Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Movin’ Out

I’ve had my blogger account here for long enough now that I feel I can be trusted with a blog. You know, clean its cage, take it for walks, feed it, take it to the vets when it’s not well...

So, I am now moving out of the Den in the Living Room, and over to Looking Up at the Sky, which is my very own dot-net (dylanfox.net).

I’ve been cross-posting to there from here for the past month or so, so it’s not empty. It’s also got a brand new post up there giving a special, sneak, advance look at the ToC for Steampunk Magazine #7.

Reset your RSS and go have a look!

Saturday, 27 February 2010

The Ugly Truth About Wimmin

I came across this article in The Times about the 'secret lives' of women. The lives they live in their heads that they never let their partners into. Everyone needs a personal psychological space, and I respect that. In fact, I wholly endorse it. I wanted to read the article, though, because talking to a reporter gives people an anonymity they would not have otherwise, and that gives them a chance to be honest in a way they simply couldn't be otherwise. I wanted to learn about these secret female spaces, so I could better respect them.

But boy... did I learn.

It turns out all those ugly stereotypes are true and women really are disingenuous, manipulative, emotionally vapid harpies with obsessions about sex, shoes, lying and... well, anything but their 'soul mates'.

Don't believe me? Here are some choice quotes... (Oh, and the article was written by a woman, so this is all straight from the horse's mouth)

If they’re looking to regain self-esteem, the first place they look is sex with someone new.

“It was brief and very intense. It filled a gap in my life, and what it highlighted for both of us [he was also married] was how terrified we were of losing what we had with our spouses. I am so glad that my husband never found out, because the damage would have been immense. But then I wonder sometimes whether he suspected and turned a blind eye, that he knew everything would be all right between us as long as I didn’t confess, that it was something transient.”

Some women would rather have affairs than tell their partners that they want more in bed, believes psychoanalytic psychotherapist Jenny Riddell.

Ruth, 43, deliberately initiated a one-night stand when she was abroad for work. “I had been married for ten years to my first boyfriend, and I think I just wanted to prove that I could. It made me feel wonderful, because I had never had that experience before.”

"And how terrific when the crush dissolves, as it inevitably does, to feel the innocence of one who has done nothing more than commit adultery in her heart."

Or take Susanna, 34, who works in human resources. She has been married for years, but is enjoying a series of erotic e-mails and texts with a man she would never consider actually having an affair with. “I have to turn my phone off at night; I can’t sleep because it is so exciting. I need this, because I know I met my husband too young. I love him and will be married to him for ever, but I need this kind of exciting distraction.”

Few men realise just how much their partners sigh inwardly at male stupidity – and then discuss it with their female friends.

Women tell blatant lies about any mishap that might reinforce female stereotypes – crashing the car, buying new clothes. “He has absolutely no idea how much I spend on my hair, and if he did, he would be horrified,” says Clara, 40, who works in publishing.

Many working women (myself included) keep a running-away account, often secret, a sensible precaution when experience shows that men cannot necessarily be relied upon to support us. I know how much money my husband doesn’t have, and he knows that I have money in a separate account. But he will never know how much, because we might need it for something far more important than his Arsenal season ticket one day.

“He gets cross when I buy organic apples. So I put £200 a month into this account so that I can buy all the little luxuries that I want – like strawberries out of season, or expensive make-up – without him noticing. I want that freedom to be able to spend money frivolously, but I also don’t want that to be a sticky aspect of our marriage.”

“Men are so simple. They think we are complicated and devious, but they don’t think to ask us what we want, and we don’t say,” says Clara.

I used to think all those love songs were about men and women,” a new mother told me for my book Life After Birth. “But it is only now that I understand how all those words are really meant for your child."

“If he were killed in a car crash, I’d be more worried about how it would upset the children. I could cope with my grief, but I am not sure I could cope with theirs.”

There is a big difference between hiding an ongoing affair, where you have fallen out of love with your partner but can’t bear to end the relationship, and the casual fling, which was unfortunate, but didn’t mean anything. Not every affair needs to be confessed, particularly if your prime motivation is to appease your own guilt.

And what about their sample?

Sarah, 35, Company manager;
Helen, early 50's, travels abroad regularly for work;
Evie, 45, married to her childhood sweetheart for 25 years, 2 children, finacial difficulties;
Ruth, 43, abroad for work;
Caroline, 45, an architect;
Susanna, 34, HR;
Pat, early fifties, local government;
Clara, 40, publishing;
Carmilla; earns a small fortune in the City of London;
Joanne, 40, lawyer;
Ah, I see the white, upper-middle class career-type is well represented. Which is good, because it's a known, proven-by-science fact that they can speak for every woman, everywhere. Such a representative sample also rules out the possibility that the similarities in their views and experiences might be down to similarities in their circumstances and lifestyles, rather than solely due to their sex.

I think the best bit has to be the quotes from actual, real women on pages 3 and 4.

Thank you, Murdoch press, for bringing the truth! I'm so glad that the truth, once again, panders to my insecurities and reinforces my sense of entitlement. I'm really grateful you're here to protect me from a world where I might have to think and challenge the assumptions I hold about people who aren't me!

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

We had to walk up hill both ways, too

I remember, back when I was in class 7N (for those disinclined to maths, that would make me 12/13).  As part of an exercise in... something, we had a grid of dots which he had to join up.  The dots we used, and the order we joined them up in, were uncovered by means of some maths.  The end result was supposed to be a polar bear.   Half-an-hour into the class, everyone was joining up the dots and making their bears.  I wasn’t.  I’d been fighting and fighting and fighting and I just couldn’t get it.  I had a round hole, and I was clutching a square peg in my hand.  I put my head on the desk, and started to cry.  It wasn’t the only time I’d cried in class 7N, just one of the first occasions that springs to mind.

The Daily Fail had an article about a new set of psychological conditions under consideration for inclusion in the ‘psychiatric bible’.  I was initially sceptical of these new conditions because--as far as I understand the medical system in America--there’s a very cosy relationship between those who decide if something is a disease or not, and those who make drugs to treat the disease.  Maybe that’s just hearsay, I’m really not in a position to judge.

Then I started thinking about Autism, ADHD, Aspger’s, and some of the things mentioned in the article like Intermittent Explosive Disorder.  None of these terms were in the public consciousness when I was at school.  You were a slow learner, or you were badly behaved.  Either way, you were expected to take responsibility for your actions.  Why this sudden rush to label all these things and throw drugs and treatments at them?

And what long-term good is sticking labels on these kids going to do, anyway...?  What if people had been aware of these sorts of things back when I was a kid as they are now?  Would I have been diagnosed with something? 

Might I, possibly, have been given the help and support I needed to function in society?  Would someone have sat me down, talked through these things with me, convinced me I wasn’t irreplaceably broken and given the tools for me to make a decent life for myself?  Would someone had done all that for me when I was 12, instead of when I was 27 and there was an awful lot more damage to undo?

So maybe the doctors aren’t just stickling medical labels on bad parenting or excusing naughty children by giving them disorders.  Maybe if a bit more of this sort of thing had been going on when I was a kid...

There’s no sense in wishing to change the past, of course.  I don’t think these conditions are necessarily labels or pigeon holes.  They’re just a way of saying, ‘ah, so that’s how your brain is working... that’s fine, this is the set of tools you need to deal with the world’.  Call it ADHD, hyperactivity or possession by witches, it don’t matter.  What matters is that someone sits down with you, tells you you’re not broken, gives you the tools you need and the support you need to learn how to use them.

Monday, 22 February 2010

A rather nebulous discussion

So... what's up with these Nebula Awards I keep hearing people talk about?

You mean people like Jason Sanford and Rachael Swirsky?

Yeah, well done on the name check. It's not like you know these people personally...

I follow their blogs, okay? It's good enough. Anyway, the Nebula Awards. Their given out every year by the Science Fiction Writer's Association of America--

Hang on, who are they?

An association of American science fiction writers.

Thanks, Captain Obvious. What do you have to do to become one?

You've got to live in America and be a professionally published author.

Right. So about their award...

Yeah, it's given out to the best science fiction or fantasy published in the United States during the previous year. There's five catagories: Novel; novella; novelette--

Novelette? What the crap?

Longer than a short story, but shorter than a novella. You know how these Americans like to sub-categorize things. Anyway, shut up and stop interpreting me. So, novelette, short story and script.
You can talk again now.

Fantastic. So, who get to decide who gets what?

Rule 12 (f): Only Active members in good standing shall be eligible to vote.
What's that look on your face for?

I'm just wondering why I should care. A bunch of Americans voting on which of a bunch of American fiction is best. I mean, power to them making a space for their own culture and all, but as an Englishman living in Wales, why should I support a cultural juggernaut which is stomping on everything in it's path?

Okay, firstly, it's not just fiction by American authors. It's fiction published in America. The difference is important. Secondly, don't tar everything with the same brush. Sure, McDonalds and Hollywood are killing indigenous cultures like it's going out of fashion but you can't then turn around and say, 'everything American is bad'. Like you said, they're making a space for their own culture, they're not actively stomping on anyone else's, and they've got a lot to offer the world. Plus, what's the population of Wales?

According to Wikipedia, about 3 million.

And the population of the UK is about 62 million. Know what the population of the US is? 308 million. So that's why an award voted for by a bunch of Americans is important. By head, they make up a huge proportion of the international community. It's like asking why anyone should care what the Conservative party think. Sure, they're just one party in Parliament, but they're a very big party. And it's not like those 308 million are all white, middle-class Christian Republicans. 79.8% self-identify as white compared to 92.1% in the UK, and that's just skin colour.

Okay okay, so I can't vote. I can't take part. But I should probably watch, right?

You know, if I trot that line out, in that tone of voice, during the World Cup this summer you're going to smack me in the face.

Yeah... fair play.

And when authors get nominated, they tend to put their stories up for free so people can read them. And by people, I don't just Americans, either. That's good for everyone.


So, we're sorted?


I'll take that as a yes. Or are we going to have an argument about this?

Fuck that, let's get pizza.

Shit yeah!

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Erm... Parentsplaining?

FWD/Forward has a very good, succinct discussion of 'splaining.  I like it, because the discussion directly relates the concept to using your position of privilege to take away someone else's power of self-expression.  In short, it's a man using his position of privilege to tell a woman her experiences of being a woman are less worthwhile than his opinions on what it's like to be a woman, or a temporally able-bodied person telling a disabled person that their opinions on disability are more valid that the disabled persons experiences.  A classic example is a minority being told by people who aren't part of the minority, 'You've got no reason to be offended by that'.

I've seen it used in a more general way, to refer to when a person of privilege assumes their opinions on anything are of more value then the opinions of a person they are privileged over.  The guy telling my friend how to start her motorbike, for example.  It's a definition I have a few problems with, because it's a bit vague and woolly and open to interpretation.  If I was speaking to a female writer, for example, and made suggestions on how she could improve her prose, she could accuse me of mansplaining.  Until she knows that I dedicate a lot of my time to perfecting prose, she would probably have every right to think that.  Conversely, a female who doesn't write could tell me how to improve my prose, and there would be no portmanteaux for that.

Something I've heard parents say a lot is, 'you don't have children, you don't understand, you have no right to tell me how to raise my children'.  It really, really gets my back up.  Underlying it seems to be an assumption that when you become a parent, you are automatically granted access to a special set of skills and knowledges that only fertilizing an egg or forcing a baby out of your vagina can give you access to.  I mean, maybe that's true.  When you decide to raise a child, maybe you're automatically granted a few levels in parenting.  Evidence seems to suggest that you learn to raise children the same way humans learn everything else, though:  Trail and error; and imitation. 

If I were to tell a parent that they shouldn't treat their child like x, y or z, it seems that I would 'splaining to them.  Me, with no personal experience, telling someone who does have personal experience how to do it better.  To an extent, I totally agree with that.  I wouldn't assume I could change a nappy or give a child a bath, much less tell a parent how to do it. 

There's a line somewhere, though.  If I saw a mother smacking the crap out of her child in a restaurant, I'd feel morally obliged to step in.  I also think that raising children on a diet of deep-fried pizza and chips is wrong, and I wouldn't feel unjustified in telling parents they should introduce some fruit and veg into their children's diet.  If parentsplaining can, in fact, exist, then only people who are parents themselves should be allowed to work in child protection services. 

If parentsplaining can exist, and people without children can tell parents that drying your child with a cheese grater is wrong, then parentsplaining is qualified.  Those without personal experience can tell those with personal experience they're doing it wrong under some circumstances.

Perhaps parentsplaining can't exist.  Perhaps parentsplaining can't exist because parents are the socially accepted norm, and are therefore in the position of privilege over the childless.  Perhaps the fact that demonstrable harm is being done to a child is a pretty clear and unambiguous line that doesn't exist in other instances of 'splaining.  Perhaps the fact that children are a disempowered group themselves means parentsplaining isn't comparable to other instances.  Perhaps it's the fact that being a parent is--a lot of the time--a choice, while being a woman, or disabled, or of colour isn't that makes the situation different.

Clearly, I don't understand 'splaining yet.  Before I can understand and assimilate a concept, I need to boil it do to its quintessential essence and watch the vital parts twitch and move.  Then I can slowly, carefully, put the variations back in.  This is just me thinking aloud here, fiddling with my Bunsen burner, my test tubes and my Petri dishes.  Why do I need to write a blog post about it?  Because I need to write about things to examine them.  Prose is my laboratory.  And I'm posting it in public because, I dunno, maybe someone else will find it useful.  Plus, of course, I've got a ego to placate...

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

My idea of Heaven

It would be a roomy room with an open fire and bookshelves heaving under more books than I could read in a life time. There would be a rug, and a spiral staircase leading up to a balcony bedroom. There would be pens and paper.

The best part would be the bed. It would be large, covered in soft white sheets and soft white pillows. They would always be clean and fresh, and it would always be slightly cool when I climbed in. And, when I climbed in, I would feel tired enough to go to sleep.

There are lots of necessities I don’t like being shackled to in life. Eating, for instance. If I could never eat again, that would be fantastic. I could just have a meal once in a while, just for the pleasure of eating. But having to do it so damned much? It just isn’t worth it for the pleasure I get out of it. I look forwards to the day of food pills and protein injections. Washing is another thing. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I keep myself clean. It’s just a process I have to go through every couple of days. Scrub the dirt off and get on with the day. It’d be great if I could get rid of that, too.

But sleeping... There are times when I think I could quite happily spend my whole life asleep. Actually being asleep is great, but so is falling asleep. That bit where your mind wanders randomly and you’re not to sure what’s real and what isn’t.

I’ll tell you what it feels like: When I’m dozing, or falling asleep, or sleeping, it feels like my mind is free. Free from society, free from what other people expect of it, free from my body, free from my own expectations and desires and hang-ups.

Maybe sleep is like everything else. Maybe it’s the scarcity of it that makes is so valuable, and if you have an unlimited supply of it then it becomes worthless. But in my trans-humanist future where you can free yourself from the shackles of physical necessity, I’m going to be keeping hold of sleep.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

A Question of Ethics

It must surely be a bizarre and twisted world where 'No Win, No Fee' solicitors are a force for good in the world.  While the intention of the laws they exploit may have been intended for the benefit of mankind, they are cultivating the greed and lack of personal responsibility which is the cancer of our age.

And then there's The Bastards.  Everyone, I'm sure, has at least one in their lives.  They are people who seem to operate without any moral compass, any sense of empathy for their fellow human beings, any poetry in their soul, any sense of wonder.  They are small, petty people, frustrated with their own powerlessness who stamp on anyone around them as hard as they can in compensation.  People with tight, closed, scared minds, the sort of people who say, 'I'm not being racist/sexist/homophobic, but...'  They may change, because everyone can change.  But it would probably take a night-time visit from three ghosts, a meeting with a messiah, and surviving a major, world-changing disaster to crack that shell of theirs.  And possibly the most frustrating thing with these people is that you are never, ever going to be in a position to hand out some just deserts.

(In my life, the majority of Bastards can be found in middle-management.)

Now, for the ethical question of the day.

Can you see what it is yet?

Lets say a Bastard deals you personal injury.  It's painful, and means you lose money because you have to stay off work.  And that's not to mention the hospital visits, costs of prescriptions, taxis, social isolation, intense itchiness.

Now, is it ethically viable to use a No Win, No Fee company to wring as much money out of them as possible?

Saturday, 6 February 2010

The best ideas always seem obvious afterwards

I've been trying not to mention things like this, but then I just stopped and thought... why?

I don't like blogs which seem to pimp other blogs in some kind of blog circle-jerk--which is an horrific image and I'm sorry to inflict it on you (erm, but apparently not sorry enough to go back an delete it)--but hey, when you've got a great resource, why keep it to yourself?

I'll just let the title and byline speak for itself:
How To Kill Your Imaginary Friends--a writer's guide to diseases and injuries, and how to use them effectively in fiction.

It's run by Dr Grasshopper, who is an actual real-life doctor earning his money saving lives.  That means he's got an amazingly hectic life and if you ask him a question, you might not get an answer before your deadline.  But hey, if it's a good question, you'll get an answer. 

As someone with an unhealthy addiction to research, I have to be careful:  His posts tend to be to me what crack is to crack addicts. 

I mean, look at this:
Heme has a good affinity for oxygen for the purposes of oxygen transport: It binds oxygen tightly enough to carry it around, but loosely enough to let it go when it arrives at its proper destination. (This “oxygen + hemoglobin” combination is called “oxyhemoglobin.)

Enter carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is made up of one carbon atom and one oxygen atom. (The name tells you that, if you break it down.) Carbon monoxide also likes to bind to heme, in the same spot where oxygen likes to bind, right in the “pocket”.

Problem is, it binds WAY TOO TIGHTLY to the pocket, and is very difficult to release.

And that's why people die of carbon monoxide poisoning.  The molecules which make up our blood are able to hold onto oxygen just lose enough for us to exist.  And they hold onto other molecules far tighter.  Is there a more efficient system?  Could you use blood cells to transport tiny packets of molecules which hold data?  What would that feel like?  Why are our bodies seemingly looking for a chance to kill us?  Could you kill someone with carbon monoxide poisoning, and then oxygenate their blood to remove all traces of it?  What's so great about oxygen anyway--I mean, why do we need oxygen and not, I dunno, nitrogen?

One day, I'm just going to take a month of his posts and turn them into a story.  You know, just to get it out my system.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

So, where's my food pills?

This is significantly interesting:  People in vegetative states are alive and well, thinking and reasoning.

It's not hard to imagine a future where we're looked on as savages for turning off life-support for these sorts of people.  It's murder.

Maybe we should just give these people in-brain wi-fi chips and let them roam the net.  We'd just have to make sure the wi-fi didn't interfere with the medical equipment...

Another day, another sci-fi trope becomes a little bit more plausible.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

There's always a bigger fish

I was sad to read about Kraft buying Cadbury. When I was young, my dad used to go down the Off-Licence and bring us back bars of chocolate. There was always something special about Cadbury's. It was like there was chocolate, and then there was Cadbury's chocolate and Cadbury's was real chocolate.

I've been through this too many times to genuinely mourn. My childhood was twenty years ago and the things which made it special are dying. That's just what happens.

What really made me think was a line in the BBC report:
Earlier, Cadbury workers had staged protests in London calling for government support to guarantee jobs.

There are two things wrong with that. The first I'll get to, but the second is that there's nothing unusual about that.

I have a friend who believes--passionately--in a version of free-market economics. He's never read a damned thing about the theory or history, but when he talks it's enough to convince almost anyone short of Karl Marx. His idea is of hundreds of businesses all competing for the same buck. The companies are small, dynamic and cut-throat. They form and disappear like bubbles in a glass of Pepsi. They respond to changing consumer and worker tastes like salmon swimming upstream.

It's a model which means you can't get too attached to your business because you may wake up one day and realise you need to change it beyond recognition. That means it's got to be cheap and easy to set up a business. It also means someone can go from being a CEO to a stock boy and back again in a week.

There's no fear keeping people in their jobs, so if you want to keep your employees you have to keep them happy. There's plenty of other places for customers to go, so you've got to keep them happy, too.

Who loses in this model? Prices will be higher, because bulk production suddenly becomes impossible. There'll be no more chain stores and each town with have it's own set of shops, so you'll have to learn each town's shopping ecosystem individually: There's none of that comfort which comes from being able to walk into a strange town and get a cup of your favourite coffee.

The big losers are the shareholders and the CEO's. Those guys who don't do any real work and get all the rewards. Those guys who decide to pay their workers the bare legal minimum and fire them for independent thinking. Everybody, everybody, will have to work for a living.

That's the way my friend talks about it, anyway.

The trouble we have with the system at the moment is that the power is in the hands of those shareholders and CEO's. Those people who never have to look their workers in the face and never have to watch the consequences of their actions, much less live through them.

Western history is a bloody, gruesome place. A lot of that blood and gore was splattered in attempts to give people some power in their lives. Free the serfs. Free the slaves. Establish a parliament accountable to its people. Give every man and woman--regardless of income--a vote. Now look what we've done with our hard-worn inheritance... The shareholders decide to sell, and thousands of peoples' lives are destroyed. Jobs are scraps flicked off the CEO's tables to keep their precious machines oiled. They'll flick them somewhere else, if they prefer. And there's nothing anyone can do to stop them.

I just think it's sad.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

How wise we are in the full blush of ignorance

I think I'm going to have to come clean about Jeff and Ann VanderMeer's Steampunk. I'm more of a lifestyler than a fan of the literary side of things, and there's an increasing gap between the British and US scenes. I need--no, I want to get into the literary and aesthetic side of Steampunk. I at least want to understand the mainstream literary Steampunk. I'm a writer, I'm a Steampunk, and it's foolish to be in ignorance of what else is happening around me.

The problem with a lot of the things which seem to be coming out the US of late is that they somehow don't seem to 'get' my idea of Steampunk. Look at Abney Park: They're selling pre-made, leather 'high-altitude masks' on their website. Captain Robert, their lead singer, is winning a popularity poll for Steampunks for, 'making Steampunk sexy'. In short, it's all steam and no punk.

I thought the VanderMeer's anthology would be more of the same.


Let me quote a bit from Jess Nevin's wonderful introduction (which I read while sitting in Speaker's Corner on a Sunday morning):
“Steampunk, like all good punk, rebels against the system it portrays (Victorian London or something quiet like it), critiquing its treatment of the underclass, its validation of the privileged at the cost of everyone else, its lack of mercy, its cutthroat capitalism. Like the punks streampunk rarely offers a solution to the problems is decries--for steampunk, there is no solution...”

Maybe one day, I'll learn to control my expectations before I judge. I'm about half-way through, and already I've got an awful lot of food for thought. I've been made to pause at least once and think, 'what's that doing in here? That's not Steampunk', only to go away, think about it, and realise it's probably the most Steampunk story of the collection so far.

I've mentioned Jeste der Vries' Shine Anthology before. I love the fact he's going out of his way to find positive SF. The tendency for SF these days is to be all doom and gloom, and it gets on my wick. I don't want to read stories about how climate change is going to kill us all and it's all our own fault, no matter how well-written they are. 'Humanity is going to kill itself through its own arrogance, short-sightedness and greed' is a tired old sci-fi trope, and I much prefer it explored through the Cold War.

He's made me go away, and look at the things I'm writing. Am I wallowing, or am I trying to do something positive? When critiquing someone's writing or ideas, I don't like to point out problems without offering solutions.

Let me quote a little more from Jess Nevin:
“But most second generation steampunk is not true steampunk--there is little to nothing 'punk' about it. The politics of the punk position have largely disappeared from second generation steampunk, and most of it is more accurately described as 'steam sci-fi' or, following John Clute, 'gaslight romance'.”

So let me introduce third generation Steampunk: Steampunk with solutions. Steampunk written by people of China, India, Tieland, Mexico and everywhere else in the world that deals with the issues they have to fight with a thousand miles geographically, culturally and socially from Victorian London as well as we British with our issues. And Steampunk that sees hope on the horizon. We're not just writers; we're environmentalists, activists, anarchists, makers and a dozen-and-a-half other things. Our solutions runneth over. Us writers, we've got to stress-test them, try and break them and then try to fix them.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

February Reading

Around the end of December, I realised that January was going to be a hectic month. By the 31st, I had to:
  • Finish planning and write Symphonie Magnifique;
  • Finish researching, plan and write The Man Who Ate Germany, a piece on German unification under Bismark for SPM;
  • Work with Allegra to plan and write a piece on being a Steampunk every day instead of just for gatherings and conventions for SPM;
  • Think about, plan and write my story for an anthology being published through Vagrants Among Ruins;
  • Read and review Hartman the Anarchist for SPM;
  • And I’ve just found out about a Big Finish competition to pitch an idea for an audio drama featuring the Fifth Doctor (the best Doctor) and Nyssa.
In most realities, any one of the above would take a whole month.

I impressed myself and submitted Symphonie Magnifique to Crossed Genres on the 13th. I’ve since been working with Bismark, the mad Junker. I’m in London for the Steampunk Spectacular this weekend, but I still have confidence that it will all be done on time.

The anthology story has had to be pushed back due to factors outside my control. Partly, I’m relieved. I’m also partly annoyed, because I had a nascent, half-formed idea which I was beginning to nurture when I found I’d have to somehow keep the embryo warm but in status.

All this unfortunately means that I don’t have time for reading this month. Well, I do, but only reading which serves the Greater Good. That’s annoying, because I got some books for Christmas and spent the few pence I had left from my wages this month on more books. So, February I’m going to read. And no one can stop me!

As well as all the magazines and 'zines, we have:
  • The Judge Dredd/Batman Files and Vendetta in Gotham. Seriously, Dredd vs. Batman? The first scene, the first scene, has Batman squaring off against Judge Death.
  • Grandville. Written by Bryan Talbot and inspired by the work of nineteenth-century French illustrator Gerand, who worked under the pseudonym Grandville and frequently drew anthropomorphic animals. When it was claimed by both the furry scene and Steampunk scene, I decided I had to get it. It arrived on Tuesday, and it’s a beautiful book. It’s hard-backed and the covers are textured like those volumes from the 60’s which still lurk on my parent’s bookshelves, and the inside covers have an almost marbled design which echoes those same books. The binding is solid… in short, it’s turned all the shortcomings of graphic novel production into things to be proud of.
  • Steampunk. Steampunk short stories collected and edited Jeff and Ann VanderMeer. I’d be a fool to walk away. Especially because I submitted Of Mice and Journeymen to the follow-up anthology, Steampunk Reloaded.
  • The Apex Book of World SF, edited by Lavie Tidhar. Difficult though it’s been for me to accept, the world of SF/F has tended to be dominated by white, western, able-bodied men. The strange new worlds and brave new civilisations imagined have, a lot of times, had WWAM values at their core no matter the fantastical creatures which populate them, and the colonies and cities of the future are images of our western metropolises. It takes delicacy and skill to open up new cultures to old minds like mine, and I trust Lavie’s judgement to collect stories which, above any sort of agenda, are stories. They entertain, create and are driven by ideas and characters first and foremost. I brought this book because I need to read it and because the publishers need to be supported for producing it. Also, the publishers need to be supported!
  • Crimea, by Trevor Royle. The Crimean war is, in my opinion, the Steampunk European war. In the comfortable houses of those in charge, it was a cluster-fuck of diplomatic and military blunders with each side only being saved by the disasters of the other. In the tents of the soldiers, it was filled with breath-taking acts of humanity and bravery by both sides which have become part of our treasured history. It was also the first ‘media war’, the battlefield ending up on the breakfast tables of London the same way the Vietnam war was beamed live into the living rooms of a generation.

There are probably enough straight reviews out there already, but I may write something about the Apex book on it’s Amazon page as @apexjason would like some good reviews there (even if he wouldn’t send me a review copy :P). I’m sure I’ll be inspired to write something here by all my reading. And I’m expecting to reap bountiful harvests of fiction-fertilizer, especially for The Colossus Engine, my Crimea war story about a plucky group of rag-tag soldiers and their attempts to destroy Britain’s ‘ultimate weapon’ before it can be used.

And it looks like I’ll have a chance to put some of those fiction-flowers to good use: I’ve just got an email from Absent Willows about a new fiction contest they’re running. The universe may or may not be trying to tell me something, but I’m going to err on the side of caution and act like it is. After all, of all the things you could piss off the universe is probably one to avoid.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Can I be cool and be myself, please?

This post over at Apex Books’ blog got me thinking.  And by thinking, I mean ranting.

There seems to be a lot of these sorts of feelings going around… The idea that, now we have big budge computer-generated special effects, the sci-fi/fantasy/spec-fic genre can finally be a popular, freed from the shackles of dodgy plot, dodgy sets and even dodgier ‘aliens’.

I mean, I’m not going to argue that SF/F/SF doesn’t have a reputation for those things.  Ask someone to draw a sci-fi fan, and you’ll get a picture of an over-weight, white guy in his thirties still living with his mother and a picture of the NCC-1701 on his wall.

What I don’t like is what people seem to be saying.  There seems to be an attitude of trying to reach out to the normal people and saying, ‘hey, you know all those shitty films with their shitty ‘aliens’? Yeah, they were shitty, weren’t they? Ha ha!  But look, we’re cool now!  Come play with us!’

I have a special place in my heart for bad sci-fi and less-than-great special effects.  It’s what I grew up with.  Those skeletons in Jason and the Argonauts?  Pure awesome.  But I’m not going to try and sell anyone on the idea they’re going to get new people into the genres.

But it wasn’t all that bad.  You remember Alien?  How about Blade Runner2001PredatorVideodromeA Clockwork OrangeWestworld.

There were fistfuls of excellent movies (hey, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure!) made before The Matrix.  These aren’t just movies which deserve to be remembered, they are our heritage.  They are our childhood.  They are why we love the genre.  Hell, they are what made us fall in love with it in a lot of cases.  Why the sudden rush to disown it?  Why is everyone changing their clothes, getting their hair cut and disowning their old friends to get in with the cool kids?  Why is everyone remembering The Queen of Outer Space and forgetting the original Terminator?

What we should be saying is, ‘hey, you liked Avatar?  Yeah, pretty cool film, isn’t it?  You know, we’ve been doing shit like that for years.  Hell, would you share Pandora if you didn’t have to?  Well, we didn’t want to either.  But as you’re here, let me show you a few things…’

Monday, 11 January 2010

Profession dysphoria? Pur-lease…

Wait, work with me on this one. 

Gender dysphoria--your body is the wrong gender.  Species dysphoria--your body is the wrong species.  Profession dysphoria--your body is wired for the wrong profession.

See, I’m a writer.  That’s a fundamental, basic fact of my existence I can do no more to change than I could to change my sexuality or skin colour.  But like a man who’ll try on his girlfriend’s underwear while she’s at work and insists on being a ‘she’ when he’s online, I’m not sure that’s who I’m meant to be.

I think… I think I’m actually an engineer.

It feels kind of good to say it at last, but also very scary.

I’m no good with engineering-type things, though.  All those equations about pressure and torque and voltage make my head go squishy.  It’s like being a surgeon but being perplexed by the offal.  I want to be good at them, I want to understand and be fascinated by all those numbers and Greek letters, but they just don’t fit into my brain.  There’s no holes for them to go into. 

I love listening to engineers talk, though.  I love the discussions they have about, say, whether a USB cable plugged into a laptop electrocute a toddler.  I love those bits in Freefall where Ambrose explains why the ship isn’t working and in xkcd where the punchline is a string of computer code.  I love the way engineers take a problem, break it down into parts and argue about how to solve each part while entirely losing track of the bigger picture. 

I want to be able to take a bunch of shafts, gears and equations and make a windmill out of them.  I want to be able to boost the power on my TV remote control so it becomes a deadly weapon.  I want to turn my work chair into an orbital observation platform using only items I can find around the office.

Well, I want to be able to spend my time scribbling on Post-It notes, working out just how impossible those things are and how I can make them possible.  I have a yearning.

But I’m a writer.  My equations are grammar and my gears are adverbs.  I can pull apart a paragraph and make it five times more efficient, but re-wiring a plug is a foreign land full of language sounds I can’t make.  The only poetry in motion I’m likely to produce is when a screwed up scrap of paper that used to be a first draft sails through the air and into the bin.

Sigh.  I’m a fox engineer in a human writer’s body.  Maybe I should form my own support group…

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Open brain and tip the words out

ABC News has an article from the Adult Entertainment Expo, with a report on the world's most advanced AI 'Sexbot'.  According to the maker's site, she "can carry on a discussion and expresses her love to you and be your loving friend. She can talk to you, listen to you and feel your touch."  All important things in a lover.

When I read about it, my thoughts went a bit like this:

“The most advanced AI and we make a sexbot with it?  Sheesh, my species sucks at being intelligent.”

“But then... the only times we really excel and push ourselves is for sex and war.  At least it isn't killing people.”

“Huh, huh-huh... Sexbot... huh-huh...”

And that's when I tweeted about it.  Yeah... I'm guilty of bringing down the tone on Twitter.  Sorry about that.

It raises an awful lot of interesting questions, the sexbot.  If men and women don't feel the need to have sex with each other, will they feel the need to interact at all? 

If a man wants sex, is it so bad to give it to him?  If we remove this primal drive we're always fighting with to get our end away, will men start to see woman as people first instead of sex objects?  Will that mean an end to the culture of exploiting women's sexuality to make a buck? 

If sex becomes like a Burger King burger--your way, when you want it--will sex between human beings become better?  Freed from the burden of basic satisfaction, will people start to treat sex like the art form it should be?  I mean, I've said for a while that if you remove the necessity of something, you'll rediscover the art.  Just look at what gourmet chiefs have produced now we don't have to worry about where our next meal is coming from.

Or will this just perpetuate and entrench the 'my way, my terms, fuck you' culture that's consuming us as a society at the moment?

Would I buy one, if I could afford it?  How long before they can make ones for those that like men?  Would my partner and myself end up with our own sexbots that we used whenever we felt a bit horny, and spend our evenings intellectual discourse with each other?  Or would we just never talk to each other again?  And, if we did never talk to each other again, then that kind of means the only reason we're in a relationship is for the sex... that can't be a good thing, can it?

You know, maybe I should buy half-a-dozen and open up a brothel.  It would mean there's less demand for human prostitutes, which has got to be a good thing, right?  Mind you, imagine being a species that evolved from sex toys.  Going to church to sing hymns to the Great Pimp in the

Friday, 8 January 2010

In my own image

I just wanted to share two, very different, maps with you.

The first is from the BBC and does a good job of explaining why I've been finding it so hard to get out of bed recently:

It's from this page on the BBC, but was also on the front of the Indepedent and the Telegraph this morning. I really, really hate the fact that, the moment weather deviates from the norm in this country (too hot, too cold, too windy etc) the entire infastructure falls apart. It makes me want to move to France. It's not that pictures like this make me any more forgiving, but it's something of a shock to see our green and pleasant land covered in Tip-Ex.

The other picture was this, very different, one:

All about family values, eh? You know, keeping things in the family...

In other news, the BBC reports that we should be getting a whole load of new wind farms here in the UK. Wonderful news. Of course, people will protest. 'It spoils the view', they'll say. Now, that's talking from a position of privilege. Words don't describe how stupid, arrogant and selfish those people are. They should be made to live in a world of their own creating. What really gets me is that wind farms are far, far less intrusive on the landscape then over-ground electricity pylons. Do these people campaign to have them taken down? Do these people rename their towns, 'a-quiet-and-beautiful-little-Welsh-village-where-those-bastard-English-are-endangering-some-wildlife-I've-found-I-can-hang-my-NIMBYism-on'? No. That would mean them giving up their electricity. Can't even contemplate that. Can't fathom the idea of giving up their entitled privilege for their principles. Far, far better that other people--people they don't know--suffer so they can maintain their cosy, selfish little worlds.