Friday, December 29, 2006

Bye Max.

Fuck shit cunt bollocks and buggeration gets the swearing out of the way. In the weeks before christmas Max started having epileptic fits again and the only solution to this was to up the dosage of his medication (£40 a month that costs). A few days before christmas we took him for a walk, but he was weak and his back legs kept giving way. He only managed a circuit of a nearby sports field and three times I had to lift him from a sitting position back onto his feet. A subsequent examination by the vet showed him to have a healthy heart and to apparently be quite fit, so the vet gave him an injection to help out with his back legs and was going to supply anti-inflammatories for the problem.

However, on christmas eve he could hardly manage to get up and seeing him anxious to go for his walk yet his legs giving way on the slipper floor of the home’s front hall was heart-breaking. He went quickly downhill from then and further blood tests have revealed that his liver is failing. This is one of the penalties of his spending the best part of his life on anti-epileptics. Because of this failure the drugs are no longer as effective and giving him anti-inflammatories would only worsen his health.

The vet has advised the only option remaining to him and is calling round to the old people’s home to put him down this afternoon. It’s horrible, but stepping back it’s easy to see that Max is a luckier resident of that home, since he has a final option that the others there don’t.

Merry christmas and a happy new year.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Neural Darwinism.

Now, I’ve always ascribed to the dictum ‘use it or lose it’. If you don’t use your muscles they become weaker and if you don’t use them at all, as in the case of someone wheelchair bound, they atrophy. Getting yourself out of breath expands the capacity of your lungs. Swimming, and particulary swimming underwater is especially good in this respect. Putting stress on your bones strengthens them. Those whose bones remain unstressed for a length of time, like astronauts, rapidly lose bone mass.

I’ve always thought that the same rules apply to the brain. If you don’t make any mental effort, your ability to make mental effort declines. I feel that this equally applies to those rather vague cognitive functions like imagination. And this article lays it all out very neatly.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Books thus far.

Okay, Maynard1977 has asked me if I’ve got any more books coming out, so I’ll sum up where things are so far. My (available) books thus far published are:

Agent Cormac Series: 1.Gridlinked, 2.The Line of Polity, 3.Brass Man, 4.Polity Agent,

Stand alone: Cowl, Africa Zero, The Engineer ReConditioned, Prador Moon, Runcible Tales (chapbook of 6 short stories)

On Spatterjay: 1.The Skinner, 2.The Voyage of the Sable Keech.

Books of mine due to be published are: Hilldiggers – a standalone set in the Polity, Line War – number 5 in the agent Cormac series (the last one, I think), Prador Moon (British edition) and an as yet untitled collection of Polity short stories.

I think that’s about it.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Snippet.

I found this on the Dawkin’s website courtesy of a comment by one Sancus:

“The association of modern atheism with Stalin and Mao has long got out of hand. I plead with anyone reading this to loudly stand against this association by revealing that Stalin and Mao are closer to religious figures than they are to modern atheists not just because of dogmatism, but because they share rejection of self-ownership.

It is the denial of the right for an individual to own herself that is the common and shared cause of both religious and Marxist injustices.”

Damned right.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Hilldiggers Back Cover.

Ooh, shiny. I've just received the full dust jacket for Hilldiggers from Peter Lavery at Macmillan, (along with some more of the contents to check over). As well at the wonderful front cover picture we now have this from the back cover.

Serial Killer in Ipswich.

Oh dear, it seems we have a serial killer getting up to speed in Ipswich, which is about a three-quarter-hour drive up the A12 from where we live. Last weekend the discovery of two corpses warranted a couple of column inches in the papers about three pages in, now that the killer has bumped off five prostitutes in ten days the media is going into a feeding frenzy. I note that the BBC News anchorman is now at the scene and wonder if the higher-ups in that organization decided to send him, or if he threw his weight around to be in at the kill, so to speak.

One annoying aspect of this is the reporters going on at the police about guaranteeing people’s safety and speculating on how it’s possible for this killer to grab women from ‘under their noses’. Are they too stupid to realise that tens of thousands of cops in the area will not guarantee absolute safety? And that for a lot of the prostitutes there, getting cash for their next drug fix is more important than personal safety, and that lots of police in the area will rather cramp their style so they’ll try to avoid them to get hold of their next customer?

The area where the latest two bodies were discovered (Nacton) is one I know. A friend and workmate of mine used to live up there and I used to visit him. I wonder how he would have been feeling if he still lived there: single bloke living alone in his own house. Of course it’s just as likely that the killer is married with kids, like the Yorkshire Ripper (Caroline and I had a bet on how quickly that name would be mentioned. It was mentioned almost immediately.), and right now some wife is maybe thinking, ‘You never said where you were last night, I thought you were having an affair and now I wonder…’ Another theory posited by someone we know is that there isn’t one killer, that this is the result of some Kosovan gang trying to take control of the prostitution racket. Interestingly, when talking about the murders the police are quite meticulous about saying, ‘person or persons’.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Waffling.

Mmm, perhaps I need to do a little less ranting here, not to stop pissing people off, but to keep myself sane. Really, if you look for it, there’s enough in the media every day to get one frothing at the mouth. Perhaps the anger is rather like depression: it’s there first and then looks around for an excuse to exist.

Nice thoughts. I’m closing on 50,000 words of Line War and maybe I should deliver an early RSI warning: I think this is going to be a big one. I keep going in to writing say section of the story and come out the other side of it having not quite got there. Plenty of drama, but the aim I set out to achieve each time seems to take two sections. Also, at 50,000 words (which for me is usually more than a third of a book) the war itself has hardly got past the digging of trenches stage. I mean … I’ve only blown up one world for goodness sake and the death toll hasn’t moved into eight figures yet.

A hundred edited pages of Hilldiggers are behind me and more are on the way. I’ve had two reader’s reports on it and on the whole they’re good. Sales are looking good too. The hardback sales of Polity Agent are over half again those of Voyage of the Sable Keech, but then I’m finding that I’m getting more readers coming back for more in the Cormac sequence than I am with stuff set on Spatterjay, which was rather surprising.

What else? My weight hovers at about 12 stone, despite the fact that we’ve nearly polished off a barrel of homemade stout (this weekend I’ll be making five gallons of bitter), fitness seems good, despite the cigarettes and, really, I seem to be on top of everything. I just wish I had another set of hands and another brain to keep up with demand … note to those wannabes out there, if you really are aiming for publication success and not just pissing around, produce loads of stuff, loads, because if you do get there, it’ll all soon go.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Suffer the Children.

You know, it is unfortunate and horrible when a child is ill. It is unfortunate and horrible when anyone is ill. But why oh why are all sick children always ‘brave’?

Brave: Having or displaying courage, resolution, or daring; not cowardly or timid.

You act bravely or you act cowardly. Bravery is not bravery unless there is the option available to be cowardly – there’s an element of choice. A child who has had some awful illness resulting in numerous operations and perhaps the removal of a limb or two, doesn’t really have very much choice in the matter, and probably doesn’t have much of a clue about what is going on anyway. The doctor doesn’t go to the child and say, “Well, that leg is going to have to come off,” and the child doesn’t reply, “Go ahead doctor, I’ll hold the tourniquet and bite on this stick while you saw.” This perpetual pathetic misuse of the word ‘brave’ devalues it (just like the use of the word ‘hero’ to describe a football player).

Now, perhaps the mother and father will be able to say that their child has displayed courage throughout the trauma, and maybe that will be true despite the usual parental bias. Perhaps the hospital staff will have some say in this. But am I cynical in assuming that in our ‘inclusive equality-driven society’ that the kid who goes screaming and whining to the hospital is going to get the same ‘bravery’ award as the one who showed resolution and courage?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

NHS Come Dancing.

Oh bloody hell. It now seems the porkers of Britain will be able to get dance lessons on the NHS. After spending £2.5 million on ‘Local Exercise Action Pilot’ schemes, this sort of crap is what our Public Health Minister Caroline Flint has come up with. Well, excuse me, people are porky because they eat too much of the wrong food and don’t exercise enough. You didn’t need to spend £2.5 million to find that out or to find out what couch potatoes need to do to be more healthy. And spending money on giving these people dance lessons when others are dying in this country because there isn’t enough money to pay for the drugs they need (though of course this doesn’t apply to Scotland and Wales) is a travesty!

Monday, December 04, 2006

MP's Pay Rise.

Every now and again I’ll read something, blink, read it again, then listen for the theme music from The Twilight Zone playing in the background. I’d like to say that what I’ve just read beggars belief, but it doesn’t, it seems par for the course for the 646 twits in Parliament pretending to run this country. It’s just the normal ‘I’m sitting at the top of the heap so fuck you’ attitude of these lying, cheating, grasping, slobbering Orwellian swine.
These rancid turds claimed a total of £86,700,000 in expenses and office allowances last year, which averages £134,000 each. These 646 septic shitbags each cost us £726,000 a year for which they actually work (if it can be called that) for less than half a year. Their pay has risen by 37% since 1997. They get a £40,000 a year inflation-proof pension

AND NOW THEY WANT THEIR BASIC SALARY TO RISE FROM £60,277 BY 66% TO £100,000!!!

They are on £625 a day before expenses! With expenses they are on £1250! Will the expenses go down? Will they buggery. If they get their way these sodden lumps of fecal matter floating at the top of the parasitic public sector will be on £1500 a day – that’s just about the weekly minimum wage per hour!
Shit! Where is Guy Fawkes when we need him most!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Max Again

For those of you who followed the Max saga, here's an update ... or rather a video clip of him from a week ago, eating far too many biscuits.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Prador Moon Reviews

Other than to say thank you very much every now and again I don’t normally make any reply to reviews. Having seen quite a few of them now I know that every time I come across something negative in one review I can point at a number of others that flatly contradict that negativity in every detail. However (you knew that was coming didn’t you), despite the many positive reviews out there, I am getting a little hacked off with the nature of some of the adverse responses to Prador Moon. It is, apparently a) Too short b) Too expensive c) Too simple.
Now, let me just point out that it is simple because the story … erm, let me think … because it is short? In its way this book is a bit of a reply to those other reviewers who claim my books are far too complex and convoluted (though that wasn’t the intention). It’s a straightforward story with a lot less plot threads than usual something I’ve been aiming at more lately because my plot threads usually seem to proliferate during the writing of the first two thirds of a book and I then spend as much time extracting and discarding threads as I do writing the last third of the book. It’s short because that is what the publisher in this case requested. As to the price let me just say, “What's that got to do with me?”


Authors have as much to do with the cover price of books as the inventor of sherbet dips has to do with what they sell for in the sweet shop. And as for the kind soul who put up a two star review on amazon.co.uk without even reading the book and because of ‘a’ and ‘b’ above … well, the page count is there and the price is there, you either buy it or you don’t, but you don’t put up a negative review of something you haven’t even read!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Another Translation.

Ah, the juggernaut rolls on: the Czech publisher Polaris have now made an offer for Brass Man, which they intend to publish in the next twelve months. Thus far they have published The Skinner and Gridlinked, with The Line of Polity next. The Skinner won the Salamander Award (the picture here is of the publisher collecting the award) given by the Czech Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror as the best SF book published there in 2004. This was out of a shortlist of Blood Music by Greg Bear, Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds, The Scar by China Mieville and A Deepness Upon the Sky by Vernor Vinge. What an excellent list! The following year Gridlinked appeared on the shortlist, but didn’t win. What’s really good about all this, of course, is that most of the foreign publishers who have taken my first books for translation, are now coming back for more.

Other news: in a recent phonecall Jason Williams of Night Shade Books has expressed surprise and delight at the sales of Prador Moon. The first print run is all but gone and orders are still coming in. He also made a book club deal with it too. And it now seems likely that there’ll be a British edition of Prador Moon and a collection of Polity short stories including those published in Asimov’s, Interzone and elsewhere.

I’m presently working through the editing of Hilldiggers, with Line War now at over 40,000 words sitting to one side. Also set to one side at the moment is a another book I’ve started for Night Shade Books, which tells the story of Cormac’s early years.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Misty

Just trying to figure out how to put video clips on here. This is a cutesy picture of our pet chinchilla eating rose petals (she's now pushing up roses).


Peter Watts

Some while ago Tor US sent me an ARC of Peter Watts’ excellent book Blindsight, which I read almost in a state of shock because it was so good, and for which I wrote the blurb:

Blindsight is excellent. It's state-of-the-art science fiction: smart, dark and it grabs you by the throat from page one. Like a C J Cherryh book it makes you feel the danger of the hostile environment (or lack of one) out there. And it plays with some fascinating possibilities in human development, and some disconcerting ideas about human consciousness. What else can I say? Thanks for giving me the privilege of reading this.”

A short while after this I was checking a few things out on the net when I discovered Peter has an excellent website here http://www.rifters.com/index.htm -- particularly worth checking out is his lecture on Vampire Domestication http://www.rifters.com/real/progress.htm To my delight I discovered that he already had four other SF books published, so I got chatting with him and arranged a books exchange. Subsequently I received signed copies of Starfish, Maelstrom, Behemoth B-Max and Behemoth Seppuku (The last two here are actually one book divided into two for the benefit of American book sellers – perhaps their staff have been suing for RSI damages caused by lifting any book of more than 110,000 words).

I’ve read all four books now and though I don’t think the last three are as good as Blindsight (which I have to say is the best SF book I have read in years), I definitely put them in a league ahead of most stuff out there. Really, if I hadn’t read Blindsight, Starfish would have been at the top of my best SF book list for the last few years, with the others a short distance behind it.

Why these books are not much more well-known and why they are not published in Britain is a complete mystery to me. Maybe, as some reviewers have opined, they’re too dark and cynical. Maybe they’re too intelligent. Whatever. I think they are far more deserving of plaudits than so many we’ve seen on the shortlists of various awards over very many years.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

German Sable Keech.

But the Japanese have got some catching up to do with the Germans. Bastei Lubbe have bought everything up to Hilldiggers, in fact they took Polity Agent before anyone had seen it and Hilldiggers before I’d even written it. I’m really grateful for their confidence in me, if somewhat spooked too.

My thanks of course to Stefan Bauer. It must be a bugger of a market there when it seems that every German I’ve encountered tells me they read the English version!

Here then is the cover of The Voyage of the Sable Keech. Please, no comments about loud and smelly flatulence, and no giggling. We are serious literary people here…

Monday, November 20, 2006

Cowl in Japan.

Liz Johnson (Rights & Co-editions Manager at Macmillan) “…is truly delighted to report a Japanese deal for COWL. This is particularly exciting news as the Japanese fiction (and particularly Sci-fi) market is incredibly difficult at the moment - so many congratulations! Hayakawa Publishing Inc. will publish in paperback within 24 months.”

Excellent stuff – that’s country number nine after the USA, Russia, Germany, France, Portugal, Czechoslovakia, Spain and Romania.

Now, my thanks to Hayato Kato who approached me to get one of my short stories (The Veteran) published in Hayakawa's magazine. He took it upon himself to push me out there and doubtless this result is much due to him!

Casino Royale

As James Bond, Sean Connery looked tough, he looked like the kind of guy who could rip off your head and crap down your neck. Lazenby is a vague blur in my mind. To my recollection he had some of that Conneryishness but strayed into the territory of the Milk Tray man. Roger Moore, frankly, looked incapable of ripping the skin off a banana and probably needed a stunt double for any scene where he had to walk fast. Dalton and Brosnan are also vague blurs, the latter looking like he should have been selling Grecian 2000 before moving into a career in televangelism, but then both of these were overshadowed by special effects and an increasingly silly array of gadgets and improbable villains.



When it became known that Daniel Craig was to play James Bond, there were those in the media who immediately started attacking him. Having seen him in Archangel I thought this all a bit unfair. Now having seen him in Casino Royale I’d like the reporters concerned to be force-fed their own newspapers, anally. Craig was bloody excellent. He can do smooth, but with a nicely thuggish undertone, and has a lot more emotional depth than all the previous Bonds, including Connery. I think he’s the best yet.

It was also good that this Bond movie was without gadgets or ridiculous hitmen with steel teeth. Though updated, it was very true to the book. Are film directors starting to realise that CGI has levelled the special effects playing field and that story and character are once again of prime importance? I hope so.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Control Freaks

To these words add one of the phrases below: ‘If something is not done catastrophe will ensue, so I am going to make lots of new rules, regulations and laws that you must obey, because’

you are too fat,
you smoke too much,
the planet is warming,
you drink too much,
you drive too fast,
you produce too much waste,
you are racist,
you are homophobic ,
the terrorist threat is growing,
you might hurt yourself,
you smack your children,
you’ve got a job and others haven’t,
you’re too rich,
an Ice Age is coming,
the oil is running out,

Then, after adding your chosen phrase, now add these words: ‘and you are going to pay and pay and pay until your bum-hole squeaks.’ These particular words can also be added to the phrases below:

I want a cushy number in Brussels
I want to rescue the children of Africa
I want a fat pension,
I want another pay rise,
I want my son/daughter/wife/husband/aromatherapist to have a cushy number in Brussels
I want all people to be equal, whether or not that’s true
I want my party financier to have this contract

It’s easy enough to think of many more…

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Post.

Sigh, I sometimes wonder whether sending people signed copies of my books is worth the hassle. Some of you reading this may recollect my rant about the Canadian post office, with its stringent bureaucratic bullshit about how parcels should be addressed. They lost one parcel and returned another parcel to me (I did not put a senders address on the front, so some twat looked inside the parcel to find said address so as to return the parcel). But this was not the end of the matter. Sticking utterly to the letter of Canadian post office law I sent books in two parcels, because in one parcel they were nearing the weight limit and I didn’t want mistakes. These parcels were also correctly addressed and signed-for delivery.

The recipient of these parcels wasn’t in the office when they got there so one of the two parcels went to the local post office. He had to pay $8.00 in duties for for the privilege of collecting it. The second parcel, one that wasn’t even searched by Canada Customs, was decreed to be of a value in excess of $870.00 CDN. As the recipient said to me “WTF!!!! Are they on crack???” They tried to charge him almost $60.00 in duties on books whose value came $37.00 on the custom’s declaration form. “They’ve got to be on drugs!!!! And not even the good ones!!!!”

He observed:
“Neal, please don’t get me wrong because I’d never devalue your work because yes, I’m definitely a fan and I REALLY can’t wait to get those books in my hands… But, there’s no fricken’ way in hell I’m going to pay twice the amount of the declared value in duties so that some petty, self-important bureaucrat can pad his personal bonus for revenue generated!”

He disputed the duty charges and sent the package back to Canada Customs to be re-evaluated. Customs we’re then supposed to contact him so that they could have an “informed discussion” about the value of the contents.

“F*ck (again!!!)”

The final result of this was an apology from Canadian Customs. Apparently a computer glitch resulted in the books being overvalued by a factor of 10. How remiss of them.

My latest bit of fun, which prompted this bit of blogging, concerned a copy of Polity Agent sent to a guy in the USA. Despite being bubble-wrapped and placed inside a padded envelope, the book arrived with its spine damaged and dust jacket split top and bottom (see the pictures). I now must make a compensation claim (I won’t be paid the full value) and send another book from a limited supply. Be nice if the postal workers concerned treated parcels with a little respect rather than using them to practise drop goals.

Anyway, it is now an unfortunate necessity for me to send books wrapped in bubble-wrap inside corrugated cardboard boxes, which I’ll have to buy, so costs just went up.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Well, for various reasons I’ve not been reading as much as usual, and my ‘to read’ pile has been stacking up. First on my list upon returning to it was Crystal Rain by Tobias Buckell. It’s always a little worrying reading a book by an author you’ve had contact with since you always feel the urge to say something nice even if you don’t mean it. I’ve tried to hammer down on that over the last few years. Now I will only comment on a book if it is one that grabs me and keeps me focused on it throughout; one I’ll read in preference to doing just about anything else. I’m happy to say that Crystal Rain is such a book. It’s got all the stuff I like: a bastard superhuman immortal, cruel rip-your-guts-out aliens, action, characters I cared about and a good story. If you like my stuff, I rather think you’ll like this too.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Reminder: Heffers.

I nicked this from elsewhere:

Heffers 2nd Science Fiction & Fantasy Evening will be on Thursday 2nd November from 6.30pm. Tickets are £2.00 each, this is redeemable against a purchase made on the night. Under 15s go free, but still require an entry ticket.

For further information or to purchase tickets, please contact Heffers Bookshop, The Grafton Centre, Cambridge or telephone 01223 568573 or email sarah.whyley@heffers.co.uk.
We have a fantastic line-up again this year and the evening will be free from speeches and readings, just a chance to meet some fantastic authors, get books signed and mingle.

The line-up is as follows:

Mark Chadbourn, Chaz Brenchley, Stan Nicholls, James Barclay, Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Neal Asher, Justina Robson, Jon George, Mike Carey, Steve Cockayne, Juliet E McKenna, Jessica Rydill, Amanda Hemingway, Paul Kearney, Mark Robson, Sam Enthoven, Ian Whates, Simon Satori Hendley, S F Said, Matthew Skelton, Eoin McNamee, Erin Hunter, Angie Sage, Philip Reeve and Peter F Hamilton.

Where's my liver?

Ah, there's hope for me yet: "British scientists have grown the world's first artificial liver from stem cells in a breakthrough that will one day provide entire organs for transplant. "

Now all I need them to do is start growing lung tissue...

Rather doss-about day today. Rather than write anything I just sat and read Terry Pratchett's 'Thud'.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Snippets 1.

I’m now about 13,000 words into Line War and only one planet has been depopulated. I must be slacking. Readers might be glad to know that a certain brass guy has become a little miffed with certain recent events…

Well, the dieting regimen I mentioned last month http://theskinner.blogspot.com/2006/09/before-getting-into-this-writing-game.html certainly seems to have done the job. That is, the regimen whereby I eat bugger-all, smoke plenty and drink espresso. I can even tuck in my shirts, having now lost precisely one-and-a-half stone, have a 32 inch waist and am thinking that maybe I can ease up a little.

My camera replacement (after a series of unfortunate events involving a bottle of coke and a hangover) is a Nikon Coolpix L4, and seems to do the job I require of it. I considered getting myself a digital movie camera then forgot the idea. Do I want to experience a larger proportion of my life through a lens?

Barrel of stout brewing away in our kitchen here. Should be ready in about a week, whereupon I’ll move it out in the shed to keep it cool. Um, maybe I should keep to the diet…

After the recent demise of our VHS video recorder, we searched in the local supermarket for a cheap replacement. Nothing doing; old technology. I finally bowed to the inevitable and bought a DVD HDD recorder (Liteon). Excellent machine, and somewhat easier to use than the old VHS.

Short stories: one called Bioship has been taken by George Mann for his The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction.

Right, back to work.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Hilldiggers Cover.

Here’s a first look at the probable cover of Hilldiggers. I like this. Someone has definitely read the book to produce it because this is the ‘massively secure space station’ mentioned in the blurb below. A station called Corisanthe Main.

During a war between two planets in the same solar system – each occupied by adapted humans – what is thought to be a cosmic superstring is discovered. After being cut, this object collapsed into four cylindrical pieces, each about the size of a tube train. Each is densely packed with either alien technology or some kind of life. They are placed in three Ozark cylinders of a massively secure space station. A female scientist, conducting research there, falls pregnant, gives birth to quads, then commits suicide.

By the end of the war one planet has been devastated by the hilldiggers – giant space dreadnoughts employing weapons capable of creating mountain ranges. The quads have grown up and are assuming positions of power in the post war society. One of them will eventually control the hilldiggers.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


My thanks to Roger Fourt for pointing out this particular site to me: http://www.blur.com/shorts/rockfish/index.html Here you can find a short animated film called Rockfish, created by Tim Miller at Blur studios. It’s excellent. I felt impelled to email the guy and say so, and to wonder how long it would be before all actors end up having to sign on at the dole office. He emailed back to thank me, but also to tell me he is a HUGE SF fan and has The Skinner and Prador Moon sitting on his shelf. He’s also told me that they’re developing Rockfish i.e. turning it into something bigger. Bloody good luck to Tim Miller and Blur studios I say!

Digging Words.

Well, I can definitely say that today at 4.35 I saved Hilldiggers with the certainty that it can now wing its way to Macmillan. It’s a great feeling. Now I must return my attention to Line War, which at present stands at a mere 7000 words (Hilldiggers is 141,000 – just a little smaller than Brass Man).

With the completion of this book my word count, for Macmillan, now stands at over a million. In one of those silly calculations, instigated by my dad, I’ve worked out something daft. He asked me what that total would add up to in distance. I duly worked out an average word count per line of text them measured a line. It turns out that (just in the books) I write at a rate of about a mile a year. Since the first word of Gridlinked I’ve covered about seven miles. My hope is to circumnavigate the Earth, but I rather suspect I won’t live that long.

Ah well.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Many thanks to Kevin and the rest at Forbidden Planet for having me there signing books, and for helping clean up my bag, camera case and so forth. I turned up there slightly hung-over and in need of a coke, and before entering the store, took a few gulps from a bottle before returning it to my bag. The cap wasn’t on properly. Result: bag full of coke, three discount copies of Prador Moon sold in the pub afterwards, numerous soaked bookmarks and one defunct digital camera. Suffice to say it wasn’t particularly profitable trip for me.

Nice to meet (in the bookshop and in The Angel) Peter Haydies and Saba, Mark Croucher, Neil Mullins, Scott Hume and Jools Enticknap – who gave up on getting me to sign his second name when he saw I couldn’t even get the first one right! Thanks for an excellent evening, and I hope you enjoyed yourselves. You’ve learnt now that the SF writer is just as capable of talking complete bollocks after a few pints as any other mortal. In fact, I think that’s par for the course.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Here's a reminder for those who might be interested or in the vicinity:

I'll be signing copies of Polity Agent this coming Saturday the 7th October between 1 – 2pm at Forbidden Planet, 179 Shaftesbury Ave London WC2H 8JR. This shop is at the Junction with Neal Street. Nearest Tubes: Tottenham Court Road, Covent Garden, Leicester Square and Holborn.

If you can't make it to the signing, don't forget to pre-order your signed copy from the store. I'll also probably be chilling in the pub around the corner afterwards too.

Have a good one.

Monday, October 02, 2006

There’s not much to say about a holiday when you spent most of the time lying in the sun, or drinking Retsina or Metaxa, or eating. But I really have to say something about the eating.

On our first night at the Athina Apartments we wandered down to the seafront of Anissaras – where a few restaurants were located – walked past a couple that looked okay but with d├ęcor a bit motorway services – then came to a place that seemed rather nice. It was called The Windmill and was a ‘traditional Greek taverna’. Stretching up from the road along the seafront a grassed area, scattered with tables and a couple of water-pump windmills, led to the restaurant itself. We wandered up to take a table then scanned the menu.

The both of us being seafood addicts – specifically prawns and other shellfish – we ordered the ‘shrimps’ which came three ways: boiled, fried or grilled. I chose fried and Caroline chose boiled. The dishes were about 10 euros each, along with a litre of Retsina at 7 euros. When these ‘shrimps’ arrived we knew we’d found a place we would be returning to.

To your average Briton, a shrimp is something not much larger than a cigarette butt. We’d seen the pictures in the menu so knew this dish would be otherwise, but weren’t entirely sure what we’d get. Now to us prawns are the size of a finger. These were king prawns – check out the picture – and you just don’t get them like that in Britain. They were fresh firm and meaty and the fried version you didn’t even have to peel. I ate just about everything but the shell around the head. The shell was like a seafood version of crackling. I’d ordered them fried because I’d remembered eating something similar in Rhodes longer ago than I care to think about.

Other food in this family-run restaurant was of similar quality, but for us the ‘shrimps’ were best. I recollect a German couple on the table next to us eating the mixed grill and finishing their meal just before ours arrived (this was on another evening, since we devastated the Crete shrimp population in that restaurant). When the guy saw what we were getting his eyes nearly popped out of his head and he had to ask me about them.

We ate in this restaurant for just about every evening of our holiday. We drank Retsina in their garden after each exhausting day on the beach and watched the owner’s nutty goat trying to climb on sunbeds. Why try somewhere different when you’re getting food, and service, this good? The family running the place were friendly and very good at what they did – picture here of them with Caroline. I’d recommend The Windmill to anyone holidaying in this part of Crete.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Back From Crete.

Okay, I’ve just been on holiday yet again (but I was writing stuff on the beach, and not in the sand) and, as before, I wasn’t going to announce that fact here to the Internet-cruising burglary community.

I wondered what it would be like in the airport, after recent events. We arrived early at Gatwick check-in and there was no queue at all. Wonderful. Then we saw the vast mass of people slowly tramping towards hand-luggage scanners. Having seen and read the signs, we had already removed all potential liquid explosives from our hand luggage, all pointy objects and all cigarette lighters. Coming up to the scanners we then found we had to remove our belts and shoes so they too could go through the scanner. While this was occurring, I noticed a chap in uniform having to go through the same process and wondered if the set of wings on his uniform jacket might be considered a dangerously pointy object. Obviously pilots as potential suicide bombers are more dangerous than, say, pilots who might feel inclined to make a short diversion to drop their plane on Canary Wharf.

On the way back from Crete we again carefully put all potential liquid explosives, lighters and pointy objects in our main luggage. Greek security pulled me over, pulled on gloves (thankfully only as a precaution against the skiddies in the case) then after a brief search ordered me to return all my cigarette lighters to my hand luggage.

Funny old world.

Time for another medical rant. Anyone who suffers from acne rosacea will know what miniocin minocycline capsules are. They’re the pills that can stop your face breaking out in postules or taking on the jolly red glow of a bottle-of-whisky-a-day Santa. In Britain, you need a prescription for these capsules and then have to pay the prescription charge of £6.95 for 14 of them. Guess what? In Greece you can buy a pack of 12 of them over the chemist’s counter for about 4.60 euros – about £3.00.

This turns me to thoughts of other inequities. Set up a still in Britain and Customs & Excise will be kicking down your door and pinning you to the floor with the barrel of an assault rifle in the back of your head. In Crete the national drink is raki (not ouzo, surprisingly) and it is not produced by big corporations but by little, unregulated family concerns. Perhaps this continues because of the Cretan attitude towards central government in Athens. In mainland Greece gun control is very strict, almost British. In Crete, if government rules go contrary to custom, they are ignored. Just about every family has illegal firearms, which they fire into the air during celebrations. Perhaps we should learn from this: perhaps if we all had guns in our houses nanny government would be reluctant to interefere in our lives.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Writing News

Good news on the selling front. Via Jeremy Lassen’s blog (I think) I’ve learnt that Prador Moon is in the trade paperback top five at Borderlands Books and that this is not the first time it has been there. Checking there myself I see that the month before last Brass Man was in the top ten paperbacks too. Shiny.

Also, in a break between books, I decided to sit down and produce some short stories. Maybe because I’m now more used to writing at length, these stories grew in the telling so I ended up with Alien Archaeology at 21,000 words and Owner Space at 18,000 words. I hesitate to call them ‘short’ since the stories I have submitted to magazines have usually fallen between 5,000 and 15,000 words. The good news is that though it’s long, Sheila Williams at Asimov’s has accepted Alien Archaeology.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Before getting into this writing game full time, I was one of those guys you see driving around in a truck with the back stacked up with hedge cuttings or the best part of a tree, or I was the guy chugging around on a big mower on your local playing field. I did this for about fifteen years: worked hard during the summer then when things cooled down in the winter I did a bit of writing. During the winter I used to put on about a stone in weight, then come the spring and early summer I would dump that weight in about two to three months. Of course, that ain’t happening now.

It’s something people don’t realised about manual workers who move into a sedentary occupation. You’re fit, you have acquired the eating habits to support that level of activity, and you’re used to being out in the sun, sweating. One problem is that the reduction in exercise, and sunshine, can make you more prone to depression. Another is the weight. I found that the stone I put on in the winter wasn’t easily going away and over the last five years my weight has been edging up. Exercise goes some way to alleviate this, but no amount of exercise can match five days of manual labour each week. I once worked out that on my ‘walk-behind’ day – when I went out with a couple of walk-behind mowers and cut private lawns – I was walking over twenty-five miles, fast, often carrying a heavy-duty strimmer or big mower bags of grass cuttings.

For the last few years I’ve been fighting the flab with low carb diets and, per week, nine miles of dog walking, 24 to 40 miles cycling and a few sessions of weight training. It ain’t enough, so now I’ve come up with a new diet plan. It’s not healthy, but I’ve been growing tired of being a fit fat bastard with and ever-increasing waistline. It goes like this: you work on the theory that if you keep shoving food into your gob and not burning it off you are going to get fat, so stop it. I stopped eating for two days and thereafter confined myself to one small meal a day. Feel hungry? Well, my stomach has shrunk so that’s not so much of a problem, when it does become a problem I smoke a cigarette. Feel tired and lethargic? Drink a triple espresso.

Eleven pounds in twenty-two days – half a pound a day. You’d think I would feel knackered, but I don’t. I actually feel a lot better and am doing more. Think of the weight in 2lb bags of sugar. Five and a half of them would certainly strain the handles of a supermarket carrier bag, and I’m no longer carrying that. I might write a diet book…

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Year's Best SF 11

A story called Mason’s Rats appears in here. I wrote it ages ago, then went on to produce Mason’s Rats II & III. The first two were published in issues 2 & 4 respectively of Orion ('92 & '94). All three stories were then released as a booklet by Graeme Hurry's Kimota. When in 2000 I finally got into ‘big publishing’ I had the pleasure of meeting an author whose books I’d enjoyed for about a quarter of a century – Tanith Lee. We met, chatted, exchanged books, and some time later I also gave her a copy of the little Mason’s Rats booklet. She loved it, and asked if I minded her sending it to Gardner Dozois at Asimov’s. I didn’t refuse.

Interestingly I’d already sent a short story to Gardner called The Veteran, which he accepted and published in the Asimov’s of June 2004 (also went on to be published in Japanese publisher Hayakawa's SF Magazine, May 2005 issue). He also accepted Mason’s Rats I. It’s a tight and very short little story, amusing (I think) – something to enjoy but certainly not something to write huge dissertations about.

Yet here’s the weird bit. When the first story first appeared I found a review on the Internet – of the political ramifications and deep significance of this or that – that ran to more words than the story itself. When the story appeared in Asimov’s, a reviewer called Dave Truesdale slammed it in an editorial on his site Tangent somehow infering from it that I was a left-wing PETA-supporting animal activist, and demanding to know who accepted it because ‘readers have a right to know’. Of course my reaction was bewildered hilarity. A little bit of a row developed on the message board there, and now it seems that whenever rats are mentioned on the Asimov’s message boards, that story is often refered to.

It was all very strange.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Caroline has just got herself a new mobile phone which is so ridiculously packed with functions that you probably need to take some sort of course to work it all out. Amazing also is the size of the battery in the thing. Studying it last night, while drunk, and trying to cancel out the predictive text – she was trying to write ‘sorry’ to someone since she had texted that person a blank message, and we kept ending up with the word ‘sprout’ – I suddenly remembered some dreams I used to have.

When I was a kid I received as a birthday present one of those now archaic LED digital watches – the kind where you had to press a button to see the time since leaving the display on would flatten the battery – and later received an early Rockwell calculator. After that I would occasionally have dreams – and I mean REM sleep dreams not waking fantasies – about owning a digital watch that possessed all sorts of weird functions, and could display graphs and other types of information in colour. Strange. This was before I even considered trying to write SFF, so I guess the stuff I was reading was already having some sort of effect on my mind. We now have various devices that display information in that way, so those dreams were close to a correct prediction of the future.

Other dreams of that time were of looking up and seeing the sky full of traffic: huge quadrate vessels, like skyscrapers detached from the ground, tumbling through the clouds. Now, because the London airports are all within 60 – 70 miles of where we live, the sky is often scattered with airplanes and criss-crossed with vapour trails. Not quite there yet – we still need antigravity.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Forbidden Planet.

Right, back on track. There’s another ‘bit of a do’ earlier than the one at Heffers on the 2nd November. I’ll be at the Forbidden Planet in London. Now, I’ve just learned that the one I’m going to is not the only one in the city – there’s a Forbidden Planet International. It’s not that one, it’s the one with the old rocket logo at:

179 Shaftesbury Ave London WC2H 8JR At the Junction with Neal Street (pictured). Nearest Tubes: Tottenham Court Road, Covent Garden, Leicester Square and Holborn.

I’ll be there on Saturday the 7th October signing copies of Polity Agent between 1 – 2pm. If you can't make it to the signing, don't forget to pre-order your signed copy from the store. I'll also probably be chilling in the pub around the corner afterwards too.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

A Bit of a Do.

For anyone who is in the area, there’s to be a bit of a do at Heffers Bookshop in the Grafton Centre, Cambridge, on 2nd November starting at 6.30pm. Numerous writers, including me, will be there to sign books and generally wander around and chat. Here’s the attendance list thus far:

Neal Asher
Steve Cockayne
Mike Carey
Erin Hunter
Eoin McNamee
Matthew Skelton
Mark Robson
SF Said
Amanda Hemingway
Philip Reeve
Jon George
Paul Kearney
Sam Enthoven
Heulwen Jones
James Barclay
Justina Robson
Stan Nicholls
John Courtney Grimwood
Mark Chadbourne
Chaz Brenchley
Juliet McKenna

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Times They Are A-Changin'

While biking along today, reflecting on the lack of girly mags lying on the verge being due to inveterate wankers getting their fix of porn via the Internet, I was overtaken by an eighty-year-old clad in lycra and an Alien-look-alike cycling helmet. Things have certainly changed. The old boy was probably off to share a cup of green tea with the eighty-four-year-old hottie he met at Tai Chi. Back when I had less grey than dirty blond in my hair, most men of that age had popped their cogs and shuffled off to trip the light fantastic. In the unlikely event of any surviving and being able to climb onto their 40’s bone-shakers, they would have been clad in baggy trousers, tweed jacket, cycle clips and a flat cap, and be off for an appointment with a pint of Guiness and a rollie shaped like a trumpet (less tobacco in the butt you throw away).

After the lycra lout had disappeared into the distance and I’d admitted to myself that my chances of catching him were remote, I pondered some other changes. Back in days of yore, in the eighties, when I went through my brief boy racer stage (this stage ended with my Mark 4 Cortina upside down in a ditch – check the picture and note the similarity to the one in the canal at the beginning of The Full Monty), girls were careful reliable drivers. Now it appears that the insurance premiums of these twenty-somethings are going up. These female testosterone addicts are now as adept at fuck-off sign language and shouting “Tosser!” out of the window as any of their opposite sex.

Other changes? Petrol was about the same price as a pint of bitter or a packet of cigarettes and if anyone had heard of global warming they would have thought it a good idea. The Internet as we now know it was undergoing its birth pangs and Bill Gates had said, “640k ought to be enough for anybody.” (Was he talking about bytes or dollars?) The music was excellent, fashion as cyclic as ever, and I was building boat windows. I was also some years away from getting by first ever story published in Back Brain Recluse.

Interesting times. Arriving at my destination, I pulled my jeans out of my socks and rolled a rollie to console myself. It wasn’t trumpet-shaped, but then I use filters. I'm thinking about getting a flat cap.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Max Part Four: The Ending.

After Marjorie’s death we had to wonder what would now happen to her dog. We continued walking him on a regular basis and just made enquiries when the opportunity arose. The staff said he had become more needy since her death, but I think that might have been an illusion – he had become a lot more demonstrative over the months he’d been a resident in this old people’s home probably because there were more people fussing him. Whenever we turned up to take him for a walk, he would make a fair bit of noise and roar up and down the corridors to let everyone know the rest of his pack had arrived and the were going OUT. As a little time passed we heard that things might become a little difficult, that the only place for Max might be the incinerator beside the vet’s surgery. Who would be prepared to take on an aging Alsatian suffering from epilepsy?

Marjorie’s daughter and partner invited us to her cremation in Chelmsford. Though anything involving religion tends to bring me out in a rash of contempt, I went along with Caroline. The service was mostly secular with only a little plea near the end for anyone to join in the Lord’s Prayer if they felt the need – the guy read it out without anyone accompanying him.

We were surprised and pleased to be given a mention for all we had done for Max and Marjorie and we learnt a little more about her. Nothing hugely surprising, but you realise on such occasions that the old woman you knew hadn’t always been old homebound and ill.
Afterwards we went along to a kind of wake in a pub in Chelmsford along with a few other guests including Marjorie’s ex-husband and partner – who had come down from Scotland. We learnt that if those running the old people’s home were willing to keep Max, the ex-husband would pay the bills. Of course, there were details to be sorted out…

Upon returning to our routine of walking Max we learnt that the ex-husband had balked upon finding out just how much it cost to keep an epileptic Alsatian in food and pills. It again looked like Max would be taking that trip to the vet’s. However, further negotiations took place about which we know few details. Marjorie’s daughter and partner took on the bulk of his care costs and we continued walking him.

Maybe, those of you who have been reading this have been expecting an unhappy ending. Well, there isn’t one. We are still walking Max and he is a much loved pet and resident of Downhall old people’s home. The end? Hopefully not for some years to come. The pictures here are from this morning’s walk.

Friday, August 04, 2006

As a present someone paid for Caroline to ‘adopt’ a meercat called Rizzo at Colchester Zoo. Included in this gift were some entry tickets, so off we went today to take a look around. It being the school holidays I spent quite a lot of time dodging bollock-height rocket-propelled six-year-olds, and both of us spent time getting out of the way of massive prams (Tell me, why it is that when the toughest 4x4 requires only four wheels these prams require eight wheels?) pushed by fat-arsed dumbos: “Why’s it digging holes?” “Because it’s a meercat and that’s how they look for food you thick cow.” “What’s that?” “Read the fucking sign … oh, sorry.”

I have to say the zoo was a disappointment. It seems much like the Natural History Museum, which only has 20% of its exhibits on display – the rest stored away in warehouses. And what’s taken the place of the removed 80%? In the museum, it’s plastic dinosaurs and interactive displays, in the zoo it’s the latter plus kiddy’s play areas, shops and other similar crap. And another thing: where’s the fucking reptile house? Nope, not there. In our pc green environmentally-aware cuscus-eating dictatorship we have the Amazonian, Asian and African areas. Well fuck off. I go to the zoo to see animals not environments. The most animals I saw were stuffed toys in the shopping scrum you can’t avoid on the way out. Never again.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Macmillan have agreed a new deal with Bastei Lubbe in Germany for the next two books, Polity Agent and Hilldiggers. Great stuff - the German publisher is always the first to buy rights to my books, quite often without even reading them. Apparently my stuff is selling ‘respectably’ there.

The Voyage of the Sable Keech was Lubbe’s top SF Titles for its month of publication and got a half page in trade ads, whilst Brass Man got was top SF title, got a full page trade ad, and was also Lubbe's top title (i.e. not just SF) for the month overall.

Brass Man cover adjacent. Anyone recognise it? Lubbe, though enthusiastic about grabbing my books are not so enthusiastic about using new artwork. The cover of Gridlinked was Arthur C Clarke’s 2061 cover and another from one of Meaney’s books has also been used.

Other news? I’ve finally printed up Hilldiggers and given it to my parents (applied mathematics lecturer and a school teacher – retired) and a friend in Maldon (works for Marconi – smart cookie) for criticism. I’m now having a pop at a few short stories I hope to bang off to Asimov’s and Interzone.

Friday, July 28, 2006

David Gemmell Dies.

Damn and buggeration. I’ve just discovered that David Gemmell is dead at the age of 57. He’d had a heart bypass a couple of weeks ago, but obviously it didn’t do the job. On an utterly selfish level: crap, no more excellent books like Waylander, Legend, the Jon Shannow books … so many excellent reads. This is truly a shame for readers of his stuff, and of course for his family and others who knew him. I wish I could have met the guy.

On another note, I tried to leave a post on the BBC website about this, but it was rejected because my post contained offensive language: the word ‘bugger’. I replaced it with ‘damn’ and it was accepted. Laughable, really.
Ah I see the cover for Brass Man is up on amazon.com, but sadly it’s not out in America until January, and sadly The Line of Polity isn’t coming out there (yet?).

Interesting day, in the Chinese sense of ‘interesting times’. I sat down to write some more chapter starts for Hilldiggers only to receive a phonecall from my mother informing me she had called an ambulance for my father. He was coughing up blood, amongst other unpleasant symptoms, and he’s only just come out of hospital where they were filling him up with the stuff. We went over there to find the paramedic working on him, then when the ambulance picked him up we followed that to the hospital, where we waited expecting the end. It didn’t arrive – more blood, drugs, treatment. Thus far he’s had a stent put in for a bile duct blockage, that followed by chemo for the tumours (lung and pancreas) that led to that blockage, followed by shingles and a skin infection … it’s been going on for some months now. I now intend to get completely and utterly slaughtered.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

While on holiday I read three books, all of which were enjoyable. First was courtesy of Stefanie Bierwerth at Macmillan – one time oppo of Peter Lavery and now and editor in her own right. This was Dead Simple by Peter James, an excellent thriller with a nice plot thread that seemed to come directly out of those old late night Hammer Horror showings. The next was Banner of Souls by Liz Williams. Some excellent ideas here, the main driving one being ‘haunt tech’ – a definite feeling of ‘I wish I’d thought of that.’ Last was Starfish by Peter Watts, which was as excellent as I expected having read his book Blindsight.

Only three books – I always expect to read more than this. I did, however, work through a couple of chapters of my Hilldiggers each day. I’ve since updated the alterations I made then and am now working through my ‘chapter starts’. I should be banging that off to Macmillan within the month.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Here’s a little bit more, but that’ll be all. The thing about sunny slothful holidays is that really, there ain’t a lot to say other than: sprawled in the sunshine, swam, ate a meal, drank too much etc … which is the attraction really.

17/4/06

Back at the apartment we prepared to go off on a ‘sunset cruise’ we booked. I heard Gerry (Caroline’s father) talking to a woman in a nearby apartment and went out to join in. She seemed okay at first but has now turned into ‘the scouser from Hell’. She appeared at the meeting point for the cruise and it soon became apparent that she was to be avoided – attaching herself leechlike to people and talking non-stop bollocks. On the boat she headed for the top deck, her attitude implying that we were to follow her. We didn’t. However, she soon found others to attach to and at no point during the trip did her chatter cease

Caroline and I moved to the stern of the vessel to take things in, whereupon we fell into conversation with the deckhand. He showed us pictures of the ‘kingfish’ catches he had made during his wintertime job as a fisherman. He then moved into bullshit mode showing us an item on a string around his neck and claiming it to be the tooth of a black shark. I could see it was a half claw of some crustacean – a crayfish or a langoustine. No matter, he moved on to a Dutch girl who couldn’t have given him more signals of invitation without wrapping her legs around his neck.

The cruise midpoint meal was on mainland Greece where we were packed around tables on a beach and fed mediocre food. Gerry got the scouser next to him, but she concentrated her line of bull further down the table where she found her soulmate, or rather, someone looking for a holiday shag. The group this guy was in ended up with her for the return journey. We saw some others in this group becoming quite upset and making little darts for freedom (I dunno what was going on up there). This even included her soulmate. As we left the boat we saw she was still attached to them, excitedly wondering where they were going to go now. All but her looked quite sick.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

9/7/06

Nice apartments we’ve found ourselves in: path leading up to our veranda and front door surrounded by a garden full of lemon and pomegranate trees. We’ve walked to the beach sign-posted, and it’s three quarters of an hour away with some interesting stuff along the route: walnut, fig, eucalyptus and almond trees, various rubbish and a dead dog. Cool (as in temperature) sea and steep beach, sun beds 8 Euro for two – with umbrella – for the day. Other prices? 5 litres of retsina for 7 euros, 2 litres of Metaxa for 19 euros. Bloody hot here, but not the oppressive suffocating heat of Essex. Quite noisy in the morning ... damned cockerels and cicadas…

13/7/06

Thunderstorm and pouring rain last night. Heat unrelieved so I stood out in the pouring rain in the middle of the night. We discovered a closer beach today on the other side of Skiathos town: sandy, shallow sea for a little while, sheltered, but consequently crowded. I snorkelled (not a lot to see), did plenty of crawl and sometimes just lay floating on my back in the sea. On the way back from the beach we stopped for a half litre glass of Mythos each – the glasses taken ice-coated from a freezer. Outstanding. In the evening we ate in a restaurant poised next to the sea. You could toss your leftovers into the water and watch the fishes homing in and feeding like piranhas.

14/7/06

Ten 50g packets of Old Holborn cost 60 euros here – about £4.20 a packet. At home in good old rip-off Britain a packet of this stuff is nearly £11.00, that’s £110.00 or 160 euros for ten packets. That wanker Gordon Brown is really coining it in, but does he spend it on the NHS, is it spent on research into addiction or on cures for lung diseases? Is it buggery. It’ll mostly be used to keep some chain-smoking welfare scrounger on 40 a day.

In the pharmacies here you’ll find other inequities whose source is probably the drug companies. If I am not careful in places as sunny as this my lips burn and then I end up with cold sores. The most effective cure for these is the cream Zovirex. When this cream came onto the market in Britain it was £5 for a tube no larger than a dog-end and now the price has dropped to about £3.99. Here you can buy it for half that price.

Being an evil (and foolish) smoker, the other thing I need is an inhaler. At home I can’t even get near one until I’ve seen a doctor and received a prescription and then I have to pay the prescription charge of £6.80 (or thereabouts). Here you just walk into the pharmacy and buy one over the counter for less than a couple of quid.

The cost at home of the two items I’ve mentioned would have been £10.79, here it was about £3.50.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Okay, I haven’t put anything in here for a while because Caroline and I have been sunning ourselves in Skiathos. I said nothing about this before going because I feel no overpowering urge to advertise to the world that our bungalow is empty for two weeks. However, I was keeping a journal while away and here’s a little bit:

7/7/06
On the anniversary of the London tube bombing it’s nice to see the good people at Gatwick firmly controlling the really dangerous people: those damned smokers. The smoking pen in the middle of the upstairs shopping area, with its curved over Perspex screens (presumably to prevent escape) and its central location, seems placed to put on display and shame the underclass of nicotine addicts. It’s almost a refugee camp. While inside it, I half expected passers-by to start lobbing over aid packages.

Now I’m crammed into a space on an aircraft which, had I been a dog, the RSPCA would have considered cruel confinement. They would have rescued me from this aircraft and provided me with a bowl of water and some Bonios. Very shortly we’re going to hear all the bull about the exits and life jackets. Does anyone for a moment believe this matters? When was the last time you saw rescue boats picking up life-jacketed survivors from a crashed passenger aircraft? When was the last time anyone picked up passengers from such a crash without the aid of a shovel and some black bin liners?

I just read in the paper that when asked by John Humphries about his other alleged affairs John Prescott replied, “People must judge me by what I do on the job.” You have to wonder if his foot-in-mouth disease is a charade. While people consider him a clown they're less likely to boot him out of his cushy non-job.

When leaving Gatwick I spotted the mock-up aeroplane the airport fire crews practice on. It’s made of steel and about the same size as the real thing. Upon our arrival at Skiathos I spotted a similar plane that appeared to be made out of dustbins. I could see that fire practice probably involved a Greek guy sauntering over with a bucket of water.

As we disembarked the ‘safety demo kit’ – used by the stewardess to tell us all about the intricacies of life jackets – fell out of the hand luggage locker onto Caroline’s head.

More later.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Max Part Three

What was going to happen to Max? With Marjorie being moved into a ‘recovery home’ for an indeterminate period, he surely couldn’t stay in kennels. We considered the possibility of having him in our house, but ours is a small bungalow with a postage stamp garden. In one winter he would have turned the garden into a quagmire and have trailed in mud to destroy a pale carpet we’d recently had laid. If there was no alternative, we would probably have had him. However, we were in for quite a surprise.

We’d discounted the idea of Max accompanying Marjorie to the home. Surely the HSE would not allow this, surely those running the home would be terrified of being sued by residents or relatives of residents knocked arse-over-armpit by such a large Alsatian roaring about? Surely there were rules about this sort of thing? Surprisingly, those running the home were prepared to have him there. Apparently the rules are that a pet can accompany someone into a home, but people living in homes cannot buy pets.

Though it had now become a twenty mile round trip – travelling to Bradwell where the home is situated rather than to Burnham where Marjorie lived – we decided to continue walking Max. The home was a secluded ivy-covered mansion and when we arrived there, I looked around at some very old and ill people tottering around on Zimmer frames and wondered how having Max here could possibly work. Marjorie looked a lot better: clean, tidy, walking about without her frame. Max, however, looked in a terrible state. He had lost weight, he looked miserable, his back legs kept giving way – a common complaint in Alsatians and the one that usually precedes their visit to the vet’s for that final injection. I felt the staff in the home, who were hard pressed enough as it was, were rather annoyed about having a furry resident to look after too.

We took him out for a walk. It was bleak, windy, cold and wet, and we didn’t know where to go. We ended up heading generally towards the coast and the big grey loom of Bradwell power station. On the way we found a fenced-off football field where we could let him off his lead, beyond that we necessarily walked on the grass verge beside a long road. It was all rather depressing, and I suspected it could not continue. Then things slowly began to change.

After two or three exploratory walks we found an excellent route that took us out to the left of the power station, along the sea wall before it beside the Blackwater Estuary, onto a shell beach, then returning on the other side of the station along a nice walk before hitting the road again. We later discovered that we didn’t even have to walk all the way along beside that road, since there was a footpath in the field adjacent. As we continued walking him the weather grew steadily better into the spring. His legs no longer collapsed underneath him and he began to put on weight. And the staff in the home began to fall in love with him.

One day, when we opened to front door to the home, we saw a Filipino lady running towards us, a big grin on her face, with Max in hot pursuit. Max really liked her and followed her everywhere, so the other carers told us with some jealousy. He also had a bit of a game with the lady who fed him his dinner, for when she gave him his epilepsy pills wrapped up in a piece of thin ham, she necessarily had to chase him for a little while too. Slowly, over a period of months, Max’s usual reserve began to disappear. He went from being the only pet of a chair-bound old lady to a pet that belonged to perhaps ten of fifteen carers. Marjorie wasn’t vastly happy about this. He was her dog, yet it was infrequent when we arrived to find him anywhere near her.

Many of the residents really liked him too, smiling benevolently when he was near and reaching out a hand to stroke him in passing. The night staff thought he was great too. When one of them took a nap on a couch he would sleep on the floor beside her. “I feel safe with him here,” she told us. Nothing quite like the assurance of a large Alsatian nearby when you’re on night duty. Marjorie’s daughter and partner often visited, taking Marjorie and Max up to the nearby pub. When carers went down to the local shop they sometimes took him with them. He was seeing more life, more action, than he had ever seen before. He was having a great time. On the odd occasion, when a door was left open, he wandered off and caused all sorts of worries. But eventually he stopped doing that. We would often turn up to find him sprawled out the back, on the concrete or the lawn, where the carers sat for their tea break.

Things had turned out very well, for him. Marjorie, however, was becoming increasingly confused and though her health had rallied under care, it deteriorated again.

Then she died.

To be continued…
From 800 years in the future, a runcible gate is opened into the Polity. Those coming through it had been sent to take the alien 'Maker' back to its home civilization in the Small Magellanic cloud. Once these refugees are safely through, the gate itself is rapidly shut down - because something alien is pursuing them. The gate is then dumped into a nearby sun. From those refugees who get through, agent Cormac learns that the Maker civilization has been destroyed by pernicious virus known as the Jain technology. This, of course, raised questions: why was Dragon, a massive biocontruct of the Makers, really sent to the Polity; why did a Jain node suddenly end up in the hands of someone who could do the most damage with it? Meanwhile an entity called the Legate is distributing Jain nodes ... and a renegade attack ship, The King of Hearts, has encountered something very nasty outside the Polity itself.
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Saturday, July 01, 2006

At last an enjoyable episode of Dr Who after two rather awful ones. The low moment came last week with that ridiculous tossing of a cigar-sized spaceship into the flame of the Olympic torch (at which point I finally had to leave the room). Well, if the ship required heat then put it in the damned microwave or on the hob. Now perhaps this was some obscure reference to ‘Torchwood’ but, if so, it fell flat. At that point the episode finally descended into what it had been teetering on the point of from the beginning: extreme bathos.

It would also seem that, with an instinct I would credit to rats leaving sinking ships (possibly misguided) that Billie Piper is leaving. Thank goodness for that. If her character Rose and the Doctor shared another of those giggly aren’t-we-having-a-laugh-travelling-through-space-and-time moments I swear I would have to buy myself a rifle and situate myself on a Cardiff tower block. Let's hope the Daleks roll over Rose Tyler like a lorry over a hedgehog, though a hedgehog is admittedly cuter.

The only big criticism I have, of tonight’s episode of Dr Who, is the music. One day directors might learn that loud music is no substitute for good acting or drama. It also really puts off those who are hard of hearing – those who have been fans of Dr Who from the beginning. And bringing the Daleks and Cybermen together to slug it out? Excellent.
Max Part Two.

Marjorie had been deteriorating for some time, really wasn’t well, and it seemed possible she might get worse. Don’t get the impression that we were the only people seeing her. Her daughter visited when she could, but had to shlep down from Ipswitch; a district nurse visited and a couple of neighbours occasionally checked up on her; carers went round regularly to do what could be done in their limited time (after dressing her ulcerated leg), and it was one of them who finally called the nurse. Such situations are terrible, but difficult to resolve when the patient is as headstrong an individual as Marjorie. She feared being hospitalized, being moved to an old people’s home, feared the interference of social services, and this was all because of her bigger fear of losing Max. Eventually she acceded to going into hospital, quite probably because she could not even get out of her chair to feed her dog.

The first we heard of this was when Caroline received a phone call from The Cinnamon Trust at lunch time. She took the afternoon off work and we hurried over to Burnham to find Marjorie’s house locked up (the key in one of those little coded safes beside the door). The moment he saw us Max began rushing about excitedly inside, but we couldn’t get in. We knocked at her neighbour’s house and were let in to find the district nurse there having a cup of tea. We hoped she could let us in because surely by now Max would be getting desperate. She couldn’t – she didn’t have the authority to do so – so gave Caroline the number of the social worker concerned with this case. Despite Caroline having been vetting by the Cinnamon Trust he also could not let us in and put us onto Marjorie’s daughter who, knowing we had been walking Max for some time and had not yet mugged Marjorie nor stolen the family silver, gave us the code to the key safe.

So eventually we got in to find Max’s pills out on a counter and a scrawled note of instructions beside them, we then took a frantic Alsatian for his much-appreciated walk and worked out together how we were going to look after him. Luckily, being self-employed, my time is pretty much my own. In the mornings, after dropping Caroline off at work, I drove over to Burnham, took Max for a walk, gave him his breakfast, gave him his epilepsy pills, then spent some time with him before coming back home. In the evening we both went over there and went through a similar routine. At the end of it we were reluctant to depart, because Max knew we were going, would butt his head against Caroline seeking affection, and wander about morosely. We stayed longer, trying to clean up the house a bit since, with the weather turning wetter and colder, Marjorie’s back garden had become a quagmire and Max tracked plenty of it back inside. But mainly we stayed just to keep the dog company. Even so, we were there twice a day for little more than a couple of hours each time, the rest of the time he spent locked inside. No messes, none at all – that’s the kind of dog Max was.

This state of affairs continued for two weeks. It was March, but winter was hanging on and really bit in then with sub-zero temperatures and driving snow. The ground became as hard as concrete and every puddle turned into a skating rink. Max loved it. A German shepherd like him, with his thick heavy coat, I rather think not bred for the near Mediterranean warmth Essex often receives. Arctic tundra would be the perfect environment. Here’s an email I sent to Caroline during this time, reporting on the morning walk:

Well Max had a wonderful time. I took him down to the point where he did a stand up fall down slapstick routine on a frozen puddle, he was snapped at by a sheepdog, had his willy licked by a very insistent Labrador, and rolled eight times.


Of course things could not continue like this. Speaking over the phone, Marjorie’s daughter and Caroline both agreed that anything more than a couple of weeks would be unfair on Max. At the end of two week the daughter and her partner transferred Max to a local kennel, then went to tell Marjorie what they had done – she had insisted that he stay at home, again fearing that he might be taken away from her. We also learnt, during this time, that Marjorie had lied about her age to us: she had told her she was 74 when in fact she was 84 – rather selfish, I think, to buy an Alsatian puppy when in your 70s.

Max spent about five days in the kennel after which Marjorie returned home and he was returned to her, whereupon we commenced walking him again. We were now taking him out three times a week, for without too much persuasion from her we upped the frequency from twice a week (another walker from the Cinnamon Trust had visited but been rejected). Spring started to make itself felt and obviously Max felt it too, barking uproariously (all his fur standing up), at a cat in the back garden – his territory. This was the most noise we ever heard him make and seeing he like this brought home to us why sometimes people would step off the pavement to go round us when we were walking him. If he had been a vicious Alsatian, he could probably have taken someone’s arm off at the shoulder. He was a pussy (oops – sorry Max) and many other dog walkers in the park, having known him since the days when Marjorie took him there, knew this, and he always received lots of fuss from them.

Social services had provided Marjorie with a portable toilet downstairs, where she now slept, and a Zimmer frame – both of which she hated – whilst her daughter and daughter’s partner were making preparations to completely revamp her house and build a downstairs toilet. This was not to be; old-age removes dignity before everything else. Shortly after she returned from hospital, she began deteriorating again. Knowing we could access the key in its key safe, she no longer expended the energy to get up and let us in, though we always banged on the window to let her know we were there. On a couple of occasions we could not wake her – she was invariably asleep when we arrived – and we entered expecting her to be dead in her chair.
After a month Marjorie was taken back into hospital and Max moved straight to the kennels. She spent three weeks in hospital but still wasn’t well enough to return home, in fact, would never be well enough to return home. She was moved from the hospital into a ‘recovery home’. And Max? I’ll leave that for another time…

To be continued…

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

It's pretty picture time again. Here first is the original cover of The Engineer published by Tanjen.

‘A thought-provoking operatic romp’ – SFX.

‘This is an astonishing collection of stories’ – Genre.

Ambiguous plot and crown style. No Trek morals here’ – Dragon’s Breath.

‘Asher will soon become better known outside his native land’ – Borders.

The Engineer (a novella) and the short stories Snairls, Spatterjay, Jable sharks, The Thrake, Proctors, and The Owner.
Mysterious aliens ... ruthless terrorists ... androids with attitude ...genetic manipulation ... punch-ups with lasers ... giant spaceships ... what more do you want?

And here is the version from Cosmos books with some extra stories and introductory blurbs from me. I called this The Engineer Reconditioned because well ... you recondition an engine.


Apparently it's being distributed by a company called Diamond and is now selling pretty well. If you've got a copy of the one above I recommend you go out and buy a copy of the new edition. It's received further editing, has those extra stories and blurbs, but that's not the reason why. You need to wrap the old version in plastic and lock it away in a safe, since I've seen copies on eBay up for $125.

Then again, I'm not entirely sure they sell for that since it's a 'buy now' price. But buy the new one anyway!

...

I'll shut up now - too much wine.

Here's Rick Kleffel's review.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Ah, and there's another one I neglected to mention: Karl Schroeder. Try his 'Sun of Suns' http://www.kschroeder.com/
I’ve mentioned this elsewhere, but I’ll do the same again here. This year has been pretty good (to me) for new SFF. The first is Blindsight by Peter Watts – a superb bit of SF. Check out his site here http://www.rifters.com/index.htm and his wonderful 'Vampire Domestication'.

The next book, which I roared through in a very short time is Scar Night by Alan Campbell. This will be out next month from Macmillan and I believe is also being released in America. An excellent fantasy that'll have many other writers of the same looking to their laurels. Alan has a blog here: http://anurbanfantasy.blogspot.com/

In their genres, both of these books are the best I've read in some years.

Here’s some more writers you might like to check out: http://www.hammerjack.net/ is the site of Marc D. Giller who is producing some excellent cyberpunkish stuff, http://www.markbudz.com/ is the site of Mark Budz whose leanings are much more biotech, then there’s Tobias S Buckell over here http://www.tobiasbuckell.com/wordpress/

To be frank, I’m not entirely sure why there’s this idea knocking about that the British are leading the SF field, unless of course it’s only a British idea…

Nice review of Prador Moon over here on Cheryl Morgan’s Emerald City: http://www.emcit.com/emcit130.php?a=18

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Sir Richard Branson wants to turn Virgin trains into the greenest in Britain by running them on biodiesel rather than pure diesel – 15% from biological sources such as rapeseed and soya. He’s also leading a plan to build the world’s largest bioethanol plant in America. Our next door nieghbour is suffering from a common complaint of British gardeners: an overhanging leylandii hedge (not ours I hasten to add).

What’s the connection?

Well, the conjunction of these two things in my head, along with memories of about 15 years of cutting leylandii hedges led me to speculate on a couple of things. Most biofuels are derived from edible oils taken from what are essentially food crops like the mentioned soya and rape, but do those crops seem oily? After years of trimming leylandii hedges I can attest to the fun of having to scrub blobs of resin from all over me. Also, what about the calorific value of these trimmings? Try burning green maize or rape and you’ve no chance. Put a lighter to a piece of leylandii and once hot enough it bursts into flame. Couldn’t we crop this stuff and turn it into biofuel?

Think of the advantages: it only has to be planted once, it’ll yield large quantities of trimmings once or twice a year. There would be little need for herbicides, insecticides or fungicides – ever see weeds growing under a leylandii hedge, ever see such a hedge wiped out by disease or insects? The areas between the rows, where tractors would necessarily have to run, could be left fallow. These, and the hedges themselves would be excellent refuges for wildlife. After processing for oil, what’s left could also be used as fuel, maybe compacted into briquettes, fed straight into a biofuel-burning power station or turned into bioethanol. It might even be used to make compressed fibre board or paper.

Now, are there any chemists out there who can tell me I’m talking bollocks?

Friday, June 23, 2006

Moving swiftly on, here, for reader interest is the Polity chronology I'm presently working with:

2050 – 2250 Expansion into the solar system. Corporate wars and many generation ships, or early U-space drive ships sent on their way. Also the AI takeover of human affairs, in the ‘Quiet War’. Colony ship to Cull in this time.
2130 – Hoop and crew arrive on Spatterjay (mutiny – stolen ship)
2150 – Establishing of Golem series and Cybercorp.
2151 – Algin Tenkian born on Mars.
2190 – Skaidon interfaces with AI and invents the technology leading to the runcible and more efficient U-space engines. Humanity expands into the galaxy.

2260 – First runcible goes online.
2260 – 2350 Massive human expansion into the galaxy.
2330 – Beginning of the Prador Third Kingdom
2339 – Ian Cormac born
2310 – Prador Moon
2310 – 2350 Prador/Human war
2350 – Polity police action on Spatterjay.
2356 – Keech is killed hunting Alphed Rimsc

2407 – Disappearance of Dragon from Aster Colora.
2432 – Destruction of the Samarkand runcible.
2434 – Arrival of Hubris at Samarkand (Gridlinked)
2437 – Destruction of Outlink station Miranda (Line of Polity)
2441 – Pursuit of Skellor (Brass Man)

2450 – Gosk Balem (Ambel) thrown into the sea – 100 years after war.
2500 – David McGrooger born
2550 – Keech finds Corbel Frane on Viridian – 500 years before
2803 – Polity arrives at Spatterjay to establish runcible base
2853 – Frisk hands herself in (apparently). – 200 years before
2878 – Bloc murdered by Aesop and Bones
3056 – Keech Janer and Erlin arrive on Spatterjay (The Skinner)
3078 – Taylor Bloc’s ship launches (The Voyage of the Sable Keech)