Ancient enmities, imagined worlds…

• May 29th, 2015 • Posted in All posts, Interviews etc

Here’s an interview with Jason Cooper, who is a broadcaster, journalist, poet and academic among several other things.   Thanks, Jason, for the interesting questions.


Eight years old again

• May 26th, 2015 • Posted in All posts, Interviews etc

Interview here with My Bookish Ways.   Nice questions, including what book would I most like to experience again for the first time.


Freedom is slavery

• May 25th, 2015 • Posted in All posts

Politics is a rough business everywhere but, from this side of the Atlantic, the tone of political discourse in the US can sometimes look particularly ugly.  One of the worst examples I’ve ever seen, was the suggestion by Senator Rand Paul that a right to free health care is equivalent to a belief in slavery.  The quote in question was the following:

 With regard to the idea of whether you have a right to health care, you have realize what that implies. It’s not an abstraction. I’m a physician. That means you have a right to come to my house and conscript me. It means you believe in slavery. It means that you’re going to enslave not only me, but the janitor at my hospital, the person who cleans my office, the assistants who work in my office, the nurses.

Basically, once you imply a belief in a right to someone’s services — do you have a right to plumbing? Do you have a right to water? Do you have right to food? — you’re basically saying you believe in slavery.

I’m a physician in your community and you say you have a right to health care. You have a right to beat down my door with the police, escort me away and force me to take care of you? That’s ultimately what the right to free health care would be.

(If you think this must be some crude spoof, by the way, here is a clip of him saying it.)

By way of information to US readers, we have a free National Health Service here in the UK, meaning that everyone has a right to healthcare, and my mother and my maternal grandfather both worked for it as doctors.  They were not forced to be doctors, and they were not forced as doctors to work for the state. They were paid well enough to lead prosperous middle class lifestyle.  They were free to resign whenever they wanted.  They could go and work for private healthcare agencies, if they prefered, or for themselves.   There’s absolutely no sense at all in which their condition could be described as slavery, or indeed as different in any fundamental way to the condition of anyone else who works for an organisation of any kind.  When you think what slavery actually means (and the Senator represents the former slave state of Kentucky, so he should know), the very comparison is obscene.

You might say that US politics is not my business.  But actually it is because the US is a global superpower, and what happens in the US matters everywhere, and perhaps especially in the UK, where there is a common cultural heritage, and no language barrier to filter us from its blast. However I freely admit I know very little about the personalities involved, and almost nothing about Senator Paul.  So here are a couple of questions.

Is Senator Paul an extremely stupid man, so lacking in curiosity that he hasn’t bothered to look into the many free health services around the world, and so lacking in imagination that he can’t figure out for himself how such a service might work without breaking down doctors’ doors?

Or is he cynical and mendacious man, who in order to serve his own political ends, tries to besmirch something that, whatever its snags, is basically benign (a community agreeing to club together to provide healthcare for everyone) by equating it with something that is evil and foul?

Echoing in the back of my mind are the slogans of George Orwell’s Oceania: WAR IS PEACE.  FREEDOM IS SLAVERY.  IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.  Not an exact parallel of course, but what Orwell was warning about was the misuse of language to destroy our capacity to think.


The Penfield Mood Organ

• May 22nd, 2015 • Posted in All posts

Here’s a guest post I did for about why I love Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

(For some more extended thoughts of mine about Dick, there’s also another post here).


The benefits of imagined worlds

• May 20th, 2015 • Posted in All posts

Another guest post here on   It may seem to contradict what I said in a previous guest post on SF signal, but I don’t think it really does.  And anyway, consistency is for bureaucrats and social workers as (I think) Michel Foucault observed somewhere.

Oh, wait a minute, I am a social worker!


Mother of Eden launch events, Cambridge and London

• May 16th, 2015 • Posted in All posts, News & events

Not one but two launch events for Mother of Eden.  One at Forbidden Planet, Cambridge, on Burleigh St, Thursday 4th June, 6-7.

One at Forbidden Planet’s London Megastore at 179 Shaftesbury Ave, on Saturday 6th June, 1-2.



SF futures versus the real future

• May 16th, 2015 • Posted in All posts

This is a guest post I did for SF Signal.  More questions than answers, I fear.


Mother of Eden interview

• May 11th, 2015 • Posted in All posts, Interviews etc, News & events

Here is an interview with Paul Semel about Mother of Eden.  (Many thanks, Paul, for your interest.)  Paul also interviewed me last year about Dark Eden, and that interview is here.

Incidentally Mother of Eden is out in the UK on June 4th (in spite of some slightly confusing statements on Amazon UK, which the publishers are currently fixing).  It’s out in the US this week.

In the picture I’m standing on a Roman road outside Cambridge, where I go to walk our dogs.   Sort of appropriate really, in a book which talks a lot about living among the residue of the past.


Invisible electors

• May 9th, 2015 • Posted in All posts

One thing that strikes me about the results of the UK election is the arbitary relationship between the number of seats won by each party, and their proportion of the popular vote. The Scottish National Party is now the 3rd largest party in the UK parliament, with 56 seats, but it did this on the basis of 1.5 million votes, while the Lib Dems, with 2.4 million votes, only got 8 seats. Even more bizarrely, the largest Northern Ireland party, the DUP, also won 8 seats, but did so with only 184,000 votes (the same number of seats as the Lib Dems, but less than a tenth of their votes).  Meanwhile the Green Party, with eight times as many votes as the DUP, came out of the process with only one seat.

Suffering a brief attack of geekery, I’ve just done the sums (see table below).  If seats were awarded proportionally, the Greens would have won 25 seats, the SNP  31, and the Lib Dems 52.  The most spectacular difference, though, would have been that UKIP, with 12.6% of the popular vote, would have won 82 parliamentary seats, as opposed to the single seat which it actually won*.

I can’t say that I’m personally sorry that this particular outfit has not got those 82 seats.  But, all the same, I can’t help thinking that the lack of relationship between votes cast and MPs elected is one of the causes of cynicism about the democratic process.

What we have at the moment is a system which rewards parties that have concentrated powerbases in particular geographical areas (like the DUP and the SNP, but also Labour and Conservatives, with their heartlands respectively in the big industrial cities and the leafy suburbs and shires).  But it punishes parties whose support is more widely and thinly distributed across the country, and so grossly misrepresents the relative strength of opinion in the country in general, to the point where whole swathes of electors are rendered virtually invisible.

The fact that the SNP won all but three seats in Scotland, for instance, gives the impression that the whole of Scotland is fervently nationalist, though in fact the SNP only won half the Scottish votes, leaving the unionist half of Scotland almost completely unrepresented.  (And who would have thought, from the coverage of the result that the disgraced and humiliated Lib Dems actually won 900,000 more UK votes than the proud and triumphant SNP?)

A proportional system would still, just, have yielded a right-of-centre majority, based on the popular vote in this election, with Conservatives, UKIP, DUP and UUP between them winning 329 seats, but it would have been a smaller and much more precarious majority than the one the Conservatives won on their own under the first-past-the-post system.  There are lots of downsides of PR, but surely the benefit would be that there would be less triumphalism, fewer spurious claims to have the backing of “the people”, and a more transparent process of negotation between parties that represent the enormous diversity of views that actually exist?

Party table*Of course, these figures assume that everyone would still vote for the same party under a PR system.  In fact, supporters of smaller parties often decide to vote tactically for parties they think likely to win.  My guess is that under a PR system, the Green Party would actually have won quite a lot more than 25 seats, because a lot of potential Green voters voted Labour this time round.  No doubt this would be true of UKIP sympathisers too, many of whom probably voted Conservative for similar reasons.



Mother of Eden en Francais

• April 21st, 2015 • Posted in All posts, News & events

I’m delighted to say that Presses de la Cité (who already publish the French version of DARK EDEN) have acquired French rights in MOTHER OF EDEN.


Cover of Presses de la Cite edition of Dark Eden