Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Doom, Gloom, but Raki is Coming

Wednesday 21st September

Ah, the rain is on its way. It’s been particularly humid lately but warm enough to prevent a lot of condensation. However, last night the mist and cloud began forming in the mountains here and this morning some leaden looking cloud is rising above the horizon. It’s time to start bringing in the terrace furniture in the evenings, and time to ensure we have some dry logs inside the house.

I see, on BBC World, that the Times World Atlas rather exaggerated the extent of ice melt in Greenland and has been picked up on this by people at Cambridge University. The area claimed to have melted in the World Atlas is apparently ‘absurd’. However, the BBC reporter interviewing a sweaty and worried looking Cambridge professor stated, ‘But you wouldn’t dispute that ice has melted?’ This is what is known as a leading question and of course the professor answered as required, though he did manage to slip in an ‘associated with’ global warming rather than the preferred ‘caused by’. What’s astounding about this is that just a few years ago, such a report, it being contrary to accepted writ, would never have made it to the screen. Here we are seeing some tentative ventures into arse-covering and I suspect we can look forward to stuff of a similar nature over the next few years. Enjoy the prospect of BBC presenters pretending astonishment at not having been parboiled in their beds and claiming to be the innocent victims of corrupt scientists.

I note that a previous Afghan leader has been a blown up by a bomb that was concealed in a turban. Damn but those Danish cartoonists shouldn’t have given the Taliban ideas. I also wonder, whilst you’re taking off your belt, shoes and jacket at the airport to put them through the X-ray scanner, whether you’ll see any turbans on the same conveyor. Of course not, that would be the evil racial or religious profiling, and civilization would collapse if you were to note the unlikelihood of any inclination to suicide bomb a plane in the blue-rinse granny being searched ahead of you.

Thursday 23rd September
Yup the weather is changing, though no rain has actually dropped on us. We sat on our terrace last night watching the flashes of a thunderstorm beyond the mountains opposite. Down in Makrigialos the sea was still warm, but only suitable for surfing. I took a bit of a dip and hurled myself through a few waves, but then we both retired from the windy beach which, with this rough sea, is steadily disappearing again.

Now, frequently we get people here asking us if we have tried this restaurant or that, or this bar or that bar. Our reply is always a self-deprecating, ‘We’re really boring’ going on to say that we use just a few of either. We know a few nice bars where we get precisely what we want and we know a few restaurants which have their various quirks but where the food is always good and tasty. We’re often loath to try other places because of the prospect of disappointment. However, yesterday, what with the beach and the sea being out and Revans bar having been occupied by a loud-mouthed knob-head, we ventured off. And what happened rather proves our point.

First we went to a beachside bar we hadn’t been in for months. The moment we walked in we could see it was run down and none too clean. The wine was okay, but the carafe dusty. The tables had been wiped without any real effort to get them clean and the floors were dirty and scattered with sand. We finished our wine and headed off. After a brief sojourn in another bar that we know is good – the drinks are always right, the snacks are very good and the place is always clean and tidy – we decided to try a beachside restaurant people had recommended, though with the proviso that rather too much food is served there. Since by this time I was starving, this seemed like a good idea to me. We wandered over to this restaurant and sat down. Having already had some wine we ordered two fresh orange juices and our meal. The juices turned up, a little tardily, but they were good and big. Next the place began filling up with customers, which is always a good sign, and we awaited our meals. Having come to very much like the lamb chops with garlic served at the Gabbiano I had ordered the same here, while Caroline ordered chicken with pepper sauce. And we waited, and waited.

About three-quarters of an hour later our meal turned up – good platefuls but no spectacular amount. There was also an excess of decoration what with little piles of tomato, cucumber and tzatsiki dotted here and there and herbs sprinkled around the edges of the plate (the expression to describe this is ‘lipstick on a pig’). I dived in to my pile of lamb chops with garlic... Now, maybe it’s just me, but shouldn’t lamb chops be served hot? Also, whilst a glob of grated raw garlic dropped on top of cold lamb chops is ‘lamb chops with garlic’ this was not quite what I expected. The only hot thing on the plate was the soggy chips. I also feel that on a lamb chop the meat should outweigh the bone and gristle. After scraping off mouth-burning raw garlic I ate the meat, and ended up with pile of debris little different in size to the original pile of lamb chops. Meanwhile, Caroline had tried her chicken, in its covering of brown muck scattered with a few peppercorns, and decided she really didn’t want her shoes resoled today. We ate what we could, hurriedly paid the bill and left just as fast as we could. On the drive back it was necessary to keep the windows open so Caroline didn’t end up gagging at the smell of my breath. For about an hour afterwards I felt nauseous and back at home had an Ouzo to get the horrible taste out of my mouth, while Caroline had to go and clean her teeth to the same effect. Screw other people’s recommendations and screw trying ‘somewhere new’. We’re back at the Gabbiano tomorrow.

Friday 23rd September
What with the financial crisis continuing, G20 leaders are going to take ‘strong action’. On the news we see sharp-suited politicians (and their pet ‘financial experts’) climbing out of limos clutching folders and heading importantly into buildings, or making speeches at decision-making conferences. All of these people, living in their elitist bubble, are certain and determined about the need to do something during this ‘dangerous time’. Of course the problem here is that people like this have absolutely no idea what to do. Getting paid a large salary without ever any penalty for fucking up doesn’t really prepare one for problem solving. They talk blithely about ‘liquidity, volatility, challenges, calming the market’ or whatever other buzz-words happens to be in vogue at the time, meanwhile seeing no further than insuring their own budgets and salaries aren’t cut and resorting straight away to more taxes and more state control.

So, you want business making money, you want ‘liquidity’, you want people grafting away and increasing your country’s wealth, you want that money flowing into your treasury? Here’re some ideas: Why don’t you stop hamstringing businesses with increasing red tape? Why don’t you stop taxing their working capital into oblivion? Why don’t you lose tax systems that penalize success, that is, are you so stupid that you think taking more money off people because they do more and make more money is actually some form of encouragement? Why don’t you stop paying bureaucrats large amounts of money to shuffle paper and interfere, that is, how about you lose much of the money-wasting business-killing state sector? Why don’t you tear up welfare systems that actively encourage sloth, indolence and state theft? And why oh why don’t you realize that you aren’t the source of solution, but the problem itself? Thank you for listening (ho ho).

With plenty of cloud scattered about the sky we got a shower of rain yesterday. Today it is windy, grey and showery, and the temperature has dropped below twenty. In Britain this would be your average summer’s day, but here it’s a rather abrupt change from the warm seas and temperatures approaching thirty of just a few days ago. We now have the smell of wood smoke in the village, and the likelihood of seeing a Cretan dressed in anything less than trousers and sweater has dropped to zero. Summers have to end, unfortunately, but it’s still a bit depressing. I’ve no doubt that there will be more hot sun, but for me there’s going to be a lot less swimming and more walking, some drainpipes to fix and some holes to seal, and the prospect of having to spark up the stove.

Saturday 24th September
Either someone sent me something or I read somewhere that the hypothesized ‘dark matter’ in our universe is coming in for a bit of a kicking. I never much liked this hypothesis because it seemed far too convenient; far too much of a fudge i.e. I know the density of strong cheddar but when I cut a lump of it which, by my other measurements, should have weighed one pound, I found it weighed a pound and half. I therefore hypothesize the presence of invisible cheese which I will call ‘dark cheese’. To which the reply has to be, ‘Check your fucking scales, mate.’ And now, it seems, Einstein might be getting a kicking too.

By now anyone with a science fictional turn of mind will know that those excellent lunatics at CERN in Geneva, who have been firing neutrinos 400 miles to Italy, have found that the neutrinos have been arriving a bit early i.e. they were travelling faster than the speed of light. Now, if this turns out to be true, Special Relativity just took a terminal wound. You see, even though the mass of a neutrino is very very small, Einstein’s theories tell us that the mass of an object increases with its speed until, as it approaches the speed of light, its mass approaches infinity. So one also has to wonder why Italy isn’t now a smoking crater or, in fact, our whole planet, or the universe itself. You see, if their measurements are right, by Einstein’s theory, objects of infinite mass should have arrived at the end of that four hundred mile course in Italy. But then again, we would have burnt out the universe accelerating them, since that would have required infinite energy...

The guys at CERN are putting their data out to be checked by as many other scientists as possible. One of them asserted, ‘All scientists are by their nature sceptical.’ Yes, that scepticism is a defining trait of a scientist and its lack rather defines what a scientist isn’t. Now, can anyone think of a ‘science’ where results are twisted to fit the theory and the data isn’t put out there for others to check?

Monday 26th September
Caroline spotted this beauty sitting out on the path before our gate. I reckon it must have fallen out of the fig tree where, with these camouflage colours, I probably wouldn’t have spotted it before. Until such a time as someone lets me know what this one is called I name it the Harrier jump-jet moth. And here we are seeing something that looks a bit like some of the landing craft you’ll find in my books.

According to Christine Lagarde, in a recent meeting European leaders all agree they’re going to continue working together to resolve the debt crisis. She tells us it is going to be hard and there are some tough times ahead, doubtless going on to a Champagne supper after the program in which she appeared and further discussions over caviar and biscuits about how difficult it is all going to be. What these ‘European leaders’ mean of course is that it is going to be tough for just about everyone but them. You won’t be seeing any of them suffering because of endless tax hikes, endless increases in the price of petrol, food and household goods; or because their company just collapsed; or because the bank their savings are in just went to the wall etc. They’ll still be on the kind of annual salary most people would be glad to receive for five or ten years of work. They’ll still be swanning about on the European stage feeling very important, they’ll still be heading to various meetings flying business-class or in their chauffeur-driven Mercs while checking their overseas investments, they’ll still be issuing buzz-word sound-bites to the media and they’ll still suffer no penalty for having fucked things up in the first place. Let’s just reiterate something: if government is in debt then a government overspent, okay?

Monday 26th September
Ah, raki season is arriving. Because of the inclement weather going on for longer than usual a lot of the grape harvest on Crete has been spoiled. I’m told a combination of rain and sun at the wrong time was the problem – maybe showers knocking off the grape flowers, or the moisture causing mildew? Anyway, the guy who makes raki right next to our house, Nectarius, wasn’t sure if he would be making it this year. However, he’s a can-do sort of guy and recently turned up with the barrels you see, which are all full of fermenting grapes he had to buy near Iraklion (over a hundred kilometres away). I’ve been co-opted into stirring this stuff up every evening, so I damned well hope they still the raki while I’m still here.

The Bully State – Brian Monteith

The End of Tolerance

‘Even if I am a minority of one, the truth is still the truth.’ – Mahatma Gandhi.

This is pretty good as it covers the lies and fact twisting used to push through legislation ‘for our own good’. I didn’t, for example, know about the measurable rise in deaths in countries that introduced the seatbelt law – the unintended consequence of people feeling safer so driving faster and closer to the car in front – nor how the statistics in Britain were skewed by the drink drive ban. Nor did I know the story of Fred Hill, who was a WWII dispatch rider, and his protest against being forced to wear a crash helmet – a protest that led to him dying in Pentonville prison. It was also interesting to read about how the IRA killed more people than any Muslim terrorist in this country yet no need was felt for ID cards and all the rest of the autocratic anti-terror legislation. I of course did know about the lies, fact twisting and ‘consultations’ with bought-and-paid-for NGOs used to push through the smoking ban, and how the same methods are being used on alcohol and ‘unhealthy’ foods.

‘The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule it.’ – Henry Louis Mencken.

This book ventures into the mindset of the people who want to control every aspect of our lives, and points out that though the majority of them are politically correct dicks in the Labour Party, and their useful idiots in local councils, they are by no means unique – the urge in politicians to lecture and admonish and generally treat voters like idiot children is a strong one. To a certain extent it is dated, in that it was published under the Anti-Midas Gordon Brown, and an awful lot has happened since then. However, this does not undermine the central thesis of the Nanny State turning into the Bully State in which advice and nannying to try and change people’s behaviour have turned into fines and prison sentences.

‘The smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights, cannot claim to be the defenders of minorities’ – Ayn Rand.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Departures to Departures

Wednesday 14th September

After yesterday’s Internet session and after my ‘harbour swim’ I heard a strange noise coming from my bag on the beach. It took me a moment to figure out that this was my mobile ringing, since it was only the second time it had rung this year. It was Julie Crisp at Macmillan, happy to inform me that The Departure had risen to number 18 in the bestseller chart. I’m presuming, like with The Technician last year, this is the Bookscan chart, which is compiled from weekly sales of all books in Britain (though whether hardbacks are separate from paperbacks I don’t know).

I was a bit ‘out there’ during this phone call – feeling slightly knackered, still partially into Dan Simmons’ Endymion, and slightly wrong-footed by this contact from the outside world. I also saw it as par for the course with me. The Departure has gone three places above The Technician which, I’m told, finally went to number 21. This is how it has always been for me ever since my first story was accepted and the magazine concerned folded before publishing it – a steady climb of the ladder; another step up in ‘success’ but no massive leap and no huge critical praise and concomitant hype.

I have to add here that I now prefer this steady climb to the high peaks followed by deep troughs in the publishing world. I’ve seen authors receive huge critical praise for a first book then being hamstrung by expectation. I’ve seen authors’ first books being hyped outrageously and them briefly being a big noise in the publishing scene, whereupon the ensuing book or books are just whimpers. While I’ve been steadily climbing the publishing ladder, I’ve seen others falling off and landing hard.

However, with The Departure climbing into the top 20 this means, apparently, that a book of mine has passed some kind of watershed and has become a lot more noticeable. Whether this means they can put ‘Science Fiction Bestseller’ on the cover or you’ll be seeing it in shop displays of top 20s or in newspaper lists of the same I don’t know. Anyway, after the phone call and while part of the way into a carafe of white wine, I began grinning like an idiot.

Thursday 15th September
My goodness aren’t financial markets fickle things. A few politicians get together and state that they’re not going to allow Greece to default on a debt they can’t possibly pay and things are hunky-dory again (probably for a day or two). I’m astounded that anyone can actually believe a politician any more, but maybe there was an underlying message of ‘not yet’ that the markets were responding to. Meanwhile that dipshit Barroso tells us that the solution to the debt crisis is more European integration. Yep, the solution to the pain caused by hitting your finger with a hammer is to whack a couple more fingers. Of course the eurocrats want more integration because that means more power and money for them. Of course the eurocrats want to delay Greece’s default and the subsequent collapse of the house of cards because, whilst it remains standing, the big salaries keep rolling in and they can strut about on the European stage like the little tin-pot Hitlers they are.

Friday 16th September
Congratulations Denmark! The people there have voted in the centre-left and their new prime minister has promised to increase taxes, increase public spending and let in more immigrants. What an excellent way to completely butt-fuck your own country.

Monday 19th September
Well, I can’t correctly say that I finished the Endymion omnibus, since I was skipping large lumps of it as I drew towards the end...

The weather here this September has been very good so those who were saying that because the summer here started late it will continue late might be right, though in reality that was a fifty-fifty bet. The sea has also been surprisingly warm so I’ve been able to continue with my harbour swims with the result that my gut seems to be receding a little. The good weather has also brought out the kind of display on our bougainvillea we’ve been aiming for since we bought this place:

The black figs are also appearing in quantity on the tree next to our house. It’s nice to eat a few but more than say four or five a day results in frequent flier points in the toilet:

It looks to me as if I’ll be getting a ringside seat on seeing a country go bankrupt. The debt here is in the region of €450 billion which, divided over a population of 14 million, comes out at over €30,000 a head. To get its next loan so as not to simply run out of money the government must get rid of a 100,000 government employees and sell off a load of state assets. Instead it’s trying to leech more money out of the working public. The latest wheeze is a tax ranging from €3 to €16 per square metre of your home, the amount to be added to the electricity bill with the power being shut off for non-payment. ‘Vulnerable groups’ i.e. those already costing the state a packet, such as the unemployed, pensioners and irresponsible breeders with four or more children, only get to pay half a Euro. Meanwhile I have no doubt at all that the politicians here are salting away their disgustingly large salaries in foreign bank accounts.

Tuesday 20th September
And another load of chilli sauce to add to my stores:

I’ve made three lots now and the open jar of it I have in the fridge keeps getting topped up with the remainder from each boiling. I’ve also given away about four jars – two to Greeks who actually like the stuff one to a Bulgarian and one to an English couple. It occurs to me that if this country collapses and food was to be in short supply, we might be living on a combination of chilli sauce, figs and pickled onions, which I suspect would involve toilet paper in the fridge and frequent changes of underpants.

Incidentally, Huan Tan, I have your recipe and bought mangoes so as to follow it, but then decided I would rather make sweet mango chutney with them instead. I’ll be looking up a recipe for that today.

The Jupiter Conflict or Jupiter War is now approaching 114,000 words and its plot threads are resolving. I suspect I’ll finish it this month and that it’ll be a shorter book than both The Departure and Zero Point (though I’ve yet to write the chapter starts and this will only be the first draft). This I feel is a good thing. Have you ever noticed the ever inflating size of books in trilogies or other series where the author is suffering from plotline proliferitis and struggling to get it all nailed down with the last book?

Our neighbour Jean-Pierre is back and the Greek neighbours were on him like flies on an open wound. When I walked down to see him last night I asked two of the kids, ‘Jean-Pierre ina mesa?’ to which one said ‘Neh’ whilst the other corrected me by saying ‘Pedro’. I replied, ‘Oshi Pedro, ina Jean-Pierre’. The Greeks up in these villages like to give foreigners pet names – I started out here as Nico and all the Albanians here have their ‘Greek’ names even if their own names are used in this country anyway. I don’t like it and I don’t like the thinking behind it. It is the application of a pet name to a pet. It’s demeaning and a conversational method of downgrading someone. They call me Neal now, probably because I ceased to tolerate any more shit from them.

And finally, just to annoy various people we’ve seen here over the year, and who are now back in their home countries:

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Plants and Rants

Tuesday 6th September

Here on Crete we have the fantasists who feel that being thousands of miles from their home country enables them to get away with the most outrageous lies (if they happen to have come from London they always knew the Krays) but there are also many interesting and genuine people here. We have Roddy and Ruth, the former of whom played with Frank Zappa and has his own band (The Muffin Men), whilst the latter makes, repairs and works with theatrical costumes, has dressed Nichol Kidman, and has just been working in Belfast on the costumes for ‘Game of Thrones’. Caroline now has her hair cut by an Italian guy in Lithines, who was trained by and taught at Vidal Sassoon. But name dropping aside, there’s a couple here who run an astronomy and art school, we have an ex social worker, teachers and university lecturers, someone who worked on the sets for Star Wars and many others besides.

The latest addition to the list above, which is by no means complete, is the guy who may be buying our old car. Whilst chatting with him and his wife in the Gabbiano we learnt that he is a Norwegian narcotics cop, which caused a pause in conversation whilst Caroline and I realized we were gaping.

There is, I think, a bit of a selection process going on. Generally the people who buy a house here, whether they are immigrants or have a holiday home, have ‘something about them’. This something has enabled some of them to accrue the money for such a purchase, but it is also what has driven them to step outside their comfort zone and take that risk. Others who have accrued no more money than what was in their house in their home country, and now live on a pension, also stepped out of that comfort zone and took a larger risk. But of course we must not neglect those who ran away; who thought that the problems they had in their home countries could be solved by a move here, and discovered otherwise. They generally don’t last.

Wednesday 7th September
Well sometimes you get blindsided. Whilst talking to a couple who we’ve met a few times before, we moved onto the subject of books and, inevitably, some mention was made of my books. We were sitting in Revans at the time so I pointed to the book shelf in the bar and said there was one they could try. The guy, Trevor, asked, ‘Which one?’ I pointed to the shelf again and said, ‘Second in from the right on the top shelf,’ and he asked, ‘But which one?’ ‘The orangey one with my name on the spine,’ I replied, slightly baffled. ‘But which title?’ he finally asked. ‘Hilldiggers,’ he replied. ‘Oh yes,’ said he, ‘I’ve read that one. I think I read most of your books before we moved here – the ones with Dragon in them, the Skinner ones and some others.’ I was a bit gobsmacked because, of course, I’m so used to talking to people who haven’t read my books, don’t have much interest in science fiction and quite often those who don’t read many books at all.

Thursday 8th September
Jupiter War has now passed the 100 thousand word mark and those of you sitting there with calculators will know that I haven’t been sticking to my ‘2,000 words five days a week’. I could of course include the word-count of my blog posts but even that won’t bring me up to 10,000 words a week. However, I know that last year I went back to England with 80,000 words of Zero Point done whilst this year it’s likely I’ll be heading back with the first draft of Jupiter War completed at, probably, about 130 or 140 thousand words. So do I hammer straight into the next book? I don’t even know the title, story, whether it’ll be an Owner or Polity book or even one set in the Cowl future. I’m thinking that maybe now is the time to turn to some short stories to send off to Asimov’s and other magazines, or to any anthologies that will have them. One of those short stories may then grow in the telling and actually turn into the next book. We’ll see.

Friday 9th September
Ah I see that Obama is going to inject 450 billion into the American economy to create jobs and cut taxes. Well, maybe if he, and other parasite politicians before him, had left that money in the economy in the first place there wouldn’t be such a problem, though of course this money isn’t coming out of some sort of emergency fund; some wodge of cash stacked away for a rainy day. It’ll just be a further addition to America’s 13 trillion debt. But don’t you just love that ‘inject money to cut taxes’? It’s rather like raiding someone’s larder then, after feasting on the food, noting that the guy stocking the larder is starving and might not be able to fill it up again, so giving him back a couple of loaves of bread to keep him alive. I often wonder how those who jumped on me, and played the race card, when I first criticised the Obamessiah, feel about him now. They probably still think he’s wonderful but hamstrung by the dark forces of conservatism. Certainly the leftist dipshits at the BBC, despite all the contrary evidence, still think the sun shines out of his arse.

Monday 12th September
Since, both this year and last year, I’ve probably given away more plants than I’ve actually planted in the garden, it’s nice when someone reciprocates, and especially nice when it’s a success. After delivering some bits and pieces to a guy called Rich, he dug up a couple of runners from plants in his garden. Of one of them he told me, ‘It doesn’t look much, but the scent is good.’ (This was a plant I’d read about in the gardening section of ‘Athens News’, but cannot remember the name) I duly planted it in a pot and it shot up over the summer. Then, two evenings ago when we came back from the beach, we noted a perfume in the air as we stepped out of the car. As we walked down to the house – about fifty yards from the car – the scent grew steadily stronger and stronger. Rich’s plant had flowered, was surrounding by humming bird moths, and had a scent probably an order of magnitude stronger than jasmine. Here it is, does anyone know the name?

Tuesday 13th September
Ah, apparently the Italian government is to introduce more ‘austerity measures’ because, like the rest of the PIIGS it’s on the slippery slope. After overspending since year dot, mismanaging their economies, pissing money up the wall on silly social projects, hamstringing businesses with fucked-up safety and environmental legislation and always increasing bureaucracy, employing huge numbers of time-wasting paper-shuffling overpaid bureaucrats and generally demonstrating their inability to run a piss-up in a brewery, I have no doubt that the politicians will be the first to subject themselves to ‘austerity’. Doubtless they’ll be reversing the screw-ups listed above, along with cutting their salaries down to something within the realms of reality, ceasing to employ family members in non-jobs, ceasing to misappropriate funds, ceasing to submit huge expense claims, ceasing to take long expensive foreign trips and ceasing to lie and squirm and evade responsibility. Doubtless they’ll also be culling their number and ceasing to look at the world through rose-tinted glasses of party-political ideology. Oh yeah, and have you heard about the cheese mine on the moon?

The BBC is apparently going to have a discussion about the ‘doubts that the governments of giant economies can pay their debts’. Well let me let you in on a secret: most of them can’t. Let me let you in on another secret: lawyers; academics; graduates in political science and sociology; union reps; ideologues and generally people who have had no experience of real life, actually working for a living and real finances (i.e. people who don’t get that you don’t spend more than you’ve got on something that’s never going to make a profit) aren’t the kind of people you want running ‘giant economies’.

And now just for a bit of amusement, and because Chris thought it would be amusing too ... Chris was so pleased to sell his wife’s car he celebrated with a bottle of cider, whilst naked:

Hyperion - Dan Simmons

Be warned: there are some spoilers here...

I really enjoyed many aspects of the Hyperion Omnibus and would certainly recommend it to anyone, however (isn’t there always one of those?), it was a bit of an up and down experience for me. The Priest’s Tale was excellent, with its cruciform parasites and how the horror of them for a catholic drove Father Dure to do what he did, and I quite enjoyed how that plot thread was woven in later on. But balanced against that, what later seemed the proselytising of the C. S. Lewis kind, with a bit of L. Ron Hubbard thrown in for good measure, had me gagging. Apparently love is a fundamental basis of the universe, whilst god, being woven in at the Planc level, transcends time and is the triune entity of the Christians ... and lo the messiah is to be born!

The Soldier’s Tale with its violence, military technology, mysterious woman (and with Kassad’s yet to be explained encounter with the shrike as the mysterious woman) I much enjoyed too, though later on this was a plot thread that tended to fizzle. The Poet’s Tale, whilst still enjoyable, suffered from a problem I felt was endemic throughout the books: too much in the way of literary allusions and pretensions. How often I found myself skipping the obsessing about Keats and pointless quotations of poetry. There’s much about the power and wonder of poetry and poets, and the implication that isn’t the pen mightier than the sword? Yeah, well, take your Parker to your next sword fight and see how you get on. The Consul’s and The Detective’s Tales were great too, but by then I was starting to get anxious about the proliferation of ideas and plot threads and the possibility of this not completing.

The setting of Hyperion was excellent, with this whole story taking place under a sky lit by interstellar war, as was the interplay between the shrike pilgrims. The tree of thorns is a horrifying image that sticks, and the time tombs were the kind of idea just about any science fiction writer would be jealous of.

The shrike itself was good whilst only glimpsed, but suffered under close inspection. My feeling was that it started out as a monster from Dr Who and was not cured of the rubber mask syndrome by the later add-ons from Alien. And, now I’m reading Endymion, by its Terminator II transformation into a good guy.

There were lots of ideas and threads needing to be tied together in these books, and so they were, sometimes very well and sometimes in a kind of soapish babble. Simmons did manage to pull the rabbit out of the hat, but it had lost one ear and most of its fur during its stay. Still, don’t get me wrong, there are hours and hours of science fictional reading pleasure here. I in fact loved the whole massive chaotic canvas of this story which, really, wouldn’t have been possible without that mass of ideas and interweaving plot threads.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Microscope and Car

Wednesday 31st August

In the past I’ve often been prepared to take a look at something someone has written, and yet to have published, and make comments on it. I learnt quite a bit through this process during my ten years membership of a postal workshop and have always been prepared to give a bit back, but no more. Frankly, over the last ten years, very little of what has been sent to me, as a typescript or an email attachment, has been worth the effort, and some of it is quite appalling. So, as of now, I’ll only comment on published books, even though maybe only one in ten of them are worth the fulsome praise being sought.

For example, having just glanced at something that is allegedly going to be published, I abandoned it after the first page. In the first four-line paragraph there were two missing words, a spelling mistake and missing punctuation. The first page had over twenty similar errors I could actually put a red circle around. Other grammatical errors too numerous to detail warranted a red circle round the whole page. Really, if people can’t be bothered to sort out such basic stuff before sending it to me, I can’t be bothered to read it.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t consider myself to be a paragon of virtue when it comes to the English language. As far as grammatical errors are concerned I can point at them but I don’t really know all the lingo to describe them. I learnt by the seat-of-my-pants from that day, when I was about fifteen, when I sat down at my Dad’s manual typewriter, hammered away two fingered for an hour, then had to stop and go ask my parents what a sentence was. However, this is all stuff that can be easily learnt elsewhere, from books, just like I learnt it.

Sunday 4th September
The dreaded lurgies have attacked again and I’m suffering something much like tonsillitis. Attempting to lay off the fags by chewing nicotine gum results in painful hiccups, I can’t swallow hot drinks and keep on waking in the night choking on phlegm. Wonderful.

Meanwhile we’ve been watching ‘Game of Thrones’ which has been excellent. I tried the first book of the series but gave up after a hundred or so pages, bored with the family stuff and ‘character building’, but after seeing this series I might well pick up the book again. There were notable snaffles or maybe hat tips in this: a fat inept guy called Sam as a companion to a hero (Gamgee anyone?); the girl who wants to fight like a boy and who, during a sword fighting lesson, decides she doesn’t want to practice and gets the lesson on fights not necessarily occurring when you want them (I think I first read that one in Dune and have come across it many times since); and of course horse lords and a dragon lady right from the pages of Tanith Lee. Definitely looking forward to the next series and I’ll be asking someone who has a house here (hello Ruth) which costumes she worked on!

Monday 5th September
One of the things I say when interviewers ask me about how I started writing is how, at a certain age, I chose not to be ‘a Jack of all trades and master of none’ by concentrating on just one of my many interests. I blame my parents with their house full of books, their varied interests, and the various subtle pushes I got from them. I got a chemistry set as many did, but I also got ‘extra’ chemicals from my Dad’s college, followed by some instruction in using chemical formulae many years before I saw them in school. I got fish tank, but instead of putting in water and fish I filled it with caterpillars, watched them turn to chrysalises and hatch out, looked the result up in an Observer book, before then moving on to water scorpions, caddis fly larvae and any other weird creature I found in the stream across the road. I got a microscope which only in later years I realized was a good one – cast iron body and multiple magnifications – and spend many happy hours with my eye glued to the lens. But all this is a round-about way of getting to my recent purchase.

I’m not an easy person to buy presents for, since there’s not much I want beside the odd packet of pants or socks. I can’t be bothered with many of the technological gadgets now available. I wouldn’t want an Android phone or a Blackberry because, thought I know I might have use for many of their functions, they aren’t enough to justify the expense nor the time expended in learning to use the damned things. I don’t really do toys. However, when I saw what was available in Lidl last week I knew straight away that it was a toy I wanted: a microscope with a USB connection so that images and video clips can be taken from it.

Of course, how often I play with this particular toy remains to be seen...

And another purchase this last week. When we arrived here it was necessary to buy a car as quickly as possible so as to avoid the large hire car costs. Stelios put us in contact with a guy from Motor Plan who was selling off some old ones and from him we bought a Renault Thalia. It had 42,000 kilometres on the clock, was a 1.4 saloon with plenty of boot space and has been ideal. Yes, there have been the usual problems what with bearings, joints and a belt (plus tensioner) needing to be replaced, but these are all expected. However, what has been very annoying is a sensor over the flywheel which, when it gets a speck of dirt on it, simply stops the car. The sensor can then be cleaned with a squirt of cleaning fluid in the right area, but more often than not it needs to be taken off to be cleaned.

We carried on with this car for four years, since cleaning the sensor is just a ten minute job. This last summer I haven’t had to touch it for five months and so, when offered a much newer car at a reasonable price I was indecisive. What made me decisive was driving Samantha and Dean back to Iraklion airport and having the car pack up right at the worst possible point, which was in the queue to traffic lights just outside Agios Nicholas. Perhaps this was my own fault in that if I'd cleaned it before the trip I'd have had no problem. The next day I looked at at the other car (a Kia Rio) and said yes.