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Notes from sf author Stephen Palmer

Eva by Peter Dickinson

I was disappointed by this book. I’m a big fan of Peter Dickinson – his The Weathermonger is among my all-time favourite books – but this novel was not terribly engaging, and even in places rather dull, despite the potential of the scenario. In a nutshell: Eva, a girl of about 13, has a terrible accident, and the only way to save her is to “implant” her into a chimp body. The novel then details what follows.

I think the main problem I had with the book was the old-fashioned writing style, which had none of the zip and zing of the author’s other works. It was all tell and no show; and the tell was dull and in places rather vague. (I found myself increasingly perplexed by the rapturous reviews given by other readers.)

The novel in fact is more of a satire on advertising, money and media than anything else. There is little on the human/chimp “interface,” and what there is could best be described as trite. First published in 1988, it seems to be more of a reaction against gross Capitalism and the whole ‘eighties “loadsamoney” culture, with specific barbs against advertising and media manipulation.

A shame. Still, Dickinson remains one of the all-time great children’s authors.

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Sci Fi Explorations – Featured Authors

Here’s the current list of partner authors for the new Sci Fi Explorations newsletter, run by Nathan Hystad. The list includes myself, Ralph Kern and Jo Zebedee.

Sign up for the newsletter to receive regular updates…

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The Girl

I wrote the first volume of Factory GirlThe Girl With Two Souls – from December 2013 to January 2014, and at that point I’d had the book title floating around my mind for quite a while. It seems however that there’s a bit of a trend at the moment for novels with ‘The Girl’ in the title.

A few months ago an online article at npr.org observed: Crime novelist Megan Abbott and Sarah Weinman of the newsletter Publisher’s Lunch stopped by to discuss the phenomenon with NPR’s Steve Inskeep. “I have talked to other crime writers that have been urged by various professional people in their life to put the word girl in their title,” says Abbott. “It’s not necessarily an issue with the content of the book itself, but there’s this sort of shorthand that if it has ‘girl’ in the title, then I know what to expect.”

And on bustle.com: Of course, not all “girl” books could capture that same attention. But even some of those that didn’t, or some those that were published before using “girl” titles were all the rage, are absolute must-reads. Don’t get cynical; not all books with “girl” in the title are trying to recapture the singular magic of Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train. Some of these “girl” books are unique and thoughtful and funny and smart in their own ways, and they’re not just Gone Girl wannabes. In fact, many of the books included on this list are ones you need to read.

And from last year: Goodreads have released their 15 most popular books with the word “girl” in the title, and the diverse list ranges from romance to YA to historical fiction…

The NY Times seems more cynical about the trend though: “Girl” books seem destined to be big this summer [2016], with several juicy and suspenseful novels arriving during the next few months. And while their titles may seem formulaic at this point, their plots and prose often wreak havoc on the tired trope of girls in peril.

Thank goodness I had my titles set in 2012, although it is true that Kora, who’s 14, is very much in peril…

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The Trilogy Approaches

Here’s some news about the forthcoming trilogy.

The work is one long novel in three volumes, and will as a whole have the title Factory Girl – so it will be called the Factory Girl Trilogy. This title refers to Kora, the main character, and her father’s great automated creation the Factory.

Infinity Plus will be publishing some time in November. It has not yet been decided exactly how publication will be timed. The two main alternatives are: to publish the three volumes on the same day, or to published volume 2 a week after the first, then volume 3 a week after that.

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Technically Animals

A couple of things recently have caused me to ponder once again the way we consider the evolution of humanity. For decades, if not centuries, this activity has been the preserve of men – at least, those in the sciences. It could be argued that women novelists have brought a huge contribution to our understanding of ourselves. The first thing that made me ponder was the broadcast yesterday and today of the excellent David Attenborough-narrated radio documentary The Waterside Ape, which examined theories and ideas of human evolution in association with water – mostly in the form of coastal regions. There was much talk of Elaine Morgan and her work: she was the author of the controversial The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis and The Descent Of Woman. The second thing was a very brief post on an SFF forum, in which an entirely physical (warmth, food, shelter, land) list was given as the sole requirements for human beings before anything else could be taken into account.

Do we still imagine that human beings are basically animals with intelligence tacked on? I think a lot of men believe that, and it shows in some of the more ridiculous theories proposed for the course of humanity’s evolution, of which one of the worst was Raymond Dart’s hunter theory. That theory is rightly mocked now, but the fact that it arose and was taken seriously is an indication of how blinkered male thinking dominates so much of our perception of ourselves. And we only need to think of B.F. Skinner to see the extremes to which such male thinking can go.

My reply to the forum post was to point out that in fact a list of physical requirements is only half the list. We also need as absolute necessities: family, community, love, meaning. A human being with only the former or only the latter is not going to survive.

It is all these social requirements that women scientists and thinkers often put forward. Women, of course, being the “compassionate,” “social” and “soft” gender are good at such things – or so men imagine. Men, apparently, are the scientific, reasoning, realistic gender.

I think this is not only nonsense, it is dangerous nonsense. We are almost entirely social beings. The whole point of consciousness is that, via the mental model of reality which we all carry in our minds, instincts are reduced to almost nothing; and although we do have animal instincts, they are far more prevalent in the very early years, when they are needed – when there is as yet no conscious mind. Why dangerous nonsense? Because it obscures, I would argue often deliberately, the truth of humanity – that we are social animals above all else. To bring into play animal traits that were last relevant 2 million years ago is a ploy intended to keep men where they want to be: top dog. Ignoring the social truth of humanity is ignoring women.

I just hope the steady influx of women into positions of influence in science is going to banish once and for all these ‘human animal’ notions of humanity. Nothing can be understood until we understand the human condition. That is not an animal condition: it is something else entirely.

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A Second Infection

The Woodbridge Press anthology Explorations: Through The Wormhole is doing well, so I thought I’d offer a few words about my contribution to it.

I wanted to write a tale of two massively different viewpoints. Both of these viewpoints have a main character, but in both cases the exact ‘status’ of the narrator is left uncertain. Possibly they are not even human. I like enigma and mystery in my stories, and A Second Infection is no different – but there are many clues as to what is going on, and the ending is clear enough.

The story was enjoyable to write. I made a first unsuccessful attempt, then a much better second draft. It has been described as: The literary entry, Stephen Palmer’s A Second Infection, is beautifully-worded and deliciously alien, although the prose may prove too complex for some.

The anthology (which has received a number of excellent reviews on amazon and Goodreads) can be found here (UK) and here (US).

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SciFi Explorations

SciFi Explorations is a new website set up to promote exciting and challenging SF. From the people who brought you the Woodbridge Press, it aims to deliver to your inbox information about the finest new work from authors old and new.

Check it out now. It’s easy to subscribe.

‘Our website is all about bringing to you, the reader, the highest quality science fiction from the best authors on the scene. We do not accept payment for this – we simply find, or are recommended, exceptional quality books and, with the permission of the authors, and promote them through our website… We may also promote an author who has already proven themselves to produce high quality work, providing early notice on their new releases and pre-orders.’

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Explorations: Through The Wormhole

The debut offering from Woodbridge Press is out today, and already gathering good reviews on amazon. Here’s the UK link you need; it’s also available on the .com…

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Woodbridge Press

Woodbridge Press (run by Nathan Hystad) are on Saturday publishing their debut collection, which contains a short story by me – A Second Infection. In this video clip, Nathan Hystad talks about his mission…

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Explorations: Through The Wormhole

Arriving Saturday…

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