Saturday, April 29, 2006

A Real Big Robot

The guys who built this have clearly seen the Terminator movies...

Friday, April 28, 2006

That Was The Week That Was...

In which I finished a short story, wrote a very rough draft of another that I’m not going to call 'Big Space Robot', wrote an introduction to Alastair Reynolds’s short story collection, went to the Clarke Awards and cheered Geoff Ryman’s win for his very fine novel, Air, indulged in silliness with booksellers courtesy of one of my publishers and received two advance copies of the handsome paperback of Mind’s Eye from the other. Oh, and signed a contract for a Dutch edition of Mind’s Eye, and for a three book deal...

Not that I’m asking for indulgence for not having added anything here in the past few days, you understand.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Bears Find MacDonald's

This item in last week’s New Scientist about ‘evolution operating with a vengeance in the urban environment as animals struggle to adapt to novel conditions and cope with ‘evolutionary illusions’’ has been bugging me. It’s not just that it sometimes uses ‘evolution’ when it means ‘selection’ (selection is what operates on individuals, as in selection for an Olympics team; if it operates on enough individuals with enough consistency over enough time, so that those individuals with one genetically determined quality produce more offspring that other individuals of the same species, then evolution kicks in . . . but that doesn’t seem to be going on in the examples quoted). Or that at least one example, of sea turtles fatally mistaking city lights for the gleam of moon- or star light on the ocean, doesn’t have any evolutionary content; so far, we don’t have any evidence that those foolish turtles are evolving to live on land, although to be fair perhaps turtles that use other cues than light to navigate them towards the moon-dappled sea may survive more often, and thus the sea turtle species evolves). It’s also because it assumes that the urban environment is a novel niche, which it may not always be (squirrels occupy parks and gardens with trees - what’s novel about that?), and it doesn’t address the question of why some species live in cities and some don’t, perhaps because it raises the spectre of ‘preadaptation’, or colonisation of empty niches. After all, if you plant some trees in a city, don’t be surprised if species associated with trees turn up. And it makes no mention of the one species on which urban living may consistently operate at an evolutionary level: human beings.

On the other hand, the analyses of the effects of urban living on animal behaviour are fascinating, and the scientists quoted in the article are quite right to be excited: they seem to have found an empty research niche to colonise, and one which seems to be tremendously productive. Already, more than fifty per cent of human beings alive today live in cities, and cities are using up more and more of the countryside around them, not only as sites for buildings and roads, but also for industrialised agricultural production and leisure. In Britain, there are now very few areas which are in their original ‘natural’ state; almost all British fauna and flora have already adapted, and perhaps evolved, to cope with human intrusion, or are surviving in shrinking island niches.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Indulging a Meme

It’s my birthday today (‘Happy birthday to me, Happy Birthday to me,’ yadda yadda), so it’s the day to indulge the blog birthday meme.

Three cute things that happened on this day . . .
This is about as close as I can get to ‘cute’: today is World Book Day - I like the idea of a rose being given away with every book purchased. Also on this day: in 1896, motion pictures premiered at Koster and Bial’s Music Hall, New York; in 1838, Brunel’s steamship the Great Western docked in New York after a record-breaking voyage across the Atlantic.

Two birthdays . . .
J.M.W. Turner, and Shirley Temple Black (by coincidence, when she was a child, my mother was a fan of Shirley Temple, and I still have a promotional booklet celebrating the eighth birthday of the winsome moppet).

One death . . .
William Shakespeare (it was also his birthday).
Now if you’ll excuse me, there are candles to blow out on a cake.
Newer Posts Older Posts