Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Open Thread

I haven't done one of these for a while. Here's your open thread where you can ramble or rant on about anything you like in the comments. If this gets much in the way of a response I'll be sure to do it more often.


Don't get too abusive ... well, make sure you understand what you're abusing first.

Monday, October 29, 2012

SF Wars


I found some goodies in the post when we got back. Here we have SF Wars edited by Ian Watson and Ian Whates. My story in here, The Rhine’s World Incident, was first published in Subterfuge.



War is becoming increasingly 'SF-ized' with remotely controlled attack drones and robot warriors already in development and being tested. Over the past 100 years the technology of war has advanced enormously in destructive power, yet also in sophistication so that we no longer seem to live under the constant threat of all-out global thermonuclear cataclysm. So what will future wars be like? And what will start them: religion, politics, resources, refugees, or advanced weaponry itself? Watson and Whates present a gripping anthology of SF stories which explores the gamut of possible future conflicts, including such themes as nuclear war, psychological and cyberwars, enhanced soldiery, mercenaries, terrorism, intelligent robotic war machines, and war with aliens.All the stories in this collection of remarkable quality and diversity reveals humankind pressed to the limits in every conceivable way.It includes 24 stories with highlights such as:The Pyre of the New Day' - Catherine Asaro.The Rhine's World Incident' - Neal Asher. Caught in the Crossfire' - David Drake. Politics' - Elizabeth Moon.The Traitor' - David Weber.And others from:Dan Abnett, Tony Ballantyne, Fredric Brown, Algis Budrys, Simon R. Green, Joe Haldeman, John Kessel, John Lambshead, Paul McAuley, Andy Remic, Laura Resnick, Mike Resnick & Brad R. Torgersen, Fred Saberhagen, Cordwainer Smith, Allen Steele, William Tenn, Walter Jon Williams, Michael Z. Williamson, Gene Wolfe.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Downton Abbey


Just before we headed back from Crete, Greek TV was showing episodes of various British (or English speaking) TV shows. They had Call the Midwife, Downton Abbey, Upstairs Downstairs and Wallander. I avoided the last of these because I didn’t want to see all the emoting, but watched the first two and enjoyed them both. Back here we borrowed the first series of Downton Abbey from Caroline’s parents and have nearly watched it all the way through.


I know it probably doesn’t do much for my street cred but I’m enjoying it immensely and want to see the rest. Nice one Mr Fellows. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Jerry Bauer

Quite a while ago I did a blog post concerning a photographer called Jerry Bauer who took my first 'author photograph' (the one here). It seems that there isn't much about this guy on the Internet and, as a result, I keep getting people contacting me concerning rights to his photographs. They want to be put in contact with his son Jonathan Bauer. Unfortunately I lost contact details through various changes of computer in the past. So, if anyone out there knows those contact details could they please get in touch using the email at the bottom of my biog on the right.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Maria Tsouraki-Antonakaki

So, Elly told us that the wife of a lawyer friend of her husband Nectarius has written a book and wants to publish it in English ... or something ... so much gets lost in translation when the subject is specialized. The lawyer and wife wanted to talk to me, apparently.

Nectarius and Elly are nice people, generous, and we have enjoyed their company, kazanis and gifts of raki for years. For example, the two kazanis we’ve had here over the last two weekends weren’t for Nectarius’s raki. He attended yesterday’s and at the end of it was mortified not to be able to give us raki because he has run out and won’t be making any until after we’ve left. My response to this approach, therefore, wasn’t my present, ‘I will only read hard copy of published books and comment on them, or not.’ I said I was prepared to look at maybe a couple of chapters and maybe pass them on to someone if they’re of interest, and handed over my contact details.

On Friday we got a phone call from Manolis, the lawyer, assisted in language by a younger lawyer called Yorgos. They invited us for a meal in Sitia. We thought, what the hell it’s something different, and accepted. We were to meet on Saturday in Sitia square by the statue, at 7.00 PM where they would recognize me because they had been checking me out on the Internet. We duly turned up there were a young guy eyed us for a while then approached. Maybe he did not recognize me at first because, as Manolis pointed out later, they had looked at the terrible picture of me on Wikipedia (get it changed, Manolis said, you look like a really old man there). Next Manolis turned up and we trooped over to a harbour front taverna called Gorgios where Maria and her young son Stelios awaited.

While we ate pasta and drank white wine I tried to get a handle on the situation. It turns out that Maria has written three books that have been published in Greece. She handed over a copy of her latest – pictured here – and it’s one I would love to read in English. It’s about Italians occupying Sitia during the war (the town we were in at that moment and one lying only twenty minutes drive from our house). This book apparently sold 5,000 copies, which I’m guessing is pretty good in a country where book reading seems a rarity. The cartoon on the front depicts Mussolini and of course I was reminded of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis De Bernieres, and I have to add that we also learned of another interesting authorial connection: a close relative of Maria on her father’s side was the butcher on Spinalonga – the island leper colony in Victoria Hislop’s book.


Anyway, the book pictured here, and the two before it, are not the ones with which she wants to break into the English-speaking market. It is her latest, which seems to be a biography about a rather conflicted Greek character. This guy was confused about his sexuality from a very young age which, as you can imagine, went down really well in Orthodox Greece. His life, as far as I can gather, was traumatic. Some incidents illustrate this: a sex-change operation in Morocco with a lack of anaesthesia and during which he had to be tied to a bed, an attempt to rescue two boys, in Muslim North Africa, who had been accused of homosexuality and were to be hanged. This character is now a wealthy female notary in Athens. Seems to me this is the kind of stuff that is ticking all the right boxes for Guardian readers all across Britain.

Now the problems: the book is in Greek so I’ve no real idea how good it is, nor how well it will translate. My advice was for her to write a synopsis, get that and two sample chapters translated into English, whereupon I would try to find out who in Britain might be interested. Publishers and agents please note, if this book is any good you have the added benefit of being able to write-off trips to Eastern Crete against expenses!

Note: the title of the book shown reads in phonetic English as Parafono Embatirio. The first word seems to be dissonant or discordant while the second is a military march (music). I would guess the English title would be Discordant March, Tuneless March or something like Marching out of Step.

Packing Up

Wednesday 17th October

Interesting to see how in Cuba the government is allowing people to travel more widely. However, people in useful professions, like doctors, will face restrictions on their travel. So the ZAs (zero assets) are allowed to travel but probably can’t afford to, while the SAs (Societal Assets) are firmly controlled. Familiar?

I have to say something about this. Planet hunters have discovered a world in a system where four suns are in orbit about each other. A presenter, talking to some ‘expert’ involved said something about it being like science fiction, whereupon the ‘expert’ replied, ‘This is stranger than science fiction.’ Well fuck you matey. I might not have used four suns, but only two weeks ago I was writing about a system with a white dwarf and black dwarf orbiting each other and in turn orbited by a red dwarf, the whole system acting like some giant stellar food processor to mince up asteroids and worlds and shepherd them into an immense gas and dust ring. Go read some science fiction Mr Expert. Dickhead.

Thursday 18th October
I have suffered from acne rosacea for years but whether that is what I have now I have no idea. It’s changed, headed off to from around my nose towards my ears and on my chin, the spots are less like pimples and more like eczema. I’ve taken the various drugs to keep this under control and, as is usual, they stop working properly after I’ve been taking them for a while. I’ve tried all sorts of topical skin treatments, some of which have helped and some of which have aggravated the problem. One of the best topical treatments I use I didn’t learn from a doctor, and that is sticking baby powder on my face (the talc has to be fine). The powder sticks to the spots themselves and remains there when I wipe the bulk of it off. It conceals them and dries them out, and they’re much reduced when it drops off later. However, best of all for this condition is getting my face into sea water. The spots heal and fade. Now I’m not swimming just about every day the spots are flaring up again so I’m trying an experiment. I’ve made strong brine from local sea salt and intend to put that on my face every morning. It stings like a bastard. I hope it works.

Friday 19th October
It’s slightly cooler today than it has been over the last week, at 20C inside and 23C outside at 9.45AM, but I’m still sitting here in shorts and T-shirt as I get on with my work. After my efforts revamping our stove it looks like we won’t be using it this year (though I’ll have to fire it up at least once to cure the heat paint) because we are only here for another six days. Meanwhile it seems the Greeks know we’re heading away so are having their kazanis earlier just to ensure I struggle with my latest attempt at temperance. There was also a general strike yesterday which I’m hoping will not be protracted and won’t be occurring on the day we head back, which could screw things up a bit.

Things to do: I have to put netting over the citrus trees to protect them from winter winds that tend to frazzle them and kill off young fruit. I need to get some varnish on shutters that are peeling. I need to seal some cracks around a step in our roof, which I wanted sorted this year but wasn’t done because our builder went AWOL. I need to plant out some of the pot plants and shift the rest to the front garden where it’s quite damp. I need to stop my regular currency transfers because I don’t want any more than the minimum to cover bills sitting in a Greek bank. I must decant my large amount of chilli sauce into plastic bottles for transport back to England. Then I have to remember what other bits and pieces have to go back and pack them, knock off the power and the water, and go. It’s sad.

But then, back in England there are things to enjoy: always something to watch on TV, Chinese and Indian food either a short drive away or delivered to our door, Brussels sprouts with a Sunday roast, fish and chips in Hastings or Brighton, cheaper shopping with a lot more variety, comfy carpets and gas central heating coming on automatically every morning and, of course, constant fast Internet I will be pigging out on for months on end.

Tuesday 23rd October
I’ve just started on the packing. That’s two securely-wrapped 1.5L bottles of chilli sauce sitting in the case I used for my hand luggage on the way out here which in turns sits inside my suitcase. This time I won’t pack our various rechargers and other electrical items around them, because last time customs felt the need to examine a large bottle of liquid surrounded by wiring in the middle of a suitcase. I wonder if they thought the pomegranates in there too were fragmentation grenades.

I’ve been watching the BBC World’s take on the US election campaign. The presentation has been thoroughly partisan – obviously in BBC terms Obama is Luke Skywalker while Romney is Darth Vader. Next the presenters went into shock when Obama got a spanking in the first presidential debate and thereafter were struggling to hide their bias. I wonder if they had received complaints. In their cloistered group-think world it must be difficult to comprehend that an awful lot of people out here in the real world don’t agree with them. In some of their ‘reasoned debates’, however, they’re not so careful. You get wall-to-wall lefty liberals who still think Keynesian economics, high government spending, state control and high taxes all pave the way to socialist utopia, and who attack anyone who says, ‘Hang on, maybe spending more than their tax take is why governments are in debt?’

It absolutely hammered down with rain here yesterday and last night and I put the stove on for the first time. Shortly after that I put on the bathroom and kitchen fans and opened the window to get rid of the fumes from the curing paint. Today we have what is about standard for an English summer: cloud and sun, wet and the temperature struggling to get past 20C. Now for that English winter...

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Beaches and Booze

Wednesday 10th October

No swimming or beach time yesterday since it was cloudy, not particularly warm (relatively) and most of the beach had gone anyway, as you can see.



Upon mentioning this to Stelios at the Gabbiano I learnt something I hadn’t heard about the beach here. What I had heard was that the building of an enclosed harbour for the boats and a breakwater to one side of the little area beside it changed the currents and resulted in the sand of the main beach being steadily eroded away and deposited over there. However, though this might be true, it now appears that a dredger used to suck up loads of sand in and about the harbour and that this was then deposited along the main beach. Since this stopped four years ago, because, of course, there’s no money to pay for it, the situation with the main beach has been steadily getting worse.

The cloud yesterday only sprinkled our windscreen on the way back home last night, but now the rain has arrived. I woke at about 5.00 to the sound of thunder and a steady downpour. This morning at 8.30 it’s grey and drizzly but the thunder has stopped. When I got up I first checked our stove pipe for leaks, found none, then spotted a pool below one of our roof windows. I’ll have to check that out when I go up to pull a plastic bag over the chimney pot – no need for the stove yet since the temperature outside is 18 and inside it’s 23.

Thursday 11th October
Why the surprise about some Taliban punk shooting a teenage girl through the head because she is bright, well-spoken and campaigns for female education? These patriarchal bullies and murderers are frightened of the mysterious packages they’ve turned their women into, and want them dim and blinkered because if they’re educated they’ll be much harder to persuade into a Semtex waistcoat. Wankers.

Friday 12th October
I’m being a good boy now and pushing myself to adhere to my target of 10,000 words a week. Yesterday, because I had to take Caroline to the dentist at 12.00, I was 1,300 words short of my target for that day. However, because I’d done just over the 2,000 on each of the preceding days I only had to do another 952 words to hit my weekly target, which I’ve done. Penny Royal II is now just 300 words away from 100,000. I also have a few sections already started, along with some notes, so on Monday I can dive straight into a space battle and thereafter advance the plot to its final physical destination ... which happens to be a Polity factory station called Room 101, which was also supposedly destroyed during the prador/human war...

Saturday 13th October
The EU being given the Nobel Peace Prize is yet another case of politicians being given credit for something that has happened despite them. Much was made in a BBC discussion (during which there was just the one token anti-EU speaker) of how war between European countries is now unthinkable, laughable. One idiot even asserted that there were only two choices: the EU or war. The truth is that political and economic integration aren’t the reasons Germany hasn’t invaded Poland lately. The real game changers are global communication, transport and education. We all know that European politicians enjoy a good war and have been getting their hands dirty elsewhere in that respect since the last big one. But they cannot get us to agree to a war with close neighbours we see every day on TV. They cannot demonize people we can chat with at the press of a button. They can’t get us to hate people we can see after an hour or two on Easyjet or in the Channel Tunnel.

Of course, another reason European war would be difficult: the politicians who would take us to war are held in utter contempt and many people are smart enough now to see through their lies. They haven’t really changed since Brutus shoved a knife into Caesar. They are still ideologues or thieves, or both. Whether you think it a good thing or a bad thing, the Arab Spring wasn’t brought about by politicians but by mobile phones and Facebook.

Finally, the presentation of this prize to the EU has pushed the Nobel awards further into irrelevance. I mean, didn’t Al Gore get something? Like just about any award you can name it is highly politicized and often risible.

Monday 15th October
They had a kazani here by our house over the weekend. For those who don’t know, this is when they fire up a still and turn hundreds of litres of fermented grapes into a large amount of raki, meanwhile drinking the stuff and eating lots of barbecued food. It started at about midday on Saturday. We avoided it during the afternoon, went off for a meal at about five, then came back and joined in at about 6.30. Much raki and food was thereafter consumed until maybe midnight. The next morning they continued stilling the raki at 6.00AM. We wandered out at about 10.00 feeling a bit crappy, drank coffee and smoked cigarettes until midday, whereupon it kicked off again for a few hours. We returned to our house at about 2.00 and spent the rest of the day not doing very much.



This has basically confirmed my growing aversion to booze. I enjoyed some of it but spent more time feeling like crap because of it, sometimes a bit depressed, disinclined to do stuff, feeling like I’d knocked my health down again. It’s one of the penalties of growing older. I’m reminded of Caroline’s grandma saying she didn’t give up booze and cigarettes – they gave her up – or of my father who stopped smoking because it interfered with him being able to play his clarinet or saxophone. Drinking is okay when you’re younger, when hangovers are either nonexistent or you recover in a matter of hours, but when you enter the time of the two-day hangover; when the feeling crap outweighs the feeling good and the former stops you doing the stuff you really want to do, it’s time to think very carefully about your lifestyle.

Congratulations to Felix Baumgartner! I watched his jump on the TV and just from that perspective it gave me the heebie jeebies. It is nice to see that the ‘right stuff’ still exists.


Tuesday 16th October
I finally bit the bullet yesterday and cut all the grapevines off the pergola, dug up one of the two of the plants and severely chopped back the rest of the other. Having a grapevine like that is all part of the Mediterranean thing but up here is simply a pain. It requires lots of pruning, insecticide and fungicide, and hasn’t produced more than a handful of grapes. Because we’re quite exposed up here the usual course of events is a nice growth in early spring whose shade we avoid because we want the sun, an ensuing massive spurt of growth I then need to hack back, a scattering of grapes beginning to grow, then along comes a hot dry wind for two or three days which frazzles and rips apart the leaves and kills the grapes, whereupon we spend the rest of the year clearing up the mess every day. It had to go.


I’m well past the 100,000 word mark on Penny Royal II, and preparing for the particle cannons to open up...

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Deadwood and Parasites?

Wednesday 3rd October

Both stove glasses were cracked, the bolts that tightened the clamps to hold those glasses in place had rusted solid, there was rust elsewhere, heat-resistant seals were falling apart and the whole thing looked pretty crappy:



I managed to find new sealing material here, bought new bolts, drilled out the old ones and re-tapped the holes, cleaned off all the rust, re-sprayed with heat-resistant paint, fitted seals and glass and now the thing is as good as new:


Thursday 4th October
Caroline and I watched and enjoyed the first season of Deadwood with its sleezy depiction of that town in gold rush America. Set design and clothing, in fact all the physical details were superb. It has some excellent actors too like the hotel owner I always remember as the genetic designer from Blade Runner and the doctor who I always remember as the Harkonnen’s mentat in the film of Dune and, of course, the central supporting pillar of all this: Ian McShane as the saloon owner Al Swearengen. My only gripes concerned my inability to understand some of the talk and some holes in the plot. I understood that the slightly antiquated way of speaking added to the general atmosphere, but when it came out of the mouth of someone playing the drunken Calamity Jane I understood none of it. As for plot holes, the most glaring was when Al Swearengen makes the illogical and thoroughly out of character decision to back off on stealing a gold claim because the sheriff, Bullock, would make a good ‘front man’.


In season II it seems to me that they’ve made the mistake I’ve often seen in other series: those producing it decided to give us more of what they think makes their series a success, and got it wrong. I’m guessing that the decisions made at this point were by committee rather than by someone with a clear vision of where the series was going. In this case they’ve gone for more atmosphere which apparently means rambling speeches from the ‘characters’ to say in twenty-five words what could have been said in five. The result of this has been that the frankly poor plot of this season is suffering even more. I’ll give you an example: I just watched an episode where the leader of a group of miners decided to tar a black man, who had only just appeared on the scene, and the back-story of why this happened simply wasn’t there. This event had no connection at all to the miners’ earlier anger at a county commissioner who was threatening their gold claims, and the evident anger of their leader at this black man wasn’t at all explained. Also, adding insult to injury, Swearengen’s role over these episodes, after a rather silly and weakly justified fight with Bullock, has been to suffer bladder stones. I do hope this season improves now he’s recovering.

Friday 5th October
Here’s an update on the news for my American readers. The people at Night Shade Books are looking forward to bringing The Owner Trilogy to print in the US and have scheduled The Departure for publication Feb 5, 2013 with Zero Point following May 7, 2013 and Jupiter War September 3, 2013 (catching up with publication of that last book in Britain). Nicely keying into that my short story The Other Gun will be appearing in Asimov’s April/May issue that year with, of course, mention of these books in attached biog. It should be an interesting year with those three books slamming into the American market in rapid succession. In essence this should work as quite a profile-raising exercise.


Monday 8th October
I just watched the lift off of a commercial resupply rocket heading for the space station. I have to admit to being tickled to see that the robot craft its taking up there is called ‘Dragon’. Of course the name probably stems from the fire-breathing version, but I can fantasize about someone on the project choosing the name from their SF reading.

I notice someone put graffiti on a badly painted wall in the Tate Gallery. I don’t understand why this is news – surely a coat of white wash will sort it out?

Tuesday 9th October
I’ve just cleared 93,000 words with Penny Royal II and my characters have still yet to arrive at a particular destination where the end game of this book is to play out. I am just entering what I’ll call a precursor punch-up with a bit of war time history on the side. I have been enjoying detailing in these books a Polity bioweapon, based on a prador parasite, and delivered by assassin drones made in the shape of that parasite. Blame my winter reading of that blog ‘Parasite of the Day’.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Into Octomvrios

Wednesday 26th September

I’ve been reading much more lately. I read Terry Pratchett’s Snuff and it was a book I didn’t want to end; I read one about the campaign Alexander the Great in Afghanistan that started out seeming crudely simple but then grabbed me and had some interesting parallel’s with the present day; and I’ve read some other books I’ve enjoyed immensely. However, for every book I’ve read and enjoyed there’s been one I’ve made an attempt on – reading maybe a hundred pages – then finally put aside.

Was it that the characters were unbelievable, the history inaccurate, that I couldn’t picture the scenes in my mind, that the plot was daft or too obvious? No to all of these. Every time it was because despite my efforts it failed to engage – it was boring. This is why I sometimes struggle to fill out a review of something that did engage to the end. Really I should just say I enjoyed said book and will buy (or otherwise obtain) further books from that writer. All the rest is pointless decoration.

Thursday 27th September
It’s nice to see that finally, grudgingly, governments are beginning to admit to the real economic problems their countries face. A year ago it was all about the greedy banks causing the crash, which in essence is true in the same sense as pneumonia being the infection that brings a cancer patient to the edge of death. The real problem, the cancer, is governments overspending, bloated state sectors and far far too many people used to sucking on the state teat whether through welfare, the NHS or its equivalents or by being employed in the ever expanding public sector. Of course now those same governments face a dilemma. They know that they have to cut their spending but the voters they’ve bribed are objecting to this. Instead they fiddle around the edges, try to squeeze more money out of the people who actually generate wealth rather than waste it, increase business-killing taxes and talk blithely about financial stimulus. Politicians only spend on the promulgation of their particular ideology, hence the fucking windmills spreading across Britain, or on feathering their own nests. Their spending always fails to generate more wealth, and every time they do something ‘new’ they just create another stratum of bureaucracy to drain their country of wealth.

Friday 28th September
What I want to know is when is someone going to invent a device that records smells in the same way as a camera? I am of course aware of just how complicated such a task would be and I’m guessing that someone is already working on such a project now. When this machine is available I want one and with it I’ll take my first smellograph of this plant:



The name I’ve been given for it here is night flower. It doesn’t look like much but when it’s flowering on a hot evening (I guess it’s pollinated by moths) its jasmine-like smell is intensely powerful. We can smell its perfume even when we get out our car, which I park over a hundred feet from our house.

Monday 1st October
Last week was a good one with 844 words written on blog posts and 10279 written of Penny Royal II taking it over 80,000 words. As noted before I started this book on July 19th, so that was 52 working days. It should have been, at my supposed rate of 2,000 words a day, 104,000 words but it works out at 1538 words per working day. This means that somehow I lost about two working weeks. Some of this was because of shopping and a portion was because I did some work on the house but, if I’m totally honest, the rest was probably lost to hangovers. This is why, 10 days ago, I knocked the booze on the head and, as is usual during my temperance phases, I’ve missed it not at all.

Tuesday 2nd October
So a few days ago Kostis told Caroline about a fan of mine being here and wanting something signed. I enquired about this later noting that the book I’d left in the Revan’s book shelf was missing. I learned from Yorgos that it was the friend of a fan of mine who, ‘thinks you’re God’. What with the language barrier and one thing or another all I truly gleaned was that there was a couple here of who the girl had a friend who was a fan. Whatever – just so long as she wasn’t carrying around a sledgehammer I didn’t mind.

The two apparently turned up yesterday at four, then seeing we were on the beach left us in peace. Later, when we were up at a table, a woman called Pauline, who has been a long time resident here, wandered across. The two were friends of hers and she went back to tell them we were now off the beach. I immediately ordered a carafe of wine to settle my nerves. The couple turned up. They were from London – a bubbly hairdresser and a guy called who works in the legal profession. They weren’t fans but they were tickled by the idea of meeting the author who their friend rates (Hi Gavin). I duly provided bookmarks, signed that book from the shelf for Gavin and had my photograph taken with them.

I wish I hadn’t had the wine. I enjoyed just one glass of it and subsequently woke up in the night with a stinking headache.