Greg Egan – Scale

I just finished Scale by Greg Egan and, as usual, I’m left with a hurty brain but also an intriguing story.

So, yeah, wild premise that’s not fantasy it’s (very) Hard SF. Here’s a link to The Science Of Scale.

(WARNING – heavy physics in that linky.)

Graph of electron position in an atom
A graph of leptons in helium with the text: 

In the universe of Scale, an electrically neutral atom might contain any mixture of leptons of different masses, so long as their total number, and hence the total negative charge, balances the positive charge of the nucleus. But while an atom like this can be a lot more complicated than the muon/electron helium atom, the same general principle applies. The overall scale of the atom will be determined by the mass of the lightest leptons that the atom contains, the number of such leptons, and the screened charge of the nucleus: its actual positive charge, plus the negative charge of the heavier leptons that sit closer to the nucleus than the lightest ones.

So there’s all that but the actual story is far more about the human condition, politics, fear, love, community. Egan’s use of scale is an ingenious invention that will make you ponder ‘what if.’

Here’s an excerpt:

“As the phone started ringing, the leftmost indicator bulb in the row of seven lit up, blinking in time with the jangle of the buzzer but bright enough to shine clearly through the red gel and a patina of dust. Sam hesitated, doubting his own eyes for a moment, then tempted to assume a wrong number and spare both parties the nuisance of a protracted conversation.

But he couldn’t let the call ring out. Even a wrong number from Scale One would be the most interesting thing that had happened to him all week.

He lifted the handset. “Lucid Investigations,” he announced, then he jabbed the DONE button. The exchange let him hear the slow bass rumble as it replayed his taped voice three octaves deeper, then he listened in as it gathered the reply. He could follow most Scale Three and Scale Five speech effortlessly, but he struggled to get any purchase on the tortured syllables splayed out in these strange groans before the exchange stepped in and spared him the effort.

“Do you take clients from District One?”

Check Out These Science Fiction Authors

So, I did a list for a mate of SF authors I think everyone should read. I tried to stay away from the obvious greats (like Iain M. Banks) and very huge names but a few slipped through, of course.
Please take the time to check out these authors if you love science fiction:

Justina Robson

Greg Egan

Ann Leckie

James S.A. Corey

Cixin Liu

Arkady Martine

Tony Ballantyne

Kage Baker

Nancy Kress

Alastair Reynolds

Martha Wells

Ramez Naam

Gareth Powell

Rudy Rucker

Megan O’Keefe

John Scalzi

Mike Cobley

Elizabeth Moon

Neal Asher

Adam Roberts

Becky Chambers

Annalee Newitz

Alex Lamb

Carolyn Ives Gilman

Dave Hutchinson

Philip Palmer

Tricia Sullivan

Mute – A Visual Document

Look what arrived just now!

If, like me, your youth was basically formed by the label Mute, you’ll love this. Eschewing the wordy for a visual ramble, this is the Mute story in bold, stark images.

I’ve read many, many books about Depeche Mode, Mute Records and their hugely influential relationship with electronic music. Whether it’s avant-garde bleeping or the poppiest of pop songs, Mute has always unapologetically owned both. Feast your eyes:

Sooooo many seminal releases (hehehh) here and it’s magical to see how they came together to the version I have sitting somewhere in a dusty cupboard.

I can highly recommmend the Mute book, it’s a shade under thirty quid which is actually great value for such a high quality art book.

Buy it!

Alt.Fiction 2011

25/06/2011 10:16

Last weekend, I went to Alt.Fiction 2011:

Alt.Fiction brings you an extensive programme of Horror, Fantasy and Science Fiction literature events. Our flagship Alt.Fiction Literature Festival has been running since 2006 with an exciting mix of panels, readings, workshops and podcasts. Featuring leading authors, agents and editors, it is a celebration of all things genre fiction. In 2010, Alt.Fiction became a Writing East Midlands brand, evolving in to a year round programme of events taking place across the East Midlands and beyond.

We’re excited to be delivering our first two day festival in Derby this June, as wellas more intimate evenings throughout the year, with leading lights in Science Fiction such as Iain M. Banks, to interactive panels with industry experts. Alt.Fiction’s events are for fans and writers alike.We invite you to join us on a tour-de-force of alternative fiction!
(Source: Alt.Fiction)

I haven’t missed an AF since they started and they just keep getting better and better! When it moved from the Assembly Rooms to Quad last year, I was a bit worried that the smaller venue might not be able to cope. True, there isn’t as much milling-about space as over the square but this year confirmed that the panels and workshops are far better served by Quad. Also, the newly refurbed Quad cafe was a wonderful place to author spot:

25/06/2011 13:26

The best instance of this was when I was sitting and chatting with Tony Ballantyne and Ian Sales. We were, as usual, talking about favourite authors and I was wanking on about Jon Courtenay Grimwood and how much I love his books and would love to know what he’s up to / when the next book is out. Ian piped up, “Why don’t you ask him – he’s sitting over there!”

25/06/2011 13:29

Sure enough he was, so I went and got the snap above. That’s the joy of AF, you pay a tiny amount of money for what you get: panels and workshops from the top authors in their genres. I went to every panel I could and I heard so much amazing advice for budding writers that it put my entire year of taking Creative Writing at Derby Uni to shame. It was an intense weekend, I can’t seriously pick out any highlights because everything I attended was of such a high calibre. One thing I can say: every panel needs more Sarah Pinborough! 🙂

25/06/2011 15:02

This year’s guest of honour was Alastair Reynolds. He delivered an intimate, funny ramble about his career and I was quite bewildered that I was sitting there, listening to yet another of my favourite authors speak in person.

Alt.Fiction 2011 ticked every box for me and then some. I had sooo many chats with people, talked about so much SF, politics, films, music. The only downside of AF is that it makes me realise how isolated I am the rest of the year. The net is fine and all but there’s something special about meeting and conversing with other geeks in person.

I am already waiting for Alt.Fiction 2012! 🙂

Click here for day one pics, here for day two!

Alt.Fiction 2007

Alt.Fiction 2007 is a one day event in Derby featuring leading UK talent in science-fiction, fantasy and horror writing. The event is in its second year and is proud to present great authors such as Iain M Banks, Harry Harrison, Ramsey Campbell, Mike Carey, Graham Joyce and many more.

Alt.Fiction consists of four rooms, offering you a choice of 28 sessions throughout the day featuring nearly 40 fantastic writers. You’ll have access to a wide range of sessions including workshops, discussions, readings, Q+As and book launches, making Alt.Fiction 2007 a day not to be missed for readers and budding writers.

The event takes place on 28 April 2007 at the Darwin Suite, Assembly Rooms. Doors open 11am for 12pm start. Final session ends at 8.45pm. Tickets cost £20 (£15 concessions)
(Source: Derby Council)


What a brilliant day. Even though it was all a bit last minute for me as I didn’t even know it was on till yesterday morning, I managed not to miss too much. I even took part in a writing workshop, by accident. That’s what happens if you follow authors around.

I got there late and missed the talk with Peter Hamilton and Tony Ballantyne. This was a pisser as I love both those authors. So, I wandered up to the stage, hoping to at least get a couple of mooncalf glimpses of them. Luckily, I’d written my name on my badge and Tony said, “Jyoti – hello!” (I’ve emailed him before, trying to set up an interview that never panned out due to my rubbishness). Then I made my confession to Tony:

Even though I’ve been an SF fan for the last 32 years, I’ve never been to any kind of convention before. I’ve always been a bit too shy.

Well, Tony then took me under his wing and introduced me to loads of people. Yep, I’ve forgotten all of their names! But they were all very friendly. The vibe was so positive, so… well, familial is the only way I can describe it. All of us there were fans. Whether we’d come for the SF, fantasy or horror, we’re the kids who grew up with their noses buried in books, shunning the sunshine to escape into fantastic worlds.

I realised then that I was with my kin. Here were people that would understand my rambling about Inconstant Moon or I’m In Marsport Without Hilda or Flowers For Algernon or All My Sins Remembered. These were my brother and sister geeks!

In the afternoon, I heard this man speak:

Yes. Harry fucking Harrison! In the flesh! Unless you’re an SF nut, you won’t understand just how much this means to me.

I’ve been reading this man’s stories since I was eight years old! He’s written both some of the finest short stories and novels I’ve ever read. And every ounce of the wit, wonder and energy of Harrison’s writing was there when he spoke. I felt so privileged, being able to sit there and listen to anecdotes about John Campbell and Isaac Asimov.

The last session of the event was this feller:

Iain M. Banks. (I’m using the ‘M’ as he was there in his massive, fuck-off spaceship, SF capacity.) His talk, and the Q+A session that followed it, was both funny and very illuminating. Banks got a lot of serious stuff over covered with fluffiness. We heard about the snobby “proper” literature world vs. the SF community, the perils of having books adapted for the screen, the reason his SF pseudonym is so crappy (and could have been Johnny Glenlivet). But the best bit for me was hearing the author read the prologue to his next Culture novel, ‘Matter,’ which isn’t released till next February. It’s going to be a doozy, I can tell you…

I felt very lucky to spend the last half of the day in the company of Tony Ballantyne and Roy Gray. We went for a meal after it finished and, again, we could have talked all night. I felt so at home with these people I’d only met that day, it was quite spooky. Just finding out that Tony’s also a Greg Egan fan made me so happy! But, forgetful as always, I was having such a good time that I forgot to get pics of them. 🙁

Perhaps at the next con? 😉

(Click here for the alt.fiction blog)

Dawkins Review Reviewed

Richard Dawkins - The God Delusion

Via my mate Steve, have a read of this review of ‘The God Delusion.’

Read it? Good… now are we sitting comfortably?

Oh dear… I had hoped for a better critique but sentences like:

“His transcendence and invisibility are part of what he is, which is not the case with the Loch Ness monster.”

– uhh, what? And just why is that “not the case” with the Loch Ness Monster. There is no difference between the LNM and God, apart from there are pictures of Nessie. Again, a bald-faced assertion, with no logical support, is presented as an obvious truth. This is the basis of all religion.

“He is the answer to why there is something rather than nothing.”

– means precisely nothing. More to the point, why do religionists say that a universe without cause is untenable but then have no problem in accepting a creator with no cause?

“He is what sustains all things in being by his love; and this would still be the case even if the universe had no beginning. To say that he brought it into being ex nihilo is not a measure of how very clever he is, but to suggest that he did it out of love rather than need.”

– more absolute flummery… Replace ‘He’ in that with ‘Flying Spaghetti Monster‘ and you’ll see how foolish all of Eagleton’s rhapsodising is.

“Because the universe is God’s, it shares in his life, which is the life of freedom.”

– What? Hey Terry, how about this: ‘Because the Universe is made of cheese, it must be made by a gigantic, all-loving mouse.’ It makes exactly as much sense as your sentence.

“Yet the Apocalypse is far more likely to be the product of them [scientists] than the work of religion. Swap you the Inquisition for chemical warfare.”

– totally missing the point here. Whose finger will be on the button? You might as well blame a blacksmith for making a sword.

“but as far as I know his anti-religious diatribes have never been matched in his work by a critique of the global capitalism that generates the hatred, anxiety, insecurity and sense of humiliation that breed fundamentalism.”

– This is the weakest crticism: in the past three years, Dawkins has campaigned against the war more than any other high-profile British academic. He’s also been one of the most outspoken critics of the Bush government and their agenda of global military dominance.

By the end of the review, Eagleton has descended into bashing ‘rationalists’ and launching into sarcastic ad-hominem attacks on the “middle-class liberal rationalist.” Only the truly religious would consider being rational as a defect, some kind of crippling palsy of the normally devout mind.

In fact, it’s a piss-poor review in that the meat of it is Eagleton proclaiming his vision of Christianity. Fair enough, a review of Dawkins is a great opportunity to preach and, if you’re a Christian, it’s your duty to spread the truth of your beliefs. But it should be more accurately labelled a sermon than a review.

It’s also quite misleading as to Dawkins’ tone. Reading this review, one would never guess that Dawkins has devoted an entire section to the beauty of the Bible as great literature and the importance of not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Thuddingly predictably, Eagleton calls Dawkins a philistine which is an insult to both Dawkins (in the sense that Eagleton hurls the word) and the poor-old, much maligned Philistines. One would think such a high moral authority as Eagleton, far more educated and intelligent than me (he’s Professor of English Literature at Manchester University), would avoid lazy racist epithets. Or am I being the nigger in the woodpile here?

The only way any of Eagleton’s review makes sense is if you’re already a fellow believer in his particular tooth-fairy. In fact, if you go through Eagleton’s article and replace God and Jesus with ‘Spiderman’ it makes far more sense.

And at least I’ve heard Spiderman speak…