Monday, April 28, 2008


Since I might not be posting on here for a little while, here's a nice little story for you to enjoy while I'm gone...


“You’re fat. You do nothing but eat, drink, defecate and inflate,” she said.

Harry flinched at the down-the-nose oh-so-superior voice. He stopped whipping up the mash with his fork and stared at what he could see of his reflection in the kitchen window. Observing a face hanging like a bag of melted butter, he then turned to study her.

She was leaning on the counter sipping at her fifth gin of the evening. How dare she call him fat? Her thighs rocked when she walked and her breasts sat like boulders on the mountain of her stomach. He felt the anger roil in his gut and claw its way up into his chest. He’d really had enough.

“And you’re a snotty-nosed bitch,” he said, breaking out in a sweat at his temerity. He waited then, hardly daring to imagine how she might react, but even more angered at his own fright. She laughed a dry hacking laugh and gazed at him as if he was something she’d just stepped in.

“You are a corpulent slug, darling.”

It was the darling that did it. She’d called him that when they’d first been lovers. Over the years the word had changed from a term of endearment to one of contempt. He stepped towards her but she was too drunk to notice. She noticed when he stuck the fork in her eye, though.

The fork still in her eye, dripping mashed potato and other fluids, she staggered into the sitting room. Harry opened a draw and made his selection. The Ken Hom cleaver was a favourite of his, as was the filleting knife he’d honed down to razorlike sliver of metal. He listened to her nasal squealing for a moment before following her in.

All over the carpet – all over her lovely cream thirty-three pounds a yard carpet. The eye liquor had all run out and now it was blood dripping from the handle of the fork. He must have jammed the tines right into skull behind as the implement showed no signs of falling out. Harry moved in and thought about the conger eels he’d gutted in his boat-trip days. The thing to do was to cut them into pieces small enough to bag and put in the chest freezer. Each piece a meal in itself. He was humming to himself by the time she finally stopped screaming. The doorbell rang when he was getting really artistic with the filleting knife. He wiped his face on a towel and went to the door, opened it, and stuck only his head round.

“Good morning, sir! I’m here to demonstrate the Tyson Supervac 2000,” said the little man on the step.

“Don’t want none,” said Harry, closing the door.

“But, sir. The lady of this household specifically requested a demonstration. We don’t force our wares on people who don’t want them, I assure you.”

As the little man spoke he leant against the door. There was something manic in his expression. Here was a salesman who had been put off once too often. Harry felt that dull roil of anger again. Spending his money. That damned carpet, a mortgage he could hardly afford, the fucking useless ornaments that ate tenners then gathered dust, and now a vacuum cleaner they didn’t need. Before he fully understood what he was doing he had opened the door and let the interloper in.

Dragging his large wheeled-case behind him the salesman shot past Harry into the hall, grinning widely at this unprecedented success. Harry closed the front door and turned. The salesman’s grin fell away when he saw the blood, and the cleaver clutched in Harry’s right hand.

“Go on then, demonstrate,” said Harry.

“W - w - where would you like me to demonstrate, sir?”

Harry pointed with the cleaver to the sitting room. “In there.”

The salesman was frightened, but his expression hopped to an utterly new level of fear and horror when he dragged his case into the sitting room. “Oh my god. Oh my god.”

He turned, searching for somewhere to run, but there was no way round Harry. Harry used his huge gore-spattered belly to barge the salesman into the room.

“I’ll go away. I’ll go away. I didn’t see anything!”

“Demonstrate,” said Harry.

The salesman stared at him in disbelief, then turned and gaped at what had been spread across the white carpet.

“No ... no ... you can’t mean ...”

“Demonstrate!” Harry shouted, swiping his cleaver at the salesman. The salesman ducked back, dragging his case with him. He stepped in a stack of fingers, stumbled, and sat down in a pool of intestines. His expression twisted, there was horror there, sickness. For a moment it seemed he might cry. Harry picked up his filleting knife and stepped closer, then something clicked.

“The Tyson Supervac 2000 is at the ... cutting edge of house-cleaning technology.” The salesman stood and looked around himself. “Not only can it be used to vacuum carpets, but it can also be used, with boost control, to clear leaves, and even blockages in drains.”

With this the salesman opened his case and removed from it a brushed aluminium vacuum cleaner with a transparent plastic dust compartment. In the sides of the case were various hoses and attachments. He selected a transparent hose and connected it in place. On the end of the hose he fitted a plastic nozzle.

“The Tyson Supervac comes with its own rechargeable power pack, but for the removal of heavy soil we recommend you plug into the house power supply.”

He held up a three pin plug. The expression on his face was sick and his hands were shaking. Harry nodded to the power point. The salesman went over and plugged in, then returned to his cleaner.

“The Tyson Supervac has adjustable power setting. The lowest power setting is for conventional carpet cleaning. Drain cleaning and leaf clearing come at the upper end of the scale.” He pointed at a slide-switch and pushed it halfway over.

“The 2000, unlike the earlier 1500, has a silent running mode. For heavy soil though we recommend you don’t use this as there may be some loss of power.” After this little speech the salesman stared at the mess for a long time. He then pressed a button and the vacuum cleaner roared into life. With a look of distaste he lowered the nozzle to the carpet.

Harry was impressed. This was certainly a very efficient cleaner. Two kidneys, one after the other, went up the pipe with a sound like someone spitting pips. A length of intestine disappeared with a sound like air being blown through the neck of a burst balloon. Of course it didn’t take long for the transparent dust compartment to fill.

“You’ll find the Tyson Supervac 2000’s dust compartment clean and easy to use. See: just detach it from the cleaner and take it to your dustbin.”

The salesman stood holding the dust compartment. He had a piece of liver stuck on his cheek and his suit was spattered with blood. His right eye was twitching. Harry gestured with his cleaver then walked behind the man with the filleting knife at the back of his neck. The contents of the dust compartment slithered into the dustbin. On the fourth emptying the salesman was walking a little unsteadily and breaking into the occasional giggle.

“The Supervac 2000 can be bought on extended credit. You can own a Tyson Supervac 2000 for six months without paying a penny! That’s six months of superior cleaning for nothing. You’ll never want to part with your Supervac!”

The fingers rattled as they shot into the dust compartment. Squares of skin went in with a dull popping. Her hair jammed in the pipe for a moment until the salesman hit boost, then it shot inside. But even the Tyson Supervac 2000 couldn’t suck up the skinned skull with its dinner fork still in place. It stuck on the end of the nozzle and only dropped off when the cleaner had been turned off and wound down to a stop. It dropped on the floor with a leaden thud.

“Should you encounter any problems with this item we recommend you contact us on our helpful and friendly customer services line.”

The salesman stared at the skull, then at the skinned ribcage and some of the larger lumps. “Never pick them up. Not no way,” he said, and giggled.

Harry held out a roll of bin bags for him, then followed him as he made three trips to the dustbin.

“Now the carpet,” said Harry.

“The Supervac ... “ The salesman stared at the blood soaking and clotting the carpet. “... has this handy wash-vax attachment which can be used to clean heavily soiled carpets and even upholstery ...” He stared at the sofa on which, until only moments before, two blubbery breasts had sat like huge blancmanges. “ ... all you need is the Supervac recommended carpet cleaner, which can be obtained at concessionary prices by registered owners.”

The salesman got himself into motion. He lifted the pipe he had been using, removed the plastic nozzle and fitted a long stainless steel attachment. He turned the cleaner on.

“But before I demonstrate the wash-vax!” He turned towards Harry with a deranged expression on his face. “Let me demonstrate the power of The Supervac 2000 for drain cleaning!” He turned the vacuum cleaner on and pushed the power setting to its highest.

“I don’t want –” Harry managed before the stainless steel pipe was in his eye. He yelled and dropped his knives. There was a sucking thump and a ghastly sensation. With his right eye he watched in horror as his left eye shot up the transparent pipe.

“Feel the power of Supervac!”

Harry grabbed at the pipe, stumbled, slipped on blood-slick carpet, and felt the pipe ripping away from his face. He felt it tear a strip of skin from the bottom of his eye down to his chest. He bellowed as he went flat on his face. The pain hit then and he bellowed again.

“With turbo boost!”

Harry struggled to get up, felt the back of his trousers rip and something cold intrude between his buttocks.

“Supervac 2000! Will remove even the most stubborn blockage!”

Harry deflated.


Richard Morgan

Interesting rant here from Richard Morgan, which I generally agree with. Of course I found it while doing an ego search with my name...

Friday, April 25, 2008

Writing News

Righto, I've cleared 100,000 words of Orbus, which is always a bit a of a milestone, and the endgame progresses nicely what with a planet getting blown to smithereens and some seriously huge dreadnoughts knocking the shite out of each other.

Nice reviews appearing here there and everywhere for Line War. There's the previously mentioned one in SFX 169 (May), a good one from Anthony Brown in Starburst 362 and others elsewhere. I particularly like this one I found on Sarcade's Weblog. I also like it that no one has yet accused me of the Space Opera sins of anticlimax or deus ex machina.

Had a photo shoot on Wednesday: professional photographer all the way down from Bristol to take shots of me posing in the pissing rain before Maldon mudflats and trying to look cool in a scrapyard. This is for an SFX profile which should be coming out at round about the time my short story collection gets released.

Oh yeah, and not long until Shadow of the Scorpion is available.

And I note that David Gunn's next book is out to hopefully cause Maximum Offense!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Article 15: Re-Write

This is an old one, with some bits I no longer agree with, but I'll give it to you as it was:


When do you cease to re-write work? Simple answer: when you are no longer improving as a writer, when you feel you have nothing more to learn, when you have achieved perfection. It is an unfortunate fact that some writers do believe this of themselves. They are normally the ones who have achieved success, and are drunk on the adulation of those who think a past participle is something you'll find in a linear accelerator.

For me revision of a story partially ceases when I feel I have achieved a required effect, might well attain publication, and have more interest in the next project. But while it remains in my processor it is still subject to a critical eye. I don't believe there is such a thing as too much re-writing. You just reach the stage where you can't go any further with a piece and move on to the next. In the process you jettison the bad and keep the good. You decide, and you base your decision on what you are after. Publication? Re-write for the market acting on feedback from editors and readers. Personal satisfaction? Don't kid yourself. For my novella for Club 199 I took a thirty thousand word story and extended it by ten thousand words to fit it within their parameters, and felt perfectly justified in doing so. As far as I am concerned good writers are successful writers (though successful writers often degenerate into bad writers).

There is no quick-fix formula. It is obvious such a formula is profoundly wished for, as the sales of the 'How To' books attest. When the questions are posed as to the extent and method of re-writing the real question being asked is: how do I write well? The first step on the road for ninety percent of would-be-famous novelists is to learn how to use the English language. Get hold of books like 'Fowlers Modern English Usage', 'Roget's Thesaurus', and perhaps a plain old 'Mastering The English Language -S.H. Burton'. For many people the re-write required is the one to turn their masterpiece into something intelligible. It was not until I joined some postal workshops that I found out just how bad it was possible for some writing to be. I also learnt that those writers who really try to get a handle on the language are also the ones who tell the best stories. Understanding the structure is all. You're not going to build a suspension bridge if you don't know how nuts and bolts go together. The rest is badly written soap-opera.

So now you know how the English language works, have put a story together, and are looking at doing a re-write. You have looked at the story objectively and made sure that the bunch of flowers is beautiful rather than are beautiful and your hero still has the same colour hair all the way through. How does it look subjectively? Where, for example, can you break the rules to the greatest effect? The best of writers are the ones who know how to do this. Steven Donaldson once managed a one word sentence that had the skin on my back crawling (Of course I'm aware that it is not pc to like Donaldson; he's too successful). The word was 'Kevin'. No, not the spotty dickhead down the road. Kevin Landwaster who performed the Ritual of Desecration and whose spectre has just stepped through a door from the underworld. I'm afraid no English book is going to tell you how to achieve the same (though 'The Critical Sense' by James Reeves comes mighty close). The only way to learn is through hard work, reading, and listening to criticism, though for the latter you must judge what is relevant. There are no substitutes for these, just as there is no substitute for talent. When you re-write you must see the images and feel the effects of every word. You have to decide what to discard and what to keep. There are many sources you can tap to help you make these decisions. But in the end they are your own.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

10p Tax Rate

It’s really enjoyable watching Brown and Darling squirming over this 10p tax rate furore and you have to ask yourself how Brown, lauded as a wonderful chancellor, managed to fuck up so badly. Well Brown started fucking up the moment he stepped into that job when he sold off a lump of our gold reserves to finance ideological change. He’s presided over a massive expansion of bureaucracy, pissed billions up the wall, overcomplicated the tax system and gone low-profile when any shit has been heading towards the fan. Don’t expect him to do any different now he is in the Mugabe-like unelected position of head honcho.

The Labour Party, once the champion of the working classes now doesn’t give a fuck about them. It is concerned with trying to push bankrupt ideology of the kind that classifies lazy welfare scroungers and criminals as victims, and anyone working and generating income as a cash cow. But the main concern of those presently in power is staying in power and gathering more power to themselves. Okay, so at a certain wage level some are paying £200 more each year, but they can get it back in tax credits! This is about making the citizens of this country clients of the state: we’ll take money off you but if you ask us nicely and do precisely what we say, we might give you a little back.

Then again, maybe not, since they’ve thrown a 100 billon at Northern Rock, 50 billion at other banks, and will be throwing over 20 billion at the Olympics. And that’s on top of all this lot (note the large pink chunk better named the 'feckless fund'):

(oh, as an aside, who thinks of Black Adder upon hearing the Chancellor’s name, and who else doesn’t think some of these Labour MPs appropriately named what with the man of straw and Ed Balls-up?)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Japanese Cowl

Ach I just love this. Here's the Hayakawa edition of Cowl which, being in Japanese, reads from back to front to us then up and down inside. You seriously know your books are going for translation when you see that! I am also highly impressed with the cover picture. It's quite minimalist but perfectly captures Cowl and his attitude to humanity. Nice one Hayakawa!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Writing News.

I do like to see this. In the 'New & Future Releases' on, going through to the Science Fiction section, I find Line War sitting at number two! In 'Bestsellers', going through to the Science Fiction section it still remains resolutely at number four. (At the time of this posting) It's further enjoyable to see that, occasionally, checking back through that last section, as many of six of my books are in the top 100 (though only 3 today), and very often Gridlinked is amidst them. I'm hoping this means there's those out there who've only just discovered my stuff and are starting at the beginning.

Update. From that Jon Courtenay Grimwood review in SFX we have:

He doesn’t do combat droids; he does razor-edged combat droids with attitude. He doesn’t do alien tech; he does alien tech clumped like coral round desiccated bodies – floating in deep space with a deep desire to spear bits of his heroine.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Article 14: Rebrand the Brand.

Rebrand the Brand

The boundaries between the very ill-defined genres of fiction have always been blurred and always will be. This is a good thing as the ground in those grey areas can be very fertile. It has brought us the hardboiled detective Brother Cadfael, Robert Graves’ wonderful family saga, that war/historical/romance Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, and many more besides. But why oh why this continual need to search for new labels?

In the genres of science fiction and fantasy this is especially noticeable, and often maddening. I was dumbfounded to discover that Jurassic Park was labelled in a fast-seller list as the genre ‘dinosaur’, and on principle it is highly unlikely I’ll ever read Oryx & Crake. SF&F have an image problem for some, and this is why they try to label parts of it differently. Forever in search of respectability they grope for new names for the fiction they write, read, criticise or publish. But where are they looking for this change in attitude? Who are they actually hoping will look upon them in a different light?

Many in the mainstream literati intelligensia sneer at these genres. This is in spite of the fact that they take up about twenty percent of the fiction market, have resulted in many of the most successful films in recent years, and, science fiction specifically, is hugely relevant to today’s culture with its rapid technological change. Where will anyone have first come across videophones, genetic manipulation, satellite lasers, and missiles that think for themselves? In SF, of course. And it is to those who sneer, that those in search of new labels are going cap in hand pleading, “Please, take me seriously. I’m not really involved in that awful science fiction or fantasy stuff!” This is not only insulting to some great past authors, it is bloody annoying for those who are writing SF&F right now. How dare these people grovel for acceptance from those who don’t have the imaginative capacity to grasp science fiction or fantasy? And how gutless they are to not claim these genres as their own.

But why seek the approval of the mainstream literati establishment, especially when those seeking that approval often style themselves as ‘radical’? More blurred lines. It is because SF&F have their own literati intelligensia who stand astride the line between SF&F and the mainstream: one group standing with their feet in both worlds. They enjoy the creativity and ideas of the first but loath its status. They like the status of the other but do not enjoy its pedestrian limitations.

Some would also have us believe that what they are labelling is something new. What conceit, what arrogance, or what pretension and ignorance. One can only suppose that they have not read widely enough. There’s also some misapprehension of how the English language works in this age when if you’re bad, man, you’re good, and if you’re cool you’re hot. Like the PC lobby they hope that changing labels changes attitude, when in fact current labels change in people’s perception. And the delusion that this rebranding (for that is what it is) will work, is misguided. It will not cause what has been rebranded to perform better. Perhaps they should call the new thing Consignia Fiction, or Corus Fiction – that should do as much good.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Pan Mac Encyclopaedia

I should have put something up about this a while ago, and only now has a comment on the previous post reminded me. You can find a Polity chronology and encyclopaedia here on the Pan Mac website.

Forbidden Planet Signing

Thanks to all at Forbidden Planet in Shaftesbury Avenue for having me there to sign some books. Blimey, occasionally there was even a queue forming (two people) but, as always, it’s not the number of people turning up on the day, but the huge stack of books I sign that disappears over the ensuing year. Whilst I was there Danie Ware got me to sign this odd thing (rather like an adipose from the recent Dr Who) called a Monqee (I’m guessing that calling it Monkey might result in a certain tea company getting annoyed). This object, currently being covered with signatures rather like the fat boy’s face in the the run-up to that ‘White’ series, is to be auctioned in aid of the Match it for Pratchett appeal You can find more about it on Danie’s blog here.

After the signing I as usual slipped off round to the Angel and drank far too much before staggering off home. It was all pretty enjoyable, though Sunday’s depressive post alcohol effects weren’t very nice at all. Thanks to Peter Lavery and Macmillan for buying some of my books at the shop to help replace the ones I didn’t receive! Nice also to have various members of my family along, Simon Kavanagh doing a passable impression of David Tennant, and Neil and Daniel too.

In a further note. The second picture here is for Jacko on the island of Crete. Yes, the pen you bought me served very well. Oh, also for Jon Courtenay Grimwood, whose SFX review is prominently displayed. Cheers!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Writing News.

Oops. Looks like the first derisory print run of Line War has gone as well, so if you want a hardback 1st edition of it you better grab it quick. For those of you who've obtained signed 1st editions from me before now, forget it. Either someone has sticky fingers in the Post Office, or prior to posting, or someone fucked up, because even I didn't get any copies. Pissed off right now.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Article 13: Organic


I have to wonder how many people actually carry out the quite simple exercise of checking the meaning of words in a dictionary. Doing so, they might learn just how much gobbledegook is being flung at them every day. And just how much advertizers and those with more political motives, are perpetually playing on their fears and ignorance. Hypo-allergenic shampoo, for example, is not one that prevents allergic reaction, just one that contains lower levels of the proteins that do cause an allergic reaction. The compound word means ‘less allergens’ – one of those utterly meaningless statements of which advertizers are fond because there’s less chance of Trading Standards jumping on them. The question you have to ask is: less allergens than what? A patch of stinging nettles? A wasp’s nest? Obviously the intention of putting these buzz-words on bottles is not to inform, but to blind with science. Perhaps realising this people could then ask themselves why fruit additives are good or why washing with herbs will give you an orgasm? At its root, all this obfuscation is playing on the simplistic idea that natural is good and chemical is bad (This ignores everyday facts of life e.g. because we drink chemically-treated water we are utterly free of natural cholera and amoebic dysentry), which brings me, by a roundabout route, to the incredible ignorance surrounding the word ‘organic’.

While driving around in rural Essex it’s quite common to see signs up advertising all sort of items for sale – knackered lawn mowers, ancient cars, flowers, honey – and some of the signs display literacy ranging from the poetic to the abysmal. But just lately I’ve been noticing a trend set by ‘greenies’, adopted by supermarkets, and promulgated by stupidity. Now you can buy organic manure, organic cheese, organic eggs… Do the people who started this strange craze have any idea what ‘organic’ means? Could they please explain to me what inorganic cheese, manure or eggs might be?

If you are green then you’ll probably think it means items produced without any of those nasty chemical thingies. What utter drivel. Everything is made of chemicals or their constituent elements. They are not something recently created by evil science but something derived from what is already here. Monosodium glutamate (flavour enhancer) … yuk, we don’t want any of that – far too many syllables. Ever wondered why tomatoes enhance a dish? Because they’re packed with MSG. An essential chemical we must ingest every day is sodium chloride: the product of a metal that if held in the hand would result in you being hospitalized shortly after, and the basic constituent of mustard gas. It is also a chemical three oxygen atoms away from being a powerful bleach and weedkiller. How about these terrible sounding compounds: diallyl disulphide, diallyl trisulphide, S-2-propenylcysteine sulphoxide … The list is a long one, but can be contracted to one word: garlic.

That which is organic is something relating to or derived from plants or animals, or it is any of a class of compounds based on carbon. Interestingly, a final definition in the dictionary I’m presently studying, is: any substance such as a pesticide or fertilizer derived from animal or vegetable matter. So, organic food that you buy in the supermarket can have been sprayed with a nicotine insecticide or the organic chemical DDT. In fact few insecticides and fertilizers are not the product or organic chemistry, so they are organic. In fact, some of the most poisonous substances on this planet are products of organic chemistry, whether performed in a laboratory or in the more potent chemical laboratories inside living things. Oh my goodness, chemicals, I hear you cry. Sigh. Get with reality. Curare is organic, so why not spread some of that on your wholegrain bread and see how you get on? And next time you buy your organic potatoes, remember they could have been sprayed with the organic compound agent orange and that would make them no less ORGANIC!!


Tuesday, April 01, 2008

World-wide Free Delivery.

You can buy some of my books here at the Book Depository. Well, it says free delivery on the site and the prices don't look too bad, but I don't know how true it is. If any of you give it a go, please let me know how you get on.