Notes from genre author Stephen Palmer

Memory Seed At 25, Day 8

After Memory Seed and Glass were published, I, like a lot of midlist authors, was dropped by Orbit. However, interest continued in my debut during the years that followed, leading me to write three short stories beginning at or set in the Spired Inn, a location I used throughout the novel.

The first was written for Keith Brooke’s Infinity Plus, then a site online for British authors in particular. Called The Green Realm Below, it told of events over a vast time scale, allowing the reader to experience the future of Kray away from Zinina and the Clocktower. The second was written for an anthology and was called Dr Vanchovy’s Final Case. This was fun to write – a detective story, set almost entirely in the Spired Inn. I brought in two male characters, the titular detective and Barakystys, a youth employed by Dhow-lin. The third story was called Granny, and detailed the harsh life-or-death rituals and customs of the Cemetery revellers, not least Granny herself.

These three stories received little coverage, and after the third one I moved on to other projects. Fast forward to 2018 and I received an email from my friend Ian Whates at Newcon Press. We had for some years discussed an anthology of my stories, but never managed to make it happen, so Ian suggested we extract the three Krayan tales from what we already had and that I write two new stories to make a new work. I was absolutely thrilled to receive this request, not least because it gave me a bona fide excuse to make a final return to Kray. In addition, the work was guaranteed publication with Newcon, making it an attractive proposition for me.

Writing Funeral For A Pyuter and First Temple (which featured the return of Barakystys) was a delight. I was amazed how easy it was for me to immerse myself once again in Kray. I think that city and the scenario as a whole must represent me in some deep way, because I’d forgotten none of it and felt all the old fascinations. Ian’s offer also allowed me to write a piece set in the Galactic Quarter, which I had not properly visited in the original novel.

The new cover for the 25th anniversary edition of Memory Seed echoes the Art Nouveau-styled cover I designed for Tales From The Spired Inn. The two books are definitely of a piece.

All in all, writing the Newcon anthology was a wonderful experience for a lucky author.

Memory Seed At 25, Day 7

Here are the links to the new paperback edition of Memory Seed.

Amazon US:
Amazon UK:

Memory Seed At 25, Interview

Today I’m delighted to be able to link to a new interview about Memory Seed done by that excellent chap Mark Yon over at SFF World. Many thanks to Mark for taking the time to do this.

Memory Seed At 25, Day 6

The 25th anniversary edition is out today from all the usual places!

Memory Seed At 25, Day 5

The Climate Emergency in 2021 is worse than ever. In 1992, I was thinking about global warming, the ozone hole and humanity’s ethical attitude to the planet. Many people thought about CO2 and spray cans, but fewer considered how we should be conceiving nature and the environment. As individualistic Westerners, most, if not all of my readership considered themselves apart from nature, if not actually above it, and perhaps would have been surprised by my advocacy of ethical change. I’ve long thought the Climate Emergency requires an ethical solution, not a technological one – or, at least, an ethical solution with a bit of technology thrown in. The problem is our carbonised technology, yes; but below that is a deeper layer. Us.

Of late it has become rather unfashionable to claim human beings are qualitatively different to animals and the rest of nature, because to many people that distinction implies we are a special case deserving special treatment – i.e. we can carry on polluting etc. I say human beings are qualitatively different but don’t deserve special treatment. To use David Attenborough’s mode, we have to co-exist with nature. We do share this planet, and all life is worthy and valuable purely through its existence. Nature has a right to life just as we do. I see no conflict in human beings being conceived as different and in us living ethically with nature on a single planet. We simply have to stop pretending we are the masters with a right to exploit and despoil. We also have to stop pretending we are entirely free. We are not. Living on one planet limits us – a very hard fact to swallow.

The thing is: we have to choose our future. At the moment that is very difficult, because we have not yet learned to create just, insightful societies based on true human needs. What we have at the moment is a terrible array of beasts on our back: narcissism, patriarchy, capitalism, religious and magical thinking, and a basic, widely-shared lack of understanding of ourselves – which, to be fair, is largely due to our current historical position.

Currently, we are beginning to put into place the technological fix, and – who knows? – perhaps that will be in place by 2050 or 2060, as appears necessary. But with humanity currently playing with AI fire and addicted to its own digital media, those beasts on our backs are getting heavier and more powerful. The ethical solution seems to be a long way off.

I hope a time doesn’t arrive when those beasts halt all ethical progress, because then we would be slaves. One of the central messages of Memory Seed is that we can’t be saved – we have to save ourselves. But if we are enslaved, that feat will be almost impossible.

Memory Seed At 25, Day 4

I was young when Memory Seed as it is now known (originally it was Kray) arrived in my conscious mind, and still young when it was published: 30 and 34 respectively. It is not a perfect novel, and there are things I would change. But what things?

One of my main inspirations for the story was environmental destruction being wreaked upon the planet. That destruction had first come to general attention in the 1960s and 1970s, but there was a media focus on it at the end of the 1980s, which deeply affected me. The Green Party made gains in various elections at that time – one of many symptoms of growing unease. I had for a long time been fascinated by James Lovelock’s work, not least the Gaia Theory, though at the time, and to his great annoyance, Gaia was hijacked by a motley band of Green fantasists and New Age nobodies. Though I was never one of their number, I did bend the applicability of Gaia Theory for literary purposes.

The situation of the city of Kray is desperate. These are end times. The final city on Earth, it is under attack from planet-wide deadly vegetation, mutated viruses and germs known generally as the pestilence, and by pollution leading to, amongst many effects, feminisation of male animals and human beings.

In a nutshell, I changed Gaia Theory from science – which it undoubtedly is, since it is generally accepted that it has made accurate predictions, amongst other tests of the Scientific Method – to literary metaphor. In those final scenes when the planet seems to be dashing the last dregs of humanity against the rocks of its own city I expressed the “anger” of the Earth against human beings. That storm seems intended to wipe them off the face of the planet, leaving only the plants, animals and fungi of the penultimate chapter, which, in a literary and real spring, begin recolonising what once was human territory.

Perhaps it is going too far to say I would change that aspect of the book, since those final metaphoric scenes do give the finale their power. But I do need to state that Gaia Theory is not conscious, nor is it teleological. If we describe it as Earth Systems Science (which Gaiaphobes are wont to do) then we see what it really is: a collection of positive and negative feedback loops which, taken as a whole, allow the Earth to regulate its own environment. That regulation is automatic and non-conscious – a process of maths and science.

In fact, in a way I did make this point myself a decade or so later in Urbis Morpheos. In that novel I posited a number of ways conscious characters could interact with the systems of Earth Systems Science. Urbis Morpheos also is about the way human beings perceive and interact with the environment, but, set a million years hence, that includes the manufactured environment, which in my future vision has grown to such an extent the natural environment is limited to havens. And I posited an equivalent: Agaiah.

We should not create an Agaiah, however. We need to understand Gaia.

Memory Seed At 25, Day 3

Happy anniversary Memory Seed! Twenty-five years ago today I became an author – an amazing experience. This picture was created by George Cairns, then working with me at the University of Luton, with the help of lecturer Dave Green and a student whose name I’ve forgotten. The twenty-five years since have been a bit of a rollercoaster ride… I hope the next quarter century is more stable!

Memory Seed At 25, Day 2

There were two main reasons why I wrote men out of Kray and Memory Seed. One was my burgeoning interest in feminism, a cause I wholeheartedly supported then as now. The second was a problem then only recently recognised by scientists, which can be called feminisation owing to pollutant chemicals. In the early 1990s, this topic, dealt with in New Scientist, which was where I noticed it, was a new threat. By a startling coincidence Erin Brockovich wrote a piece for The Guardian only a couple of weeks ago, which, if mathematically flawed, did alert readers once again to the issue of chemical pollution in the environment and in the objects we make and use – mostly of plastic, eg PFAS, specifically mentioned by Brockovich. (A follow-up piece by Professor Shanna Swan, an expert on environmental medicine and public health, on 28th March underlined the problem and the science behind it.)

It is Zinina in particular who notices the past history of this circumstance when she travels to the east of the city into wild jungle to find enigmatic carvings on various temple walls. The chapter in which this happens not only gives a little background to the reader, it allows the characters to assess and bond with one another as they grasp the truth of the distant past, and the noophytes in particular.

For me, feminism is a sub-category of humanism. I became a feminist not only because I recognised and identified with the situation of women in a patriarchal world, but because I saw patriarchy as a consequence of a form of social organisation operating at a still deeper level. In the decades since I’ve expanded and sophisticated that view; and have tried to write about it, usually failing. (At the moment I’m making a series of films, Condition: Human, covering these issues and topics.) In my opinion, all humanists could be feminists.

I wasn’t the first to create an all-female scenario and I won’t be the last, but that third version of the book was the one which got all the themes right, and I’m glad I put it together. Kray is a contradiction – a city of women, a women’s city, yet suffering from male social structures and problems: hierarchy, elitism, prejudice, violence.

Still… almost no men. That’s an improvement on what we have now.

Memory Seed At 25, Day 1

One of the questions I am most often asked about Memory Seed concerns deKray. In a city of women, he is pretty much the only free male character; certainly the only important one. Not only that, his name seems to imply he is “of Kray” or somehow represents the city. Who, then, is he? Does he represent masculinity? What is his role?

Though he is the only free man in the novel, other men are mentioned – those inside the Fish Chambers of the Goddess’ temple for instance – and it is never stated or implied that men simply aren’t around. (In Tales From The Spired Inn I added a few men to the female mix.) DeKray though does have a special place in the scenario, and his name is relevant.

The published novel was the third version of the story, which I wrote some time in 1993 when my soon-to-be editor at Orbit, Tim Holman, was without me realising it considering the work. When he contacted me the following year I had updated the second version, in which all the elements of Memory Seed were present except the female/male gender balance, so I had to tell him there was a new version. This third version was in part inspired by my dedication to the feminist cause, but also by research into feminisation of animals owing to pollution. The main thrust though was to write men out of Kray, something I did with relish.

DeKray does not represent masculinity except in that he is defunct, as traditional masculinity should be. As is made clear by his inability to see the Clocktower at the end of the novel, he is a dead end: the past, retrogressive, old-fashioned – the deceased hand of male ideas and culture, which has no place in the future of Arrahaquen et al. Nor does his line continue through children.

DeKray does have a role however, which involves the Cowhorn Tower. Various fans of the novel noticed the visual echoes around him: the lapel pin, the small copper object, and the Cowhorn Tower itself. DeKray in fact, though he cannot see the Clocktower, is on a time loop himself; this the reader knows because he sees himself being operated upon, and because of the discovery of Myshelau’s grave.

I like deKray because of his calm, almost simple view of life, and because of his directness. He is an honest character, if one at something of a loss in the city of women. I think it is appropriate that Kray remains his environment.

Memory Seed 25th Anniversary Cover Reveal

The Memory Seed 25th anniversary edition is out in paperback from Infinity Plus Books on Thursday 8th April.