The flying cathedral


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Earlier today Margaret Atwood kindly retweeted a response of mine to a conversation she was having with William Gibson (Yeah, I know. The circles I tweet in, eh?). Made my day. Here’s the tweet:

And here’s a relevant excerpt from Chapter Four:

The little flotilla of airships headed east, the Hammer in the lead. I sat on the flight deck watching the ocean pass, making small talk with the pilot and crew. The bishop left me alone for most of the day, but as the sun dropped towards the horizon he reappeared.

“Nearly there, Lemmy,” he said. “Thank you for your patience. I want you to see this at its best.”

“Where are we?”, I asked. “Just looks like empty ocean to me.”

“Not empty. We’re on the edge of the great Pacific garbage patch. The water down there is rich with particles of plastic. When we get nearer to the middle, you’ll see the ocean covered with the debris of our civilisation.”

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He took me to see the ice


Gabriel Garcia Marquez died today. He was 87. If you haven’t read One Hundred Years Of Solitude or Love In The Time Of Cholera, stop what you are doing and immediately acquire the means to absorb these wonderful works. If you’re wondering why, listen only to the words of Ian McEwan in the Newsnight interview above.

I first read One Hundred Years in 1973 – I believe it was a Penguin edition – on the recommendation of the student of Spanish in the room next door to me on staircase 11 (or was it 14?) at St Catz. It was a wonderful thing, a book so complex and playful and yes, magical, that I may have skipped lectures to devour the thing. Given that I skipped many lectures for all sorts of reasons, that may not have been surprising, but only my encounter with Gravity’s Rainbow a year or so later had a similar impact on my studies. I’ve read Years at least twice since, but to mark GGM’s passing I think I shall reread Love In The Time Of Cholera.

BBC obituary.

The New Yorker unlocks some of his writing from their archives.

GGM was a fine journalist. Here he is discussing the use of tape recorders in interviews (from an interview in The Paris Review in1981):

As a journalist, I feel that we still haven’t learned how to use a tape recorder to do an interview. The best way, I feel, is to have a long conversation without the journalist taking any notes. Then afterward he should reminisce about the conversation and write it down as an impression of what he felt, not necessarily using the exact words expressed.


A year in reading


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I’ve not been making much (read: any) progress on writing the follow-up to The Aviator (there’s a plot outline, and loads of ideas, and it will be on its way when I finish a couple of other projects), but I have been doing a lot of reading – some relevant, most not. Here, in the best tradition of end of year roundups, is a list of the books I’ve read in the last 12 months, roughly in chronological order, with a few thoughts on each. Most were read on my iPad. Note: excludes cookbooks.
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Facebook unfriends The Aviator



Yesterday The Aviator‘s Facebook page disappeared. When I logged in to check the page I was greeted by a message that said the page was being removed because it had been identified as carrying material related to bullying. There was a button labelled “appeal”, so I pressed it. That’s all. No contact information, no detail of the complaint. Nothing. Except that I was also prevented from posting or sharing anything on Facebook for 12 hours. The page no longer exists, and I am annoyed.

So: why did this happen? Either Facebook has made a mistake all by itself — not impossible, obviously — or someone made a mischievous or malicious complaint against the page in order to get it taken down. I am a great believer in the cock-up theory of history — big conspiracies make for fine entertainment but poor historical analysis — so I would tend to think there’s been a slip up somewhere. After all, yesterday was the day that Facebook made a big song and a dance about cracking down on people posting about violence against women (and about time too), so perhaps someone in California got a bit carried away with the clean-up.

But to draw the page to FB’s attention, someone — presumably — should have made a complaint. It’s easy to do on any page. You just click on the gearwheel button under the page header, and click on the “report” link. You can also do it on any post from that page that appears in your timeline, though the options you get are different. It’s easy to do, and that’s probably as it should be, given the distasteful and violent rubbish that some deluded souls apparently post. But while it should be easy to report offensive material, it should also be incumbent on Facebook to make reasonable efforts to check that any complaint is not malicious.

Did someone, knowing my high-profile stance on the reality of climate change, and willingness to satirise those who campaign against action to reduce emissions, decide to play a childish prank? Is there a climate denier out there somewhere feeling smug because they’ve succeeded in getting my little page taken down? How amusing that is.

What I really object to is the high-handed manner in which it the page was removed, with no notice, nor any justification. A couple of years ago, when FB took down a few high profile pages for claimed copyright infringement, there was a considerable fuss. The Ars Technica takedown brought to light many other page removals on flimsy grounds — including cases where individuals were trying to extort money from page owners to have their pages returned. In copyright cases, FB supplies an email for the person making the complaint — though it appears they never check that the emails are real (at least, they didn’t in 2011), leaving the system wide open to abuse.

Fortunately, The Aviator‘s Facebook page is not a crucial part of marketing the book, so its absence makes little day to day difference to sales. But it does point up an important issue for anyone using Facebook as a part of a marketing strategy. Y’know, social media are supposed to be really important these days, so you have to be there. If Facebook can take away a network you’ve spent time and effort (and perhaps money, given the intense push by FB to get people to pay to promote their posts) developing, on the whim of some deluded or mischievous individual, then why would any sane business spend money with them? Just asking…

Guardian on Gulliver, Swift and satire



We might think of Gulliver’s Travels as a children’s story, but Swift was doing much, much more with his tale — he was satirising the newly emerging scientific method. Rebekah Higgit at The Guardian looks in more detail at the historical context for Gulliver’s explorations:

For historians of science, Jonathan Swift’s book Gulliver’s Travels is well known both as a work of what we might call proto-science fiction and as a satire on the experimental philosophy that was being promoted by the Royal Society at the time of its publication – two years before the death of Isaac Newton.

It’s a fascinating read…

The readers speak…

Aviator480pxReviews of The Aviator are beginning to mount up at Amazon and Goodreads, and I’m very happy to say that they’re all rather complimentary — and they haven’t come from family or friends (honest). At Goodreads, Sam says:

I really loved this book: the funniest thing about it is that it seems hardly far fetched at all… Gareth has created a dystopian future yet it’s a thrilling and heartwarming tale.

And Rory joins in:

This is actually a genuinely interesting book. I picked up this book on the kindle at random, and have been distracted quite happily by it for a good few days…

At, johnnyg comments:

I really enjoyed reading this book. A mix of sci fi and fact. It does certainly paint a possible future for our planet and I applaud Gareth Renowden for creating a good read around this serious issue. Having said that,although the issue is serious I found the style of writing humorous and snappy. It has left me wanting more

Meanwhile on the other side of the pond at, Will B describes it as “a thoroughly enjoyable romp”, while Carol liked Jenny (the airship AI):

A very enjoyable read, both plausible and romantic – there is something romantic about airships,after all. I derived much amusement from the colourful array of characters; especially the last bastion of climate-sceptics. Jenny is a marvellous creation,and I have to commend her taste in music and her forbearance with Lemmy’s relative ignorance in that regard!

Why not see what the fuss is about? You can download the first three and a bit chapters free of charge (see the sidebar). Nothing to risk, plenty to gain…

Captain Benji and the balloon


Here’s a rarity. A little gem of a story by the former greatest living Englishman (deceased 1995) Viv Stanshall, of provenance unknown. The sound quality counts as “historic” and may have been taped off a BBC radio broadcast in the late 60s or early 70s, but it has Africa, a balloon, camels and Stanshall’s unique voice. To be treasured.

Little known fact: Stanshall and Keith Moon recorded a number of radio playlets for the BBC as “Captain Knut and Lemmy”. So there is an Aviator link, however tenuous…

The surprise sandwich



The Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand (SFFANZ) has just posted a nice review of The Aviator, penned by Simon Litten. Here’s the rub:

Against my will this book charmed me. The world is the world, there was no tub thumping decrying the future to come. Nor is the perfidiousness of politicians lamented or bemoaned; that is taken as just one of the vicissitudes of life. No, it was in the way Mr Renowden has created a believable character in Jenny the airship and her relationship with Lemmy, which was very deftly handled. Also I liked his approach to technology and some of the advances posited in The Aviator – well outside the usual and all the better for it.

The Aviator is a surprise of a book, a smoked salmon, lettuce and tomato sandwich in a fresh mixed grain when one was expecting stale leavings of white bread around egg and vegemite. I look forward to book two with interest piqued.

Makes me hungry. Time for lunch? No smoked salmon, but I have got a tin of tuna in the cupboard and some ciabatta on the go…

Win an exclusive one-off signed poster of The Aviator’s great cover

Whether you’re a fan of comics artist Dylan Horrocks, or you’ve enjoyed The Aviator, a large A3 collector’s edition of the cover would look good on your wall, wouldn’t it? So here’s how you get one…

Try this little quiz: a challenge for lovers of good books. The first paragraph of Chapter Three of The Aviator – where the airship’s AI pilot wakes up after a forced shutdown – is a mash-up of lines from ten literary works. Nearly all of them have something in common, and three are linked by way of pun.

The first person to name all ten works and the links between them wins an exclusive A3 poster of The Aviator cover, signed by its creator, the brilliant comics artist Dylan Horrocks (and the author).

TO ENTER: either buy a copy of the book (links here), or download the free text samples available from Amazon, Apple iBooks, Smashwords and Diesel, or the publisher’s web site (see sidebar). Read the paragraph mentioned above and post your entries as a comment to either the blog post at The Burning World introducing the competition, or on the announcement on The Aviator’s Facebook page.

Note: If you don’t have an ebook reader, or ebook reader software on your computer, tablet or phone, download Amazon’s Kindle reader software, which is free and available for Mac/PC/Android/iOS. Or you can read the free sample text online at Smashwords.

The competition will CLOSE AT MIDNIGHT ON NOVEMBER 30TH (NZ time). In the event that no-one has successfully named all ten works, the poster will go to the person who gets most correct. I won’t be giving away any clues…

Anyone who shares this post on Facebook or Twitter will go in to win a free signed copy of the paperback version of the book!

Good luck!

Laden likes blimps…


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Science blogger Greg Laden — one of the doyens of Scienceblogs — has been reading The Aviator, and I’m glad (and more than a little relieved) to find that he likes it. He’s posted a thoughtful review at his blog and at Amazon:

The story itself is an excellent read and even qualifies as a page turner. But there is another element that readers don’t need to know, but would enjoy knowing: The author has the science on climate change right.

The truth is, a future Earth with continued climate change could end up in a number of different states, but the planet a la The Aviator is a reasonable approximation of a switched-over climate, brought to us by someone who knows the science well.

The best bit of the review, in my humble opinion, is the last line:

I have truly enjoyed it.

Greg’s got his own new novel on the way, and it’s queued up inside my iPad waiting for me to finish The Hydrogen Sonata. Titled Sungudogo, it’s a tale of derring-do in darkest Africa:

Sometimes called the “fourth African ape,” Sungudogo is not a Gorilla, not a Chimpanzee, not a Bonobo, and possibly not even real. […] They were to learn things that went beyond their wildest imaginations, and they would discover secrets about the expedition, about the rift valley, about themselves, about humanity, that they would never be able to share.

… Until now …

It’ll make a change from whizzing around the galaxy in the company of Minds and undecagonstrings.