raffling off proofs

Following your feedback, I decided that I would simply raffle off the proofs. One of you, Tooru, suggested that I video the process and so I did—you will find it below.

If you recognise your name being called out, please send me an email with your snail address so that I can post you the book. Do let me know if you would like me to write anything in it. I will try and contact the ‘winners’… but if I don’t get a response in a reasonable time, I will get out my trusty tartan hat and pick another name as a replacement…

the dreamtime resumes

stencil art at Carnarvon Gorge (processed)
stencil art at Carnarvon Gorge (processed)

The Invaders were here for less than eleven generations. The land—especially where it nears the ocean—is disfigured by the bleached shells of their habitations. People trek there to salvage trinkets. It’s dangerous: you have to tread carefully. Children love to burn the brightly coloured plastic—that is the only way to get rid of it. The Elders warn against the noxious smoke and say its stench is characteristic of that terrible time.

The Invaders devastated the land with their unnatural power. They poisoned the sky and the ocean. Their reckless, insatiable greed provoked retribution. The land burned, not the way the Elders do it—with love and knowledge—but with such fury that it drove the Invaders away. When children ask where they went, the Elders admit they do not know. Perhaps they are all dead: there was a great dying. The Elders show the children a record of that time scratched into the rock: strange, narrow figures almost lost in the wide record of the vast, sacred time before the Invasion. What are those eleven generations in the stretch of thousands of the dreaming? Nothing but a bout of fever we have recovered from.

giveaway proofs

Happy Twenties! Let’s hope they’re cheerier than the Tens or Noughties.

As I run up to the release of the first volume of the Second Edition of The Stone Dance of the Chameleon, I have a stack of proofs to giveaway. They sat by my stove for a while, but I couldn’t bring myself to burn or recycle them, and a friend suggested I give them away. They are from different phases of the proofing process, and one or two may be covered in corrections. These unique if flawed versions of the new text might be fun to own.

We need to work out who gets them. A competition of some kind has been suggested, and so I am asking you to please write any ideas you may have for one, below . . .

(only people on my mailing list are eligible for this giveaway)

towards 2020

City living eclipses solstices. Their significance is more obvious in the countryside. Cresting the summer solstice could be sad—starting the toboggan slide down into winter darkness—but the ease and glory of midsummer makes it hard to be glum. Besides, here in Scotland, with sea to west and north and east, our summer only peaks in August.

The winter solstice is a more ravenous beast. At this darkest time—here the sun sets before 4pm—our bodies do not make vitamin D, and so we fall prey to colds and flus, and are more prone to the blues. On our bellies, we squeeze under the heavy dip of the year and begin the climb to summer.

Events have cast shadows over 2019, but the birth of a new year brings hope, and I am looking forward to re-engaging with you in 2020. Until then, happy solstice!

Emperor Boris

We, who live in the United Kingdom, have fallen into a habit of considering our politicians as a bunch of dissolute and feckless, mostly grey, ‘servants of the people’, whom we like to mock and complain about. Westminster seems a quaint, at times almost irrelevant, institution struggling to keep up with the times.

We consider the United Kingdom a middling country with a relatively small population; though there are enough people here that many of us feel these islands crammed.

In the recent General Election, because of the peculiarities of our ‘first past the post’ voting system, less than half the people who voted have elected a party that, by dint of its sizable majority in Parliament, empowers its leader, Boris Johnson, to do just about whatever he wants. He is now something akin to an elected monarch.

The Roman Empire had a population of between 50 and 60 million people—less than, though comparable to, the population of the United Kingdom. Boris Johnson now exerts power over as many people as did Nero.

the primacy of touch

ricardo holding a japanese tea mug
ricardo holding a japanese tea mug

I drink tea from a Japanese cup. Because it has no handle, when I pick it up, I feel how hot the tea is and will not put it to my lips too hot and scald my mouth.

Eating with my fingers makes sure my food is not too hot. I feel its texture before I put it in my sensitive and subtle mouth. I pick an orange, bring it to my nose and inhale its perfume, peel it, strip it of its white pith undershirt with my nails, and coax it into segments. I pluck a grape and slip its juice-tautened skin from fingers to lips. Why dissect my food with instruments? Why bring their metal to my soft mouth and brittle teeth?

Entering my house, I remove my shoes. Free, my feet spread over the just-yielding wood floor and stroke the fur of a rug. Feet are meant to feel what they walk on. Was it the filth of cities, the skin cutting and piercing rubbish, that made us insist on shoes to mute our feet. Wearing shoes, I no longer hear the crumbling earth speak, nor enjoy the cool slap of stone or lap of water, the slick of grass, the soft, cushioning moss. Upon the flat surfaces that we cover the world with, I walk with deafened feet. True, I will not stub a toe, and, safe from the inconvenience of being alert to the world, I walk blind.

Living much of our lives through screens. We can see and hear anything we wish, but we touch nothing. Seeing and hearing: the remote senses preferred by the voyeur.

If we do not touch the world, are we really in it?

why do electorates divide nearly 50:50?

Have you ever wondered why so many recent political votes divide their electorate almost 50:50? This is my attempt at a simple—perhaps obvious—explanation.

The results of the referendum for Scottish Independence (No 55.3%: Yes 44.7%) and the Brexit Referendum in the UK (Leave 51.89%: Remain 48.11%) seem to me remarkably close—especially given that in one case you had 3.6 million people voting, and in the other 33.6 million. Why were these not 60:40, or even 80:20? What occurs to me is that, when you ask an electorate a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question, they will naturally fall into a normal distribution—’yes’ on one end and ‘no’ on the other. If you pull from both ends, the distribution might tear nearly 50:50—people naturally tending towards the end of the distribution that they are already closer to.

The 2008 US presidential election (Obama 52.9%: McCain 45.7%) and the 2016 election (Trump 46.1%: Clinton 48.2%) are also remarkably close to being 50:50—and, in these cases, 129 million and 128.8 million people voted, respectively. With only two parties, the electorate of the USA will also naturally fall into a normal distribution, and we can apply the argument above.

Even in elections where there are more than two parties, the results still seem to follow this pattern. The 2015 UK General Election (Conservatives 36.9%: Liberal Democrats 15.1%: Labour 30.4%) and the 2017 General Election (Conservatives 42.4%: Liberal Democrats 7.4%: Labour 40%)—excluding a few percent for smaller parties—have the Liberal Democrats holding onto a bit of the centre of the normal distribution, and the rest moving to either end. That having more than one party does not make the distribution move into an extra dimension (so there would be three or more points of attraction), would seem to be because, politically, electorates are on a left/right spectrum, or open/closed, or even optimistic/pessimisti—and, so, again we can apply the argument above.

As an afterthought: I wonder if this is why so many political systems formulate themselves into having only two parties, or, indeed, if the normal distribution—using our oft-used argument—encourages the formation of two parties? Whatever the truth of that, a democracy with two parties can be confident that it will divide an electorate nearly 50:50—thus precluding the danger they may end up as a one party state. Perhaps this explains the mantra behind occupying the ‘centre ground’—after all, it is in the centre, where those few extra percentage points can be gained, where an election is won or lost.

a limit on human creativity?

Circle Limit IV—Heaven and Hell © Escher

With our creativity, we explore a space of art and culture, of science and technology, that expands outwards in all directions. By perceiving reality more clearly, we develop more sophisticated skills and tools that, in turn, deepen our perception of reality. It seems natural to believe that this virtuous circle is accelerating us towards an infinite horizon. But is this true and, if so, in what way?

The further back we look, the less has been explored, so that a single person can make great advances, sometimes in several sectors at once. The first explorer of a sector lays claim to the foundational part of it. As each new sector is found, fewer are left to be discovered, and are likely to be further out and narrower.

As children, we must trek over this discovered country from its centre. With each generation, in any sector, we have to travel further to reach its frontier. The further we are from the centre, the more difficult it is to discover anything new, and the smaller any discoveries become. Ever more people and resources, ever more complex instruments, are required to push the frontier onwards.

This process of exploration does not seem to be accelerating—never mind it being an exponential curve ramping up to the ‘singularity’. Though the frontier tends towards an infinite circumference, its radius seems to be tending to a limit. We may be trapped within an event horizon we can never hope to escape.

(One way to escape this event horizon may be to increase human creativity. This could perhaps be accomplished by some kind of genetic or technological enhancement—but, most likely, these would only push the limit a little further out. Another way might be to supplement human creativity with that of artificial intelligence: here is an argument about that possibility.

It may seem foolish to put limits on what our science will discover—reality is likely to surprise us. Nevertheless, it seems to me that there are good reasons to suppose that our ability to penetrate reality may be limited—if only because the instruments we need to probe it are already beyond our capability to construct. As an example, consider how physics has resorted to String Theory, considered by many to be more metaphysics than science.)

a bonfire of the vanities?

© Polish Duo Koty 2

The Internet could be the ultimate liberation of human creativity: into the hands of anyone with access to it, it puts a printing press and a recording and film studio—all connected to a world-spanning distribution system. By volume of output, by its breadth and quality, it has brought us a New Renaissance. But this revolution casts a shadow.

When one of these dotcom colossi offers social spaces where people can meet and discuss and share, art galleries where people can hang their pictures, concert halls and clubs where they can play their music, cinemas where they can screen their films, presses where they can publish their books—they do so to grow their power. Gorging on our creativity, they have swollen into economic and cultural giants. They own the pipes that channel this artistic outpouring and, though they have not yet laid actual claim it, we have many of us signed it over to them.

We contribute our work and imagination, but it is the corporations that take the lion’s share of what they earn. An online publisher that offers to publish your ebooks, tempts you with the lottery promise that you may have a winning ticket. Like a lottery, very few win. Most only sell their ebooks to family and friends to whom they could simply have given their books directly without need of a middleman. The writer makes a pittance: the publisher, in the aggregate, makes a killing.
While so much of our creativity is being burned to power these corporations—furthering their policies, neutering our opposition to them—we are left with less with which to tackle the problems that face us.

(I wrote this in 2014, but have only got round to editing it and publishing it now.)

Stone Dance Second Edition release schedule

Before writing this, I read my last post on this issue and discovered that I’d claimed that the new Second Edition Stone Dance books were going to start coming out in weeks… and that was weeks ago. Oops! I thought that plan had only been in my head, and had forgotten I’d ‘said it out loud’. Oh dear. My apologies. If you read the First Edition, you will know that I missed my delivery times by years. I have put a lot of work into this new edition, and I want to ensure that, once I start releasing the books, everything goes smoothly. Another issue with my proposed launch in November was that it would have meant a second book in December—I felt it better to avoid all the carnage of the festive period.

So, my plan is to release the first book, The Masters, on the 31st of January, 2020; the second book will come out in February, and the rest will follow every two months after that. I am hoping to launch the third book, the Second Edition of The Standing Dead, at Eastercon in Birmingham in April. The last book is slated for November, a month after the sixth book is released, so as to avoid more December confusion. By stretching the whole launch process, I hope to make absolutely certain that none of the books will be late. The proofing process—among others—has turned out to be more involved than I expected. To be honest, everything about this process has turned out to be more involved than I expected! As an example, The Masters is on its eighth proof! I will get better at this…

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