28 March 2010

Some Days It Saves Time Just to Hate Everybody

If I ever discard the mutant remnants of my christian faith, abjure my God and admit to the world "Yes, you were right, I've been following a stupid fairy story and what's more I knew that all along, I'm so sorry I wasted your time with it and incidentally I take full personal responsibility for such atrocities as the Inquisition, the Crusades and Godspell..."

(Deep breath...)

...it won't be because of a realisation that the Bible doesn't describe scientific fact, because that's very, very obvious and I assimilated it into my faith a long, long time ago. It won't be due to the fact that textual transmission simply doesn't allow for the Bible to be the inspired Word of God in any consistent sense, because although I came to this realisation a fair while later, it was still a good decade ago, and my faith appears to have evolved to fit the modified mental niche that it created. It won't be thanks to a fear that by professing a moderate christianity I'm somehow empowering those who profess more dogmatic, fundamentalist and oppressive forms of the faith, because it's obvious to me that pulling out and abandoning Jesus' legacy to such people would empower them far more.

No, if I ever do apostasise myself it'll be because I'm so bloody tired of being stuck in the middle between the aforesaid extremists who make absurd politically motivated claims in my name, and the mostly reasonable atheists and agnostics who think it's fair to look at the behaviour of said extremists and tar the rest of us with a brush of idiocy.

Consider the first letter here, for example. In it, some men who hold unelected seats in the upper chamber of the national legislature by virtue of their position in the hierarchy of the state-established church sponsored by the monarch, complain that society discriminates against them because of their faith. I'm aware that Anglican bishops aren't usually the kind who come to mind when talking of the lunatic fringe, but note that slily casual reference to "Christian beliefs on marriage, conscience and worship" -- they're talking about their "right" to institutionalised homophobia.

You might think christians would be reconciled to powerlessness, given how the faith started, but 2,000 years of history have had their effect. In the minds of some, it seems that any erosion of the traditional power of christian authority to dictate the lives of others counts as persecution, however ludicrous this may look to outsiders. (Jonathan Bartley of Ekklesia has described the historical and political basis of this far better than I can.)

Those outsiders, of course, then think it's reasonable to make comments along the lines of "Not so nice when the bigot-boot's on the other foot, is it, Jesus-boy, eh? Eh? Ah!" and "Goodness me, what a lot of silly people these christians obviously are." Which, for those moderate christians who can entirely see their point but would rather not be poked with it ourselves, is terribly wearying.

(The less moderate atheists and agnostics are less moderate in their responses, of course. This can be hurtful and annoying, but there's still a gap between "hurtful and annoying comments which nobody makes much of a fuss about" and "culturally sanctioned persecution" which many of the christians in the early Roman Empire or the People's Republic of China would be able to help us explore.)

Certain parts of mainstream culture in the UK are all too happy to pounce on any possible instance of anti-christian "discrimination", while studiously ignoring discrimination against other faiths (or worse, portraying other faith groups' calls for inclusion as being themselves a form of anti-christian persecution). It's all too easy to add the words "...in our own country" onto the end of such complains, thus playing directly into the hands of the BNP.

In the end, churches in the UK are rarely the targets of hate crimes, unlike the mosques, synagogues and gurdwaras which the aforementioned BNP target. (When they are it's either due to long-held sectarian divisions within christianity itself, or because some psycho parishioner has a grudge against the vicar.)

Until I see a smoke-damaged church with "XTIANS OUT 666" scrawled on it, I'll feel that these bishops, and other christians giving voice to this kind of politically naive and damaging rhetoric, lack a basic sense of proportion.

15 March 2010

It's Not Real Fiction...

Frankly, I’m not sure what I think of ebooks.

I understand the convenience, of course: the portability not merely of single volumes but of entire libraries; the fact that said collections take up no more space in the house than a hard disk, rather than drastically reducing the cubic meterage of half the rooms in the house with stacks of dust-amassing shelves.

I admit to using the things occasionally myself – I’ve got a handful of books as text files sitting on the computer, including The Golden Bough and the Bible, which are more readily and helpfully searchable than the paper copies sitting on the shelf just behind my left elbow.

I can’t sit down and read one, though – my eyes get tired too quickly, I’m easily distracted by the other functions of whatever I’m reading them on, I skip too quickly down the non-page and miss important details. I just haven’t the knack and I’m guessing, at 38, that I’m unlikely to acquire it.

More fundamentally than that, though, I love books. Not texts. Books – with covers, font design, pagination, tangible size and weight, texture and smell and rustling whispery noises as the pages turn. I like my great shelves full of the things which I can stroke and pat and line up neatly. I like being able to browse, at home or in a library or bookshop – to select a title to read, buy or borrow based only partly on such data-susceptible factors as the author’s name, title, wordcount, publisher and price. I like the tangible quality of books, and unlike such quantifiable descriptors it’s fundamentally imponderable.

(Well, OK – as an SF author I have to concede that a perfect virtual reproduction of reality is theoretically possible, and within such a world might well choose to construct a library of recreated virtual volumes which one might then explore and read as if one were actually there. But it would seem a technically huge, startlingly pointless and spiritually arid exercise.)

I grew up in my parents’ house surrounded by books – first theirs and then mine – and for that reason I love them and associate them with comfort and security. More than the physical objects, though, I love the imagination, skill and knowledge that they represent. I strongly doubt that one could inculcate a child with that same love by showing them a directory full of text files, even displayed on such a snug and shiny technology as the Amazon Kindle.

On the other hand, if you want to purchase a digital rendition of my immortal prose, then I wouldn’t dream of stopping you. And if you do indeed feel this way, you may be interested to know that my Time Hunter novella Peculiar Lives is now available for $17.61 on the Kindle.

It won’t quite simulate the experience of reading a yellowing Penguin Science Fiction reprint of that original, posthumous volume by Erik Clevedon from 1951. But then, despite my hopeful aspirations, it never really did – even the hardback edition didn’t quite manage that dingy clothbound ex-library feel. If an ebook better fits your reading habits, then do please take advantage of the opportunity.

Personally I want my son to grow up loving the things I love, so while he’s young I won’t be exchanging for their megabyte equivalent the three or four thousand hardbacks and paperbacks which – rather inconveniently, I admit – occupy such a large proportion of our living-space.

(Incidentally, there’s still a reasonable chance that Peculiar Lives will also be released on CD at some point – Fantom Films are supposed to be announcing the next few titles in their range of Time Hunter audiobooks sometime next month. I’d expect those to be The Clockwork Woman, Kitsune and The Severed Man – two at least of which are thoroughly fabulous. It’s a hopeful sign, although it may oblige me to give you the benefit of my opinions on audiobooks.)