"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars" - O.W.

Current Study

Recently Completed Study:
Ph.D thesis: "Mapping Planet Auschwitz: The Non-Mimetic in Anglo-American Fiction of the Holocaust"

Current Sub-Studies

Areas of Interest:
> Non-mimetic depictions of trauma
> literature, trauma, and ethics
> Science Fiction and Alternate History
> 20th and 21st century literature
> Comics
> Paratexts

22 November 2010

A Little Woo Hoo

Had a little woo hoo moment recently.1 Whilst reading Caroline Wiedmer's examination of The Claims of Memory: Representations of the Holocaust in Contemporary Germany and France (which is so far excellent), I came across the first usage of the word "mimetic" in relation to Second World War historical fiction. This is significant because since choosing to define my study as being of non-mimetic fictions I've read lots of material which I'll certainly be able to use but none which  uses my terminology. Wiedmer's has hopefully broken the drought and I shall now be inundated with uses of mimetic, or better yet non-mimetic.

Better still, she uses it in relation to Art Spiegelman's Maus which I recently finished reading for the Graphic Novel book club I run and not only greatly enjoyed but also plan on using in my own study.

That's it really, not exactly a major breakthrough (hence not a Eureka! moment), but a brief moment when I looked up from my research and smiled a little as another piece of the jigsaw fell into place. Just thought I'd share that with you, as its been a bit dry in my blog-posting-world. Thanks.

1 Yes, having played The Sims I know that has a different connotation to the way I mean it - I don't care.

11 November 2010

'From Flaubert to the Fantastique: Science Fiction and the Literary Field' by Professor Andrew Milner

On Wednesday the 10th November I attended a lecture given by Andrew Milner, Professor of Cultural Studies at Monash University, Melbourne in the Cypress building of the University of Liverpool. Although entitled 'from Flaubert to the Fantastique' the lecture was actually mostly about French sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu, and specifically his Les Règles de l'art. In Les Règles de l'art was a map which charted the positions of all of the current art of France giving it a relative location to all other forms of contemporary art. From left to right the items on the map increased in their profitibility and decreased in their 'art for art's sake' philosophy, meanwhile their vertical position was determined by their level of consecration, or how institutionalised they were. Here's an English translation of Bourdieu's map, I couldn't find a French one (such as the one Prof. Milner used in his demonstration) on the interweb:

Professor Milner proceeded to explain the original diagram in far better detail than I have above, before unveiling his remodelled version based, not on the French arts contemporary to Bourdieu, but on Science Fiction. Other changes made were that Bourdieu limited his diagram to only living influences (such as Zola in the centre), whilst Professor Milner expanded his to include artistes who have passed on, but who remain a "living influence" such as Philip K. Dick and J.G. Ballard, amongst others. Similarly, Bourdieu's diagram restrains itself to France alone whilst Professor Milner's reflects the multinational nature of modern movement such as Science Fiction and is global in its scope.

Being unable to provide a picture of Professor Milner's revised map there is little else I can do in this blog post except to attempt to draw a rough sketch of it in your mind's eye. Prof. Milner's map retained the three rough divisions of Poetry, Literature and Theatre that Bourdieu creates (in that order as vertical columns for left to right), expanding Theatre to encompass TV, film and radio, and including sf criticism such as Darko Suvin in the poetry category both because it makes a similar amount of money, and because there is so little sf poetry with which to flesh out the diagram.
Commercial TV occupied the bottom right corner, being the most populist, "all about the money" form of sf, and Gene Roddenberry was singled out as the exemplar of this movement. Above it came mainstream (ie. Hollywood) cinema moving up the map towards art-house cinema by people like Andrey Tarkovskiy. On the bottom left, occupying the role of Bohemia, was Ballard and Moorcock and New Worlds magazine, above them (though slightly more to the right and centre) was weird fiction as exemplified by China Miéville, before shooting back to the left (ie. the poor end) and the top with Darko Suvin-level critique. Zola's position as the dead centre of French culture was occupied by Wells and Verne and Scientific Romance. Below them were various sub-genres such as cyberpunk moving down to the pulps and championed by Hugo Gernsback. Above Wells and Verne were the American Feminist and Afrofuturist writers such as Le Guin and Delany with the top echelon of the novel being occupied by "literary" sf such as Orwell, Huxley et al.. A dotted line was drawn around literary sf, Darko Suvin and arthouse cinema which Professor Milner explained was a permeable barrier between sf and wider cultural movements. The things within the dashed line had crossed the barrier and been appropriated by wider society and thus no longer seen as sf by said community - or at least not tarred with the same brush - the nature of this barrier was interesting however, as Prof. Milner explained its one-way permeability as the sf community still involve it in their discussion and ideology, whilst mainstream communities prefer to ostracise it.

Overall it was an interesting lecture which felt much more like a "just throwing this out there" kind of a affair than the turgid affair genre theory can devolve into. I thought that Professor Milner's adoption and adaptation of Bourdieu's method of mapping had real potential as a method of thinking about the relationships of different forms of sf and their relationships with the social spheres of which they are a part. Of course the positioning of some of the elements is arguable, it's all based on conceptual ideas rather than formal numerical data, and some ideas could be expanded in a larger diagram but you have to stop somewhere or you could draw a map the size of the Liver Building and still be missing some of the details. One item, or possibly two, that I thought should have been on there but weren't were video games (which could possible be split up into commercial and indie) as they are valid narrative vehicles which can still be plotted on the map relative to the other items mentioned.

This is, however, a detail which doesn't detract from the usefulness of the model and I look forward to reading the full article in a forthcoming edition of Science Fiction Studies. One interesting exercise would be to overlay the map with another for Fantasy and Horror as they occupy similar spaces in the wider literary community, but their sub-genres and movements have as varied a relationship as sf.

7 November 2010

Stories from The Mammoth Book of Alternate Histories #6

Here are some thoughts on the final three stories in The Mammoth Book of Alternate Histories. What was going to follow was a complete review of the volume as a whole but I've written that up for the journal Foundation instead and so can't post it up here, you'll just have to buy the journal instead. It's also part of the reason why this is going up so late (that and Twisted Tales). If summaries are even less comprehensive than normal the please forgive me, it's been a while.

"The Sleeping Serpent" by Pamela Sargent, pp. 472-513.

An interesting story because it approaches a historical divergence less commonly displayed than others. Sargent posits a global Khan, a Mongol Empire that stretched from Western Europe to Eastern North America. Some of the last unconquered peoples are the "Inglistani" and, crucially, the Native American tribes of the American North-East. In an attempt to rid North America of the Inglistani, and to give them nowhere to seek refuge once the European Khans take Britain, a force of Mongols and Native Americans wage war on the colonial settlements. Sargent draws on a lot of the imagery and tone of the Leatherstocking Tales in suggesting a Mongol protagonist who as a child was adopted by "The People of the Long Houses" (The Iroquois Federation) as one of their own and raised in their culture. This allows Sargent to present an interesting comparison between the typically represented "pure" and "noble" Iroquois peoples and the Mongols, once similarly nomadic and spiritual but now corrupted by power, greed, and the wealth of conquered Europe. I always feel like these stories idealised Native American lifestyles and philosophies, and yet I also enjoy the aesthetic of such approaches (The Last of the Mohicans was one of my favourite reads from my Undergraduate reading lists). Maybe I'm wrong and life really was that rich and rewarding, after all I have no first hand experience and little second hand knowledge of Native Americans. It seems to me odd however that the Mongolians would only reach the epiphanies they reach in this story once they reach the Atlantic, they will have passed by, probably crushed, and expanded over many other tribes in the West of the continent such as the Californian tribes which are such an influence to Ursula Le Guin's fiction.

"Waiting of the Olympians" by Frederick Pohl, pp. 514-559.

I loved this story. It doesn't even do anything particularly amazing in itself, but a number of factors come together to make this story in particular stand out as something a little bit different to the other tales in the anthology. At first it seems we're being presented with a standard "What if the Roman Empire never fell?" proposition, however instantly making this story noteworthy is that the protagonist, Julius, is a "sci-rom" writer. Desperately in need of an idea for a new novel to fulfil his publishing contract, he travels to Alexandria where a conference is being held to discuss the Olympians, a [Culture-like] multi-race organisation, who have made first contact with Earth and are travelling on a years long journey to visit in person. Whilst in Egypt a friend of Julius's, and a scientific advisor to the Roman state on all matters Olympian, Flavius "Sam" Samuelus, suggests "a whole new kind of sci-rom" about an "alternate world" which plays host to the question "what if history had gone a different way?" I love the meta-alternate history elements of this story, even if they are simply a cover for Pohl to explain where his world deviated from ours (Christ was never crucified and so Christianity, lacking a martyr, lost momentum), although he does include some "Grasshopper Lies Heavy"-like supposition about a world alternate to theirs which still isn't ours. Overall, I enjoyed the science fiction and meta-narrative elements of this story and it made a nice complement to the others in the collection, not necessarily better but just different enough to be enjoyable.

"Darwin Anathema" by Stephen Baxter, pp. 560-582.

The Catholic church are easy targets for alternate history, as evidenced by Keith Roberts's Pavane. Not quite as easy as Nazis, but easy nonetheless. Baxter depicts a world held back technologically by the church,  where Terra Australis (Australia) is a world leader in scientific development (far from the gaze of the Vatican). This was one of the specially commisioned tales for the anthology and its likely that is was inspired by the recent flurry of media attention given to Charles Darwin for the 150th anniversary of the publication of his Origin of Species, as well as his 200th birthday. The story features humour and grisliness in equal amount as Darwin's bones are exorcised and put on trial for heretical thinking. "Commisary Hitler" makes a cameo reference for his "Missionary Wars" in Russia, whilst there is also a nice reference to H.G. Wells and a novel entitled "War of the Celestial Spheres", punning on The War of the Worlds and the old-church belief in celestial astronomy (Baxter also wrote, The Time Ships, the excellent authorised sequel to Wells's The Time Machine which involves the development of several alternate histories and futures). This is a superbly crafted story, as you'd expect from a man who has written as extensively in the alternate history field as Baxter has. Loaded with references and nods, it still manages to propel a story of human emotion and the problems of a lack of moral autonomy within religious structures. A brilliant story to round off a fantastic collection.

Here endeth the saga of Ian Watson and Ian Whates's The Mammoth Book of Alternate History. Below are  links to the other parts.

Part 1: "The Raft of the Titanic" by James Morrow, "Sidewinders" by Ken Macleod, "The Wadering Christian" by Eugene Byrne & Kim Newman, "Hush My Mouth" by Suzette Haden Elgin.

Part 2: "A Letter From The Pope" by Harry Harrison and Tom Shippey, "Such A Deal" by Esther M. Friesner, "Ink From The New Moon" by A. A. Attanasco.

Part 3: "Dispatches from the Revolution" by Pat Caddigan, "Catch that Zeppelin!" by Fritz Leiber, "A Very British History" by Paul McAuley, "The Imitation Game" by Rudy Rucker, "Weihnachtsabend" by Keith Roberts.

Part 4: "The Lucky Strike" by Kim Stanley Robinson, "His Powder'd Wig, His Crown of Thornes" by Marc Laidlaw, "Roncesvalles" by Judith Tarr, "The English Mutiny" by Ian R. Macleod, "O One" by Chris Roberson.

Part 5: "Islands in the Sea" by Harry Turtledove, "Lenin in Odessa" by George Zebrowski, "The Einstein Gun" by Pierre Gévart, "Tales from the Venia Woods" by Robert Silverberg, "Manassas, Again" by Gregory Benford.

Part 6 [This Part]: "The Sleeping Serpent" by Pamela Sargent, "Waiting of the Olympians" by Frederick Pohl, "Darwin Anathema" by Stephen Baxter.

2 November 2010

Frantic Week

Wa-ay behind with my blogging duties. To be fair though, I've had a mad old time of it. Right now I'm writing this off the back of a five day Halloween celebration. Burke and Hare on Thursday, Twisted Tales #1 on Friday, a party on Saturday, a lantern parade in Sefton Park on Sunday, and my science fiction/ fantasy book club's reading of Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes today.

I'll be posting those comments on the last few stories in The Mammoth Book of Alternate Histories soon. In the meantime, take a wander over to the newly launched Twisted Tales website and support Horror fiction events!

24 October 2010

China Miéville versus Facebook

Posted without comment via Hannu Rajaniemi via the M.John Harrison blog.

1601 S. California Avenue
Palo Alto
CA 94304
6 October 2010

Dear Facebook People,


1) The short version:
At least one person, if not more, is/are impersonating me on Facebook, with (a) fake profile(s) claiming my identity. Despite me repeatedly bringing this to your attention, you have taken no action to remedy the situation. And I’m getting very annoyed.

2) The full version:
This thing you hold is called a letter. This is the third time I’ve contacted you, and I’m doing so by this antiquated method because, and I realise this may shock you so brace yourself, I have no Facebook account. Which means it is nigh-on impossible for me to get in touch with you. Kudos for your Ninja avoidance strategies.

Back when you had a button allowing me to alert you to a fake profile despite not having an account myself, I contacted you that way. I was answered with a resonant silence. Subsequently, when the problem persisted, I hunted lengthily for, found and left a message on the phone number you go out of your way to hide. Absolutely nothing happened. So here we go again: third time’s a charm.

I am being imitated on Facebook. I believe the only reason anyone is bothering to do this is because I’m a novelist (published by Macmillan and Random House), a writer and broadcaster, with a minor public profile. I think there are one or two community pages about my stuff on Facebook – that of course is very flattering and nice of people to bother. The problem is that there is or are also pages by someone(s) purporting to be me. This is weird and creepy. What’s worse is I know for a fact that some readers, friends and colleagues are friending ‘China Miéville’ under the impression that it is me, and that others are wondering why ‘China Miéville’ refuses to respond to them. And I have no idea what dreadful things or ‘likes’ or ‘dislikes’ are being claimed as mine, nor what ‘I’ am saying.

I know lots of people enjoy being on Facebook. Great. More power to them. Vaya con Dios. Me, though: not my thing. I have absolutely no interest in it. I am not now nor have I ever been a Facebook member. Short of some weird Damascene moment, I will not ever join Facebook – and if that unlikely event occurs, I promise I’ll tell you immediately. In the meantime, though, as a matter of urgency, as a matter of courtesy, as a matter of decency, please respond to my repeated requests:

• Please delete all profiles claiming to be me (with or without the accent on the ‘é’ – last time I looked, I found one ‘China Mieville’, and one more accurately rendered).

• Please do not allow anyone else to impersonate me. I have neither time nor inclination to trawl your listings regularly to see if another bizarre liar has sprung up.

• And while you’re at it, please institute a system whereby those of us with the temerity not to sign up to your service can still contact you on these matters and actually get a [insert cuss-word] answer.

I appeal to you to honour your commitments to security and integrity. Of course as a multi-gajillion-dollar company I have absolutely no meaningful leverage over you at all. If David Fincher’s film doesn’t embarrass you, you’re hardly going to notice the plaintive whining of a geek like me. All I can do is go public. Which is my next plan.

I’m allowing a week for this letter to reach you by airmail, then three days for you to respond to me by phone or the email address provided. Then, if I’ve heard nothing, on 16 October 2010, I’ll send copies of this message to all the literary organizations and publications with which I have connections
some of the many books bloggers I know; and anyone else I can think of. I’ll encourage them all to publicise the matter. I’m tired of being impersonated, and I’m sick of you refusing to answer me.
I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

China Miéville

23 October 2010

Antony and Cleopatra @ The Playhouse

A slight detour from my normal posts which directly relate to my research, last night I went to Liverpool's Playhouse Theatre to watch their production of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, directed by Janet Suzman.

Kim Cattrall as Cleopatra revels in the humour of the early acts, portraying the Egyptian Queen as a carefree spirit, luxuriating in the banter of her court  (see the scenes with the eunuch singer) and with Antony. So obviously at home playing to the comic aspects I was initially worried that she wouldn't be able to support the weight of the heavier, darker material of the play's climax. Suzman is astute in her balancing of the mood however, as even in the turmoil and misery of the second half she picks out Shakespeare's black comedy. Rather than jar with the tone of the play, such an action prevents the second part feeling at odds with the, at times, whimsical first half. Complementing this directorial choice, Cattrall finds considerable acting chops during the interval and the Cleopatra who emerges wearing a breastplate (albeit all too briefly), and rouses the armies of Egypt, is a Cleopatra who is believable in her grief and ultimately in her death.

Kim Catrall and Jeffery Kissoon, (c) Stephen Vaughan
Meanwhile, Jeffery Kissoon is a bubbling frenzy of a Mark Antony, frothing and flailing in his grief and anger, swaggering and magnanimous in his glory and his revelling. As the play opens we find him drunk and asleep at the foot of Cleopatra's lounger, his ample belly rising and falling as he snores in his sleep. Armed with a hip flask and a sword this is Antony the party animal, the man who has found love and a rich life in a distant land, who is willing to burn everything he once new for a new life. Kissoon plays hi part with passion and vim, presenting Antony as a man who's an old man playing the young man's games of war and partying, but still holding his own until the play's finale when he crumbles under the strain exploding in fits of rage and tears.

Another stand out performance has to be Martin Hutson as Octavius Caesar, the man who will become Augustus - the first Emperor of Rome. Hutson captures Caesar the political animal, something made clear when he first appears not in the military uniforms of his followers, but in a suit. This Caesar is meticulous, almost anal, in everything he does, constantly conscious that (a bit of meta-theatrical irony for you) he's playing a role, careful not to let normal soldiers see him weep for Mark Antony, or loose control after having a drink. Whether by direction, or Hutson's talent (or, more likely a blend of the two), Octavius Caesar in this production is exactly the smooth-operating, verging on slimy, character that history shows him to be.

The set is a marvellous contrivance of shining black and burnished gold. Brick and metal and glass. Stylish and more than fit for purpose, it blends a modern industrial edge (large girders sprout from the far right and left of the stage, with a gangway providing the top edge of a frame within a frame)  with Eastern mystique (ornate lamps hang down in Cleopatra's palace with drapes and upholstery to match the black and gold set. Similarly blended are the costumes that the character's wear: the soldiers wear modern stab vests and wield automatic rifles, whilst also wearing breastplates, similarly Cleopatra wears believable robes as well as black frame glasses and stiletto heels. Such juxtapositions remind us of the timeless nature of Shakespeare's material, channelling the ancient, with the modern through the early 17th century, but Suzman also uses the costumes to another effect. At the beginning of the play Cleopatra and her attendants are wearing white and are carefree and laughing, but by the end they wear the black of funeral mourners; mirroring this, Caesar wears a dark suit and his men are in black dress uniforms, but by the time they enter Cleopatra's monument they're wearing polished breastplates which reflect the stage lights like mirrors - effectively representing Cleopatra's waning glory as Caesar ascends to become the brighter star which eclipses her, just as Rome would come to eclipse Egypt.

Overall, it was an enjoyable play that still managed to find a few surprises in a story well known and often retold (and I don't mean the casting of a man, Mark Sutherland, as Caesar's sister Octavia). A highly recommended viewing for anyone that has the time to go and see it before its run ends on the not too distant 12th November.

14 October 2010

Stories from The Mammoth Book of Alternate Histories #5

Back again for another installment of stories from The Mammoth Book of Alternate Histories. Only one more after this (3 more stories), then I'll be passing on my thoughts on the book as a whole. But until then:

"Islands in the Sea" by Harry Turtledove, pp. 374-401.

The blurb of The Mammoth Book picks out this story by Turtledove as one of it's highlights, briefly synopsising it as "only pockets of Christianity remain in an Islamic Europe". This, I feel, is slightly misleading. True, Constantinople has fallen to the Arabs (in the 700s), but the story points out that Christianity survives in Italy, modern day France, Britain and Ireland, and likely a few other places as well. This is a rather large pocket, and making up a reasonable amount of Europe. But that's nitpicking with the description on the cover, not with the story the plot of which revolves around Islamic and Christian envoys travelling to Bulgaria and vying to convert the Khan to their religion. The consequences are spelt out as being the fate of Europe - if the Khan goes Christian there's hope of one day retaking Constantinople and securing Europe for Christianity, whilst if he converts to Islam then it would create a bottleneck, hemming Christianity into the North and West of Europe and dooming it to eventual extinction. By presenting the two alternatives as equally possible, Turtledove offers the reader two alternatives within his alternate history. History could possibly be put back on the rails we recognise in a deus ex machina manner (as in Roth's The Plot Against America), or it could get even more alternate (closer to the description in the blurb!). The scenario also allows Turtledove to explore Christian and Muslim philosophies, playing them off against each other - exposing the similarities and ludicrousness of each faith as viewed by the other. In this way reminding us of the connection the two religions share and the pointlessness of conflicts between them. The Khan's final remarks serve to remind us of the knife edge of history as he suggests what might have been (In our timeline, the Danubian Bulgars converted to Christianity in 865).

"Lenin in Odessa" by George Zebrowski, p. 402-421.
The first twist in this tale comes on page 404, at the beginning of part 2, where our narrator is referred to by Lenin as "Comrade Stalin". This is another of those stories which lives in the moment, it relates the change in the timeline without dwelling on the consequences, indeed there are even less hints than normal about what new world this story has created. Lenin is assassinated in 1918 in Odessa by a man called Sidney Riley, allowing Stalin to take control four years earlier than he would have. If you're history was uncertain it would be very easy to read this as a piece of historical fiction, rather than a-historical; Lenin did suffer attempts on his life in 1918, and Zebrowski does a good job of giving a voice to the unknowable Stalin (I say unknowable remembering a quote from the author Robert Harris: 'Between these two events... there lies - what? Who? We do not know. And why? Because Stalin made it his business to murder almost everyone who might have been in a position to tell us what he was like ...' Archangel, p. 70.). I could wish for more of the after effects, but then I've always wondered what happens after Dr. Strangelove ends...

"The Einstein Gun" by Pierre Gévart, pp. 422-436.

A brilliant story first translated into English from the original French especially for this collection by Sissy Pantelis and Ian Watson. It's conceit puts me in mind of Ward Moore's Bring the Jubilee - we start the story in an alternate world and the protagonist through the manipulation of time creates our reality, making us the alternate. It's a neat inversion which though now familiar is well implemented here. Where Bring the Jubilee begins in a world where the Confederates won the American Civil War, The Einstein Gun commences in a reality where Gavrilo Princip's assassination attempt on the Archduke Franz Ferdinand fails and World War I never happens. Despite avoiding the First World War, this reality seems destined for major turmoil. Hitler still comes to power, this time as Chancellor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire under Emperor Franz Ferdinand, and he pursues the same racist and radical paths which he follows in our own time, targeting Slavs and Jews. Our narrator Otto, with the held of Albert Einstein who ultimately, in an ironic twist, is forced to shelter from Hitler's fascism in Germany, send a gun back in time to replace Princip's (the failure of the gun being revealed as the reason why the assassination failed). The story is of particular interest to me as it suggests a certain inevitability to many of the events of the twentieth century leading the reader to draw the conclusion that either Hitler is innately evil and pollutes the entire century regardless of the events around him, or that the problems of the Second World War are deeper rooted than we might expect, stretching beyond the First World War and to the broken and unfair systems of Imperialism and Nationalism and to the deep seated racism of Europe at that time.

"Tales from the Venia Woods" by Robert Silverberg, pp. 437-456.

Theres a fairy tale feel to this story of a cabin the woods. It's a 'Rome didn't fall' altnerate history which suggests a Rome which rules for a thousand years longer than it did in our time, before beginning a Second Republic and killing the Emperor and all of his kin (in a manner which reminded me of the Romanovs in the Russian Revolution, possibly a deliberate move by Silverberg given the Tsarist family's surname). Two Teutonic children discover a hunting lodge in the forest and an old man who lives there who turns out to be the last surviving Caesar, a brother of the last Emperor. The story sits as part of Silverbergs' Roma Eterna, and maybe it's because I knew this that I didn't find the story went anywhere in particular by itself. We are already in an alternate world, with no indication of how it became the way it did (that comes in an earlier Roma Eterna story) and thus cannot really relate to the implications of Second Republic versus Imperial that seem to be presented here - even relating them to their earlier equivalents in the Roman Empire we know now is of little use given the thousand year discrepancy. I've yet to read the other stories in the Roma Eterna series (though they are on my to-do-list), but I'm sure this could not have been the most suitable for this collection.

"Manassas, Again" by Gregory Benford, pp. 457-471.

Another 'Rome didn't fall' story, but this one couldn't be much more different. This is military sf in every sense, a futuristic feeling tale of a world where the Romans developed a steam driven machine gun, courtesy of Sygnius of Albion, and went on to dominate the world with their advanced technology. By the time of this story the humans who live in now independent American colonies are fighting against robotic rebels in "the first battle of the first war in over a century". Manassas, Virginia, was the the site of the first major land battle of the American Civil War in our continuity and so it's choice in this story is heavily loaded to American readerships. As it is, the use of Manassas creates a sense of echoing - certain events happening ,in different ways, but happening nonetheless throughout realities. Part of it could be down to fate, or simply a sense of inevitability, but many alternate histories do it - even within these that I've looked at in this post, and it's an interesting phenomenon. Despite change, history repeats.

13 October 2010

The Historical Novel by Jerome de Groot

One of the reasons I chose the topic I did for Ph.D thesis was that it occupies and interdisciplinary space. "Interdisciplinary" is something of a hot topic in academic research at the moment, but it's also a method to which I find  myself drawn. I have a wide range of interests and I like playing them off against one another: it's one of the reason's I enjoy science fiction so much - that interplay between the science and the literature. My undergraduate dissertation blended canonical literature with the fantastic ("Spirits of Another Sort: Shakespeare and The Fairies") whilst my masters dissertation studied language and literature ("Furnishing New Vantage Points: Linguistic Relativity in Science Fiction") [One day there may be links here, if I can ever gain the courage to dust them down and rewrite them as papers for publication]. This time I'm mixing history with fiction and studying the weirder things that pop-up.

In order to do effectively study the "weirder things", I have to have at least a half-decent grasp on the more mundane results of mixing history and fiction, or to use the terminology of the academia - to properly study the non-mimetic, I have to understand the mimetic. And so I come to Jerome de Groot's The Historical Novel.

Part of Routledge's New Critical Idiom series, the book is a manageable 200 pages long, including an index and glossary of technical terms. It begins with a history of the historical novel, merging this account with the changing definitions that have surrounded the form since before Sir Walter Scott's Waverley to the present day. de Groot then goes on to analyse the varying modern conventions and interpretations, examining the historical novel's status as both "genre" and "literary" fiction. From the point of view of my research the most interesting chapters are the final two: one that deals with postmodern and metafictional tamperings with the traditional novel structure, and another which briefly (far too briefly) examines the manner in which authors use historical fiction to challenge history.

Over the course of his study de Groot references and draws in a wide ranging body of literature from gay and lesbian authors, ethnic minorities, award winners, best sellers, pulps. I've already indicated I'm not an expert in this field (although this was not the first book I've read on the topic), but he does seem to have all of the bases covered. Perhaps that is the work's greatest flaw. In the rush to cover everything, some things are less studiously examined than I might like - particularly the alternate histories in the closing section, but then I'm biased there. However, I can hardly fault the book for being too much introduction and not enough varied examination given that it is only intended to be a taster of the wider range of criticism in existence.

On the whole, I think I've benefited from reading The Historical Novel as it's improved my understanding of the genre which non-mimetic historical fiction is in juxtaposition to. Whilst much of the content of this book will not necessarily be relevant to my thesis, the overall lesson of it, and the varying definitions and debates of where history ends and fiction begins, will likely prove useful again and again.

Jerome de Groot, The Historical Novel (Abingdon: Routledge, 2010), 200p.

9 October 2010

Stories from The Mammoth Book of Alternate Histories #4

It's been a manic week. Those familiar with my musical tastes will understand that there's a pun behind that statement, but also a serious point: things have been crazy busy. Nonetheless I've got through a few more of the stories and so here, as before, are my quick thoughts on their plots:
"The Lucky Strike" by Kim Stanley Robinson, pp. 253-291.

Like Fritz Leiber's "Catch That Zeppelin!", this is another alternate history short which is oft referenced, quoted, referred to, and read. Essentially, a classic of the genre in it's short-form. Even before now reading the story for the first time, the knowledge that Kim Stanley Robinson had written "The Lucky Strike" and so was familiar with the process of alternate history, was motivation enough for me to buy the recent Galileo's Dream (which I've yet to get around to reading). Red Mars, thus far the only book in the legendary Mars Trilogy that I've read, was a superb read and I'm looking forward to more novel-length Robinson. But back to "The Lucky Strike". The premise is well known - the Enola Gay (the plane which drops the atomic bomb on Hiroshima) crashes and another team, in another plane (the eponymous Lucky Strike), are assigned the task. The consequences of this change are significant as Robinson imbues the bombardier, Captain Frank January, with a greater sense of moral obligation and awareness of the consequences of atomic warfare than the crew of the Enola Gay seemingly possessed. January, on witnessing the demonstration video of the bomb, is traumatised by the idea of inflicting such devastation on the largely civilian population of Hiroshima, repeatedly suggesting that 'FDR would have ended it differently' (p. 269) suggesting an alternate within the alternate in a manner reminiscent of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy in Dick's The Man in the High Castle. Whether this portrayal of January and the lengths he goes to to protect the Japanese civilians, whilst still winning the war for the Allies, is unfair to the crew of the Anola Gay - particularly to Paul Tibbets who is cast is a less than flattering light - I'm not qualified to say. My knowledge of the events concerned is minimal and my insight into the historical persons even less so. That said, the concept of "just following orders" being a valid excuse for anything went out with the Nuremberg Trials, and its this lens which Robinson fixes on the events of August 1945.

"His Powder'd Wig, His Crown of Thornes" by Marc Laidlaw, pp. 292-307.

Hagiography is littered with gruesome tales (I'm thinking in particular of saints such as Bartholomew, whose 1562 statue by Marco D'Agrate is a grisly depiction of the saint wearing his own flayed skin which I was fortunate enough to see in the Duomo di Milano last year). This tale of an America which failed in its revolution because of Benedict Arnold's successful betrayal of West Point, is also an example of an alternate-hagiography, as the Native American tribes sanctify George Washington out of feelings of guilt after they aid the British in torturing him. Made an example of to end the war, Washington has gone on to become a spiritual martyr in a New England still controlled by a King in England. Directly paralleled with Christ (Washington occupies the position of Jesus in an adaptation of The Last Supper, whilst Arnold is Judas), Laidlaw goes to a stomach churning level in describing the treatment and representations.

"Roncesvalles" by Judith Tarr, pp. 308-334.

Another story which hinges on Charlemagne (the first in the collection being "The Wandering Christian"). This story is of note because whilst like many it is not obviously alternate in nature until near its finale, "Roncesvalles" suggests two alternate options (before settling for one in particular). Throughout the story, the suggestion is that Charlemagne has two possible options: to marry the Empress of Byzantium and join Western with Eastern Europe, or to ally himself with the Islamic faith and champion their cause; neither of which he did in our own chronology. The story itself is a retelling of the epic poem "The Song of Roland" ("La Chanson de Rolan"), telling the story of the battle of the Roncesvalles pass in which, betrayed by advisor Ganelon, Charlemagne's baggage train is ambushed and looted killing all the knights (including Roland) that were guarding it. Tarr suggests motivations for Ganelon's betrayal other than the standard jealousy argument made in the legends, it's this suggestion which creates the dual possible outcomes, although there's never any real doubt that the King of the Franks will choose Islam. There's little extrapolation beyond the fears by the Byzantine diplomat of what could be, more a sense of mood.

"The English Mutiny" by Ian R. Macleod, pp. 335-357.

The simplest alternate that an alternate history can present is a simply turning of the tables: "What if B won the battle instead of A?" What this story does, however, is no simple turn. An inversion of the Indian Mutiny of 1857, rather than simply have India gain Independence in that war instead of continuing under British rule, Macleod inverts the entire relationship, suggesting a Mughal Empire which grows to dominate the world rather than a British one. As such, we have the English Mutiny, an uprising of British soldiers (sepoys, just as the Indian soldiers were called) fighting for British home rule. My knowledge of the real "mutiny" is sketchy at best so I can't really assess how far the parallels go but certainly the initial successes (and the ultimate fate) of the rebellion are clear parallels. Macleod does a lot with a limited amount of space, creating a viable and tangible image of a Europe, and world, with a map coloured red by an Asian Empire. He evokes the colours and flavours of India in the wet and slightly dreary setting of 19th Century London.

"O One" by Chris Roberson, pp. 358-373.

This is a lovely very short story. Lovely is perhaps not the most academically accurate description I could give, and indeed my reasons for finding it lovely are not necessarily plot related (it has very dark suggestions to its finale), but rather I enjoyed the imagery employed by Roberson in depicting a Chinese Empire which dominates the world and is developing a space programme. The chronology is slightly confusing as the story features John Napier who, in our history, lived from 1550 until 1617 and it is within this time that I assumed the story was set (the advances in technology being due to the dominance of the Chinese Empire and the massive resources open to such a scientifically minded and pragmatic society); however my source at Uchronia.net suggests that it's set in 1924. Whichever is the correct date, the contrast between tradition and technology, between pastoral and mechanical, are what makes this story so enjoyable and I may well seek out other tales in the Celestial Empire series to see if Roberson continues in a similar vein.

30 September 2010

Stories from The Mammoth Book of Alternate Histories #3

Here's a few quick thoughts on the next few stories in this, so far, very enjoyable collection:

"Dispatches from the Revolution" by Pat Cadigan, pp.152-172.

A very powerful story which, as the title suggests, is set out in the style of dispatches, letters and fragments of interviews, largely by dissidents telling the history of the military regime which now rules the USA. This situation comes about as a result of the troubles of America's 1960s (The Civil Rights movements, student protests, JFK's assassination) not being resolved and instead developing into violence and terrorism, ultimately causing a bomb to kill the majority of potential democrat candidates for the Presidential election and the army to take control of the reigns of state as a result. Evocative language and chilling descriptions of riots and riot police gone out of control are illustrated in my minds eye by images of May Day riots and the Miner's Strike of the 1980s. Cadigan makes effective use of multiple story tellers and perspectives, difficult in so small a space, whilst still forming a coherent narrative which depicts America's slide into chaos and the implications for the wider global community.

"Catch that Zeppelin!" by Fritz Leiber, pp.173-194.

Considered a classic of Alternate History short stories, the twist for Leiber's story is somewhat lessened once you realise the cover art to the collection is based on this particular tale. Any man with a mustache and that particular parting, in an Alternate History setting immediately makes us think of Adolf Hitler, so entrenched is the alternate-World War II (one of the reasons for making it the core of my thesis study). Leiber suggests a world in which the First World War goes on for an extra two years, until 1920, a world in which Marie Curie and Thomas Edison marry and produce a genius child Thomas Sklodowska Edison, and a world in which the Second World War never happens thanks to the generous manner in which the defeated Central Powers, particularly Germany, are dealt with. It is a world of huge Helium zeppelins, electric cars, and seeming prosperity. The alternate Hitler works for DLG - the German airship company - and retains his passion for all things German, but is mellowed by his country's circumstances. He is even accepting of Jews. This Hitler is, however unhinged in time, and it is thrown from one world to another (ours) allowing more direct comparisons between a world of peace and a world at war, between electric and gasoline, success and tragedy. Leiber's contrast between the two Hitlers, both industrious and proud but one constructive whilst the other is destructive, is notable for is deviance from the normal trope of "Hitler as the epitome of evil". It is not, however alone in this portrayal.

"A Very British History" by Paul McAuley, pp.95-203.

Fritz Leiber's "Catch that Zeppelin!" features a historian who studies "cusps" in history - potential turning points where things could have gone very differently, it is through these cusps that our history is contrasted with the history of the story. McAuley's "A Very British History" features a similar figure. In this instance the historian, Professor Sir William [Bill] Coxton, has written a history of the Space Race which reveals that in this world the UK was a third player alongside the USA and USSR. Thanks to captured rockets and scientists at the end of the Second World War, the UK was able to conduct experiments in rocketry in Australia and put the first men on the moon. The space aspects of this story appeal to my science fiction fan nature, particularly because the resulting impact on history is that space technology is far more advanced than is the case in our own world.

"The Imitation Game" by Rudy Rucker, pp.204-214.

This story suggests an alternate fate for the cruelly treated Alan Turing. It occupies a kind of literary grey-area between Alternate History and conspiracy theory or "secret history". Rucker's story doesn't actually "alter" history and so can it still be called an Alternate History? As far as history records Turing would still have died in the manner in which he did, the fact he staged it and escaped to live in Europe after an attempted assassination by MI5 wouldn't make it into the records. It could even be the case! It's still an interesting story, Turing is a fascinating figure who was terribly abused by the state despite all he did for King/Queen and country, I can't decide if it really belongs here or not though...

"Weihnachtsabend" by Keith Roberts, pp.215-152.

This short story, by the author of Pavane, is clearly massively influenced by George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four and by Sarban's The Sound of His Horn. The story is another Second World War alternative, this time a coup in the UK has created a fascist state which rules alongside the Third Reich as the "Two Empires". The protagonist Mainwaring (and I'm sorry but that makes me picture Arthur Lowe) is confronted with a seditionist text and secretly observed to see if he reads it and betrays the state or not. This scene summons up images of Winston and Julia reading from Goldstein's book in Orwell's novel, whilst images of a hunt midway through the story revel in the monstrosity of the act and invite comparison with the human hunts in Sarban's classic Nazi Alternate History. As with the short stories which form Pavane

27 September 2010

Stories from The Mammoth Book of Alternate Histories #2

Having spent the weekend driving up to Ingleton in the Yorkshire Dales and walking in beautiful weather, I've made less progress with the stories in this volume than I'd like. Here are my quick thoughts about the next three along:

"A Letter From The Pope" by Harry Harrison and Tom Shippey, pp.91-118.

Interestingly, this story begins with a two page historical account telling the true story of Alfred the Great and his wars against the Vikings invading Britain from the North, only after we've been made familiar with how it really went does the fiction begin. Reading on, the reason for this becomes clear: for a start it's dealing with what is, relatively speaking, a less well-known time in history, an area less well explored in popular culture than Roman Britain, the Tudors, or the sinking of the Titanic. Secondly, the changes in this story are relatively subtle (but no less potentially world-changing) and could be missed by anyone whose familiarity with Alfred doesn't extend beyond a vague notion of burning some cakes. Indeed, the plot of this story doesn't extend far beyond the change itself, only flirting with the consequences in the final page. Such stories would make for interesting comparisons with their brethren set many years after the point of divergence, POD, or Jonbar Hinge - whatever your chosen terminology.

"Such A Deal" by Esther M. Friesner, pp.119-137.

Columbus, failing to secure patronage from Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain receives it instead from a wealthy Jewish trader living in Moorish Granada. The Jew, Hisdai ibn Ezra, hopes to discover a route his people could take to get to East Asia and establish a new homeland, 'there to live unmolested by the periodic excesses of zeal that afflict [their] Christian neighbours' (p.126). I found the story to be relatively weak compared to the greatly enjoyable yarns which preceded it. I could accept the concept of Columbus taking up patronage in this manner, though I think he'd try the other royal kingdoms of Europe before accepting the finite funds of a business man, but I find it a stretch to imagine them encountering Aztecs who then mistake Hisdai ibn Ezra for Quetzalcoatl the creator God and led by Montezuma that they would travel back to Iberia and be capable of lifting the Castillian siege of Granada, more likely the Jaguar warriors would be sea-sick, inflicted with Smallpox and other European diseases. Nonetheless, it is still an interesting and imaginative story, if falling slightly short of the high standard set in the previous tales.

"Ink From The New Moon" by A. A. Attanasco, pp. 138-151.

Columbus features in this story also. The plot follows a Chinese official and is addressed to his dead wife. It tells of the Buddhist discovery of America and the establishment of the United Sandalwood Autocracies in the shadow of the great Chinese Empire. The official travels from the tamed west coast to the wild east and south to the Caribbean islands. There he encounters big-nosed adventurers from across the stormy sea led by a man called Christ-bearer. On the whole the story is an entertaining parody of the United States, describing a democratic system similar to that which exists but painted from the palette of Chinese and Buddhist history instead of European. It suggests the dilemma Columbus would have faced if the Chinese had already colonised America before he had even set sail, and the implications this would have for history as we know it. Potentially this story is just as far fetched as "Such a Deal" but the delivery is so well executed, the tone just right for the narrator, that Attanasco pulls it off, crafting a world which is strongly depicted and lacks the doubts and jars its predecessor in the collection inspires.

23 September 2010

Stories from The Mammoth Book of Alternate Histories #1

Maybe I've not done as much work as I could have done over the last few days but then I don't make it back home as often as I'd like to. As it is, I've started The Mammoth Book of Alternate Histories edited by Ian Watson and Ian Whates. Here's a quick collection of thoughts, largely off the cuff, about the first few stories that I've read so far:

"The Raft of the Titanic" by James Morrow, pp. 1-29.

A peculiar story to start the collection with, Morrow springs a Utopia from the disaster of the Titanic by using the powers of hindsight and retrospect which alternate histories are so reliant on to suggest a possible method by which all of the passengers of the luxury line might have survived. The narrative is light and whimsical, deliberately and explicitly avoiding the potential darkness that could be associated with being castaway on a raft ala Coleridge who is quoted in the story, or Yann Martel's Life of Pi, indeed there are echoes of the latter's darker ending in the humorously portrayed cannibalism of less well liked members of the crew, and the raft inhabitant's reactions to news of wider world without them. Interestingly, this is one of those alternate histories like Philip Roth's The Plot Against America, where despite the change in the historical record the course of major events plough on regardless.

"Sidewinders" by Ken Macleod, pp. 30-42.

So far in my reading of alternate histories, the number which could be called true sf is relatively small. The purest example are probably the time machine alternates like Ray Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder", and novels such as Ward Moore's Bring the Jubilee and Stephen Baxter's The Time Ships. Macleod's story is one of these, but rather than time travel the science fiction here is based on dimensional hopping more akin to the TV show Sliders than anything else. It's a lively and exciting story which does a lot with the small space it has, indeed it successfully creates the idea of a wider Universe in which I could imagine a novel, or even a series of novels, being set.

"The Wadering Christian" by Eugene Byrne & Kim Newman, pp. 43-82.

This one was a fascinating Jewish alternate history. One of the things that made it so interesting was actually the account of the historical record from the year 0 to what we would consider 1000AD. Narrated by an immortal who has survived from the time of Christ and yet remains anonymous and vaguely in the background of his own story, the historical divergence here is the failure of Christian Roman Emperor Constantine to secure his empire and thus to create a dominant Christian religion in Europe. Up until this moment Newman and Byrne tell one of the most engaging and vivid accounts of the life and Crucifixion of Christ that I've encountered (admittedly religious fiction isn't an area I've often explored so I have few points of comparison). After the divergence the narrative remains interesting, with an alternate version of Charlemagne founding a Jewish rather than Christian dynasty. Again humour is strong in the story, though mostly black, and I especially like the references to a Britain - 'a cold, miserable, wet, piss-sodden island that I don't recommend you ever visit.'

"Hush My Mouth" by Suzette Haden Elgin, pp. 83-90.

There are a heck of a lot of "if the South had won" American Civil War alternate histories. Elgin twists the norm by suggesting that if both the North and the South had refused Blacks the right to fight in their armies than neither would have edge enough to win and after a number of years the war would just fall apart as the two Disunited States crumble. Rising up the former slaves take control of the exhausted and ravaged South and expel the white men into the North. Dubbing their land "New Africa", Elgin explains that race isn't a factor in human stupidity and through an excess of pride the various groups of New Africans cannot agree on a common language with which to govern their new nation, each preferring the language of their old African tribe. The linguistic twist is typical of Elgin, whose Native Tongue I wrote on as part of my Masters Dissertation, and her suggested solution to the quandary is an interesting one. Overall an effective, if short piece.

22 September 2010

Classics and Comics

Although, I did today finally start reading The Mammoth Book of Alternate Histories edited by Ian Watson and Ian Whates, the majority of my evening post-work was spent on one of my subsidiary projects. A good friend of mine, Mr. David Smith [Smiff], has asked me to co-author a paper with him on Classical influences in comic books. Given that the field of comic books, Graphic Novels, whatever you want to call them, has long been something I've wanted to get into, I leaped at the chance.

Abstracts have to be in by the end of the week so I've been throwing together as many Ancient Greek references and allusions in comics that I can gather. The obvious ones such as Frank Miller's 300 and the DC Character Wonder Woman are there, but so too are more recent up and comers like Greek Street. I'm looking forward to working on the paper, which Smiff will present, and we're hoping to either get it published or continue to work on it for use at future events.

All in all a productive day, but very little actual Ph.D work done. Tomorrow I'll be travelling home to North Wales which means a train journey which should mean I can get through the first few stories in Watson and Whates's anthology. Fingers crossed.

P.S. Annoyingly a book exists on the very topic we're writing a paper on but isn't published until early 2011, our conference is in December. If anyone can find me an advance copy or better yet a time machine so I can travel into the future and buy a copy then please do get in touch.

UPDATE:  Due to scheduling conflicts, the writing and subsequent presentation of this paper has been postponed until a future date. It, or something like it, may well be written in the not too distant future, but you'll have to wait and see to find out where and when. [Updated 13.10.10]

20 September 2010

Pavane by Keith Roberts

The cover of my 1988 edition
Today I ploughed through the last hundred or so pages of Pavane by Keith Roberts. The novel is set in an alternate world created by the assassination of Queen Elizabeth I in 1588 and the subsequent success of the Spanish Armada and thus extinguishing of Protestantism in Great Britain and ensuring Catholicism remains a true force in the world.

That I was reading this novel at a time when Pope Benedict XVI was visiting the UK was purely coincidental, although it made for some interesting associations as I imagined the greedy church in Rome holding back progress across the world as I read about the Popemobile in the news.

No, I read this novel as part of my wider reading in the field of Alternate History. Although the focus of my novel will be on non-mimetic fiction which deals with the Second World War, it is also my intention to gain an at least half-decent understanding and appreciation of the Alternate History genre as a whole (let us call it that for now, if only for argument's sake). By chance, there were at least a couple of references which I might even be able to translate over into real Ph.D work.

It's a peculiar book to read. I've seen it on the shelves, number 35 in the Science Fiction Masterworks series published by Gollancz (the Masterworks cover is far better than that of the 1988 edition I read by the way, I picked it up in a second hand bookshop for £1.25 though so I can't complain), and I'd been meaning to get around to it long before I settled on my current research area. What I didn't realise (which probably betrays how poor my research is at this stage) is that the novel is in fact a fix-up of several short stories. This shows in stories such as "The Signaller", the second in the novel, which serves to further familiarise us with the world Roberts has created, but does little to advance the overarching plot such as it is. I say "such as it is" not through a disdain for the novel's narrative, I found reading it to be both engrossing and enjoyable, but because the stories are at times so disjointed and those which are related as set so far apart, that the plot amounts to little more that "the renewal of British rebellion against the Vatican". This isn't a negative point, the stories are well done and I certainly became invested in the development of this idea of rebellion, but I can see how someone reading this unawares could be disapointed.

This relationship is, however, crucial to what the novel is. This is expressed by the Lady Eleanor in the last full story "Corfe Gate":
'It's like a ... dance somehow, a minuet or a pavane. [...] Sir John,' she said, 'sometimes I think life's all a mass of significance, all sorts of strands and threads woven like a tapestry or a brocade [...] If we ... won, it would all be because of grandfather's money. And the money's tere because of Jesse, and he did it because of the girl ... It's like Chinese boxes. There's always a smaller one inside, all the time'. (p. 212-213)
Eleanor links her own story with the previous one "Lords and Ladies" and beyond that to the first one "The Lady Margaret" bringing the novel full circle, but also expressing the domino effect which Roberts suggests (and in the "Coda" explicitly states) that small actions, seemingly minor decisions or seemingly minor people, can have repercussions which far exceed the scope of what we might imagine. In this case, barmaid refusing to marry a haulier leading to a revolution which changes the world.

If I ever finish reading all of his World War II related novels and stories, I'd be interested to compare Pavane to Harry Turtledove's Ruled Britannia which has a similar concept but from what I've seen a very different execution. Overall, I'm glad I read Pavane, and I shall certainly be mulling it over for a number of days to come.

Updated 21.09.2010

18 September 2010

The small force that it takes to launch a boat into the stream should not be confused with the force of the stream that carries it along

- Friedrich Nietzsche

And so I have opened this blog to the wider world. Tomorrow (or is that today?) I will begin commenting on my research on this blog. As it's still early days expect to see a lot of things moving around and changing as I settle in, the list of link on the right is sure to grow for example.

I have nothing else to say tonight other than explain the Nietzsche quote - It was an easy thing to create this blog, to design it and fill it with pretty colours and a half-relevant background. Adding to it, maintaining it, filling it with my academic process, that's the hard bit. I've created many projects similar to this and normally I have nothing to say. By keeping this blog academically(-ish) focused I should be guaranteeing at least four more years of material, Monday is after all the official start of term for my second Ph.D year.

Onwards and Upwards.

On a related note - I paid the first installment of my new tuition fees today, ouch. That's all I'll say on the matter.

12 September 2010

What is this?

What Is This?
This blog is a diary. It's an online record of my research, beginning in the September of my Ph.D's second year and continuing until I tire/forget about the blog and it gathers e-dust.

Why Bother?
Whilst I already have an electronic presence on the internet that I can direct people to (see my Academia profile) it is a very formal and turgid profile and behaves more like an online (very empty at the moment) CV than a record. I will continue to use my Academia page but it will only receive updates when something is completed (a review, a paper, a talk) wheras this blog will allow me to record the progress, and if someone other than myself is reading this, possible get feedback, communicate, and connect with like minds.