22 April 2011

Stations of the cross

Malcolm Guite is blogging some more of his poems: this time a series of sonnets meditating on the stations of the cross. Here is a particularly striking example (Simon of Cyrene carries the cross):
In desperation on this road of tears
Bystanders and bypassers turn away
In other’s pain we face our own worst fears
And turn our backs to keep those fears at bay
Unless we are compelled as this man was
By force of arms or force of circumstance
To face and feel and carry someone’s cross
In Love’s full glare and not his backward glance.
So Simon, no disciple, still fulfilled
The calling: ‘take the cross and follow me’.
By accident his life was stalled and stilled
Becoming all he was compelled to be.
Make me, like him, your pressed man and your priest,
Your alter Christus, burdened and released.
The others can be found here: I–III, IV–V, VI–VII, VIII–IX, X–XII, XIII–XIV. And he has just posted a fifteenth, for Easter dawn: XV.

19 April 2011

Some writing advice: don’t panic

Specifically, don’t panic over breaks in your writing schedule. Some wise words from David Hewson on the subject:
When I was starting out in this craft I was doing two jobs: writing books and working as a correspondent for the Sunday Times. Sometimes I’d have to travel on assignments, for a week or more frequently, then spend a week writing them up on my return.
I still remember being terrified by this prospect. Would the book I was writing still be in my head when I found the time to get back to it?
The answer, I think, is definitely yes, provided it’s a solid idea that’s taken root already. Stories aren’t flimsy mayflies, ready to disappear on the faintest breeze. If they’re to have substance they must possess substance from the start. Weight and form and some kind of presence in your head. I can work on them without writing, of course, reading drafts, making notes, going through research and my book diary.
But even if I don’t do a thing they will still be there when I return to the manuscript. In fact there’s a strong argument for saying that works in progress improve from being abandoned from time to time. You come back to them with fresh ideas and perspective. Once-thorny problems seem simple to solve. Florid passages that escaped you when you wrote them stand out a mile and demand excision.
Writing’s a marathon not a sprint. It doesn’t worry me in the slightest if other pressures mean I have to set a project to one side for a while. And when this present book’s done I hope to put it in a digital drawer for a month or so before taking it out for a final revise before delivery.
So if you can’t find the time you’d like to work on something don’t worry. If it’s good enough it won’t run away in the middle of the night.

13 April 2011

Is there life inside black holes?

 Here’s an interesting paper that has just appeared on arXiv. ‘Is there life inside black holes?’ by Vyacheslav Dokuchaev of the Moscow-based Institute for Nuclear Research of the Russian Academy of Sciences argues that stable orbits and complex structures can exist within charged, rotating black holes. Here is the abstract:
Inside a rotating or charged black holes there are bound periodic planetary orbits, which not coming out nor terminated at the central singularity. The stable periodic orbits inside black holes exist even for photons. We call these bound orbits by the orbits of the third kind, following to Chandrasekhar classification for particle orbits in the black hole gravitational field. It is shown that an existence domain for the third kind orbits is a rather spacious, and so there is a place for life inside the supermassive black holes in the galactic nuclei. The advanced civilizations may inhabit the interiors of supermassive black holes, being invisible from the outside and basking in the light of the central singularity and orbital photons.
Quite apart from the interesting scientific speculation, I am fascinated by the potential for science fiction and fantasy. There have been any number of science fiction stories that have used charged, rotating black holes as transit points to other places and times, but I can’t think of any that involve civilizations that actually evolve inside a black hole. But perhaps it would be better as fantasy, given that any society living within a black hole would have to learn to cope with frequent causality violations (not the most conducive environment for the development of any kind of science).

12 April 2011

Live at Earls Court

I'll be at the London Book Fair tomorrow, taking part in a seminar about 'The Partnership between Author and Editor':
The relationship between author and editor is not a straightforward one. Just how does an author work with both the in-house editor/publisher and freelance editor? This seminar looks at how all three work together to their mutual advantage and the panel is comprised of two trios: one trio in general/popular medicine and the other in fiction. The panel members are two authors (Mark Newton and Bridget McCall), two in-house editors (Julie Crisp and Dick Warner) and two freelance editors (Lawrence Osborn and Richenda Milton-Daws).
The seminar will be chaired by Christina Thomas, a member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP).
Date and Time: 13 Apr 2011, 14:30-15:30
Location: Wellington Room, Earls Court 1
Since there has been a good deal of discussion lately about standards of editing, I am expecting it to be a lively session.

11 April 2011

Explaining the Fermi paradox

Over half a century ago, the physicist Enrico Fermi posed the following challenge to those who speculate about the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence: If intelligent life has evolved many times in our galaxy and beyond, why do we see no sign of it?

Several explanations have been offered over the years:
  • Life is actually quite rare and humanity is the first species to become advanced enough to search for other civilizations.
  • Intelligent species have emerged regularly throughout the history of the cosmos but end up destroying themselves through misuse of technology (e.g. nuclear war, environmental catastrophe, misguided genetic engineering).
  • Advanced civilizations are common and aware of us but keep themselves hidden so as not disturb our culture (cf. Star Trek's prime directive).
'Too Damned Quiet?', a paper recently published on arXiv offers another alternative. Its author, Adrian Kent, explores a couple of other possibilities: 'One is that life capable of evidencing itself on interstellar scales has evolved in many places but that evolutionary selection, acting on a cosmic scale, tends to extinguish species which conspicuously advertise themselves and their habitats. The other is that – whatever the true situation – intelligent species might reasonably worry about the possible dangers of self-advertisement and hence incline towards discretion.' He concludes:
If there are no aliens out there,any efforts at communication were obviously wasted. Thus we can assume for the sake of discussion that there are aliens out there likely to receive the messages at some point. The relevant parameter, then, is not the probability of our messages being received by aliens who might potentially do us harm: it is the conditional probability of the aliens who receive the messages doing us harm, given that the messages are indeed received (and understood to be messages). Can we really say that this probability is so negligible, bearing in mind that any such aliens appear to have made no reciprocal attempts to advertise their existence? . . . it often seems to be implicitly assumed, and sometimes is explicitly argued, that colonising or otherwise exploiting the resources of other planets and other solar systems will solve our problems when the Earth’s resources can no longer sustain our consumption. It might perhaps be worth contemplating more seriously the possibility that there may be limits to the territory we can safely colonise and to the resources we can safely exploit, and to consider whether and how it might be possible to evolve towards a way of living that can be sustained (almost) indefinitely on the resources of (say) our solar system alone.
Which leaves me wondering at what point the precautionary principle morphs into paranoia.