Blog Archives

Things you learn from reading books

It’s amazing what you can learn from books.

Sounds silly, that sentence…

I love when I’m deep in a book and something stops me halfway through a paragraph and makes me say “Holy shit!” out loud – I never knew that! Or, “Wow. Who knew?”

And sometimes it’ll send me off to investigate further.

There are some writers, editors etc., and I suppose readers, who don’t like this. They don’t anything that makes you interrupt the story, that keeps your nose in the leaves.

But for me, a really rich book is one that makes you pause every now and then and think about what you’re reading, ponder the meaning of what you’ve read, assimilate the knowledge this piece of writing has given you over and above an entertaining read.

This is why people read fiction. This is why science indicates that people who read fiction are more empathetic.

Here are three examples:

homo deus.jpg

I started reading Homo Deus, a recent non-fiction book, the sequel to Sapiens, which you might have heard of.

But before I go deep into it, I wanted to read a similarly titled novel – Men Like Gods, by HG Wells.

men like gods.jpg

An interesting book. We are clearly still in Wells’ Age of Confusion, with our population soaring way, way past what Wells worried was too many (2000m), and our world yet being pillaged by the rich.

But what really amazed me, in a book about a crossing dimensions into new universes (where the telecommunications department knows where every human is at all times but the knowledge can only be used for the good of the individual!) was the fact that the main character commented on the fact that there were thrushes singing in July – that he knew these birds stopped singing by June.

This is a character who writes for a liberal paper in the centre of London.

I’m a zoologist – sorry, I have a doctorate in zoology (there are picky fuckers out there in twitterlandia who like to point out that there’s a difference if I no longer gain employment from zoology except by teaching biology, who I hope die when they’re on a plane and a retired doctor tells them he’s no longer qualified to give them first aid while they suffer cardiac arrest, but I digress) – though not an ornithologist, but I had no idea.

He also commented on the fact that nightingales could be found in Pangbourne and Caversham, both in Reading just outside London were great places for nightingales (I wonder if there are any there now) which was amazing knowledge for an average Joe, too.

Why don’t we all know such things now? Where is our general knowledge of the life of other species around us gone? I was only familiar with the Blackbird and Robin – aside from the magpies and seagulls – back home in my hedgerow.

 

How much we have lost, even from such busy, hedonistic, polluted and poverty-stricken times as 1920’s London.

point counter.jpg

Another book I recently read, and commented on in my facebook feed, is Point Counter Point, by the contemporaneous Aldous Huxley, who only predicted the future in this particular novel by talking about the fact that the world would run out of phosphorous, and other important raw materials and minerals due to unhinged addiction to progress, while politicians fucked around with petty, inconsequential nonsense that they hoped with get them elected over someone equally competent – or in competent, as the case usually is – while the problems that really affect us only snowball.

 

The third novel was Meridian, the second novel by Alice Walker, the author of The Colour Purple.

meridian.jpg

 

 

At the end of the book, Walker describes the main character in the following paragraph:

“On those occasions such was her rage that that she actually felt as if the rich and racist of the world should stand in fear of her, because she – though apparently weak and penniless, a little crazy and without power – was as yet of a resolute and relatively fearless character, which, sufficient in its calm acceptance of its own purpose, could bring the mightiest country to its knees.

And I couldn’t help but think of Greta Thunberg – a beam of light in our own dark times, who seemingly powerless, is nonetheless, so resolute in her purpose that she has an immense effect upon countries.”

It is so often the person who seems weakest who can stand the strongest.

I only hope that in contrast to how people treated people like Meridian in the era of civil rights, that we will appreciate Greta for the positive influence she is on global justice and the survival of our society, and protect her from the evils we know some amongst us would wish her.

 

 

 

The College Election

It’s an important day in the US, and for all of us, given the way the world is heating up.

I know it’s a bad idea to dis the President if you want to get into the country, but for the secret service dudes reading this, please understand, this is an exception…

So here’s hoping it’s a happy holiday for us all, and we can see some people who went to see the musical Hamilton paid attention, and we can stop thinking about how bad things are going to be in the New Year, but instead have some hope.   Here’s a couple of poems to mark the occasion.

The Clown Fools Us All

Remember when we thought this guy was a joke?

And now it seems so serious; yet still,

Even at this late stage, he could

Be red flagging us:

Showing us he’s seriously taking the piss,

Waiting for us to see it for what it is,

And pull the plug.

Mixed Blessings?

Remember when we used to say:

“Jays, we were blest with the weather today,”

As if we’d got lucky, and we didn’t worry,

Nor wonder what was coming?

Describing the Future? Keep the Suits.

Today is that day when Back to the Future II would have supposedly taken place and everyone’s talking about what things it predicted actually came true.
Apart from the fact that I’m sure nobody really expected hoverboards to be around (and I don’t consider what has been tested so far to be anything like the images in the movie) I know nobody really believed anyone would dress up like Griff and his buddies.

back-to-the-future-ii-scene-fashion-story-top
If there is one thing we can predict about the future, it’s that folks will be as conservative as we are, as our parents were, when it comes to clothing. At least in some spheres.


In fact, I suggest that science fiction writers stop wasting brain power on inventing new clothes. We’ll be strangled by shirts and ties for another century I’m sure.


I hate suits and ties  – anyone who knows you can testify – and would love us all to wear the gear they have on Star Trek. But there doesn’t seem to be any getting away from them – even I have had to don a suit for work, just to “look good.”  And I can’t see us getting away from it any time soon.

While many things are different now from the past, our clothes are remarkably similar.


When horses were used instead of tanks, never mind drones, the folks telling us we are at war are wearing the same suits.


When Alexander Graham Bell (that’s him in the photo) sat down to make the first telephone call, he was wearing a shirt and tie pretty much the same as that worn today by the dude on his smart phone,selling your pension fund to make himself another million.

alexandergrahambell210


The wright brothers, apart from the caps, are wearing the same shit as the Apollo 11 crew.

Wright Brothers1969_Apollo11Crew

And they’re still wearing that getup.

apollo11-obama-02

So while we might one day have hoverboards, or actually fly to mars and set up house there, you can bet your ass the martian pilots will have packed a shirt and tie.

Out Tomorrow: The Soul of Adam Short.

Adam Pre-order

Ever wonder what it would be like to have your soul ripped from your body? Adam Short knows.

Does anyone else know, though?

We might have an idea.

I still clearly remember when I got the idea for The Soul of Adam Short. It was almost exactly fifteen years ago – I typed up the first note on October second, year Two-Thousand. I was standing at a junction much like the Mosley Road of the book, having paused my bike. I stopped because I was sure a car was coming down the street, but when I looked more carefully there was nothing. It was a very strange feeling.

I cycled on, wondering what had happened, and wondering what would happen if a ghost car “knocked you down.” Could the spirit of the vehicle and its driver interact with your own sprit, your soul?

Once that situation of a character losing his or her soul occurred to me, the rest of the story took rough shape and I knew it was a tale for Young Adults, even though until then I’d written “adult.” books. The characters had to be teens. Lots of adults cycle – I still do, every day – but the symptoms of such an event would be more likely accepted as just a brain malfunction in a middle-aged person. (Yes, I consider myself middle-aged – doesn’t mean I am old, just I’m halfway through what I expect to attain, barring accidents… everyone older than me is OLD.)

And only teens would have the tenacity to go against the grain of what’s considered okay, the accepted wisdom, the proper thing to do. Some of us adults still have a little of that left, but not enough. Most of us are afraid of what “others might think” A look at the world today can show that fairly clearly. Unfortunately many teens think they’re not capable of acting on their own. They’ve been told they were toddlers that they’re too small to do things, it’s too dangerous to climb the tree, to walk home alone from school half the time.

One lesson Adam Short learns, is that life is as short as his name, that it can fly by in a heartbeat if you’re not paying attention, and the future is not something to be feared, but embraced; because it doesn’t matter, in the end, what your parents or neighbours think of your life choices. Everyone ends up before they’re quite ready, either sitting by the side of Mosley Road, or attending their own funeral, and it can happen in a heartbeat if you’re not ready. But being aware of it, it loses its scariness – and you can appreciate the little things that make a life worth living( some of which Adam loses and some he discovers), and step up to do the things that make a life great.

If we don’t at least try, well, we may as well have no soul.

the-soul-of-adam-medium

You can get a look at the blurb and extract at the MuseitUp website here…or at your local Amazon store here.

Human evolution: looking back, looking forward

I have said this before, but we really are a strange species.

On the one hand, the Aboriginal Australians have stories that go back ten to fifteen thousand years, describing how their formal lands were flooded when the sea level rose after the last ice age. This made me remember an article about disposal of nuclear waste and the super intelligent nuclear physicists thinking about how to label the area so that future generations will know it’s there. The local Native American tribe told these scientists not to worry – they’d tell the future generations. It made me laugh.

But then, on the other, Yuval Noah Harari writes a book:Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind about how our species of humans becoming so powerful because we can believe stories (including complete bullshit), and thinks that the first really big impact of humans in the world was the arrival of humans in Australia, after which the megafauna of that continent disappeared from the record (a little further back than the sea-level rise in the story). The second big impact he says was when humans arrived in America and destroyed even more species of giant mammals.

In case it’s not clear, the book does not say the rise of humankind was in fact a great thing: for individual humans or for other species. He does speculate about the future, and reckons that humans will quickly evolve into some kind of new human-computer hybrid… But first, there will probably be a speciation event between the poor and the ultra -rich, the latter going on to becoming superhuman and somehow avoiding the coming problems.

One thing he seems to have missed (from the radio show I listened to), is that there are still people who live like our ancestors did, hunting and gathering, and they are, I hope, still as happy as Harari believes (and I agree) our ancestors were. I can only say that the this book is a huge reason to support NGOs like Survival International (to which 10% of the royalties of my second book in the Silver Nights Trilogy will be donated) so these people can be left alone in their happiness, and not made sad just because we are so blind to our own sadness that we think we are helping them. I can only hope that in the future, when the rest of us have evolved into whatever strange stuff will befall us, there will yet be uncontacted tribes living in the forests the way they have since they destroyed the megafauna.

BRAZ-UNC-GM-10_screen

 

Post 101: Thoughts on the future

I’ve been pondering the future over the Christmas and New Year, mostly spurred by reading that as we go into a new year we can look forward to seeing some more wildlife in some places in Europe, but others are disappearing. In light of the recent Greek election and the rise of a new political party here in Spain which seems likely to take away power from the current entrenched and corrupt parties, I wonder what the future will look like. Since I just hit 100 posts on the blog, too, I thought today a good day to splatter you with my not-very-logical array of thoughts!

 

We are a very strange species, us humans: we have the ability to ponder and understand the past and future, which is, as currently demonstrable, pretty uncommon in the animal world. We think about the future and our past so much that we often seem incapable of enjoying, or even appreciating, the present. Yet at the same time, we consider the future only in the context of our current situation, and seem incapable of avoiding the oncoming train of change.

 

This Christmas, people in Europe looked back at a moment 100 years ago when men showed their common humanity. Right now after the attacks in France, politicians are falling over themselves to declare our unity against a common enemy. Yet we are stuck in the same paradigm – our politicians can’t get past the supposedly separate destinies of each different European country. They’re kicking out emigrants now, if they don’t have a job, sending them back to their home countries despite our purported freedom of travel and working. When they wanted to create the common market, they sold us citizens a stream of shit that we’d all be equal. When I moved from Ireland to Spain I was able to collect unemployment benefit until I found a job a few weeks after arriving. That’s suddenly something they want to stop doing now, though. Imagine New York kicking out Iowans because they lost their job? Ironically, if it were a real union, then there would only be migration for cultural or personal reasons, because policies would be applied across the union and people would have equal opportunity in their own land. The citizens who upped sticks and went to a land with a different language are the ones who invested in this union, and to treat them so badly now shows that it is all a facade.

 

Looking at the past seems easier than looking forward, or even around us. We follow constitutions people wrote thirty or eighty or two hundred years ago (depending if you’re in Spain, Ireland or the US) without considering their authors wouldn’t have a clue about our modern world – and would have a thing or two to say to us on that score, into the bargain, because I’m sure our world doesn’t conform to their expectations of the future.

 

Many of us follow the teachings of a man who was alive two thousand years ago – but do we look two thousand years ahead? Or two hundred? Or eighty? Or thirty?

No; we seem locked into the idea that all will be well. 350 years after that man died, everyone presumed that the Roman Empire would continue forever, and all was well, but the dark ages came.

Are we prepared for our dark ages? We know it’s entirely possible, but seem to be incapable of getting out of the way of it – blinking at the light like deer and about to be run over by it.

 

We would like our lives to be the same in the future (more or less: not all of us live in luxury of course). We like the way we live, we like our houses. After storms we reconstruct. But we have to realize that reconstruction is not going to be an option for too much longer if we don’t change other things. We won’t be driving cars in eighty years unless we stop using all the oil.

 

Staying somewhat the same will require an effort – and in some cases a change in how we do things.

Horseshoe falls

I always remember my trip to Niagara Falls when I lived in America. I learned that during the day only half the water from the river goes over the falls: the rest is diverted. At night, just a third goes over. Not only does this produce electricity when the water is sent through the turbines rather than over the cliff, but it ensures that Niagara Falls stays in one place – right there, where they’ve built the town around it. If all the water went over the falls, it would erode it back towards the lake, and then the nice viewing platforms and lighting arrangements would have to be moved, too. People want to keep the cascade where it is, and they make sure it stays there.

Yet we want (or at least should) the temperature of the planet to stay the same, so we can remain living in the same places we are accustomed to, where the climate is just right for us. Moving would be a much greater effort than changing the way we do things so we can stay.

 

Unfortunately, not all of us can probably stay in the same houses because of the change that already faces us. But we have to find them somewhere else to stay, and that might mean allowing them into our areas where we think there are already too man people. Like the European immigration problem, though, the only way to confront the situation is from a stance of equality – and for some that will mean a lowering of our standards of living. If we don’t decide that we must band together to fight towards a common destiny, though, we’re all going to face a much bigger fight.