Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Whitby--The Director's Cut

Okay, I'm going to go on a little so you should grab yourself a panad and a biscuit first.

The Hostel

We stayed at the Whitby Youth Hostel, and it was amazing. Swipe cards to get in and out. Bunk beds. A ‘help yourself to any seven items’ complimentary breakfast with scrambled eggs, beans, toast, pain au chocolat among other things... En suite shower that never ran out of hot water. I’d pick it over a Travel, Premier or Holiday Inn any day. And it’s set in the grounds of an old Benedictine Abbey, the courtyard of which you have to drive through to get to the car park. Even the Guardian says it’s bloody fantastic.


The first social encounter was with a friend of my SO’s, Carolyn. An acquaintance of hers through Steampunk Magazine, we met up on the Friday evening and she left us on the Saturday afternoon. There were five of us and one of her. I admire her for taking us on single-handed. She was wonderfully tolerant of our inside talk and jokes, intelligent and relaxed, and a pleasure to spend the majority of the weekend with. I’m looking forwards to seeing her again in September.

The Friday Night Set

Zeitgeist Zero, Last Dance and Abney Park were playing the night set. Zeitgeist Zero were okay. I haven’t hear live music in so long that I loved just listening to them. Last Dance were a great live band who played a very short set. Jeff Diehm made a great front man and shared a touching story about Abney Park’s early days.

Who were, of course, the main draw. I’ll be honest, before going I could sort of take or leave them, really. Boy, did their show change that. I would never believe that a band which relies on sequences could put on such an engaging show. Cpt. Robert was constantly on his toes, stealing the stage back from Nathaniel and Finn. There was no producers/consumers line, we were just altogether sharing an experience. We wouldn’t let them off the stage. They got through all their regular songs, and then their new ones. Then the old ones. Then the really, really old ones. Then any bloody song they could still play. It reminds me of the stories you hear about Zeppelin’s first American tour, when the audience wouldn’t let them leave the stage and they just played old Elvis songs until they could escape.


I’ve already aired my feelings about photographs at concerts, but they extend to all walks of life. You can’t photograph the feel of the wind, the intangible atmosphere of a moment or the small slips in reality which happen when you’re not looking, and you can’t experience them if you’re sticking a camera lens in-front of your face the whole time. This girl converted me a few years ago.

The streets were filled with goths and steampunks. They were also filled with people with cameras. I was in costume and walking through town on Friday and Saturday, and I couldn’t go more than five steps without someone asking if they could take my photo. It wasn’t just me--it was all the goths and steampunks who’d made an effort. Some of the photographers were tourists and locals (one adolescent child took great pleasure in snapping me on her ‘phone.) As Ngaio said at the time, it’s kind of weird to think I’m now part of someone’s holiday experience. A lot of the photographers were professionals, though, with many thousands of pounds (£s) worth of equipment. I suppose they’ll be appearing for sale or as promotional material in an internet near you in the next few weeks.

The Steam Bus

It’s an old steam-powered flatbed wagon that some guy rescued from the knacker’s yard, and turned into a bus. It runs on coal and when you go down hill, the cab fills with flames as the driver lets off the heat. Vernon Smith, the owner and builder, has been working with steam engines since he was eight-years-old and pretty much has steam instead of blood. Yes, it’s as cool as it sounds. If you go anywhere near Whitby and don’t take a ride on it, that’s a certifiable medical condition.

The Steam Meet

This is the part which really fried my brain.

When I was eighteen months old, I had an accident on a train and didn’t speak again I was sent to a speech therapist at the age of four. I’ve always had trouble with my words; when I speak, all the sounds fall out of my mouth in some sort of confused jumble and my tongue feels huge. It makes me hard to understand, and that makes people want to not talk to me. The fine art of conversation is never something I was introduced to, and even the crass art of conversation passed me by. Groups of people I’m expected to interact with lead to panic, withdrawal and wallflower manifestations.

The stream meet was in a cafe. It was full of strangers who were all part of a scene that I’m not part of (I’m never part of a scene, no matter what it may look like). I was there to engage them in conversation, and hand out business cards for Steampunk Magazine.

I finished my cappuccino and someone came over to talk to us...

When we left, I wanted more. I wanted more people, more socialising, more interacting. I wasn’t good at it I’m sure, but I enjoyed it.

It’s left me looking forwards to the first UK steam meet in September. I feel a bit like I’ve been dumped out a plane, at night, and landed in a foreign country where even the laws of gravity are different.

I should be talking about the wonderful and interesting people I met, I know, but this is a tectonic-plate sized shift in my head. Almost two years of CBT has done amazing things.

Saturday Night

A good proportion of the night was spent wading through quantum fish and chip shops trying to find somewhere to eat. We finally found a crepe place, and had crepes. They were nice, but I wouldn’t call them a meal.

We were all knackered by this point, having been on our feet pretty much constantly since Friday afternoon and only catching a few hours' sleep. The rest of the party had crashed during the day, but were still suffering. The music was okay but not worth enduring the pain for, so we got an early night.

Fountains Abbey

It was only an hour or so away and my SO has wanted to see it for over five years, so we took the time to do a grand tour. The abbey itself is absolutely amazing and the gardens spectacular. Well worth going to see, if you’re ever in the area. All the walking was hard work on my tired legs, though.

And back home again

We got pizza from a Hutt on the way home, and the best bit was seeing the cats alive and well and happy to see us when we got in. The second best bit was being back in my own bed. But bloody hell the pizza was good. Cheese, extra cheese, goat’s cheese, mushrooms and onions. Goat’s cheese is amazing on pizza.

So, those are my memories of Whitby Goth Weekend. I hope you enjoyed your panad.

Now I just need to finish--by which I mean start--my costume for The Asylum...

Jaunty Jackalope and Bob Dylan

The installation of Jaunty went off, pretty much, without a hitch.  Install a whole new operating system without problems?  That’s Ubuntu.  The fonts and icons are a bit crisper, the boot time a bit quicker, the menus less cluttered, the installation of new programmes and packages from the repositories quicker, whatever problem with the default movie player which meant it couldn’t play movies is fixed and the default desktop background different, but other than that it’s the same old warhorse. 

I’ll use it for a while and if I have anything else to say about it then, I’ll say it.  I’m a user and not a programmer, so I just look at the pretty colours.  If you’re looking to switch from Windows, there’s never been a better time.  Jaunty is the most user-friendly release yet and only takes half-an-hour to install, tops. 

In other, more important news, Dylan’s new album Together Through Life drops today.  I’m taking a half-day from work, buying an actual physical copy from an actual physical shop, burning it to mp3 so I can X-Fi it through my expensive headphones, lay in bed and experience it.  Then I’ll come back here and rant about how great it is.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Concept Sci-fi Issue #5

...is now out!

(LGT magazine's home page, where you can download the 'zine for free!)

From their newsletter:
In this issue, you can find short fiction from Lawrence Buentello, Dylan Fox and Jonathan Lowe, plus an interview with Lou Anders from Pyr SF, Andrew Males' /88 Miles Per Hour/ Column and the next article in [editor Gary Reynold's] "Beginning Writing" series which this time focuses on controlling the pace and flow of your fiction.

One of those names looks familiar...

It's amazing to see Mind Games along side all those other pieces, treated like it's an actual piece of fiction and not something that I made up on my computer.  I hope I never lose this painful embarrassment-cum-joy I get when I see one of my pieces in print.  The six-year-old me who wanted to be a writer more than anything else in the world is so proud right now.

Whtiby Goth Weekend--Abridged

I’ll find the time to write a longer post about Whitby at some point in the near future.  (Maybe tonight... maybe tomorrow.  I’m going to be installing Jaunty Jackalope tonight, so it all kind of depends on how that goes.)

In the meantime, here’s a few quick lessons I learned over my three days:

  1. Although the sight of streets awash with goths is scary, few sights warm the cockles of my heart as so many of them walking down the streets, enjoying 99 Flakes with strawberry sauce;
  2. Cameras should be banned from concerts.  What the hell is the matter with you people?  The band is right there.  Why do you need all your experiences sanitised by a screen?
  3. I need to learn how to sew so I can make myself a new costume.  It’s going to be the best costume ever;
  4. Socialising is fun!  You would not believe how much that one screws with my head.  It’s like being kicked out an air lock and discovering you can breathe in a vacuum.  I’m a bit terrified and wondering where the real me has gone;
  5. Whitby has more fish and chip shops then there is actual retail space.  I swear, the sheer density of fish and chip shops in the town has created sympathetic shifts in the wave function of the town’s quanta to produce quantum fish and chip shops which shift in and out of existence, merge and split apart on a microscopic level;
  6. Abney Park are an amazing live band.  Especially for all their reliance on sequences and effects, I’ve not seen such a good show since Colour of Fire;
  7. Steampunk should be fun!
Anyway, hopefully more later...

Thursday, 23 April 2009

I’m a Thought-Train Hobo

No matter where I am or what I’m doing, when a train of thought rumbles through my mind I pick up my bottle and jump into the box car.  I ride the train until it stops somewhere, I hop off and I look around.

It’s a compulsion.  I don’t realise what I’m doing until miles of landscape have rushed past and I’m making myself comfortable among the crates.  And hell, when I’m on the train already I might as well see where it’s going.

I’m a transient by nature.  Without a home, but at home anywhere the train pulls up.  Just like a swallow migrates and salmon swim against the river to breed, I ride the thought-trains.

It’s why I have such trouble being in the moment.  I’m always on a train, always moving somewhere.  It’s the only life I’ve ever known.

Like any Romantic lifestyle, though, it takes its toll.  When you never settle anywhere, you become isolated from everywhere.  And you become isolated from everyone because, at the end of the day, it’s only ever going to you in the box car.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Eunuchs drink decaff

Let’s be honest:  decaff coffee is emasculating.  It’s drunk by thin, weedy people with nasal voices who drive G-Wiz’s and insist on speaking about a girl’s right to have pierced nipples for her twelfth birthday at the local P.T.A. meeting (it’s empowering).  They’re not new-age crystal waving hippies, though:  They work in offices, have granite work surfaces and still drink coffee, dammit!  They just think caffeine interferes with their chi... and their heart.  I may be a vegetarian, a card-carrying member of the CND and increasingly convinced that the Lib Dems are too right-wing, but there’s a line.  I spend my life terrified of crossing it.

Yes, I have gender roll issues.  I grew up in the eighties and nineties, which meant that when I was forming my (very important) ideas about gender identity, mainstream media was constantly telling me that every natural instinct I have is Bad and Wrong and solely responsible for every Evil of the World.  It’s lead to a man approaching thirty who feels the primal need to go out and kill wolverines with his bear hands, and then come home and cry his guilt into a cup of peppermint tea.  But I digress.

I like the taste of coffee and that’s why I drink it.  That’s why I have it so strong.  Does decaff taste the same?  Well, over the next few days my SO will be making my coffee for me.  She’ll be making cups of decaff, normal cups and cups which mix both.  She’s not going to tell me which cup is which. With a little luck, it will eliminate the bias I have against decaff and allow me to judge empirically.

Meanwhile, Evis has been generous enough to bring his Amazing Tea Stash in for shares.  I had a cup of Earl Grey just now.  It was quite nice.  Tasted a bit like tea (normal tea), with a slight aftertaste of pizza.  Tea is a whole world to itself, isn’t it?  I never realised.  Dare I venture into this brave new world?

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

From My Cold, Dead, Shaking Hand

I like to imagine my physical self as a sort of see-saw.  One side is labelled ‘health’, and the other ‘unhealth’.  On the health side, we have exercise, nutrition... all that boring stuff.  On the unhealth side, we have my vices.

Each of the things on the see-saw has a weight, and that combined with its distance from the fulcrum determines its affect on my physical self.

I used to have a lot of vices that sat a long way from the fulcrum.  These vices weren’t indulgences, but things which were a part of my lifestyle.  Whenever I sat down to write, I’d light a cigarette.  It got to the point when I was smoking in my breaks at work, when I was taking shopping in from the car, when I was laid up in bed and the room was spinning.  So, I quit.

When I was a student, I drank to excess.  After I graduated, I drank to be social.  For the last two years--apart of a very small sip when someone orders something interesting and some liquors around Christmas--I haven’t had any alcohol for almost two years.

And meat!  I don’t eat meat and haven’t for a year-and-a-half.  It’s harder than it sounds, because I can’t eat Wine Gums or Liquorice Allsorts or Pick-and-Mix any more.  I can’t have bacon sarnies or black pudding.

Those are three pretty big vices, and they sit a way from the fulcrum.  Now, I have a pretty sedentary lifestyle and exercise upsets me, but taking those three off the unhealth side surely more than balanced things out.  It left me with two vices (just two):  food; and coffee. 

Food loves me.  Food is always there for me, and never judges me.  Food makes me happy.

I take my coffee black.  I take it strong enough to stand a spoon up in.  Where as most people have their instant coffee ‘strong’ and ask for a full teaspoon, I’ll have two-and-a-half.  On an average day, I’ll have six of seven of these cups.  Whenever I write, I have a hot steaming cup of Jackson by my hand (as in Samuel L. Jackson:  Black; bitter; and quad-hard).

My heart’s been doing funny things, recently.  Walking across the room makes it beat so hard it feels like it’s about to burst out my chest.  Stairs are a problem.  Lying in bed sometimes feels like it’s going to be fatal...  Apparently, my heart can’t stand the shocking facts of grave robbers from outer space any more.

I was hoping I had angina.  Or a valve was faulty.  Or that maybe I needed a whole new heart altogether.  The doctor did some tests, took my blood pressure, booked me some blood tests and an ECG.

But you can see where this is going.   After all the medical niceties were out the way, ‘Cut down on the coffee’, she says.

Haven’t I done enough?!

Surely, surely the booze, the fags and the flesh balances things out.  Surely coffee is a light weight, close to the fulcrum.  A vice, sure, but a small and almost harmless one.  Right near the centre, keeping the pizza and cookies company (we know how easily they get lonely).


Yes, it’s a chance to embrace change and discover Brave New Worlds.

I don’t like change or Brave New Worlds.  I like routine and places I know.

Somewhat prophetically, the last time I saw her my mother said that she’d learned the dangers of drinking strong, black coffee, ‘too late’.  She has a liturgy of health problems and I was scared to ask which one the coffee was responsible for. 

But yes, I’ll do the right thing.  I’ll embrace this growth experience and discard yet another vice.  I’ll give up the coffee. 

Right after this cup.

Monday, 20 April 2009

The Sordid Topic of Time

Well, one of the terrible things with life is that when you have something to talk about, you have little time to talk about it in.

Since pay day (believe me, I haven't been so relieved since I was getting paid weekly at KFC, and smoking 20 a day), I've been doing many mundane things.

Most of my online time has been spent looking at the Espresso Book Machine. The essence of it is that you can order a book, wait ten minutes and then walk out the shop with your freshly printed volume. I'm very excited by the idea; when I have the time, I'm going to talk about it in depth. My nature of living somewhere other than the here and now gives me occasional glimpses of the future. I suppose that's why I write sci-fi instead of fantasy. The EBM gave me a (naïve and misty-eyed) glimpse of a soon-to-come time. Believe me, it is a beautiful place.

Most of my writing time was going into Bambi's second story, Space to Breathe. I've been feeling it's something of a weak link, and I put the third draft to bed with a little flutter of excitement: It has some teeth. Now, with the deadline approaching, I'm now turning my focus to Of Mice and Journeymen, my magpie attempt at pre-industrial steampunk. A story I left with bad feelings on the second draft, and came back to a different story to the one I remembered. It had some teeth, some dirt and some grit.

And my remaining time has been spent on Whitby. I've been sewing myself a sash to go with my magpie uniform. I'm very bad at sewing and haven't done any since I entered double figures. Still, it only has to last three days. I have an advantage through my persona: Mister Elijah Quinn. He's a cavalier, a rogue, a Victorian Gentleman Explorer through time and space. No matter what the truth, he'll have a truly fantastic tale to tell about any subject. That includes bad sewing.

After the weekend, maybe he'll have a story or two to tell about his adventures among the 'Goths' of the early twenty-first century (“far more make-up than my last encounter, far less beer and less sacking of Rome... but at least you could dance to the music this time”).

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

From the Department of the Obvious

I've been doing my best to practice with my drum.  I am the rhythmic equivalent of the number zero (thank you Mr Pratchett), and so I've been sitting with my metronome and playing at 80 bpm for five minutes a day.  Well, for five minutes some days.  Regular practice, I think, eloped with my sense of rhythm.  But I figure little and often is better than trying to do it all in one go.  If I can beat a steady rhythm, then I can concentrate on the journey and not have to worry about anything else.  I can only do that when the beat becomes instinctive. 

I have found the practice to be somewhat soothing and hypnotic.  Who'd have thought that, hey?

The other thing I've noticed is that I have real trouble, 'being here now'.  My mind is always somewhere in the future or the past, and is terrified of the prospect of the present.  I'm thinking about what's going to happen when I meet X or go to Y, and I find I'm wound up about it.  And when I get to X and Y, I'm upset when things don't go as planned.  I ignore anything which I don't want there.  Why is it so terrifying to just let whatever will be, be?

Easter weekend was nice, although very, very poor.  There's something deeply wrong about an Easter with no Easter Eggs.  Or hot-cross buns.  The weather was lovely, though, and we took a walk up the mountain outside our house.  We passed a farm with some free-range laying hens, and I indulged my fantasy of roast chicken.  They looked like the sort of hens they put on the front of egg boxes.  Then we came home to minced Quorn pie and mash.  Nice but... roast chicken?

Still, pay day tomorrow and cheques cleared today.  That means I have pizza for tea.  I've also brought myself a gadget which will plug into my mp3 player and play it through my car stereo.  Saves on CD's and on long car journeys, I can just put the player onto Play All, and not have to worry about changing CD's when I should be changing lanes.  Of course, it's just going to transfer the argument from, 'who's CD do we play next', to 'who's mp3 player do we plug in'.  Maybe I'm old, but that's what real progress looks like.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Castlevania: Opus of Awesome

Konami are releasing a new Castlevania game for the Xbox 360 and PS3. SO is a huge Symphony of the Night fan. I mean, really huge. She has a beautiful piece of Ayami Kojima Alucard flash art tattooed on her thigh. Okay, she doesn't, but it's the sort of thing she might do.

Having looked into the 360 and PS3, we've decided to invest in a 360. The PS3, frankly, is still over-priced and sucky. It's badly supported and the announcement of text chat kind of put the nail in its coffin for me. We're going to have to have an extension built for the 360, of course, due to its vast size and set up an alter with dribly candles to ward off the red ring of death. We're also going to have to start rescuing kittens and helping small orphans with huge, innocent eyes to off-set the evil we'll be accruing by owning it, but I'm assured that this is all worth it.

The Castlevania franchise is the sort of thing I grew up with. Platforms, bad guys, power-ups, bosses. I completed Curse of Darkness a while ago, and I'm pleased they've kept true to the original intent. Games that require a significant portion of your life are fine, but not for me. I found a Chuckie Egg game yesterday, and it's the best game I've played in years. Sure, nostalgia all you like but it's just me, the eggs and the birds. None of this fancy graphics or silly plot lines or anything like that to get in the way. Just pure gaming experience. Castlevania's like that, for me, but with better graphics. It's a game, not a life-style choice. It's good to know that someone still remembers us.

It does make you wonder a bit, though...

DRACULA: Prepare the Castle! Summon the evil minions!

EVIL PRIEST: Erm, my lord, the other evil priests and I... we've been thinking...

DRACULA: Thinking?

EVIL PRIEST: Yeah... I mean, we went through a lot of trouble to summon you. Finding a comely seventeen-year-old virgin to sacrifice isn't easy these days. John--that's John, there--he had to get married, have a child, and keep her locked in a cellar so we'd have a virgin to sacrifice--

DRACULA: And I appreciate your efforts. Really, I do. It's good to be back.

EVIL PRIEST: It's good to have you back. And that's just it--every time we summon you, we do the whole evil castle thing, and then a Belmont comes along and kills you.

DRACULA: It will be different this time.

EVIL PRIEST: We want it to be different, too. So... that's what me and the other priests were talking about. I mean, the whole 'evil castle' thing... we were thinking we might skip that.

DRACULA: Skip the evil castle?!

EVIL PRIEST: Yeah, it's just it... I mean, you know. We've done it, what? Thirteen times? Fourteen? It's never worked. So, we were thinking--

DRACULA: Prepare the castle! Summon the skeletons!

EVIL PRIEST: My lord---

DRACULA: Destabilise the ledges! Take these bags of money and hide them in the light fixtures!

EVIL PRIEST: (sigh) Yes, my lord.

DRACULA: Take this one item which can defeat me and hide it behind a cracked wall! Summon the succubus!

EVIL PRIEST: The succubus is busy, my lord. She has her own YouTube channel on growing and making her own natural remedies.

DRACULA: Summon her I say! We don't pay her a retainer for nothing!

Meanwhile, in a faux-medieval village somewhere...

COMELY MAIDEN #4: My love! Strange portents are abound!

BELMONT: Hush wife! I'm working on my speech for when I fight Dracula, just like my father and his father before him.

COMELY MAIDEN #4: I feel an abhorrence in the generic mystical forces...

BELMONT: You think I can quote Shelley? Or is that too much? I just want to get across this feeling of the grand cycle of the years, how everything turns to dust, even unimaginable evil.

COMELY MAIDEN #4: My dreams tell of dark forces moving against us, my love.

BELMONT: Day follows night... I am the sun, and you are the moon. The moon only reflects the light of the sun... hm, that's good. I think I'll use that...

COMELY MAIDEN #4: I'm going out into our garden to pick flowers, or sit on our garden swing, or something equally twee.


After a few moments, there's a scream from the garden.

EVIL PRIEST: Belmont! We have captured your wife!


EVIL PRIEST: We've taken your wife captive. She's in the evil castle.

BELMONT: How can this be?!

EVIL PRIEST: (sigh) Just... come and try to rescue her.

BELMONT: This can only be Dracula's doing! Wait, my speech! Dammit, I'll just have to ad-lib something...

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Interzone 221's fiction reviewed

About 20 minutes' walk away from where I grew up, there was Pineridge Driving Range and Bowling Alley.  When my uncle came down to visit, he'd sometimes take us down there to whack a few buckets of balls, and bowl a couple of games.  One time when we were down there, a few allies down, there was a guy there with his kid.  The kid couldn't have been more than eight.  They were both kitted up to the nines:  shirts; their own shoes; silly bowling gloves.  The kid was throwing gutter balls almost every time.  He had this really weird way of throwing the ball, sort of twisting his hand and only taking a step before releasing.  If he bowled like a normal person, he could be getting strikes and spares.  But he was doing this weird twisting hand thing.  Every once in a while, though, he'd throw a perfect ball.  Straight down, pins to the wind with more accuracy and strength than an eight-year-old should have.

I think about that kid quite a lot.

Interzone 221 didn't have much for me.  The cover was absolutely beautiful but the fiction left me luke-warm at best.

A Clown Escapes from Circus Town
, by Will McIntosh, followed Beaners the clown as he escapes his own circus hell and wanders through various themed villages, looking for a Truth.  The world seemed a bit like Westworld drawn in crayons, so maybe more like Red Dwarf's Waxworld.  The characters, prose and plot all seemed to be going through the motions, which is a shame because the Truth Beaners finds is an interesting idea.  It just gets a bit mangled by the story.

Al Robertson's Fishermen is an evocative story which reads like poetry.  In a renaissance-era world, an artist gets captured by savage pirates and forced to painting their church.  The artist discovers that the pirates aren't savage and, through living with them, discovers the true face of his faith.  It's just as long as it needs to be and makes a worth-while read, but I'm still trying to work out why it was in Interzone--there's hints of something extra-ordinary at the end, but other than that it seems pretty straight-forward and mundane.

An ex-junkie drops his dead-end job and travels across the universe to help a friend from his high-days get clean in Matthew Kressel's Saving Diego.  Set on a world that boarders on a stereotypical Mystical Middle-East (kind of like Tatoonie with daily prayers, bazaars, socially isolated locals and mystical herbs), the titular Diego has become addicted to the mind-enhancing substance the locals use as part of their religion.  His friend, Mikal, slowly weans him off while getting addicted himself.  If we assume the visions the herb induces are real, and not just hallucinations (which is what we're told is happening), then this story of co-dependants becomes a bit more interesting, but not much.  There's no big ideas and no empathy with the rise from and fall into addiction.  (Maybe that's because I'm holding it up Aerosmith's Walk This Way autobiography, which hits me like a cannon ball in the gut every time.)

I was worried that Alaya Dawn Johnson's Far and Deep was falling into the same cultural stereotype habit as Diego for a while.  Island culture, diving for precious gems, all a bit Philippines without the grinding poverty and human rights abuses.  A rebellious elder is murdered, and her daughter sets out to find the killer.  No, she's no Philip Marlow.  Johnson spends her time showing us the island and it's relatively complicated culture, it's social divisions, expectations and rituals, and I came away glad I'd read it.  It was sort of like eating a Bounty bar:  Sweet and tropical; and wickedly indulgent.

Paul M. Berger's Home Again sees a traveller return to his family after a long space trip.  The hook is the ships travel the interstellar distances by altering reality somehow, allowing the pilot to just think about being somewhere, and then the ship is there.  It's an interesting idea, but the story felt like it was missing a couple of hundred words somewhere.  The idea, the family, or the world isn't given enough space to breath and I'm not sure which of those the story was about.

The headline piece for the issue was Bruce Stirling's Black Swan.  Yes, BRUCE STIRLING.  I'll confess my sins and admit that it was the first piece of his I've read.  I have the Difference Engine in the bathroom, waiting to be read...  The prose in Black Swan was a pleasure and the plot took the reality hopping computer geek trope for a spin.  It was all going great until the end.  Then it all went a bit wtf. Massimo, the geek with the magic laptop, takes our narrator through the looking glass, explains the differences between the parallel worlds and then gets killed so he can pass the baton on.  The story didn't prepare me for an ending I'd have to re-read.  It's probably just me being stupid, but it's my blog, damnit.  With a different ending, this story could have been great.  As it is, it feels like a vehicle for a great idea which is dumped by the roadside when it's served its purpose.


I don't know where the kid from the bowling alley is right now.  I don't know if he's even still bowling.  I just remember him doing his weird twisty-hand thing and throwing gutter ball after gutter ball, maybe hitting the odd pin.  When he scored a strike, though, it was a blinder.  Interzone could consistently print good fiction that gets warm reviews every time.  But they have their own style, their own twisty-hand thing.  When they hit a strike, it's amazing.  All the gutter balls are forgotten.  What's the point in being good, if you can shoot for brilliant? 

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

The Last Thoughts of Ben Kenobi

OBI-WAN: Only a master of evil, Darth.

See, until the prequels I always assumed that Obi-Wan used ‘Darth’ as a name, not a title.  That’s the way the line is delivered.  In Obi-Wan’s mind, Anakin is dead and there is only Vader.  What made him utterly give up hope on his pupil and friend?  He left Anakin on Mustafa because he couldn’t bring himself to finish the job.  He couldn’t be the one to kill him, because he cared so much for Anakin.  What changed in his vigil on Tatooine?

Or is Obi-Wan just being a dick?  It seems to be something Jedi do when they get older.  I mean, witness Qui-Gon’s ‘I’ll take Anakin as my apprentice’ when Obi-Wan is standing right there.  Or Yoda’s, ‘I got my arse kicked so I’m going to a swamp to sulk for the next sixteen years... No, no, I’m not going to help the rebellion, or try and protect the remaining Jedi.  I’m not even going to take anything from the Jedi temple with me--too many bad memories.  I’m going to a swamp to think about what a failure I am.  I’m going to paint my hut black and listen to Morrissey.’

So Obi-Wan comes face-to-face with his failure and acts like a twelve-year-old.  ‘Only a master of evil, Darth’.  ‘You’re just a Darth.  I’m a Jedi Master. Ner-ner-ne-ner-ner.’

OBI-WAN: Strike me down now, and I’ll become more powerful then you can possibly imagine.

VADER:  More powerful then I can possibly imagine?

OBI-WAN:  Yes, far more powerful.

VADER:  I can imagine quite a lot of power.

OBI-WAN:  I’ll be more powerful than that.

VADER:  Will you be able to blow up planets?  This battle station can, so I don’t even have to imagine that.

OBI-WAN:  I don’t mean--

VADER:  Or how about that time I landed that Star Destroyer on Coruscant.  That was pretty pimp.  If I kill you, will you be able to do that?

OBI-WAN:  It’s not like--

VADER:  Are you going to be able to bring Padme back?  Palpatine said he could, but every time I ask him about it, he’s all like, ‘tomorrow, Lord Vader’, ‘we just need to destroy this planet, Lord Vader’.  To be honest, I’m beginning to wonder...

OBI-WAN:  Padme’s dead, Darth.  I was there when it happened.

VADER: Nuh-Uhhh.  She’s being kept alive on Coruscant.  With, like, tubes and robotics and shit.  Palpatine told me.  Only I can’t see her, because my suit has germs on it.  But he’s working on a decontamination thing for me.  He told me.

LUKE: Ben!

VADER:  Huh?  Who’s that?

OBI-WAN:  No one!  He’s no one!  Pay no attention to the boy behind the blast shield!

VADER:  He feels familiar...

OBI-WAN:  Um, yeah, well, that’s because... you see... you know that guy? We met in that bar that one time?  Yeah, well, that’s his son.  Luke Sky... Wanderer.  Luke Skywanderer.

I dunno.  Maybe they’re both as bad as each other.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

On My Lunch, I Lay By the Lake and Listened to the Birds

Permanence is the problem.

We want things to last. When we have a good day, we want it to last forever. We want the good things in our life to always be there. That leads us to wanting to expel the bad things. And that leads us to want to control, and believing we can control.

We want the friend we make today to be a friend tomorrow. We want the lover we take today to love us tomorrow.

I had a moment, about three minutes’ worth, when I thought about a world where we didn’t crave permanence. Where we just took what life was offering us right here, right now, and made the most of it.

The lover we take today may be indifferent to us tomorrow. They may be someone else’s lover, and why would we worry about that? I was walking down the road, kicking a pine cone. There were birds singing, and cars passing a street away. The sun was shining, but the wind had a chill. A few spots of rain had fallen on me.

The lover we take today may wake up with us tomorrow, and we can fall in love all over again. The enemy we made yesterday can be the shoulder we cry on today.

And everyone’s okay with this, everyone expects this and everyone understands this, so why should there be any problems?

Then I got back into work, and sat down at my desk. Some days I love work, and some days I hate it. I just put on my work persona and it doesn’t matter.

But maybe, the secret me can discover coffee for the first time. Maybe he can appreciate the kindness of a co-worker without qualms, without history and without suspicion. It’s a big ask, but when I was kicking my pine cone I was quite content. There was me, the cone, the sounds and the sun, we all had our place and it was all good. ‘Content’ is a way station I would very much like to reach.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Sunday Evening and a Fire

My t-shirt arrived on Thursday. As a denizen of Netland, I'm sure you appreciate how import a t-shirt is. It's like a tattoo you can change every day. It's the billboard you use to advertise yourself to the world. You love a band? You know php and think it makes you better than everyone else? You an anarchist? There's a t-shirt out there with your brand on it, and it's imcumbant on you to wear it with pride. How else are we going to know who you are today?

I have one t-shirt from Theardless (community orientated, intelligent and silly, net-based), one Ngaio brought me from London (it has a fox on it), two plain ones (hey, there's days when I want to keep myself to myself), and now this one:

The house is made up of words from stories I've written. Specifically, from Mind Games, Regeneration, and other Myths, Rose Among the Thorns, and One More for the Road (which the last story in Bambi's arc, and is going to need a title change). The t-shirt is light grey.

In other news, we realised on Friday that we hadn't paid this month's rent yet and so are now very poor. Excersions to Tesco when we don't fancy what's in the cupboard are well off the menu. In its place, over-time. Lots and lots of over-time. Whitby (which we're attending in Steampunk finery) is coming out of April's paycheck, so that's done and dusted. May's payslip needs to cover a trip to London--to see the ballet and the sights--and a trip to my brother's engagement party. And June's needs to fund a holiday to the Scottish neverlands. If money is the root of all evil, the next few months are going to mining Satan's arsehole. Still, the pay off is going to be worth it. More than worth it.

And, with my new watch, I can know exactly how many hours of over-time I've done. It's an analogue skeleton watch with gold casing. It's beautiful. I brought a similiar one a few months ago and tortured the department with it. After two days, it taught me that a watch which cost three quid from Hong-Kong probably isn't a good investment. Lesson learned. For now.

So, a lean couple of weeks coming up but plenty to get me throught it. Next week is going to be spent thinking about editing Bambi's stories over the weekend. If I didn't love doing the editing, I'd find a vanity site to publish on. Editing is the difference between a lump of clay and something beautiful.

I'm going to try and remember that. When I can't drink any more coffee because my fingers are already twitching and I've been staring at an unaltered page for two hours, it'll keep me going. Or porn. Porn is good.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

The Second Part

Well, this is my attempt at using ScribeFire at home.  A few noteworthy things happened today, actually:  my colleagues gave me a beautiful watch as a belated birthday present (if you're having sex--you know, proper full-on naked sex--are you supposed to take your watch off?);I spent this evening working in the garden; and I typed the <end> tag on the last story in Bambi's arc.  Thinking back over it, it seems really rather messy and is probably going to need some serious work.  I'll do that over Easter weekend, though:  That's 'Bambi Editing Weekend'.  More on that later, though.  I'm just posting while dinner is cooking.

I'm really hoping this works.

~crosses fingers~

(I must remember to change the font from the default to Arial when posting.  With luck, writing it here will remind me.)

EDIT:  success of a kind, I think.  The fonts are going to need some tweaking, but okay for today.


Wonderful! Let us judge this a tentative success until I can get home and see how things post from Ubuntu.

Hidden Crap

It's amazing the amount of crap Word puts in documents. All that hidden code. It copy pasta'ed into my ScribeFire, which then refused to publish it. Understandable, really. I don't really want it there, either. I pasted it into Notepad, and then into ScribeFire. That solved that problem.

Now, let us see how this comes out when I push, 'Publish'...

A Matter of Consistency

Those of you who know me probably know how nuts I’ve been driving myself over the last two posts. The spacing between the lines is different. The spacing between the paragraphs is different. The more I look at them, the more I’m convinced that the spacing between the letters is different.

I’m looking for a way to make consistent posts both from work, and from home. Normally using the same program would be a problem, as I use Ubuntu at home and Windows at work. I’m trying out ScribeFire. It’s an add-on for Firefox, a browser I use on both platforms, so I may have a solution.

The only trouble is that it doesn’t come with a spell checker. I need a spell checker--I’m a writer with an English degree. I need it like Steven Hawkins needs a calculator.

Scribefire is supposed to use the spell checker in Firefox, and it works fine at home. Not at work, though. So, I’m at work and typing this post in Word. I’m going to copy pasta it into Scribefire, and post it. I’m then going to type a post straight into Scribefire, and see how that turns out.

The reason for the difference in formatting between the first two entries is that the first one was typed in word, and pasted into Blogger’s editor. The second was typed straight into the editor.

Let us see...