Welcome to our blog!
It's better than a bat in the eye with a burnt stick!
This blog makes liberal use of AB's journals, letters, travel notes, and other sources.
And make sure to visit The Arnold Bennett Society for expert information and comment on all aspects of the life and work of AB.
Sunday, 7 February 2016
Friday, 5 February 2016
I just managed to get to the end of "The Difference Engine" but it was a close run thing. I nearly gave up with only about thirty pages left to read, which would have been a record for me I think. This was a novel which started well and went downhill; steeply downhill as it got towards the end. I had been drawn to it, having read "Neuromancer", by the author's name, and also by its reputation as a 'cyberpunk' novel - sounded fascinating. Additionally it was labelled as an 'SF Masterwork'. The fact that it was a collaboration with someone else (Bruce Sterling) should have rung alarm bells - in my experience when a well-known author collaborates it seems to be a case that he has run out of ideas and is lending his name to someone else whose book it is in fact. But maybe I am wrong.
Anyway, I liked the premise of this book - an alternative history of Victorian England - and the introductory female character seemed interesting, but she soon disappeared to be replaced by a series of two dimensional characters who failed to gain my enthusiasm. It seemed to me that the authors had researched the Victorian period in a fairly superficial way and had thrown into their melting pot every personality and situation they could think of, then mixed it all up and finally worked a story in. Obviously I didn't expect it to be convincing in the sense that a contemporary novel would be, but fewer ingredients and more attention to development would have been good. As for the sex scenes!! I seem to recall from "Neuromancer" that Gibson alluded successfully to sex without actually getting into gory detail, and succeeded admirably by doing so. I can only assume that it was the work of the collaborator that gave us these rather crass interludes.
So, for me an opportunity missed and a great disappointment. Not that I have given up on Gibson, but I shall avoid any further collaborations.
Tuesday, 26 January 2016
I don't know if I have ever read a war novel before, and I can't say what attracted me to this book when I saw it on the shelf in my local library. Maybe the name? I wondered what a Swiss mountain might have to do with the Vietnam war. And then the usual commendations on the back cover made me think this might be a little different. And I was looking for something out of my usual range of reading, so why not give it a try?
The story follows Mellas a young 2nd lieutenant drafted into the war in Vietnam. He is an educated and thoughtful man, inclined to self-doubt and introspection, by no means a typical war hero. And in fact there are no heroes in this book, though there are many acts of heroism - on reflection, maybe they are all heroes? Visceral is the word that comes to mind when I try to encapsulate the novel to myself. Marlantes makes no concession to the reader's sensibilities, cultural background or moral framework, but the result is, for me, a work of stunning authenticity. As the novel progressed I found myself becoming accustomed to descriptions of squalor, casual violence, racism, cynical disregard for normal standards of behaviour, self-serving behaviour, and simple human suffering - just as, no doubt, troops in combat become inured to all these things. I started to wonder if in fact, given the same circumstances, my response would be any different? I now feel confident that it would not be and I doubt in fact if I would cope even so well as these young men do. And that is a key point - these are essentially boys, thrown into a conflict they do not understand, with no objectives they can relate to, and lacking any moral certainties. It is remarkable to me that any of them emerged still sane. I have, until now, been fairly sceptical about the concept of post-traumatic stress affecting veterans of war- I just had no idea until I read this book what war consisted of!
Marantes describes the action in the book so matter of factly and in such chilling detail that it can only be based on his own experience. maybe the writing is an exercise in catharsis for him? But this is not by any means an all-action gung-ho adventure; far from it. All the characters, at various points, reflect on their own and their comrades behaviour and their vulnerability is apparent beneath the veneer of cynical language. Their fear is tangible, their devotion to each other and their unit remarkable, and their occasional acts of bravery are inspiring. Mellas eventually comes to realise that only by making the best choices he can for his comrades in their particular situation can he make any sense of his life - wider responsibilities are irrelevant.
This is a novel set in the Vietnam war, but it could be about any war anywhere. It really should be compulsory reading for all politicians who have the power and responsibility to choose whether or not to contemplate warfare. It is a worthwhile read for anybody who has never been in battle, in fact for anybody who is interested in human nature.
Friday, 22 January 2016
- Wildlife will only be able to follow suitable climate if there is enough appropriate habitat available. One third of Europe's bumblebee species could lose 80 per cent of their current range by 2100.
In the North Sea, climate change is impacting on sea conditions, with knock-on changes in plankton communities. Climate change is a factor in the 70 per cent decline in kittiwake populations in the UK.
As the climate changes, wildlife is having to move to follow suitable conditions northwards. As a result of these range changes, species are colonising new areas.
- The increase in average temperatures experienced in the UK over the last few decades has already had a noticeable impact on wildlife.
New species are arriving in southern Britain from mainland Europe and many groups of native species are steadily shifting their distributions northwards to remain within their viable ‘climate space’
Some species may experience a shrinking in the area of suitable climate space. This is particularly the case for mosses, which mostly favour wet and cold conditions.
Wildlife will only be able to benefit from expansions in climate space if there is enough habitat in the right area and in good ecological condition to colonise.
Sunday, 17 January 2016
I have been reading a powerful and important book called "Understanding Climate Change: Science, Policy, and Practice" by Sarah Burch and Sara Harris. It introduced me to the concept of climate literacy which seems to me to be a very useful one. As I understand the concept it is not only about having information on climate change, its causes, effects and consequences, but having an understanding sufficient to critically examine claims, assertions, speculations, and proposed responses. In other words a climate literate person is in a position to actively contribute to the ongoing debate and advocate action. It is regrettable that much discussion on this subject, apart from the scientific community, seems so far to have been ill-informed or partisan, or both.
Those who are climate literate know that we are now well beyond the stage of demonstrating human culpability in global warming. The issues to be confronted now are mitigation and adaptation. Can anything be done to reduce the rate of warming and bring it to a halt sooner? Given that warming will continue in the medium term, whatever action is taken, how may human societies protect themselves from its harmful effects? These are questions upon which scientists are uniquely qualified to advise and it behoves politicians to heed their advice.
In their book, Burch and Harris assert that "Tackling the climate change challenge requires the creation of a compelling vision of a desirable future, not just recapturing a mythical past or 'tinkering around the edges' of our current development path." This seems to me to be a rather profound insight as it speaks directly to what we know about human nature - people rarely change their behaviour in response to threat; they need to have a clear view of how they personally will be better off. A huge shift in cultural tectonics is needed but when has the world ever been better placed, given the ubiquity of modern communications, to achieve such a shift?