Paul Southern's top 10 underground menaces | Children's books. What is it about being underground that frightens us so much? A fear of confinement or something more deeply rooted? Nearly all ancient cultures, and certainly the world’s major religions, have told us that hell is, literally, beneath our feet, a place where souls will be tortured and tormented for all eternity by Satan and his demonic minions. A large part of my new book, Killing Sound, is spent underground (the London Underground, to be precise) and was inspired by a quote I read about it from 1860: ‘The forthcoming end of the world would be hastened by the construction of underground railways burrowing into infernal regions and thereby disturbing the devil’.
Trudging down the dark, disused Tube lines with just a halo of torchlight to guide me, and with temperatures and winds falling and rising inexplicably around me, it was easy to imagine this. There is something hellish about the place. 1. 2. 3. 4. The Time Machine is one of the most influential sci-fi books ever written. 5. 6. 7. Growing up with science fiction | Television & radio.
As a child my images of a fulfilled and complete grownup man consisted of Richard Briers in The Good Life, Horace Rumpole (of the Bailey) and Doctor Who. These days, what strikes me as curious is that Surbiton, the law courts and the Tardis all seemed equally fantastic and equally plausible locales. Adulthood, I assumed, was as likely to offer you alien planets as rhubarb wine at suburban dinner parties. I had no doubt, however, as to which was the more attractive option.
From the age of four to the age of 16, I was suffused with science fiction. Aged nine, I begged my father to take me to the Classic, a flea pit with delusions of grandeur, for an afternoon screening of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. For me it was a semi-mystical experience, aided by the fact that I was never altogether sure what was going on.
Were Blake's 7 and Gerry Anderson's UFO children's TV? From the 1950s onwards, children grew up in an SF world. SF for children could simply mean SF with a child in it. And then the queen kissed the princess: fairytales get a modern makeover. Shlomo Sand: ‘I wish to resign and cease considering myself a Jew’ | World news. During the first half of the 20th century, my father abandoned Talmudic school, permanently stopped going to synagogue, and regularly expressed his aversion to rabbis. At this point in my own life, in the early 21st century, I feel in turn a moral obligation to break definitively with tribal Judeocentrism. I am today fully conscious of having never been a genuinely secular Jew, understanding that such an imaginary characteristic lacks any specific basis or cultural perspective, and that its existence is based on a hollow and ethnocentric view of the world.
Earlier I mistakenly believed that the Yiddish culture of the family I grew up in was the embodiment of Jewish culture. A little later, inspired by Bernard Lazare, Mordechai Anielewicz, Marcel Rayman and Marek Edelman – who all fought antisemitism, nazism and Stalinism without adopting an ethnocentric view – I identified as part of an oppressed and rejected minority. Does this mean I, too, must abandon hope? Mordor, he wrote: how the Black Country inspired Tolkien's badlands. “The country is very desolate everywhere. There are coals about and the grass is quite blasted and black.” So wrote Victoria, the 13-year-old princess, in her diary in August 1832 after travelling through the recently industrialised land of pits, steelworks, blast furnaces, forges and fire north-west of Birmingham – a place that was just beginning to be known as the Black Country.
“The men, woemen (sic), children, country and houses are all black,” she added, “but I cannot by any description give an idea of its strange and extraordinary appearance.” A century and a half later, Caitlin Moran’s dad had a go. As Moran recalls in her memoir How to Build a Girl, he was driving her through the Black Country to collect a poetry prize in Birmingham. Mr Moran needed to tell his precocious daughter about her native land’s history because the fires did go out all over the Black Country just before she was born. What is the Black Country now? Lordly? Black women’s sexuality has always been overpoliced. Danièle Watts is an African-American actor who starred in Quentin Tarantino’s Oscar-nominated film Django Unchained, and is currently starring in Partners, a television show on FX.
She is also in a relationship with a white man, celebrity chef Brian Lucas, and she is alleging that the Los Angeles police department detained her last week for “showing affection” to him in a public place. Watts told BuzzFeed that she had been sitting in Lucas’s lap in the car, kissing. On his Facebook page, Lucas posted a photo of Watts crying, her hands handcuffed behind her back and wrote that the police “... saw a tatted RAWKer white boy and a hot bootie shorted black girl and thought we were HO (prostitute) and a TRICK (client).” “It was humiliating,” Watts said. The incident brings up the long and tortured history of the ways in which black female bodies are perceived and translated, especially when they are in close proximity with white bodies. Are you a summer person? Because the autumn people are already winning | Emma Brockes.
Summer officially ends on Monday and, with it, the wearing of white and that feeling of being on vacation all the time. So, too, the ascendence of summer people over winter people. The calendar year runs January to January, but for many, that sinking, new-school-year feeling that comes around the first of September is the real start of the new year. How depressed the new season makes you – well, that depends largely on which season you think of as “yours”. I used to be a summer person. I used to think winter people were creepy, pale-skinned, slow-moving creatures who lived in long sleeves and probably cut up their burgers with a knife and fork.
And then I moved to New York, where the summer is as bald and unrelenting as an English winter. There’s something angry about this kind of shadeless, hot weather that the novelist Jean Rhys described as the deathliness of summer afternoons and the particular sense of doom brought on by a hard-boiled blue sky. George Orwell 'mediocre'? Should we send Will Self to Room 101? A book that changed me: we want your choices | Stephen Moss. All this month we are asking writers, critics and bibliophiles to choose the book that changed them. Colin Dexter, Margaret MacMillan, Owen Jones and Emma Brockes have already had their say; Andrew Motion, Diana Athill, David Kynaston, Linda Grant, Lucy Mangan and many others will be choosing their life-changing book over the coming weeks. But is there a book that changed your life? This thread will be open until the end of the month to give you a chance to say which book changed your view of the world.
Is there a book you especially love or which you return to again and again? The daily quiz: bells and whistles | News. Kim Dotcom: from playboy entrepreneur to political firebrand | Technology | The Observer. Yubari, Japan: a city learns how to die | Cities. Few cities in the developed world can have been put as comprehensively through the wringer as Yubari, on Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido and known in its heyday as the capital of coal. From a peak of just shy of 120,000 people in 1960, Yubari’s population plummeted to 21,000 in 1990, the year the last colliery closed and the last miners fled. It has since more than halved again, to below 10,000, as those who stayed on aged and died or drifted away in the wake of the city’s tumultuous 2007 bankruptcy.
Yubari now is a city of superlatives, mostly invidious ones. Demographically, it is the oldest city in Japan, probably the world, and possibly ever to have existed, with a median age of 57 in 2010 that is set to rise to 65 by 2020, at which time more people will be over 80 than under 40, making Yubari perhaps the world’s first pensioner-majority city. This makes Yubari fascinating as the demographic canary in the Japanese, erm, coal mine. As humanity recedes, nature returns. George RR Martin reveals why there's no gay sex in Game of Thrones.
George RR Martin: 'It's not a democracy. You can’t just insert things because everyone wants to see them.' Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian There is plenty of bloody, ruthless violence in George RR Martin's novels, and lots and lots of sex – but why is there more explicit gay and bisexual sex on display in the Game of Thrones TV adaptation than in his books? The question was asked as Martin addressed an audience at the Edinburgh international book festival on Monday night – why do his A Song of Ice and Fire novels only hint at the subject? Martin, who has two more in the series to publish, said he would put it in if it lent itself to the plot. He said the books are narrated through his "viewpoint" characters, so he was more limited than the TV shows. "Frankly, it is the way I prefer to write fiction because that is the way all of us experience life. Because none of the viewpoint characters are gay, there are no explicit gay sex scenes in the early books.
I’m a woman with severe facial hair – and zero confidence as a result. I am a 43-year-old woman with two children who bring me a lot of joy, and a partner who is a devoted father, whom I love very much. But I am very unhappy and my life is a mess. I am very lonely and have zero confidence. I have suffered from increasingly severe facial hair since my early teens. Over the years I have tried various treatments, and 10 years ago laser hair removal, which had little effect.
Although loving, my parents were not people we could confide in about personal issues. My partner has many friends and before he met me he went out a lot. I am worried that as they get older my children will suffer from not being invited to parties because I have noticed some parents at their preschool avoid me. How can I get the confidence to get into work again? I know it doesn’t seem so to you (and that’s the perspective that matters), but you’ve achieved an awful lot despite how you feel. High levels of androgens can be the result of the effect of insulin on the ovaries. The reader's editor on… the online abuse that follows any article on women's issues | Chris Elliott | Commentisfree. It was one of the more striking remarks of last week, even though it was born out of the recognition of an unpleasant theme that runs through the web. Charlie Leadbeater, a former adviser to the Labour government on the internet, was interviewed for the Guardian in connection with his report, A Better Web, for the Nominet Trust.
What he sees as the pervasive misogyny of the web is an example of how the democratising potential of the internet has not been fulfilled. "I'd love to create something like the 'Mary Beard Prize for women online' to support people who are supporting women to be able to use the internet safely," he said in the article, which was published on 8 August. A great idea and one that would win support from many editors at the Guardian who see the amount of the moderators' time spent weeding out either off-topic or offensive comments in threads attached to any article loosely related to feminism or women's issues. My top five… dystopian novels for teens | Children's books.
Theo James and Shailene Woodley in Divergent. Photograph: Everett Collection/REX 1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins This is one of the most well known dystopian books, and most others in the genre are compared to it. The trilogy tells the story of Katniss Everdeen, a 16-year-old girl living in a harsh future. The reason this book is so good and so unique is the detail put into Panem, Katniss' world, and the people who live in it. 2. This is much less well known dystopian trilogy, but still one of the best, and one that deserves a lot more popularity. The most unique thing about the dystopian world of Legend is how there are so many shocking twists about the Republic; there are dark secrets around every corner. 3. Divergent has seen a lot of publicity lately with the film released in March this year.
This is a thrilling story with action, romance and adventure. 4. This trilogy and prequel is a really interesting and different dystopia. 5. Mindfulness is all about self-help. It does nothing to change an unjust world | Suzanne Moore | Commentisfree. Most of what is wrong in the modern world can be cured by not thinking too much.
From psoriasis to depression to giving yourself a "competitive advantage" in the workplace, the answer touted everywhere right now is mindfulness. Just let go for few minutes a day, breathe, observe your thoughts as ripples across a pond, feel every sensation around you. Stop your mind whirring and, lo, miraculously, everything will improve "at a cellular level". Sorry, it's not working for me because I cannot rid myself of the thought: "Why this, why now? " What was once the province of people who had backpacked across India has been gentrified and repackaged as a great cure-all, legitimated by doctors and scientists.
The City is awash with bankers trying to quiet their minds. We know the west takes hold of eastern mysticism, ignores its history and faith and turns it into a secular and accessible pastime. It's even in art galleries. Much of the cult of mindfulness is a reaction to technology. Ben Jennings on the centenary of the first world war – cartoon. A nipple ring is a vibrator is a sex doll: why Sexpo didn't turn me on | Jessica Reed.
Remote-control operated vibrators, impotency counselling, gigantic jacuzzis, vibrating genital rings, spinning sex swings, and a dizzying amount of cheap, made-in-China lace lingerie: from the erotic to the absurd, there was plenty for sale at Sydney’s Sexpo. I’ve never visited a huge exhibition dedicated to sex, and I didn’t know what to expect. Would the visitors be shoddy individuals with wandering hands – the kind you meet in the subway, publicly masturbating as you take the second bite of your morning croissant? As it turns out, I had little to worry about. According to the organisers, more than half of Sexpo’s visitors are women. Sensuality and intimacy, however, were in short supply. I found this to be the most disheartening aspect of the exhibition, the final nail in the coffin of an entirely commodified sexuality.
But I still found it hard to be aroused by toys or performers that are so readily available: there’s no chase, no mystery, no crescendo. The case of baby Gammy shows surrogacy for the repulsive trade it is | Suzanne Moore. At the age of 21 Pattaramon Chanbua already has two children, aged six and three. She works on a food stall in a small seaside town south-east of Bangkok.
It is an extremely hard existence. When offered A$16,000 (£9,000) to become a surrogate mother for an Australian couple she saw a way out: “The money that was offered was a lot for me. In my mind, with that money, one, we can educate my children; two, we can repay our debt.” We only know about her because of a baby boy called Gammy, one of the twins she gave birth to seven months ago. Gammy has Down’s syndrome and a congenital heart condition, and according to Chanbua, the Australian parents took Gammy’s twin sister but left him. The couple in question deny this version of events, saying that the surrogacy agency – organised out of a house in Bangkok – only knew that there was a baby girl, and did not know she had a twin brother. All of this is heart-rending: fertility tourism at its worst. Surrogacy is a moral and legal minefield. Melvyn Bragg's Radical Lives review – a Chaucerian delight | Television & radio. The death of privacy | World news | The Observer.
From private passions to sexting: how Britain's sex life has gone public. Roxane Gay: meet the bad feminist | World news. We must not look away from the crises in Africa | Maaza Mengiste. Bestselling ghostwriter reveals the secret world of the author for hire. How much is white privilege worth? Ask the woman crowdfunding it | World news. There are as many atheisms as there are gods | Andrew Brown. Most online commenters are men, so my advice to other women is: join in | Kizbot. The tech utopia nobody wants: why the world nerds are creating will be awful | JR Hennessy | Commentisfree. Loneliness: a silent plague that is hurting young people most. King's College London: world leaders in business nonsense | Aditya Chakrabortty. Mood swings? It might be more than PMS… | Society | The Observer. From prey to predator: how I got justice after sexual assault | World news. Men aren’t entitled to women's time or affection. But it's a hard lesson to learn | Cord Jefferson.
No, I won't watch that cringe-inducing viral video. I'm a better person than you | Oliver Burkeman. Why the modern bathroom is a wasteful, unhealthy design | Lifeandstyle. My son, 38, can't find a partner. Why I'd like to be … Hugo Weaving in The Matrix | Film. Treasury has not signed off on Duncan Smith's universal credit, MPs told | Society. This is thrilling life-extension news – for dictators and the ultra-rich | George Monbiot. Virginity for sale: inside Cambodia's shocking trade | Society | The Observer. The right to be forgotten will turn the internet into a work of fiction | David Mitchell | Comment is free | The Observer. You can tell the nature of the Tory party by the company it keeps | Will Hutton | Comment is free | The Observer. Caitlin Moran: my sex quest years. No regrets, say the Chinese women who chose independence over marriage. Where do atheists live? Maps that show the UK's most 'godless' cities | Cities.
Dan Savage on gender politics: 'We all get to stand up and scream and yell' The Nudie Tee: the new embodiment of sexism in sport | Lifeandstyle. The radicalisation of Samantha Lewthwaite, the Aylesbury schoolgirl who became the 'white widow' | UK news. Beauty for darker skins: readers' questions answered | Fashion. Silicon Valley's culture of failure … and 'the walking dead' it leaves behind | Technology. Should children's books have a happy ending? | Comment is free | The Observer. JG Ballard's daughter on the mother who could never be mentioned. The end of the hipster: how flat caps and beards stopped being so cool | Fashion. Loneliness is one thing. A happy loner quite another | Barbara Ellen | Comment is free | The Observer. The dolphin who loved me: the Nasa-funded project that went wrong | Environment.
Does getting a 2:2 degree hinder your career? Beware nostalgia – it's holding you back from the rest of your life | Stuart Heritage | Commentisfree. The terrifying rise of Isis: $2bn in loot, online killings and an army on the run. How to mend ... a slow computer. Fruitvale Station's Michael B Jordan: 'African-Americans aren't allowed to be real people' | Film. Belle shows that at last, cinema is catching up with black history | Andrea Stuart.