stephenpalmersf

Notes from genre author Stephen Palmer

Climate Change

Today is the day after a wave of youth-led climate change protests. So, what am I doing when it comes to climate change?

1. I am vegetarian. The vegetarian diet is easy to move to and makes a big difference to my carbon footprint. A large proportion of greenhouse gases is produced by unsustainable farming practices – beef and lamb especially – carried out on too large a scale. “Small is beautiful.” – E.F. Schumacher.

2. I never travel by air. We do not have the freedom to pollute the atmosphere for the sake of an artificial holidaying lifestyle promoted by international corporations whose purpose is to make money at the expense of the planet.

3. My car use is minimal. I walk wherever I can locally, and when I’m at work.

4. My consumption is minimal. This is a crucial point. The biggest lie promoted by international capitalist corporations is the lie of being a consumer. Supported by advanced psychological techniques, these corporations are destroying the planet to sell rubbish nobody needs. They have deliberate policies of getting people addicted to their products. My minimised consumption includes: clothes, phone, computer. Wherever possible I buy things that are going to last or which can be repaired.

5. Energy use. I make my footfall as light as possible by using energy wisely; even simple things such as switching off lights help. This also applies to water use. I do this at work as well as at home.

6. I never eat burgers etc in any fast food chain, since they are all environmentally unsustainable corporations whose purpose is to exploit people and the planet for gain. I only buy fairtrade tea and coffee.

7. Recycling. I recycle everything that it’s possible to recycle, including by washing plastic/metal at the end of washing-up, so that such items aren’t rejected by recycling plants. I do not have a dishwasher or a tumble dryer. This year I have so far put out my black bin four times owing to the fact that I moved house, but in previous years I put it out twice or three times a year.

8. Support local producers. I buy locally produced honey and locally available free range eggs, thus supporting the local economy, improving my health, and rejecting commercially produced food created at the expense of animals and the natural world by various corporations.

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Halting climate change is a matter of personal responsibility as well as national policy, regulation and law. We all have a duty to see through the lies told by international corporations whose sole purpose is to hypnotise and fool us into buying things and doing things which we don’t need, in order that they can pay money to their shareholders. It’s a matter of clear vision. When I worked for Waterstones the company was floated on the stock market, and every employee was offered shares. I was the only person at my shop who refused to accept them on principle.

Acting on principle is easy once you see through the lies of capitalism.

schu

Mama’s Last Hug by Frans de Waal

In some regards, I found this a frustrating book. On the one hand, it’s important, clear, well written, well argued and timely. On the other hand, I found (as I did with this author’s Are We Smart Enough To Know How Smart Animals Are?) that the book failed in some of its goals.

Subtitled Animal Emotions And What They Teach Us About Ourselves, the book is a brilliant survey of the blurred, perhaps nonexistent, boundary between animal emotions – or more accurately what people have traditionally thought of such emotions – and human emotions. The author, a highly experienced primatologist, knows his subject and has a huge amount of scientific, personal and anecdotal evidence to support his argument, which in a nutshell is that animals do have emotions, from which our own are derived. He sticks the boot in to all those who try to separate human beings from other animals, and in most cases does this with skill and judgement.

Yet, to me, his own assessment of what an emotion might be is incomplete. I agree with his emphasis on the body, on the idiocy of the notion that we have a separable “spirit,” and on his emphasis on the cognitive aspect of emotion. He also notes that physical symptoms are essential, which I agree with. Yet, despite all that, he considers love, and even revenge to be an emotion. Now, even as a child I don’t recall myself ever feeling revengy. Angry, yes. But not revengy.

The other downside to this otherwise excellent book is the final chapter on sentience. As I mentioned in my review of Are We Smart Enough To Know How Smart Animals Are?, I think this author has a bit of a blind spot caused by over-asserting the similarities between human beings and animals. I myself do think there is a qualitative difference between animals and us; a moot point, of course. As for consciousness, de Waal is quite happy to tell the reader that the question is aeons away from being answered. Obviously he’s never read the work of that other brilliant primatologist, Nicholas Humphrey.

A final criticism. These sentences stood out for me: Our ancestors deviated from the apes by hunting animals larger than themselves, which required the sort of camaraderie and mutual dependence that is the root of complex societies. We owe our cooperative nature, our food-sharing tendencies, our sense of fairness, and even our morality to the subsistence hunting of our ancestors. What is the author saying here? That pre-Agricultural Revolution societies hunted meat? He might as well tell us what bears do in the woods. Or is he saying that hunting was in fact the root of human society? Such absurd theories were touted by male anthropologists in the early part of the 20th century, but they are mocked now for their sheer ridiculousness. And yet this is the same author who earlier in the book namechecks Sarah Hrdy and who clearly has sympathy for feminism and the dire situation of women in science.

Alas, I have spent a lot of time on criticisms and not much on positives. This is a terrific, insightful book, packed full of evidence of many kinds. The sections on animal cognition and grasp of social milieu are outstanding. So I enjoyed most of the book, albeit feeling a little frustrated and disappointed by what, to me, is incompleteness. Still – it is well worth a read.

mama

Once & Future Moon

Recently I sold a short story to the forthcoming Eibonvale Press anthology The Once & Future Moon, edited by Allen Ashley. My tale takes place in some prehistoric culture, perhaps in the wilds of Ice Age France… The cover – designed by Eibonvale’s main man David Rix – was recently revealed, and is shown below. When the anthology is out I’ll write a blog about my story, including pictures of my deer bone flute, which inspired one of the tale’s central motifs.

moon cover

Tales From The Spired Inn dustjacket

This is the cover for the special edition of Tales From The Spired Inn (pre-order now to secure a copy of this limited edition hardback).

Spired Inn Dust jacket red

Tales From The Spired Inn

Earlier in the year I was asked by Ian Whates, head honcho at the award-winning Newcon Press, about some short stories set in Kray, the city at the heart of my debut Memory Seed. Ian then asked me whether I would write new material for a proposed volume collecting every Kray short story. I was delighted to accept, and even more delighted when the experience of writing the new material proved to be not only enjoyable and satisfying, but deeply evocative, reminding me of all the mental images, thoughts and feelings I had when writing the original novel.

The new book, Tales From The Spired Inn, is out on October 14th, in standard paperback but also in a special limited edition (see Newcon Press website for details – you can preorder the limited edition). It has six stories:

Dr Vanchovy’s Final Case
Funeral For A Pyuter
Granny
First Temple
Memory Seed
The Green Realm Below

The first story was published in Spectrum SF years and years ago, the second is new, the third came out in Strange Pleasures in 2001, the fourth is new, while the fifth is an extract from the end of the original novel – a pause before the final tale, which actually was the first one I wrote, for Keith Brooke’s Infinity Plus website.
spired inn v3

Novacene by James Lovelock

James Lovelock was one of my earliest influences when it came to writing fiction. I intuitively grasped the scope and profundity of his Gaia concept, and, although Gaia made no appearance in my debut Memory Seed, themes of environmental destruction and human narcissism implicit in the early reaction to Gaia emerged in my novel. Lovelock’s later work confirmed the man’s exceptional brilliance, in the public eye via his books, elsewhere (and perhaps more importantly) through a continuous supply of extraordinary inventions, not least the Electron Capture Detector, which led to the detection of CFCs throughout Earth’s atmosphere. Lovelock now calls himself an engineer rather than a scientist because he sees the real world as his prime source. (In earlier work he has been scathing about the primacy given to computer models.)

Novacene was written and published to mark his 100th birthday on 26th July 2019. Unlike his previous couple of works, which I found rather lacking in insight (especially the poor A Rough Ride To The Future, in which he speculated about things apparently at random), Novacene is a concise, profound and brilliantly incisive summary of his current thought. I was reminded of the work of Karen Armstrong (A Brief History Of Myth) and Yuval Noah Harari when reading it.

Lovelock covers three main areas: the nature of Gaia and the Solar System, the operation of Gaia, especially its ability to radiate heat and so keep the planet cool, and the arrival of hyperintelligent machines, which he believes we humans will have to work with in order to continue keeping the planet cool. He thinks the Anthropocene is almost over already, and will lead to the AI-managed Novacene. Particular emphasis is given to the Anthropic Principle and the notion that the evolution of the universe is a process of information, with a possible denouement as the universe comes to understand itself in some unimaginable future epoch. He believes we are alone, for reasons related to the Anthropic Principle, though personally I suspect this may be wrong, or at least premature.

In this book, unlike A Rough Guide To The Future, I feel the speculation is informed by Lovelock’s unique insight, which comes not only from his exceptional mind but also from a century of experience in science, engineering and invention. It’s an exhilarating, thought-provoking look at huge themes from the perspective of somebody who has given an enormous amount to humanity.

Highly recommended.

novacene

Factory Girl update

After I finished writing the Factory Girl trilogy I realised there was one further story to tell. This novel, though written by the time Factory Girl was brought out by Infinity Plus Books, was not published at the time.

Factory Girl takes place in 1910 and 1911, but at the very end of the final volume there is a foreshadowing of the conflict to come, as Erasmus, his uncle and Sir Herbert Spencer discuss the likelihood of a forthcoming Continental war. The fourth novel, The Conscientious Objector, is set in 1914 and 1915, and follows Erasmus’ experiences in Europe during those years. One other main character, Claudia Cooper, goes along with him…

The plan is to re-jacket the original trilogy with illustrations by Tom and Nimue Brown, both of whom are well known in the steampunk world. The Conscientious Objector will have an equivalent cover. All four novels should be available around the turn of the year.

tom-and-nimue-2017

The Hare With The Amber Eyes

The Hare With The Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal

In 2010 the British ceramicist Edmund de Waal told the story of his family, the Ephrussi, once a wealthy and well-connected banking dynasty. His memoir is based in Odessa, Vienna and in Paris, three cities providing the landscape for this fascinating and lyrically written work. But the Ephrussi family are Jewish, and they lost almost everything in 1938 when the Nazis arrived; and these are the most tragic parts of the memoir.

But not everything was lost in those times. The titular hare is a Japanese netsuke, tiny and hidden with 263 other similar objects inside a mattress by Anna, one of the maids at Palais Ephrussi. That collection was passed down through five generations of the Ephrussi family, ending with Edmund de Waal and providing a thread for the memoir.

It’s a fantastic read: compulsive, poetic, sad, with a sense of location that would be hard to beat. The sense of history and of place is palpable, partly through the use of detail, partly through the lyrical prose, which seems to me as if it was spoken before it was set down.

A marvellous, entrancing read.

hare

Writer’s Lab Session 3

Four photos from the third session of Writer’s Lab at Shrewsbury Library. A great time was had by all!

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Session Two Writer’s Lab photo

Just a photo (courtesy Shrewsbury Library manager Katherine Berry) of the second session of the Writer’s Lab. Session three is on Tuesday 2nd July at 5.30pm.

Writers Lab Session two