Monday, April 07, 2003
Hi Neil

As a pedantic scientist, I feel the need to correct a small error in your last post yesterday... the Guardian article was penned by Matt Ridley, who is a famous Oxford-educated science writer, not, as you stated, by Mark Ridley, who is a famous Oxford-educated evolutionary biologist. Mark and Matt are often mistaken for each other, but are different creatures entirely.

Finally, was slightly puzzled by your comment on suspension of disbelief being more important in non-fiction... from my own perspective I disagree, as scientists are trained to treat everything they read (work-related, anyway) as complete hogwash until convinced otherwise, which probably goes a long way to explaining our argumentative natures, but is a necessary strategy in a world overrun with bad science.

I don't often get time to read stuff outside of the scientific literature, but when I do your stories always entertain me. Thanks for that.


Never ever post late at night after a long day of Disney. You get your Ridleys confused, for a start, and make a twit of yourself. Mea culpa.

I suppose what I meant about suspension of disbelief and non-fiction is something that, for me applies to all forms of non-fiction. A literary critic who begins a book by announcing that something is "a Baskerville hound -- important for not barking in the night-time" has just confused two Sherlock Holmes stories (the Hound of the Baskervilles and, if memory serves, "Silver Blaze") and has also cast into doubt, for me at least, anything else such a literary critic might have to say. (I'd be quite forgiving if it was a scientist making that kind of error.)

Anyone who's ever had the experience of reading a news story in a newspaper written by a journalist who had managed to get both the wrong end of the stick and most of the key facts and names wrong knows that you can look at newspapers with a jaundiced eye for a while after that.

The kind of big dumb mistake (like, er, confusing Mark Ridley and Matt Ridley) that somehow invalidates the rest of the points the writer makes, no matter how valid and sensible they were.

It's the same phenomenon I'll get in fiction when something small isn't right. There's an otherwise marvellous novel in which a time traveller arrives in 18th century London and asks for a specific street, and is told "it's a few blocks over that way" which tells us that the writer is American, and, for those people who know and live in London (a city in which the concept of a city block has yet to arrive in the 21st century) it can throw you out of the story.

Regarding the blog on Sunday, April 06, 2003

How about the fragile X comment: "an easily identified genetic cause of terrible mental retardation"? From what I've read in the papers, fragile X girls _might_ be slower than average. Boys are more affected, but still, "terrible mental retardation"?

Veera Luhtala

According to the National Fragile X Foundation at Fragile X syndrome is a hereditary condition which causes a wide range of mental impairment, from mild learning disabilities to severe mental retardation.

In regards to your comment about Mark Ridley's article about sci-fi, I think he's almost got a point if looked at from the point of view of the mass market. Almost because his evidence is good but his conclusions are wrong. Most people's exposure to sci-fi in text form began and ended with the some Crichton novel - xenophobic, paranoid, afraid of the future. What movies do people go see? 2001 (computer goes insane), The Matrix (computers go insane), The Terminator (computers go insane), Event Horizon (we go to outer space and go insane), Attack of the Clones (George Lucas goes insane), Aliens (travel to space at the behest of an evil corporation, meet exciting alien species, get eaten by them). Even movies in which nobody goes insane or gets eaten have a distinctly anti-technology bent (Gattaca). But this says less about screen writers than it does about the kinds of projects Hollywood will green-light. I'm not sure if this means the market is afraid of the future and Hollywood is giving people what they want, or if it means that Hollywood is afraid of technology. Well, we know Hollywood is afraid of technology. Either way, no one's making "The Demolished Man", or even "The Songs of Distant Earth" into a movie.

Although they did make The Bicentennial Man into a movie, even though one might wish that they hadn't...

I wouldn't have minded "the future is often depicted as a place where a technical fix has gone wrong, where androids stalk a devastated urban landscape..." It was that "always" that got me. A lot of written SF is hopeful, a lot of TV SF is hopeful, a fair amount of movie SF is ultimately hopeful. And a lot of scientists I've run into in the last twenty years will talk about the SF that got them fired up when younger and propelled into SF careers.

Personally, I think sloppy science writers (and I'm not talking about Mr Ridley here) have more to blame for people being worried about genetically modified stuff than novelists or screenwriters. People don't go and see Jurassic Park and come out going "No, these scientists are meddling with raw stuff of life itself! How can they think that bringing back Dinosaurs is going to end happily? I shall write to my Member of Parliament or Congressman and ensure that such dangers do occur in actuality," whereas they do read article about genetically modified pollen from corn killing off monarch caterpillars on the nearby milkweed, and worry, even if the study doesn't actually record if any caterpillars died...

Anyway, I thought the Ridley article was interesting and made some excellent points. I also thought he made some stupid ones in the middle. There.

And on to something much more important.... The two last words on people flirting while dressed as Funny Animals.

I recently spent a weekend at Disney with my friend who plays several costumed characters. The majority of the characters she plays are male so she is encouraged to flirt with the female park visitors, which she finds terribly amusing, especially when their boyfriends get defensive! So just remember ladies the next time Pooh or Mickey grabs your butt or gives you a hug or a kiss it's more likely a Michelle than a Michael bestowing the affection.




Hi Neil,

With all the talk of Disney you might want to check out an article on the excellent Mark Evanier's POV Online about the guys inside the suits. Mark's site is an excellent mine of information.
Best wishes,

John Innes
Publisher, Sight & Sound
London, UK

Holly, seven years ago, aged around ten, on our previous trip to Walt Disney World, Stopped Believing in the autograph thing because she kept running into Goofy. And she got him to sign her autograph book twice.

And the signatures were very different. She kept comparing them. And she stopped believing, just like that.

and finally....

A late addition to the cartoon character flirting thing... I met Kelly 9 years ago while we were working as Tom & Jerry on the Irish Sea Ferry route.

Now we've two kids and a mortgage: cartoon flirting has a happy ending!


Several people have written to tell me that the GRIMBLE books are readable online. I'm going to check with the copyright holder before I post the URL (or at least, ask his daughter to ask him). If he's happy for them to be up I'll post the link. If not, I won't.


Hi Neil,

Seeing as you seem to be bombarded with questions about what it's like/ what it takes/ how it feels to be a writer, I thought your readers might be interested in this article I found called "How to be a Writer" by Lorrie Moore, someone who apparantly won the Associated Writing Programs Award for best short fiction.

It's funny, honest, and occasionally horribly accurate.

Torie Atkinson

Lovely. "Later on in life you will learn that writers are merely open, helpless texts with no real understanding of what they have written and therefore must half-believe anything and everything that is said of them," made me nod, and smile.