little emotional throb when we find it after a year or ten. I’ve just thrown out a computer mouse. It sat in a box for three years, it didn’t really work very well and besides, I have two other perfectly good computer mice. But I used it to write four novels, and it took some effort to get rid of it. Ditto the two dozen Zip discs from the back of a desk drawer. I don’t even have a Zip drive any more. And all of the data on them is archived and backed up elsewhere. Why did I keep them?

At least I haven’t yet been driven to rent storage space. Before the recession bit, according to this excellent article, most rented storage space contained stuff people didn’t need, but couldn’t bear to throw away.
“There’s a lot of junk stored in our properties,” Ronald L. Havner Jr., Public Storage’s chief executive, told a symposium in New York in June. Walking through his company’s facilities around the country, he explained, “I’ve sometimes said that we could put a torch to this building and it would have zero effect on the local economy — because that’s how much junk is stored in our properties.”
But now, with in the US (and probably here, too, on a smaller scale), more and more people are renting storage spaces because they have lost their homes and need a space to park the stuff of their lives while they regroup, or are being rented by endangered businesses, for the same reason.
By shaking up the composition of renters, and their reasons for renting, the recession could be quietly tilting the character of American storage closer to what it was originally: a pragmatic solution to a sudden loss of space, rather than a convenient way of dealing with, or putting off dealing with, an excess of stuff.
Puts my own little problem in stark perspective. Anyway, before I go down the storage space route, I should really get around to building some shelves in my loft...

Eight Easy Pieces

The latest issue of New Scientist includes a fine essay on British science fiction by Kim Stanley Robinson and eight slivers of flash fiction by Stephen Baxter, Nicola Griffith, Ken Macleod, Ian McDonald, Justina Robson, Geoff Ryman, Ian Watson and, er, me. Best of all, you can read all of it here, for free. Oh, and there's a competition, too.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Mars Now!

While gloom increases about the new NASA budget, widely feared to be too low to fund plans to a return of astronauts to the Moon by 2020, there's been some bullish noises about reconfiguring plans to send manned missions to Mars.

First, there's been a revival of Fred Singer's 'Ph-D project', which suggested establishing a forward base on one of Mars's two tiny moons, Phobos and Deimos, before landing astronauts on the planet. It would be economic in terms of fuel, would provide a platform that would allow astronauts to control rovers on the surface of the planet in real time, and would enhance our knowledge of small bodies. The possibility that the moons may harbour ice deposits and could have collected material blasted off Mars by large impacts are enticing bonuses. And Russia's Fobos-Grunt mission, which plans to study Phobos in detail and land on its surface a probe that will return a soil sample to Earth, could pave the way for manned missions. (We'd better make up our minds relatively quickly; the orbits of both Phobos and Deimos and decaying, and in only ten million years the moons will enter the atmosphere and break up and bombard with surface of Mars with debris.)

Second, Paul Davies has an even more radical suggestion to cut costs: send explorers to Mars on a one-way ticket, and begin colonisation of the planet without any prelimary and expensive round-trip manned missions. Supplies could be sent ahead in robot landers; costs would be slashed by 80%; there is, he claims, 'no shortage of eager scientists, young and old, who say they would accept a one-way ticket'. Anyone who's read Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars will feel a definite tingle of recognition; although the pioneers in Robinson's novel were preceeded by manned expeditions rather than a horde of versatile robot explorers, the ethos is the same. As, no doubt, would be the human complications. It's hard to believe that Davies and his supports will overcome NASA's cumbersome caution (although maybe the Chinese would be more receptive), but I thought this raison d'etre very fine:
'A worldwide project to create a second home for humankind elsewhere in the solar system would be the greatest adventure our species has embarked upon since walking out of Africa 100,000 years ago, and provide a unifying influence unparalleled in history.'
And after Mars, why not the moons of Jupiter and Saturn?

Xposted to Pyr-o-mania.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Look For America

A hard rain is currently falling over London, like a Wagnerian prelude to autumn. 'As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus etc etc.' I'm posting this because it cheered me up on this dreary day:

David Bowie's version of Simon & Garfunkel's America, a perennial in my Top Ten favourite songs, from the Concert For New York City late in September 2001. Love the Kurt Weill vibe. (I think I've already mentioned, somewhere or other here, that Cowboy Angels' original title was Look For America, but hell, I'll mention it again.) (Thanks to Jack Womack for the link.)

Upcoming: I'll be appearing, along with Jaine Fenne, Tom Hunter, Paul Raven, and Alastair Reynolds at Sci-Fi London's Oktoberfest, on a panel about whether it's worthwhile, these days, writing about space travel. At, get this, the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, on October 23rd. And I'll also be part of a group signing at Forbidden Planet, Shaftesbury Avenue, London, on Saturday November 14th, 12.30 - 2pm. Other victims include David Devereux, Adam Roberts, Justina Robson, and Chris Wooding.

Currently reading: Bldgblog Book: Architectural Conjecture, Urban Speculation, Landscape Futures. Currently listening to: 'We Used To Think The Freeway Sounded Like A River', Richmond Fontaine.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Gardens Of The Sun, Part Three, Chapter One

‘What you still haven’t learned after all this time,’ Frankie Fuente told Cash Baker, ‘is how to relax.’

‘I’m pretty relaxed right now,’ Cash said. ‘Maybe you should take a picture to remind yourself what it looks like.'

‘What you are right now is the exact opposite of relaxed. You’re wired so tight I could nail your head to one end of a plank and your feet to the other and play a tune on you. And you know what? You’re like that all the time.’

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