The Austerity Floods

Winter weather Dec 27th 2015.

Winter weather Dec 27th 2015. Members of a Mountain Rescue team paddle along Huntington Road in York, after the River Foss and Ouse burst their banks.

There are several responses possible with regards to the floods in Britain, the peculiar weather in the United States (tornados, snow and unseasonably warm, but not in the same place), warm winter in Switzerland, forest fires in Australia and floods elsewhere throughout the world. The most obvious is that “We told you so”, but unfortunately a smug response isn’t really a satisfactory reply to the misery of millions and the tragedy of thousands, especially given that in many cases the overstretched emergency services have only saved as many lives and property as they have thanks to genuine heroism and great self-sacrifice.

In truth, as far as the Western World is concerned the issue isn’t that the authorities are ignorant of the worsening affects of climate change, but that they wilfully ignore it (sometimes also accepting cheques to do so from the Koch brothers and other wealthy sponsors) and in many cases in the pursuit of a narrow political agenda has actively made things worse.

With regards to the latter, I would urge anyone from the UK to read this article by George Monbiot in the Guardian that spells out the ties between austerity for those unlikely to ever vote Tory and the subsidies for the Tory paymasters, and how this has contributed to the chaos caused by the floods:

Obviously, my own opinions are fairly close to those of George Monbiot, but even for those who might protest at the implication that the interests of the wealthy are necessarily to the detriment of the remaining 99% and the planet we all share, it does seem fairly indisputable that this blind creed of “taxes bad and public spending worse” does conflict with what is required to prevent the damage caused by the climate change that in itself is a product of the doctrine of greed to which almost all Western (and most non-Western) powers follow so blindly.

What use is austerity when its end result is mass poverty, environmental degradation that will spare no one and the ever-growing risk of civil unrest?


Beyond Satire

Republican Candidates 2016

Republican Candidates 2016


It is a cliché of course to say that this or that event is so ridiculous, so absurd, so egregious or so thoroughly disgusting that it is beyond satire, but the truth is that there is much happening in the world now that is exactly that.

As a writer who characterises himself as a satirist, the woeful set of characters who parade themselves for the nomination of Republican candidate for the presidential elections is an obvious case. ‘Ridiculous’, ‘stupid’, ‘insane’ and so on are simply not sufficiently descriptive as adjectives for any one of these characters any of which would normally be considered well beyond the pale.

As someone with a kind of moral compass who is concerned about the survival of the planet and the people who live on it, who is concerned about social justice and the welfare of the poor and disadvantaged, who is opposed to social discrimination on any non-moral grounds and who would rather live in a world where the transition through the 21st century to the next should have as few nasty shocks as possible, the crowd of sociopathic, self-seeking, deluded and ultimately dangerous individuals is truly shocking. And of all of these, Donald Trump is only the worst because his demagoguery even shocks those of the only moderately extreme right (i.e. they aren’t so stupid as to actually believe the nonsense broadcast on Fox News).

This has not been a good year for those of us who would like satire to act only as a warning of how bad things can be, rather than an objective view of the world. The Tories won the British General Election and continue to slash and burn in pursuit of an austerity imposed only on those who can least bear it. Rupert Murdoch has shown that however much evil you perpetrate, in the end money and power in the media will always buy you a Get Out of Jail Free card. The American congress has successfully immobilised the American political process and laid the blame on a president whose main strategy seems to be to be as moderate and compromising as he possibly can. And now like the fools who step in where all but angels fear to tread, all the world’s powers have signed up to an agenda set by the most insane extremists since Pol Pot and the Cultural Revolution, who instead of a Proletarian Year Zero and a Little Red Book, parade a perverted version of Islam distilled from somewhat unspecific passages selected with care and prejudice from the Quran. And provoked by outrages in France, Egypt and elsewhere, we now demonstrate that no lessons at all have been learnt from the debacle in Iraq and Afghanistan (both of which are now in a much worse state before the body bags came home).

Sometimes, I wonder whether my satirical fiction No Future rather than being a satire is some kind of Nostradamus-like prediction of what will actually come to pass.

Or maybe that my satire, rather than being extreme, erred more on the side of caution.



Lesbian Fiction

Having a break - Sostene

Having a break – Sostene

I recently got another very nice review for my novel Alif on Smashwords by a reader, SophieD, whose preference, judging from the list of books she enjoys, is for Lesbian fiction, especially those set in imaginary societies. And on all counts Alif  is clearly a novel that delivers.

However, it does raise an issue that often causes me concern. Why is it that so much of my fiction involves lesbianism and, given that I am not a lesbian, is it right that I should write on such matters?

This is a difficult one to answer because an axiom often used is that one should only write about things you know about. But this is a crime that I’ve committed countless times. Not only am I not a lesbian, I’m not even bisexual, I’ve never had sex with a man, I am not at all attracted to sexual relations with children or animals, I can’t imagine having a sexual relationship involving any of the elements of Bondage, Submission, Dominance or Masochism, and the list goes on. (My sexual peccadillos really are nothing to write home about).

But on the other hand, I’m also not black, a fundamentalist Christian, disabled, transgender, a prostitute, a mediaeval peasant, or countless other things that I’ve written about.

I suppose all I’m saying is that fiction is an opportunity to imagine oneself as something different to what one is.

But, on the other hand, a reader is well within his or her rights to demand that the fiction is a truthful reflection of what that might be.

And that is, of course, where the difficulty lies when someone writes as much as I do from perspectives that are absolutely imaginary.

I partly dodge that accusation by making most of my fiction satirical or ‘about’ something. In that way, it can be argued that since the object of the stories is not just an explication of a certain type of person or lifestyle, it has other objectives which can therefore justify not being an absolutely true reflection of the fiction’s characters.

Another way I have of dodging the accusation is that I do make a huge effort to be as truthful as I can be. I’ve had many friends and associates who belong to most of the social or sexual groups I employ in my fiction (not to mention different races, religions and social backgrounds), so I use as much of that as I reasonably can. And where I can’t be sure, then I use that range of behaviour, attitudes and emotions that are common to everyone. I might not know for sure, for instance, what it is for a man to be attracted to another man, but I do know what it’s like to be in love and I do know what sex with another person can be like.

So, this is a kind of roundabout way of saying that I am genuinely very pleased that a reader of lesbian fiction has enjoyed my fiction and that my portrayal of lesbian relationships have not been too far wide of the point.