Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Australia

Shall I compare thee to a block of granite? Film viewing on Tuesdays being discounted at the cinema in Freeport Braintree, me and the wife headed down there to watch a film that seemed to have potential, to be followed by some food in a nearby Mexican restaurant. We watched Australia, though I have to admit there were periods when I wasn’t watching, having closed my eyes in the hope of drifting off to sleep. What a load of boring cliched tripe. Yeah, it was about as interesting as watching a block of granite, there seemed an equivalent amount of active chemistry involved too, however, Australia differed by having a story substantially less interesting than that of a block of granite. Is it Nicole Kidman? I can’t seem to remember any enoyable films in which she has appeared, but I can remember plenty of dreadful ones, like Cold Mountain, Atonement and Moulin Rouge.


And the beef in my fajita was tough too.


Okay, I got Atonement wrong, that was that Keira Knightley. As Bob pointed out I was so fucking bored I forgot who was in the damned thing.


Prudence Brown Strikes Again.

It’s nice to know that good old prudence Brown, whilst calling for us all to summon up the ‘Blitz Spirit’ to get us through the credit crunch, is still prepared to stretch his generous hand across the world. Today we learn that $10,000,000 of our money has been promised in aid to the Gaza strip. So, as we enter the new year and you’re collecting your P45 or shutting the front door on your house for the last time you can be comforted by the knowledge that your taxes are helping out Hamas. This bunch of murderous fuck-pigs can now spend their plentious funding from Iran on more weapons rather than on helping the people they are supposed to represent. Perhaps this year Hamas will be able to beat last year’s record of 5,000 Islamic Jihad missiles dropped on Israel, who knows?



Thanks a lot Gordon
.



Of course, it's worth noting that the sum promised is in dollars this time. This is probably because Qassam Missile Inc. would rather be paid in a currency with some chance of retaining its value.




Note: If you’d like to check out just how much of your money is blown each year on funding outside of Britain by the Department for International Development, check out the figures in the tables starting at page 240 of this document. Oh, and since the figures are in ‘£ thousand’ don’t forget to add three zeros. Yep, you guessed it: it’s billions. DFID expenditure was in the region of £4.6 billion in 2005/06. As for 2008/09, these tables give planned expenditure, so probably more was spent. Here’s some examples: after £163 million on administration you’ll be glad to know £94 million was to be thrown at ‘global environment funds’ and about £1.5 billion at Africa.







Monday, December 29, 2008

Sci-Fi-London Interview

Well, there's a video interview with me up on the Sci-Fi-London site now, which will later be added to the list of interview on their .tv site. I haven't yet watched it myself but Caroline tells me it's OK - not too many ums and ers.

SCI-FI-LONDON was lucky enough to meet Neal Asher at his Essex home to talk about his latest book, The Gabble & Other Stories, about writing and about 15 years of the Polity universe, David Fincher, Heavy Metal and the internet as a distraction from real work.

Now, I really really must get out of Christmas mode and do some of that real work.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Drink Safely this Christmas...

Here’s a few facts for you if you’re worried about how much you drank over Christmas. Remember, the health Nazi claim of 21 units for a man and 14 units for a woman being the ‘safe’ limits is utter and complete bullshit. These figures were guessed by the Royal College of Physicians in 1987, but have been maintained by subsequent statist nannying health ministers for no more reason, it would seem, than to excuse screwing you for taxes and also in an attempt to kill your enjoyment of life. Here’s part of an article from the Times Online:

In 1993, a study of 12,000 middle-aged, male doctors led by Sir Richard Doll and a team at the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford, found that the lowest mortality rates – lower even than teetotallers – were among those drinking between 20 and 30 units of alcohol each week.The level of drinking that produced the same risk of death as that faced by a teetotaller was 63 units a week, or roughly a bottle of wine a day.

By 1994, five studies had been published which showed that moderate amounts of alcohol gave some degree of protection against heart disease. A year later, scientists at the Institute for Preventive Medicine in Copenhagen, who studied 13,000 men and women over 12 years, found that drinking more than half a bottle of wine a day – 50 units a week – cut the risk of premature death by half
.

Right, some red wine with dinner, then I think I’ll finish the job with some whisky chased down with homebrew bitter.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Atonement

Having opted out of Sky because we’re not here enough for it to be value for money, we’ve been spending money saved on DVDs. Last night we sat down to watch one of them and, both of us liking films about World War II, we chose Atonement. I have to say that it was only by dint of some whisky and homebrew beer that I managed to retain the will to live. This film was like what some academic writers do to history when they manage to turn an interesting subject into something dry as dust boring. Caroline told me to give it time, but when her eyes started to glaze over I knew it had had time enough. I wonder, is the McEwan book as bad as this, because apparently the film is faithful to it. I wouldn’t be surprised, since this is Booker literarty-farty territory. If you’re looking for a romping good war story go and buy Enemy at the Gates, however, if you’re looking for a soporific…

Last Colony

Just a little I wish Scalzi would give us alien aliens rather than something I feel certain could be created with an application of latex, also there's almost an antiquated feel to these books as if I'm reading something out of my loft library, maybe a Poul Anderson, Heinlein or some such, but that doesn't undermine the pleasure of the read. In the end The Last Colony had characters and a story that thoroughly engaged me and I polishing it off in a day. And without a doubt I'll be getting hold of Zoe's Tale, and enjoying it just as much.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Spooks 6 Continued.

Ah, I made a large error in my previous post about Spooks Series 6 in that I thought I’d reached the end at eight episodes. Perhaps that was hopeful thinking. Anyway, there were two more episodes which we sat down to watch last night. Maybe there was a chance of the series redeeming itself here, but I didn’t hold out much hope.


I was right; it was utterly contrived dreck.


Let’s go with the first disc: an IRA bomber has come to exact vengeance upon our heros. He intends to detonate a car bomb in a busy part of London. He instructs the spooks to position themselves around the car, at which point he will give them time to drive away the public before detonating it and killing the spooks. Of course, if they don’t come he will kill civilians and then detonate further bombs until the spooks comply by sacrificing themselves. Damn me Al Qaeda and all the rest should try this method. I mean the tube bombers could have taken out MI5 and MI6 all in one hit.


The second disc was as bad. Two highly-trained spooks, a man and a woman, are captured by a couple of guys who intend to torture them. These two spooks placidly allow themselves to be locked in a room together prior to torture commencing. They are not bound, they are not injured and the torturers use just the one door to enter the room. Whilst in the room the female spook asks the male spook to snap her neck because she doesn’t want to be tortured. I guess it never occurred to either of them to try attacking their captors. Yes, the torturers are armed with handguns, but isn’t the possibility of getting shot better than a) the certainty of a broken neck and b) unremitting torture? Are MI5 fucking pacifist now?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Which Reminds me.

After putting down Black Man I picked up John Scalzi's Last Colony, already with the foreknowledge that I'll polish the book of in a day or so and thoroughly enjoy the process of doing so. Way back in the mists of time I did a little review of Old Man's War, but I didn't do a later review of Ghost Brigades because I was on Crete and avoiding the Internet. It deserves to be mentioned as yeah, more of the good stuff. Go buy it and read it.

Brown the Economic Genius.

A little while ago I put up a little poster made (I believe) by the blogger Guido Fawkes, which drew numerous comparisons between Brown and Mugabe, and now it seems another comparison can be drawn. Mugabe has now released the $Z10 billion dollar note which is apparently worth about £13. Well, it’s worth £13 right now but it seems likely the Pound will be rushing to catch up. Labour’s tinkering with the economy and pursuing this excellent idea of spending more money to get out of debt has only served load us with some extra tens of billions to pay off. National debt currently stands at 160% of GNP. They’ve failed, and now going the predictable route of bankrupt countries, are preparing to print more money. Last night, on Have I Got News for You, they showed a film clip of a government spokesweasel talking while smoke rose behind her. The initial joke was 'Liar liar pants on fire' but Ian Hislop surmised that was the smoke from pensioners burning pounds to keep warm. Look forward to the time you’ll be using your carrier bags to carry money on the way into the supermarket.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Black Man.

Enjoyable stuff, but perhaps far too heavy on the polemics for some. A couple of times I felt the urge to skip bits, especially some of the long conversations serving as vehicles for social commentary, but I didn’t skip because by then Mr Morgan had hooked me. Also, for someone who very definitely can illustrate the shades of grey in human existence, Morgan goes blind to them when writing about what seem to be his pet hates: religious fundamentalism and right wing politics. Taking a whole lump of America, labelling it ‘Jesusland’ full of ‘Republicans’, and dismissing it as a backward society is somewhat ironic, when his lead and insightful Thirteen is supposed to be more primitive still. I suggest a read-up on some Dawkins about closet Atheism in the Bible Belt. But then who am I to criticise that, my contrast setting is always at the top of the slide. And I have to add that naming a lethal virus ‘Falwell’ had me chuckling.

But though there’s so many pegs in this book to hang negative criticism on, these weren’t enough to drive me away and Morgan kept rescuing it with something like the Raymond Chandler maxim of walking a gunman in through the door. I just knew that shortly the characters would again pick up the plot, we’d be in for some more gritty violence, twists and betrayals. Yeah, that plot seemed to wander a bit, but the characters, the sheer story-telling ability and tight snappy prose kept me nailed. In the end you know you’ve enjoyed a book when, after reading the last line, you think, bugger, I’ve finished it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Smoking Ban.

A website here blowing all those ASH and government (same organisation really) anti-smoking ‘facts’ out of the water. Here’s an interesting bit about the effect of the ban on our pubs:

The financial analysts Goldman Sachs - hardly a "pro smoking organisation'' - recently stated that the smoking ban has reduced average pub profits by 10% . Scottish & Newcastle, the UK's largest brewery estimated a 8% fall in beer sales in January and since then beers sales in the UK have fallen to their lowest level since the Great Depression. But most devastating to the ASH version of events are the statistics for pub closures which accelerated dramatically in 2007. The trade journal The Morning Advertiser blamed this squarely on "the savage impact of the smoking ban and spiralling costs" and the figures require little comment:

2005: 2 a week

2006: 4 a week

2007: 27 a week

Those non-smokers who were, apparently, driven from pubs by all those nasty smokers, better hurry and get back before the pubs are all gone.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Teaching History.

Whilst watching a programme about the Royal Airforce the other night, Caroline and I were having a chat about the history we were taught at school. I recollected that in junior school I did pick up something about the Romans to which she replied, “You were lucky”. Now I recollect that in those early years I also learned about William the Conqueror and Queen Elizabeth. However, our later schooling was precisely the same: endless boring lessons about the fucking Industrial Revolution.

I came out of school with the impression that the greatest events in British history involved Arkwright’s Spinning jenny, Jethro Tull’s seed drill and big Northern factories belching out coal smoke. It seemed to me that the world was changed by the new ways cotton was turned into sheets. Now certainly the Industrial Revolution was a big thing, but it’s not going to stimulate a pupil’s interest in the past and, perhaps, kids should be taught something about other historical events like, oh, I don’t know, a couple of wars we had at the beginning of the last century. I wonder, is history still taught in the same way?


One of the touchstones of ‘modern’ teaching has been this idea that pupils must be engaged with a subject, their little flighty minds must be teased and tempted by treats to get them interested. If this is the case, why the boring Industrial Revolution? Probably because it caused a ‘social’ revolution and anything prior to it in the minds of the indoctrinaires who run our education system is irrelevant, unless of course it can be thoroughly traduced in some way. Doubtless lessons are now taught about inequality, poverty and slavery (for which we must dip our heads in shame and apologise), whilst Trafalgar, Waterloo and Agincourt are glossed over or ignored as rather embarrassing.


Anyway, the final upshot of this conversation was my contention that history should be taught backwards. Both Caroline and I learned more about our history after leaving school, by wide reading, many excellent TV programmes, and in her case research into family history, and that last is where you get a great deal of engagement with the past. Might it be better to teach history by engaging pupils in this way? Okay kids, find what your grandfather or grandmother did, find out what their parents did and we’ll start from there. Almost certainly some of the pupils will have relatives who fought in the World Wars, almost certainly they’ll have relatives who died of tuberculosis, some will have been evacuated, some in the land army. From this point of engagement the teacher can then move backwards, whilst the pupils know that what is being taught is actually relevant to them.


Of course, one problem with this is the kids must know something of their family’s past. What did dad do? He buggered off. What about your mum and dad? Dunno, I wus in care.

Your family history? Take pride in three generations on the dole.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Sci-Fi-London

Ah well, I've just done a video interview for Robert Grant of Sci-Fi-London. He'll (hopefully) be editing out my ums and ers to put it up sometime anon. Not sure if I'll look at it myself. I've hated audio interviews I've done because I tend to gabble, lose track of what I was saying and generally don't 'perform' all that well. In the end, if I'd wanted to be a performer, I wouldn't have retreated to my bedroom all those years ago and started writing weird stories. That's the thing about this writing lark, it's not all about celebrity and being amusing and intelligent in front of an audience, it's about an utterly introvert pursuit in which you don' talk to people for hours on end.

New German covers.





















Old German Covers





















Here's some pictures from XiXiDu (?) of all the original German covers, though many of them are not all that original. One there is from Arthur C Clarke's 2010 (spot the monolith) and another is from a John Meaney book. Perhaps someone can tell me what the others are from? Not that I'm complaining, Lubbe has bough books of mine before I've even written them and is always the first foreign publisher to publish new ones!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Hilldiggers, German.

I received some copies of this Lubbe translation of Hilldiggers a little while ago and, as Martin from Germany pointed out, I haven't put it up on my blog. Here it is then, 'The Children of the Drone' with something that looks suspiciously like a crashed Vorlon spaceshp on the cover. I don't mind that; I like Vorlons!
I'll also be putting up new German covers of my older books Martin kindly pointed out to me.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Brown: Financial Genius.

Something quite simple to consider next time you hear Brown waffling about this ‘Global credit crunch caused by the miss-selling of sub-prime mortgages in America’: if it is the case that it’s global and the finger of blame points squarely across the Atlantic, why is the Pound plummeting against the Euro? Why is it that a year ago 1000 Euros equalled £660 and now equals £880? (Or rather, £1000 now with the commission) Why isn’t Europe suffering quite so badly?

One comment I came across:

“The problem is the UK economy doesn’t have a leg to stand on,” said Peter Spencer, economic adviser to the Ernst & Young Item Club. “It’s very hard to know where the floor for sterling might be when there’s nothing to support it.”

This is entirely the point. We’ve got buggerall industry here and buggerall productivity, apart from piles of bureaucratic shite in the public sector. Now think about this: one in five people in this country work for the state with an average salary each of about £25,000. Do the math. This means every year the average payout per worker who actually contributes to our GNP is over £6000 to support this lot. Then take into account that every pound going through the Treasury comes out at the end of the convoluted bureaucratic process worth 30 pence. Then take into account gold-plated public sector pensions... How does this work then? Really, unless there’s a sudden worldwide demand for Diversity Managers and Outreach Workers we’re not going to be out of this hole for a very long time.

As for Brown’s wonderful financial brain (with which he has apparently saved the world), even German socialists are wondering if he’s lost the plot. The idea of borrowing more money to get out of debt seems more like something a council estate loan shark would recommend. Brown is quite a few beads short of the full abacus.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Messiah

Ah, nicely gory stuff and a very enjoyable read, though some of the Bible quotes, though vaguely relevant to the story, rambled on a bit too long. We didn’t need a replay of the Crucifixion – the only relevant bit in that was Judas hanging himself. And I’m not even sure we needed that. I laugh at people who believe in the sky pixie and wouldn’t have the Bible in my house other than for woodburner fuel, but even I knew that. Interesting ending too. I’m not entirely sure the first TV production of it ended that way – can’t see how it could with Messiah’s II & III to follow. No, surely Ken Stott didn’t get busy with the hammer and nails, did he?

Empire Earth III Cinematic Blur Trailer

And this is why I wouldn't mind in the slightest if Blur were to animate my stuff (this is much clearer on www.blur.com).

Blur Studio - A Gentlemen's Duel [HQ]

Ah, I saw a few pictures from this and the trailer, but didn't realise the whole thing is available. Another excellent piece of animation from Blur Studio (the Heavy Metal guys).

Galactic North

I just finished Galactic North the other day, and am now looking forward to reading The Prefect. It’s nice to be once again reminded why I enjoyed reading his Revelation Space series. A few of the stories in here I’d read before (was The Great Wall of Mars in Interzone?) but I still enjoyed them second time around. The story Galactic North seemed a bit disjointed, but I still enjoyed the big space and huge breadths of time. All of it: huge Gothic spaceships, weapons like dangerous beasts lurching in cathedral caches, borge-like ultras, nano-plagues and … more stuff with Conjoiners in it, please, Alastair!

Article 16: SF Archaeology.

Wow, things date really quickly in SF if its not set some centuries in the future, and in this article you can see how things date even quicker when you're writing about SF. The X Prize as been taken and not so long ago I put a post here about a tank-mounted laser weapon.



SF ARCHAEOLOGY.


The idea that old is bad and new is good is one that permeates some quarters of our culture and sees its expression in the New Labour verses the ‘forces of conservatism’ in the political world. The former seems intent on destroying anything old even when having nothing better to replace it, the latter wants to hang onto the outmoded even when something better is available. But before anyone switches off, I’m not going to get into a rant about all that – this magazine isn’t big enough – I’m going to look at it as applied to science fiction.

For many, SF has to be primarily new and innovative. Now, while I agree that SF should open our eyes to possibilities never seen before (though that is by no means all it should do), I also feel it should never close our eyes to the eminently likely.

Some while back I produced a story in which I named an android manufacturing company ‘Cybercorp’, and was told the name was nothing new. But being much used in fiction, is that name less or more likely to be used in fact? Already we are coming out the other side of rebranding for the sake of it. Consignia is now once again the Post Office and most people know that Corus really means British Steel. Of course I could have named my company Epsilion Floogle Bugler Ltd or Rumbatious Pumpwhistle, but I came up with the Cybercorp in the same way as many company names are formed (when advertising executives are not becoming ‘creative’ and disappearing up their own fundaments): Microsoft, Vodaphone, Telecom, Railtrack – simple basic and descriptive. But my real contention here is that though something may be old hat, that doesn’t make it bad, wrong or unlikely. I know it’s a distasteful prospect for some, but it is quite possible that sometime a company will be formed and it’ll be called Robotics Inc. Though, going off at tangent here, the most likely name, for a future manufacturer of androids, is Honda.

Zap guns and rocket ships (or squids in space) are what SF is all about, apparently. I can take issue with that straight away. 1984 certainly isn’t and, despite what Jo Brandt might think, it’s classic SF. Other books in the genre that don’t fall under that supposedly derogatory description: The Time Machine, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Frankenstein, Half-Past Human (T J Bass), Hawksbill Station (Silverberg) … I’m probably preaching to the converted here. However, what’s wrong with zap guns and rocket ships? Certainly the terms themselves are cliches, but what about the ideas and the reality behind them? Must they be abandoned because they are no longer new?

Many years ago the American military asked Congress if they could test a ground-based laser for knocking out satellites (refused). Microwave beam weapons were employed during the Gulf War to screw Iraqi communications. The taser has been in use for a ages and now, in the process of being developed, is a taser that uses no wires – the utterly cliched SF stun gun. Even my nieghbour, working years ago for Marconi, was developing specialist transformers for powering military lasers. All zap guns, all real. As for the rocket ships … well erm, there’s this thing called the space shuttle, a couple of years ago the first ion drive was tested in space, there are plenty of contenders for the $10 million prize for putting a privately-funded craft up into space (twice in a limited period to prove it’s viable proposition), there’s the prospect of many more missions into the solar system, rocket ships have put two robots on Mars. I won’t go on.

Only writers of utterly dystopian futures of technological collapse think zap guns and rocket ships won’t figure in them. To ignore these supposed old cliches of SF makes about as much sense as ignoring trees because they have too often been used in fiction. It is plain wrong to discount something because it is old and well-used. Things, in general, become that way because they work, because they are right, and because no one has thought of a plausible alternative. New doesn’t mean good or right and old doesn’t mean bad or wrong, they just are what they are.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Lettuce Kills your Sense of Humour

Here's an amusing column from Jeremy Clarkson, but what's even more amusing is reading the humourless, righteous, blinkered and nutty replies. As one of the saner people there commented:

I must admit that I am truly, truly saddened by the nearly complete lack of anything approaching a sense of humor in so many of the posters. Apparently, vegan diets are disabling that part of people's brains. Seriously, people, lighten up a bit.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

A Christmas Message From America

Happy holiday...

More Heavy Metal.

Well, a little way back I did a post just pointing out that my involvement in Heavy Metal is now known and on the Internet. Industrious soul Phil Edwards at Live for Films picked up on this and requested an interview about that and one or two other things. I had to check what I could say, which was enough. You can find the interview here if you want to know about:

…my work on the Heavy Metal film and what I would do if was supreme overlord of Earth.

(snigger)

New Face Book Group.

I bet I can find 5000 people who think Gordon Brown is a complete FUCKTARD