stephenpalmersf

Notes from genre author Stephen Palmer

Category: Science Fiction

Death Post Covid

Readers of Woodland Revolution may be interested to check out this article by the outstanding Yuval Noah Harari, in which he speculates about humanity’s reaction to the aftermath of Covid-19 in the context of its millennia-long search for the meaning of death. I particularly liked in the conclusion these lines: “It is up to individuals to do better philosophy.” That is something Wolfy would very much agree with.

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Woodland Revolution review

Really pleased with this review of Woodland Revolution on the Druidlife blog.

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An Aether Egg

I was asked by Penny Blake of the Blake&Wight site to create an Aether Egg for her, so here it is…

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Real Woodland

Quite a few of my novels are inspired by real places. Usually that inspiration (Memory Seed for instance) is one of environment, which then becomes mutated in my imagination, but sometimes places I know appear in my fiction exactly as they are. One such is the pine mound of Woodland Revolution. When I was putting the work together, I happened to be driving past a local Shropshire landmark, quite close in fact to the spot where, a few years previously, I’d seen the roadkill fox which inspired Woodland Revolution.

Harmer Hill pine sandstone

Shropshire has a lot of sandstone. This stone, in drumlins forged by Ice Age glaciers in my home county, leads to quite a limited, even sparse environment: gorse, heathers, silver birch and pine. The combination is distinctive, for example as pictured above near Harmer Hill in north Shropshire.

This was the environment I imagined both for the outcrop set with gnarly, dark green pines and for Professor Owl – the red hill with the single, enormous pine, which is symbolic of the axis of the world…

Environment channels our thought in very many ways. We are scions of what lies around us, whether we know it or not.

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Woodland Revolution, read

In which the author reads from the opening of his book Woodland Revolution

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Woodland Revolution out today

UK

US & elsewhere

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Woodland Revolution trailer

A short video trailer for tomorrow’s publication of Woodland Revolution.

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Woodland Revolution full art

This is the full cover art for Woodland Revolution.

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Mythos Week, Day 5

What are myths? The great author on religion Karen Armstrong said that (i) they’re concerned with death, (ii) they’re accompanied by ritual, (iii) they’re concerned with extreme experiences and the unknown, (iv) they tell us how to behave ethically, and (v) they’re concerned with non-earthly realms. In Mythos Week – preparing for the publication of Woodland Revolution on 31st March – I’m going to write about these five aspects.

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Non-earthly realms is always a tricky one for atheists. I remember, many years ago now, Waterstones (whom I used to work for) publishing a magazine called Insight, and we booksellers were asked to frame questions for Philip Pullman, who at the time was promoting The Amber Spyglass. My question – which was published – was along the lines of: As an atheist, do you think using the tropes and images of religion and spirituality in your work taints atheism? Summarised, his reply was: Interesting question, but, on balance, no.

I respectfully disagree with the excellent Mr Pullman. I think using such metaphors and ideas does damage the cause of atheism and humanism. Why? Because, at whatever subliminal level it might be, if we pretend there are spirits and souls travelling to an afterlife we accede to the prophets of narcissism and Dualism: narcissism because the notion of spirit is a triumph of conjecture over evidence (not to mention Darwinian common sense), and Dualism because Descartes’ idea simply made no sense when in due course it was examined.

Therefore, in Woodland Revolution, when Wolfy and Houndie come to the first climax of their epic journey the environment they encounter, while appearing to be a spiritual realm, is presented as a hallucination. As regular readers of my blog will know, the evolution of human consciousness is a topic of particular interest to me, so in Woodland Revolution, although Karen Armstrong’s exceptional A Short History Of Myth was a prime influence, I was also influenced by David Lewis-Smith’s description of experiences inside Palaeolithic caves. His marvellous book The Mind Inside The Cave hypothesises that ancient human beings experienced stone walls as a kind of liminal barrier, behind which they believed existed all sorts of non-earthly realms. But in Woodland Revolution, such thoughts are presented as hallucination.

I don’t think this reduces the impact of the section at all. The wonder of cave art, as described by the brilliant Jean Clottes for instance, or as depicted in Werner Herzog’s remarkable film Cave Of Forgotten Dreams, is a human thing not a spiritual thing. Such wonder speaks of sensitivity to the natural environment, of visual creativity, of a profound link to the land which most of us modern people have lost. I took great care with my caves, and with the underworld environment which followed…

Five thousand years ago the world began to change, from cultures infused with mythos to those of logos. At the same time, male thought, along with men themselves, began to dominate. Religious tracts lauded the value of the word, placing it at the beginning of their ideas of creation.

The Ancient Greeks considered visual, emotional knowledge inferior to that of the rational word because they deemed the word able to describe deeper concepts and philosophies. But their bias was illusory. In embracing logos and losing mythos, human culture took a step into facts, technical practice, pragmatism and efficiency. Was this a gain or a loss?

Critics of atheism complain that removing gods and the supernatural from our lives cheapens it by divesting it of transcendent meaning. But human life and human consciousness are already radiant with meaning – our own meaning, rooted in an understanding of consciousness and the human condition. We can and should devise our own new myths, based on understanding, not on trite and spurious invention.

We lost mythos in gaining the modern world. We lost a lot of the meaning of life in our search for pragmatism, efficiency, and doctrine based on the word. Yet, it is also true to say that facts are essential for meaningful life.

So we need to weave again a mythos of humanity. This time, however, it has to be based in understanding, not invention.

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Mythos Week, Day 4

What are myths? The great author on religion Karen Armstrong said that (i) they’re concerned with death, (ii) they’re accompanied by ritual, (iii) they’re concerned with extreme experiences and the unknown, (iv) they tell us how to behave ethically, and (v) they’re concerned with non-earthly realms. In Mythos Week – preparing for the publication of Woodland Revolution on 31st March – I’m going to write about these five aspects.

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How should we behave?

The myths of prehistoric hunter gatherer societies, some of which are tantalisingly preserved in our earliest written tales – the Garden Of Eden for instance – were not only oral histories and cultural meaning frameworks, they were depictions of ethical behaviour. These days, we use the word myth to mean something untrue, but that’s a modern interpretation. As Karen Armstrong pointed out, a myth is simultaneously something which is related as happening once, yet which is perpetually important and relevant to a community or society. Myths, in the past, were templates for living.

Our view of history is linear and chronological; we’ve forgotten what is timeless and universal about the human condition. The pre-logos world was more concerned with what an event meant rather than what actually occurred.

When I was a teenager, I, like so many teenagers, read Lord Of The Rings. I sympathised with the characters, I adored the vast landscapes, I was enthralled by the epic tale, and I loved the naturalistic detail Tolkien put into his masterpiece. But although I treasured the book for those things, there was one tiny detail which remained in my mind as the decades passed by. It was a short section in one of the appendices, describing the life of Aragorn, King of Gondor and Arnor after the destruction of the One Ring.

In just a few lines Tolkien gave us an extraordinary glimpse into his own thinking about death. Having had the inspirational notion of making Elves immortal and Men mortal, he described how Aragorn and Arwen approach the final part of Aragorn’s life. Aragorn – a man of Numenor – is allowed to “lay down his life” at the end rather than die of natural causes or illness. This extraordinary phrase resonated with me like little else in Lord Of The Rings, and it has stayed with me ever since. Having had a wonderful life, Aragorn is lucky enough to be able to take his own life into his hands for the purpose of ending it – deliberately, thoughtfully, lovingly, a deed of living though it is simultaneously a deed of dying. Then again, death is part of life; so why not?

We have more recent courageous deeds to inspire us into new ways of thinking. Terry Pratchett, so admired and loved for his Discworld novels, was also a deep thinker in the matter of death. His assisted dying documentary Choosing To Die, which focused on the final hours of the 71-year-old motor neuron disease sufferer Peter Smedley, was a truly extraordinary piece of work, a film I watched, often with tears in my eyes, recognising both the bravery of Smedley’s stance and the brilliance with which Pratchett communicated his message. For all that millions have enjoyed the Discworld novels, I can’t help thinking that Pratchett’s Dignitas documentary and his attitude to end-of-life matters will be remembered as his true legacy.

Christian groups and other deluded persons criticised Choosing To Die as “biased,” and much more besides. Well, they would. They needed to keep believing their fantasies. But Pratchett himself said he was “appalled at the current situation,” and that “it should be possible for someone stricken with a serious and ultimately fatal illness to choose to die peacefully with medical help, rather than suffer.” Indeed, it should be possible. That’s the true humanity, which religion cares nothing about.

Woodland Revolution is a myth.

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