Notes from sf author Stephen Palmer

Holiday photos (2nd half)

Brian Aldiss RIP

The SF world is waking up today to some very sad news. Brian Aldiss wrote many great novels, some of which were inspirational to me in my early days. But his masterpiece was Helliconia, which is up there with other masterpieces of the SF genre, I think. Helliconia gathered together all his brilliance – his characters, his world-building, his majestic vision, and so much more. He will be missed, but, of course, his legacy will live on.



Holiday photos (so far)

Improbable Botany completed

407 backers and £12,000+ raised.


Thank you to everybody who supported this project.

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The Voices Within by Charles Fernyhough

Written by an author with a lot of experience of psychology and related disciplines, this fascinating book covers pretty much everything currently known about voices in our inner mental worlds – which, it turns out, is not very much. The final section of the book in fact is a survey of the considerable amount of work that still needs doing.

Two main theories characterise the book. The first theory is that inner voice is something children acquire as they internalise their normal speaking voice. This, the author suggests, leads to our inner monologue… or, more accurately, our inner dialogues. But as Fernyhough begins to unpick what we think we know about our inner voices he shifts towards a second theory, which is that the phenomenon is far more complex than we realise, involving more than just words and sound. By the end of the book he leans towards the notion that our inner voices (and there are always more than one) are one aspect of more which is internalised: other types of sensory and cognitive perception for instance. Inner voices come with much more baggage than just words.

You would think that a book with this title would focus on schizophrenia and other illnesses, but actually such conditions are a relatively small part of the deal here. That’s not so say the author doesn’t have much insight into the area – he does, and the insights are well worth reading. But so little is known and agreed about how our inner dialogue works there is clearly much more to come.

Fernyhough also touches on how creative people hear, perceive and use inner voices in their work – particularly authors. These sections are short, but fascinating.

A couple of niggles. Even one mention in one sentence of the fact that all human beings have a model of the world inside their head would have greatly helped. The latter chapters of the book, where “whole people” are mentioned as existing in our inner worlds (as indeed they do), would have benefitted from such a statement. It would have helped to put the whole argument of the book into a better perspective. I also think a few mentions of the considerable difference in how introverts and extroverts perceive their inner worlds would have helped. But these are small points, and likely will be addressed as psychologists begin to work with what this excellent author has put forward.



Improbable Botany – success!

The Kickstarter campaign for the Improbable Botany anthology has now exceeded its £7,500 target. Many thanks to all my friends and fans who pledged to support this! Wayward and the whole team are excited of course that the book is going to become a reality.


Improbable Botany – update

The Improbable Botany anthology on Kickstarter is now around 2/3 of the way home, with 129 backers and £4,772 pledged. But there are only 15 days to go, so Wayward Plants needs more, and soon! If you like the sound of ten high quality SF authors – Ken MacLeod, Cherith Baldry, Eric Brown, Simon Morden, Adam Roberts, James Kennedy, myself, Justina Robson, Tricia Sullivan and Lisa Tuttle – inside a truly beautiful and original volume, then pledge now. You only need £16 to receive the book, and that includes a free ebook version.

Please pledge now!


Psychoanalysis & Zen Buddhism by Erich Fromm

The beauty of this book is exactly the opposite of what a reader might expect. It would seem from the title to be esoteric, even part unintelligible to the average reader, but in fact it’s a beautifully concise exposition of Erich Fromm’s core understanding of the human condition. He opens with a survey of psychoanalysis, relates it to Freud’s work and to his own, describes his core understanding of what he calls ‘social man’ and ‘universal man,’ delves into the three types of social filter which act upon our conscious minds, then compares and contrasts his version of psychoanalysis with Zen Buddhism. It’s a triumph of lucid exposition.

I remember buying this many years ago with another of his works, thinking that this would be the less interesting of the two. In fact, that position was soon reversed. This deserves to be a classic text.


Freedom Regained by Julian Baggini

Free will is one of the most contentious – if not the most contentious – subjects for philosophical enquiry, but Baggini in his excellent book makes his arguments, examples and conversations a delight to read. He takes on reductionists such as Sam Harris (who denies human beings have free will) and neuroscientists in particular in this no-holds-barred, but very readable survey.

Baggini’s conclusion is that we do have free will, that philosophers using reductionist or individualist templates (i.e. ignoring the fact that human beings live in societies) are blind to what’s in front of them, and that free will is not a thing in itself of which we have all or none but rather a gradient of possibilities. He also links these conclusions to the nature of human responsibility, in a superb argument against those who think modern neuroscience means we are all slaves either to our genes or to our biochemistry.

At the end of the book the ‘ten myths of free will’ are stated then argued against, with a qualifying coda about the place of government in this debate.

Always a clear thinker, Baggini has the rare gift of conveying exactly what he thinks to the general reader. This is the second book by him that I’ve read, and I’m sure I’ll be reading more.

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Improbable Botany

Wayward Plants have announced an anthology of plant-related SF stories in the forthcoming Improbable Botany. Wayward are a London-based company specialising in radical green architectural and urban living spaces, who have since 2006 carved out a niche for themselves including the Urban Physic Garden and the Union Street Urban Orchard.

I was asked to contribute by the book’s editor Gary Dalkin, who is a fan of my work and liked in particular my botanically exuberant debut Memory Seed. There’s a great author list, including Tricia Sullivan, Justina Robson, Lisa Tuttle, Eric Brown and Adam Roberts.


A Kickstarter campaign has been begun for this beautifully illustrated volume, which, if successful, is set for October publication. There are many options for fans and casual readers alike.

My story You Bringers Of Oxygen was written soon after I was asked by Gary to contribute, but, for various reasons, this was a number of years ago now, when I was in ‘London transformed’ mode (Hairy London etc). Gary described my story as “the most way-out one in the book,” which of course I was delighted to hear.

The illustrations and jacket design are by Jonathan Burton, who was worked for many of the best publishing houses and imprints in the business. He illustrated six of the stories, including mine (see below).

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You Bringers Of Oxygen relates the tale of a number of London characters living in a botanically changed capital city. Its sub-text is how human beings through their activity change the environment, but how, as James Lovelock observed, it is unwise for them to assume the mantle of stewardship of the Earth.