Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Continuum and Fire

First off, this happened today:

It's a bushfire out the back of my place.  There is fire on the mountain 300m away.  You can hear the hiss and crackle of the flames and hear the firefighters shouting (specifically, shouting "Where's the fucking water?"). 

I have backed up my novel and am ready to hose down the embers.  People are clustered on their balconies and verandahs and in their cars, watching and taking photos. 

In other news.  This year I am going to Continuum X.  I am going to be talking about mediaeval diversity and weird diseases and faith and spec fic and learning how to sword-fight, and dressing up as something macabre and dancing.

Every girl crazy 'bout a shark dressed man. 
But since I am trying to keep these entries single-topic, I will have to talk about that next time. 

The novel, by the way, goes very well. 

Friday, April 18, 2014


This is a test - if I am going to be publishing this book (early days yet) and going to conventions and all of that stuff, I have to have an online presence, and that means Facebook and this blog.

So this is a test post.  Other news to follow.

And this is a description of one of the earliest examples of biological warfare - the siege of Caffa in 1346. It's from a narrative of a man called Gabriele de Mussi, who lived around about then. 
(Before this bit about the plague, there is an apocalyptic speech by God, lamenting the depravity into which humanity has fallen and describing the retribution intended. It goes on:
“…In 1346, in the countries of the East, countless numbers of Tartars and Saracens were struck down by a mysterious illness which brought sudden death. Within these countries broad regions, far-spreading provinces, magnificent kingdoms, cities, towns and settlements, ground down by illness and devoured by dreadful death, were soon stripped of their inhabitants. An eastern settlement under the rule of the Tartars called Tana, which lay to the north of Constantinople and was much frequented by Italian merchants, was totally abandoned after an incident there which led to its being besieged and attacked by hordes of Tartars who gathered in a short space of time. The Christian merchants, who had been driven out by force, were so terrified of the power of the Tartars that, to save themselves and their belongings, they fled in an armed ship to Caffa, a settlement in the same part of the world which had been founded long ago by the Genoese.

Mongol gate-crashers. 

“Oh God! See how the heathen Tartar races, pouring together from all sides, suddenly invested the city of Caffa and besieged the trapped Christians there for almost three years. There, hemmed in by an immense army, they could hardly draw breath, although food could be shipped in, which offered them some hope. But behold, the whole army was affected by a disease which overran the Tartars and killed thousands upon thousands every day. It was as though arrows were raining down from heaven to strike and crush the Tartars’ arrogance. All medical advice and attention was useless; the Tartars died as soon as the signs of disease appeared on their bodies: swellings in the armpit or groin caused by coagulating humours, followed by a putrid fever.

This actually looks really cool. 
“The dying Tartars, stunned and stupefied by the immensity of the disaster brought about by the disease, and realizing that they had no hope of escape, lost interest in the siege. But they ordered corpses to be placed in catapults1 and lobbed into the city in the hope that the intolerable stench would kill everyone inside.2 What seemed like mountains of dead were thrown into the city, and the Christians could not hide or flee or escape from them, although they dumped as many of the bodies as they could in the sea. And soon the rotting corpses tainted the air and poisoned the water supply, and the stench was so overwhelming that hardly one in several thousand was in a position to flee the remains of the Tartar army. Moreover one infected man could carry the poison to others, and infect people and places with the disease by look alone. No one knew, or could discover, a means of defense.
“Thus almost everyone who had been in the East, or in the regions to the south and north, fell victim to sudden death after contracting this pestilential disease, as if struck by a lethal arrow which raised a tumor on their bodies. The scale of the mortality and the form which it took persuaded those who lived, weeping and lamenting, through the bitter events of 1346 to 1348—the Chinese, Indians, Persians, Medes, Kurds, Armenians, Cilicians, Georgians, Mesopotamians, Nubians, Ethiopians, Turks, Egyptians, Arabs, Saracens and Greeks (for almost all the East has been affected)—that the last judgement had come.

Fourteenth century hearse.
“…As it happened, among those who escaped from Caffa by boat were a few sailors who had been infected with the poisonous disease. Some boats were bound for Genoa, others went to Venice and to other Christian areas. When the sailors reached these places and mixed with the people there, it was as if they had brought evil spirits with them: every city, every settlement, every place was poisoned by the contagious pestilence, and their inhabitants, both men and women, died suddenly. And when one person had contracted the illness, he poisoned his whole family even as he fell and died, so that those preparing to bury his body were seized by death in the same way. Thus death entered through the windows, and as cities and towns were depopulated their inhabitants mourned their dead neighbours.”  
 Then there is an extended description of the plague in Piacenza, and more apocalyptic visions.  
 Love this stuff.  I have ordered the book from which this came, by Horrox - I will try to post a link later.  There is plague in book three. 

Brendan Carson

Sunday, July 14, 2013


There won't be a blog this week, or the next, or the next, because I have my exam.  It's on the 26/8/2013, and I need the time.  Which is a pity, because there is a lot I would normally want to talk about at a time like this.  And the novel is actually going reasonably well.

But it will wait.  Speak soon.

In the meantime, here is a picture of a mediaeval flying cat.

Thanks for listening,

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

How I done did wrong

Usually I write about my book, today I write about my job, and how I think I did the wrong thing a few days back.  And this post is serious.  And if anyone can come up with the right thing to do here, send me a message.

But first, here are some suits of armour for cats and mice.

This should clear up that whole "cats vs dogs" thing pretty damn quick.

And here is the moment I glimpsed at myself in the mirror and decided to have a three day no-study break.

Okay - I work as a rural GP in a small country town.  A patient, whom I have anonymised in the subsequent photos

came in for a script for his asthma medication.

"There's one other thing," he said.  "It's been going on for a while."

"No worries," I said.

I think I've got chlamydia, he said.

Chlamydia, for those who don't have to study these things, is a very common sexually transmitted disease*.  It is extremely common, and very easily treatable (two tablets, no sex for a week, very high cure rate) and if it's not treated it leads to very nasty consequences.  Chronic pelvic pain, in males and females, and infertility.

I explained all this to him.  "Easy fixed."

"Good," he said.  "I need two doses."

"Okay, I said, what's your partner's name?"  The first thing to do is open the notes and see if we even know this person and if can get him/her to come in.

"She can't know," he said.

I stopped and looked at him.  There was a three second pause.

"Tell me you are not planning on slipping azithromycin into her food," I said.

"It'll be okay."

"It's called poisoning.  What if she's allergic?" I said.  "And anyway - they're big tablets.  

"Can't I just slip it in her drink?"

"This isn't James fucking Bond," I said.  Second time in my life I have felt I have sworn directly at a patient as opposed to with a patient.

"It's okay," he said.  "We've dealt with it for years We'll just deal."  And he got up to leave.

Anyway, I got him to sit down and we talked.  It was a long  conversation, and I don't know that it got anywhere.  I worked out pretty quickly that there was no way he was going to involve his wife in any of this - twice I led the conversation there and twice he got up to leave.  He appeared horribly uncomfortable - this was his fault, she'd never been with anyone else. He was afraid, he was horribly remorseful, he was wracked with guilt - unfortunately neither of these feelings have an appreciable antibacteriological effect.

I don't know what the best outcome would have been.  There's the whole question of what condition we were dealing with, what else it could have been, the whole history/examination/diagnostic tests things that doctors who don't like to kill people do.  Gonorrhoea is out there in the community, there are others.

And I can't break patient confidentiality - actually I can, there are mandated exceptions like child abuse, mental illness that makes you a danger to yourself or others, access to firearms, etc., where you are required to inform the relevant authorities - and notifiable diseases are one of them.But chlamydia is so common that my strong suspicion is that a notification about a man who says he might have it and refuses to give the name of his partner isn't going to get a lot of stage-time for the CDC.

And that leaves me and him, and whoever she is, and if I could somehow get her to come in we could talk about her, maybe about sexual health checks in general - I don't know.

And anyway - if you use a utilitarian rather than an existential idea of what makes something right or wrong, not giving him a supply of antibiotics for his wife probably made her worse, so I don't know I can say it's the right thing to do.  If I do give it, her fundamental autonomy as a human being with agency and power are taken away and if I don't, she's got a fair chance of getting chronic pelvic pain.  There are people out there who value right and wrong over sickness and health, but I don't know that she's one of them.  Form one point of view, freedom and autonomy are fundamental.  From another, pain and suffering are.  When someone has been run over, and they are brought into the ED, we sedate them and cut them with knives, acting on the assumption that if they were able to give consent, they would rather have emergency surgery than preventable death.  

There's this thing called Rawl's Veil - look it up.  It's a means of determining what's fair, and it's not exactly set up for this kind of question, but it will do.  And then there's my religion - the whole do unto others thing.  If my only choices were - and I can try for others, but there's a fair chance that all of them will fail, and in the end I'll be down to the same two wrong alternatives - if my only choices were be lied to or get chronic pain, what would I rather have?

Anyway.  I am not the real victim here.  Say I gave the antibiotics - I don't know if he managed somehow to get them into her food, or if she got anaphylaxis and died, or if they worked or didn't work, or if she has HIV.  Say I didn't - I don't know that anyone got fixed, or cured, or helped.  And I think I had the means to do so - four tablets of a commonly prescribed and rarely allergenic antibiotic.  

I don't know.  I don't know that I helped anyone in that entire consult.  And I am not going to have chronic pelvic pain or infertility.  But I don't know what I can do about it.  I asked him to book in again, and he didn't, and I'll ring next week when I'm there again and ask him to book in again, and he won't, and it's all ended up rather badly.

Anyhow.  how I done wrong.  Anyone with any bright ideas, glad to hear them.

Thanks for listening,

*What we used to call a venereal disease, literally a disease of Venus, or one caused by indulging in those activities for which she is most widely known, i.e.:  shagging.
Which is interesting, because we never had Martial diseases, diseases of Mars, caused by going to war or getting in a fight.  And they exist, too.
We also have courts martial, for crimes committed in the field of war, but no courts venereal. They would have been handy right about now.      

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Days of whine and roses

A quick post today, because I am sick.

And it's not interesting sick,

and it's not terrible, terrible heartbreaking sick,

and it's not even I should not smile but it's inappropriately amusing kind of sick, it's the boring kind of sick I have had before and will get again and it's certainly the kind of thing I'm very very keen not to talk about.  My feeling has always been that social media is a lot like, well, social everything else, and if you were at a party or some kind of gathering and you asked someone how they were and they launched into a detailed explanation of their various ghastly woes and worries, you probably would be sorry you asked. And when it came to the next time to ask, maybe you would be less keen.  

This, by the way, is one of the most wise and perceptive books on sickness that I have ever read, or will ever read.  This is another, in a very different way.  

Here is a job that I didn't know existed.

So not a lot on the blog today.

And here is a lantern shield,

which is six hundred years too late for my novel, but will definitely turn up in books three and so on because it's mediaeval and ornate and so, so cool.

Here is a really cool CT scanner.

Here is the nervous system, similar to that of the person reading this entry.

And here is a bit of my book, I think almost the very first words I wrote, three or four or five years ago, one afternoon when I sat down to write a scene from nowhere in my head.  I cut out the first bit where my character runs down the dirt road and sees something glinting in the sun and picks it up.

She fell to her knees.  She forgot to breathe.  

A reliquary.  

It was a holy thing, a sacred thing.  Forgiveness of sins.  Cure of all ills.  The crooked made straight, light to the blind, wit to the mute and the fool and the mad.  Something that healed and made whole.  

Her body shook, and for a moment she almost fell forward, almost sprawled on the path, but caught herself.  She knew, like she knew she breathed, that she could not have broken her fall, that she would lacerate her face on the sharp stones before letting the holy thing fall back to the earth.  

She knelt and held it close.  If it should fall onto the dust – she held the cross in both hands, and cupped it near to her breast.  Her breath came deep and fast.  For a moment she felt a humming, like the earth swelled and tensed beneath her, and the faintest lace of blackness around the edges of her sight.  There was a high, pure sound, something like breathing, something like song, like when she was on the edge of the world, up on Hwyclyf Hill.  The sound close, and inside her, and at the same time far away.    

She swallowed.  She had never touched a reliquary.  There were some in Walpurg’s, and Gobnat’s, and in the high altar at Saethbyrgen.  There was a bone of Saint Simon behind the rood at Saint Bartholomew’s, in Sarum, three weeks away.  The Bishop of York had a lock of hair from Hideberg of Wessex, and a linen veronica from Jerusalem, embroidered with gold.  In London the hand of St James the Less.  And of course, in Rome there were fragments of the True Cross, and the chains of Saint Peter, and the chest of the Apostle Paul, and in Byzantium, his skull, and a vial of tears of the virgin Mary, and the Thorny Crown itself, and in Jerusalem a vast store, men said relics upon relics, a great slew of splintered bone and coin and cloth at the centre of the Earth.  

Those were the very first words.  Today I wrote the hundred thousandth.

And this, in one quote, is what it's all about - sorry for the he/man thing:

"Every day we slaughter our finest impulses. That is why we get a heartache when we read those lines written by the hand of a master and recognise them as our own, as the tender shoots we stifled because we lacked the faith to believe in our own powers, our own criterion of truth and beauty. Every man, when he gets quiet, when he becomes desperately honest with himself, is capable of uttering profound truths. We all derive from the same source. There is no mystery about the origin of things. We are all part of creation, all kings, all poets, all musicians; we only have to open up to discover what is already there."

Henry Miller Sexus

Anyhow.  More when I am back in the land of the unsickened.
Thanks for listening.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Classics. And sexy centaurs.

First off, here is a description (slightly edited) of baby centaurs at play.  It is from a work called Images by Philostratus the Elder, and it is either, as he says, him describing a painting of some centaurs at play or, as seems to me much more likely, him recording his impressions of actual real live centaurs which it turns out, really did exist and were wonderful and beautiful and completely awesome!!!!! 


Here it is: 

"Of the baby Kentauroi, some lie wrapped in swaddling clothes and some have discarded them. Some seem to be crying, some are happy and smile as they suck at their mother's breasts. Some play beneath while their mothers stand, while others cling to them when the mothers kneel down. One is throwing a stone at his mother - already he is naughty! 

The bodies of the infants have not yet taken on their definite shape, because they are still being breastfed, but some older ones are already leaping about, and show a little shagginess, and have sprouted mane and hoofs, though these are still tender. How beautiful they are! 

The human bodies of some of the Kentauroi grow out of white mares. Others sprout from chestnut mares, or black, or dappled, but they all glisten like those of horses that are well cared for. Sometimes a very white-skinned female centaur will have the body of a black mare - the opposition of the colours in one creature is what makes the whole so beautiful. They have a most delightful home in the valleys of Mount Pelion."
Three paragraphs and since then I've been ceaselessly turning over ideas in my mind, trying to get centaurs into my novel.  

Actual real reconstruction of unicorn by real scientist
What else?  

Some of my friends, the SF author ones, were expressing their concerns about how few people working in the field seem to have read the SF Classics.  The overall - although there was some dissent - view was that this was a bad thing.  My feelings on this are that if this is happening - and I am not sure if it is - it might be something to be celebrated, as much as mourned.   

Cave of unicorn, where above irrefutable skeleton was found.  In German, this is the Einkornhohle.  

For a start, none of us have the time to read all the classics.  I know, because I tried to do just that.  Over a period of about ten years I read - I am not joking - every Penguin Classic published between the dawn of writing and about 1750, maybe 1700, but sporadically from after that as well.  Every single one.  It cost time and money and health and probably a lot of sanity points I couldn't really afford.  I read the Bacchantes and the Guides to Greece and the Revelation of Divine Love and Collected Hindu Myths and City of God and the first Spanish records of the New World and The Critique of Pure Reason and I reckon I started to falter around there because have you seen it it's a freaking monstrous book I mean it is actually physically draining to read and thank God they don't do a hardback series or I would have ended up with arms like a fiddler crab and then I got to Hegel or Fuerbach or someone and drifted into theology and I gave up.    

A few things I learnt.  

1.  Short books - the Prince, the Dao De Jing, the Epic of Gilgamesh - say as much as very long books.  Max Weber could have written The Protestant Work Ethic in, say, a few percent of what he took.  It could have been a book you put in your pocket, rather than something you need a heavy vehicle licence to approach.  

1.5 Even the best write crap on occasion.  If you don't believe me, read Byron, who wrote the best "I am thirteen and girls don't understand me" poetry of all time.  No, all of it.  Every single frickin poem.  I'll be here.  Waiting for you to apologise.    

2.  Reading stuff by people you don't know and don't understand and maybe don't even like is important and wonderful and worthwhile.  

3.  There are startling, startling things out there and we are lucky to be alive.  
Centaurs had complex anatomies, with a cartilaginous upper thoracic spine that meant their heads and bodies flopped about whenever they tried to stab someone.  This is why they died out.  

4.  Some books don't really help some people.  Charles Dickens, for example.  It may have been me, I am sure it was, and maybe I'll try again later, but I wanted everyone in Oliver Twist dead.   

5.  Shakespeare is actually under-rated.  We should end the separation of Church and State and make bardolatry compulsory, with shunnings and stonings and stuff.  Seriously, read a few pages of Love's Labours Lost and marvel.  

6.  Or watch it instead.  Some books aren't meant to be read.  The Michael Alexander version of Beowulf works best declaimed on a rocky seashore or gathered around a fire - I have done both of these and they rock.  Shakespeare and Marlowe can be watched or read.  Dickens can be fried or fricasseed.  

7.  Don't try to do this yourself - read all the books - because it is impossible.  After the Age of Enlightenment literacy went viral and you can't read all the the things.

Occasional monstrous throwbacks to Homo equus occur, but they are shunned by society.  

Or forced into marginalised occupations such as sex work.  

Turns out reading some stuff written in the last two centuries is important.  Like, apparently a glorious socialist future awaits us all.  Who knew?

Anyhow - SF Classics.  I don't know.  I don't know that (takes a deep breath) reading, say, Asimov is a good idea anymore.  I don't think it is.  I don't know that reading Asimov makes you a better writer, more able to evoke feeling, more able to conjure images, more able to surprise, because many people I know already are better writers than Asimov.  I can easily name ten.  Seriously.

I don't know that we should read Asimov's stuff so that Asimov's ideas get more airtime because, to be honest, we had a whole decade or three or four, everything before the New Wave, where it was a lot of that white man science triumphant kind of stuff, and I don't know that the rise of Moorcock and Dick and the others made things worse for us.  

There were a lot of stories we didn't tell and haven't told, and can and must and need to be told, and going back to Asimov isn't going to tell us them.  

Here is what I am talking about.  It's a paragraph from The Stone Gods, by Jeanette Winterson.  Read this:  

There's a planet they call Medusa.  It's made of rock, alright, but the rock has sharded and split so many times that there's nothing solid - just strands of rock splintered out from the surface like thick plaits of hair. Like snakes.  When the sky-winds blow, the rock-strands move, and something about the wind through them makes them sing.  Its as if a head is turned away from you, always turned away, and singing through the darkness, dark and lonely, never see her face.  

When I read that I was transfixed.  Three days and I still don't know how to talk about it.  Writing that stops your breath.     

Anyhow - read widely.  Read good, read hard, read frustrating stuff.  Read weird and strange, it's what we feed on.  Read magical and mysterious.  Read new, for God's sake, above all else read new.  Read vivid and morbid and odd.  Know that the other stuff is out there, and read it if you like - because that's the most important thing, read with fervour and hunger and need - but truth be told, there wouldn't be ten Truly Essential Classics in SF and maybe you don't have to do more than that.   

Anyhow.  My opinion.  Your mileage, or warpage, or parsecage, or whatever, may vary.      

Thanks for listening.  

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


This is not my favourite post to have to write.  But I think, like they say, something's gotta give.

Now, I am separated.  That's not great, it's not where I saw myself or where I wanted to be, but it's not what I'm writing about today.  What I'm writing about is the possibility of pathology in my response to that situation.

My response has been something like this:

Glimpse into my psyche.  This is the least embarrassing snapshot I could find, but still, I feel I should charge.

This is a snapshot of an app called "Habit List" that I've got on my phone.  It's basically a self-generated list of things to do each day, and I have been using it a lot.

And putting a lot on it.  That snapshot, from a few days ago, is only half of what I had set myself to do that day.  The full day's tasks are about two and a half screens.  It includes helpful advice not only on avoiding sloth, gluttony and lust but more abjurations and circumscriptions - there are people not to call and things not to watch - than a particularly severe religious text.

The tasks include a lot of things - two hours of study a day, the gym four times a week, jiu jitsu twice, boxing twice, as well as the more important but inherently pleasurable and therefore frequently omitted things like "ring [insert name of dear friend I've known for twenty years and will otherwise not ring for months] and so on," but they don't include everything I do.  They don't include work, for example, and sleep.

Study - what I hate doing and will therefore do more of.  The hair is accurate.  That golden light around my head is me having a stroke because my brain, in self defense, is shutting off the blood supply to the lobe of my brain that controls whining.     

Work in the last seven days has been six days on, one off.  Of the six days one was a ten hour shift.  The others, Thursday morning to Monday night, I was working or on overnight call for I think one hundred and four hours in a row or thereabouts.  Tuesday, like I said, was off, then there's the next block of five shifts, which includes another overnight call, which I have just started.

Now clearly this is my choice, and almost as clearly I think I whined about this six weeks ago and I haven't done anything about it in the meantime so the purpose of whining about it now may not be immediately clear. But I am starting to suspect two, maybe three things.
What I love, and will therefore (temporarily!) do less of.  

The first is that I am deliberately, either consciously or subconsciously, doing this to myself because of the separation.  Whether as distraction or punishment or some blundering attempt at emotional thermodynamics, a perfectly efficient conversion of hate into work, I don't know.  But I've suspected for some time that the same bald, beardy man is responsible for 99% of my problems, and I think I'm narrowing the suspects down to very few.

The second is, like the story says, something's gotta give.  Something just has to.  I am not sleeping, and in me that's a sign.

And the third is I should do it now.  I am cutting back the blogging to once a week - the interviews, the weird medical Wednesdays will still go ahead, but less urgently. The exam is in fifty eight days (another app) and after then I can study less and before that I have to do less.  I am going to have to cut the jiu jitsu back.
Actual salt mines.  Just to re-introduce a sense of proportion here.  

And the fourth is, the things that I can't cut back are the very things I tend to.  I rang one of my dearest friends a few months back and found out that he was in England and had been for some weeks.  Which I did not know because I had not rung.  I remedied this by putting "call dearest writery friend" on the app (frequency - once per week, success rate - 75%, unbroken duration - three weeks so far!) and last night, when I parked the car in the dark, I spoke to him.

He is writing a detective series about a woman who lives in a museum and I cannot say any more than that except it will be glorious and wonderful and even if, when it comes out, you can only buy a heavily censored copy that contains only punctuation marks, you should read it.

It did me good.  I felt better.  I relaxed.  I can't stop that.

Anyhow - the novel awaits.  Speak soon, and thanks for listening.