Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Conflict Diamonds

I am rather pleased with my performance in last weekend's custom-made triathlon: (a) 30 mile bicycle ride, (b) 10 mile hike and climb over a rough moor, (c) six salad sandwiches and two bottles of pear cider. The fitness regime I started back in April is really starting to pay off now. I can cycle up gradients without my legs falling off halfway up.

The outdoors world of moor, forest, mountain, marsh and dunes is a lot easier to negotiate than the peculiar geography of the writing world. Famous horror writer Ramsey Campbell reprimanded me last week over my overreaction to the reaction of others to my reaction against the reactionary view of a particular literary topic (empathy for fictional characters). Does that make sense? Others judged the debate. The consensus view is that I was in the wrong; but then I asked a sample of random pundits whether they agreed that consensus views are always right. They considered the question carefully and the consensus view is that consensus views aren't always right. I don't take delight from this answer because it vindicates me (it doesn't) but because it thankfully leads to a neat paradox.

I love paradoxes. I love them for their own sake. I love them in the same way that other men love cars or cricket. In fact I once toyed with the notion of changing my name to Paradoxolog Tucano, partly as a tribute to Melissus of Samos, who earned that nickname for his own obsession with paradoxes and logical riddles, and partly as a tribute to toucans. But it's a silly idea, so I didn't. However, I will have something to say about name changes in a future blog entry.

I also love coincidences, not quite as much as paradoxes but still to an immoderate degree. Back in 1997 I wrote a story called 'The Crystal Cosmos'. It wasn't published until 2007, a decade later, by PS Publishing, in an expanded novella form. The plot is concerned with the discovery of a solar system made of diamond. Last week a news story broke that confirmed the existence of a star made of diamond. It's not often that life imitates art in my case, so I'm always excited when it does. A very decent chap by the name of Jason Rolfe has actually lobbied the relevant authorities for this star to be named after me! He won't succeed but I'm touched by his thoughtfulness. There is an oblique precedent; much of the action of Samuel Delany's Empire Star takes place on Rhys, a moon.

I'm relieved that The Crystal Cosmos was published before the announcement of the diamond star's discovery; otherwise it would look as if I was merely using facts for inspiration rather than anticipating the truth. Establishing the primacy of my ideas is one of the main urges that power my efforts to get published. Maybe I'm a little oversensitive in this regard but I am always bothered by the possibility that in the lag between composition and publication real events will negate the visionary impact of a particular creative work; in other words, that reality will catch up with and overtake my fiction.

This does happen. The writer Quentin S. Crisp recently told me that in his unpublished novel Susuki, written in 2008, he anticipated a major earthquake in Japan and even correctly specified the year as 2011. The word that bit into my soul when he told me this was "unpublished". If his novel does finally appear in print, no one will believe that his vision was prescient; they will assume he is copying reality. The delays of the publishing world (and there are always delays for anyone but the biggest names) have sunk his claims to primacy. Something similar happened to me in a chapter of my Engelbrecht Again! novel; 'A Sandal Waiting to Happen' describes the systematic destruction of New York skyscrapers and the filling of the city's streets with dust as part of a terrorist game (though the missiles responsible are asteroids, not aeroplanes). That chapter was written in the summer of the year 2000 but the book didn't see print until the year 2008. Primacy thwarted…

The fact I should be worrying about such a minor, almost abstract, issue as primacy of ideas in such a context doesn't say anything positive about my sense of priorities. I should be so appalled by the loss of life on that fateful day that my ego doesn't enter the question. But I'm not perfect, far from it; at least I'm aware of my faults or think I am (what if my major faults are completely unknown to me? The consensus view is probably that they are, which means…)

Incidentally, there are no copies left of The Crystal Cosmos but a few dozen copies of Engelbrecht Again! remain in stock. It can be bought directly from the publisher and is currently on special offer. I really ought to compile a list of which of my books have gone out of print and which are still available. I promise to do that soon.

i've never been so lucky as to predict anything in my fiction, even though i seem to make some accurate predictions in life. maybe i should just roll with those predictions and turn them into fiction.

congrats on the fitness. will you be sponsoring an event with the three mentioned "sports?" this could prove interesting.

what is a salad sandwich?
I'm sure you have salad sandwiches in Texas, don't you?
It's like a beef sandwich but with no meat at all, just raw vegetables dressed in olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Not to harp on the subject, but were the members of the Campbell Consensus Consortium writers, or were they fans of Ramsey Campbell? I only ask because it surprises me (a little) writers would have that opinion at all, given what they do for a living.
Thanks Jason! Most writers in my experience don't write for a living; they want to, they try to, but it usually doesn't work out...
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