Sunday, 20 December 2015

New Job, Christmas Loudness and Two Lovely Animals, Seasonally Snowed.

It’s been a strange set of times recently.  

There’s me undergoing a huge life change.  First outside the home job in 6 years, up at 5 a.m., back between 6.45 and 7.30 p.m., depending on the traffic or the invisible bus paradox, or the sudden cancelling of the exact train I was waiting for phenomenon.  A job where I’m around people all day (from relative solitude), to speaking to people all day (ditto), and then travelling for up to 4 hours a day (which is sometimes rather annoying, and would be very bad if I felt ill; but it’s very good for being alone [ish], and reading).  I am in a world full of small details, and procedures.  On the one hand this is comforting, I like to have processes around me to follow.  On the other hand, not being able to plainly speak my mind on solutions, outcomes etc…that is more…I am NOT going to say ‘challenging’, because (a) I hate what’s been done to that word, and (b) that does, in the new definition of that word, describe some of my customers, so I’ve ring-fenced (hee hee more jargon) that word for this purpose now.  No, not being able to cut through the vagueness and obtuseness of what I am saying sometimes makes me irritated: saying how something actually *is*, regardless of whether this will be liked, is a quicker, cleaner way of dealing with things.  Sometimes.  But not to be done.  Till I learn a more Sanza (see Game of Thrones, the books people, not the TV series) way of speaking, I will have to throttle my directness and carry on saying what’s needful, but feels a bit unclear.

When I get home, I catch up on the news.  The world has gone, it would appear, madder than usual in a bad way.  I can’t decide how much of that is down to reporting habits, fear mongering and the way the establishment wishes us to be perceiving whole groups of people and countries, for their own ends (i.e if we’re scared enough of them, we’ll stand by and let the government/s do whatever they want to those people and countries, usually for reasons other than those stated, for mineral or oil resources, for trade) – and how much is simply what’s happening.  I observe a dimming and a blurring going on between the bare facts (as much as they can be gathered) of what occurs when things happen, and then a bias, editorialising opinion-making reporting of these events.  So often I see opinions passed off as facts.  I see primary and secondary sources conflated.  I see things taken for granted that aren’t at all, things to be taken for granted.  I see that saying to myself ‘follow the money’ when I watch ANY news story still bears more fruit when finding motivation for slant and attempts to brainwash the viewing public to a gut-feeling point of view that seems so simple and common-sensical but evades even the barest deeper analysis.  Things are rarely black and white.  They are really annoyingly gradiated between grey, black, white, fog.  

Increasingly, bearing the insanity that is being portrayed to us in mind, I look to what I genuinely see around me.  People just wanting to get on and live their lives.  True, they don’t want to be interfered with much, specially by people they don’t know, or ‘figures of authority’, but at the same time – most people I meet and see behave decently.  They help when someone slips in the street.  They run after someone to give a dropped purse or wallet back.  If someone doesn’t have enough money to pay for something in a supermarket queue, and is fumbling with change and looking horribly embarrassed, your average person quietly gives over some money if they have it, with soft spoken words, trying to mitigate the horror of being helped by a stranger, “no no, don’t worry – you’d do the same for me…you could be my nan/my sister/my daughter…” etc.  This idea of chaos beating on the walls (the literal walls if some people had their way) around us, I don’t see it in our lives, not the way it’s painted.  I see a lot of quiet poverty, degrees of poverty, degrees of desperation, degrees of very difficult compromise.  But I don’t see humans as the worst kind of ruthless animals.  I don’t see yet, that Dawn of the Dead (the original, please - and that link there is an interesting article, go see) is true.

Saying that: I have felt a bit bombarded by consumerism this year.  Maybe it’s because I have been massively taken up, first with jobhunting, and then with doing this huge learning curve of a job.  The long commute.  The job has swallowed me whole, I’m not yet properly rebalanced.  Home is a mirage where I sleep worriedly, dreaming about callers and things they may say that I don’t yet know the answers to.  I wake up wondering how close to 5 a.m. it is.  But Christmas appeared to start in September, didn’t it?  That’s when I first heard carols in the shops.  And shortly after, the decorations began.  Then there was the whole imported ‘Black Friday’ thing the other week.  I was sitting in any old shopping centre in workplace area, having some quiet (ha ha) time away from the phones with my lunchtime sandwich, listening to announcements about DEALS, and registering that foot traffic was way up on usual for the time of day.  People pushing past one another, looking focussed, harassed and rather grumpy – not happy, I’d say, about DEALS, with many many bags.  I’m completely skint till my first paypacket, so I wasn’t taking part.  Did most of my Christmas shopping earlier, in anticipation of future skintness.  But every day, the carols seemed to get louder and more intense.

By the time I took Fluffhead to the Whitgift Centre in Croydon, I was feeling, and it sounds stupid, yes I know it does, attacked by Christmas being pushed at me as shopping and a feeling of forced jollity.  Adverts about family get togethers, huge boards advertising Sky movies, where sad things happened before families got together at the end and smiled while wearing green and red and surrounded by sparkling oh so sparkling and tinkly silver and gold things.  There were live carol singers, one week from a church outreach, another time from a homelessness project.  That was nice, hearing real voices sing.  But they fought against the taped and piped voices.  The mixing of genres.  ‘Santa Baby’ fought against ‘Good Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ against ‘Do They Know Its Christmas Time At All…’  Everything was shining at me, everything so loud.  Try a chocolate, try a mincepie, get your Sky package for Christmas!  This all MUST have been here in previous years, perhaps it’s simply that I’m very tired all the time at the moment – but I have never felt more Bah Humbug.

It’s not that ‘the real meaning of Christmas’ is getting lost.  Of course it IS, in the sense that it’s a Christian religious festival, I’m not Christian, I don’t go along with the idea, it belongs to them, not me[1].  It is lost in the sense that their Jesus didn’t pop down to remind us to not miss Black Friday and get our Sky package.  So yes, that’s a bit of a travesty.  But it’s perfectly possible to borrow lightly from the Christian festival, and come out with a pleasing secular idea of Christmas involving emphasis on giving things to people cos it makes you feel happy to do so.  Giving things to charities and those who have less (ditto, don’t pretend to be selfless; think of it as enlightened self-interest instead – there by the grace of whichever god go I etc).  Decorating because it’s fun to make a fuss of certain days – and it’s nice to celebrate red and gold and green and silver and make things sparkle. It’s nice to have friends and family over if you like and see them and maybe cook them dinner if you’d like to.  (Notice how lovely and ‘if you like’ that all was.  Ahhhh, if only.)  It’s nice and fun and good for us to be grateful for what we have, what we’ve been given, and to try and see the goodness in people.  Nice to see the wonder of the world and each other.  

I think both the Christian Christmas and the secular Christmas are being a bit bombarded by the COME AND BUY STUFF AND EAT FAR TOO MUCH  AND BE WITH YOUR WONDERFUL FAMILY THAT YOU *ADORE* messages.  You KNOW something is wrong when you start thinking the misery of an Eastenders Christmas Day episode is both more naturalistic and preferable than the saccharine and manipulative images you’re being forcefed are!  I really will do muchos shopping earlier than ever next year, and online.  It’s just not fun shopping (or just being out) when everyone is all stressed out and spending too much and grumpy and harassed, and all the children are really tiresome from waiting in line for 2 hours to get a present from Santa’s Grotto.  (Fluffhead did really well, actually.  He was only naughty twice, and most of the time was highly amused to watch some people dressed as reindeer on stilts wafting about.  WHY were they???  And a man in a bear costume collecting for a charity in a bucket, whose head was obviously on slightly wrong, so that he couldn’t see any of the children milling around before and below him tugging on him and waving at him, and was just wandering up and down, looking, even though I couldn’t see his face, dejected.  It was in the shoulders.)

I think it may have jinxed me, writing that post all those years back about how I loved Christmas when everyone around me didn’t much.  (See here – it is wonderfully enthusiastic.)  Since then, I have not had one Christmas that hasn’t been a bit odd.  Mum’s car accident that year (where she sat in terrible pain through Christmas dinner because the paramedics had missed the fact she had a broken collarbone, and then she was very sick after dinner, and eventually we ended up in Casualty).  This year, Stanley’s father has died not very long ago, so we appear to be still doing Christmas, though its chances of being anything other than strange, dour and gloomy are slight, as any forced occasion is.  That’s the really weird thing about Christmas – the way people seem to think they MUST do it in some way shape or form, even when it’s not appropriate for them at that particular time, because of its connotations of jollity and familial closeness.  My mother has been trying to have an alone Christmas ever since my dad died in 2008.  She just wants to rest and be quiet on that day and not have the pressure of everything unless she *chooses* it.  But every year it’s either been her here, because Stanley or I have been sick, or Fluffhead is too; or she’s had to go to her brother’s (a noisy extended family thing, several children).  Stanley and I are doing Christmas because of Fluffhead – if you do it lightly, its very fun for the little ones (he and I used to do our own kid Christmas brilliantly, as 2 overgrown children together).   

But we aren’t feeling it this year.  And that’s alright.  That will happen sometimes.  I shall stick with wonder at the natural world, and loving the green and red and gold and silver.  Not as dictated to me by others, but just because they really are beautiful.

 Image from:

I am definitely off-balance at the moment though.  I’ll show you what I mean.  An incident from a couple of weeks ago.  You know when you feel you’ve made a connection with people, and you’re wrong?  That feeling?  Embarrassment, isolation, not exactly loneliness, but out of placeness?
There’s these Eastern European young men I see in Costa every morning at the station.  They get there either before me or very shortly after me.  Very young, early 20s.  Something very isolated about them too, just as there is about most Eastern European people I see, as if they are still partially elsewhere.  I don’t know if that’s because they wish they were elsewhere, or can’t forget good or bad things that happened elsewhere, or if we haven’t made them feel very welcome, or likely, a combination of all three.  They are always glued to each other talking in their own language, these two, separated from the rest of us, who are not talking all in the one language.  It must be nice, for privacy, to have another language, like being in another room without having to be.  I feel a sort of siege mentality from them sometimes.

I had occasion to speak to them one day a while back, I dropped something or they did or someone minded someone’s stuff while someone got more coffee or went to the bathroom.  They were all smiles and helpfulness; a real difference in their faces.  Lovely to see. Their reserve vanished on speaking to them.

Anyway.  They are too clean and well dressed to be construction workers.  Too casual and loose for office workers.  No bags with books and folders, so not students.  I wonder what they do, now they have piqued my interest by being so friendly suddenly.  

On the first day I was here at the coffeeshop after the minding or borrowing (which was it?), I smiled and nodded at them, and there began the daily smiling and nodding.  They usually left before me, so we always had the smiling and nodding on the goodbyes, as I sit by the exit so they come past me to leave.  Nothing more than that.  They don’t look for me, but when they do see me, they smile and wave, before becoming a mysterious and foreign speaking unit again.

As a person new to the area, new to my job and this entire section of my life, these small and apparently meaningless encounters MEAN something to me.  Same people everyday on the train platform; these men in Costa; the woman on the bus going home in the evening who recognised me: they make the start of routine, of familiarity.  Small patches of warmth in an uncertain and cooled newness.

So this morning, I stood in the queue for my coffee with the younger of the two men.  The one I think of as more mischievous and quick with his movements.  The other strikes me as more solid and dependable.  (Oh, first impressions – wouldn’t it be so funny if I was completely wrong?!)
He said hi.

I said “Hi!” back.  Bright smile.

“How are you?”  He says politely, eyes (I should have been warned) far away.

I make an extreme tired face.  He looks a little bit bored, but understanding, and mimes it back.

 “My shift is changing, so I won’t be seeing you guys after next week.”  I add.

He looks like I just said far too many words.  An expression passes over his face and I can’t decide if it’s pure boredom that that woman in the coffeeshop is speaking to him, or whether I just spoke so fast that I went further than his ability to process English.  I gibberished, maybe.

However, he’s still looking at me, so I try again, and repeat it a bit slower, with the chaser, “so I’ll be here much earlier, catching an earlier train; gone earlier.”

I really don’t know what I was expecting here.  A falling to the ground in abject sorrow with weeping and wailing, that they won’t be able to say hi to me in the morning.  That we’ll never be able to go beyond saying ‘hi’, to actually being acquaintances, progress to small talk.  I had a fond (and no doubt highly dubious) imagining that we’d eventually small talk ourselves to where they were from, and they’d teach me small throwaway phrases in that lovely language they speak so earnestly.  That I could ask them what they do here, and there would be no more mystery.  That they might laugh with me about how if it’s very windy or very rainy, I will get lots of calls about nothing but weather related damage all day, so that I feel like a barometer now when I’m out, keeping one eye always on the weather.  Oh the indignance of fallen trees.  Or if it snows, there will be 100 righteous demands for residential road gritting.  The little silly things that make up conversations.  The beginnings of connections with fellow humans.  Just a warm smile and slight, if thoroughly shallow, understanding of another’s life and current experience.  All stuff that’s fascinating to me.

Anyway.  So he looks like I said too many words again.  Not exactly irritated, but tired and surprised.  I say the thing about the earlier train.

I think I wanted him to say, like a polite old style English person would (see – cultural difference, that’s a hole easily fallen into): “oh no, shame, it’s been nice seeing you every day – hope all goes well for you, good luck, and bye!” – something like that?!  And I would ask where the beautiful accents come from, just to satisfy my endless curiosity.

Instead, he just continues to look completely nonplussed, a hassled barista gives him his coffee, and he nods at me in a brusque way with eyes averted, and goes off to his table.

I feel confused.  (Which is not exactly an uncommon state of affairs for me.)

Obviously I completely misjudged either his English, or his interest in any talking at all.  I hope he didn’t think I was flirting?

I’m an inveterate talker to people.  I’m usually pretty good at reading bog off signals too.  In the world of scary new job, where everyone is nice but I am waiting to fall flat on my face (and I will, because the training is huge and extensive but rushed and there’s not been enough consolidation time) – tiny scrappets of smiles and warmth were helping.

I realise I definitely did misjudge something, and all my usual waiting feelings of my out of placeness rise up.  I take my own coffee and deliberately go and sit down somewhere where I can’t see them and have my back to where they are.

Better they just go back to nodding and so do I.  I read my kindle.  When they leave, before me, as they always do, the solid more dependable one makes a point of saying ‘hi’ and ‘how are you’, but now I am hearing it sounding just like polite boys taught to not be rude by someone when small.  Just something you say (and something people never seem to want the actual answer to, which always perplexes me).  I have developed the habit of just smiling when people ask me that, then asking them back, or complimenting them on something (never hard to find something nice to say about a jacket or hair or pendant or just looking well).  It’s like a hurdle you have to get past, before you can have an actual conversation with people.

Its times like this, me thinking like this, that I miss Fry most.  His total unabashed social awkwardness mixed with a testosteroney ‘oh fuck it’ disposition.  He would have understood my reaction to this small and stupid exchange, my misreading of the situation, feeble attempts to make a tenuous connection.  And he would have shrugged at the end, at my sadness at the misunderstanding.  He would have said something to make me laugh.

In this new world, I keep hallucinating Stanley and Fry around the place.  When I’m in the shopping centre at lunchtime eating my pack lunch – on the one hand blessedly alone; on the other isolated and cut off in an invisible bubble, I see them out of the corner of my eye, going past, coming or going.  As if they just went for coffee and will be back in a minute.

I hold the images of them close.  Pretend it’s so and they are here.  I feel the warmth of Fluffhead on my lap having the ‘dressing hug’ he always stops in the middle of dressing to have, one of the best hugs of the day.  He’s not there, but I feel it.

It’s because I’m so tired I am feeling like this, and out of kilter this way; attaching vast significance to small incidents, small feelings.  Always the same.  Remember the tiredness factor. 

Finish the coffee. Off to work.  Do my best, try to help the people.  Be kind, be polite, be present.  And feel the invisible hugs.

See?  I’m not quite right at the moment and have to bear it in mind and be slow, be calm and be careful.

I had a wonderful time yesterday afternoon with Rosa, my closest Green Party friend, writing a small analysis of COP21 for the Sutton members newsletter.  There, I felt competent and calm.  We worked beautifully as a team, suggesting phraseology and where to put each point so it all flowed clearly and usefully.  She finds me funny, laughs at my silly jokes.  She’s ill, but exudes so much joy and energy (even when she can’t hold up her own head because she’s so tired) that whenever I leave I feel buoyed up and more able to take life as it comes, and see the happiness all over the place, the waiting of smiles.  There’s a Spirit of Christmas.  And people like that are All Year.  

I know many people who do their best in this totally confusing world with its contradictory messages.  Time Traveller, writing now her third book, always seeking answers, always questioning.  Alias True, with his willingness to overthink with me to a place of calm and plateau, where we look down and see events and the world for the lessons they all are.  They’re just the two who pop to mind immediately.  I think the world is a better place than we are told, despite all the nastiness definitely going on.  Much to hope for, much to believe in and work toward.

Strange and interesting times, for sure.  Hold fast, hold steady, be kind.  Be calm.  Out of the corner of my eye, Fluffy Cat who has been clawing the smallest tree in the garden, jumps three feet up in the air, which is quite miraculous seeing as she’s immensely huge, and then leaps sideways with a bit of a screech and dives into the hedge – gone.  Ehem.  Yes.  Be calm.  Do not follow the Ways of This Cat.  Or you will need much Brushing, Later.

Have a lovely Christmas, and a Peaceful New Year.

[1] Yes yes yes, don’t get me started on the pagan stuff came before the Christmas stuff and it’s all the same.  Yes, I know that.  For the purposes of this comment, I’m speaking as a person living in a nominally Christian country, where there’s been some strong arming of the ‘spirit of Christmas’.  Back to the main point.

Friday, 18 December 2015

Blog Problems!

Since I've now got a full time out of the house job (with a 3 and a half hour commute daily), its proving very difficult to get the small bits of free time together to do a blog in anything like a regular manner.  Muchos apologies.

I'm sure you will have noticed for some time, that I was having trouble with the blog anyway - so many guest posts, by my most excellent friends; which were a result of me being so stressed and tired while job hunting, that I had increasingly little to say.

Oddly, even though my new job is also very stressful (massive learning curve that won't be over anytime soon, plus targets, KPIs, SLAs and all manner of other measuring - some of which clash with other objectives...not to mention I'm customer facing and some of them are...'challenging'), its given me a new perspective and a new energy to want to blog again.

But hardly any time when I'm not exhausted in which to do it.

For instance, had my first day off today (also childcare, but some time to do me things), and I suddenly fell into this hole of knackeredness.  This despite the fact I got to 'lie in' till 6.45 a.m.; as I have to be up at 5 a.m. on workdays.  I had heaps of home stuff to do on my nice oganised list - and getting a blog piece up was one of them.  I had hand written the peice in question on the bus the other day, on a day when I didn't feel like reading (I am getting a crapload of reading done!).  It *was* a little mournful and overthinky, as so many of my posts (and thinkings generally) are, but it was the first slice of life thing I'd done in ages, and I was eager to get it up here. 

Then today...and after my errands and docs appointment...I just...ground to a halt, after loading the washing machine.  I came and sat at the computer and thought about typing and the tiredness washed over me.  After many attempts to do other relaxing things - I went and had a small nap, which did help.  Only now its too late to do anything, its making dinner time and doing Fluffhead again time.  So that's that.

So just to let you know - I'm trying to work out a way to keep at it.  There will still be book and TV/film rambles; still some creative type writing diary stuff, still some essays on literature here and there, and ....whatever the hell else I was managing to put out when my friends weren't helping!!

But there may be a bit of a lull whilst I get into this new rhythm, this new pattern. So watch this space, but in a calm and not pressurised sort of way.  Feel free to pop out for tea, or go and do some Xmas shopping.  (Ah yes: Christmas.  Not feeling it this year.  Never mind, I hope lots of others are.)

And I will see you all again soon! 

Friday, 20 November 2015

Dr. Mike Goldsmith, Part 2 on Pluto - Science Fiction about the existence of Plutonians!

When Pluto was discovered in 1930, most astronomers believed there was life on Mars and perhaps on Venus. But Pluto was so cold that no-one seriously believed it was inhabited. One of the few astronomers who seriously entertained the idea was George Van Biesbroeck of Yerkes Observatory, who speculated “[If] there is a form of life on the new planet we can be sure it is totally different from that on the earth.”

Fiction writers, however, had been given a whole new world to play in, and a steady stream of Plutonians appeared in fiction. The first appearance of Pluto as an inhabited planet was in H P Lovecraft's The Whisperer in Darkness, written in September 1930 though not published until the next year. However, the creatures who lived on Pluto were not born there - Pluto was far too parochial for Lovecraft's monsters, and was just a stopping-off point : "Their main immediate abode is a still undiscovered and almost lightless planet at the very edge of our Solar System—beyond Neptune, and the ninth in distance from the sun. It is, as we have inferred, the object mystically hinted at as 'Yuggoth' in certain ancient and forbidden writings; and it will soon be the scene of a strange focussing of thought upon our world in an effort to facilitate mental rapport. I would not be surprised if astronomers became sufficiently sensitive to these thought-currents to discover Yuggoth when the Outer Ones wish them to do so." The creatures call themselves the Mi-Go, and are "a sort of huge, light-red crab with many pairs of legs and with two great bat-like wings in the middle of the back."

True Plutonians were introduced in 1931 by Stanton A Coblentz in his novelette Into Plutonian Depths. It is the first story to be set on Pluto, but there's nothing much to distinguish the setting from Earth; though dim, chilly and bleak, the air is breathable, the gravity is the same as Earth's and thick furs are all that is required to keep the two visitors from Earth comfortable. They reach Pluto by coating their vessel with a substance that cuts off gravity - the very same means that H G Wells used to get his visitors to their otherworldly destination in his 1901 novel The First Men in the Moon. In both books the travellers comprise a brilliant scientist-inventor accompanied by a man-in-the-street companion. In both, too, the inhabitants of the world they visit are frail and spindly underground dwellers (which makes good sense in a low-gravity lunar setting, but not on Coblentz's Pluto, with its Earth-normal gravity).

The Plutonians are equipped with natural lanterns on their heads which have been evolved to illuminate the dark tunnels they inhabit (a problem Wells solved by means of a luminous liquid flowing round a system of underground channels). The lamps also glow with different colours according to the emotions of the Plutonians. There are three genders on Pluto: male, female and neuter. The neuters are surgically produced and held in great esteem because only they have the necessary freedom from sexual impulses to become great scientists or poets. 

 Stanley Weinbaum's The Red Peri is the first story set on Pluto to take into account known conditions there - such as they were in 1935, when the story was written. All that was certain about Pluto were the size and shape of its orbit and its dimness - which meant that it could not possibly be a large, brightly reflective world like its neighbour Neptune. If it was as reflective as the other planets, it must be tiny (which turned out to be correct). If it were as large as Neptune - or even as the Earth - it must be a very dark world. This is what Weinbaum assumed: a coal-black planet, somewhat bigger than our own, with a gravitational pull on its surface about 20% higher than on Earth. And cold - as cold as anything that far from the Sun must be. Weinbaum gives a temperature of 10 "degrees absolute" (i.e., 10 kelvin), a temperature at which almost all gases would be frozen. Since helium would not be, Weinbaum assumes a thin atmosphere made of this gas. In fact, Pluto is slightly more hospitable than this, with a mean temperature of 44 kelvin, though with a much thinner atmosphere than Weinbaum guessed at (a maximum of 0.008 millimetres of mercury compared to his value of 5 millimetres - both so thin as to be practically un-noticeable to someone from Earth, where the sea-level air pressure is around 760 mm).

Designing an aggressive alien life form for such an unpromising environment must have been a challenge for Weinbaum, which he met by cleverly introducing a crystalline something on the borderland of the biological and the purely chemical, like a giant version of a virus. There are many kinds of these "crawlers", each with a particular kind of food, including sulphur, iron, and aluminium. Black crawlers eat carbon - and therefore human flesh. The crawlers make a distinctive crackling rustling sound as they move and, if stepped on, flash with blue sparks.

Although no-one's found any giant viruses yet, by a weird coincidence of names, plutonium does behave a little like a black crawler: if provided with oxygen, it grows larger and crackles and sparks as parts of it catch fire. And it's lethal, too.

Frank R. Paul, one of the greatest science-fiction artists of the 1930s and 1940s, painted a series of back covers for Fantastic Adventures pulp magazine. In February 1940, Pluto was the setting, occupied by creatures that were half-human, half-bat. According to the accompanying text, while these Plutonians might be highly intelligent, they might also be mad cannibals, attacking any visitors who approach the machines that provide them with heat and water from deep inside Pluto.

This last detail is spot-on : if there ever are any colonists on Pluto, they will have limitless supplies of both water and heat from underground.

E E "Doc" Smith's book First Lensman (1950) features a brilliantly weird alien on Pluto, with a constantly shifting appearance "now spiny, now tentacular, now scaly, now covered with peculiarly repellent feather-like fronds, each oozing a crimson slime." The alien actually originates on the extrasolar planet Palain Seven, which is as cold as Pluto. Palainians can live only on such cold planets, and are (at least) four-dimensional. They are also telepathic, and this particular alien, most unusually for the time the book was written, is female.

Larry Niven's 1968 short story "Wait it out", includes a giant land-dwelling amoeba. Unfortunately, we don't find anything much out about it and it is only briefly glimpsed.

The brilliant Robert Silverberg was the first author to introduce an alien with a fully thought-out physiology. In his 1978 novel World's Fair 1992, human explorers encounter a crab-like dweller on the shores of Pluto's methane seas, based on carbon chemistry, electrical energy, superconducting nerves and superfluid-filled veins. The same creatures appear in Silverberg's short story "Sunrise on Pluto" (1984).

(Superconductivity is a phenomenon which occurs in many materials when they become sufficiently cold. All resistance to the flow of electricity ceases, and electrical currents flow endlessly. Superfluidity is a rarer condition, in which extremely cold liquids flow, spin or slosh endlessly. Actually, even Pluto is far too hot for any material to be either superconductive or superfluid, with one exception : hydrogen sulphide. However, this only becomes a superconductor at extremely high pressures).  

Gregory Benford's 1990 novel Sunborn is the first to be told (partly) from the point of view of creatures who live on Pluto. The Zand are intelligent walrus-like creatures who lead a precarious existence in the frigid marshes of Pluto, their lives focussed on obtaining enough warmth to survive the long Plutonian nights. There is a great deal more to their story than that, but I don't want to spoil a book well worth reading.

The latest story of Plutonian life (as far as I know) is Stephen Baxter's "Gossamer" (1995), which sounds like a fairy tale in summary : a cobweb spun between Pluto and its enormous moon Charon. But it's based on an actual feature unique in the Solar System : there really is a place on Pluto where, if you looked straight up, you would see a particular location on Charon. And you would always see that same spot, whatever time of day or day of the year you looked. The Sun and stars and planets and Pluto's other four moons would spin and wheel around you, but that one point would remain fixed - so, a rope ladder could join Pluto and Charon. Or a cobweb. We never meet the web-spinners, but their nests of icy eggs are found under Pluto's frosty surface.

So what about the real Pluto? Is life there possible?

Now that the New Horizons spacecraft has visited the dwarf planet, we know that the answer is yes.

As far as we know there are just four requirements for life to evolve from chemicals :
carbon, a source of energy, liquid water and a safe environment.

There is certainly plenty of carbon on Pluto : we have known that carbon dioxide is present on Pluto since 1992, when the first precise infrared observations were made. Carbon monoxide was found in 2011. Life on Earth is based on organic molecules, which contain hydrogen as well as carbon and oxygen, and these are also plentiful on Pluto. Ethane, the simplest organic chemical, was detected in 1999. This year New Horizons added acetylene and ethylene to this list.

Energy? The greatest single discovery made by New Horizons is that Pluto contains a rich source, originating deep below the surface. In other worlds, such internal heating is common, the result either of lingering heat from formation, the tidal effects of orbiting bodies, the decay of radioactive materials, or collision with meteorites or larger objects. None of these can fully account for Pluto's sub-surface heat, but the recent discovery of ice volcanoes show that there is (or was) at least enough underground power to melt parts of the underground ice layer, providing the third requirement for life. It may be that there is a whole ocean under Pluto's ice crust, as is known to exist on at least two moons in the Solar System (Enceladus and Europa).

Whether Plutonian water is to be found in isolated pockets or global oceans, such environments are safe ones, in that they are fully shielded from the solar ultraviolet radiation that illuminates Pluto each day.

Could life really evolve in Pluto's sunless depths? Possibly : on Earth, there are colonies of living creatures close to underwater volcanic "springs" called black smokers which need only the warmth and organic chemicals to survive, and the theory that all life on Earth evolved from another kind of deep-ocean spring is as well-regarded as any other.

So, life is possible - but do we have any direct evidence that it exists? The answer to that is "not yet." Methane is produced by all sorts of living things, from cows to cowries and from humans to humming birds (weirdly enough, the majority of the methane produced naturally on Earth comes from termites). And there is a great deal - billions of tonnes, probably - of frozen methane on Pluto. The reason that there have been no headlines screaming LIFE ON PLUTO! is that methane can be produced in many other ways too, without the involvement of living things. From a given sample of methane, one can't tell how it was made. But there is one key difference : when methane is produced by chemical reactions, almost invariably a lot of other organic chemicals form as by-products. You and I, on the other hand, while being very efficient methane factories, are not really in the business of making much else in the way of simple organic chemicals. So, if it turns out that Pluto is a smorgasbord of organics, the likelihood is that chemistry is the source. But if there's little but methane, a biological source would be a distinct possibility. The answer may lie in the reams of data making their sluggish way across the Solar System from New Horizons. It will be almost a year before all of it reaches Earth, and probably months more before the process of chemical auditing is complete. Then we might just see those headlines after all... 

So, one more question : if there really are Plutonians, what might they be like? It depends mainly on how long they have been there. On Earth, all living things were single-celled for over three billion years. We don't know if that is typical but it would be risky to assume that complex creatures could evolve much faster. So, assuming Pluto does have a sub-surface ocean, has it been there long enough for life (if it developed there at all) to evolve beyond the simplest structures?

This takes us back to the reason for the ocean being there at all: Pluto's mysterious internal heat source. In the absence of evidence of any recent cause, the best guess is that, whatever that source is, it has been there since Pluto's earliest ages - perhaps four billion years ago. Plenty of time, therefore, for evolution to run its course.

And the outcome of that evolution? We can only guess, but we do know that the living things in the coldest of our own seas are very slow, very old - and very large.

If you'd like to follow this story over the coming months, keep an eye on

And if You'd like to buy Dr Mike Goldsmith's book on Pluto, check here, where I linked it in the first part of this blog: