Archive for June 7, 2012

STFC Programmatic Review

Posted in Science Politics with tags , , , on June 7, 2012 by telescoper

Following hard on the heels of  its decision to close the UK Infra-red Telescope and the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope on Hawaii, the Science and Technology Fatalities Council today announced the next stage of its Programmatic Review.

STFC graciously invites your contribution to this exercise, which is to be conducted by a Mr Reaper from Swindon…


R.I.P. Ray Bradbury (1920-2012)

Posted in Finance, Literature with tags , , on June 7, 2012 by telescoper

I was deeply saddened yesterday to hear news of the death at the age of 91 of writer Ray Bradbury. The resulting wave of comments on twitter and facebook from friends and colleagues and the wider world testifies to the joy and wonder he brought into so many lives. Bradbury was so much more than a science fiction writer (although he did write great science fiction). He was a rare example of an author whose work transcended genre. His limitless imagination and fluid writing style also allowed him to make light work of that most difficult form, the short story.

One of my  very first blog posts – way back in October 2008 – was inspired by a collection of Ray Bradbury stories called The October Country.  To mark his passing I thought I’d recycle it here. World news hasn’t changed much, so it’s still relevant. Except  it’s not October. Yet.


I don’t know why I stopped reading science fiction and fantasy stories. I don’t know exactly when either. Perhaps it was a gradual thing to do with getting older. But when I was a teenager that’s the sort of thing I read all the time. I was a big fan of Michael Moorcock and read book after book of his stories, from the swords and sorcery novellas to the amazing End of Time series, and even the trippy psychedelic 1960s adventures of Jerry Cornelius. I enjoyed Tolkien, Mervyn Peake, Isaac Asimov,  Arthur C. Clarke and many others which I usually binge-read by buying everything I could find by a given author and ploughing through them one after the other.

One of the authors whose work I devoured in this way was Ray Bradbury, and his books are among the few that I still like to re-read from time to time. To be honest, I wasn’t all that keen on the pure science fiction books like The Martian Chronicles, but I loved his collections of macabre short stories. Perhaps it’s because I now know how difficult it is to write in that genre that my appreciation of his story-telling skill has if anything grown with time.

I was watching the news last night about the continuing tailspin in the world’s stock markets and it reminded me of one of my favourite collections of Ray Bradbury stories, The October Country. I rummaged around in the stacks of old paperbacks I still haven’t got around to putting on shelves – mainly because I haven’t got around to buying enough shelves – and finally located my copy. It’s a weirdly eclectic mixture of the whimsical and the frightening.

The October Country of the title isn’t a specific place. It is many places:

..a picturesque Mexican village where death is a tourist attraction; a city beneath the city where drowned lovers are silently reunited; a carnival midway where a tiny man’s most cherished fantasy can be fulfilled night after night. The October Country’s inhabitants live, dream, work, die–and sometimes live again–discovering, often too late, the high price of citizenship. Here a glass jar can hold memories and nightmares; a woman’s newborn child can plot murder; and a man’s skeleton can wage war against him. Here there is no escaping the dark stranger who lives upstairs…or the reaper who wields the world.

What binds the separate tales together is the way Bradbury conjures up an atmosphere that is both autumnal and alien, both familiar and unnerving, like that of a long-forgotten room where dust gathers on lost artefacts of the past.

But what does this have to do with Stock Markets?

The baffling thing is that the greatest episodes of spine-chilling terror that grip the stock market from time to time also always seem to happen in October. The great Wall Street Crash of 1929 happened in October. More recently, the 1987 crash known Black Monday happened in the same month. Now, in 2008, although the credit crunch has been with us for a significant time, the most dramatic drops in share prices have also been in October.

In order to find the answer to why this is the case I went to Wikianswers and discovered somebody has already posted the question, but so far there have been no answers.

Whatever it is, something about October seems to give investors the jitters.

I blame Ray Bradbury.