Notes from genre author Stephen Palmer

New TD Review

Rather chuffed to read this new review of the Tangerine Dream book.

The Human Cosmos by Jo Marchant

Billed as a secret history of the stars, this book takes a journey through human history from Lascaux to extremophiles and planet hunting in a bid to illustrate how crucial the night sky has been (and should be now) for human beings.

Each of twelve chapters concentrates in chronological order on one aspect of stars, planets and the night sky, beginning with Palaeolithic people, heading through the agricultural revolution, fate and irrational faith, measuring time, science, art, biochronology and mind. Very well written, engaging and interesting this is a really good read which requires no scientific knowledge – just a fascination with the stars and our reaction to them.

A couple of niggles: the chapter on art is a bit wishy-washy, and the concluding chapter on mind perpetuates a few post-modern myths about “unusual” views, including the one about science not giving the whole picture. We know it doesn’t, because it’s an incomplete process. Meanwhile, consciousness is something we “have,” “in our brains,” rather than the experience itself. Minor criticisms however, in an increasingly complicated field.

All in all, highly recommended. The author ends with a plea for us to regain our sense of awe at the wonder of the night sky, a request for which respect is due.

Shrewsbury Museum Event

On Friday 25th March, starting at 7:30pm, I’ll be one of the guest authors at the Shrewsbury Museum evening. Maggie Love is hosting the evening; she’s the artistic director at Shrewsbury Youth Theatre, amongst many other things.

The evening begins in and around the current Ladybird Exhibition. We guest authors will be talking about our creative processes, modes of writing, etc, and our careers in general. I’ll have a few copies of my novels for sale. Come along if you can!

Tickets are ten pounds.


Tangerine Dream new review

Very nice new review here of my Tangerine Dream book.

Finding The Mother Tree

Finding The Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard

Recent developments in forestry have radically changed our understanding of how forests work. Suzanne Simard has spent a lifetime working out the truth about what happens underground, and her book is a revelation.

Finding The Mother Tree opens with a description of her childhood, spent deep in Canadian natural surroundings, mostly forested. It soon becomes clear that she is attuned to nature in a way most people aren’t, partly through sensitivity and partly through her family’s circumstances in British Columbia. As her life reaches adulthood however, it’s obvious to all that forestry is her passion and her academic future.

Simard’s discoveries seem trivial to some, and through her life she’s had many detractors. In a nutshell, she has proved that a vast network of fungi acting through mycorrhizal filaments works to allow all sorts of trees to pass water, nutrients and other substances to one another. In showing this (via an exhaustive set of fiddly experiments), she’s overturned the traditional view of forests operating via competition. In fact, they act through cooperation.

As the book reaches its conclusion it’s very clear that traditional means male, competitive and destructive, while her view emphasises cooperation. Simard is a trailblazer for women working in male institutions, and it’s a tribute to her that she’s done so much against such stubborn, ignorant opposition. What really stands out is how male foresters simply apply their boys’ view of the world to forests, assuming that competition for resources is the key to their commercial operations. When Simard proves them totally wrong they don’t like it, and do what they can to stop her. It’s only recently with the new generation of foresters that glimmers of comprehension are beginning to filter through.

Through the compelling story of how she makes her scientific case, Simard weaves the tale of her own life. I usually don’t much care for this type of approach, but in the first half of the book it is vital, relevant background. I have to say though that the second half could do without the personal stuff, which becomes increasingly off-putting.

This is a fascinating, important, timely book. Highly recommended to all those who value nature as it really is, not how men in particular have characterised it.

Author Event

I’m pleased to have been invited to attend an author event with four others at Shrewsbury Museum. Called ‘Write Here, Write Now,’ it’s on 25th March at 7pm. All welcome, and wine is promised.

Quite near the museum.

South by Merlin Coverley

I picked this up in a Waterstones sale on the strength of the blurb. It’s quite a quirky book, essentially a survey of attitudes to the concept of south. Part history, part cultural survey, it has four main sections: European south, the south Pacific, ‘magical’ souths (including Jorge Luis Borges), and Antarctica.

Illuminating and well written, if a little dense in places, this is a good read for sure, with the second part particularly good. The comparison with northern attitudes is well done.

Not for everyone then, but certainly worth a read if you spot it anywhere.

Live Readings

Local to Shrewsbury? Come on down!

Metazoa by Peter Godfrey-Smith

This terrific book is nothing less than a history of the likely evolution of the animal mind, starting from nothing, or, at least, from a past so distant there are almost no fossils. Published last year, it has already won many plaudits.

It begins with the simplest known multicellular animal types, focussing on glass sponges. In this and subsequent fascinating chapters, the author develops a theory of the animal mind using sensing and movement as his core processes. The chapters then go on to self-sensing, the crucial importance of knowing whether a stimulus comes from self or from the world outside, and then a look at how ever more sophisticated mental models evolved – and why.

Brilliantly written, compelling and fascinating, this is an excellent book. The author also has a go at analysing the so-called “hard problem” of consciousness, qualia. He is a materialist monist, so in my view he comes to a highly plausible declaration, which is that the mind is not something created by the brain, it is the brain, that is, when the brain is doing all its usual things. The mind in other words is not a thing or a consequence, it is a process. This leads to an excellent demolition of the usual SF AI tropes of mind-uploading, etc, which I had a go at in my novels Beautiful Intelligence and No Grave For A Fox (reviewers had differing opinions of the results).

This book comes highly recommended from me for non-specialist and specialists readers alike. The author’s first book on octopi, Other Minds, has been acknowledged a classic. I’ll be seeking out a copy soon.


Dan Jones and Phyrebrat of SFF Chronicles have begun a podcast covering various aspects of the genre, and I’m delighted to be their first guest. We spoke about Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, before heading off into my own career as an author.

To listen to Chronscast, check your podcast provider, or use the links below. They are hosted by Anchor by Spotify, but are also listed at the places below.

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