Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Bugs and Stuff

Wednesday 15th June

It’s always difficult to know how to respond to an email that begins ‘I like your books but...’ The instinctive reaction of the author in his natural habitat is to shout, ‘Fuck off and die!’ at the top of his voice followed by the cry of, ‘How dare one of you mere mortals criticise ME?’ But seriously, it doesn’t ever get any easier to receive criticism as time goes on, no matter how loaded with provisos it might be. In fact, I submit that the ability to accept criticism reduces in inverse proportion to the growth of authorial arrogance so, if you’re serious about what you do, you have to make a positive effort to read and inwardly digest negative criticism. I’m not saying I’m very good at this. I reject out of hand pompous pronouncements whose obvious source has a political bias against me personally. I generally try to ignore criticisms that start with the ‘I didn’t like this book’ basis then go on a lengthy search for justifications. But I do pay attention to constructive criticism – the kind from which I can learn something about my writing, rather than something about the critic. I have to further submit that a degree of arrogance is a requirement if, as an author, you want to retain the confidence in your ability to turn out a 140,000-word book every year.

So, in a lengthy waffling fashion I come to the latest email like the one first described. When the correspondent has a gripe about my astrophysics, and is a professional astrophysicist, it really is time for me to sit up and take notice. I asked him to point out the errors he’d seen – first noting that I already knew about the somewhat contentious use of sun-mirrors to cause fusion in The Line of Polity– and he came back with some nice detail. He focused on Brass Man and noted that a million-tonne black hole would not eat an ice-giant planet, and that the tidal forces of a brown dwarf would not tear apart a space ship like the Ogygian. Now, by changing just a couple of lines I could correct this, but it’s already out there and that’s the end of it. However, I’m now sending a question or two, like, would an anode and cathode method work in tapping into the Io flux tube...

In fact, I should ask more such questions here since I know there are other physicists, astrophysicists and other such smart cookies who read my books and also read this blog. So, anyone got any gen on how you would go about tapping energy from the Io flux tube?

Friday 17th June
What a bloody day! To start with I’m not such a happy bunny because my lips look and feel like they’ve been skinned, then there’s this fucking weather. It started out sunny enough but then clouded over rapidly. In retrospect I realise we shouldn’t have gone to Sitia because it seems par for the course lately that when we go there it pisses down. Whilst we were the there the clouds loomed and lurked all about and when we were doing our final shop in Lidl thunder rumbled a few times. The rain did not hit us there, but on the way back up to the house. The road all the way back up was criss-crossed with muddy streams and we spend the rest of the day inside whilst the rain continued, filling a 150 litre water butt and turning the garden into a quagmire.

This morning it’s not particularly warm and clouds are again lurking all about. I look like I’m wearing a mottled dark red and black lipstick, and it’s almost with a sense of disbelief that I realise that it could start pissing down again and that shortly I’ll have to be putting my jeans back on. Even the Greeks here, for whom rain is usually a blessing, are starting to get a bit pissed off. For me there’s just the knowledge that if any prat mentions global warming to me today as a plausible explanation for cold weather their immediate concerns will cease to be environmental and become dental. To quote a scientist who worked for Australia’s Department of Climate change: ‘too many jobs, industries, trading profits and political careers are riding along on this nonsense’. Yeah, with the financial sector we’ve already learnt about that ‘too big to fail idea’ – it just means the crash is bigger and more damaging when it comes.

Saturday 18th June
So, continuing with the Papagianades weather and health report: it’s sunny today but also very windy, Caroline now has the bug that I picked up. Meanwhile, my bottom lip is just one big scab, but I am starting to feel better. I sometimes wonder about these viruses that pay our bodies visits; about their effects and whether they might be strategies. Viruses have evolved to multiply and spread themselves. This has been mooted as why we sneeze and cough and why our noses run, so we’re spreading about the virus in a nicely damp and particulate form better to give it to someone else, but how far does all this go? When a person gets the same virus as you but different symptoms is that because it’s attacking its hosts through their weaknesses or are their symptoms just a result of the general malaise the virus causes? Certainly the state of my lip was just about the cold sore virus taking advantage – rather like looters coming out during the war.

Monday 20th June
The heat has returned but, since I’ve been disappointed so often during this year here, I’m not putting any trust in it just yet. This morning at 9.35 the temperature is up to 25 and forecast to be in the 30s. Meanwhile some flowers from England have been a success – marigolds and lilies – whilst others, like night-scented stock have been a bust.

We’re not going anywhere today since our recovery from that bug has been a temporary illusion. This leads me to thoughts science-fictional. How about viruses being used to rapidly adapt people to extreme environments? I’ve always plumped for nano-technology in this respect (earliest use being in my short story Adaptogenic) but, let’s be frank here, in fictional terms that’s ‘technology indistinguishable from magic’ and if you reduce the scale to pico- or femto-tech you’re just using bigger magic. Anyway, my thoughts on this stem from how I’ve noticed that often, when I sneeze, it seems to reset by body (this is particularly noticeable when I’m coming out of a hangover). However, since this ‘viral adjustment’ has certainly been done in SF, I then start straying into other realms: we did use viruses to adjust and maintain our bodies when our space ship crashed on Earth two million years ago, but they mutated, bred with local primitive versions, became destructive ... now the lone researcher begins to unearth the truth...

No pictures again because I feel like crap and I forgot again.


KJ Mulder said...

Just to chime in on the science in science fiction bit. I'm an average Joe without any degrees, so for me as long as something is plausible enough then I'm happy. It's fiction after all.

Hope you feel better soon!

Jebel Krong said...

viral adjustment is what they've just used to cure cancer in mice (using human-tailored viruses packed with corrected DNA), so yeah i think it could work.

oh and now i want to i can't find the damn article to link... :(

Elicius said...

I love it when Science Fiction writers like yourself write along the blade that forms the cusp of science. Some times I find myself with a browser up searching for the new tech in your novels and learning - which, considering I'm usually hell-bent against being /taught/, is pretty awesome for me.

I am unsure how you'll take this, but I'm hoping in the spirit it is intended; I often find myself reminded to pop by here when I've read an article on New Scientist. Don't worry. Take a breath.

You see, were it not for you, I don't think I would have noticed quite how skewed the press in general - and "scientific" magazines more specifically - really are. Every time I read an article about the gigatons of CO2 we produce and how it's going to bring about Ragnarök I find myself thinking - oh yes, and I've not read The Skinner in a week-or-so.

I think I can honestly say you are my favourite Science Fiction writer - while sorry to say you score a very close second in the top five over-all. It's for that reason I wanted to say;

Thank you.

When brilliance comes in the form of a counterpoint to majority, as well as idiocy; the world rejoices.

Elicius said...

Oh yes.

You also have my apologies for the fawningly-praisey essay above.

Neil said...


I think this is what you were refering to.


Neil said...


FFS and again.

Neal Asher said...

Ah, but it's 'science' fiction KJ Mulder, so whilst I might get heavily speculative I really should try not to get known stuff wrong!

I've read plenty about this sort of stuff before, Jebel. Viral recombination of genes etc, which I think might have been done.

Elicius, thanks for the kind words. And, when you read about the 'gigatons' of CO2 note how they avoid mentioning as a percentage of the whole. It's all in the telling, along with the mights, coulds and maybes.