Pinpoint: How GPS is Changing Our World – Greg Milner

GPS is changing the way we live our lives, with more people using satellite technology to find their way around, track daily workouts and even catch fictional creatures out in the wild. In this new publication from Granta, Greg Milner traces the history of GPS and uncovers how it came to conquer the world.

41gsabhQ9AL._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgMost people reading this review will no doubt be doing so with their trusty mobile phone not too far away. Chances are that phone is also a smartphone equipped with Global Positioning System (GPS) capabilities. Your phone works like as a GPS receiver, communicating with a network of satellites that orbit the Earth at fixed points, transmitting signals that carry time codes and geographical data. These satellites make it possible for you to pinpoint your exact position, speed and time anywhere on the planet.

Of course, this is nothing new – GPS technology has been around for decades, so much so that, for many of us, using Google Maps is almost second nature. In fact, GPS is more far reaching than you might realise; your phone can not only help give you directions, it can also pick up data from nearby businesses. Ever walked past a shop and had Google ‘ask’ you to submit some information? This is GPS at play, used for somewhat questionable data mining. You might be surprised to learn just how many aspects of life involve elements of GPS. In his new book, ‘Pinpoint’, Greg Milner traces GPS’s extraordinary history and paints a startling picture of a world saturated by its use.

First developed in the 1950s as a bomb-guidance system and one of the pinnacle technologies of the Cold War, GPS was made available for public use in 1983 and is one of the world’s most widely used technologies. Indeed, GPS goes much further than navigation and catching digital creatures with Pokémon Go. Information from GPS satellites helps to anticipate changes in global weather systems, predicts earthquakes and hurricanes, locates natural gas and oil and is becoming increasingly popular in overseeing agricultural production – the list goes on.

However, Milner warns, while GPS has opened up a whole host of new information about our environment and created opportunities across every sector, there are questions involving its effect on human behaviour. As a population, we could be finding ourselves too reliant on GPS. Milner points to the startling new phenomenon of ‘death by GPS’ – people who have been killed by blindly following the instruction of satellite navigation systems. Even more concerning are the explanations given by those who experienced a close call with GPS. “It kept saying it would navigate us to a road,” a group of Japanese tourists in Australia explained, after driving their car into the ocean. Research has suggested that reliance on GPS could actually rearrange the grey matter in our heads.

Milner takes these concerns further and explores the potential issues with widespread GPS use, not just by individuals, but by whole societies. A single GPS timing flaw, he suggests, could bring down the electricity grid, take over electronic devices and cause havoc in the world financial system. Take into account that such ‘flaws’ could just as easily be malicious as accidental, and you have a whole new problem on your hands.

‘Pinpoint’ unearths with surprising detail the history of GPS as a technology, from its conception during the Cold War, up to its position at the forefront of technology today. Milner goes back to basics, tracing the ways in which humans have understood and navigated their own physical space throughout time, and applying the theories to the development of advanced technological systems. This book offers a striking anthropological analysis of how we, as humans, understand the world around us.

This review was first published on in print for E&T magazine

Children’s book review tour! The Griffin and Sabine Trilogy – Nick Bantock

‘All of us need to be in touch with a mysterious, tantalizing source of inspiration that teases our sense of wonder and goads us on to life’s next adventure.’  ― Rob Brezsny

Ok so these books aren’t technically children’s books; they’re very much written for adults. Instead, it’s the style of the books which is taken from traditional children’s literature – they are interactive, made up entirely of heavily illustrated postcards and private letters that you can remove from their envelopes.

I heard about this trilogy on an episode of the Books on the Nightstand podcast and knew straight away I needed to check them out. I’m always on the lookout for new things to read which are a little different; this one certainly piqued my interest.

Griffin and Sabine

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Griffin Moss:
It’s good to get in touch with you at last.
Could I have one of your fish postcards?
I think you were right – the wine glass had more impact than the cup.
Sabine Strohem

So begins this extraordinary correspondence between Griffin Moss, a postcard illustrator living in London, and Sabine Strohem, a postage stamp illustrator from the fictional Sicmon Islands.

The book is without introduction, background to the conversation, or hint as to how these two people know one another. As a reader, you begin the book in exactly the same situation as Griffin, for he also knows nothing about Sabine.

The mysterious Sabine has been linked to Griffin for many years, with the power to see his artwork through his very eyes. He struggles to believe this fact, but what choice does he have? How else would she know that he darkened the sky in his most recent painting? This begs the questions is she real? Or merely a figment of Griffins grief addled mind?

Through their correspondence Griffin gets to know Sabine, and lays bare his soul for the entire world to see. The journey through their correspondence brings them closer together, though they are separated by thousands of miles of land and ocean.

The experience of reading this book was truly amazing. I was sceptical, mainly because I knew these books had been published in the 90s but that I had somehow never heard of them until now. But I was so far from being disappointed.

As the relationship between Griffin and Sabine unfurls you are able to delve into it on such a personal level. There is something so deeply intriguing and alluring about reading the story through private correspondence, as though you can enter the minds of both Griffin and Sabine. At no point are the characters actively described in terms of appearance and yet by the end of the book I had developed a clear image of both in my mind.

The illustrations are stunning. And so they should be, drawn supposedly by professional postcard and stamp illustrators. I felt as though I could spend hours studying the images, while the text itself could probably be read in just half an hour. At times the images of the postcards seem to illustrate the passion written in the short blurbs of text.

So – you’ve been making love to me ten thousand miles away – how tantalizing.

It’s all rather steamy, I can feel myself blushing – if I feel like this what kind of affect is it going to have on Griffin?!

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Their relationship intensifies to the point that Griffin thinks himself insane, convinced that he has imagined himself a companion to sooth his troubled soul. He panics, terrified of what might happen, and attempts to break all ties with Sabine.

But she is not to be played with.

There are so many questions left unanswered. So much I want, no, need to know. Thank goodness I already have the rest of the trilogy.

Sabine’s Notebook

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Faced with the terrifying prospect of coming face to face with his own imaginary creation Griffin has fled London. Meanwhile his muse sits quietly, patiently, awaiting his return, having taken up refuge in his empty flat.

The second book is told with the same beautiful postcard and intricately decorated envelopes that make up the correspondence between the two star crossed, and, possibly imaginary lovers – but with the added bonus of doubling up as Sabine’s notebook. The pages which surround Griffin’s letters and cards serve as extra space for Sabine to doodle, sketch, wonder and muse.IMG_20150315_130227339

Griffin travels all over, Dublin, Italy, Egypt, picking his way through crumbling ruins and ancient civilisations, drawing further into the abyss of the past, running further and further away but from what? All the while Sabine sits patiently in his flat in London, or else taking the occasional excursion to more rural England, waiting for his return.

Sabine serves as Griffin’s voice of reason – guiding him on his journey, puzzling through his problems in her intricate sketches, and ultimately, leading him home to her.

The second book flings up even more questions which will leave you itching to get your hands on this third.

The Golden Mean

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Griffin is in back in London, and Sabine is back in the Sicmon Island – somehow they missed each other. But how? The final book in the trilogy sees Griffin and Sabine suffering silently against the unseen forces which keep them from one another.

‘It seems that each cannot exist in the presence of the other. Yet neither can continue without the presence of the other.’  

Sabine has returned to the Sicmon islands, she has washed her face in the sea and felt the sand between her toes, and yet she is unhappy. Her visions of Griffin’s artwork are fading, and a mysterious stranger is haunting her everywhere she goes.

The final part of the trilogy is told once again through postcards and letters, but this time the illustrations begin to take a darker form. Shadows emerge in the corners of the page, threatening to engulf that which lurks within the images. The fog leaks across the page, like that which creeps before the eyes of Griffin and Sabine, a physical representation of the dark forces at play.IMG_20150315_130321081

Desperate to be with one another Griffin and Sabine try one last time to make a connection.

Far from being a conclusion to the trilogy, The Golden Mean throws up just as many new questions as it answers old ones, and may leave the reader feeling many combinations of feelings – but I can guarantee this will not include disappointment.

From what I had heard about these books before I bought them, I expected them to be good, but not mind-blowing. I thought they would be novel – having books made out of postcards is such a quirky idea, but really, how far can a story be told in this way?

So, how do I feel now I’ve finished the books? Suitably humbled.

These books aren’t just good, they are really something special. Bantock’s artwork, imagination, and the intimacy and passion with which each letter is written combine to create a trilogy of books which really shine. The books are niche, clever and, above all, a truly epic read. I have been completely drawn in to Griffin and Sabine’s world.

I would recommend these books to crafty types, arty types, fans of children’s fiction, fans of fiction, fans of pictures books – in short, pretty much everyone, other than those who only read non-fiction.

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” ― Gustave Flaubert

A man of the world

Glimpses of a Global Life ― Shridath Ramphal

Glimpses of a Global Life

Shridath ‘Sonny’ Ramphal was born in 1928 in New Amsterdam, British Guiana, to an Indo-Guyanese family. Having been educated at King’s College London, and later at Harvard Law School, Ramphal went on to live a decidedly ‘global’ life.

In his memoirs, Glimpses of a Global Life, Ramphal tells of his experiences working within international institutions, framing his place within the bigger picture of global politics. The book was released in November following a launch party at Marlborough House, the headquarters of the Commonwealth Secretariat and one of London’s best-known stately homes.

Among his acknowledgements, Ramphal speaks of his reluctance to write a set of memoirs, having been asked, somewhat insistently, by multiple friends and relatives, when his memoirs would emerge. He defines multiple reasons for not having written until now, one of these being that his story had not yet ended. His mind was changed over Christmas in 2011, the time of ‘resolutions’, he says, when he felt that it was not just the time, but his duty to begin writing.

Ramphal begins, somewhat unusually for a memoir, 100 years before his birth, with the abolition of slavery. But it was a key time because it formed the roots of Ramphal’s beginnings within British Guiana, a country built on the trade. The first section, ‘Beginnings’, in fact serves as less of a memoir and more of a depiction of the foundations that supported Ramphal’s life. Ramphal traces the history of the abolition of slavery, painting an extraordinary picture of his family’s life in Guiana.

He speaks of his interest in the voyage of women across the Kala Pani under the Indian indenture system and, in particular, the book Maharani’s Misery: Narratives of a Passage from India to the Caribbean, by Professor Verene Shepherd. It was a journey that his own great grandmother took, and a story which could easily have been her own. He begins the book in this way because the events helped to shape his life: “I am a child of all I have narrated,” he says.

There are eight parts to Ramphal’s memoirs, each of which could serve as a volume in its own right, every one covering an important era of Ramphal’s life. From his humble beginnings in British Guiana, Ramphal rose to become Foreign Minister of an independent Guyana, from 1972 to 1975, and later was the second Commonwealth Secretary-General, from 1975 to 1990.

One of the most moving sections of the book is that dedicated to the period of Apartheid in South Africa, described by Ramphal as “the most cruel legacy of slavery”. Ramphal recounts the importance of the Commonwealth community, and himself, in ending this legacy and helping to ensure that “the light of Apartheid’s end was faintly glowing” by the finish of his final tenure as Commonwealth Secretary-General. He speaks at length of the events leading up to the release of Nelson Mandela, whose freedom embodied that of black South Africa. In a chapter dedicated to Mandela’s freedom, Ramphal recounts his own words, emphasising the significance of Mandela’s release to the future of South Africa: “The human spirit survives in South Africa in many ways… But most of all, its survival is symbolised in the person of Nelson Mandela.”

The end of Ramphal’s time as Commonwealth Secretary-General was by no means the end of his story. He went on to become Chancellor of the Universities of Guyana, Warwick and West Indies, and served as the chair of the West Indian Commission. He was also recommended several times for the position of Secretary-General of the United Nations. In the final sections of his memoirs, Ramphal writes further of the ‘honours and intrigue’ inferred upon him, and how he was awarded honorary degrees from 28 universities and made an honorary fellow of another four.

Ramphal ends his memoirs, somewhat fittingly, with a story summing up his relationship with Nelson Mandela. In 1996 Ramphal had the pleasure of conferring upon Mandela an honorary degree from the University of Warwick. The graduation ceremony was a tremendous event held at Buckingham Palace and attended by eight top universities, but it is Warwick, and indeed Ramphal, that are said to have ‘stolen the show’ when Ramphal’s offer of a handshake was dismissed in favour of a familial embrace.

Glimpses of a Global Life is a truly fascinating look into the life of a key figure within the Commonwealth of Nations, serving not only as a memoir, but as a recollection of serious global issues spanning several decades. All this is presented in the form of a worldwide show, in which Ramphal stands centre stage, alongside a whole host of the world’s most prominent figures in international politics.

This review was first published in Global: the international briefing. Many thanks to Hansib for supplying a free review copy of the book.

“It is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend.” ― William Blake

Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.

The Dain Princess – Raitt Black

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Raitt Black was raised in New England, where he developed a love of literature. He tells me “I grew up reading books of all kinds”, before revealing that his favourites are “fantasy, science fiction, and horror”. Black first discovered a love of writing while in elementary school and it became a passion that he continued to feed as he progressed through high school. After studying for a BA in communications and relocating to the warm beaches of California, where he was to meet his future wife, Black began work on his first novel. He describes his writing as primarily fantasy with elements of mystery, love and horror. His debut novel, The Dain Princess, was released in 2013.


The Dain Princess introduces the reader to Lyhnzi Kole Dain, the only living heir to the fictional Innbern Kingdom. A colourful and feisty young girl, Lyhnzi spends her days training for battle with the castle guards and creating mischief with the hired help. Despite her comfortable existence, Lyhnzi yearns for adventure. When the opportunity arises to leave her home of Matraigh and stay with family on the coast she jumps at the opportunity, completely unsuspecting of the terrifying fate that awaits her. In the story that follows, Lyhnzi finds her understanding of good and evil challenged as she realises that those that she thinks of as friends or foes may not be all they seem.

This novel would suit a young adult audience – while I enjoyed the story, I’m sure I would have appreciated it even more if I were a few years younger.

Certain aspects of The Dain Princess reminded me of Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials, a comparison I’m sure I’m not alone in making. Lyhnzi is rather like Pullman’s Lyra – the girls share similar backgrounds and the same strong, stubborn character, but the similarities do not end here. Lyhnzi is an only child who rarely sees her father, and spends her days rattling around in an enormous castle, sneaking through hidden passageways and causing havoc with the children employed in the kitchens. A section quite early on in the book in particular reminded me of a scene in The Northern Lights, in which Lyra is made to have her knees washed before dinner, and then sneaks out onto the roofs of the college:

“Tris, this afternoon’s tutor, insisted she be clean for her lessons, and that she wear a dress. The pants and shirt she wore to train with the guards were not ladylike, according to Tris. Lyhnzi quickly washed and dressed. She went to the door and pressed her ear against it. Not a sound came from the other side. The guards were still there, she was sure of it, and they would only wait a few more moments. It was time to make her escape.”

The universe of The Dain Princess appears very similar to and yet considerably behind that of our own world, with armoured guards, gilded tapestries, cities enclosed within castle walls and travel by horse and cart, as if stuck within the realm of medieval Britain. It takes some time before elements of fantasy work their way into the text and I think this works really well. In Black’s world, the fantastic walk among everyday people rather than exist in an entirely alternate enchanted world.

Elements of horror within the story further add to the fantasy realm of the novel. Black creates new and obscure creatures, and ominous presences which lurk in the forest where the children are camping. The dangers of the forests are first revealed to the children, much like in a horror film, by an uneducated local man, who, without going into detail, suggests they sleep with one eye open:

“‘Some men hunt over there, come back in day. In light, it’s normal. Animals run, birds chirp, but in dark,’ he shook his head and shivered. ‘Most nights is quiet, silent. What should be, don’t. No crickets or nothing. Every sometime it’s like screams, only west of river. I’d sleep awake if I was.’”

As the story progresses the children learn of some of the horrors lurking in the trees. One creature in particular stays hidden just out of sight throughout the majority of their journey, quietly stalking the children by day, and emerging at night with a signature blood curdling scream. With the creatures kept at bay only by the light of the fire, the children find themselves coming closer and closer to the burning red eyes of the creatures of their nightmares.

The Dain Princess has many elements of a classic coming of age novel. As with much young adult fiction, the reader grows with the characters. Encompassed within this is the theme of trust, which runs throughout the novel. The characters are forever asking one another “why should I trust you?”, and having their whole understanding of trust completely redefined. Those who seem the most trustworthy in the traditional sense, those Lyhnzi has grown up with and those who swear to protect her, may have ulterior motives in mind, whereas the most unlikely characters become the most genuine. The reader finds themselves following Lyhnzi on her journey of self discovery and she grows from a teenager into a woman, learning to ignore traditional stereotypes and have confidence in her own instincts.

The story does have a few editing issues. However, I think that with self-published novels this is somewhat inevitable, and while a professional editor’s eye would undoubtedly improve the novel I don’t feel that the issues dramatically detract from its merits. There are also a few characters whose stories I don’t feel are properly concluded at the end of the book. The reader may find themselves with a few questions left hanging in the air.

On the whole I found The Dain Princess to be an engaging and fun read. Black’s work contains elements of horror, mystery and fantasy, which when combined make for a well structured and entertaining novel. I would recommend this book to young adult readers, and those who have read and enjoyed the work of Philip Pullman and other fantasy novelists.

Many thanks to Raitt Black for providing me with a free review copy of The Dain Princess.