Article 18: Who Threw That?

  Here’s an article I wrote quite some years ago. I probably did it at around about the time films like Armageddon were doing the rounds since it seem likely the reporter or the news story concerned was looking for something ‘topical’.


So, on February the 1st 2019 there is a chance, cosmically speaking, of a large lump of rock slamming into Earth. According to ‘expert opinion’, so the media told us on the morning of this announcement, this thing is a mile and half wide and will impact with enough force to wipe out a country the size of Britain. This was then upgraded, within an hour, to be one capable of wiping out the USA – a change I put down to both media hype and a dearth of information. Of course experts will vie with each other to predict greater and greater disasters to get themselves on television, so you can expect by the time you read this that the asteroid will destroy all life on Earth. But then maybe it could. What happens if it hits the oilfields, what changes might it make to the weather, might it perturb Earth’s orbit enough to sling us into an ice age or turn everything to desert? I’m not an expert, so I can’t really say. At present, measurements are not yet accurate enough to tell us precisely what will happen. The asteroid will probably miss us completely and go round for another try in ex-thousand years time. What is certain is that measurements will become more and more accurate as the asteroid draws closer. Personally, I hope that they show, in the near future, that the asteroid is certain to impact. This is not because I am a nihilist, but because such a state of affairs would impel the kind of hard technological advances not seen since the World Wars. We have the time and ability to stop this thing, but we would have to get off our arses to do so. Such a threat could pump huge amounts of cash, heretofore blown on military spending and idiot bureaucracy, into giving us a firmer foothold in space. Resultant developments would be hugely beneficial and solid – we would not be able to afford the dipstick mistakes that have wasted the last few Mars’ missions – and I can see that how once the rock is blown off course there’ll be no turning back. Suddenly we’ll be dwellers in a huge and hostile universe, not post-Copernican Earthlings. And even those grandads saying, “Well, we didn’t have those new-fangled asteroid thingies in my day,” will have to sit up and take notice. For the SF writer there are other situations to extrapolate. Taking the phrase ‘capable of wiping-out the USA’ it is almost inevitable that the Bin Ladens of this world will say that it has been sent to do just that. Let me predict that they’ll name the asteroid ‘The Fist of God’, and that fundamentalist terrorists will do everything they can to sabotage any project to change its course. Because there will be no guarantee that the project will be successful, a more careless attitude to life and liberty might prevail. Maybe the Western World would take this opportunity, in the purported interests of humanity, to flatten the Middle East and take control of the oil. Don’t doubt this possibility. It’s worth being reminded that the firepower of a couple of nuclear submarines could do the job. Have people already forgotten what atomic bombs can do, and more specifically, neutron bombs? Perhaps Pakistan and India will take this opportunity to settle their differences – end-of-the-world scenarios being an excuse for all sorts of mayhem. Will China just sit back and watch all this? And, there is always the most unlikely possibility: this could be a unifying influence on the entire planet. Taking an even larger and more tongue-in-cheek view, one might even wonder about the timing. Consider how fortunate we were to have a moon that strips away atmosphere thus preventing this planet going catastrophically greenhouse and ending up like Venus – a moon that also gives tides so that life developing in the water will certainly also end up on land. Previous impacts wiped out life forms that would not have led to us. The asteroid that drove the dinosaurs extinct ended the 160 million-year reign of creatures that showed no signs of growing brains larger than peanuts. Aptly-timed ice ages then led to the survival of creatures with an interest in banging rocks together. A hundred years ago we would have been unable to do anything about the approaching cataclysm, moreover, probably would not even have detected it. This is all obviously the determinist 20/20 hindsight of the bible-thumping trench survivor: “God loves me, that’s why the shrapnel took the top off of Harry’s head and not mine.” But it’s just as obvious that the aliens sent this rock, and that we have seventeen years in which to prove ourselves fit to join the galactic community.

Writing Update.

Righto, I’ve finished the initial editing of Orbus and now await its return from the copy editor. Next, I’ve written an article for the BSFA, The British Science Fiction Association, which is
…currently producing a series of special pamphlets for its members. Previous pamphlets include a small press sampler.’ Martin Lewis would like to produce one consisting of brief articles of SF writers on SF films. The idea is that each contributor writes an 750 word piece on a SF film which means something special to them. It might be your favourite film, it might be a guilty pleasure, it might be a film that was your gateway into the world of science fiction. I would be happy for contributors to use the broadest possible definition of science fiction and to be as popularist or obscure as they wished.
Bearing this in mind I chose Aliens, which is certainly one of my favourite films and which I might have described as a ‘guilty pleasure’ where it not for the fact I’m not pretentious enough to feel guilty about anything I enjoy. You certainly won’t get one of those film lists from me including something French with subtitles, or utterly obscure, or both, and the words ‘noir’ or ‘surreal’ will not be in evidence.
Next on the agenda is getting back to writing the ‘Owner’ story which still doesn’t really have a title. Presently I’m approaching 90,000 words, but I’ve been knocking the hell out of the story changing it from 1st person to 3rd, expanding the scale of the scenery and the scale of the problems faced by the somewhat nasty hero.
Back to work now.

Article 17: Super Trooper

Just before reading through this I wondered if my opinion might have changed any, finishing the article, I found it hadn’t. We’re still on the liberal shit-slide, it’s just that the shit is getting deeper…

I’ve just re-read Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers – a book I originally read when a teenager. What little I remembered of reading the book then, had since been swamped by the lurid images from Paul Verhoeven’s silly but enjoyable film. I probably would not have read it again but for two circumstances: firstly my mother happened to bring home a copy from the charity shop in which she works, and secondly, the strident claims that Heinlein is fascist/right-wing/libertarian from members of the British SF establishment, piqued my interest, for it is often the books recommended by the same critics and self-styled academics that bore me into a coma. My second reading of this book gave me what I’ll describe as the Dad’s Army effect. When I watched that series as a child, I laughed along with the slapstick and enjoyed it on that level. Watching it later as an adult, I began to appreciate the adult humour. Starship Troopers can appeal to the SF-with-boy’s-toys oriented adolescent just as much as to an adult with the same orientation. But reading ideas of how human rights and privileges should be earned and should be equally balanced by responsibilities, I began to see why Heinlein is disliked by so many, then I hit chapter eight. There are those who consider his work ironic – satire – when he is describing his future society, but that’s wishful thinking on the part of people who cannot accept that someone who produces such lucid enjoyable work does not buy into their political beliefs. His satire is in fact directed against the society of his time, and of our time, of which he is unstinting in his scorn. Not accepting the cop-out that he didn’t really mean it, it would seem then that Heinlein advocates corporal and capital punishment “…they (wrongly) assumed Man has a moral instinct.” his narrator tells us, this, after detailing how the delinquents of the twentieth century were never really deterred from going on to become full-time criminals. How they never, in the puppy-training analogy he uses, had their noses rubbed in it. He comments on a death sentence carried out on someone who kidnapped and murdered a little girl: Well, if there was no way to keep it from happening once, there was only one sure way to keep it from happening twice. Which we used. The old liberal platitude has it that the death penalty is no deterrent to murder, which is like saying that hitting a paving slab at 125 miles an hour is no deterrent to jumping off the Eiffel Tower. Well, you’ll only do it once. Of course such arguments are too simplistic for the politically correct and ‘socially aware’, but he has a pop at them as well on the subject of corporal punishment: “…the time-tested method of instilling social virtue and respect for law in the minds of the young did not appeal to a pre-scientific pseudo-professional class who called themselves ‘social workers’ or sometimes ‘child psychologists’. It was too simple for them, apparently, since anyone could do it using the patience and firmness needed in training a puppy. I have sometimes wondered if they cherished a vested interest in disorder…” Such simplicity is not relished by those who studied psychology, sociology et al at the universities where they also received their political indoctrination. (It’s sad that so many enter the SF world via the same route and consider themselves radical, when really they’re only joining the establishment.) Such people have not so much a vested interest in disorder, but in over-complication, because that way they can wrest control from poor normal plebs. “You must not smack your child, bring him to the child psychologist and if that doesn’t work, we’ll dose him up with Ritalin, then during his ensuing life this severely screwed-up human being can keep any number of counsellors, psychologists, social workers & sociologists in employment.” Reading about Heinlein’s work I discover that he did not write ‘literature’ and that his later works were weighed down with didactic right-wing/libertarian tracts. Of course, had those tracts been left-wing/liberal, he would have been on a higher pedestal in Britain than the one he presently occupies – his work branded as serious literature containing much important social commentary. You gotta laugh. Starship Troopers was first published forty-six years ago. Read chapter eight if you cannot be bothered with the whole book. In the political zeitgeist of today’s Britain Heinlein is not accepted as a visionary, but that will come after the lunatics presently in control of our society have finished shovelling their excrement at the fan, in the time when we have to clean up the mess. ENDS.

Article 16: SF Archaeology.

Wow, things date really quickly in SF if its not set some centuries in the future, and in this article you can see how things date even quicker when you’re writing about SF. The X Prize as been taken and not so long ago I put a post here about a tank-mounted laser weapon.

The idea that old is bad and new is good is one that permeates some quarters of our culture and sees its expression in the New Labour verses the ‘forces of conservatism’ in the political world. The former seems intent on destroying anything old even when having nothing better to replace it, the latter wants to hang onto the outmoded even when something better is available. But before anyone switches off, I’m not going to get into a rant about all that – this magazine isn’t big enough – I’m going to look at it as applied to science fiction. For many, SF has to be primarily new and innovative. Now, while I agree that SF should open our eyes to possibilities never seen before (though that is by no means all it should do), I also feel it should never close our eyes to the eminently likely. Some while back I produced a story in which I named an android manufacturing company ‘Cybercorp’, and was told the name was nothing new. But being much used in fiction, is that name less or more likely to be used in fact? Already we are coming out the other side of rebranding for the sake of it. Consignia is now once again the Post Office and most people know that Corus really means British Steel. Of course I could have named my company Epsilion Floogle Bugler Ltd or Rumbatious Pumpwhistle, but I came up with the Cybercorp in the same way as many company names are formed (when advertising executives are not becoming ‘creative’ and disappearing up their own fundaments): Microsoft, Vodaphone, Telecom, Railtrack – simple basic and descriptive. But my real contention here is that though something may be old hat, that doesn’t make it bad, wrong or unlikely. I know it’s a distasteful prospect for some, but it is quite possible that sometime a company will be formed and it’ll be called Robotics Inc. Though, going off at tangent here, the most likely name, for a future manufacturer of androids, is Honda. Zap guns and rocket ships (or squids in space) are what SF is all about, apparently. I can take issue with that straight away. 1984 certainly isn’t and, despite what Jo Brandt might think, it’s classic SF. Other books in the genre that don’t fall under that supposedly derogatory description: The Time Machine, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Frankenstein, Half-Past Human (T J Bass), Hawksbill Station (Silverberg) … I’m probably preaching to the converted here. However, what’s wrong with zap guns and rocket ships? Certainly the terms themselves are cliches, but what about the ideas and the reality behind them? Must they be abandoned because they are no longer new? Many years ago the American military asked Congress if they could test a ground-based laser for knocking out satellites (refused). Microwave beam weapons were employed during the Gulf War to screw Iraqi communications. The taser has been in use for a ages and now, in the process of being developed, is a taser that uses no wires – the utterly cliched SF stun gun. Even my nieghbour, working years ago for Marconi, was developing specialist transformers for powering military lasers. All zap guns, all real. As for the rocket ships … well erm, there’s this thing called the space shuttle, a couple of years ago the first ion drive was tested in space, there are plenty of contenders for the $10 million prize for putting a privately-funded craft up into space (twice in a limited period to prove it’s viable proposition), there’s the prospect of many more missions into the solar system, rocket ships have put two robots on Mars. I won’t go on. Only writers of utterly dystopian futures of technological collapse think zap guns and rocket ships won’t figure in them. To ignore these supposed old cliches of SF makes about as much sense as ignoring trees because they have too often been used in fiction. It is plain wrong to discount something because it is old and well-used. Things, in general, become that way because they work, because they are right, and because no one has thought of a plausible alternative. New doesn’t mean good or right and old doesn’t mean bad or wrong, they just are what they are.

Heavy Metal.

Well, since it’s now out there on the Internet, there’s not much point in me keeping quiet about it. Hopefully Hollywood Insider won’t mind me pinching this:

David Fincher’s Remake of Heavy Metal a No-Go at Paramount.
An article on Jul 9, 2008, 03:44 PM by Nicole SperlingNot even a bigshot like David Fincher could keep Heavy Metal at Paramount. The Zodiac director, who is currently putting the finishing touches on his highly-anticipated Brad Pitt movie The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, has been spearheading an edgy remake of the 1981 R-rated animated flick inspired by the 1970s fantasy magazine of the same name. But Tim Miller, whose Blur Studio is handling the animation, says he and Fincher, along with current Heavy Metal publisher Kevin Eastman, are now shopping the film to other studios because Paramount’s new production execs felt the movie was too risque for mainstream audiences. The project is an amalgam of erotic and violent storylines penned by well-known sci-fi scribes like Steve Niles (30 Days of Night), Joe Haldeman (The Forever War), and Neal Asher (Gridlinked). The concept is to use eight to 10 of these shorts in a single movie with each segment helmed by a different director (Fincher is on deck to direct one). Though things are on hold until another studio picks it up, Miller is confident the film will eventually see the light of day. “David really believes in the project. It’s just a matter of time,” Miller says.

Five of my stories up for inclusion — about half the film.

SFX December 2008

Nice profile piece on me in the December 2008 issue of SFX, with a full page picture too (inside, not that scary-eyed depilatephobe on the front cover). I can’t say it was much fun posing in the pissing rain on the Mayland mud flats, but the result seems pretty good. I’d just love to know how the other more ambitious photos of me posing against a wall of scrap turned out. That picture could have had the tagline: here is Neal Asher superimposed over a view inside his head.

Article 15: Re-Write

This is an old one, with some bits I no longer agree with, but I’ll give it to you as it was:

RE-WRITE. When do you cease to re-write work? Simple answer: when you are no longer improving as a writer, when you feel you have nothing more to learn, when you have achieved perfection. It is an unfortunate fact that some writers do believe this of themselves. They are normally the ones who have achieved success, and are drunk on the adulation of those who think a past participle is something you’ll find in a linear accelerator. For me revision of a story partially ceases when I feel I have achieved a required effect, might well attain publication, and have more interest in the next project. But while it remains in my processor it is still subject to a critical eye. I don’t believe there is such a thing as too much re-writing. You just reach the stage where you can’t go any further with a piece and move on to the next. In the process you jettison the bad and keep the good. You decide, and you base your decision on what you are after. Publication? Re-write for the market acting on feedback from editors and readers. Personal satisfaction? Don’t kid yourself. For my novella for Club 199 I took a thirty thousand word story and extended it by ten thousand words to fit it within their parameters, and felt perfectly justified in doing so. As far as I am concerned good writers are successful writers (though successful writers often degenerate into bad writers). There is no quick-fix formula. It is obvious such a formula is profoundly wished for, as the sales of the ‘How To’ books attest. When the questions are posed as to the extent and method of re-writing the real question being asked is: how do I write well? The first step on the road for ninety percent of would-be-famous novelists is to learn how to use the English language. Get hold of books like ‘Fowlers Modern English Usage’, ‘Roget’s Thesaurus’, and perhaps a plain old ‘Mastering The English Language -S.H. Burton’. For many people the re-write required is the one to turn their masterpiece into something intelligible. It was not until I joined some postal workshops that I found out just how bad it was possible for some writing to be. I also learnt that those writers who really try to get a handle on the language are also the ones who tell the best stories. Understanding the structure is all. You’re not going to build a suspension bridge if you don’t know how nuts and bolts go together. The rest is badly written soap-opera. So now you know how the English language works, have put a story together, and are looking at doing a re-write. You have looked at the story objectively and made sure that the bunch of flowers is beautiful rather than are beautiful and your hero still has the same colour hair all the way through. How does it look subjectively? Where, for example, can you break the rules to the greatest effect? The best of writers are the ones who know how to do this. Steven Donaldson once managed a one word sentence that had the skin on my back crawling (Of course I’m aware that it is not pc to like Donaldson; he’s too successful). The word was ‘Kevin’. No, not the spotty dickhead down the road. Kevin Landwaster who performed the Ritual of Desecration and whose spectre has just stepped through a door from the underworld. I’m afraid no English book is going to tell you how to achieve the same (though ‘The Critical Sense’ by James Reeves comes mighty close). The only way to learn is through hard work, reading, and listening to criticism, though for the latter you must judge what is relevant. There are no substitutes for these, just as there is no substitute for talent. When you re-write you must see the images and feel the effects of every word. You have to decide what to discard and what to keep. There are many sources you can tap to help you make these decisions. But in the end they are your own.

Article 14: Rebrand the Brand.

Rebrand the Brand The boundaries between the very ill-defined genres of fiction have always been blurred and always will be. This is a good thing as the ground in those grey areas can be very fertile. It has brought us the hardboiled detective Brother Cadfael, Robert Graves’ wonderful family saga, that war/historical/romance Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, and many more besides. But why oh why this continual need to search for new labels? In the genres of science fiction and fantasy this is especially noticeable, and often maddening. I was dumbfounded to discover that Jurassic Park was labelled in a fast-seller list as the genre ‘dinosaur’, and on principle it is highly unlikely I’ll ever read Oryx & Crake. SF&F have an image problem for some, and this is why they try to label parts of it differently. Forever in search of respectability they grope for new names for the fiction they write, read, criticise or publish. But where are they looking for this change in attitude? Who are they actually hoping will look upon them in a different light? Many in the mainstream literati intelligensia sneer at these genres. This is in spite of the fact that they take up about twenty percent of the fiction market, have resulted in many of the most successful films in recent years, and, science fiction specifically, is hugely relevant to today’s culture with its rapid technological change. Where will anyone have first come across videophones, genetic manipulation, satellite lasers, and missiles that think for themselves? In SF, of course. And it is to those who sneer, that those in search of new labels are going cap in hand pleading, “Please, take me seriously. I’m not really involved in that awful science fiction or fantasy stuff!” This is not only insulting to some great past authors, it is bloody annoying for those who are writing SF&F right now. How dare these people grovel for acceptance from those who don’t have the imaginative capacity to grasp science fiction or fantasy? And how gutless they are to not claim these genres as their own. But why seek the approval of the mainstream literati establishment, especially when those seeking that approval often style themselves as ‘radical’? More blurred lines. It is because SF&F have their own literati intelligensia who stand astride the line between SF&F and the mainstream: one group standing with their feet in both worlds. They enjoy the creativity and ideas of the first but loath its status. They like the status of the other but do not enjoy its pedestrian limitations.
Some would also have us believe that what they are labelling is something new. What conceit, what arrogance, or what pretension and ignorance. One can only suppose that they have not read widely enough. There’s also some misapprehension of how the English language works in this age when if you’re bad, man, you’re good, and if you’re cool you’re hot. Like the PC lobby they hope that changing labels changes attitude, when in fact current labels change in people’s perception. And the delusion that this rebranding (for that is what it is) will work, is misguided. It will not cause what has been rebranded to perform better. Perhaps they should call the new thing Consignia Fiction, or Corus Fiction – that should do as much good.

Article 13: Organic

INORGANIC ORGANICS I have to wonder how many people actually carry out the quite simple exercise of checking the meaning of words in a dictionary. Doing so, they might learn just how much gobbledegook is being flung at them every day. And just how much advertizers and those with more political motives, are perpetually playing on their fears and ignorance. Hypo-allergenic shampoo, for example, is not one that prevents allergic reaction, just one that contains lower levels of the proteins that do cause an allergic reaction. The compound word means ‘less allergens’ – one of those utterly meaningless statements of which advertizers are fond because there’s less chance of Trading Standards jumping on them. The question you have to ask is: less allergens than what? A patch of stinging nettles? A wasp’s nest? Obviously the intention of putting these buzz-words on bottles is not to inform, but to blind with science. Perhaps realising this people could then ask themselves why fruit additives are good or why washing with herbs will give you an orgasm? At its root, all this obfuscation is playing on the simplistic idea that natural is good and chemical is bad (This ignores everyday facts of life e.g. because we drink chemically-treated water we are utterly free of natural cholera and amoebic dysentry), which brings me, by a roundabout route, to the incredible ignorance surrounding the word ‘organic’. While driving around in rural Essex it’s quite common to see signs up advertising all sort of items for sale – knackered lawn mowers, ancient cars, flowers, honey – and some of the signs display literacy ranging from the poetic to the abysmal. But just lately I’ve been noticing a trend set by ‘greenies’, adopted by supermarkets, and promulgated by stupidity. Now you can buy organic manure, organic cheese, organic eggs… Do the people who started this strange craze have any idea what ‘organic’ means? Could they please explain to me what inorganic cheese, manure or eggs might be? If you are green then you’ll probably think it means items produced without any of those nasty chemical thingies. What utter drivel. Everything is made of chemicals or their constituent elements. They are not something recently created by evil science but something derived from what is already here. Monosodium glutamate (flavour enhancer) … yuk, we don’t want any of that – far too many syllables. Ever wondered why tomatoes enhance a dish? Because they’re packed with MSG. An essential chemical we must ingest every day is sodium chloride: the product of a metal that if held in the hand would result in you being hospitalized shortly after, and the basic constituent of mustard gas. It is also a chemical three oxygen atoms away from being a powerful bleach and weedkiller. How about these terrible sounding compounds: diallyl disulphide, diallyl trisulphide, S-2-propenylcysteine sulphoxide … The list is a long one, but can be contracted to one word: garlic. That which is organic is something relating to or derived from plants or animals, or it is any of a class of compounds based on carbon. Interestingly, a final definition in the dictionary I’m presently studying, is: any substance such as a pesticide or fertilizer derived from animal or vegetable matter. So, organic food that you buy in the supermarket can have been sprayed with a nicotine insecticide or the organic chemical DDT. In fact few insecticides and fertilizers are not the product or organic chemistry, so they are organic. In fact, some of the most poisonous substances on this planet are products of organic chemistry, whether performed in a laboratory or in the more potent chemical laboratories inside living things. Oh my goodness, chemicals, I hear you cry. Sigh. Get with reality. Curare is organic, so why not spread some of that on your wholegrain bread and see how you get on? And next time you buy your organic potatoes, remember they could have been sprayed with the organic compound agent orange and that would make them no less ORGANIC!! Ends

Article 12: Not Immortal.

And another old rant and rave:

NOT IMMORTAL. We live in a society obsessed with the idea of youth, and frightened of the plain facts of aging and death. To avoid facing up to them people will lie, behave as if those facts don’t exist, refuse to wear hearing aids or glasses, dress young, have Botox injected and wrinkles cut away. But worse than all this are those who offer up the obviously untruthful promise of eternal youth. One look at the advertising thrown in our faces every day will illustrate this. An evening of TV adverts will give you such gems as a model who has only just managed to clear up her acne in time to sing the praises of a hypo-allergenic-polyfiller-in-wrinkle-cream. Another cream will reduce the seven signs of aging, so we can all be glad that such a simple product will protect us against incontinence, arthritis, dementia, heart failure, blindness, hearing loss and a tendency to harp on about the good old days. You can boogy down on the beach sipping a drink containing enough sugar to rot the tusks off an elephant, and somehow this will transform you into a white-toothed youth. There’s the deodorant that keeps you perpetually available to your latest boyfriend, which is probably useful if you live the active skateboarding life promoted by your latest brand of tampon. Magazines and catalogues are as bad if not worse. See the girdle clinging to the curves of that model who has just returned from shooting an advert about a shampoo that apparently gives you an orgasm. Observe young Adonis modelling the latest truss. And read all those articles promoting foods, New Age treatments, lifestyles and internal décor that’ll keep you perpetually this side of the Styx and apparently on the underside of thirty. The horror of all this is that it works – many people believe it. It is doubly unfortunate, therefore, that this lying ‘in spirit and in fact’ extends well beyond the mercenary and cut-throat worlds of advertising and glossy magazines. Consider government health warnings on cigarette packets. If you smoke you can get painful, humiliating, or disfiguring diseases that can be fatal. This is all very frightening until you ask, “How many of us don’t?” We all die. Few of us are lucky enough to die in our sleep. Most of us die from some kind of lingering malady. If you drink, don’t imbibe more than twenty-one units in a week. Heavy drinking can lead to liver failure and death (unless you’re a famous footballer of course). Both of these aberrant behaviours can lead to all sorts of terrible illnesses ranging from impotence to heart failure. Again, such warnings ignore the fact that avoiding such habits does not result in endless perfect health. You are going to get sick and die anyway, and not at the age of ninety-two with your nurse bouncing up and down on your willy. But ignoring this fact is carried on through to our health service with horrible results. This seeming inability accept the inevitability of death (which admittedly has always been a human trait) has resulted in a health service that refuses to give us an easy way out and, with increasingly poisonous treatments, prolongs the horrible process. Get yourself a painful lingering terminal illness, and you can guarantee that the NHS will extend your suffering for as long as possible. Your only way out would be to suck on the exhaust of your car but, unable to drive that you sold it years ago, or perhaps cut your wrists, if your hands didn’t shake so much. But neither are really viable while you are trapped in a hospital bed. Your dignity is irrelevant, of course. How dare you, by your very presence, prove that none of us lives forever? How dare you be old or ill? How dare you die?