Thursday, March 05, 2015

Lost Hothouse

Just published in the US, the anthology Old Venus, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. A collection of stories, including my 'Planet of Fear', set on the mythic steamy, swampy version of the second planet from the sun before those pesky space probes revealed the truth.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Words In Place

'Smeuse is an English dialect noun for “the gap in the base of a hedge made by the regular passage of a small animal”; now I know the word smeuse, I notice these signs of creaturely commute more often.'
Robert Macfarlane, The Word-Hoard

'My favourite park's a car park, grass is something you smoke,
birds are something you shag.'
Pulp, I Spy

When I wrote the first two Quiet War novels, largely set in the icy moons of the outer planets, I was able to use the real names of real places. They were from maps compiled using images taken by the two Voyagers, Cassini and other robot space probes, but of course they showed only the geographical features - the craters and montes, the faculae, planitiae, regiones, flumina and so on. Robert Macfarlane has written an ode to the huge variety of words for the small-scale features and transient phenomena in our landscapes, and notes that, by naming something, it becomes more observable, more memorable. If ever people come to live on Callisto and Dione, Titan and Oberon and Charon, they will certainly develop their own fine-grained language of place, the equivalent of Macfarlane's 'terms used by crofters, fishermen, farmers, sailors, scientists, miners, climbers, soldiers, shepherds, poets, walkers and unrecorded others for whom particularised ways of describing place have been vital to everyday practice and perception.'

Meanwhile, it occurs to me that we need something similar to describe features peculiar to the urban landscape. There are already some - the Oxford dictionary, for instance, has recorded the variety of regional variant names for alleys. But we need more. Words for the plastic bag caught in the branches of a tree (as opposed to the plastic bag caught on the razor-wire of a security fence), the ring of green algae that grows at the bases of street lights and traffic signs in winter, the water that lurks under a loose paving stone. The temporary freshet that wells from a broken water pipe. The weeds that crack through concrete. The weeds that grow at the seam between pavement and wall. The hump in tarmac raised by a tree root. The wind that skirls down the side of a skyscraper. The gleam of low winter sun on a glass curtain wall. Those things inhabitants of cities unsee every day, because as yet they lack the vocabulary to make them a permanent part of the urban experience.

Sunday, March 01, 2015


I've written a few pieces for other people's blogs based around the themes of Something Coming Through. For those who might be interested:

A piece on alien invasion films on Entertainment Focus.

A short essay on crime and science fiction over on We Love This Book.

Another short essay, this one on friendly aliens, on Games Radar.

And over at SF Signal, Alvaro Zinos Amaro asked me a few questions.

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