Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Mind Meld

On the website SF Signal they often have this thing called ‘Mind Meld’ whereby a question is asked and various characters from the SF world answer it. I’ve been asked for my take in a recent one in which the questions are: What is the appeal of the planet Mars in SF and fantasy? What is its appeal to you? I’ll let you know when that appears.

I knew I’d done this a few times but couldn’t remember how many so I went trawling through the SF Signal site in search of them. Here are three of my rambles: 

The Best Aliens in Science Fiction
For me the best has to be H R Giger’s creation…no I refuse to misuse the word eponymous…from the film of that name. In my time I’ve ranted about what I consider to be art and generally have seen very little I could call both art and truly original (Maybe that’s because I hadn’t see enough art, and certainly my view is changing now with what I’m seeing produced by the CGI crowd.), but way back in years of yore when I opened up a copy of Omni, turned over a page and saw my first H R Giger picture, I felt I was seeing something truly original and bloody good. I’m not sure if I even knew, when I went to see Alien, that Giger was the designer of both alien and weird sets, but I certainly knew afterwards. At that point I felt that the curse of the rubber head had died. The alien in that film and its sequels was not something you could laugh at – aliens had just grown up.

As for aliens in SF books, in them there seems to be a general failure of imagination, perhaps because the roles the aliens fill are so often too human: aliens as oppressed natives, the subject of bigotry, dominant overlords, invaders etc. Whilst they are often described in loving detail, that which is alien about them only goes as deep as the bone (or structural biology of choice) and very often doesn’t extend to the mind. There’s still some damned good ones out there – Niven’s puppeteers spring to mind, as do the manta in Piers Anthony’s Of Man and Manta – but generally that which is alien falls foul of story, which can be hampered when, to retain the essentially alien, the writer must not allow the reader to understand it.

Taboo Topics in SF/F Literature
Well, every writer has had trouble getting stuff published, but probably because they breached the publishing world taboo of writing crap. For me, beyond 2000 when I was taken on by Macmillan, I’ve been censored all the time in that respect – it’s called editing. But no, I don’t really have much trouble getting stuff published and I don’t self-censor … except all the time in regard to that first publishing taboo. Doubtless, in years to come some minority group lobby will run out of larger targets and focus its attention on SF books, and then violence, drinking, smoking and excessive consumption of beef burgers will be a no-no. I just hope I’m in a position to give them the finger by then.

Is the Short Fiction Market in Trouble?
I know that when I was throwing out my short stories in the 80s and 90s there were numerous small press magazines about, but to see any of them survive longer than ten or twenty issues was unusual. As for those publishing anthologies, there seem to be more now, but that just might be a matter of accessibility. In the 80s I only found out about other short story markets in the advertising sections of each magazine. I think I started with Interzone (I don’t know how I got hold of a copy of that), found out about the likes of Back Brain Recluse and others in its pages, and proceeded from there. Now most short story writers can google ‘short story markets’ and find them all across the world. Also we have the rise of online magazines, which maybe means that those would-be publishers who couldn’t sustain a paper magazine can now survive for longer. To sum up, I don’t think the market is in any more trouble than it has been over the last quarter century but, for writers, finding magazines or anthologies to target is much much easier. Also, if the publishers concerned are prepared to accept email submissions, easier still – my first short story publication involved real cutting-and-pasting, photocopying and then postage. I still have international reply coupons sitting in my draw. Must try to get my money back on them.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Five Desert Island Reads - Mike Dalke

Assuming that I'm stranded alone, if I were to choose five books for a desert island, I would want books with humanistic reflection and characters which feel life-like, where they are set in a detailed, almost corporeal setting beyond that of a beautiful, yet monotonous sand and surf.

1) The Fall of Tartarus by Eric Brown
Eric Brown writes amazingly humanistic science fiction and this novel was my first exposure to his work. The setting is on a planet soon to become engulfed by an expanding sun, so perhaps the constant heat depicted here may be a tad of a turn off, but the eight stories ooze a deep understanding of how humans confront loss and dying. So, for the sheer sake of experiencing empathy through a novel, The Fall of Tartarus is a must.

2) Warday by Whitley Strieber and James Kunetka
Again, maybe this type of trope is little depressing for a hermetic long-stay on a desert island, but it's so very easy to lose yourself in the details of Warday. The journalistic details are captivating and the journey across the states in search of additional facts and how fellow Americans are dealing with the effects of nuclear disaster is, again, humanistic in nature.

3) Three Californias: Pacific Edge by Kim Stanley Robinson
The Three Californias series isn't a well-known KSR work, but they each exhibit a clear projection for the possible future of the state of California. Pacific Edge is a notable book in my 450 book library because it contains the one character I ever fell in love with--Ramona. For the sake of experiencing Ramona through the eyes of her young love Kev, this book must be by my side.

4) Permutation City by Greg Egan
Not humanistic whatsoever, but it's one of those books which really blow your mind. The depth of complexity and extra-corporeality sets my mind tingling. I think this kind of distraction would trump the mundaneness of coconuts and crabs.

5) Wulfsyarn by Phillip Mann
This just may be the crème de la crème of humanistic science fiction, watching through the eye of an "autoscribe" as it reconstructs the story of how a captain lost his entire crew on its maiden voyage. The grassroots feel to the novel tugs as the heart strings as the reader vicariously experiences the rise and fall of the great Captain Wilberfoss.

Sunday, February 26, 2012


Interesting. There's been lots of discussion here and elsewhere about E-books, pirates and DRM. Whenever I go ego searching I'm often coming across sites where my books can be downloaded, but often no sign of how they are to be paid for. Thus far I've had three people contact me to tell me how much they've enjoyed the books but, ahem, they didn't pay for them. A recent email was from someone in Japan who finds it difficult to get hold of my E-books legally but wanted to contribute. He sent me $50 by Paypal and, at his suggestion, I've now put up a donate button on the right here for those who have downloaded my books illegally but feel the need to salve their consciences.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Join In

I’ve been going back through my blog selecting out old reviews I’d done and posting them on Good Reads. While doing this I was reminded of various ways in which readers of this blog can get involved beyond just commenting.

There is the ‘Who Reads My Books’ thread. For this you send me a biography (doesn’t have to be very long and I will edit the English) a photograph of yourself and, if you like, a few more photos of related interest: maybe something about what you do, maybe your family, maybe your book collection. Here’s Huan Tan’s example.

There is the ‘Five Desert Island Reads’ thread. Send pictures of the books concerned (if you can) along with an explanation of why you would like these books on that island. Here’s Andy Oliver’s example.

Pictures of people’s books collections have often been a talking point here, so, if you haven’t sent in pictures of yours, why not give that a go?

My email is below my short biog to the right here.


I had a bit of a day off yesterday, going off to meet a guy  in a pub on the other side of Maldon - he buys my books every year and every year I sign them. In the morning I spent far too much time reading science articles and generally pissing about on the internet and, in the afternoon, the two beers I had completely wiped out any inclination to work. I won’t bother to try catching up with my weekly word count since being 75,000 words into a book I don’t have to deliver for about one and a half years I can be confident I’m ahead of the game.

Anyway, the writing is going extremely well even with the distractions of the internet, so when we go to Crete at the end of March I expect it will pick up even more. Sickness, death and tragedy aside I can see myself finishing off three books by September 2013.

Despite the beer turning my brain to mush I did read through plenty of science articles yesterday and this one, pointed out to me by Droxxo on the message board, really caught my attention. Here’s a Golem component first manufactured as a human prosthetic:

An 83-year-old woman suffering from a lower jaw infection became the first person to receive a jaw implant manufactured with a 3D printer. Infections such as hers are normally remedied with reconstructive surgery, but doctor’s deemed the procedure too risky because of her age and health. Instead they turned to LayerWise, a company that specializes in 3D printing of metallic structures.

Just, wow.        

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Counting Words

So, last week was a good one during which I beat my target of 10,000 words of fiction by 1231, on top of which I did 917 words for the blog and more in replies here, and on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ and in my journal. I love the ease with which words can be counted in Word because I used to have to do it by averaging out the number of words in a line, the number of lines to a page and so forth, which was averagely accurate if it was typed sheets but went all to pot with the hand written stuff. But why do I count words?

Like many writers, I have read, over the years, just about anything I could find on the subject. I picked up on this counting words thing from John Braine’s book Writing a Novel. I guess it appealed to the OCD in me because words are not all I count. Last week, for example, I read 104 science articles (some admittedly only a paragraph long), I did 140 press-ups and 140 sit-ups, 3.5 hours of dancing to the Wii, an 8-mile cycle ride, drank alcohol on two evenings … you get the picture. But I would contend that much of this is all about what I do: I write stuff down.

For me a lot of this counting also stems from being self-employed for about 25 years. Prior to 2001 when I put away the mowers, hedge cutter, chainsaw and scrapped my truck (no one would buy it) I had to keep count. I had to tick off the weekly jobs, note down the new ones, count up the limited number of jobs I had to spread out over the season (that would be council grass cutting and the like), add up the money, fill out accounts, note down receipts. With this there was a direct connection, reinforced daily, between work and money.

But how do I fill the disconnection between work and money when writing a book? People in other professions have a much more direct connection between their work and their wage, highlighted every day when they go to work, when they clock in, are given their orders or give orders, and when they go home again afterwards. I get paid per book and then by royalties on book sales. My book payments are stepped: starting a new book, delivery and acceptance, publication in hardback and publication in paperback, so there is some connection there. However, I don’t clock in in the morning, nobody checks my work until it’s delivered, I don’t have a foreman or manager bollocking me for bad work or complimenting me for good. I don’t have someone telling me I’m not working hard enough or fast enough, just the knowledge, stretched tenuous over a year, that if I don’t do it or don’t get it right I won’t get paid.

So I count words.

Just recently another writer said how he just can’t write like that – he has to wait for inspiration. I have heard this from other writers too and have no time for it. During the week my inspiration clocks in at 8.00 in the morning and is allowed to go at 5.00 in the evening, unless there’s overtime. It helps me with 2,000 words in that time unless there’s editing to do. It gets quite a lot of time off and holidays, but when it’s time to work it is not allowed to whine, mope about or skive off. Inspiration, I have to say, is a lazy and fickle thing often in need of a good kick up the arse.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Soldier - Kurt Russell

Having an HDD/DVD recorder, numerous free view channels and ease of recording through a contents list is a wonderful thing. I’ve been picking up on some excellent documentaries repeated on BBC4 and elsewhere (particularly like Versailles recently, and some repeats of Horizon) and a few films I missed out on or wouldn’t have bothered recording if I’d needed to go through the whole set-up rigmarole. Also enjoyable on free view are repeats of QI on Dave, and the historical stuff on Yesterday.

I recently watched Hell Rider, which was dreck, but I also recorded one called Soldier – an SF film I’d never heard of and recorded only on the strength of it having Kurt Russell in it. I’m glad I did.

The film started out with scenes of children being raised as soldiers, much of their training, followed by battle scenes that caused a sinking sensation in my gut. I thought I was going to be watching another load of dreck like Hell Rider. As the film progressed I realized that this could have been a really crappy film. However, the acting carried it. Kurt Russell as the brain-washed dehumanized soldier, rediscovering his humanity, was superb. It was interesting too to discover that a co-writer of Blade Runner – David Peoples – wrote this as a ‘spiritual successor’ to that film. It was, and not just because one of the battles happened to be called Tanhauser Gate.

This is well worth watching, in my opinion. Screw the negative reviews. 

Saturday, February 18, 2012


It was interesting doing a little bit of criticism on the writer’s workshop on my forum today. I was very much reminded of my time in a postal workshop or ‘folio’, but there are constraints with working onscreen. I kept on wanting to print out what was there so I could take a red pen to it, even though this was something I never did in the folio, and when it came to picking things apart I still had to do that with pen and paper before typing it in.

I also really have to recognize that ‘not the way I would have written it’ is not the same as ‘plain wrong’. Reading someone else’s work, with a critical eye, brings home to you just how many different ways there are of saying the same thing, but in those different ways there can be a thousand different nuances and elucidating them can be a bastard.

So, if you fancy yourself as a writer, or want to learn, why don’t you join in?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


Interesting, someone twittered a reply to me (Hi Nick), about a twitter I put up concerning Penny Royal, and referred to that AI as a ‘she’. So, being paranoid since my dropped bollock concerning the sex of Vulture (a ship AI from Brass Man) was pointed out to me, I had to check. It turns out that I always referred to Penny Royal as an ‘it’ in The Technician. Then learning it was a lasting impression brought over from my short story Alien Archaeology I had to check that too. I think the impression might be imparted because the main person dealing with Penny Royal was female, though there it was still referred to as an ‘it’. However, glancing through that text I noticed some things about Penny Royal I have been neglecting in the latest work. I suspect, for continuity, I need to read both the short story and the book again. If I screw up there’s always someone who will notice!

Oh, and the sea urchin picture is here because, with silver tentacles and other appendages retracted, that’s Penny Royal in its resting state.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Writing Update.

Righto, I’ve just cleared 60,000 words on a book that now has only a remote chance of being called Penny Royal. As I implied before, there’s just too much going on and too much yet to happen for this whole story to fit into one book. Characters and plot threads are sprouting like jungle saplings in much the same way as they did with The Voyage of the Sable Keech. I now have to take care to prune carefully and not allow them to turn into said jungle.

For those of you that don’t know a modern day writer’s contract often specifies a minimum number of words and mine specifies 120,000. The only time I’ve ever come close to that is with Cowl, which weighed in at 126,000. Everything else has been above that – the biggest one being The Line of Polity at 172,000 and others generally loitering around the 140,000 word mark, so 60,000 words is nearing halfway for me. Every week day I’ve sat down at my computer I’ve done my 2,000 words and, over the last few weeks, I’ve been hitting my target of 10,000 per week. At this rate, then, I could have a first draft done by April … except I’m not going to do that.

The next book I deliver, after Jupiter War (which Caroline is reading through now), doesn’t really have to be delivered until around about September 2013 so I have about one year and seven months in hand. What I intend to do (once I’ve gone through Jupiter War for the last time and sent it in) is just carry on writing. I’m not going to aim to complete a book, but to complete the story, which may be three books long. This will also help with the continuity since all the stopping and editing between books should be cut out. When I’m done, I’ll then think about how it should be divided up.

Then again, there’s always the possibility that this will just end up as one large book, which will have to be called Penny Royal… 

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Great Stagnation

Starting from here on The Next Big Future I read a few articles and looked at some videos. The book The Great Stagnation which seems to be at the root of all this makes the claim that technological advance is slowing because we’ve already grabbed the ‘low-hanging fruit’. Take for example the car. It is a huge step to go from not having a car to having one. The car was the big invention and everything since has just been innovation – no flying cars have arrived. In a speech he gives the author of the book cites many examples, like the average kitchen and how little it has changed since the 50s, but he then reluctantly admits that there have been some big advances in communication (Internet, mobile phones etc.).

Apparently, the low hanging fruit having been grabbed means that the average American is half as wealthy as he would have been had the advances been continuing at their previous rate.

Firstly, I don’t buy the distinction between invention and innovation since the car is just an innovation of the horse and cart and can be traced back to Shanks’ pony and the simple need to get from A to B. I sort of buy the ‘low hanging fruit’ argument but in the end that is really a value judgement. Is the invention of the car more important than the invention of the mobile phone? Is it more important than the accumulation of medical inventions/innovations that have extended our lives by decades? Is it more important than sequencing genomes at an increasing rate, biotech that makes it possible to make yeast that produces diesel or our growing nanotechnology? You see what I mean: a value judgement.

And, like many who have been discussing this book, I don’t agree that a slowing of technological advance is why people aren’t as wealthy as they could be. Firstly I don’t agree that technological advances are slowing. I would say that their effects are taking longer to reach us because of an increasingly hysterical anti-science meme that has spread in the West, with its resultant increase in restrictive legislation. Secondly I would say that the decrease in wealth relative to those advances is all due to increasingly parasitic governments and financial institutions sucking up that wealth – wealth that would have been used to develop those technological advances. Invent something astounding and you need big bucks to get it to market from under the leaden hand of government legislation. You don’t have big bucks of your own to spare because government and the financial institutions have stolen them. It’s an increasingly vicious circle.

This is why you see no technological singularity in The Departure – the parasitic state has killed innovation and invention. My only hope, in the real world, is that the financial collapse we are entering now will kill off some portion of the parasite infestation before the host dies. But even if that does happen, the host will still need time to recover its health, and the problem is that parasites grow faster than their hosts. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Writing Workshop

Here's a thought: how about a writing and criticism section on my message board? A place where people can stick up samples of their writing and have others criticise it? This would be an internet version of the kind of postal workshop, or folio, I was a member of for about 10 years...

Obviously I wouldn't be able to add lots of comments myself while I'm in Crete, but this could still be a useful resource for those who want to write.

H/T Guy Haley

Oh, and seeing as I nicked this idea from Guy I just went and bought his novella (a mere 65p) for my kindle.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Sooty Moths

Funny, I was waffling on about natural selection and evolution to Caroline the other night (after watching a program about how plants altered Earth) and the example I chose was the peppered moth. Today I found myself reading an article on just that. It never occurred to me that the process went into reverse after the clean air act.

I have to add that this is one of the best current proofs of the theory of evolution/natural selection going.

Mental Fat

Well how things change. After deliberately avoiding rant sites over the last few weeks and concentrating on science I’m finding my attitude changing. I read a copy of the Daily Mail this morning and just flipped through it: Cameron and Milliband getting shouty, bored, move on, more politics, yawn, stuff about religion, you lost me there, don’t give a shit (never did), vague interest in some articles, losing it halfway through. Sod it, I’ll twitter some nonsense, write a blog post and then concentrate on what I was working on yesterday: the motivations of Penny Royal, Earth Central and a weird character called Tuppence.

We know that if you exercise your body in a particular way it gets stronger in that way: if you run a lot you get better at running, if you lift weights a lot you get better at weight lifting. But the same applies to the mind: it has muscles that can be exercised. Concentrate on doing crosswords and you get better at it as you learn the convolutions of the cryptic puzzle-maker’s thought processes. Concentrate on Sudoku and you exercise the number and pattern recognition parts of your brain. Read a lot and you get better at reading – your vocabulary increases and you can digest larger concepts. 

These are all fairly obvious, but there are other muscles operating (or perhaps a better description might be neural routes or programs – I’m simplifying here). Where do you get your ideas from? I am asked – as all writers are. Well, I’ve been bench-pressing with my imagination so it’s getting stronger. How is it you can write so much every day? Because I’ve been doing it a lot, guys. Ever worn a hole through the space-bar of a keyboard? I have.

And then we come to the not so great aspect of the mind. It can get as lazy and as stuck in damaging routines as the body. By perpetually following those routines they become hard-wired and dominant. They’re mental fat, they’re the result of the mental equivalent of sitting on the sofa eating biscuits and watching TV when you know you really need to swap out the chocolates for raw carrots and go for a run. They can be addictive and just like physical sloth they can be more difficult to defeat as you get older. In the end, trying to think differently can be one of the most difficult things to do, perhaps, on each individual occasion, more difficult than foregoing that Mars bar and making yourself do twenty sit-ups. 

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Brighton Weekend

So, we popped down to Brighton (I’ll scatter a few pictures here) by train to visit Peter Lavery. He was the editorial director of Pan Macmillan (and Tor) and is now retired, that is, he doesn’t have to go to London any more but still spends a lot of time freelance editing books. He bought flat in Brighton because he likes to be by the sea, with easy access to plenty of facilities, but also wanted a place with fewer stairs. He’s worried about his mobility in later life, but still manages to leave us Essex flatlanders utterly knackered when we all go for a stroll.

Arriving just a quarter of an hour after us from Hastings was the legendary Tanith Lee and her husband John Kaiine, and we enjoyed plenty of red wine, fish-and-chips and conversation with them. Tanith Lee has been a bit of a heroine of mine since I started reading her books at about the age of 14. The first ones were Stormlord and Birthgrave, a particular favourite was Volhavaar and frankly, I’ve never read a book of hers I haven’t enjoyed. She’s written somewhere in the region of 90 books but for reasons that baffle me doesn’t get published so much now. However there is hope on the horizon concerning her backlist, which may be appearing as ebooks in the near future. If or when that happens I’ll let you know.

The following day I woke up with a mouth as dry as a camel’s fundament and a head feeling like someone had taken a baseball bat to it. This was my birthday, when we took a ride on the Brighton ‘eye’, had more fish-and-chips and red wine and when I got my present from Caroline: a Kindle. So I have now joined the 21st century.

The next day, after obligatory strolls, we then met up with Elizabeth and Deirdre Counihan. These sisters were the publishers of a magazine called Scheherazade – one of the many knocking about in the small presses twenty odd years ago and in which my story The Halfman’s Cellar appeared. We had pasta with the red wine and conversation this time.

In all it was an enjoyable experience, though bloody cold and I didn’t enjoy the booze as much as I expected. Throughout it all we caught up on a lot of publishing world gossip. It was both sad and illuminating for me to realize just how many writers, who were taken on by Macmillan at around the same time as me (I’m talking about over a couple of years), have fallen by the wayside. Counting up this morning I see that less than half of them are still around regularly producing books and getting published.

Writers who were heavily hyped and vaunted as the next big thing appeared with a big flash-bang and disappeared with a whimper. The reasons behind this are manifold. Some did some really silly things, like getting greedy agents who claimed to be able to turn them into major league sellers and just failed to sell their books. Others just could not keep up the production, or match the quality of their first book. Some became rather too in love with the idea of what they thought they were, and forgot that this is a job that you really need to keep working at. They believed their own hype and thought everything they typed was gold, and it wasn’t. Others just decided they hated the whole writing world and dropped out of it.

During those lengthy conversations I also got confirmation of some things I already suspected. Publishing is no different from any other human endeavour: favourites can be chosen and cliques formed, bitchiness can abound (especially among the writers). Writing for critics might get you some nice publicity and you’ll find yourself feted amongst the SFF literati and wannabe academics, and you might even snatch a few awards. But writing for your readers and keeping an eye on ringing tills is what will ensure your survival. Having an editor who isn’t afraid to tell you you’re waffling is an essential. Never believe the hype – believe your fans and believe sales.

An enjoyable and interesting weekend in all, but now it’s time to get back to work.   

Friday, February 03, 2012


Okay, I'm off to Brighton for a long weekend to drink red wine and eat fish & chips, so it'll be a bit quiet around here. See you later!

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Daily Parasite

Just a recap here for those who maybe don’t know: While I was climbing up the SF-writing ladder, in fact, if I recollect correctly, when I was working on The Parasite for Tanjen Books, I ended up chatting to the mother of a friend. Now, both the mother and father of said friend were smart cookies – both were vets. She gave me some advice on punctuation that has stayed with me ever since, but she also loaned me a veterinary book on helminthology, which is the study of parasitic worms.

I was at once fascinated. Firstly the book reminded me of books my mother had studied during teacher training and which I pored over as a child, what with their anatomical pictures or internal organs, musculature, skeletons etc.

(Oh, on a side note that was very much a formative period of my life: as her main subject in teacher training she studied mycology (fungi) which, for a kid, was great. Not only did we go to woodlands hunting for these weird and wonderful things but we could also eat them, which appealed to the hunter-gatherer in me. Now I can identify quite a lot of British fungi and of course this interest led to mycelia … which led to Jain tech)

Secondly, I found the intricate life cycles of these creatures fascinating, just as I was boggled by the way they could manipulate or physically change their hosts. Some of this went into The Parasite, an awful lot of it went into short stories: The Thrake, Cave Fish, Choudapt, Putrefactors, Spatterjay, Snairls and Shell Game to name but a few. Then, of course, when it came time for me to write a book after Gridlinked I picked up two of those short stories – Snairls and Spatterjay – and used them as the launch pad for The Skinner and the two ensuing books.

So what am I waffling on about? Well, the above is why I was so glad Vaude passed on the link to Parasite of the Day (thanks Vaude). This is just my kind of stuff. I am almost certainly going to read every article on that site. Also thanks to Dr Tommy Leung who has just changed the black background of that site to make it easier to read!

Oh, and some character in my books has definitely got to be hit by a weaponized version of the above. I can see him/her dying horribly while sprouting mushrooms.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Ranting is Habit-Forming.

It’s been my custom in recent years to read ranty blogs in the morning that I was twittering, responding to and getting irate about. Ranting can become a habit, I’ve discovered (No shit!). It can also affect your health both mental and physical. Ranting becomes a fall-back, cringe moments become more frequent, you find yourself spending time putting together bitchy bile-filled responses to people who aren’t going to take any notice anyhow, and end up just feeding their bile too. It also tends to eat up your time and distract you from the things you should be concentrating on. So now I’m trying to break the habit.

I’ve been getting behind on the science, while the science has been accelerating. I’ve been burning up time on ranty shite that would be better spent writing. So what I’ve done is delete the blogs concerned from my favourites, then estimate how much of this stuff I’ve been reading and supplant it with science and technology articles relevant to what I do. (I’m also seeking blogs and websites on English usage, so if you know of any please let me know)

At first it was difficult. I kept feeling the urge to go back and read something bilious because that’s easy, that’s the guy giving up smoking deciding to have one cigarette, just one. That’s the brain getting hard-wired, the habit. Now I’m finding my interest restoring and increasing. By my estimate, to supplant my previous internet reading required about six medium-sized science articles from the likes of, Science Daily and Science News, but now I’m reading about ten or so.

Of course there have been lapses, but not on the usual subjects. Recent comments I made on J. G Ballard lured a Guardianista into attack mode but I laughed that one off when I tweeted his description of my stuff as ‘pornographically violent space opera’ and it sold me some extra books. And I was tempted back on another blog when, in response to a comment of mine about book piracy, the same guy couldn’t resist comparing me to Jeremy Clarkson and the Daily Mail. That he neglected to drop a ‘Thatcher’ in there was almost astounding. I must resist this kind of temptation.

Really, I’m trying to be a better person…