Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Breaking the Twitter Addiction

I recently quit Twitter or, rather, I deleted it from my computer and Ipad so as to remove that temptation. My Twitter account is still linked to my Facebook account so anything I put on the latter appears on the former. 

The social media have been promotional tools, or at least that’s what I told myself. They are also a support in a profession that is pretty introverted. I get to chat with fans, some of whom have turned into friends. I tell them what I’m doing, have exchanges about science fiction, science and politics but, as ever, it is this last that is a problem.

There’s a difference between Twitter and Facebook to me. It could be that Facebook has a more mature demographic than Twitter. It might also be that the latter is more amenable for the drive-by comments, the trolling and brief spats during which no one has the time or words to calmly explain themselves . . . or that the medium attracts those who don’t want to. However, as people have suggested, it is more likely that this is just a matter of who I allow to be ‘friends’ and who I either block or mute. This has some validity since for years I’ve been very selective on Facebook in cutting out those whose opinions annoy me. But the problem I feel is also me. 

On Twitter I allowed more of the angry political stuff and vented more myself. Ranting has its attractions, it’s letting off steam, allowing oneself to blow . . . but as time goes on it becomes an addiction. I find myself scrolling through Twitter (I visualize myself staring at the screen with a moronic expression) just looking for stuff to be angry about; looking for stuff I can make cutting comments on. This is all very well if you have time to waste, but I do not. I have books, blog posts and other stuff to write, a website to update, a garden and a house to keep tidy, books to read, a life. 

Anger is also a negative emotion, and I have had quite enough of those for four years now. I can go on Twitter, get only involved peripherally in some spat, and it still makes me feel sour. And what does any of this achieve on the political front (where most of the anger resides)? In the end our effect on the politics of our country is limited to one vote every now and again and, as has been demonstrated recently, that vote can be all but ignored. Some argue that one must make a stand on the basis of the old aphorism that ‘for evil to prosper all that is necessary is for good men to do nothing’, which I have to counter with the reality most sensible people have come to understand, that arguments on the social media change no one’s mind, they just leave people pissed off. 

So I’m out of that. I’ll leave Twitter alone for a couple of weeks, then go back to do some muting and blocking. I’ll also adjust my settings to limit comments to my followers only. Thereafter I’ll check in only intermittently. 

This is better for me. The sour political world of Twitter can bugger off.  

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Beyond Skyline and Warcraft


Having dived back into reading (I’ve read more books this year than in the previous 5) I reckon it’s been a month since I turned on my television. Scanning through what was available on Netflix I felt no urge to get back involved with any of the interminably extended franchises so looked at the films. 



First up was Beyond Skyline – an enjoyable, derivative and all-over-the-place sfnal romp. It is science fiction you can enjoy just so long as you’re prepared to NOT take it seriously. It has aliens in there that are like Predator, a bit of, ‘Oh my God it sucked out his brain!’, plenty of Kung Fu Fighting and is full of enough holes to drop a space ship through. I would style its attitude as close to Guardians of the Galaxy, but with more people ending up dead.


Next up, because I did not feel at all tired, did not want to read now and was in sofa sloth mode, was Warcraft. It had caught my attention before whereupon my response was, hmm, that’s going to be some crap fantasy based on a game. I decided I would lose nothing by taking a look at it and, damn, straight in with some of the best fantasy CGI I’ve seen. The orcs were brilliant and, it could be argued, had almost more character than the human actors. But I’m not disparaging the human actors – they were damned good too. It grabbed me and I realised that here was a great story, with characters I cared about, battles and fight scenes that were excellent, interactions that worked. I enjoyed it immensely.

I understand that this film has been panned and I totally disagree. Recommended. 

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Languages of Pao by Jack Vance


It’s interesting returning to the kind of stuff I used to read rather more years ago than I care to think about. Some writers are now just an immediate ‘no’ because too much in their books has dated. Social mores and technology have changed so much since these books were written that some of them are risible. Also, since having written a fair few books (I dunno, 25?) I see stuff now I wouldn’t have seen when I was a na├»ve teenager. I see the holes, the ideas started and abandoned during the book, the diversions, the padding or rather lack of an editorial hatchet.


Thus far those that had stood ‘my’ test of time have been books by A E Van Vogt and now to him I add Jack Vance.


The Languages of Pao by Jack Vance has a damned good idea as its basis: changing a culture by changing the languages the people speak. In fact, having learned a lot of Greek, I can see how strongly a language reflects its culture and how a reversal, as in this book, might be true. I enjoyed this, the characters, the strange cultures described, and the conclusion. It is notable how both Vance and Vogt are very vague about the technologies their characters deploy – here we do have tech that is indistinguishable from magic – and describe settings that are only loosely based on the writers’ own time. In this way it is much less likely for their books to go past their use-by date.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

The Cosmic Engineers

This one was a no-no right from the start. Two reporters on a space ship, one of them turning a dial to tune in the radio, gave me difficulties with suspension of disbelief right at the start. People from the 50s supposedly in a future three thousand years away from us. Other things in the science and the narrative were appalling. A guy getting into a pressurized spaceship through the front screen was risible. Then there was a woman, after a 1,000 years in hibernation during which she was conscious, waking up and behaving as if she's been a bit stir crazy for a few days and, incidentally, speaking the same language as the reporter who freed her. Nah. This makes me realize how much SF I swallowed with a naive hunger when I was younger.


This is not really a review since I didn't get more than a chapter or two into the book.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Battle of Forever - A E Van Vogt

After Syzygy (previous post) and a failed attempt to read With a Strange Device by Eric Frank Russell, I resorted to one who has never disappointed: A E Van Vogt. The Battle of Forever snared me immediately. Sure, published in 1971 it’s a bit dated, but I didn’t find myself cringing at any of the technology, just a little bit at the mores. Of course not: this is Van Vogt and right from the start it’s far future super-science.


Modyun is one of the thousand remaining members of the human race, incredibly long-lived, peace loving and totally rational. He doesn’t suffer much from all that emotional gland-related stuff because, well, as this starts out he hasn’t got very much of that icky stuff going on, being mostly a bloody great head with a negligible body. But then he must venture beyond the barrier out onto the rest of the planet, which is now occupied by animals uplifted into human form and intelligence. To do this he grows and eight-feet-tall body to support that head, and begins to experience its effects, especially when he discovers Earth has been conquered by aliens…

It’s the good old stuff.         

Syzygy - Michael G Coney

Syzygy by Michael Coney was first from that stack of second-hand books I picked up in Hastings. I immediately found it a little disappointing. If I had read it when it was published in 1973 my reaction, as a voracious consumer of any SF, would have been different. But the world has moved on since then, and so have I. 

The sfnal idea here is of oceanic plankton breeding every 52 years and, in the process, forming briefly-lived minds to protect itself. These minds control the local blackfish (sharks really) to attack and kill the fish that would feed on the plankton. This effect spills over onto human colonists causing a telepathic amplifier feedback effect on emotions, resulting in violence and various irrational behaviours. In essence: you really don’t want to know what people think of you. The human government responds to this with an attempt to poison the minds and, becoming aware of the humans, they respond by trying to drive the humans into the sea to be torn up by the blackfish. 


Intertwined in this is a human story concerning a bereaved husband falling for the sister of his dead wife, along with a mystery about how she died – all resolved in the final scenes. I’ll go into no more detail about it than that. I found it all a bit prosaic and a struggle to get through because, really, I was after the sfnal hit. In fact, beyond the plankton minds, it all struck me as a bit lacklustre. This could all have been about mind-controlling plankton arriving at the coast of some US town in the fifties. While in science fiction one must suspend disbelief, in old SF one must extend that suspension to cover, in this case: fifty-year-old technology on a colonised planet, and the mores of that time. One just has to laugh a hollow laugh when only a woman is capable of properly cleaning our hero’s house, and when that same hero, upon sensing the thoughts of a pipe-smoking psychologist, has a homophobic reaction that would today have the writer strung up by the thumbs, albeit the reaction was that of the protagonist.  

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Reading Again


When I was in my 10s, 20s and 30s I used to read huge numbers of books. Over some early years it averaged out at 10 books a month. Maybe this was because the books I read back then were slim SF volumes from the likes of Asimov, Blish, Aldiss etc. As I transitioned into a full time writer that number grew smaller but I still always had a book on the go. Events four years ago (which I have gone on about enough) killed my urge to read, but it has been slowly recovering. Now it seems I have broken through some barrier thanks to Terry Pratchett.



Over the last month I polished off 12 Pratchetts in the collection above. I then felt the urge to return to my habit of old which was wandering around second-hand bookshops in search of sfnal (and fantasy) gems. Last week Julie and I went down to Brighton and then Hastings to visit my old editor, Peter Lavery. There I wandered into a shop and this happened:



My first choice out of these was perhaps the best and, reading Philip K Dick’s Zap Gun reminded me of why I have none of his books in my collection. But onward and upward! Next I’ll try a Van Vogt who, thus far, has never disappointed.