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Notes from genre author Stephen Palmer

Vote boy, get boy

I can’t say I’m surprised by today’s election result.

The Tories are one expression of the national character of England. Whereas in, say, America cultural narcissism is expressed via fact-free faith and an obscene surfeit of goods, and in China it appears through the brutal domination of the Chinese Communist Party, in Britain it is more subtle, more concealed. The English national character, exported with callous determination to the other three nations, is expressed via what is deemed a natural social hierarchy. This is why talk of social mobility in this country is a bit of a joke. There is social mobility, but only for people who conform to the norms of those classes in which it is allowed to be feasible. The unspoken thought is: there should be masters above.

Britain is in some respects a progressive country, but in most respects it is backward, fearful and cowardly. We haven’t had a Labour government in Britain since the 1970s. When Blair got in for three terms later on, that happened because he changed the Labour Party to conform with national norms. Labour became Tory-lite. Corbyn had absolutely no chance of succeeding yesterday because he offered something the British don’t want: radical change, humanity, decency, dignity, fairness and a just society. The British in general have little interest in such things. They have been played by the Tories as they always are – with ease, with a ruthless focus on the specifics of power, and with a kind of malicious, part ironic, part arrogant gaiety. Just like their friends at the Daily Mail, the Tories wanted the Labour and Liberal tribes to hate them, to be appalled by them, to loathe, especially via outraged liberals on social media; and they wanted that loathing to be expressed as loudly as possible. This deliberate polarisation, which as they well know is amplified by the digital world, usually benefits them the lean to the right. Too many anti-Tory liberals fell for it, not least on Facebook.

Tory conduct is a sort of thin-lipped, automatic condescension, which to them seems part of human nature but which in fact was manufactured centuries ago by boys who acquired power through violence. I call it ironic because in the main they’re alienated even from their own delight in what they’ve done over the years. They are the bureaucrats of disconnection.

It was significant that the Tories sowed disbelief even in their own trustworthiness. This was a deliberate ploy, as it was in 2016 in America. In times of distrust in politicians, in fake news and alternative facts, populations tend to the right. They do this because it seems to them that anything new and different is frightening; their national conservatism is expressed. In Britain this is particularly the case, as the Tories well know. Via social media they did their best to tear people from their roots in reality. They will do this for the foreseeable future, and when we get to the stage of deepfake videos this country really will be sunk.

Such sundering from human roots began a decade or so ago in my estimation. The scariest statement of the decade was made by Yuval Noah Harari in his superb 21 Lessons For The 21st Century. In it, he showed that before WW2 there were three main stories: Fascism, Socialism, and Liberal Democracy. Soon Fascism was overthrown, then Socialism, leaving just Liberal Democracy. But now, as he put it, we have no story at all. This is the true nightmare facing humanity. Corbyn put forward a story – a story of humanity, fairness and dignity – but he had absolutely no chance with such a tale. Perhaps he should now move to Finland.

We have a political system fit for the nineteenth century based on a voting system fit for the eighteenth. That the hypocrites of Labour and the hypocrites of the Tories have done nothing to give Britain a fair voting system tells you everything you need to know about this miserable, second-class country. It’s deeply ironic that values which are humane and progressive in modern politics are represented by countries we will soon be sundered from, but, frankly, this country deserves nothing more. I’ve been saying for ages that we don’t merit our place on the permanent council of the U.N. We long ago sank into second class mediocrity, and we have further to fall.

True revolution cannot in my opinion occur except outside the system. Those who try to work within it are moulded by it – hence New Labour. Yes, every few decades something good happens because of historical chance, but the other 99.9% is delivered by the system regardless of political colour. In Britain, that system is top heavy and suitably cloaked in the colours of an imaginary meritocracy.

True revolution follows naturally from changes within individuals, who then, if they’re lucky, manage to change their political and cultural environment. Fighting the Tories through their own system is an utter waste of time, quite apart from being meaningless unless you happen to live in a marginal constituency.

As Dorothy Rowe observed, there are no easy answers in life. You have to work hard, most of all at thinking. But thinking is difficult, and the British are lazy. If they’re offered easy answers they will take them. This is the message of today’s Tory victory. Conservatism is easy. Humanity is difficult.

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Coal by Barbara Freese

Subtitled A Human History, this book surveys coal and its relationship with us and with our various cultures. Opening with a history of its finding and use in medieval Britain, it shows how for centuries coal was a misunderstood, disliked and even feared thing, until Newcomen made his steam engine and the Industrial Revolution came into view. Then, reluctantly, people began using it, though they continued to suffer from the sulphurous smoke. Further chapters look at the industry in America and China.

I liked this book a lot. It’s insightful, well written, fair minded and ends with a warning about global warming. Though written in the early 2000s, its history and message still resonate, and will do for some time, as America and China continue to use this dirtiest and most polluting of fossil fuels.

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The Girl With One Friend new art

This is the full artwork for the new edition of The Girl With One Friend, published by Infinity Plus Books on Monday 9th. Special thanks again to steampunk maestro Tom Brown.

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The Girl With One Friend out today

The Girl With One Friend is out today.

Cover by Tom Brown.

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Just arrived!

Some copies of The Girl With Two Souls just arrived. The new Tom Brown cover looks fab! Very pleased.

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The Glass Bathyscaphe by Macfarlane & Martin

Alan Macfarlane & Gerry Martin’s The Glass Bathyscaphe: How Glass Changed The World has to be one of the most fascinating history books I’ve read for a long time.

Starting off with an overview of the origins of glassmaking, the book passes through various periods of history. But this is not just a summary of what is known. These two authors have a hypothesis, which they develop marvellously as the book progresses. Their contention is that glass was a necessary (though not sufficient) precondition for the Scientific Revolution which occurred in Europe following the Renaissance; and they make a convincing case for counting the Renaissance and the arrival of what they call reliable knowledge as aspects of the same thing. They compare and contrast the situation in east and west, and find many reasons for the difference in the use of glass. They also look at how social and religious conditions changed the perception of what glass could do for a society.

It’s all well written, interesting and engaging – the perfect example of a history book with a ‘bit more.’ Too many history books I’ve read in the last few years have been little more than lists. This one is considerably more.

I got this for a couple of quid at my local Oxfam, so I’m doubly pleased!

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Brand new interview

A few weeks ago I did a new interview for author Juliana Spink Mills’ site, which can be read here. Juliana asked me a lot of great questions, some of which made me think for days…

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Guest blog at Blake & Wight

There’s an updated post on the Blake & Wight steampunk site, based on my earlier blog about the use of historically accurate language. Here it is.

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The Girl With Two Souls full cover

This is the full cover design.

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The Girl With Two Souls new cover reveal

Here it is! The first of the covers created by famed steampunk artist Tom Brown, who, with Nimue Brown, is responsible for Hopeless, Maine amongst other works. Tom has created three covers for the Factory Girl trilogy; also the cover for the upcoming, never previously published novel The Conscientious Objector.

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