Saturday, February 21, 2009

London Guerilla Knitting

Hello World

I look up from my screen and find that it’s spring out there in the world: buds swelling on the cherry tree outside my office window; vivid drifts of crocuses in the parks; people crowding the tables outside cafes. A lovely surprise as I surface from more or less finishing the editing and polishing of Gardens of the Sun. Close and concentrated work that involves cleaning up little glitches in plot and character, checking for consistency in style, making sure that sentences aren’t inside out and that they are properly stressed and that each and every one counts for something, cutting out words repeated too close to each other, and fighting the war against cliche, otherwise known as extinguishing flickering log fires. Unless used for (usually comic) effect, cliches are a sure sign of slack writing. Prose, from Nabokovian elegance to the plain, well-wrought kind that’s sometimes called ‘transparent’ (and I’m a big fan of the latter, of guys like Robert Louis Stevenson and Elmore Leonard) should knock sparks off the reader’s imagination, surprise her, keep her guessing. But cliche-riddled prose is like white noise, or fog. You plod plod plod through it without really registering anything; it’s default fiction with a low level of ideation. Maybe the words are serviceable, but they aren’t apt.

So: revise, revise, revise. Polish, polish. You never really finish a novel - you just let it go. And I’m not quite done with Gardens of the Sun yet - it’s off to the copy editor next, and then it will come back to me, marked up and red-pencilled, and I’ll no doubt be dismayed by all the stuff I missed . . .

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Liquid Water On Mars

Well, maybe. Within a couple of days of each other, reports of two possible evidence for liquid water on the red planet. The first shows blobs on the legs of the Phoenix lander that grew and changed shape and position, just like drops of water. The second suggests that a recently-formed gully that resembles those carved by running water may have been created by brines bursting from a point in the surface. The surface of Mars is colder than the freezing point of water, but high concentrations of chemicals - perchlorates in the case of the droplets on the Phoenix lander; ferric sulphate in the case of the brines that may have formed the gully - could act as anti-freeze and reduce the evaporation rate. So much for Bradbury's crystalline canals - this stuff would be more like the sludge that leaks out of toxic waste dumps.

Unfortunately, the concentrations of salts necessary to keep water liquid at minus seventy degrees Centigrade would rule out the possibility of life as we know it. "If you tried to put any kind of life-form you can imagine on Earth in a brine solution of that sort, the water would be sucked out of the cells," according to Phoenix mission leader Peter Smith. Yeah, but what about life as we don't (yet) know it?

Meanwhile, the Dawn probe has just swung past Mars on its way to the asteroid Vesta, boosting its velocity and fractionally slowing the planet.
"The flyby will cause Mars to slow in its orbit enough that after one year, its position will be off by about the width of an atom. If you add that up, it will take about 180 million years for Mars to be out of position by one inch (2.5 cm)," Rayman said. "We appreciate Mars making that sacrifice so Dawn can conduct its exciting mission of discovery in the asteroid belt."
The things we humans can do.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Shameless Fun

Make your own here (via Posthuman Blues).

Free Matter

My introduction to the US edition of Ian McDonald's Cyberabad Days has been posted over on the Pyr blog. And I've posted a short biographical essay on my web site - it was originally published in Postscripts 15. Share and enjoy.
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