Friday, December 21, 2012

The Windy Moon

I caught a bit of Who Wants to be a Millionaire last night and really wish I hadn’t. The question I heard was, ‘Which of these do you find on Earth but not on the Moon?’ and the choice of answers was: sunlight, gravity, craters and wind. I stood there with my mouth hanging open listening to two ‘celebs’ debating whether or not the Moon has gravity, then one of them stating quite firmly that there was wind up there. In the end they made the sensible decision not to commit to an answer and take the money and run.

Now, I really don’t expect people to know the names of the main moons of Jupiter or to even be able to recite the order of the planets in the Solar system, but a little basic scientific knowledge would be good. But then, I was showing a lack of basic scientific knowledge too because they couldn’t hear me while I was shouting at the television.   

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Get Fracking!

Boris Johnson is here speaking some sense about fracking.

The extraction process alone would generate tens of thousands of jobs in parts of the country that desperately need them. And above all, the burning of gas to generate electricity is much, much cleaner – and produces less CO2 – than burning coal. What, as they say, is not to like?
 I do love his view of the eco-doomsters:
In their mad denunciations of fracking, the Greens and the eco-warriors betray the mindset of people who cannot bear a piece of unadulterated good news. Beware this new technology, they wail. Do not tamper with the corsets of Gaia! Don’t probe her loamy undergarments with so much as a finger — or else the goddess of the earth will erupt with seismic revenge. Dig out this shale gas, they warn, and our water will be poisoned and our children will be stunted and our cattle will be victims of terrible intestinal explosions.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Ambulance, Police, Burglar...

So, I had my second encounter with Essex Police yesterday…

Let me start with my mother. She’s 85 has a lymphoma and is undergoing chemo therapy. She lives alone in the stupidly large family home which she can just about manage. The week before last she called me to say she needed to go to the hospital. I shot round to find her suffering from the shakes and a stomach ache, for the former of which she was, apparently, supposed to go straight to hospital since it could be a bad reaction to the chemo. She had phoned for an ambulance and was waiting for a call back from some medical professional. This person did call, asked a long series of questions about her symptoms, then sent the ambulance, which arrived pretty quickly.

The ambulance staff came in, asked the same series of questions while hooking her up to some equipment. By then her shakes were waning and they couldn’t find anything seriously wrong with her (well, besides being 85 and having cancer). However, after a phone call to the Oncology Department they decided to take her in to Broomfield hospital. I followed the ambulance there, stupidly expecting it to take the easy back roads route to the hospital. It didn’t, it instead went right through the middle of Chelmsford during the rush hour. I tried to keep on its tail but with various sets of traffic lights and about five roundabouts to go through I was beginning to lose sight of it. I had also completely forgotten how to get to the hospital via this route and at some point I must have run a red light.

At the hospital I spend about twenty minutes driving around in a two-storey car park searching for a spot to park, then I went into Accident & Emergency where my mother had been taken. There she had an X-ray, blood taken for testing, that list of questions asked again, and frequent checks on her BP etc. The upshot was that a doctor would see her but she could go home. We waited and waited for a doctor but none came, so in the end just checked out and later.

Promptly, a few days after, I got my traffic violation letter from Essex Police. I filled in the form and wrote a covering letter explaining the circumstances. I didn’t expect any leniency.

Maybe a day after this the same thing happened again with my mother: bad shakes, inability to sleep or keep still. I suspected something related to her depression (yeah, she has that too). Sometimes, if you get a bad panic attack it can feel like you’re dying. Phone calls ensued but I baulked at the idea of calling an ambulance again, especially as the shakes were waning again, and in the end took her to the emergency doctor. This quite sharp Asian lady examined her and checked over her reams of prescription sheets.

Apparently she had been prescribed another lot of anti-depressants because the chemo had dragged her down. Now, either the doctor concerned neglected to notice she was already on one lot of pills, neglected to tell her to stop taking them, or my mother failed to take in that she should stop taking the first lot. ‘You don’t take these together,’ said the Asian lady, looking puzzled and slightly alarmed. She told my mother to stop taking the second lot and prescribed diazepam for the shakes and instructed her to see her doctor. This she did and the upshot is that her problems were caused by mixing the anti-depressants.

I next got a phone call from the Essex Police and spoke to someone who wasn’t officious and was quite pleasant. After she got some detail from me she told me they were dropping the charges against me. I subsequently received a letter telling me this along with the line ‘not in the public interest to prosecute’. Well I guess that’s right. The last time I was ever told off by the police for a driving offence was when I was 18 and wasn’t displaying my L-plates correctly. So that was my first encounter with the Essex Police…

On diazepam every day my mother improved enough to go on an outing she had booked some time ago to Thursford. She went this Sunday with a friend, stayed overnight and came back on Monday evening. Shortly after her return I got a phone call. Her house had been broken into. I told her to call the police and then Caroline and I went round. Someone had smashed a back patio door then opened it with the key. This person had rifled through some cupboards and drawers, opened her jewellery box, but beyond the smashed door made surprisingly little mess. He’d (I’m guessing it was a ‘he’) found about £150 she’d kept in a drawer but otherwise seemed to have taken nothing else. I guess he was quite disappointed by the lack of laptops, mobile phones, family silver and by the costume jewellery.

A cop turned up quite rapidly from South Woodham Ferrers and checked out everything. Shortly after he arrived a fingerprint lady turned up (SOCO?) but could find nothing but glove smudges. After she had finished I boarded up and secured the broken door while the cop sat with my mother taking down details and telling her what would happen. Let me add here: pleasant big reassuring bloke and exactly the kind of guy you want turning up. And that, then, was my second encounter with the Essex Police.

Surprisingly, and perhaps sadly, though my reaction to this was, ‘Bastards!’ I didn’t feel hugely irate. This is because a break-in like this is almost a fulfilment of expectation. There are loads of shits out there with no respect for other people’s property. But really I should be very very angry. Back when I used to cut grass and hedges etc. for a living an old lady who was a customer of mine found a burglar in her bedroom. He didn’t harm her then and just fled. However, she died just a few months later and the opinion of her neighbours was that the incident just sapped her will – effectively killed her.

Today’s jobs: sort out a glazier and take a look at some burglar alarms on the internet.

Note: If you go out take the keys out of the inside of your double glazed doors. This won’t stop anyone smashing the glass and getting in, but the burglar will have to knock all the glass out of the door and go through it, increasing the likelihood of him being cut and dripping some blood somewhere. The police like blood.        

Monday, December 03, 2012

Exhausted by Doom-mongers.

I watched the TV series The Secret of Crickley Hall – last episode last night – and though I enjoyed it I couldn’t really engage with it. I got the same feeling watching it as I got from watching Woman in Black, which is that though it was entertaining I could not suspend disbelief. When I was younger I could watch this sort of stuff and feel a little bit spooked – two that spring to mind are The Haunting (the original version) and The Entity – but my opinions about the supernatural have hardened over the years and now I simply cannot believe in ghosts. The films and the fiction haven’t really got any worse, if anything some have got better, but I have changed.

By this route I come to those who keep launching assaults on science fiction. I’d call it self-flagellation because often these people are ‘in’ the SF world, but for the fact that many of those attacking don’t actually write the stuff. Science fiction is dying or dead, it’s no longer relevant because of the accelerated pace of technological change (how could it not be more relevant?), and the latest one ‘science fiction is exhausted’ - based on some Best SF collections so generalizing from the specific and ignoring Sturgeon's Law.

Moving on to the stuff about it being relevant in the rapidly changing world: How can someone read recent books like Windup Girl or Quantum Thief and dismiss them as irrelevant? Who says a requisite of SF is that it has to be relevant? The job of a writer is first to write books and then to sell them. The main requisite of the latter is to make them entertaining, and for them to be that, for an SF reader, requires a good story that can suspend disbelief, world building, the zing of technology and science and that essential sensawunda. 

Now let’s go back to ‘science fiction is dying, or dead’ (yawn). I’ve been here before with this here, here and here  but the neatest way of putting this in perspective is via a link provided by Gary Farber in response to my, "I'm betting there was some plonker declaring the death of SF the moment Sputnik beeped or just after Neil Armstrong stepped onto the Moon."

Who Killed Science Fiction? won the Hugo Award for Best Fanzine in 1961. The Fifties were rife with talk about the death of science fiction, and Earl Kemp's symposia of so many sf pros and prominent fans summed it all up.

If science fiction was dead back in the 50s and 60s, why does it still seem so mobile now? If it was dying back then why isn’t it dead now? And really, science fiction is nowhere as near as exhausted as the perpetual wanking on about its decline.

Let’s have a little list: Iain M Banks, Alastair Reynolds, Peter F Hamilton, Adam Roberts, Ted Chiang, C J Cherryh, Peter Watts, Gary Gibson, Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Ken McLeod, Neil Gaiman, Paolo Bacigalupi, Jeff Noon, Kim Stanley Robinson, Greg Egan, Hannu Rajaniemi, Stephen Baxter, Sheri S. Tepper, Elizabeth Bear, Paul J. McAuley, Ian McDonald  Greg Bear, David Brin, Orson Scott Card, Cory Doctorow, John Meaney, John Scalzi, Kristine Kathryn Rusch … I could go on. Now, as far as I know these are all still alive (though I don’t keep up with my Ansible obituaries) and are still producing stuff people want to read. Whether or not they are exhausted I don’t know, whether or not the fiction they produce is dying, exhausted or dead I leave to you to decide.

All these attacks on science fiction are utterly subjective and ultimately pointless because, in the end, they tell us more about the one writing than the fiction they are writing about (much like many reviews). Perhaps they loved science fiction once and could suspend disbelief, and now, just like me watching Crickley Hall, it simply is not pressing the right buttons any more. Maybe they have changed.

Because you feel you have read it all before doesn’t mean others have and equally, just because you might have become more discerning and sophisticated doesn’t mean others are. Just because you are suffering ennui and have lost the credulity and optimism of youth doesn’t mean others have. Just because you are inured to wonder, and can no longer find that vital sensawunda, doesn’t mean it has disappeared, dried up, been exhausted.

Maybe the next time somebody feels the urge to write something about the terminal decline of SF, they should consider that the 'crisis' is in the eyes that behold, and take a long hard look at themselves first.  

Saturday, December 01, 2012


I’ve been noting how over the years the number of comments I get here has been steadily waning. I could, if I was sufficiently paranoid, put this down to a steady decline in my fan base, readership, popularity or whatever. However I know by my stats here that the number of people visiting this blog has been steadily increasing so, unless they’re stopping by to see how the road accident is progressing, something else must be going on.

Are people commenting less because of the time I spend away from the internet in the summer; because they won’t be getting a quick reply from me? That’s one possibility but there are others. The social media on the internet is always changing. Message boards went through their high season and waned. The likes of MySpace had their time in the sun then sloped off into the shadows. Is it that blogs are now, in internet terms, a bit antediluvian? Are all those who commented on message boards and blogs now using Twitter? Yeah, I reckon it could be a bit of that too.

Then there’s how people access the internet now. Mobile devices have been on the rise and no matter how wonderful they might be or how many thousands of apps they might have they do not have the utility of a pc, at a desk, with a chair. It’s my contention that the lack of response here does not equate to a lack of readers, but the lack of the simple ease of a keyboard.
What do you think?