Sunday, February 27, 2011

Z is for Zelazny, Mostly.

Here's the last of my general SFF collection. I may yet put up something about the collectible books I've obtained since entering the publishing world too. But how about something from you? My brother suggested something along the lines of the first favourite five (alliteration there for those waiting for another 'On Writing'). Send me a photograph along with some explanation of why you like the books, or maybe some history of your acquaintance with them.



Saturday, February 26, 2011

Freeman Dyson Email Exchange.

I'm afraid there's only one reaction possible to this: Steve Connor is a complete dick head. He gets the opportunity to have an email exchange with Freeman Dyson, arguably the greatest living scientist on Earth, and seeks to lecture him on global warming. He seeks to sell his religion to a man who, intellectually, could have him for breakfast. I understand Dyson's exasperation and dismissiveness. It's rather like seeing a chicken trying to out-fly and eagle.

A few of Dyson's comments:

"My impression is that the experts are deluded because they have been studying the details of climate models for 30 years and they come to believe the models are real. After 30 years they lose the ability to think outside the models.

Unfortunately things are different in climate science because the arguments have become heavily politicised. To say that the dogmas are wrong has become politically incorrect. As a result, the media generally exaggerate the degree of consensus and also exaggerate the importance of the questions.

Of course I am not expecting you to agree with me. The most I expect is that you might listen to what I am saying. I am saying that all predictions concerning climate are highly uncertain. On the other hand, the remedies proposed by the experts are enormously costly and damaging, especially to China and other developing countries. On a smaller scale, we have seen great harm done to poor people around the world by the conversion of maize from a food crop to an energy crop. This harm resulted directly from the political alliance between American farmers and global-warming politicians. Unfortunately the global warming hysteria, as I see it, is driven by politics more than by science. If it happens that I am wrong and the climate experts are right, it is still true that the remedies are far worse than the disease that they claim to cure.

I wish that The Independent would live up to its name and present a less one-sided view of the issues.

With all due respect, I say good-bye and express the hope that you will one day join the sceptics. Scepticism is as important for a good journalist as it is for a good scientist."

Here at the end Dyson has realized he was talking to an idiot, but decided to conclude the interview politely. Go and read the whole thing if you can stomach it.

Oh, and let me just add this from the comments:

Freeman Dyson, B.A. Mathematics, Cambridge University (1945), Research Fellow, Trinity College, Cambridge University (1946–1947), Commonwealth Fellow, Cornell University, (1947–1948), Commonwealth Fellow, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton University (1948–1949), Teaching Fellow, University of Birmingham (1949–1951), Professor of Physics, Cornell University (1951-1953), Fellow, Royal Society (1952), Professor of Physics, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton University (1953-1994), Chairman, Federation of American Scientists (1962-1963), Member, National Academy of Sciences (1964), Danny Heineman Prize, American Physical Society (1965), Lorentz Medal (1966), Hughes Medal (1968), Max Planck Medal (1969), Enrico Fermi Award, United States Department of Energy (1993), Professor Emeritus of Physics, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton University (1994-Present)

Notable: Unification of Quantum Electrodynamics Theory.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Why Cities Will Save Us, Or Not.

You know, I’m really getting sick of people who fail to understand the meaning of ‘correlation does not imply causation’. It’s right getting on my tits. Prime examples of this daftness are scattered through an article in the Radio Times by a guy called Doug Saunders titled ‘Why Cities Will Save Us.


Apparently, after the shift of the peasant population to a livelihood based on large cities and commercial farms ‘the consequences were an end to starvation and large scale infant mortality … and a shift to smaller family sizes and small stable populations’. Maybe there’s some truth here concerning more efficient farming, but ‘commercial farms’ have been with us since money was invented. Anyway, to conflate better food production with ‘large cities’ and imply that both resulted in an end to the problems listed above is plain silly. But then the devil here is of course in the detail since this guy doesn’t want logic to get in the way of him singing the praises of the cities.

No, Doug, there was more money to be earned in the towns because of industrialization, less to be made on the land, for labourers, because of more efficient farming practices stemming from that industry and even less when the landlord started chucking them out because he wanted more wool to feed the looms. Those starving in ten-to-a-room hovels with shit running down the street outside carried on breeding and dying in large numbers. Industry drove the demographic changes that turned towns into the cities as we know them. Better technology (drugs and food production) cut down infant mortality and enabled smaller family sizes, and the populations were stable before the Industrial Revolution. The cities you love are an incidental result of industry and nothing more.

The next stinger is this one: ‘Village life is a major killer: according to the World Food Program, three quarters of the billion people living in hunger are peasant farmers.’ Did you spot the major confusion of correlation of with causation? Here, let me have a go with this kind of twisted logic: Fresh air is a major killer: three quarters of a billion people living in hunger live in the countryside. Apparently the positioning of a colon has a magical effect.

No, Doug, three-quarters of a billion people are living in hunger because they haven’t got enough food.

Then we get: ‘The move to the city, almost everywhere, results in a large improvement in rates of nutrition, longevity, infant mortality etc.’ No, Doug, that was the farming and the technology, remember? Oddly enough cities don’t spontaneously generate food or invent drugs.

Essentially the article continues in this vein. Apparently cities are the cure for the world’s ills, which would have come as a surprise to Alexander Fleming, Louis Pasteur, Jethro Tull, John Snow and others on a rather large list of names which should also include the inventors of the condom and the contraceptive pill.

Old Man's War Movie

Well this should be pretty damned cool!

EXCLUSIVE: Paramount Pictures has acquired screen rights to the John Scalzi novel series Old Man’s War, with Wolfgang Petersen attached to direct and David Self adapting the tale into a large-scale science fiction project. Scott Stuber will produce through his Stuber Pictures banner, with Petersen also producing. The hero is a 75-year old man who, having lost the love of his life, is amenable to trading his old carcass for a younger, genetically enhanced body so that he can combine the experience of age with the strength of youth and join an outer space military coalition sent to protect human colonies in outer space. Inductees agree to leave their past lives on earth behind, and are promised land on distant human colonies if they live. Injured in battle, he’s rescued by a special-forces officer who seems to be a younger version of his wife. She doesn’t recognize him, but he’s so convinced he has another chance with her that he abandons his unit and risks everything to be with her. Kim Miller will be exec producer and Alexa Faigen is associate producer. Scalzi is a two-time Hugo Award winner who was most recently creative consultant on the TV series Stargate: Universe. Old Man’s War is the first title in a bestselling series that spans four books.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Nemesis List -- R J Frith

I wasn’t going to write a criticism of this book because I do have some negative things to say and, really, I don’t like doing that. I much prefer to give a good review of something I enjoy and ignore what I haven’t enjoyed (and probably haven’t finished). However, on balance, I’ve come to the conclusion that the good outweighs what I see as the bad in some of the biggest and most fundamental ways. Why have I come to this conclusion and why have I changed my mind?

Just recently I delved into a large tome produced by someone who is supposed to be a big shot in the fantasy genre and after about twenty or thirty pages started to lose the will to live. It was utterly boring. It was swords and sorcery transforming into soap opera. Next I picked up a big fat science fiction tome and the effect was precisely the same though took a shorter time to take effect. Both these books are published, both by supposedly proven writers. R J Frith the winner of the War of the Words competition hosted by Tor UK and Sci Fi Now magazine gives us The Nemesis List, and it is worth your attention.

My particular gripe is that Jeven Jones, the main protagonist of this who is a ‘fast-tracked evolutionary leap into the future’ comes across as pretty ineffectual and damaged considering that there seem to be vast dark forces trying to track him down. Throughout the book there was the promise of something extraordinary from him but it didn’t seem to arrive. I wanted to give him a slap and tell him to sort himself out, which I guess shows how well he comes across as a character. I could also see that the Jeven Jones character was quite similar to the girl with psychic powers in Firefly. But you really have to remember that all this is my subjective response.

Now to why I think it's good: I read it from cover to cover without any feeling that I was losing interest or wanted to put it down. I enjoyed this book and, frankly, if there’s a follow-up I want to read it. It was dark, quite assured, and Frith can get you to emotionally invest. I am, even now, considering reading it again to see if I can get a better handle on it, and that doesn’t happen often with me.

Do I recommend it? It's flawed but promising and yes, I do, because whilst some of you out there will hate it, I rather suspect that there will be others who will think it is the best thing they've read in a while.

Guns, Germs and Steel.

Having heard about the book Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond (I think it was Richard Morgan who recommended it) I managed to pick up a copy from a local charity shop. However, when I tried to read it my eyes started glazing over and I ended up sticking it to one side. It then ended up in that pile of books destined to be sent to a charity shop under the label ‘Life’s too Short’.

A number of weeks ago I then noticed a Channel 4 documentary with the same title and recorded it. Just yesterday, feeling knackered after having to get up at 4.15AM to drive my mother to Gatwick, I decided to do something less mentally taxing so sat down to watch it.


The essential question posed was, ‘Why have the Europeans always been the winners?’ Why have they generally been ahead of the rest of the world? Jared Diamond’s reasoning is essentially this: most of the animals that can be domesticated are only found in Eurasia, which took farming in this region beyond the subsistence level thus freeing up human resources for technical and social development e.g. the smelting of metals like steel and really, the building of civilization. This domestication of animals also led to an increase in the diseases the Eurasians suffered and subsequently gained some immunity to. So, armed with steel, rapidly developing technology and a shitload of diseases they went off and conquered the world.

This is, of course, a simplification. The documentary itself was almost certainly a simplification of the book.

A particular case cited is that of the Conquistadors. Armed with steel, experience of warfare and mounted on horses, Francisco Pizarro and his men first defeated the Incas in battle (mainly because of the naïve stupidity of their emperor), then the small pox the Spanish carried finished off the job. Yes, historical fact, but was it necessary to imply in this documentary that the small pox was somehow deliberate?

The logical thread of this is very attractive and certainly has much truth. However, the continuous use of the liberal buzz-word ‘inequality’ throughout should have clued me in to how specious some of the reasoning was. The first hiccup was with that domestication of animals and non-subsistence farming. This happened in the Middle East and with a bit of hand-waving and talk about how it spreads latitudinally, it magically became the big advantage to the people of Europe. One then has to ask the question: why wasn’t it the middle easterners with their ‘guns, germs and steel’ conquering the rest of the world? I’ll take the forgiving view that this is all a bit more complicated than portrayed in the documentary, so perhaps I really should read the book.

Next we go to tropical South Africa which the Europeans struggled to conquer because their farming methods didn’t work and because the diseases were on the side of the Africans. However, the Europeans did win there because the steel was on their side – mainly the Maxim machine gun, then the train. Okay, I get that – more historical facts. But what got my back up here was the glorification of the native and the life style of the ‘noble savage’. And please stop it with the implication that the Europeans destroyed some wonderful agrarian idyll and that a return to that life style might be a good thing. Yes, the life-span in the place depicted is about 40 now, but did those ‘noble savages’ live any longer? Did the women enjoy popping out baby after baby until dying of it? Did they all enjoy labouring every day just to put food in their mouths?

Diamond then moved away from his central contention to claim that the similarities between tribal languages indicated a previous single underlying language and an African civilization, on the bones of which the Europeans built their African empire. I can see the point of the language thing when we look at the ‘romance languages’ and the like. If you want to you can contend that the Europe we know is ‘built on the bones’ of earlier civilizations (The Greeks and then the Romans). Thing is, we’re still digging up those bones. Nothing remains of this particular African civilization because they built nothing long-lasting and invented no more than had already been current in the Stone Age, which is a curious and highly convenient definition of civilization.

It would have been better if this had stuck to Diamond's original contention about ‘guns, germs and steel’ rather than straying into the apologia and fatuous fact-twisting of political correctness.

In the end this documentary was another of those liberal self-flagellation fests; another deep revel in white guilt and the present practically Luddite attitude towards technology. It was highly selective of its ‘facts’, quite good at confusing correlation with causation (another common one nowadays). Yes, I perfectly understand the point that no single race possesses some underlying superiority, but I damned well disagree with the idea here that because luck and circumstance put the Europeans on top that they should feel guilty and be all apologetic. The reality of this documentary is that those who produced it don’t really understand their own proposition of underlying equality, which is that if the ‘guns, germs and steel’ had arisen elsewhere in the world, it would have been the Europeans who got the kicking.

Strange isn't it, how the politically correct revel in a guilt that stems from their own assumed superiority.
Noblesse oblige.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Books in Outland, Trondheim - Norway

Two pics for you from probably the best bookstore I have ever been in. A proper store that sells it all from Manga to GFX Novels to 'proper' books.

The guy in the picture works there and was very happy to be photographed. He has your website so hopefully he will pop on and say hi!

We have 3-4 book shops here with your stuff but we only need the best one :)

Sorry about the blurry 2nd image, old knees...


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Books in Waikele, Hawaii.

Thanks to Sean Price for sending this picture. He was a bit reluctant. I'll let him explain why.

I was hesitant to send you this picture but then I realized you're probably more interested to see how well you sell--or not--in various places instead of just getting pictures that give you an ego boost.
(Um, I quite like ego-boosts - Neal)

I'm not sure what to make of the meager selection except to attribute it to Border's financial woes. They've filed Chapter 11 and after visiting the store it's apparent that this was not a sudden decision. When I first discovered your books--several years ago--you had an entire row, hardback and paperbacks included. Now...not so much. However, this isn't just your books. The pickings are very slim--even for the pulp authors with numerous titles--so I'm guessing that Borders is just not replenishing their stock. Lots and lots of empty shelves...

A fair selection of books from the Best Seller lists but back stock for authors...? It's like crickets chirping on most of the aisles.

I rarely visit the store anymore since I do the majority of my book buying through Amazon (Kindle) so I hadn't realized how bad it's gotten.

I suppose I could visit the Barnes and Nobles store down in Waikiki, but that will have to wait as I rarely have the patience (or willpower) to deal with the traffic situation down that way. :)

Free-electron Laser.

Thanks Brent for directing me towards this article. Now, I've blogged about the US Navy's Mach 8 railgun and that is inked to in this article. That would be this weapon:

 DAHLGREN, Virginia — There wasn’t much left of the 23-pound bullet, just a scalded piece of squat metal. That’s what happens when an enormous electromagnetic gun sends its ammo rocketing 5,500 feet in a single second.

The gun that fired the bullet is the Navy’s experimental railgun. The gun has no moving parts or propellants — just a king-sized burst of energy that sends a projectile flying. And today its parents at the Office of Naval Research sent 33 megajoules through it, setting a new world record and making it the most powerful railgun ever developed.

I've also blogged before about this free-electron laser, but there's much more about it in this article. What I didn't realize is that it can operate at multiple wavelengths (the white lasers in Line War anyone?).

And I also didn't realize this, which almost reads like fantasy:

Currently, the free-electron laser project produces the most-powerful beam in the world, able to cut through 20 feet of steel per second. If it gets up to its ultimate goal, of generating a megawatt’s worth of laser power, it’ll be able to burn through 2,000 feet of steel per second. Just add electrons.

You have to wonder if, maybe in ten or so years time, naval power will rise to displace air power until such a time as such power and accuracy becomes  lighter. Beyond that there is only one suitable rational response to this. Fucking hell!

500 Million Planets.

Considering this we see that things are slowly firming up for some actual figures, rather than vague speculations, to go into the Drake Equation:

At least 500 million of those planets are in the not-too-hot, not-too-cold zone where life could exist. The numbers were extrapolated from the early results of NASA's planet-hunting Kepler telescope.

Kepler science chief William Borucki says scientists took the number of planets they found in the first year of searching a small part of the night sky and then made an estimate on how likely stars are to have planets. Kepler spots planets as they pass between Earth and the star it orbits.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Waterstones Truro

Here's some pictures taken by Rob James:

Heres a couple of pictures of your books in waterstones Truro. I was getting alot of funny looks taking these, think they thought I was casing the joint! Not the best but all I could do.

BBC Bias.

Good post here over at Autonomous Mind. So when can we get rid of the licence fee? Or rather, as it should be correctly titled: the propaganda tax for the Labour Party.

When you look at these figures it is easy to see why the BBC should account for the disproportionate number of television and radio appearances by journalists from the Guardian. When given a choice of a national newspaper we can see that out of an average 10,197,331 copies sold each day during January 2011 (including bulk buys) less than 280,000 copies in the UK were the Guardian. That represents just under 2.74% of national circulation.

By far the most popular and widely read newspapers at the BBC are The Guardian and The Independent. ­Producers refer to them routinely for the line to take on ­running stories, and for inspiration on which items to cover. In the later stages of my career, I lost count of the number of times I asked a producer for a brief on a story, only to be handed a copy of The Guardian and told ‘it’s all in there’.
Peter Sissons.

And more here over at Biased BBC:

"The idea of a tax on the ownership of a television belongs in the 1950s. Why not tax people for owning a washing machine to fund the manufacture of Persil?" -- Jeremy Paxman

"People who know a lot more than I do may be right when they claim that [global warming] is the consequence of our own behaviour. I assume that this is why the BBC's coverage of the issue abandoned the pretence of impartiality long ago" -- Jeremy Paxman

"I do remember... the corridors of Broadcasting House were strewn with empty champagne bottles. I'll always remember that" -- Jane Garvey, BBC Five Live, May 10th, 2007, recalling May 2nd, 1997.

Note: The date at the end here is when New Labour won the election.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

On Writing: The Short Sentence.

The short sentence (or just one word with a full stop) is a useful tool that can be effective during action sequences or can drive a point home. One of my favourite examples of its power was in one of the Stephen Donaldson books of the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. In the particular section I’m talking about he describes the opening of a door into the land of the dead. He describes the surroundings, the reactions of those present, the intense, powerful, terrifying atmosphere of it all, and how this character stepping out is recognized:


Those of you that haven’t read the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, or read the books and didn’t enjoy them, will probably emit a small titter at this point. However, when I was reading them I was utterly absorbed and so I knew that Kevin wasn’t a spotty geek with a bad dress sense and a problem with BO. He was Kevin Landwaster who performed the Ritual of Desecration to annihilate an entire land.


Short sentences can be the choice of those who haven’t quite got to grips with double, multiple and complex sentences, or learned how to use co-ordinating conjunctions. They can be the choice of those aping Hemmingway or Chandler and failing to get what those writers were about. And they can be heavily over-used.

I’ve read published books where this over use is prevalent. The writer is driving his words into your head like nails into a block of wood: bammity bammity bam, de bam de bam de bam. After a while you get a headache. Yeah, I get it, stop with the hammering already. I’m got a brain here between my ears that can turn your words into images; that can model your story in my head. Your story doesn’t change just because you’re putting the words there with a literary machine gun.

To sum up, the short sentence is similar to the word ‘fuck’. If you use it occasionally it has an effect; use it a lot and you just become irritating. Light and shade, people. Light and shade.   

Use short sentences sparingly.

Friday, February 18, 2011


And of course I'm thinking about Polity dreadnought defensive systems...

New Haven, Conn. — More than 50 years after the invention of the laser, scientists at Yale University have built the world's first anti-laser, in which incoming beams of light interfere with one another in such a way as to perfectly cancel each other out. The discovery could pave the way for a number of novel technologies with applications in everything from optical computing to radiology.

Conventional lasers, which were first invented in 1960, use a so-called "gain medium," usually a semiconductor like gallium arsenide, to produce a focused beam of coherent light-light waves with the same frequency and amplitude that are in step with one another.

Last summer, Yale physicist A. Douglas Stone and his team published a study explaining the theory behind an anti-laser, demonstrating that such a device could be built using silicon, the most common semiconductor material. But it wasn't until now, after joining forces with the experimental group of his colleague Hui Cao, that the team actually built a functioning anti-laser, which they call a coherent perfect absorber (CPA).

Oops, get back to those copy-edits Neal!

Bluewater Waterstones.

They were probably wondering why this mad woman was taking pictures in their shop. Little did they know that Caroline keeps a creature in her house, and that creature has a big fat ego that needs regular feeding.

I note that I'm encroaching on Asimov's territory in the last picture.

Those Wicked Tory Cuts.

I'd quite forgotten how much I enjoy reading Richard Littlejohn. Here's a sample or two from his recent article:

"For the past 20-odd years, this column has made a decent living documenting the insanity and waste in Britain’s Town Halls.

If all else failed, there was always the Guardian jobs pages on a Wednesday to dig me out of a hole.
The recruitment of five-a-day enforcers, lesbian bereavement counsellors and assorted real nappy outreach co-ordinators was guaranteed to raise a giggle."
"So they cynically close libraries, day centres and swimming pools and give P45s to school dinner ladies and lollipop men. When it comes to the pain, it’s women and children first.

Meanwhile their lavishly-remunerated public relations departments synchronise the campaign against the ‘Tory cuts’ — aided and abetted by the Labour Party and the BBC, which pumps out a relentless bombardment of anti-Government doomsday propaganda.
This was, of course, exactly what Gordon Brown intended when he beggared the British economy to create a giant client state.
He set a bear trap for any incoming Conservative government, just as he did with the 50p top tax rate. Brown knew he could rely on the BBC to blame the ‘cuts’ on his successors. And he gambled that most people are so stupid they would fall for it. The indications are that he was right, up to a point."

Header Picture

You'll see the header picture has changed (as has the link which will now take you through to my virgin website). However, the row of books there are my old covers. Does anyone fancies creating another header picture using my new covers? The advantage for me in someone doing it is that I don't have to spend time playing about in paintbrush to do it. The advantage for any reader that does it is that I'll spend more time writing the next book or post about writing...

Neal Asher Video Clip 17/2/11 Part Two

Okay, here's the second part.

Neal Asher Video Clip 17/2/11 Part One

This one is in two parts since I was interrupted by a phonecall, so I'll put the next part up shortly. As before: further questions in the comments please!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

On Writing: The Contents File

Every so often I will take a look at the work of writers who want to get their feet on the first rungs of the ladder leading to publication. But first let me make a distinction here. These are not wannabe writers since they are actually writing. They are not those who say, ‘I always wanted to write a book about so-and-so,’ to which the reply must always be, ‘Then why aren’t you writing it?’

Sometimes those who contact me are those in love with being a writer more than writing itself, though that is no barrier, just so long as they actually do write. Sometimes they are those trying to learn the secret handshakes and arcane rituals that will lead to publication. There aren’t any – you have to be stubborn, persistent, prepared to learn and take a lot of knocks, and in the end you have to write something a publisher thinks will make money.

I will look at a sample of the work these people produce if I am not right in the middle of something, if I happen to feel so inclined, if they are not rude and pushy and if I get some sense that they’re actually looking for advice, rather than praise. Sometimes I get that last one wrong, tear someone’s work apart, and know by the affronted response that they have learned nothing.

So what am I waffling about here? Having recently taken a look at someone’s work (Hi Khaled) and tried to ape the Peter Lavery scary pencil with a red pen, I thought it might be a good idea to start doing some posts here on what I see as the nuts-and-bolts of writing. As and when something occurs to me on that subject I’ll do a post here under the label ‘Writing’ to slowly build up what I hope will be a useful resource.

Today I’ll ramble on about a contents file:

A book is a large chunk of text. Now I know I’m stating the obvious but how, unless you have an eidetic memory, do you keep track of it all? Here’s my method. Generally my books are about twenty chapters long, each chapter broken into sections that can be just one or as many as six pages long. Each of these sections is written from the point of view of just one character. Let me digress for a moment:

To my mind a common mistake I see is the switching of POVs sometimes from one paragraph to the next. This is confusing for the reader. It can also cause the reader to fail to engage with the characters.

Continuing… I keep track of a book by first bookmarking each of my chapters as I write them. After I’ve written a couple, I then open another file with the pages (usually about two) switched to two-column mode. In the case of Gridlinked, for example, this file is called 'gridcontents'. In this I list the chapter number followed by a very short description of each section in that chapter. If required I’ll add timings. This is useful for keeping track but it’s also handy because I am writing down what happens in each section. If I can’t sum up ‘what happens’ this probably means I’m waffling and the section might be better cut, or the useful elements of it distributed elsewhere. Here’s a sample from 'orbuscontents':

Chapter 7.
U-space Missiles
Vrell hunts mutations.
Prador kamikazi
Orbus to hunt Vrell
Golgoloth to Oberon
Jain starts to wake

There's something further to add here. As many of you know, I don’t particularly do a lot of planning before writing a book, so I don't produce a summary or synopsis beforehand. However, after I've handed the book in and as it heads towards publication, my publisher wants to get people interested and give them some idea of what it’s all about. At this point, with the book finished, the contents sheet comes in useful for writing the synopses. I copy the contents sheet, get rid of column mode, then work through turning each short description into a paragraph or so. Next I take that and begin melding it; losing some of the straight-line chronology to focus on the story, on what it is all about. This usually results in about six pages of single-spaced text. After that I’ll make a couple of abstracts – one at about half the length and one summing it all up on a page.

The art of précis is well worth learning.

Here endeth today’s lesson.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

German Prador Moon

I've just received copies of the German translation of Prador Moon. Very nice, but I'm not entirely sure what I'm going to do with them. I need more German friends I guess!

Had Enough

Here is an excellent letter to an MP from someone who is rather disgruntled with the present state of affairs in this country. I thoroughly agree. It is, of course, the case that he is lucky to even be able to opt out. Most people are firmly nailed to the treadmill of debt, high taxes and a political class that delights in butt-fucking them at every opportunity:

We have both chucked our jobs. I made three people redundant and myself and my wife will no longer be paying taxes at anywhere near the rate we did before. We will both be seeking part time jobs and don’t really care about the salary levels.

Why would two professional people like us both dump our professions, the very things that as young adults we strove to achieve?

Simple. It just isn’t worth the effort anymore in a world where a significant minority leech off of the rest of us and where the government spends over 50% of what we earn and takes that money on pain of imprisonment...

Monday, February 14, 2011

Singularity Stuff.

Thanks to David Regan for sending me a link to this article about the ‘singularity’. I agree with a lot of what is being said here, like, for example, that technological development is exponential and that Moore’s Law doesn’t just apply to the number of transistors on a microchip. However, this all smells of science-as-religion.

Don’t worry, look at these graphs, everything is going to get all better. Or, Jesus will return and sort everything out.

Our technology is also developing in all sorts of areas, whilst in others nothing has changed and in some cases things are regressing. Yes, we have nuclear reactors and fusion cannot be so far in the future, but all around me people are building fucking windmills. Yes, we can create high-producing GM crops, we have powerful specific insecticides and herbicides and machines that can do the work of hundreds of farm workers of a previous age, whilst lunatics are advocating organic farming that couldn’t feed more than a third of the population we presently have. Yes, we have every kind of contraception possible, even long-lasting implants, but the world population is still heading for seven billion. Yes, we are coming to understand what happened in first few seconds of the big bang, but billions on this planet think some beardy fella in the sky is in charge.

I shan’t belabour the point.

Yes, technological development is fast, but the impact of it is subverted by politics, by religion, and it is undermined by fear and subjected to the drag of human stupidity.

All that being said, I found this very interesting:

For example, it's well known that one cause of the physical degeneration associated with aging involves telomeres, which are segments of DNA found at the ends of chromosomes. Every time a cell divides, its telomeres get shorter, and once a cell runs out of telomeres, it can't reproduce anymore and dies. But there's an enzyme called telomerase that reverses this process; it's one of the reasons cancer cells live so long. So why not treat regular non-cancerous cells with telomerase? In November, researchers at Harvard Medical School announced in Nature that they had done just that. They administered telomerase to a group of mice suffering from age-related degeneration. The damage went away. The mice didn't just get better; they got younger.

Listening to The Skinner.

I have just a few chapters more to listen to of The Skinner audio book. It’s been an interesting and enjoyable experience. I wasn’t entirely sure about the precise old man’s voice Gaminara used for Sable Keech but it’s grown on me and I now think it’s the best of all. I noticed how when Captain Ron first appeared, his first words were flat but, directly after the description of him, Gaminara turned him into a Glaswegian, which made me laugh out loud. Other highlights are the South African Batian mercenaries, a Welsh Golem and a slightly crazy Irish Olian Tay. Of course what he is doing here is trying to make them distinct beyond the ‘he said, she said and it said’ and, in the end, how does a centuries-old hooper speak, or a walking corpse, or a lobster-shaped war drone?

Throughout the reading I’ve picked up on a few mistakes e.g. the first reference to the ‘Spatterjay viral form A1’ came up as ‘AI’, but only once and understandable in the context. More noticeable to me is how by listening to the book I’m hearing more of my mistakes. In the later chapters, when Sable Keech, Boris, Roach and SM13 are limping across the sea on Keech’s AG scooter I’ve written ‘the probe SM13’ rather than the ‘drone’.

Noticeable too has been just how much I remember – knowing precisely what’s coming as each section starts. I also wish there had been a further beat in the breaks between sections.

I’ve also been picking up a lot on where the writing obviously doesn’t flow well enough – often where it’s too abrupt and staccato. I did wonder too if the change in my writing over the years is reflected in the reading time of the books. My copies of them list The Skinner at 16 hours 2 minutes, The Voyage of the Sable Keech at 16 hours 46 minutes and Orbus at 14 hours 45 minutes. Word counts respectively are 149,879, 158,775 & 135,525, which again respectively give word rates per minute of 156, 158 & 153. Um, no definite trend there. Maybe the lower figure for Orbus is simply due to the tense change?

All of this also brings home to me something I read in one of the numerous ‘How To’ writing books I’ve gone through: reading out your writing is a good idea, because if it doesn’t flow easily off the tongue then it isn’t flowing easily off the page into the reader’s brain. I must start doing a bit more of this reading out loud myself.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Gaiman on Copyright Piracy and the Web

I picked up this Neil Gaiman clip via an SF Signal twitter. Rather similar to an earlier speculation of mine that book piracy might be an electronic version of the second-hand book shop. I'm not entirely sure I agree. Does this apply outside SF? How does it apply for lesser known authors? How does it apply to authors who aren't regularly publishing books?

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Skinner from Audible

Oops, I got a bit distracted downloading my books from Audible and am now listening to The Skinner. I am absolutely loving the accents Gaminara is using for the characters. I laughed out loud when Captain Ron started talking. Excellent stuff!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Recording at Audible

So, yesterday we took the 11.05 train from Althorne to Wickford then went from there to Liverpool Street. Whilst we were travelling I kept adjusting my short introduction to the Spatterjay novels and was looking over the lists of questions I’d put together for this interview/conversation with William Gaminara. The questions for him to ask me I’d taken from various interviews I’ve had, whilst those for him to answer were from the surprising lack of information about him on the Internet. I’m guessing that despite being a well-known actor in Britain he’s probably a very private individual.

As it was I had even less time to fret. Initially we’d agreed to meet Stacy Patton Anderson (Acquisitions Manager for Audible) for lunch near Liverpool Street, whereupon we were going to go for a wander about, then head at 5.00 to the studio being used for the recordings. However, it turned out that Mr Gaminara was going for an audition (he still has to audition?) so the recording time was moved to 3.00.

We met Stacy, a pleasant American lady, in ‘Canteen’ in Spitalfields at 1.00. This seemed to be a slightly trendy place i.e. it had acoustics that severely hampered conversation, communal tables, uncomfortable backless chairs and expensive but average food. I’d brought along a selection of books for her that I handed over, and then, after eating, she took a further look at my intro and suggested some changes, which we made. After that we took a tube to Edgeware Road whereupon Stacy tracked down the Lisson Street studio with some sort of app on her phone.

Approaching the glass doors we immediately recognized Mr Gaminara inside – it’s that thing about actors: you recognize them like people you’ve known for years, but of course you don’t know them at all. On about three occasions whilst in London I’ve turned to say hello to someone I know, then stopped myself because I only knew that person as Inspector Burden from Wexford, Neil from the Young Ones or Prunella Scales from Fawlty Towers. You feel such a fool but, of course, they are used to it, and are immediately aware that they’ve been clocked.

I said hello to William, thanked him for his reading of my books, said hello to Vicky Bennett (Assistant Producer) and the sound editor John Moreland, whereupon we all trooped upstairs to the studio and generally had a chat. Apparently William hadn’t read any SF since Asimov many years ago. Still, I handed over some books – if not to lure him in then hopefully so he can start thinking about how he would read the Cormac series! Anyway, he seemed like a nice guy: professional and intelligent, paying attention to everyone around him and not in the least egotistical.

Just a note here: funny how though the people in the studio kept referring to him as ‘Willy’ I can’t bring myself to use that name here. Just goes to show how, maybe unconsciously, we so associate the actors with the roles they play. Damn it, he’s not Professor Leo Dalton!

We both went into the recording room which was a bit like a radio studio with spectators, producer and sound guy on the other side of a viewing window (In the picture Gaminara is the guy with only one chin and a face undamaged by acne rosacea). Whilst they were sorting out the sound levels I tried one of my questions to him and immediately made a cock-up, saying he’d written the scripts for The Lakes, and being corrected by him. In fact the series was created by and mostly written by Jimmy McGovern, with co-writers of some episodes being William Gaminara and others. Shows you how you can go wrong on the Internet.

When we got into the interview/conversation we hardly referenced the questions at all. Vicky Bennett occasionally asked us to focus on this and that and, at one point, according to Caroline, gave up because she couldn’t get a word in edgewise. Afterwards I was told it all went well, but I always take that with a pinch of salt nowadays. William then went off to do his audition – and will be back in the studio recording the audio version of the John Christopher Tripods series today. It might be interesting to get hold of that since, as I recollect, the TV version was never completed. Stacy also went off to some sort of meeting. In both cases, because studio time was limited and they wanted me in to record the intro, I forgot to sign their books. I went through the intro, repeating the bits I screwed up so it could be edited together later. As I stepped out it amused me to hear Vicky say (the first time anyone has said this to me in my life), ‘That’s a wrap’.

Leaving the studio we wandered around for a bit looking for somewhere to get a drink – I was wired – then got fed up with that and headed home. Caroline immediately brought me down to earth by getting me to take the rubbish out, then I made a dent in a bottle of Edradour I got for my birthday whilst we watched Taggart and some more episodes of The Shield.

Interesting interlude, but now back to the day job.

W & Y for Wolfe and Warrington Mostly.

I just remembered that I haven't finished putting all of my collection up here...








Patrick Moore Interview on The Register.

Thanks, Shiraz, for directing me to this excellent interview with Patrick Moore -- one of the founders of Greenpeace.

Particular highlights:

We're in an interglacial, but we're in a longer-term Ice Age. If we look at local temperatures, we're still in an Ice Age. It's 14.5°C , peak 12°C, but in the greenhouse period ice ages are short and sharp; Greenhouse Ages are long and steady and last 10 million or 100 million years. The Earth's averaged 22°C in these periods. So when people say global temperature is going to go up 2°C, and we're going to die, I just laugh. We're a tropical species. We haven't adapted to cold and ice, except we have fires.


For example, the latest scare is ocean acidification – it's totally made-up and ridiculous. Tomato growers inject CO2 to make the tomatoes grow; salt water aquarists inject CO2 to increase photosynthesis; and yet with coral we're told the opposite is true.

Apocalyptic scenarios are just that – our fear of death. When you add self-loathing, and you have the apocalypse being externalised, this is what you get. We have to stop this self-defeating approach: that – "we're going to die and we're to blame". That is enough to make you sick to your stomach. Much of this is collective neurosis. We should celebrate life.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Bit of Recording.

Righto, giving me less time to fret about the matter it seems I’m going into London tomorrow to record a little introduction for the Spatterjay books for Audible, then have some sort of recorded informal interview/chat with William Gaminara.


This has come up rather unexpectedly because Mr Gaminara is at Audible recording the Tripod books (John Christopher). I guess it’s useful for me because it gives me less time to fret.

Outcasts (Yawn)

Well, I watched the first episode of Outcasts and I’m finding it difficult to summon up the will to make a coherent criticism of it, but I will strive to do so. It was dreadful and dull. I was reminded of some of the dry history tomes I’ve tried reading. In the past I’ve really wanted to find out more about the Roman Empire, the Aztecs, the Saxon Kings whatever, and on just about every occasion I’ve been defeated by how the historian concerned managed to turn an exciting and interesting subject into something as dry as dust. Here in Outcasts we have the colonization of a new world, the landing of an interstellar spacecraft, intrigue, murder, weird things in the woods, and it grabbed me about as tightly as a dead octopus.

The sets were dull, the clothing is dull, the story is dull, the extrapolation is dull etc.

But I guess those history books were different. Boring they might have been but they never made me cringe.

But why was it so bad? It spent far too much time having people emoting and sobbing at their computer screens; it spent far too much time ‘character building’ but not in a good way; it is obviously getting wrapped up in right-on human issues, man. The entire plot can be summed up as: having a bad time, latest spacecraft crashes. And it was obviously another spacecraft coming direct from planet North London.

Oh yeah, and apparently they’re on a world with a breathable atmosphere where parallel evolution has produced pine trees and grass. Apparently Earth has been rendered uninhabitable, though meanwhile they managed to put together an interstellar space drive and colony ships.

Nice replacement here for the awful Survivors, and it’ll probably get dumped just as quickly.

Ach! I give up.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Line War Review -- Walker of Worlds

Mark Chitty finally got to the last in the Cormac series:

Finally I've come to the last Agent Cormac book, Line War, and up to now it's been a ride of ups and downs. The first two books, Gridlinked and The Line of Polity, were rather enjoyable, but they did have their issues. After that came Brass Man and Polity Agent, both of which upped the stakes and delivered some really great sci-fi. Now with Line War the story comes to a conclusion, and while it ends the series as a whole I always had that niggle of a doubt in my mind that it might not be as spectacular as I hoped. All totally unfounded of course, as Line War not only closes the series in style, it is one of the best books I've read in quite a while.

Line war on Amazon and on the Book depository.

Update (I just have to add his summing up):

On a final note, the Cormac series is perhaps one of the best overall examples of sci-fi I've had the pleasure to read. It's got action, adventure, intrigue, alien menaces and a whole host of other things that just hit the spot for me as a reader. Neal Asher: without a doubt the most entertaining science fiction author writing today. Well done, sir!


Saturday, February 05, 2011

Neal Asher Video Clip 5/2/11

Here we go again. Not much to say this time and a big pause in the middle while I realized that the next bit in the comments section under the last clip was a discussion and not further questions for me.

As before, if you have some questions, stick them in the comments here.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Forbidden Planet etc.

I am somewhat hung over today, which is wrong really, since it's my 50th today and the hangover should be tomorrow. However, we got invited to a gathering last night in remembrance of Victoria Petrie-Hay who, along with her husband Howard Chadwick, was someone we used to meet on our yearly visits to Peter Lavery in Hastings. Victoria died of lung cancer recently. We went along.

Every time I go into London I always check up with Forbidden Planet to see if they want any stock signed, and they usually do. They'll maybe be appearing on these pages or, if you're in the area you can pop in. Here I am signing their stock, followed by a picture of a couple of the reprobates who work there.

After that we wandered around London trying to find the Phoenix Artist's Club, finally locating it after a phone call to Peter. This was followed by a meal then an hour or so wait in a local pub before we went to the club. A good if slightly drunken time was had by all. Caroline told me that Richard Arnold was in the place, but my eyesight wasn't so great by then so I'm not sure if I saw him. Meanwhile here we both are hobnobbing with fantasy royalty in the form of Tanith Lee and John Kaiine.

That's all for now. I just want to doss about and sleep now.

Urbock Shabber Gurble Thoughts/Review

Here are the thoughts of Chris W on various reviews of The Gabble. Hobbesian, me? Then again, I can't think of any SF story or novel to which the 'Hobbesian' label cannot be pasted. I would generally go for a less high-falutin description and use the words 'realistic cynicism'.

And because I'm putting these up every time I write something about one of my books in this blog: here's the Amazon link and here's the Book Depository one.

Top 10 Fantasy Downloads on Audible.

And The Skinner is in there at number three.

Polity Agent Review -- Walker of Worlds.

Here's another review from Mark Chitty as he steadily works his way through his backlog of my books:

Polity Agent is the fourth book in the Agent Cormac series, a series I've been catching up with and thoroughly enjoying. The second and third books in the series, The Line of Polity and Brass Man, dealt with the emergence of Jain tech and Skellor's use of it and was a fairly self-contained duology within the main story. Of course, just because that sub-story concluded it doesn't mean everything is fine, far from it - Jain tech is still out there and Polity Agent hits the ground running.

As a runcible opens from 800 years in the future the team that were sent to return the Maker to its civilisation in the Small Magellanic cloud comes through in a panic, the Makers overrun by Jain tech. With runcible time-travel not recommended by the AI's of the Polity due to the huge power requirements and dangers it involves, this situation is used solely to destroy the Jain infested Maker civilisation and most of the Small Magellanic cloud. This event raises many questions, most prominent of them being the purpose of Dragon, the huge bio-construct that the Makers created and sent to the Polity. Meanwhile an entity called Legate is distributing Jain nodes to certain people within the Polity, one of these being Orlandine, a haiman who takes a whole different approach to studying the Jain technology she has in her possession, while another is a dangerous separatist leader on the planet of Coloron. Meanwhile Horace Blegg, the infamous immortal of legend, is slowly learning more and more about jain tech and of himself, while Cormac continues to discover more about Dragon while trying to limit and eradicate the spread of Jain tech. And then there is the King of Hearts, a renegade AI whose journey out of the Polity leads him to discover something very dangerous indeed.

Polity Agent can be found here on Amazon and here on The Book Depository (free international shipping).

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Thirty Days of Night

I read the Twilight series and I enjoyed it. Even though there are those reading those words who will sneer, I write them because long ago I decided I would not go the route of the literary snob or the pretentious twits who choose to associate themselves with books and films they feel enhance their literary cred. I chose to be honest about my likes and dislikes. I don’t like lies.

I also enjoy films like Interview with a Vampire and From Dusk Till Dawn because I love the ideas of immortality and the superhuman, especially with the added spice of those concerned being somewhat amoral, or immoral. Until now, my favourite vampire has always been Mr Barlow from the film of Salem’s Lot – the scene locked in my mind being the one where we first see him in a prison cell – but now he’s been knocked into second place.

Last night I watched Thirty Days of Night which in atmosphere was a bit like John Carpenter’s The Thing, what with the dogs, the cold and the desperation. It’s set in a small Alaskan town in the dead of winter, when they lose the sun for a month. It’s a town that gets cut off from the rest of the world. It becomes a feeding ground, and there you’ll find the best vampires ever, but not in a good way. If you want an antidote to the pretty, angst-ridden vampires of recent times, get this film and watch it.