Notes from genre author Stephen Palmer

Could The Earth Fight Back?

When I came up with the idea of Kray (as Memory Seed was called in 1988) I was much influenced by James Lovelock’s concept of Gaia. The wretched inhabitants of Earth’s last city fight encroaching greenery and the weather, while the rest of the planet has been rendered uninhabitable, covered by a poisonous, impenetrable mat of vegetation from which humanity has retreated. I loved this idea of the planet fighting back, and, at the time, wasn’t much concerned with the science of it all. (Later on I would be, which led to the themes and far-future plot of Urbis Morpheos.)

In 1988 Lovelock’s work was best called the Gaia Hypothesis. It was loathed in some quarters, lauded elsewhere, often misunderstood, then taken up by New Age ‘Green’ types who also misunderstood it, much to Lovelock’s annoyance. In a minor way I was one of those irritations, as, strictly speaking, the Earth couldn’t be personified to the extent of focusing on humanity’s last city as I portrayed in my novel. Now, however, it can be called Gaia Theory, as it’s much better understood and has made predictions later shown by scientific experiment to be true.

Back in 1988 though what interested me was the plants and the weather. I personified some of my own anger here: the rage of the wind and the rain, battering people who had ignored environmental warnings and were continuing to ignore them. The noophytes themselves were well aware of humanity’s ecocidal past, as they make clear to Arrahaquen in the electronic environment of Gwmru, and to Omvendyn in my upcoming collection Tales From The Spired Inn.

But could the planet change to the extent I visualised in Memory Seed? Well, one of the most often quoted consequences of climate change is an increase in extreme weather – so, yes, it could change that much. And an increase in carbon dioxide – paradoxically given our current rate of deforestation – means more atmospheric food, which would lead to more plants if the human population crashed. Another main theme I dealt with was the pollution of the environment with chemicals (for instance oestrogen mimics) which feminise male animals. That also could happen; it’s been offered as an explanation for the declining sperm count of men in industrialised countries, so quite possibly it’s happening now.

Gaia works by positive and negative feedback. Rock weathering for instance is a carbon reducing process, meaning that an increase in the surface area of rocks which can be weathered leads over millions of years to a global reduction in temperature (i.e. less of a greenhouse effect), which is in due course opposed by carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases produced by volcanoes. There are dozens of such processes, all of them created and “maintained” by life, although of course life does this without realising it. An example of a positive feedback is colder global temperatures leading to more ice, which reflects away more of the sun’s energy, which makes things still colder… and so on. Snowball Earths created by such processes are thought to have been melted by the greenhouse effect brought about by volcanic gases – one such catastrophic event may even have kick-started the Cambrian Explosion.

So, my portrayal of the planet attacking the doomed city of Kray may have been fanciful, but perhaps not that fanciful.

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Old drafts

What does an author do with old, printed-out drafts of a novel? Some authors publish them in order to point out how much they’ve improved. Some deceased authors of great fame have them published by members of their family.

I didn’t want anybody reading my terrible early drafts of Memory Seed and Glass, so the photos in the slideshow below show what I did with them…


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Location, location, location

I like maps. I’ve drawn a map for every large-scale novel I’ve written. They’re very useful; and Memory Seed was no exception. Because the novel was set entirely in Kray, a small coastal city, I wanted its urban topography to be consistent and exact. Below, you can see the original map drawn in 1992 for the rewrite of the 1988 draft.

The six stories in Tales From The Spired Inn take place in various locations. My fascination with inns and taverns led me to create a couple of hostelries crucial to the plot, of which the Spired Inn was the most important. ‘Dr Vanchovy’s Final Case’ takes place mostly inside that inn, placed near the Gardens in the lower part of the Archaic Quarter. ‘Funeral For A Pyuter’ takes place largely near and in the Cemetery, one of my favourite locations because of its association with the Revellers, the proud, antagonistic, narcissistic class of Krayans who follow their own extreme brand of tribal loyalty. ‘Granny’ also takes place in the Gardens and the Cemetery, with some action back at the Spired Inn.

‘First Temple’ though was a different affair. In the novel I mentioned the Andromeda Quarter and its bizarre, jungle-like terrain, but I never went there via the plot. After Ian Whates asked me to write two new stories I thought this would be the only opportunity I’d get to visit it, so the story mostly takes place in that tropical, earthquake-prone quarter.

‘Memory Seed’ is an extract from the novel designed to act as a breather before the final tale, ‘The Green Realm Below,’ which was the first Kray story I wrote, and which takes place in the Gardens but mostly underground, revisiting a realm hinted at during Arrahaquen’s escape from the hellish dungeons beneath Gugul Street.

Location has always been important to my novels. Kray was vivid in my mind from the moment I wrote it, and it remains that way to this day… helped by a map!

Kray map

Just two images

Memory Seed began with a long walk around Virginia Water in 1988, during which two mental images popped into my mind. Tales Of The Spired Inn began with an unexpected query from Ian Whates of Newcon Press, then an immediate mental submersion into the sights of the doomed city of Kray…

It’s strange how tiny, essentially random mental effluvia can kick-start a novel. I would never have guessed that eight years after imagining a series of moss-covered rooves leading down to a futuristic port surrounded by greenery, and an opulent bordello which was in fact the cover for some other operation, I would be a published author in the SF world. Somehow, themes and characters in my subconscious were stimulated by the sights of Virginia Water: lots of trees, lots of greenery, a ruin, a lake. That was in spring 1988. Soon I had a first draft of the story: clunky, unsubtle, terrible. Four years passed, and the people, sights and sounds of Kray returned to haunt me. In 1992 I wrote a much better draft; the first time I’d returned to a particular scenario for a second go.

Somewhere around the end of the 2000s decade, after a very long period away, I revisited Virginia Water to go for a nostalgic walk. What amazed me was not so much my enjoyment of the sights and the environment, rather that what rose up in my mind was actual memories of parts of the novel and how I put it together – the nuts and bolts of the thing more than anything else. It just goes to show how much is retained in the subconscious; all those images and thoughts which were so vital and so vivid to me in 1988, still there, pristine and available more than two decades later. Even to me, who utilises and values the intuition of the subconscious, and works with it wherever possible, that was a surprise.

So when I came to write the two new stories in Tales From The Spired Inn I had all that stuff accessible, ready, lucid and striking still, three decades on. As the 1996 reviews remarked, I have a vivid imagination, and it was easy to recall various mental scenes from the book: the shape and lighting of the common room in the Spired Inn, the trees and mausoleums of the Cemetery, the rain-spattered, ruined streets. I loved going back!

As I’ve written elsewhere, an author’s subconscious is an essential tool of the job. It should be cultivated, given its freedom, allowed to express itself. That’s when the best art arrives.

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Virginia Water montage

OCR & All That

When I retrieved the rights to my novels Memory Seed and Glass it transpired that Orbit had no digital copies of them, which was a bit of a surprise. So I had no option but to buy a secondhand copy of each, rip them up into individual pages (more difficult than it sounds – every page had to be undamaged), then Optical Character Recognition each page to recreate the novel as digital text. But, as scanner users will know, OCR is not a 100% accurate process, which meant I then had to edit the words into recognisable form, then do a second pass edit to iron out remaining problems. It was a lengthy, tiring and frustrating task – but I got there in the end (both novels currently available as ebooks from Infinity Plus Books). The pictures below show the photographic evidence!


Discoveries by Nicholas Thomas

Discoveries: the Voyages of Captain Cook.

I really enjoyed this one. Relating the events of James Cook’s three voyages of discovery, the book takes a gratifyingly sociological view of events, focusing largely on the interaction between Cook and his British officers, crew, and scientists and artists, and the various indigenous people they met: Maori, Tahitians, Hawaiians etc. This is neither a hagiography nor a bleeding-heart liberal tome. It’s fair minded, well written, and never less than enjoyable. The complex rites and social niceties of, for instance, the Hawaiians – who in the end killed Cook in the surf of their own beach – are explained, but not with such complexity as to reduce the impact of the event. Fair time is given to other officers’ interpretations of events, while much use is made of first hand accounts and other historical sources. With maps, paintings and a simple chronological narrative, this is a terrific read. Highly recommended.


Memory Seed film

Five years ago I made a short, impressionistic film about my debut Memory Seed. With the related short story collection Tales From The Spired Inn about to be published by Newcon Press, I thought I’d link to it here.


Memory Seed ebook cover

Memory Seed

Blue Lily Commission review

Lovely review here for my new Blue Lily Commission album Shall We Go For A Walk? , from Jeff Fitzgerald of the online magazine ‘Psychedelic Waves.’

(Four Journeys here / The Undrugged Orchestra here.)

Special thanks to Jeff for his thoughts.

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Tales From The Spired Inn ebook

The Kindle edition of my forthcoming Tales From The Spired Inn is now available to pre-order: UK edition; US edition.
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This weekend, events will take place in New Zealand marking the 250th anniversary of the arrival there of Captain Cook, which, because of misunderstanding across a cultural abyss, became a disaster. Maori were killed by Cook’s men during a spiral of cultural non-comprehension and male aggression.

All this, of course, is highly regrettable. It is regrettable that arrogant male colonialists ventured out – in Cook’s case with secret orders regarding the appropriation of land – and killed members of the local population. Even though those men decided that the Polynesian races were “superior” to African races (in part because of their straight hair), they still considered themselves dominant over all: an attitude of gross narcissism, compounded by their overweeningly proud male stance.

When, then, should apologies for such behaviour cease? The British of 2019 are an aeon and a world away from those of Cook’s day. Should we feel guilty for the deeds of those people? Should we also feel guilty for English actions in France during the Middle Ages? Should the English feel guilty for what they did to the Welsh in earlier years? And what about the French themselves, or the Danes? Should they feel guilty for what happened in 1066?

Where do we draw the line?

Personally, although I despise all patriarchal deeds – misogyny, colonialism, genocide, war – including what all British colonialists did, I don’t see the merits of me, via the government, apologising for the deeds of men utterly divorced from myself. If these incidents had occurred in 1969, then yes: formal apology and massive reparations. But 1769? Wouldn’t it make more sense to understand the reasons for the events of that historical era?

The other issue with making apologies for historical events is that it halts the moving-on progress. As a mostly Welsh person who loves Wales, I feel no need for an apology from the English about what was done to the Welsh. So… have regret for such deeds: yes. But most important is understanding. We have to understand the nature of the perpetrators of such deeds so that we can stop those deeds happening again. We need to see men for what they mostly are – little boys – to halt patriarchy. We need to understand the roots in narcissism of racism, misogyny and other forms of prejudice in order to halt them in the present day. Apologising for the misdeeds of people who lived an age and a world away in fact obstructs ethical progress, because it presumes a connection which does not and cannot exist, even on the national, formal scale.

Though I am male and British just like Captain Cook, he is utterly divorced from me. My task is to see through the attitudes of people like him who live in the present day, and to call them out. And such I shall continue to do.