EVERYONE'S A METAWRITER..., depending on what you mean by 'writing'. Huh? Does writing a book review make you a metawriter? Or should we reserve that term for someone like Stephen King when he produces a book called On Writing?

Anyway, it's a correct use of the term 'meta'. Once upon a time, I was sitting in a seminar room in Oxford with Chris O'Shea (known to Brit fandom as The Magician) while Jim Davies (head of the grad school) was producing a mathematical description of Trivial Pursuit. Chris launched into a description of the different varieties of Trivial Pursuit that you can buy; I pointed out that this was metatrivia. Um, you had to be there... At least Jim was heartened by my accurate use of 'meta'.

Some writers are emotionally affected by reviews of their work (as Martin Sketchley writes in his blog). My tendency is to speed-read-and-forget them, just as I do my best with interviews and then forget to tell people when the interview appears. My Beautiful Webmistress tends to turn into the Raging She-Hulk when I do this... so I'm getting better. And I do enjoy reading a review where someone particularly appreciates what I was trying to achieve in a book or story.

Just like Stephen King, I sit up and take notice when a review is written by a writer: Peter Millar, Jon Courtenay Grimwood or Paul di Filippo. And now, by the great Norman Spinrad, a great review. Thank you!

As you'll see when you follow the link, Mr Spinrad's essay covers not just Paradox and Context, but also the Pyr imprint -- my most wonderful US publishers -- and the enlightened editorial policy pursued by the perspicacious and energetic Lou Anders.

And Norman Spinrad rightly says that the Nulapeiron sequence is for intelligent readers who truly know science fiction. Feel privileged!

When it comes to interviews, I'm not sure that writers often give their all... Not everyone opens up in conversation, just as not everyone is used to public speaking. Put me in front of a thousand people and tell me to ad lib solo for an hour or several, and I'll have a great time. Many people wouldn't. None of this has any relevance to writing ability. (Although I might be wrong... maybe self confidence goes hand in hand with self discipline. But it's the discipline that counts: the daily workout with the Muse. You can be as shy as you like in public so long as you write honestly and always.)

Anyway, I do my best. Here's the interview I did with John Joseph Adams for the SciFi Channel's web service, SciFi Wire.

Oh, you can find out who Mr Adams is by visiting his website .

And a while back, Paul Goat Allen also asked me insightful questions, interviewing me for the Barnes & Noble online magazine, Explorations. Next month, Resolution is a lead title, with a review by Mr Allen. Ta lots! I'll post a link to that when it appears.

(See, BW? I can do this...)

The photo shows me and my dinner companion in Washington, D.C. It was Halloween...

And in the Knuckledragger post below, the photo of me and the bear comes from Berlin. Somewhere close to the Ku-Damm, I think.

Explore the world, Pilots! And take care.



...of Erwin Schroedinger. Can I just muse on this for a while? You'll know the setup for the famous thought experiment. I'm just wondering whether everyone knows where the paradox is. Actually, I'm wondering if I know exactly where it is.

You trap a cat in a box. Inside the box is a nefarious device set to activate at random (e.g. by radioactive decay) which will release poison gas. When a biologist (since no physicist would be cruel enough to actually perform the experiment) opens the box, they'll either find a dead cat or a live cat. Before they open the box, the cat is neither alive nor dead but somehow both. Mathematically, the feline wave function is a superposition of two possible states (or eigenvalues).

In fact, I think I read that much in a lit'ry novel last year. Um, Saturday, by Ian McEwan? That's the one where it take twenty pages for the protagonist to walk from his bed to a window, stare out, and then return to his bedside. Hmm.

Anyhow, where's the paradox? And who was this Schroedinger guy, anyway?

Well, when you're trying to work out how something behaves in a quantum way, you typically attempt to write down the particular variant of the Schroedinger wave equation that describes that particular situation, and then solve it. That's easier said than done. (And it wasn't that easy to say...)

For a start, Schroedinger was a clever dude. Did he really think a cat could be simultaneously alive and dead? In fact the cat's in a state of kiss-your-skin-goodbye-as-soon-as-I-get-my-claws-on-you, or similar. (Either Terry Pratchett or Ian Stewart or Jack Cohen derived the correct solution, in one of their books.)

We may be zeroing in on a paradox here. A paradox of some kind.

Why do sodium-vapour streetlamps always shine a particular shade of orange? Because an outer electron can be in one of two particular states (there are other states of course, but it's still a restricted range of allowed values), and if it's in the more energetic state and releases its energy, it emits one photon and drops to the lower level. The energy difference is always exactly the same, the one photon (carrying away the energy) therefore has exactly the same energy, therefore the same frequency... and therefore the same colour, as perceived by us.

If you narrowed your focus to these electrons, you would not know whether a particular electron was in the higher or lower state unless you directly measured it. Before measuring, you could say that the electron's wave function (related to the probability of finding it in a particular state and place) is a mixture of both possibilities.

In general, the wave function could be a mix of umpteen possibilities, some of which might be more likely than others (different probabilities).

So far, this just seems to state that you don't know what's really there until you look. Right. Where this departs from everday logic is when you look at scenarios like diffraction. If you squint and look at one of those streetlamps through your eyelashes, you see weird patterns. (Even if you haven't eaten strange mushrooms recently.) That's interference, where light waves reinforce and destroy each other at various angle to produce thos patterns.

Remember, this is a real effect. Go look at a streetlamp tonight.

The simplest form of interference pattern is when you slice two razor-thin vertical slits in a piece of card, and shine light through. Beyond the card, if lay a solid screen across, you'll see a neat striped diffraction pattern. If you've studied this, you'll know what I'm leading up to...

...which is, if light is made of particles, how do you get interfering waves?

Each photon goes through one or other of the two slits, but behaves as if it knows where the other slit is. How do I know this? Because the accumulated photons, once through the slits, building up a striped pattern on the screen they hit. There is ZERO probability that a single photon would hit one of the dark areas -- where destructive interference occurs.
But if the photon was ignorant of the second slit, it would in fact occasionally strike one of those areas, as it simply goes more-or-less straight through one slit.

So the photon is said to be in a superposition of two states AS IT IS GOING THROUGH THE SLITS until it strikes the screen, where it turns out that it did IN THE PAST travel through one slit only.


Cats don't behave like this.

Actually, maybe they do. Cats are mystic creatures. Can we start all over again with the Schroedinger's Dog experiment? Okay, the dog is either alive or dead, it's not both at the same time.

A dog is not a photon.

But a dog consists of many, many, many subatomic particles built up into a vastly complicated structure that goes woof and wags its tail. Electrons and protons and photons and all the rest DO behave in that weird quantum way, but entire dogs do not. And neither do cats, except when they're engaged in private mystical experiments that are none of our business.

I believe this is the paradox that Herr Doktor Schroedinger had in mind.

One particle obeys his wave equation (which is fiendishly difficult to solve algebraically for all but the simplest situations). Two particles... yep, you can write down the equation, it's just harder to solve. Three particles... okay. Not sure I can solve the equation, but I can still write it down and it looks well behaved. Four particles... Sure, still going strong.
Somehow, when we get to dog-number of particles, the rules completely change.

So, is this a paradox?

Yeah, I think so. It's in the same class as Zeno's Paradox, in any of its variants. You know, Achilles runs ten times faster than the tortoise he's chasing. Say he starts ten yards behind the tortoise. When he reaches the place the tortoise was (at the time Achilles broke into a sprint) the tortoise has moved on by one yard. When Achilles reaches that point, the tortoise has move on by one-tenth of a yard. And when Achilles reaches THAT point, the tortoise has moved on by one-hundredth of a yard...

Now the modern accepted view of Zeno's Paradox is that it's based on a misunderstanding. Achilles can't overtake the tortoise until he's passed through an infinite number of ever-smaller distances in ever-shorter time periods. Those old Greeks assumed that it took forever to add up an infinite number of numbers... but nowadays, that's seen as a mistaken assumption. An infinite series can add up to a finite value.

I believe that not every mathematician accepts that we've made the problem go away. Zeno wasn't stupid, any more than Schroedinger.

So what about the cat/dog? Seems to me it's about adding up (for a certain complicated meaning of the word 'add') lots of little numbers, both for Zeno's and for Schroedinger's paradoxes. Somehow, the addition of lots of terms (and it's definitely a FINITE, not infinite number, in the Schroedinger case) qualitatively changes the rules. Jeez... can anybody spell 'emergent properties'?

I hope you're not expecting me to solve the paradox here, although the preceding sentence may hold a clue!

At least, we now know that Schroedinger wasn't bonkers, he was brilliant.

Since we've established that, we might go on to explore the heart of the large-number-of-particles problem, aka the decoherence problem. In doing so we'll come across a third paradox, the one identified by Eugene Wigner... but perhaps that deserves a blog entry in its own right.

Time to rest those superheated brains, Pilots. Fly straight.



In case you didn’t see past the irony of the previous post (below)... bodybuilding is NOT John’s idea of a competitive sport. If it ain’t got blood and the occasional broken bones, why should I be interested?

Weight training, however, I do in fact approve of. Yet gyms with shiny machines, the latest music – or worse, TV – or worse still, internet bloody access on the cardio machines: I’m not joking – and teeny bopper staff with white smiles and certificates and not a clue as to how to train or teach training... not John’s idea of optimum training. Since I travel a lot and I’ve been training for a long, long time, I’ve trained in probably hundreds of gyms in a bunch of different countries, which is a very scary thought.

My preference for strength training is Combat Conditioning bodyweight exercises (or power calisthenics as John Peterson calls them), which I do every day, including those times when I’m staying in a hotel. But I still lift weights. So what’s with the allergy to gyms?

Memories of the last gym I held membership at, before retreating to my garage (dungeon) gym... the instructor telling her female trainee to go for the burn and visualize the muscle growing. This was while peforming exactly one set of curls with a dumb-bell that probably weighed a pound. Oh, and the instructor was so thin she was brittle: anorexic and a smoker, with no muscle. And a different instructor at the same gym telling someone to exhale as they lifted on a curl. (Wrong.) And... well. Don’t get me started.

Even there, I used to smile when training, and not socialize – that’s for later: the gym’s for training. Beginners move their bodies awkwardly, with knots of tension, and fail to breathe properly. An instructor should show them how to be on balance (even seated or lying) and how to coordinate motion and breath, before worrying about isolating muscle groups. Machines encourage these bad habits because so little technique is required.

Oh, one of my habits was to sing while running on the treadmill, if I happened to know the words of the song they were playing over the speakers. Come on, guys. Don’t look at me like that. It’s about enjoying yourself.

Yvonne sings too, nowadays, when she runs.

If bodybuilders encourage people into strength training, that’s all right. Modern steroid freaks... No. (There is a nice book about the love and discipline of lifting heavy weights written by a Mr Universe of the 1960s, and that’s Brother Iron, Sister Steel by Dave Draper. I like this book an awful lot, and read it often. See how confused I am?)

I first got into (reasonably) serious weight training in a gym designed by the late Howard Payne, who was a university lecturer and three-time Commonwealth hammer champion (and for giggles, the West Midlands powerlifting champion). No cardio machines. No machines at all. No music.

Lots of barbells. Lots. The benches were wooden boards on metal stands: no padded upholstery. And a raised wooden platform where the Olympic lifters and powerlifters could work, and drop their 500 pound bars without breaking the floor.

Serious, hardcore stuff. And if you wanted cardio, you went out to the outdoors track or ran around the streets.

In 2003, Mr Payne’s widow, Rosemary Chrimes, won three gold medals in the World Age Games in Puerto Rico, setting the world record for the over-70s high jump! (She coached many of Britain’s best-known athletes, including Steve Cram and Fatima Whitbread.)

True quality does not age. Pure gold does not fear the test of fire.

Respect, Pilots.



...or, have you heard of Franco Columbu? Or Bill Pearl? How about Al Dacascos or Bill Wallace?

Well, don't worry if you haven't. It's just a question of which subcultures you happen to move in. See, if I'd asked whether you'd heard of Arnold Schwarzenegger or Bruce Lee, you'd have thought I was mad. Not that I'm claiming to be sane...

If you're interested, Franco was Arnold's best buddy and training partner, is the same height as me (about 14 inches less than the Oak Who Walks, I reckon) but stronger than anyone (he held the world record for bench press). Franco would win the short men's category in the Mr Olympia, and pose off (that's the official term) against the tall men's winner. Whenever that was Arnold, Franco came second... but in '81, against someone else, he beat the tall guy. It was the first time that had happened.

What do I think of competitive body-building? Well ya know... Shaving your body hair, getting a, ahem, friend to rub oil onto your skin all over, then dressing in the skimpiest underwear you own: that's some kind of sport, don't you think?

Mike Resnick once commented that someone who wins a Hugo (he'd know) can be really proud, until they walk down the street and realize no one there will even have heard of the award.

Is there a point to this? Not really...

Oh, the previous post (below) mentions my next SF novel, almost as if I were writing in another genre. If that ever happened, such a book would have to appear under a pseudonym, don't you think? Names are such tricky things.

Enjoy your world, Pilots.


...celebrated in photographs, of course. You don't think I did it all by myself, do ya? Here's Princess Bonbon, most beautiful being in the multiverse, channeling those ideas from Wildspace (the continuum where stories live).

By the way, the next SF book of mine is now officially tagged GOTHIC SCIENCE FICTION. Cool, eh?

The title is UNDEAD BONES. More news later, Pilots...