The Invisible Genre: How The BBC ignored SF on World Book Day

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World Book Day is a celebration of all things literary, a chance to put your hand up and say, “Hell yes, I’m a reader. Give me a book and I’ll read the living stuff right out of it!” It’s an important event that brings together writers and readers worldwide and unites them under a common, quarto-shaped banner.

But there’s a problem. Author Stephen Hunt watched the BBC’s coverage of the day, and noticed that there was something missing. Something big.

Apart from a brief mention of Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights as a YA crossover, SF, fantasy and horror were not represented. No Pratchett. No Rankin. No Tolkein or Lewis. No Iain M. Banks, no JK Rowling. No China Mieville or Joe Abercrombie. No Clive Barker, no Christopher Priest. Genres that between them take between 20 and 30% of the UK book market were roundly ignored.

I wish I could say I was shocked or surprised. The publishing world is more than happy to make money from the fantastic end of the market, but they’re not so keen on promoting it. You’ll hardly ever see SF or fantasy on the front-of-house deals at your local Waterstones unless your name happens to be Rowling or Meyer. As Hunt points out, it’s pure and simple snobbery. What’s more, it’s damaging.

The publishing industry always depicts the book as a gateway to a world of imagination, to a place of limitless possibility, of endless adventure. At the same time, the act of picking up and reading a novel is considered to be an act that is good for you, in the same way as running twice a week or eating a high-fibre cereal for breakfast. It’s an educational action, a pathway to moral improvement and good citizenship. In some ways, you can be defined by what, and how much, you read.

The perception amongst most mainstream critics is reading SF, fantasy and horror is not an improving activity. That these books are of low character, of dubious morality. That somehow you will put the book down, and not gain the insights into the world and it’s people that you would if you’d only pick up something by Margaret Atwood. Or Jeanette Winterson. Or Kazuo Ishigura. Something without spaceships or aliens, clones or creatures grown from genetic experiments gone wrong.

You can see where I’m going with this, can’t you? All the above authors have written SF. They simply choose not to identify the books as such for fear of hurting their profits.

It’s the same skewed thinking that forces Iain Banks to flag his Culture novels as written by Iain M. Banks. As if they were somehow written by a different person. He at least is pushing the envelope, however gently. His latest “mainstream” novel, Transition, was an SF book in all but name, and contains references to a culture that may be … well, The Culture. But the book is packaged and marketed in a very different way to his SF excursions. The back cover blurb calls it a “fable”.

Stephen describes SF, fantasy and horror as a “gateway drug” to the world of literature. I agree. What’s more, that’s proven to be true by one of the growth markets in the publishing sector – the young adult or YA book. This new stream is stuffed full of fantastik stories – and I’m not just talking about Potter or Twilight knockoffs. Cory Doctorow’s agit-punk books such as Little Brother and For The Win are politically driven and yet still filled with action and drama. Scott Westerfield’s Uglies postulates a world where it’s a crime to be ugly – a pointed and direct comment at the sort of world in which kids struggle with their self-image every day. YA is where a lot of the interesting stuff is happening right now.

Should I be bothered by the fact that the BBC ignored the fantastik? It’s fair to say that a lot of people do buy, read and enjoy genre fiction, and it seems to tick along quite happily without mainstream critical attention.

But a lot of truly great books, head and shoulders above the latest “contemporary” efforts in terms of literary merit, plot, character and inventiveness are marginalised purely because of their subject matter. It’s a stigma that prevents deserving authors from reaching their full potential readership. This is simply not on, and needs to be addressed.

It”s a real shame that genres need to be compartmentalised, but it’s a fact of the industry. However, the playing field should be fair. A good book is a good book regardless of where or when it’s set, irrespective of the species of the main character.

What next? Well, Stephen’s set up a Facebook page, and there’s a petition to sign. If you love SF, fantasy and horror and feel that it didn’t get a fair chance in the BBC’s coverage of World Book Day, you know what to do.

Cerise Sauvage: A History

I’ve mentioned in the past how a long walk will often suggest characters or situations to me. It’s a process I’ve likened to having someone fall into step with me and start to tell their story as we go.

I had a hospital appointment this morning, and afterwards decided to take a stroll back through Southwark, across the river to St Pauls and up the Strand, revisiting a few old haunts. Damned if I didn’t get a companion, murmuring in my head as I strode up Carter Lane. She had a name which I’d heard before.

I wrote down the things she told me in a couple of caffeinated jolts in shops along the river. I haven’t told the half of it. The name Westinghouse is mentioned at one point. Astute members of The Readership might recall I’ve talked about her before.

Meet Cerise Sauvage. She has a soundtrack that you might find appropriate.

Continue reading Cerise Sauvage: A History

Castaway: Outcasts and other science fiction deniers

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"A moving, heartfelt tale about the dark side of colonialism, and the barriers to true love."

The producers and cast of most recent TV SF shows are at pains to point out that their programme isn’t actually science fiction at all. They tie themselves in semantic knots to make sure we don’t think that their show is anything to do with that woo-woo spacy stuff. This is as true as ever when we look at the press for the BBC’s new drama, Outcasts.

Set designer James North has said “This is futuristic drama with the focus on pioneering humans who, out of necessity, just happen to be living on a planet that isn’t Earth.” Showrunner Ben Richards elaborates, making it clear that the new world of Carpathia is “… an alien planet without scary monsters. Little green men and fearsome creatures isn’t what Outcasts is about at all.”

Which to my mind is a bit of a shame. A first contact show might be more interesting than the programme we’ve ended up with, a frontier drama with a simple message. We can’t ever make a fresh start, because wherever we go, we have to take ourselves along. It’s not a new theme for an SF show. Look at Battlestar Galactica. It’s clear Ben and James have.

When a producer, writer or actor disassociates themselves from SF, they’re really backing away from the furniture. Look out for phrases like “flying saucers,” “space aliens” “ray guns,” or indeed Ben’s own “little green men.” And of course, the dreaded “sci-fi”. But at the same time they’re happy to use the tropes and themes that have been part of the genre since Wells and Verne started marking out the territory.

I guess it’s the G-word that’s the problem. Somehow the idea that SF is either kid’s stuff or entertainment for the socially inept is still a belief that informs the way films and books are marketed and sold. For “genre” read “ghetto”, and if you can make a semantic little wiggle that ensures you don’t get stacked up in the racks at the back where all the pimply, friendless people go, then so be it. This is especially important for the literary types. It’s taken the best part of thirty years for Margaret Atwood to “out” herself as an SF writer. Jeanette Winterston still has problems with the terms, although her novel The Stone Gods is set on another planet in the future.

 

It seems crazy to me. You wouldn’t set a story in Arizona in the 1860’s, populate it with cowboys, chases on horsebacks and a climactic shootout and say “oh, but it’s not a Western.* It’s a ridiculous stance, and hopefully one that’s on the way out. Michael Chabon’s alternative history The Yiddish Policeman’s Union won a Pulitzer Prize, and Justin Cronin’s apocalyptic vampire story The Passage is a genuine hit on all levels. There’s a misunderstanding about the people that enjoy SF, fantasy and horror that seems at least 30 years out of date. It makes the attempts of creators like Ben Richards all the more silly. Why would you cut yourself off from an big potential audience that can prove itself to be loyal and supportive to the right show?

The thing is, at a deep core level, Ben and James are right. Strip away the silver foil and spandex, and SF transcends it’s often low-budget set dressing. (Not an accusation I can level at Outcasts, by the way. It looks great.) SF acts as a mirror on the times in which it was created. It becomes a pretty relevant document of the hopes and fears of the generation that made and consumed it.

In the 50’s, it was all about the fear of infiltration by a foreign power and nuclear destruction. I Married A Stalin From Outer Space. Invasion Of The Atomic Leech-Women.

In the 60’s, SF began to explore the inner spaces of the mind, and the implications of massive shifts in societal influence. The first inter-racial kiss on TV was on Emergency Ward 10 in 1964, but it’s the second one that everyone remembers – on the Star Trek episode “Plato’s Stepchildren.”

In the 70s, things went dark and creepy as the promise of the Age Of Aquarius melted away, and we were left with three day weeks, Vesta curries and The Generation Game. Sapphire And Steel was un-nerving and bleak. TV’s eternal optimist Gerry Anderson went live action, and in UFO and Space: 1999 crafted shows that were in equal measure silly and almost unbearably harsh. The latter show starts with the moon being blasted out of orbit, effectively ending all life on Earth and dooming the inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha to a nomadic life. Even Doctor Who went steampunk and gothy, and featured sequences that are still carved in my psyche today.

SF’s role as social and political commentary is often overlooked, which is a pity but in some ways a major strength. The deep stuff is in disguise, the way a concerned mum will sneak veggies into a pasta sauce for her fussy kid, giving the viewer something to chew on after the end credits have rolled. But ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Ben Richards can claim all he wants that his show isn’t SF. When the first shot has a spaceship gathering speed towards a strange new world, we all know what we’re looking at. What he’s trying to make clear is that there’s meat on the bones, that his show has substance and depth. Personally, I think audiences nowadays are sophisticated enough to make up their own minds about whether a show is worth watching or not without caring about the genre.

I’ll leave the last word to Jeanette Winterson, who I unfairly sneered at earlier. She nails the argument on her website, thusly:

People say to me, ‘so is the Stone Gods science fiction?’ Well, it is fiction, and it has science in it, and it is set (mostly) in the future, but the labels are meaningless. I can’t see the point of labelling a book like a pre-packed supermarket meal. There are books worth reading and books not worth reading. That’s all.

(The quotes from James North and Ben Richards come via a Daily Mail piece on January 29th – an article I picked up via Ansible, I hasten to add.)

*Unless you’re Cormac Macarthy, I guess.

Barbarians At The Gate

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The Wheel Of Time, here we GO.

I grew up in libraries. This may seem a strange statement from the rakish man-about-town that you all know and tolerate, but it’s true. I was a bookish child. The mobile library that called once a fortnight to the small Cambridgeshire village where I spent my formative years was both fuel and engine to my imagination. Later, a long low building in Woodford was almost a second home –  a refuge, a place of discovery and contemplation, a place where I was free to simply be a reader and writer. I have held a library card as soon as I was able. I hold one now. It  gets heavy use.

I don’t really think I need to tell you what I think of the ConDem’s plans to eviscerate our library service. A better writer than I has beaten me to it anyway. Philip Pullman gave a speech last month that tells the sorry tale truthfully, with passion and anger. The whole thing is here, and I agree with every word.

Mr Pullman’s right to be furious. My home county, Berkshire, seems to have found a way not to cull their libraries. His home and my neighbour, Oxfordshire, isn’t so lucky. The number of libraries in an area that houses one of the great seats of learning on the planet is set to be halved. In Essex, one of the libraries for the chop is Woodford, my old refuge, my second home, the place where I discovered Kurt Vonnegut, Ray Bradbury, Andre Norton, Stephen King, Joseph Heller, John Irving, John Wyndham, Ramsey Campbell, Clive Barker.

The thought that kids are going to grow up in this country without the opportunity to learn, discover and grow that I had sickens and scares me in equal measure. Libraries are community spaces, somewhere safe for mums to bring their kids for story time, their internet connections vital lifelines for the 27% of British citizens that still don’t have a hookup to the web at home. Free access to news, information and education is a central tent pole of civilisation. Hacking away at it is the act of a barbarian.

Tomorrow is Save Our Libraries Day. Actions will be going on up and down the country. It’s a chance to show your local bookhouse some love. Go and join if you don’t have a card. Get something to read out if you do. Get lots out. Snag some DVDs or some music. Maybe a graphic novel or two. Use up that allowance. That’s what it’s there for.

I want to be clear on my feelings. Libraries are a light in the soul of a community, and snuffing that light is not just small-minded, short-term penny pinching. It wounds us all in ways that are hard to explain, but easy to feel.

(The excellent WW1 remix poster I’ve used as illustration is part of a set by Phil Bradley, that he put together to help publicise the issue. They’re all great, and you can check them out on Flickr here).

A Walthamstow Story (or two)

They say that you’re at least partly a product of your environment. Walthamstow, which marks the transition from East London into Essex, is the place I was born, spent a huge chunk of my most formative years, and made a home with TLC until we moved west in 2004. It’s a place that still fills me with mixed feelings, nostalgia mixed in with a sadness that the place has never really lived up to it’s potential. For a while, it was also the setting for some of my short stories. And Then I Woke Up is a Walthamstow tale, and so is the one below. They’re both pretty unpleasant. I’m not sure you can read anything into that.

The story I’m about to tell you features two of the ‘Stow’s most recognisable features – The High Street, one of the longest in Europe, and the old, grade 2 listed cinema. It’s now referred to as the EMD, but when I went it was called the ABC, and when my mum and dad used to go, it was the Granada. It’s been a fixture of the cultural life of my family for at least two generations then. The way it’s been treated over the past few years simply breaks my heart.

Read more about the cinema and the fight to save it at The Macguffins site.

Now, please to enjoy your Tale For Monday: a nasty little vignette that I call

SINGLES NIGHT AT THE ENGRAMART

(Advisory. I wrote this. There are swears and gore.)

Continue reading A Walthamstow Story (or two)

The Sunday Lao Tzu: Quiet Time

“Silence is a source of great strength.”


When I write, I like to be in a quiet place, physically and spiritually. On a day off, if I’m working on a blog post or getting some word count down, there will be no music on, and no sound to be heard apart from the soft tick of fingers on keyboard. It’s a simple fact that I’m not much of a multi-tasker, and I’m very easily distracted. It’s better for me just to switch off and work.

I find quiet time to be an important source of inspiration, too. I like to walk, wandering like a flaneur with no real sense of destination or purpose, content to see where the road leads. This will often put me in a contemplative mood. That’s the moment where ideas often arrive, or solutions to a narrative problem solve themselves. On occasion, a character has simply popped into my head and started talking. Because I’m quiet, I’m able to listen to them. Rory Armstrong introduced herself to me in this way. If I’d had headphones on, it’s likely that she would have been drowned out.

Being quiet, and open to the world around us, I think we’re much more likely to find inspiration and strength in everyday life. Sometimes, all you have to do is shut up for a minute and listen.

The Sunday Lao Tzu: starting small

(In the attempt to keep the blog fresh as I make the attempt to give you something new every day, I have decided to theme my Sunday posts arounds the teachings of Lao Tzu, the father of Taoism. Expect the Sunday X&HT to be a bit more philosophical, if not necessarily spiritual).

“All difficult things have their origin in that which is easy, and great things in that which is small.”

I don’t do new Year Resolutions, for the same reason that I no longer keep diaries. They always seem like a good idea, and I start off strongly, entering whole-heartedly into the agreement with myself to be a better person, to journal my every move. I have a stack of notebooks that have entries through the first week of January, an apologetic second burst somewhere in mid-February (when I was a teenager these usually coincided with Valentine’s Day, and consisted of bursts of woeful spite and, if things had been going really badly, love poems) then nothing. Rueful, shameful blank pages. Most of my resolutions have started and ended this way, and I view it as a sign of finally growing up that I stopped making unrealistic pledges that would be quickly abandoned.

I’ve realised that I was going about things in the wrong way. Rather than launching with both feet into a project and losing interest in the face of the hard and sustained effort that was required, I would have been better starting gently, easing into the task. This was a lesson that Lao Tzu teaches, but that Nanowrimo allowed me to apply to real life. By doing something every day, the task soon becomes a habit, then a part of your daily routine. No matter how little, the daily bit is the important bit. (Sidebar: yes, I know Nanowrimo is a 1667 word a day challenge, and that doesn’t sound like a little thing. By by breaking that task down into further 500 word chunks, it’s surprising how quickly you make your daily, weekly and monthly goals.)

The Habit is something that I hope to achieve with the PostaDay exercise. The point where I feel twitchy if there’s a danger of not posting is the point where I know I have accomplished something important.

When your objective stops being a chore, and becomes a daily pleasure, then you have succeeded in your goal.

2011: The Cleardown

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The beacon is lit. The Gateway opens. The sleeper awakes.

A sense of peace and order descends on Casa Conojito as the Xmas deccoes are packed up and put away, signalling the end of all merriness and joy for the next eleven months. It’s been a straightforward clearup, as we went minimal on the froth, frippery and frou-frou this year.

The exception to that rule is, as ever, the unknotting of the lights from the tree, a process that requires the application of non-Euclidian geometry and much swearing to complete. I was quite proud of the amount of quantum entanglement I achieved this go-round. It was an exercise in four-dimensional shared-plane dynamics that took some thought and a tearful breakdown before I applied good old Gordian theoretics to the problem and took the tree apart with the lights still attached.

Even then, the bastard things were tighter than Kylie’s dress on New Year’s Eve. The final knot-form that the lights evolved to once I had finally freed them from the tree was unsetting, otherworldly. The bundle of green wires seemed to twist serpent-like in my hands as I stuffed them back in the box. ‘Twas if somehow the form had described a pathway, a map to eldritch other dimensions. A beacon that the dwellers of these side-shifted places could follow to find their way here.

I fear for what awaits me when I go back up to the loft next Christmas. I fear that the deity whose arrival we celebrate on December 25th will not be the one we usually greet.

Ho ho ho. Cthulhu fhtagn.

This Was The Year

…that Twitter turned me into an activist.

The 38 Degrees and Avaaz guys had me signing petitions and writing angry letters to my MP (admittedly, I’ve been annoying Rob Wilson for a while now, but surely the point to democracy is to make sure your elected representative to government is aware of your needs?), forwarding links on, and in general becoming one of those people that the mainstream press like to demonise as a kneejerk reactionary. I make no apology for that. I’ve watched in horror as we ended up with a government that nobody voted for, that seems dead set on a swingeing series of cuts to essential services that is not only unjustified, but un-necessary. Not only un-necessary, but ideologically motivated. This, from Adam Ramsay on the @ukuncut blog:

…what George Osborne spotted is what right wing politicians around the world have known for the last 40 years: a disaster is a great time to radically change a country. From the privatisation of New Orleans’ schools after Katrina, to the corporate plunder of Iraq after the 2003 invasion, this trick is nothing new. Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine describes in detail how it has been used the world over.

There is a big problem. People understand this might require a big solution. And so they accept policies they would never normally countenance – policies not designed to solve the problem, but to radically change society in a way no one ever voted for.

And like this sleight of hand, Osborne’s “solutions” too are nothing new. The Conservative students I studied with at university – the generation who were born under Thatcher, and are now the researchers and aids to this government – were arguing for 30% spending cuts long before the recession. And their predecessors did too – in fact, in 1910, the Conservative Party brought down the Government rather than allow the people’s budget, the foundation of the welfare state, to pass. And they have used every opportunity since to rid this country of what they see as a dangerous socialist experiment.

And this “solution” is, of course, nothing of the sort. The idea that you solve a deficit caused by unemployment by cutting jobs is economically illiterate. Don’t take it from me – look at what is being said by the world’s leading economists, including most recent Nobel prize winners: Britain is embarking on a radical economic experiment which is not only un-necessary, but probably going to make the recession worse.

(The whole post is well worth reading if you want to whip yourself into a spiralling rage about the lies and nonsense that we are being fed about the state of our economy, it’s causes, and why the phrase “We’re all in this together” is the sickest joke of 2010.)

Twitter has also been the sharpest way to stay up to date on the happenings of the happy pranksters that have been shutting down tax avoiders Vodafone, HSBC, Boots and Topshop every weekend for a while now. Reading the streams from participants like @pennyred as stuff was happening had a giddy, unprocessed thrill to it. In events like this, the mainstream news media was left floundering to catch up.

Rest assured, there’ll be a lot more of this from me next year.

 

…that I was up on the main stage at FrightFest.

A seriously heady moment, as the writers and directors of Habeas Corpus (with the exception of Ben Woodiwiss, sadly) introduced the teaser, which was shown on the giant main screen at the Empire Leicester Square. This is a big deal, and we’re working towards getting the whole thing done in time to be screened next year. Once we can get the funding, of course… In the meantime, the final shot of the teaser is getting a rep on YouTube as “The Most Revolting Kiss EVAR”, which fills us all with a quiet sense of pride.

…that I wrote my head off.

Count ’em up. Nanowrimo and Script Frenzy this year left me with a completed 100 page graphic novel and two-thirds of a first draft of the second “Moon” novel. Five short stories. Innumerable blog posts. The thing is, I still feel like I’ve been slacking this year. God only knows what could happen if I light a fire under myself.

…that I made short films.

Dom and I finished Time Out, finally. It’s off to festivals, and we’re quietly hopeful of a screening somewhere. Meanwhile, experiments with a dirt-cheap Kodak digicamcorder and Garageband led to a flurry of creative output in July as I squirted out five short mood pieces in short order.  They were fun to do, and worked as document and commentary on a quiet moment. It’s a zen approach to film-making, and one that suits me. There will be more of these next year, promise.

…that I changed my reading habits.

Thanks to the Kindle. This thin, light, clever piece of kit has turned me back into a voracious reader and helped me to rediscover the hidden gems I had tucked in the depths of my hard drive as PDFs. My early worries about the open nature of the device were calmed as soon as I realised that it would flawlessly open just about any book format out there (and if it couldn’t I use the brilliant Calibre to convert it) and I am now a complete drooling convert. Much in the way that 2010 marked the end of my purchasing music in physical form (and, thanks to Spotify, barely buying music at all), 2011 will give the over-worked bookshelves at X&HTowers a much needed break. I’m eyeing up a couple of magazine subscriptions, as well as revisiting glorious indulgences from the past for surprisingly small amounts of money. I’m a blissful little bibliophile, I can tell you.

 

And as for 2011? Well, I want to be looking at getting something available for download on Amazon – probably Satan’s Schoolgirls as a start. Who knows, maybe even make some money off it.

Work continues on Habeas Corpus, Ghosts Of The Moon and Dom’s ongoing Banksy doco, which he hopes to have done by the end of January.

I want to start drawing more, as a complement to TLC’s interest in crafty stuff. A life drawing class is going to be vital, I feel.

 

Oh, and I pledge to blog more. No, really, I mean it this time. I’m signing up to WordPress.com’s PostADay initiative. That’s something new from me every single bloody day. You’re going to be sick of me by the the time I give up some time in February. There’s a very good chance, therefore, that X&HT will devolve into single line posts, photos and the occasional recipe. It’ll be different, that’s fur shure.

Right. 2011. Here we flippin’ well GO.

 

 

 

Kindle, Spotify and the view outside the box

TLC bought me a Kindle for my birthday. It was bound to happen. She swears by the Sony e-reader I got her last year, and both Leading Man Clive and Wetdarkandwild are advocates of Amazon’s sexy new toy.

I have to say, I love it. It’s as skinny as an overweight fashion model, perches in the hand like an attentive bird, and is almost Mac-like in it’s simplicity of use. It’s funny how many people I’ve shown it to that have begun prodding at the e-ink screen as if it’s an iPad. In a lot of ways the dedicated controls are even easier to use than the swipe-to-turn gesture that the iPhone uses on it’s Kindle app.

My one concern was that it would not be able to read the electronic library I’ve accrued over the last couple of years. This was unfounded. It’ll happily read PDFs, .rtf and even .txt files with aplomb, keeping the formatting impeccably. I have a chunk of cash to spend, which will granted mostly be going to the Kindle store, but I am still downloading and reading other formats – most notably Cory Doctorow’s new collection With A Little Help, available in all kinds of free and paid versions. I hadn’t realised just how much I had to read in electronic form. As publishing models begin to inexorably change, and readers begin to embrace new formats as a complement to the existing ones (I, for example, have no interest in reading comics and graphic novels in an e-format. I really don’t like reading things panel-to-panel, and Comixology’s Guided Technology is just infuriating) it’s going to be very interesting to see how things open up. Certainly, as a writer with a vested interest in new markets and opportunities for my work, it feels like exciting times.

With that in mind,  can I point out that this looks great on a Kindle right now?

Meanwhile, my love affair with Spotify continues, getting sloppier and ickier by the second. I have an Unlimited account, which for a fiver a month gives me all the music I can eat with none of the ads. There are some obvious omissions and holdouts on the service, of course. Most annoyingly for me, The Arcade Fire aren’t there. But then I bought The Suburbs on the day it came out so it’s no biggy.

But the point is that The Arcade Fire was one of about five albums I’ve bought this year, down from a figure that was getting up to ten times that five years ago. I have not downloaded anything from a link that does not have the creators stamp of approval, and does not put money into their pockets. I’m using sites like Bandcamp (where I discovered and bought Zoe Keating’s astonishing album Into The Trees) a lot more. Everything else has been streamed. I’ll probably treat myself to the new/old Springsteen. Apart from that, the subscription has me covered. On those rare occasions when the service does go down, I still have a hundred gigs or so of tunes in the drives. Granted, if the service is ever bought or merged (witness the reports earlier in the year that Google wanted it) it could change in ways that would make it a lot less attractive. But for me, for now, streaming this playlist to our surround amp through Airport Express and Airport, the world seems like a very big, very musical place.

For the most part I use Spotify in conjunction with music blogs like The Quietus and No Rock And Roll Fun, which broaden and open up my horizons without having to budge off the sofa. At this time of year, when all the best-of-the-year playlists come up, Spotify comes into it’s own as a way of catching up and finding new things to love.

Looks like 2011 is the year when I don’t just start thinking outside the box, but living outside it too.