Saturday, July 22, 2006

The Butterflies of Memory

Just received my copies of Ian Watson’s terrific short-story collection, The Butterflies of Memory.

My introduction begins like this:

If you’re of the opinion that science fiction is above all else a literature of ideas, then Ian Watson is your man, and this collection, which contains more than enough ideas to set up a couple of lesser writers for life is very definitely your cup of meat. Of course, ideas aren’t everything. For one thing, apart from a few incredibly rare once-in-a lifetime, fifty-carat, career-defining originals, ideas are as cheap and ubiquitous as advertising. Ideas, good or bad, are the human animal’s speciality. Day in, day out, we see clouds and think them very like whales. We put together two and two and make five. And even if you do have an idea that’s both brilliant and original, in the end it’s what you do with it that counts, and that’s where qualities like hard work, talent, and that indefinable but instantly recognisable quality, voice, come into play.

Ian Watson knows all about this, of course. Check out ‘How to be a Fictionaut’, which not only has a lot of fun with the myth of ideas and originality, but also pushes the notion of the anxiety of influence about as far as it will go.

This isn’t to say that the ideas on display here aren’t witty, outrageous, daft, unsettling and plainly fantastic, because quite frankly that’s exactly what they are. But more importantly, they have also been woven into stories by a writer who not only possesses a restless and capacious imagination, but also knows exactly what to do with his ideas, and has an enviable talent for stretching them in unexpected ways, testing them to destruction, or using them to smash open accepted notions about the way the world works.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

I Don't Just Make It All Up, You Know

In her New Scientist cover story about hypervelocity stars, Maggie McKee reveals where I got one of my ideas for Eternal Light. (You have to be a subscriber to view the article. Or you buy a copy of the magazine.)

Superman Redux

So I didn’t get around to reviewing Superman Returns, but Roz Kaveney did, generating much comment.

Monday, July 17, 2006

English Summertime

Out to a favourite pub for Sunday lunch, and then a slow walk back home, along the towpath of the Regent’s Canal. I used to walk along the canal regularly when I lived nearby, and in my ten years in London, I’ve seen its dilapilated Victorian brick factory and warehouse buildings be replaced by smart but mostly soulless apartment buildings right on the water. One of these, the Gainsborough Buildings, on the site on what was once a film studio (where Alfred Hitchcock worked, before he left for Hollywood), made an appearance at the beginning of Whole Wide World. It had not yet been built when I began the novel; now, it is a small, exclusive city-state in the badlands of Hackney - ordinary citizens can’t even walk or drive past them, because the council has obligingly blocked off the road. There are many more blocks like this along the canal, now, and more to come. The neglected and overgrown dereliction of the old buildings gave the feeling of how London might be if it had been abandoned to nature; a long, narrow mixture of wilderness and industrial heritage running through North London and the East End. Now, it’s more like a tawdry imitation of the sets of Blade Runner, with badly designed yuppie hutches elbowing each other for a stretch of coveted waterside real estate. A taste of things to come, as the marshlands and playing fields along the River Lea disappear under the Olympic developments.

But if you could ignore the serried windows of the apartment blocks, there are still barges puttering along the canal and houseboats moored up alongside the towpath; and the hot sun beat gold highlights from the water, the weeds were all in ragged bloom, and the hot dust of the towpath was as silky as talcum powder underfoot: summertime, in England.
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