Roma Prejudice

'Maria'

‘Maria’

I’m not Roma at all. In fact, I belong to a tribe of people who through happenstance has been born in one of the wealthiest countries in the world of a race which suffers from almost no prejudice at all. But I feel very worried about the international storm of prejudice that seems to be directed towards the Roma at the moment.

I don’t wish to defend the Greek family who may or may not be guilty of having abducted the girl known as ‘Maria’ (with all its Christian connotations). Whether a crime has been committed in this case I have no way of knowing, but I’m pretty sure that crimes have been committed by Roma over time. Just as they have, of course, by white English people such as the Kray twins, Jimmy Savile and Fred West. I don’t think it’s right to condemn a whole race or culture because of the actions of a few individuals.

Of course, there are stereotypes regarding Roma life and one which sticks is a reputation for a kind of rakish, petty criminality. It’s this, of course, that’s directed towards the Roma, but when you consider, for example, the London working class, as celebrated by television series such as Minder and Only Fools and Horses, such behaviour is considered indulgently, even half-approvingly. Why not for the Roma? Why no similarly sympathetic television comedies about a lovable family of roguish gypsies?

History has not been kind to the Roma. They’ve been persecuted by generation after generation: most famously during the holocaust which was very nearly as bad for the Roma population of Europe as it was for the Jews (although the Roma were never granted the status of being the ‘Gypsy Question’ and there was no iconoclastic German composer braying for their blood). In more recent years, they are being further persecuted by marginalisation, bureaucracy and neglect, and this of course is made simpler because there is less perceived value in the survival of an itinerant race.

However, on a longer perspective the Roma have made, in quite a different way, probably as much a positive influence on European society as the Jews (and just as well rewarded by the Nazis). In a time when most people ventured hardly at all from their town or village, gypsy caravans brought trade, vital services (such as tinkers and cobblers), and entertainment in the form of travelling circuses and the like. As these services were for the benefit of the poor, provided by those who were themselves poor and where very little money passed hands, the historical value of the Roma community has been underplayed and mostly forgotten.

And what of the Roma now? The standard view is that the peripatetic way of life that they exemplify is on its last legs and that the Roma’s best course of action is for greater integration in the community of happy house-holders and wage-slaves. But is that received wisdom right? What is so bad about a life of travelling from place to place, led in relative simplicity with few possessions and a tradition of self-reliance? Is there something that wrong about a way of life that fits in so awkwardly with the economic models that we’re being told to follow by big business?

After all, what profits can be made from people who participate on the whole so rarely in modern consumerism and who are a model of how it is possible to be disengaged from the conventional wisdom of the society which surrounds them?

My hope is that the wave of prejudice being fanned by the right-wing press of Europe and those who need very little excuse to discriminate against those whose lives and lifestyles are different from their own will be short-lived and is not part of a growing and menacing trend.

Too Many Species?

Homo Erectus?

Seeing as the novel I’m currently serialising (Glade and Ivory)  has a prehistoric setting, I’d thought I’d comment on the news today about the Homo erectus skulls found in South Georgia (Central Asia) which has apparently got even the tabloids excited.

The story is that some remarkably well-preserved fossils of prehistoric humans of the Homo erectus species have been found in a cave where they’d be dragged away for leisurely mastication by the lions, sabre-toothed cats and other predators who at the time didn’t consider humans to be the number one predator on the plains. These fossils cover a period of a couple of hundred years some 1.8 million years ago, which is approximately 1.7 million years before the first Homo sapiens (our species) had evolved and a long way before the thirty to forty thousand years ago when my novel is set. In fact, it was before the Ice Age of which we’re enjoying a brief interval had hardly got going.

In true newspaper style, something isn’t worth printing unless there’s a story, and the story here isn’t what these fossils reveal about the life and times of our rather stupid but very human-looking ancestors, but rather whether this re-draws the current taxonomy of the human species at the time.

In a sense, every fossil found does that, but as every palaeontologist wants to discover a new species so that they can name it after their wife or daughter or best friend, it’s not surprising that each new find has been slotted into a new classification. However, all these fossils do is highlight the huge difficulty there is in determining what is or is not a species.

In broad terms, a species is distinguishable in that no species can interbreed with another species and have fertile offspring. This general rule kind of ring-fences the definition in that a species won’t suddenly morph into another new species simply because of its sexual appetite.

This definition is great except of course that there are plenty of species who are so similar to other species that it takes a huge effort to tell them apart, whereas the variety is so great in some other species (like domestic dogs and prehistoric humans) that it’s difficult to believe that they really are members of the same species.

Genetic variation is fluid and driven not by man-made rules but by natural processes where to a certain extent the product, such as a human being, is a kind of by-product rather than its main purpose. When humans began to spread and diversify across the planet, there were some who were pretty stupid (even stupider than the most stupid Tea Party or UKIP member), and others were tall, some grossly fat and others of darker or paler complexions. After time, some of these characteristics stuck (like being mostly hairless and having prominent bosoms) whereas others remained fairly flexible (like skin-colour, straight or curly hair, and flat feet).

The point is that there is a huge amount about our ancestors we don’t know about and these discoveries highlight that. We know enough to get the broad picture, which is that for an astonishingly long time of between one and two million years, humanity was represented by species that were a lot like Homo erectus (and possibly Homo habilis, Homo ergaster, and others). The evolution of our own species is fairly recent: perhaps only 100,000 years or so. And the early member of our species wouldn’t have looked that much different from other human species at the time. But ours was the species that made the technical and cultural advances that eventually wiped clean the slate and left just our lot to fight it out not with other human species (or sub-species, depending on the classification) but with members of our own species whose apparent diversity of appearance belies an astonishingly lack of genetic variation.

I don’t think I could write a novel based around the lives of the South Georgian humans. It’d be very difficult to understand the lives of people who are so different from living humans and really not that much brighter than chimpanzees or bonobos. I chose a much more recent time for my novel, but one very much alien to us when the continents might have been in the same place, but would have been pretty much unrecognisable given the vast ice-sheets and the much lower sea-levels. It would take a man of the talent of William Golding to bring Homo erectus to life,

Glade and Ivory

Eurasian Thaw - Adorety

Eurasian Thaw – Adorety

This is really just a notification that I shall pretty soon be submitting the first chapters of my next novel, Glade and Ivory.

Unlike my other most recent novels this one isn’t set in the future and compared to both the Anomaly Trilogy and No Future, this novel is fairly sequential and doesn’t jump around nearly as much in time or space.

However, not only is it not set in the future or even the present or the recent past, this novel is set some thirty or forty thousand years ago in the Ice Age.

Human Beings of one kind or another have been around for several million years, our genus is probably around a million years old and our species something like 100,000 years. At least 90% of our species’ history time was spent during the last Ice Age: one which was probably the most severe glacial epoch yet and during which relatively little is known but enough to delineate the broad outline.

Humanity emerged from Africa about 60,000 years ago at which time the 13 or so surviving groups of human (whether race or sub-species I don’t know) had already evolved and of which only one was set to spread around the rest of the world. And this it did very slowly, taking less time to get to Australia than to arrive in Europe and displace the Neanderthals who’d been the dominant human species for a pretty long time before. They also displaced other human species on their journey, most famously the hobbit (Homo floresiensis) and the Denisovans.

What was the world like then in the Devensian Glacial Period that has mostly dominated our history?

Well, the dominant animal in that time wasn’t the human being, although we’d made a disproportionate impression. Our presence in the Americas was relatively trivial and was somewhat more prominent in Asia than in the hostile tundra of Europe. It was more the age of the elephant of which species were present in every continent except Australia and more generally of the so-called megafauna of large mammals which made humans seem very modest in comparison. However, our species can’t have been idle. When the ice-caps receded just 10,000 years ago, we’d developed complex languages, rich traditions, sophisticated stone-age technologies, impressive cultural achievements such as painting and sculpture, and a great deal more that can be determined by indirect evidence. But agriculture, city-states and international trade all required relatively benign climatic conditions, and these all appeared relatively soon as the British Isles and Scandinavia emerged from under the ice and a passage was opened to the North of America to let in the sophisticated Asians (soon to be known as Amerindians).

The climate was truly dreadful. North America was mostly under ice sheets more than a kilometre thick, Europe was squeezed between an Arctic Ice Cap that reached as far south as Lincolnshire and an Alpine Ice Cap that dominated most of the continent. In all this, Asia was relatively benign with mammoth-dominated grass-lands that stretched across Siberia to Berengaria, and Africa was mostly free of ice. In fact, the equatorial areas were probably much the same as today if squeezed between thermal belts that were somewhat narrower and much more dominated by the huge ice-caps on both poles (but much more so in the Northern Hemisphere). Africa was still hot and it was here of course that humans most thrived, having diversified to a wide range of niches and also where the megafauna had most time to get used to the unwelcome presence of this aggressive hairless monkey.

So, Glade and Ivory is set in this period: a time when humans were arguably more intelligent (judging from the size of prehistoric craniums), where there was undoubtedly more diversity and many more languages, a much smaller population density and a lot out there to be afraid of.

The Schemes of the Unknown Unknown: Now in e-book Format

Into The Black

Into The Black

I’m sure I’m supposed to feel a sense of gratification and joy in having now released my latest novel to the greater world, but the truth is that it feels rather anticlimactic and a little bit stressful.

By now I should have got used to this process whereby you write a novel, format in various ways, send it off to various places, get some feedback and then it’s all done.

And that’s it.

Once a book is written and published there is a sense that it’s no longer yours. I guess that’s why so many authors (notably JRR Tolkien) could never stop revising their novels after they’d written them. And also why some novelists (notably James Joyce, Donna Tartt and Thomas Pychon) agonise so long over their books until they publish them.

In truth, my approach is rather more like Iain M Banks or Irvine Welsh. I write something I’m not sure anyone will actually enjoy but do so regardless, I do it at my own rhythm and with more concern for whatever bothers me than whatever I think would ever make my fiction commercially viable or whatever. And publish it with minimal understanding of how best to promote it.

And then when it’s out there, rather like Woody Allen and his movies, it’s somehow something that I no longer feel belongs to me.

It’s a strange sensation: perhaps a bit like seeing your teenage son or daughter run off and do stuff that’s quite different from what you’d ever expected.

Still, it’s out there now. It can be found in e-book and PDF format on my website, if you follow the following links:

  1. PDF Format
  2. E-Book Format
  3. Text Format

And soon it’ll be available on Kindle, Barnes & Noble, ITunes and all those other good things.

 

Anomaly Trilogy Volume 2: The Schemes of the Unknown Unknown

Sith Girl - Patrick Lambert

Sith Girl – Patrick Lambert

I’ve now posted the final chapter of the second volume of the Anomaly Trilogy known as The Schemes of the Unknown Unknown. I can’t say I was too surprised to see that it wasn’t as popular as the first volume, but it’s been by a rather larger margin than I perhaps expected.

I can think of several reasons for this. One is the very nature of second volumes in an epic trilogy. As a bridge between the first and third parts, the second part is always going to be the poor cousin, Another is the structure of jumping backwards and forwards in location and time which was unpopular (if necessary) in No Future which has proven not to be especially popular either in that regard. Yet another may simply be that the novel doesn’t have the same sense of suspense and intrigue of the first novel, even if some readers complained that the motifs that enabled this to happen was a little too obvious. There aren’t enough assassination attempts in the second volume.

However, I have received some praise but not in quite the same volume and this has been reflected in download statistics and votes in the various places I’ve posted this volume.

Whatever…

I shall now be packaging the novel for release on Kindle and the other e-book formats, as well as posting the novel as a completed e-book on my own site.

There will, of course, be a third volume in the Anomaly Trilogy (otherwise it wouldn’t be a trilogy), but before I do that I’ll be posting another novel which is set in the past rather than the future and will have a fairly straightforward linear structure.

And this will also be the case with the third volume, provisionally entitled Into The Unknowable (to maintain the Donald Rumsfeld theme) which will be published sometime next year.

In the meantime I hope more people will read the first two volumes of the Anomaly Trilogy.

The Climax of Stupidity

Wingnut and Screwloose

Wingnut and Screwloose

At least that’s what I’d like to think.

The above picture by David Rapozaart at least gives some kind of visual representation of what I think of the Republican Party in America, especially as they hold the nation in jeopardy over very narrow partisan interests and threaten to close down the very government they were elected to serve.

It would be very easy for me to rant about how dreadful the Grand Old Party is, or has become, but then there aren’t many conservative or right-wing parties that I have good things to say about. Nevertheless, since I believe in freedom to choose and because the general centre of gravity in Western society (and especially America) is somewhere to the right or is at least conservatively inclined, I guess I have to accept the necessity of the continued existence of right-wing parties. Although I’d never vote for the Conservative Party (in Great Britain) or the Republican Party (even if I could), I accept that there has to be an alternation of power and that it has to somehow be on the opposite side of whatever is considered to be on the left or liberal side. Although I also think that the right-wing agenda is generally retrograde to the greater interests of humanity and the survival of the planet, there are gradations and it has to be admitted that there are some, maybe even many, people who are conservatively inclined without necessarily being cynical in their belief that serving the interests of big business and resisting the inevitable tide of change is somehow a good thing.

So, my hope is that the current suicidal behaviour of the Republican Party or at least its most lunatic wing will destroy the party for ever, even though I accept that a rational enlightened outcome would either be a re-orientation of the party to a more rational centre (as exemplified by Abraham Lincoln, Colin Powell or Eisenhower) or such an utter annihilation of the party that a more rational one may re-emerge, perhaps as a coalition of the right-wing of the Democratic Party and the embers of the Republican Party.

That’s my optimistic scenario.

The other choice is that the lunatics will well and truly take over the asylum however much poll numbers, strategic political sense and basic decency might suggest otherwise.