Ferry to Bute with dolphins, May 2022.


I happened to be reading Chris Priest’s novel when I learned of his death. I have not been able say what I feel to Leigh, or his children, or Nina. I found myself writing about what I assume is his last novel, if not his last book. That has helped a bit.

I knew Chris for forty-seven years. He was one of those people with whom we didn’t talk around stuff—politics, progress, writing, personalities—just got stuck in. Something he pointed out back in 1979, when I first dropped in to see him, was that friends took up where they left off. We did.

The Fascination

Airside by Christopher Priest Gollancz UK 2023 (298 pp)  

Christopher Priest’s last novel is named for the airport zone beyond which exists only atmosphere and vapour.

Airside. Outside of our sovereign inside.

It is the story of once-famous Hollywood actress Jeanette Marchand, whose public beauty and domestic pain made it impossible for her to escape in her own country in the 1940s, but who in Britain vanishes without a trace at an airport. Justin Farmer is a boy in Manchester when Marchand disappears, one whose obsessive and systematic nature picks up both film and aircraft.

Paul Kincaid has pointed out that Farmer is close to Priest in some historical life circumstances. Yes, and no.

Airside‘s plot flirts in several of its turns with a story written by any other science fiction writer that might satisfy content generation, but Christopher Priest has been plying his own way well beyond the field for many decades. There are cheeky moments where the reader believes Justin’s story might resolve conventionally. Priest’s prose stands back from its subject, paces regularly, leaving spaces, lulling the reader into average expectations while all the while the author has been moving partitions around and altering the lighting and angles. Pages go by and before you know it you’re somewhere the ordinary words make poetry.

The novel form in Priest’s hands is itself is an excuse to write up to a sequence of words which would make no sense without the previous novel, but which glow away from the pages with a plain truth it has taken hundreds of thousands of others piled up beneath author and reader to scramble upon.

I’ve been reading them for about fifty years. Priest’s novels have always revolved around an image of the infinite, or perhaps heading toward the infinite like the city Earth in Inverted World. Since Indoctrinaire and Fugue for a Darkening Island, the world has changed yet is the same, only thinner. Priest’s work moved very quickly from what that might have been identified with SFF movements such as the New Wave and publications such as New Worlds, to novels outstanding for originality and seriousness. Even The Space Machine, a Wells pastiche which as a teenager and something of a stylistic snob I regarded as Priest breaking out of Priest but which in retrospect was just him breaking further into being Priest, is much more than a romp, arguably the origin of a rigorous and yet still frolicsome Steampunk and making postmodern comment on the genre with which Priest’s work always maintained an ambivalent relationship.

For all Priest’s affection for the science fiction fantasy communities, his relationship with all genres and cliques, his relationship with its conventions is broader-based in its fantasy and at once more factual than its science, leading him out of genre, including the “literary” one, and into a place that will continue to influence not only such limited origins but, through The Prestige and The Space Machine, The Adjacent, and his various Dream Archipelago stories, the world’s outlook in general.

This is a bold claim to make. He was no George Lucas.

Priest, I would maintain, was that beast rising from genre wetland, “storyteller,” where the magic of a printed stretch of pages comes from the author’s conspiratorial “plotting” in the devious sense of the word as much from the ideas and literary forms and stylistic twerking. This is what has helped Priest’s reputation for metafictional trickery in a way only matched in the great practitioners of it. And without the Lucas bullshit.

It isn’t enough to cleverly comment on the art of fiction and its history and connections to other art forms; to play an old song; Priest’s work depends from his connections with other art in a way completely integrated with his characters and places. Priest was always at work on the reader’s expectation of what was about to happen or should happen in a story such as by what he found himself the fascinated.

I can still see his eyes glittering with the joke, one often taken so seriously it took on greater proportions than the confines of a novel. Or a movie.

Not just geekery, those Priest interests in flight, photography, and stage magic, all miraculous. In Airside, Justin Farmer keeps a card catalogue of every film he has seen and runs into trouble when he attempts to catalogue his first relationship. It is not mentioned whether Justin continues this practise in his romantic life. Certainly he destroys this early assembly with the determination, “Never again. Never.” And yet his follow-through on Jeanette Marchand’s disappearance is quietly persistent and arguably all-absorbing in the finish.

In scenes echoing the films his character reviews throughout the book, Justin Farmer enters the liminal world of Jeanette Marchand, lands on whose far side lie uncertainty and alarm, whose border anxiety is managed by unseen and incomprehensible forces ministering according to scripts the passengers cannot share.

Part of the enigma, brand names are points of reference when the globalised and novelty-based architecture dissolves a sense of sovereignty to place or one’s body. Such logos and shapes are superficial but familiar, at least on the face. Christopher Priest has always seen through his own industry’s branding and travelators and boarding pass Cerberuses.

His work has taken appealing ideas—invisible man, alternate WWII, professional magicians’ secrets, bizarre topologies—and never led them to predictable conclusions. Airside is no exception. The glamorous combines with the nerdy, locating the birth of classic early science fiction and its fandom and its nervous Edwardian reaction to the corners of the planet having contracted (an earlier incarnation of an “end of history”) as the mystery origin of this popular, global, systematised mythology.

Priest wrote book-length caustic screeds on the deceptive moneymaking patter of fandom. Yet to the end of his life he remained a cheerful participant in fandom’s amateur public expression.

The shiny belly of the aircraft, or its shadow, or its descent into fire, stands in for the looming of real nature always ready to break with a climate-led, water-dependent shit-crash into our sterile profit-maximised and yet puffed-up baggage roundabout of entertainment, our peach veneer of luxury without real legroom: the moment of maximum vertigo for me in this novel concerns the boarding gate tunnel repetition of posters of tourists enjoying themselves in manufactured paradises.

And relief from that, however illusory this also might be, takes us back into coherent story, where we expect and want a “solution”, however qualified and ironic.

Justin reflected that being conducted through a terminal in this semi-official way temporarily removed the feeling of dysfunction. The one mixed blessing allowed to passengers waiting in a terminal, the false and restricted freedom to walk or wander around, was replaced by a sense of purpose, motion, transportation. No options existed. Was this a key to understanding? The solution to the enigma? The elevator halted. The journey resumed. The walls were the same, so were the advertisements.

A mystery is perhaps solved and Justin and his partner Matty, a writer with professional interests lending her an x-ray view into his obsessions, if not a collaborative fascination over them, must satisfy themselves with Jeanette Marchand’s new location, somewhere beyond their current movable partitions. Such an ending could have been perfunctory.

It could have been Concrete Island and not a novel in which this appears:

She disbelieved in coincidence. The circle of connections, double-headed arrows like arms pointing towards each other, a symbol of a loose friendly hug, the names made into a never-ending link. For Justin that day in the old cemetery was the first tentative confession of Matty’s love scribbled on the title page of an old book, or the approach of love, or its likelihood. Or its truth. That warm summer’s day on the bench beneath the canopy of trees—that was when he had Matty had begun their lives together.

We read shortly afterwards about “a mature and stable love” as opposed to Justin’s fannish obsession with Marchand. Priest’s Earth is fractured but not entirely a crystal world.

The reason Christopher Priest left writing and film artistry a better place than he found them is that in a career across six decades he maintained a story-based relationship with his reader, an unwavering gaze upon his own and others’ human natures, and work always firmly Christopher Priest no matter the influence.

Playfully, Priest’s characters have departed without confirmed arrival, into the clouds as, unlike their pages’ author, human being Christopher Mackenzie Priest has done as well.

Christopher Priest
14 July 1943-2 February 2024


The Voice—My Intervention

Yes, that’s a joke. Yet, the very least we can do is mention where we stand. Where I stand is, typically, not coherent. That all this is complicated has been seen as a drawback for the Yes case. Well, damn our simple declarative sentences.

Stop making sense.

Sense is progress in science, but it’s a drawback in public life. My sister is volunteering for the Yes campaign, handing out leaflets and so on. She was told by an old white bloke that she ought to admit she’s Indigenous. Pretty sure it was the same guy who later was having a go at those he saw as unfairly (!) claiming aboriginality. Our family is not, let me say, indigenous to this unceded land.

Here I try to think about the problem with the word “racism”. We are individually likeable people, many of us, not actively racist. Passively racist? Well, there it gets complicated.

Having said all that, there is of course a simple set of words which really do promote the Yes case: love is the answer.

Vote Yes for love.

Not a Racist

Breaking out of my sovereign mind today
Caste detritus my personal chicken run,

Bath of the bath of the bath is a bath
All dust is crime.

I have my reasons and they’re terrible
That’s the way I like it, unexamined,

Law of the law of the law is a law
All pure in time.

Shooting a koala sign isn’t gunning for them
Driving a car too fast at night, driving any car,

Line of the line of the line is a line
All side by side.

In your dead Indo-Dutch tongue petjo
Several words for “concubine” means,

Word of the word of the word is a word
All said out loud.

I can what I want and laugh and it’s whatever
No need to fix things I am happy,

I of the I of the I is an I
We’re all the same.

Imagined, all of this country, like it or leave.

So furious I could not say with the weather, who
Slight of clouds, sneer of rain, too well-observed
I thought promised,
We got ready to dance but we woke before the band
Glad in garish flappy things, gladder, and that’s serious
Irresistible rhythms of the chuff reused as sand:
It was a battle hymn we hopped to
Horn gone
In the finish
At the dawn
Barefoot in our heads

Get up

All things drive to ends forgotten on the road
All things and a bentwood chair as well, creaking
I lost my love on a day of equal night,
Forgot memory of air is not campaign,
This cheap context idiot fake for a crown,

Get up and dance.

Friends and Three Friends

My new novel, The White Library, is out everywhere now. It’s a pity there is no paperback; still, digital can be something better these days. So far, people seem to like it. There’s an excellent review from Ian Mond in Locus and a five star review on Amazon by somebody who ought to know, a librarian. I must get get off my arse and make sure that the next novel will get read. That one is called Three Friends. It’s been sitting around pretty much finished without me approaching publishers. (Covid. Moving house. Building a house.) At last, on the Surf Coast, I can think.

What is it about? First attempt at a pitch. <clears throat>

Three Friends is subtitled a massive conspiracy. That kind of does it, I reckon, because it is, and if I saw that it would grab me. If you look at the fact that it’s an “anti-anti-utopia”, as Kim Stanley Robinson has recently described the mode, set in the near future, you might think that politics is what motivated me, but it’s more like a reflection on what my work has been over the years. A collision of two things. Quite incidentally, I’ve been looking for an agent recently and, collecting reviews, having to read them, I must admit reviewers have for decades picked up my preoccupations.

My work is always about friendship. Groups of friends. Told in natural dialogue.

In the Locus review, Ian Mond wrote, about the plot of The White Library,

I will say it features a romance as heartfelt, genuine, and unconventional as anything you’re likely to encounter in literary or genre fiction.

Which, apart from being embarrassingly kind, echoes Martin Livings in Eidolon nearly thirty years ago, talking about The Weird Colonial Boy. He uses the words,

Voermans’ second novel has a kind of open-hearted sincerity that makes Adams’ Mostly Harmless look like a cynical marketing ploy.

It goes on in a still more embarrassing vein, the kind of review you wish everybody read. (Thank you Martin Livings!)

The point is, I think it’s driven by the dialogue.

I’m motivated by what are essentially poetic images. At least one has to settle before I begin to write. There is a doozy in this one. Yet, what brings this down to earth is the way people speak and what surprises and delights me and if I am honest is one big reason I write: even those people in my novels who may start out “unsympathetic” are never only that. They turn around and do—such things! And the sympathetic can be more than flawed. All in their words. I have an urge to inscribe what I see as ordinary existence into the—frankly—whacko plots and ideas in my work. Don’t know why. It’s something I have in common with Samuel Delany and is probably more what attracted me to his work than a lasting influence. Even in the Neolithic, a character is close miked and you can hear coloratura, feel bass growl. Such influence is hard to tease out, though, obviously, when he’s such a genuine superhero to the whole field. And I love Hemingway dialogue as well, whatever else he may have done. Le Guin I admire as much, but there is none of those qualities in her dialogue. It’s complicated.

So, character. But where are the limits to naturalism? Written before the pandemic, Three Friends takes off from such an MO at the points language will break down, like suicide, childhood sexual abuse, loneliness. Rhythm changes, as Jerzy Grotowski pointed out in Towards a Poor Theatre. So each character has a style of non-prose—poetry, if you must. Three Friends is part-autobiography, a reaction to a workplace with HR that promotes “mindfulness” as if the workplace and world are not dysfunctional. And I have to say it is an anti-dystopia set in Melbourne; it’s also made of my life.

When will we see it? Perhaps next year! Oh, and here’s some Surf Coast, our new front yard view:

Next interruption will be moving to Gippsland.

New Aquarium!!!!

So my website has been updated and I’m on leave for a week, just for the crack of it. Few plans. I have mapped a ride going along the ring road and down the Diamond Creek Bike path into the CBD, which is about 45k and a precursor to doing a proper Olympic triathlon distance, which I think is 1.5k swim, 40k bike, and 10k run. Not sure I will be doing that. We’ll see how we go with the ride. If I wind up in the city I’ll take a leisurely swim at the City Baths and then – maybe – ride home, but there should be no problem about taking a train besides borrowing a Myki ticket.

Finish that fantastic Terrence Deacon book Incomplete Nature, and relax with some fiction. Who knows, maybe I’ll finish that poem about Gough in China.

Well, because the angel fish are breeding and their young are being eaten in the big communal aquarium, I sacrificed my tattoo plan for a King George whiting on my forearm, to be based on the fabulous Roger Swainston art. This to me was a long-term project anyway, since the colours of a whiting are so subtle and tattooing generally so crude, that I don’t trust the artist to do Swainston justice. Besides, I had not asked permission. So while that one waits, Cathy and I went out and bought a small antique table for the hallway, and a three foot tank, with all the bits (more expensive than the tank). I am not chickening out of the tatt! And besides, it is very vain….

So besides my tax return, I may be doing some gardening in an aquarium. Then I’ll leave it for a couple of weeks. If the fry get eaten once or twice, well, that’s nature, and we’ll try to rescue them in nursery, but once the new environment is ready, they will have only themselves to blame if they get too hungry and gobble them up. As Natalie pointed out, I can be the God of Angels, then. Mwah-hah-hah-hah!

Shake Sugaree

Met the wonderful Miss Glenda for dinner the other night at Rumi, which is an elegant but loud Lebanese restaurant in East Brunswick.  It’s Lebanese in the sense that many smart restaurants in Melbourne are Greek, French, or whatever.  Ethnicity is a train track rather than a station, to mangle what Samuel Delany said about the meanings of words.

The meaning of our ethnicity is as confused as anything else.  I heard an interview with my late mother, firm but gentle in her insistence that she felt Dutch, or, at most, a Teenager, no matter how persistently Maria Zijlstra sought traces of minority identity.  Her family had lived in the Indonesian archepeligo for over two hundred years.  Aboriginal-Irish-English-Scottish Australians are politically regarded as Indigenous, which is a good thing.  My mother was regarded as an Indo.  (This group, during the Japanese occupation of the Indonesian archipelago, was too large to imprison.)  Her point to Maria was, though, that your immediate surroundings count for so much.

And  the ethnicity we make, like a track laid down in front of us (and taken up too sometimes, or at least let rust), can be taken into your imagination to produce fine food.

I would like to write about my ethnicity that way.  (I’d also like to not fill people up uncomfortably the way Rumi doesn’t.)

We Roast

We’ve been advised to go home early or late because of the 45 degree temperatures today.  I’ve been hard at work, of course, so I’m leaving late.  Spare a thought for me on the bike.  But I must leave sometime to save the poor pooch, who has taken to playing with his water and backup water, leaving him with nothing.

I’m off now.


It wasn’t so bad after all, since there was cloud cover and the temp was down to the low forties.  As I rode I contemplated the fact of the chill on the opposite side of the world.  I now see it’s warmer in London: 1°C.  This weather is so fierce.   Apart from anything else, this kind of thing is going to make our lives so much more expensive.  Surely it will be cheaper to spend the money on evening the climate out.  But the struggle is more religious than logical.

We see the Liberals in this country led by a man whose basic idea seems to be that people were born in sin and that this is the tendency, our motivation.  So it’s what – the Hobbesian, vs the Administrators?  Tony Abbott, leader of the Opposition, is a man in the mould of John Howard, not in that they have the same beliefs, because belief, although the maker and motivation of the person Abbott, is not the motivator of the politician Abbott.  In other words, anything for power.  This may stem from a deeper belief in the strong man, which trumps many of his other beliefs.  He’s not simple, but it seems to me that it falls into place – including his amicable relationships with the likes of the Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard – when you consider that first and foremost he is a professional politician.  This, John Howard showed himself as time and again, to the point where he lost his seat.

So Abbott plays the best angle he can, considering Prime Minister Rudd’s position just one more angle, which of course it may be (and may be simply in happy coincidence with Rudd’s convictions).  And if this game is motivated by anything like a conviction it is in an unsubtle interpretation of Hobbes.  We know Abbott believes that Original Sin is the well of everything.

I believe it is not, though I am agnostic about the short-sightedness of love, so I may wind up agreeing with Hobbes on that.  I am an atheist and also reckon there are better metaphors than Original Sin to describe our state, be that one of hopeless Homer Simpsonism or the poetry of Anarchism.

Age and bitterness will no doubt decide me.

(Though it’s nice to see Bob Hawke so positive with his heart so rent.)

When I got home sure enough Teddy Boy the dog had kicked over all its water supplies and when I ran the tap for him he drank so vigorously he vomited, drank again, ate the vomit and, while I was having a cold shower, ate two of Oscar’s Pokemon caramels off the table.

Google told me that I should watch out for panting and lying down.  Thanks.  It’s 40°C guys!

So I’ve Been Delinquent – Indubitably!

Well yes, we did get married.  I haven’t posted for so long it seems that this website has been forgotten.  In fact I’ve grown a little allergic to this whole business of publishing on line because of a couple of site invasions by phishers.  Wordpress has almost been ditched; I’ve had a go at the security and gotten rid of the unwieldy – and so, risky – Leftwrites.  But I suspect that it will only slow the attackers….  Had a word (several) to the service provider, who don’t notify you if you have trouble, though they have services that do that for them.

Wedding 23902 Watching the Reading
Tom, Ant, Suzie and Fiona.

Ant, Fiona, Suzie and Tom.

But enough grumbling.  Life is good and so is the weather.  The novel is still not published but we will go into that during this year, and the next novel as well.

The fishing is not too bad, there are, as usual, far too many things going on to report adequately.  There is a dog:


Teddy Boy

Already far bigger than this.  There was Mia’s visit, Tim’s come to work at DIIRD and Xmas and all that.  Phew.  I’ll add more details later.

Video of Mia, Natalie, Oscar and baby Teddyboy! (Needs Real Player or similar to play.) Mia, Natalie, Oscar and Baby Teddy Boy (VideoLAN Version)

Wreeding on a Trip

Well the wedding is nearly here and with it the honeymoon.  We’re determined to travel light this time – a four wheel drive seems packed for two weeks on the road but we’re talking two 32 L day packs – and we’re casting about for novels to take with us.

I’ve put Accellerando and Little Brother on my crackberry, as well as Ulysses and Pride and Prejudice – could re-read that anytimebut Cathy reckons she’s not enamored of reading stuff on such a small screen.  I, too, like the image of myself on a balcony in Portugal overlooking the Atlantic and staining the pages of some tome I’ve not had time to read.  The idea is to bring something with lots of pages and small print, or several books with small print – anyway, something to save us from the floating population of Airportery.  So far:

  1. Infinite Jest (I’m reading Consider the Lobster and love it)
  2. The Slap (Cathy’s book club is doing it, but, though it’s 580 pages, it’s big print and margins)
  3. The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts
  4. Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes (I know, it’s not long or anything, but it’s so beautiful and funny)
  5. Lord Byron’s Novel: The Evening Land

See, the books have to be (1) swappable between us and (b) good value on the abovementioned basis of weight thrift.  If anyone’s got suggestions, do tell.

More on Songs

They are, aren’t they? I mean there are lots of embarrassingly bad
songs. And also there are no bad songs. I mean it is the fact that
people get out there and sing them, in car parks, shopping centres, yes,
on stages, swimming along on the left hand of the lane – or the right,
as Frank Sinatra did – and the song that moves you comes later.

The reason I’m looking up songs is that eight other guys are as well,
and a few other people I suppose. The Five O’Clock Shadows were the
support act for the kids at my children’s school concert, held at
Darebin Arts Centre. People seemed to like it and now the band – “the
band”, it’s perhaps less than six rehearsals – are looking all over the
place for songs. It’s funny! Some of us are going with what they
already knew, some of us what they always wanted to play, some of us
what they could not sing with other bands and some are just going along
with the thing because it’s all pretty good, all music, really.

Sorry if I offend your particular religion!

How’s the Writing Going?

It’s always hard to say how things are going with a novel. *I* reckon
it’s going well. So does Jill. Anyway, one can talk about what one has
read and how it relates, at least a bit. This is a good thing. I mean,
it’s fun. There is a rather out-of-date link to the research on the
right hand of this website, under Latest Novel.

What sort of thing am I reading now? Well, my mate Damien sends me bits
and pieces to read that no longer convince me that I’m totally ignorant
about AI, just bloody-minded. I’m not reading a lot about AI. I am
reading about revolution. We are Everywhere has some moving stuff
about the police brutality at Genoa. And Despatches from the
Barricades by the BBC editor John Simpson has some good stuff on what
it was like Czechoslovakia in the days before the Communist fall. And
I’m still reading To the Finland Station which when I get going is
bloody great.