Tag Archives: Stephen Baxter

Day 1

What a day! Now all I need is for the rest of the Edinburgh International Book Festival to be as good. And if the sunshine could continue shining? As I might have mentioned yesterday, I had a good line-up for Tuesday, and it did not disappoint. Nor did any of the day’s little bonuses.

After collecting my press pass, which is a new, edgier design this year, I picked up my events tickets from a boiling entrance tent. I reckon they were expecting rain with that ‘glass’ ceiling in there. I nearly expired, and was grateful I wasn’t queueing up for returns for Peter May.

I ate my M&S salad and ran for Barry Hutchison’s event, where I found Lari Don, busy checking out the competition. Well, she said she was enjoying seeing her colleagues, but… In the bookshop, after I’d taken hundreds of pictures of Barry, I encountered Keith Charters standing next to the Strident shelves, surreptitiously checking they looked all right. They did. He’d been expecting to rearrange them.

Strident books

While we were talking about running, and stargazing, Theresa Breslin arrived on her off-day, and the conversation turned to Kirkland Ciccone, as conversations sometimes do. Then Keith and I went over to bother Barry for a bit, and to find out how he writes quite so many books quite so fast. He was mostly – I think – pondering the groceries he had to buy on his way home, and how appearing at the book festival wasn’t quite as glamorous as it was the first time.

Barry Hutchison

Glamorous would be the word to describe Judy Murray, whom I saw as I returned to the yurt area. Onesies never looked classier.

Stephen Baxter

I did another turn round the bookshops, and found Stephen Baxter signing for adults, and in the children’s bookshop a signing table for, well, I’m not sure who it was for. But after some googling I’d say that the people in this photo are Ehsan Abdollahi – who was originally refused a visa to enter the country – and I think Delaram Ghanimifard from his publisher. And I only wish I’d stopped to talk to them. (I didn’t, because the books on the table confused me.)

Ehsan Abdollahi and Delaram Ghanimafard

Begged some tea in the yurt before walking over to Julie Bertagna’s event with William Sutcliffe. I noticed a man in the queue behind me and my witchy senses told me this was Mr Bertagna, which was confirmed later. And I couldn’t help noticing that ‘my’ photo tree either has moved, or the Corner theatre has, or the theatre has grown fatter over the winter.


Was introduced to Mr B and also to Miss B in the bookshop, after Julie and I had covered Brexit and Meg Rosoff and lunches in our conversation. And then I needed to go and queue for Meg’s event, which seemed to draw a similar crowd, with much of the audience being the same as at Julie’s and William’s talk.

Julie Bertagna and William Sutcliffe

Miss Rosoff had come along, as had Elspeth Graham, who has been involved a lot with Meg’s work on Mal Peet’s last book, which Meg was here to talk about. Spoke to Louise Cole in the signing queue, before Meg persuaded me to miss my train in favour of having a drink with her.

Meg Rosoff

So she and I and Elspeth chatted over wine and water on the deck outside the yurt, and many people were discussed, but my memory has been disabled on that front. Sorry. They had a French restaurant to go to and I had another train to catch.

I hobbled along Princes Street as best I could, and hobbling fast is never a good look, which is why I paid little heed to being hailed by someone who insisted on being noticed, and who turned out to be fellow ex-Stopfordians Philip Caveney and Lady Caveney. They had been to a church half-filled with water. Apparently this was very good.

My train was caught, and the Resident IT Consultant and I ended up at our destination almost simultaneously. I believe we both thought that our day had been the best.

The Long Earth

My mind is definitely boggling. The concept of the Long Earth in Terry Pratchett’s The Long Earth, which he has written with Stephen Baxter, is still a little unclear to me. I’m not sure if millions of different ‘Earths’ exist on Earth, or if these alternate places are each to be found on their own planet. It possibly doesn’t matter.

The Long Earth

I have to admit to not having totally grasped the idea even when Terry explained it to me, two years ago. The thought that with the help of a potato, you can travel instantly to another earth, was almost too much for me. Maybe I have stayed away from Science Fiction for too long? I do feel, though, that the book was a lot more fun than it sounded like when we talked about this potato-enabled hopping. Possibly Terry needs to perfect his sales pitch.

Why is it that in sci-fi you almost always travel? This was less of a space ship journey, because as I said, I’m not sure where the characters went to. I do know where they started from, which was Madison, Wisconsin (my second Wisconsin book in a row, so I will steer clear of that, now). With or without their potatoes, people ‘step.’ Into another world, or ten, and occasionally one hundred thousand worlds. Seeing how you are sick when you step, you can see that it might be hard to step any distance.

We have a Jesus figure, of sorts. And a Hal (who seems a bit Dalai Lama-ish). I think this is all about how we behave on Earth, and the mistakes we make, because we are stupid and greedy. It’s about people who ‘step’ in much the same way the old pioneers of the West went West.

There are nuns, who are very cool, and there are music hall singing trolls and vicious elves. Maybe it’s because I don’t like the unknown, that I felt unnnerved by all the new worlds Joshua and his Dalai Lama pal visit. They pose countless questions about life everywhere. I’m just not sure what conclusions are reached.

You can tell Terry Pratchett has been involved, because there are many absurd characters and ideas (I don’t know what Stephen Baxter is like, but I’m guessing he’s more science), nicely juxtaposed to entertain the reader. I got a little annoyed with one of the minor major characters, feeling she was too stereotypical, but there is actually no reason why someone shouldn’t be like that. So I suspect there is a point to her as well.

The Long Earth has left me with many questions. I don’t feel as if there would be a sequel (I might be wrong), and I suppose I don’t have to have everything explained and sorted out and generally all neat and lovely. (But I’d have liked it…)

And it’s a bit scary what we are doing to our one Earth.


After I said what I said about science fiction earlier this week, I started thinking. It’s not true that nobody reads sci-fi, and maybe it’s even less true because we aren’t labelling books properly. If they have to be labelled.

We’ve become so keen on fantasy in recent years that it has become the label for anything not totally real. And we may have travelled to the moon and back, but in general space travel isn’t terribly real. That makes it fantasy. Maybe.

It was my use of the clever word dystopia when I reviewed WE by John Dickinson which really set me thinking. Is it only sci-fi when it involves travel through space? Because there’s Oisín McGann’s Small-Minded Giants, for example. Pretty dystopic, if you ask me. Future world (on Earth) where people live in a way totally alien to how we live here and now. And not in a nice futuristic way, either.

Oisín’s book reminds me very much of Julie Bertagna’s Exodus; of where the people fleeing their flooded islands end up. ‘Paradise’ to some maybe, but dystopia to others. Fantasy or sci-fi, or neither?

I always had this theory that the Retired Children’s Librarian dislikes fantasy because she equates it with sci-fi and she equates that with space travel, which to her mind is dreadful. Pippi Longstocking is fantasy, while not having much to do with rockets and interplanetary adventure. And she likes Pippi.

Terry Pratchett said how he fancies himself as a sci-fi writer for a bit, while he reckons his partner-to-be, Stephen Baxter, in their next book venture is a sci-fi writer who quite likes the idea of writing fantasy. It is very close.

So perhaps we need to re-label some fantasy? There’s more to sci-fi than Robert Heinlein or Isaac Asimov. In fact, how much do the Asimov robots differ from J K Rowling’s characters?

The Resident IT Consultant added his question when we discussed this. Is Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking sci-fi? There are spaceships.