Wilderness Protection

I must have missed the news about US wilderness protection with the press excitement surrounding the G20 circle-jerk.

President Barack Obama signed legislation Monday setting aside more than 2 million acres as protected wilderness.

Obama called the new law among the most important in decades “to protect, preserve and pass down our nation’s most treasured landscapes to future generations.”

At a White House ceremony, Obama said the law guarantees that Americans “will not take our forests, rivers, oceans, national parts, monuments, and wilderness areas for granted, but rather we will set them aside and guard their sanctity for everyone to share. That’s something all Americans can support.”

The law — a collection of nearly 170 separate measures — represents one of the largest expansions of wilderness protection in a quarter-century. It confers the government’s highest level of protection on land in nine states.


Major Book Club Deal

Some splendid news, as reported on my agent’s blog:

I’m delighted to say that the SF and Fantasy Book Club have selected NIGHTS OF VILLJAMUR by Mark Charan Newton (being published by Tor UK in June) as one of their ‘Cosmic 5’ debut titles for 2009 – this makes it one of their most important titles of the year, and it will receive major support in the club magazine and website.

Which is awesome.


Updates, Age, etc.

Random posting. Tomorrow I hit 28 years old, which means I will have escaped the 27 Club, but I still have a few hours to go, of course. Going up north, hopefully loose myself here to contemplate time, and visit the very nice antique bookshop nearby.

I’m in the middle of tightening up the first draft of the second book, and would be making good progress if it wasn’t for Twitter. I’m also re-reading Jack Vance’s Tales of the Dying Earth, which is so much more surreal than I remembered.

And it’s nice to see M John Harrison causing a ripple or two across the interwebs.



I know, I’ve done it. I’ve got myself a Twitter page. MarkCN, if you are at all interested.


Graphic artists condemn plans to ban erotic comics

What it says in the title, as reported in the Independent newspaper.

A coalition of graphic artists, publishers and MPs have condemned Government plans to introduce a new set of laws policing cartoons of children, arguing that the current broad wording of the legislation could lead to the banning of hundreds of mainstream comic books.

This week Parliament will discuss a new Bill which will make it a criminal offence to possess cartoons depicting certain forms of child abuse. If the Coroners and Justice Bill remains unaltered it will make it illegal to own any picture of children participating in sexual activities, or present whilst sexual activity took place…

There are even fears that Watchmen, one of the industry’s most critically acclaimed graphic novels, could risk being banned because one of the main superheroes sees his mother having sex when he is a young child.

Comic book writers and publishers, including Moore’s daughter Leah who is herself an acclaimed graphic artist, have now set up the Comic Book Alliance to ensure that the legislation only targets overtly paedophilic and pornographic cartoons and not artistic erotica.

This is hugely dangerous ground. It’s always frightening when a government interferes deeply, especially in matters of art, and where does it stop from here? Let’s get rid of the words too? Ban Nabokov’s Lolita? But I’m glad that high-profile writers such as Neil Gaiman have voiced their opinions against the bill. It does bring to mind a certain Brass Eye episode, and I can’t help but wonder what an anarchist like Alan Moore would have to say about it all…


“The City & The City” by China Miéville

REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS! In fact, there’s no way you can really look at the book in much detail without giving away the central premise, and I’d urge any other reviewers reading to bear that in mind. I’ve tried to limit them myself.


I can’t find my collection of Borges’ Labyrinths, which is going to annoy the hell out of me, because I wanted to re-read the story “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”.

In the story, an encyclopedia article about a mysterious country called Uqbar is the first indication of Orbis Tertius, a massive conspiracy of intellectuals to imagine (and thereby create) a world: Tlön… One of the major themes of “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” is that ideas ultimately manifest themselves in the physical world and the story is generally viewed as a parabolic discussion of Berkeleian idealism — and to some degree as a protest against totalitarianism… “Tlön, Uqbar…” has the structure of a detective fiction set in a world going mad.

I can’t help but wonder if this was the influence behind the wonderful new China Miéville novel The City & The City.

Set in present-day Beszel, a city located on the edge of Europe (it feels like somewhere near Turkey) Inspector Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad is called to the scene of a murder of a young woman, her body left discarded under a mattress in a local estate. Following the form of a police procedural, naturally Borlú tries to piece together the life of this unknown woman. He soon discovers more than one name for her, and that she had some interest some of the dangerous underground political groups. Here we learn there are nationalists and those seeking unification with the neighbouring city, Ul Qoma. Once identified, it turns out that the victim was actually a young American PhD student conducting research at the university in Ul Qoma. But progress is really made when Borlú identifies a vehicle that carried her body to the scene of the crime. He deduces that for her to have ended up in Beszel, from Ul Qoma, this vehicle must have breached. Breaching is where the fantastical elements kick in, and where novel gets really, really cool. But to discuss it would mean be big spoilers, so I won’t go into detail.

Because Borlú suspects Breach has been invoked, he attempts to get this organisation on board—they are so thorough and omnipotent, they may well be able to successfully find the killer of the woman. But after the authorities of both cities deny him this, he is invited to cross the border to the city of Ul Qoma to where the investigation can continue.

Gone is the baroque style usually associated with Miéville’s work. This is nothing like the Bas-Lag novels, so don’t expect that. It is written in first person anyway, which inhibits that kind of flair considerably.

…I turned back to the night-lit city and this time I looked and saw its neighbour. Illicit but I did. Who hadn’t done that at times? There were gasrooms I shouldn’t see, chambers dangling ads, tethered by skeletal metal frames. On the street at least one of the passers-by, I could tell by the clothes, the colours, the walk, was not in Beszel and I watched him anyway.

The conversation within is how people might really speak, and isn’t traditional book dialogue. For me, the whole mood was in the style of independent European cinema. I could see the curious colour treatments, long brooding shots, the intense acting, restrained minimalism and deep pauses. The world-building, as you’d imagine, is constructed perfectly—one of the pleasures is thinking how real these artificial cities are, with a culture that slots very neatly alongside our own present day one.

All in all, this a restrained Miéville analysing the psychological states, existential positioning, the fear of the unknown with regards to being watched. The philosophy of Berkeley comes to mind, via Borges, notions of seeing and being seen, the states of mind that influence this. And I can’t help but feel the purpose of the crosshatching also demonstrates something else—about borders between certain nations. Divisions, separations, the things that stop us from seeing. But you have to read the book to understand all this.

Put all that aside and you still have a very smart and elegant crime novel that just so happens to utilize a psychological border. It is a change of direction, certainly, and one that might very well push Miéville into post-genre mainstream success.