Category Archives: Journalism

2019: New book, old book, and a Landscape History of Brexit

Wishing you a belated Happy 2019! Here’s a quick update on my current projects – a new book, an old book, and an upcoming article about the landscape history of Brexit.

New Book

Last summer in London, I heard Rupert Sheldrake in conversation with Douglas Rushkoff at a Team Human event.  In the first few minutes, Sheldrake casually remarked, as if it were obvious, that “Our minds stretch out far beyond our brains.”

That comment made instant sense to me, because for some time I’ve been trying to reach out beyond my own brain in an effort to disentangle my academic training from my real experience of everyday life.

It’s ironic that, whilst some kinds of teaching and research enable us to think wild new thoughts, there is also an undercurrent which encourages academics to dismiss other strands that do not meet certain criteria.  Unfortunately for me, I was often guilty of wandering  those forbidden paths, which is why I frequently  found myself unable to fit in. That was often quite painful, but since leaving my job as Professor of New Media at De Montfort University in 2013, I’ve felt liberated to explore modes of thought which might not be admissable in standard academic research. I’m allowing my mind to stretch out beyond my brain and, for once, I’m not feeling guilty about it.

The result of that freedom was a very enjoyable 2018 spent writing my first novel for two decades. It’s only halfway done and it doesn’t have a name yet. but perhaps by this time next year it will be finished. Or perhaps not. I’m having a good time putting it together and don’t really want the process to end, so it could take a good deal longer than that.

What’s it about? I can’t really explain yet, but it’s fed by the work I’ve been doing for years on technology,  on nature,  and on the future of life in general. Perhaps even the future of people.  I’m putting it together rather like an oil painting, beginning with faint outlines followed by sketches, then pale washes,  then darker washes, then brushing in stronger definition in some parts, and painting out other areas to start them again. The story is expanding and contracting as I go, so much so that I can almost feel it working between my fingers as it comes to life.  I’ve written quite a few books but this process is very different. I hope it works. We shall see.

I came across the image below and somehow it felt like the novel, so I keep it beside me. I’ve no idea why it seems that way, it just does.

Vegetation in the city of Bam is green and stone-covered desert has various tones of gray. Image credit: NASA/JPL/ESA https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/images/earth/earthquake/20090304/sub2-browse.jpg

Old Book

I’m very excited that the SF Gateway is republishing my first novel, Correspondence, which was shortlisted for the Arthur C Clarke Award for Best Science Fiction Novel in 1993.  I’ve written a brief introduction to the new edition, which will come out this Spring.  I’m also working on an article about the influences behind the novel, and how it has foreshadowed much of my work to date.

The SF Gateway has republished many science fiction and fantasy titles in this ‘portal to the classics’. It’s financed by Gollancz, a publishing house that many will remember not least for its distinctive yellow book jackets. I certainly owned quite a few. I’m very proud to be included.

A Landscape History of Brexit

I’m a regular contributor to Orion, ‘America’s Finest Environmental Magazine’. This February they will publish my piece about a landmark coastal hill near my home, Hengistbury Head, and how it was an international trading post even before a tsunami came down from Norway in the Stone Age and divided what-would-be Britain from what-would-be Europe. Now we are facing another tsunami, this time entirely of our own making, but I’m still hoping that common sense will prevail and someone will put a stop to this sorry and embarrassing self-mutilation.

In the meantime, I wish you a happy 2019 as the storm gathers.

Pending Storm over Hengistbury Head - geograph.org.uk -
Pending Storm over Hengistbury Head – geograph.org.uk https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pending_Storm_over_Hengistbury_Head_-_geograph.org.uk_-_310093.jpg

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Featured Image: Drawing of Purkinje cells (A) and granule cells (B) from pigeon cerebellum by Santiago Ramón y Cajal, 1899; Instituto Cajal, Madrid, Spain. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=612581

Green by Design (Singapore) Orion Magazine, Summer 2018

“I had a list of things to look for during my visit to Singapore, and most of them were green. I found one on the very first day, as I wandered through an indoor mall in a jet-lagged haze. A walk around the shops was the most complex task my poor brain could cope with after a thirteen-hour flight from London, which had hurled me half a day forward in time. When my gaze alighted on a slice of pandan cake in a cafe window, I felt a surge of recognition.”

An excerpt from my piece ‘Green by Design’ in the Summer 2018 issue of Orion Magazine. If you haven’t seen it before, check it out. Every issue is beautifully designed and always a treat.  It’s a subscription magazine, better read in print than online, but you can find selected free articles on the website.

My New Knees: On The Way To Being Cyborg

“My new knee is called a Genesis II, a whimsical name that connotes an entirely new species cooked up from metal and plastic. Its principle components are cobalt chromium molybdenum alloy, titanium, and polyethylene. Polyethylene is the scourge of our oceans and landfills; titanium, though, is less alien. Mined from deep in the earth, it’s found in most living things…”

“Has the installation of my new knee – my crossing over into the world of cyborgs – changed me in any way? It’s difficult to say…”

The two short excerpts above are from my latest piece in the American environmental magazine Orion. It’s behind a firewall so I can’t share the whole thing, but subscribers will find it on pp12-13 in the March/April 2016 issue. Since writing it, I’ve had a second operation and now have two replacement knees. I’ve been fascinated by cyborgs, and written about them, for over twenty years, so I’ve found the whole process very significant.  And I’m in complete agreement with the cyborg artist Neil Harbisson who says:

“I don’t feel that I’m using technology. I don’t feel that I’m wearing technology. I feel that I am technology.”

Harbisson was born colour-blind but he developed a device which is attached to his head and turns colour into audible frequencies. Most of the popular images of cyborgs are, like Harbisson, striking to look at because their prosthetics are visible on the outside. In recent years we’ve also become used to seeing people wearing prosthetic legs and arms.

But millions of individuals around the world are already quietly cyborg with not much to show for it. Knees, hips, and ankles are routinely replaced in operating theatres every day but there’s nothing to be seen apart from an occasional limp. And most of those new cyborgs aren’t young and cool but, like me, greying and somewhat mature.  Food for thought.