For Your Consideration

The discovery earlier today that my SF trilogy The Sigil has been nominated in the ‘Best Novel’ category of the British Science Fiction Association awards cheered an otherwise dull afternoon, quite. I believe that this is for the longlist, and nominations are still open. The shortlist will emerge on 14 January 2013.

So far I am in mighty company – the list includes Empty Space by M. John Harrison; Ison of the Isles by Carolyn Ives Gilman; Intrusion by Ken Macleod; Channelskin by Jeff Noon, and (I Am Not Worthy2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson.

Posted you keep I will.

Cool Yule, Y’All.

UPDATE 18 January 2013: I didn’t make the cut. Boo. Here is the final shortlist.

About cromercrox

Cromercrox is a recovering palaeontologist, author and editor who lists his recreations as writing, beachcombing, playing hard rock organ, supporting Norwich City FC and falling asleep.
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10 Responses to For Your Consideration

  1. Awesomeness! That is some heady company, well done you.

    I ordered the trilogy as a gift for my brother (who I am reasonably confident is not reading your blog) but it has not arrived yet. Ah well, it will be fine as a late Christmas present.

  2. Ken says:

    Congrats, Henry! I’ll have to add the trilogy to my reading list.

  3. John the Plumber says:

    Merry Christmas Henry and congratulations on hitting the long short list. You might wish to avail yourself of contractors in Bacup who specialise in shortening lists – let me know.

    Slightly off topic i.e your book – In my book/pile of paper, I would like to quote a comment you made in a post earlier this year. – The chapter I am working on is about ambiguity in evolution. I say to clear ambiguity a second mechanism would be helpful and proceed to give that second mechanism.

    I do not wish to use your quote in any detrimental way but as a fair example of a current scientific short summation of what Darwinian evolution is about – and in that I think it is an admirable paragraph. At the same time it just leaves me a chink here and there to delve into the far from obvious ambiguity.

    My first question is, would you like to change it in any way. My second question is, if I use it as it is, and ever get the book published, would you find a contractor in Cromer to shorten my list.

    Here’s how I use it – taking the liberty of calling you an acquaintance:

    Imagine a car coasting down a long hill. – If the driver puts his foot on the brake the car will slow down. If he takes his foot off the brake the car will speed up again. – There is another way to get the same effect. – If the driver changes down a gear, engine braking will slow the car down – if he puts his foot down on the accelerator, the car will speed up again.

    Someone watching from a distance, a little green man perhaps, would struggle to know if the brake mechanism or the accelerator mechanism was responsible for the effects he observed – and it would it not be obvious there were two mechanisms involved. – Our man might return to Mars or wherever and report that on Earth tin boxes go faster and slower downhill because of one particular mechanism – the accelerator mechanism or the brake mechanism – whichever he thought of first.

    Darwin first thought of his one mechanism to explain evolution. – The competition for resources, won by the most advantaged. – Herbert Spencer called it Survival of the Fittest. – Science likes to think this has become outmoded but survival of the fittest is still the underlying name of the game.

    A scientist acquaintance, Henry Gee recently wrote, “Organisms adapt to an ever-changing environment. …… These adaptations can be behavioral, or stochastic variations in their constitution might be selected for, as advantageous, or against, as detrimental. Sooner or later this process can lead to speciation.”

    This sounds like Survival of the Fittest to me.

    There is a deeply ingrained survival of the fittest outlook. – It gives us ideas like the one that says Brown Bears became Polar Bears by slowly evolving to ‘fit’ and ‘be fit’ in a snow white arctic environment.

    Blah blah blah – to the end of the chapter.

    Your comments, and those of anyone else, would be most valued.

    • cromercrox says:

      And your point is …?

      • John the Plumber says:

        My point?

        Oh dear – a simple, yes use the phrase – or no – might have been easier. – You’ve brought this on yourself.

        Pretend for a moment a valid second mechanism, working in conjunction with Survival of the Fittest, which on rare occasions, in special circumstances, can provide a leap across gaps between species. – You might question though that there are gaps – but just for now please ignore the Tiller Girl chorus-line singing ‘There are no gaps.’

        Certainly, with only one slow joined-up change mechanism, there can be no gaps – but I like gaps – nature seems full of them – and knowing a second mechanism, I have no problem with the odd seemingly abrupt transition here and there.

        But there is a long historical argument concerning gaps.

        Lamarck proposed slow change, simple to perfected complexity, as evolution’s way, with divine spontaneous creations of simple forms to account for gaps. – Cuvier had regular disasters with wholesale divine recreations. – He too liked gaps but didn’t go much on slow change.

        Darwin’s added Natural Selection (due to Malthusian overpopulation thus competition won by the advantaged) to Lamarck’s slow change perfecting of form by use and disuse – but he found enough geological time for evolution to function unaided by divinity. – Geologist Hugh Falconer however, wanted to know why there were gaps in the fossil record. Darwin replied that at least some of them would soon be filled

        Hugo De Vries was a serious gaps man. He thought mutations made for new species – accounting for Falconer’s gaps. – Thomas Hunt Morgan set off to prove De Vries right, but only proved that mutations are carried particulately intact to the next generation, particularly where fruit flies are concerned.

        Hunt Morgan gave up trying to demonstrate De Vries gaps but did demonstrate that species are very good at remaining the species they are. – A fruit-fly is still a fruit fly.

        At this point the mathematics of Fisher and Haldane came to the fore. Population flow and genetic drift became John Maynard Smith’s game theory – a game which Dawkins and Gould fought at gene and species level. – Genome therapy arrived in time to cure their wounds and sooth away any symptoms of gap dis ease, leaving only Ernst Mayr’s biological species concept remaining, peeking through the smoke of battle, making for gaps of sexual isolation.

        Two other major concepts had come on the scene though. – James Lovelock’s Gaia theory gives us a feeling for a living planet, where organic life pervades all that happens – from the subduction of organic molecules as continents collide – to the nature of our flimsy atmosphere – emphasising life’s symbiotic relationship to the Earth – which has maintained a balance of temperate stability suitable for life. – Eldredge and Gould’s Punctuated Equilibrium points to the remarkable stability found in evolving life on such a planet.

        So we arrive at today when ‘the species problem’ – discrete stable species with gaps, or all one continuum of change – has been solved by having 26 different definitions of the one word species – which has nothing to do with ambiguity.

        We are left with a seemingly tacit agreement that gaps are not to be mentioned because Darwin is essentially right – and that must be so because there is only his one strictly slow joined-up change mechanism – and that must deny gaps.

        Now of course, Darwin’s idea of an aim to perfection has withered quietly away allowing Survival of the Fittest – which had become rather out of fashion – to still be acceptable. – Things can now happily be advantageously or disadvantageously up down backwards forwards or even sideways.

        Consequently Henry, I think your phrase does an excellent job of summing the current scientific understanding of evolution and Survival of the Fittest – and is worth repeating.

        “Organisms adapt to an ever-changing environment. …… These adaptations can be behavioral, or stochastic variations in their constitution might be selected for, as advantageous, or against, as detrimental. Sooner or later this process can lead to speciation.”

        It is hard to point to ambiguity in your words – that is why I like your phrase.

        Where ambiguity might lie though is in the concepts your phrase covers – perhaps by omission though rather than by what your words state.

        Consider – “Organisms adapt to an ever-changing environment. ……. Sooner or later this process can lead to speciation.”

        Gould’s emphasis on the notable stability of long lived species puts an interesting question to the “ever-changing environment bit.”

        In a changing universe there ought to be little stability – but for a species to be relatively stable, it follows from your statement that the environment must remain equally stable for the duration of the species – for millions of years in many cases.

        What might be the source of this environmental stability?

        Our environment is largely an organic environment – brim full of organisms and organic material. – It may be that at any time all organisms are involved in trying to remain stable – surviving as they are. – Then we might proffer the idea of environment remaining stable because all is surrounded by all else trying to remain stable – hence long-lived stable species in stable environment.

        Cuvier’s catastrophe theory, based on the idea of all old species becoming extinct and new species ‘created’ abruptly at new geological levels, fell down when it was found that many species remained the same throughout many levels – so stability might well be the name of the game. – Maynard Smith’s game theory is that a mutual Survival of the Fittest strategy leads to evolutionary stable continuation.

        You say, ‘Organisms adapt to an ever-changing environment. …..’

        Organisms do not adapt – an organism is stuck as it is – with the inherent quotient of adaptability it has. – The next generation may have exactly the same amount of inherited adaptability, or have more, or have less – then the state of the environment for the next generation will determine the future. (This of course you cover in your paragraph.)

        A species though is in exactly the same position – at any moment it has a finite limit to its inherent cumulative adaptability. – If environment changes beyond the limit of its most adaptable variant’s capaciy, it’s an extinct species.

        Going back to Gould’s emphasis on stability of species – and thus a relatively stable environment – one must assume that, if only for the sake of ‘economy’, there are mechanisms to avoid the wasteful production of variety – and in that of course is variety we might term ‘surplus adaptability’. (Think koala bear, stuck up a gum tree, bereft of surplus adaptability.) Of course the whole idea of evolving to ‘fit’ the environment exemplifies this.

        Particulate inheritance – the nature of DNA based reproduction – and its ‘protected’ position in the cell nucleus – these limit possibilities of variety.

        (I want to know if, and how much, the remarkable constancy of mitochondrial DNA might limit the possibilities of variation in the actions of nuclear DNA. – Anybody out there in Formula 1 genetics with an answer please.)

        My point then (in about six chapters) is that it’s time we stopped looking at change and concentrated a little more on stability. – But then we might find that if honing variety by survival of the fittest means leads to stable species, then they might become so stable, with all other species stable around them, that if environment change does occur, maybe only little beyond what might be termed normal, then extinction is inevitable.

        This outlook is backed by the estimates of species numbers, which show a 50 to 1 ration of extinct species to extant species. – Current escalating extinction figures would show that sadly many species seem unable to adapt changing environment – even the simple environment change of an overpopulation of apes.

        “Organisms adapt to an ever-changing environment. ……. Sooner or later this process can lead to speciation.”

        Maybe this ought to read:

        ‘Stable species sooner or later fail to adapt to an ever changing environment. …… This process leads to extinction.’

        But is there a second mechanism which on occasion cab provide a get-out clause?

        It may be that species are trapped to lead the life they have become accustomed to lead. – If Darwin’s survival of the fittest mechanism brings about that situation – then a second mechanism, to leap the limitations Darwin’s mechanism seems to impose, would be quite handy. – I may have such a mechanism. – (the subject of a later half dozen chapters)

        Here we can bring on the dancing bears – particularly the polar ones.

        In an early chapter I need a neat summary of the current academic view of Survival of the Fittest which carries some authority. – I am not qualified to do that. – Your phrase seems as nice and fair a short summary as I can find.

        I illustrate it with – ‘By slowly adapting to a changing environment – colder and colder – some brown bears evolved to be white polar bears.’

        This seems to fit well enough with your phrase.

        The chapter itself first takes a quick look at the old chestnut, ‘what happened to the intermediaries’ – but it then introduces what I think are two new and rather large hiccups into a slow change view of polar bear evolution.

        If I am not barred for writing too lengthy comments, and off topic. I can give you those hiccups to consider.

        Bearing all that in mind, is it o k for me to quote you​?

        And a Happy New Year – that’s the next one isn’t it.

        • cromercrox says:

          I can’t understand most of this John – as for quoting me, please don’t as the source is very far from what will be the final text.

          • John the Plumber says:

            If I ever get to finish the book, I’ll ask you again about your paragraph. – It is the best short description of current theory I have met – and I have read many – it is a good one.

            I am impressed that you failed to understand most of what I have written. – I always say if you are going to do something do it well. – Being a dyslexic writer, I have clearly excelled this time.

            Try this:

            The history of the study of evolution has led to the species problem. Are species discrete, with some sort of gap between them, or is all life and its evolution a merging spectrum.

            With one mechanism of joined-up survival of the fittest change – science is obliged to explain all in terms of continuation.

            I can give you a second wholly natural mechanism which allows on rare occasions a leap – a broken continuation. After 40 yrs of study I am sure it is a valid mechanism.

            Why does no-one want to know this second mechanism?

  4. cromercrox says:

    @John – I am beginning to find your comments somewhat off-topic. I might have ti delete them in future. Sorry!

    • John the Plumber says:

      Please accept my apologies Henry.

      On the topic of successful writing – Is The Beowolf Effect on course – and is it to be published under that title?

      • cromercrox says:

        Ah, the Beowulf Effect. It was briefly The Human Error and will now be pubished, on purpose, as The Accidental Species. Glad you asked me that.