Friday, December 21, 2012

The Windy Moon

I caught a bit of Who Wants to be a Millionaire last night and really wish I hadn’t. The question I heard was, ‘Which of these do you find on Earth but not on the Moon?’ and the choice of answers was: sunlight, gravity, craters and wind. I stood there with my mouth hanging open listening to two ‘celebs’ debating whether or not the Moon has gravity, then one of them stating quite firmly that there was wind up there. In the end they made the sensible decision not to commit to an answer and take the money and run.

Now, I really don’t expect people to know the names of the main moons of Jupiter or to even be able to recite the order of the planets in the Solar system, but a little basic scientific knowledge would be good. But then, I was showing a lack of basic scientific knowledge too because they couldn’t hear me while I was shouting at the television.   

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Get Fracking!

Boris Johnson is here speaking some sense about fracking.

The extraction process alone would generate tens of thousands of jobs in parts of the country that desperately need them. And above all, the burning of gas to generate electricity is much, much cleaner – and produces less CO2 – than burning coal. What, as they say, is not to like?
 I do love his view of the eco-doomsters:
In their mad denunciations of fracking, the Greens and the eco-warriors betray the mindset of people who cannot bear a piece of unadulterated good news. Beware this new technology, they wail. Do not tamper with the corsets of Gaia! Don’t probe her loamy undergarments with so much as a finger — or else the goddess of the earth will erupt with seismic revenge. Dig out this shale gas, they warn, and our water will be poisoned and our children will be stunted and our cattle will be victims of terrible intestinal explosions.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Ambulance, Police, Burglar...

So, I had my second encounter with Essex Police yesterday…

Let me start with my mother. She’s 85 has a lymphoma and is undergoing chemo therapy. She lives alone in the stupidly large family home which she can just about manage. The week before last she called me to say she needed to go to the hospital. I shot round to find her suffering from the shakes and a stomach ache, for the former of which she was, apparently, supposed to go straight to hospital since it could be a bad reaction to the chemo. She had phoned for an ambulance and was waiting for a call back from some medical professional. This person did call, asked a long series of questions about her symptoms, then sent the ambulance, which arrived pretty quickly.

The ambulance staff came in, asked the same series of questions while hooking her up to some equipment. By then her shakes were waning and they couldn’t find anything seriously wrong with her (well, besides being 85 and having cancer). However, after a phone call to the Oncology Department they decided to take her in to Broomfield hospital. I followed the ambulance there, stupidly expecting it to take the easy back roads route to the hospital. It didn’t, it instead went right through the middle of Chelmsford during the rush hour. I tried to keep on its tail but with various sets of traffic lights and about five roundabouts to go through I was beginning to lose sight of it. I had also completely forgotten how to get to the hospital via this route and at some point I must have run a red light.

At the hospital I spend about twenty minutes driving around in a two-storey car park searching for a spot to park, then I went into Accident & Emergency where my mother had been taken. There she had an X-ray, blood taken for testing, that list of questions asked again, and frequent checks on her BP etc. The upshot was that a doctor would see her but she could go home. We waited and waited for a doctor but none came, so in the end just checked out and later.

Promptly, a few days after, I got my traffic violation letter from Essex Police. I filled in the form and wrote a covering letter explaining the circumstances. I didn’t expect any leniency.

Maybe a day after this the same thing happened again with my mother: bad shakes, inability to sleep or keep still. I suspected something related to her depression (yeah, she has that too). Sometimes, if you get a bad panic attack it can feel like you’re dying. Phone calls ensued but I baulked at the idea of calling an ambulance again, especially as the shakes were waning again, and in the end took her to the emergency doctor. This quite sharp Asian lady examined her and checked over her reams of prescription sheets.

Apparently she had been prescribed another lot of anti-depressants because the chemo had dragged her down. Now, either the doctor concerned neglected to notice she was already on one lot of pills, neglected to tell her to stop taking them, or my mother failed to take in that she should stop taking the first lot. ‘You don’t take these together,’ said the Asian lady, looking puzzled and slightly alarmed. She told my mother to stop taking the second lot and prescribed diazepam for the shakes and instructed her to see her doctor. This she did and the upshot is that her problems were caused by mixing the anti-depressants.

I next got a phone call from the Essex Police and spoke to someone who wasn’t officious and was quite pleasant. After she got some detail from me she told me they were dropping the charges against me. I subsequently received a letter telling me this along with the line ‘not in the public interest to prosecute’. Well I guess that’s right. The last time I was ever told off by the police for a driving offence was when I was 18 and wasn’t displaying my L-plates correctly. So that was my first encounter with the Essex Police…

On diazepam every day my mother improved enough to go on an outing she had booked some time ago to Thursford. She went this Sunday with a friend, stayed overnight and came back on Monday evening. Shortly after her return I got a phone call. Her house had been broken into. I told her to call the police and then Caroline and I went round. Someone had smashed a back patio door then opened it with the key. This person had rifled through some cupboards and drawers, opened her jewellery box, but beyond the smashed door made surprisingly little mess. He’d (I’m guessing it was a ‘he’) found about £150 she’d kept in a drawer but otherwise seemed to have taken nothing else. I guess he was quite disappointed by the lack of laptops, mobile phones, family silver and by the costume jewellery.

A cop turned up quite rapidly from South Woodham Ferrers and checked out everything. Shortly after he arrived a fingerprint lady turned up (SOCO?) but could find nothing but glove smudges. After she had finished I boarded up and secured the broken door while the cop sat with my mother taking down details and telling her what would happen. Let me add here: pleasant big reassuring bloke and exactly the kind of guy you want turning up. And that, then, was my second encounter with the Essex Police.

Surprisingly, and perhaps sadly, though my reaction to this was, ‘Bastards!’ I didn’t feel hugely irate. This is because a break-in like this is almost a fulfilment of expectation. There are loads of shits out there with no respect for other people’s property. But really I should be very very angry. Back when I used to cut grass and hedges etc. for a living an old lady who was a customer of mine found a burglar in her bedroom. He didn’t harm her then and just fled. However, she died just a few months later and the opinion of her neighbours was that the incident just sapped her will – effectively killed her.

Today’s jobs: sort out a glazier and take a look at some burglar alarms on the internet.

Note: If you go out take the keys out of the inside of your double glazed doors. This won’t stop anyone smashing the glass and getting in, but the burglar will have to knock all the glass out of the door and go through it, increasing the likelihood of him being cut and dripping some blood somewhere. The police like blood.        

Monday, December 03, 2012

Exhausted by Doom-mongers.

I watched the TV series The Secret of Crickley Hall – last episode last night – and though I enjoyed it I couldn’t really engage with it. I got the same feeling watching it as I got from watching Woman in Black, which is that though it was entertaining I could not suspend disbelief. When I was younger I could watch this sort of stuff and feel a little bit spooked – two that spring to mind are The Haunting (the original version) and The Entity – but my opinions about the supernatural have hardened over the years and now I simply cannot believe in ghosts. The films and the fiction haven’t really got any worse, if anything some have got better, but I have changed.

By this route I come to those who keep launching assaults on science fiction. I’d call it self-flagellation because often these people are ‘in’ the SF world, but for the fact that many of those attacking don’t actually write the stuff. Science fiction is dying or dead, it’s no longer relevant because of the accelerated pace of technological change (how could it not be more relevant?), and the latest one ‘science fiction is exhausted’ - based on some Best SF collections so generalizing from the specific and ignoring Sturgeon's Law.

Moving on to the stuff about it being relevant in the rapidly changing world: How can someone read recent books like Windup Girl or Quantum Thief and dismiss them as irrelevant? Who says a requisite of SF is that it has to be relevant? The job of a writer is first to write books and then to sell them. The main requisite of the latter is to make them entertaining, and for them to be that, for an SF reader, requires a good story that can suspend disbelief, world building, the zing of technology and science and that essential sensawunda. 

Now let’s go back to ‘science fiction is dying, or dead’ (yawn). I’ve been here before with this here, here and here  but the neatest way of putting this in perspective is via a link provided by Gary Farber in response to my, "I'm betting there was some plonker declaring the death of SF the moment Sputnik beeped or just after Neil Armstrong stepped onto the Moon."

Who Killed Science Fiction? won the Hugo Award for Best Fanzine in 1961. The Fifties were rife with talk about the death of science fiction, and Earl Kemp's symposia of so many sf pros and prominent fans summed it all up.

If science fiction was dead back in the 50s and 60s, why does it still seem so mobile now? If it was dying back then why isn’t it dead now? And really, science fiction is nowhere as near as exhausted as the perpetual wanking on about its decline.

Let’s have a little list: Iain M Banks, Alastair Reynolds, Peter F Hamilton, Adam Roberts, Ted Chiang, C J Cherryh, Peter Watts, Gary Gibson, Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Ken McLeod, Neil Gaiman, Paolo Bacigalupi, Jeff Noon, Kim Stanley Robinson, Greg Egan, Hannu Rajaniemi, Stephen Baxter, Sheri S. Tepper, Elizabeth Bear, Paul J. McAuley, Ian McDonald  Greg Bear, David Brin, Orson Scott Card, Cory Doctorow, John Meaney, John Scalzi, Kristine Kathryn Rusch … I could go on. Now, as far as I know these are all still alive (though I don’t keep up with my Ansible obituaries) and are still producing stuff people want to read. Whether or not they are exhausted I don’t know, whether or not the fiction they produce is dying, exhausted or dead I leave to you to decide.

All these attacks on science fiction are utterly subjective and ultimately pointless because, in the end, they tell us more about the one writing than the fiction they are writing about (much like many reviews). Perhaps they loved science fiction once and could suspend disbelief, and now, just like me watching Crickley Hall, it simply is not pressing the right buttons any more. Maybe they have changed.

Because you feel you have read it all before doesn’t mean others have and equally, just because you might have become more discerning and sophisticated doesn’t mean others are. Just because you are suffering ennui and have lost the credulity and optimism of youth doesn’t mean others have. Just because you are inured to wonder, and can no longer find that vital sensawunda, doesn’t mean it has disappeared, dried up, been exhausted.

Maybe the next time somebody feels the urge to write something about the terminal decline of SF, they should consider that the 'crisis' is in the eyes that behold, and take a long hard look at themselves first.  

Saturday, December 01, 2012


I’ve been noting how over the years the number of comments I get here has been steadily waning. I could, if I was sufficiently paranoid, put this down to a steady decline in my fan base, readership, popularity or whatever. However I know by my stats here that the number of people visiting this blog has been steadily increasing so, unless they’re stopping by to see how the road accident is progressing, something else must be going on.

Are people commenting less because of the time I spend away from the internet in the summer; because they won’t be getting a quick reply from me? That’s one possibility but there are others. The social media on the internet is always changing. Message boards went through their high season and waned. The likes of MySpace had their time in the sun then sloped off into the shadows. Is it that blogs are now, in internet terms, a bit antediluvian? Are all those who commented on message boards and blogs now using Twitter? Yeah, I reckon it could be a bit of that too.

Then there’s how people access the internet now. Mobile devices have been on the rise and no matter how wonderful they might be or how many thousands of apps they might have they do not have the utility of a pc, at a desk, with a chair. It’s my contention that the lack of response here does not equate to a lack of readers, but the lack of the simple ease of a keyboard.
What do you think?  

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Minimum Pricing on Alcohol

So, Cameron is a nannying statist who wants to stick a minimum price on alcohol per unit. What on Earth is he thinking? Does he think that this will result in fewer pavement pizzas and fat slags crying in the gutter on a Saturday night? Does he think there’ll be less violence on the streets after chucking out time on a Friday and less chaos in A & E over the weekend? If he does think that then he’s an idiot because the people responsible for that drink in bars where the price is already way above his damned 45p a unit.


Does he think that £2 on the price for a bottle of vodka is going to stop an alcoholic buying it? Does he think that ‘problem drinkers’ are going to alter their life styles because their weekly booze bill has gone up by ten or twenty quid? Well, maybe they will, maybe they won’t be getting the latest X-box, flat screen TV or maybe their kids will start outgrowing their clothes because, you can be damned sure that habitual drinkers will sacrifice other spending rather than the habit. Does he think that banning supermarket deals on wine, like three for a tenner or three for the price of two is going to do any more than piss off people who drink at home and cause no trouble at all?

Does he not realize that black marketeers – the same ones most smokers buy their tobacco from now – will be rubbing their hands together in glee? Has he, with his wonderful Eton education, not heard of Prohibition? Or was he too hung over after a night out getting pissed and trashing restaurants with the Bullingdon club to take that particular lesson in?

Really, it’s about time Cameron found his natural home in the Labour Party. There’s a place for him there, since that party doesn’t have a leader. Not that he’s much of a leader but I’m sure they could always find room for another advertising executive.  

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Penny Royal III Started

Well, checking my journal I see that I began writing Penny Royal II on the 19th of July and finished it to first draft on 27th November so, four months, one week and one day. Of course I haven’t completely finished it just as I haven’t completely finished Penny Royal I. Right now I have to go back to that first book to write in some stuff about a world due to be swallowed by a black hole to make some other stuff in Penny Royal III work. I also have alter a particular character all the way through – in this case an assassin drone fashioned in the shape of a prador parasite (I’ve mentioned Riss before – this drone looks like a translucent cobra with a third eye on top of its head, small limbs underneath that head and an ovipositor in its tail). Similar alterations will ensue as I write Penny Royal III (I’m a thousand words in at the moment) and thereafter will come loads of editing before I send these books to Macmillan, then a couple of more rounds of editing after I get it back.

This picture is here because this is what Penny Royal sometimes looks like. I was going to tray a mish-mash of this and the Curiosity Rover confronting each other, but don't have the time. Hey, if anyone fancies mucking about with an art program I’d love to see a picture of Penny Royal in some alien landscape. Just to help in that respect (and to tease you all):

The buy was going down, badly, because the shits involved had decided that their large amounts of weaponry gave them a bargaining advantage. It was all about to turn into a nasty fire fight when the other side’s repairman turned up, and then it turned into a nightmare. The meet had been in a valley on a heavy gravity world where plants grew iron hard and close to the ground and where most humans wore motorized suits. Blite, as he prepared himself to give the order blow the sled the thrall tech sat on, and open fire, had looked up. On the ridge above, a flower had bloomed: a giant black thistle head atop a stalk of braided silver snakes. He stared at it in shock as, like a slow black explosion it came apart, its individual spikes turning as they sped away to point down into the valley, all settling to hang still in the air – a wall of daggers woven through with silver lace.
‘Penny Royal!’ one of the opposition called, gazing at Blite with a superior smile.

But before all of that there’s other work to be done, like going through the copy edits of the Night Shade Books version of The Departure. And, of course, here’s a reminder  

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

So, where was I going with this? Oh yeah: it may have taken me just over four months to get Penny Royal II to first draft, but please don’t start expecting me to produce 3 books a year. In fact, if I do start finding myself at a bit of a loose end I’ll be producing more stories like the one in Asimov’s above, or maybe taking a look at my old fantasy trilogy. Or I may even take a holiday!

Monday, November 26, 2012

New vaccine may give lifelong protection from flu - health - 25 November 2012 - New Scientist

New vaccine may give lifelong protection from flu - health - 25 November 2012 - New Scientist


Trial RNA vaccines have failed, however, after being destroyed rapidly in the blood. But CureVac, a company in Tübingen, Germany, has found that a protein called protamine, binds to mRNA and protects it. It has an mRNA vaccine against prostate and lung cancer tumours in human trials.


A true universal vaccine for fluMovie Camera, however, would induce immunity to proteins that are the same in all flu viruses, but which flu normally hides from the immune system. Stitz's team made an mRNA vaccine to one such protein from an ordinary seasonal flu. The vaccine not only protected animals from that flu strain, but also from H5N1 bird flu.

Like, wow.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Cyborg Asher

About three years ago I realized that my eyes were no longer perfect and that when the light was bad I needed reading glasses. I started off at about +1.00 but have since progressed (or rather regressed) to +2.50. Then, at the start of this year (or maybe the end of last) I noticed that when looking at the DVD player I could see it clearly through one eye but it was a blur through the other. In February I duly went to an optician for the first time and ended up with prescription glasses for reading and was told I was border-line for driving. This was no fun at all.

Now, Caroline was very short-sighted, so much so in fact that she couldn’t read signs in the high street without glasses. She had laser eye surgery to correct this and now just needs reading glasses. I was therefore attracted to the idea of  having similar surgery myself at least to equalize my eyes so I only need the kind of reading glasses you can pick up for a few quid just about anywhere, so I booked a free consultation at Ultralase to find out what could be done.

It turns out I now have a nicely miss-matched pair of eyes. Sitting at this computer screen I can see the text fairly clearly with my left eye, but through my right eye it is blurred. Conversely, if I sit watching the TV I can read the numerals on the DVD player with my right eye but it’s a blur through my left. Now I have choices. If I have my left eye sorted by laser my distance vision will be fine but I’ll need reading glasses. If I have my right eye done I’ll need glasses for distance (driving and the like) but not for reading. But there’s another choice.

I’d heard that there are now treatments for presbyopia (needing reading glasses as you get older) but couldn’t figure how shaping the cornea for that worked at the other range of your vision. I was then told that perhaps the best for me would be IOLs – intra-ocular lenses. These are usually used in cataract operations but in the past basically had one setting so you could have your distance vision but would need reading glasses. Now, however, they have multi-focus IOLs. I was very wary, but according to the blurbs I’ve read, 80% of people that have these require no glasses at all. It also turns out that the operation is 25 minutes per eye, no stitches and an added advantage is that I’ll never get cataracts.

I’ve made an appointment to see the surgeon to get some more gen and I’ve been reading about this operation on the internet. I may well decide to go for it. Firstly because of the high probability of getting my vision back and secondly, well, a science fiction writer who is also a cyborg?  

Monday, November 19, 2012

Cellweld - TM

In my books I often do surgical scenes in which cell welders and bone welders are used. It seems to me that I can now properly describe and extrapolate that technology. But of course now I must think in terms of reprinting missing limbs and organs, or even reprinting an entire body. Growing such stuff in the good old sfnal amniotic tank is old now.

The 2D structures being printed with the bio-ink enables exquisite control over cell distribution and this already presents exciting opportunities to improve drug screening and toxicology testing processes. Building on this, 3D bio-printing, with which patient-specific tissue replacements could be fabricated, is within the grasp of researchers.  

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Technician Review

He had a good crack at it...

Earth Girl - Janet Edwards

2788. Only the handicapped live on Earth. While everyone else portals between worlds, 18-year-old Jarra is among the one in a thousand people born with an immune system that cannot survive on other planets. Sent to Earth at birth to save her life, she has been abandoned by her parents. She can’t travel to other worlds, but she can watch their vids, and she knows all the jokes they make. She’s an ‘ape’, a ‘throwback’, but this is one ape girl who won’t give in. But can she prove to the norms that she’s more than just an Earth Girl?

I’m not entirely sure why but I found an uncorrected proof copy of Earth Girl in the pile of post waiting for me when we got back from Crete. Noting that it was ‘young adult’ I was a bit reluctant, but then I had a go anyway. It’s told in first-person, is easy reading which, for obvious reasons, rather reminds me of the ‘Twilight’ books, and I enjoyed it. This I reckon would be the perfect gift for teenage relative you want set on the slippery slope to the damnation of enjoying science fiction. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Early Start

Sometimes I wish my mind had an off switch and other times I’m grateful that it doesn’t. The first case applies when I’m worrying about something, wake up at three in the morning and lie there fretting and churning over things that would have looked better in the morning after a  good night’s sleep. The usual result of this is me managing to get to sleep – usually after getting up and having a cup of tea – at about five in the morning, then waking up a few hours after that feeling like crap. Then there are those other insomnia moments.

I’ve been getting a little bit stuck with the latest book, writing, deleting changing sections and trying to make it work properly. I woke up and started thinking about this and it at once appeared that during my brief sleep my subconscious has been doing some heavy lifting. I got up (this morning I woke at about 3.30 and got up half an hour later) and I started writing stuff down. Things that previously seemed vague to me had begun to come clear. Yes, I had backed myself into a corner there so change that section and delete that section, write-in the POV of that character and lose that one. Go through the entire book, and the book before, and completely change another character.

By this time I’d finished my second cup of tea it was 5.45 AM. What to do next? From previous experience I knew that if I went back to bed I would wake up feeling like crap, my mind sluggish, and what had seemed clear to me before would not be so clear then. I took a shower and now, as I write this it’s 6.20 AM and, once I’ve finished this sentence, to work!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Honest Trailers - Prometheus

Yeah, that about covers it.

Compass Books

Sent on Twitter by Geoff Utley from Compass Books in San Francisco Airport. Chris - presumably the guy in the photo - loves my work.

So at this point it's worth reminding book buyers and readers in America:

Here’s an update on the news for my American readers. The people at Night Shade Books are looking forward to bringing The Owner Trilogy to print in the US and have scheduled The Departure for publication Feb 5, 2013 with Zero Point following May 7, 2013 and Jupiter WarSeptember 3, 2013 (catching up with publication of that last book in Britain). Nicely keying into that my short story The Other Gun will be appearing in Asimov’s April/May issue that year with, of course, mention of these books in attached biog. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Cool Lasers

I’ve been reading a lot of science articles in the mornings as anyone who follows me on Twitter @nealasher or Facebook will be aware, but this one I have to put here.

As an SF writer you’re always in danger of being tripped up by the science geek who will point out your errors. Back in The Line of Polity (I think) I used ‘laser cooling’ for a space ship and someone – in a review I believe – dismissed this as a ridiculous idea.

In micro electronics heat often causes problems and engineers have to put a lot of technical effort into cooling, for example micro chips, to dissipate heat that is generated during operation. Austrian physicists have now suggested a concept for a laser that could be powered by heat. This idea may open a completely new way for cooling microchips.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Moore's Law for Batteries?

Most of you reading this have heard of Moore’s Law and most of you are familiar with the idea of the technological singularity and that Moore’s law is just one element on that exponential curve. Other elements include the steady reduction in cost of that computing. This in turn relates to the shrinking time and cost of decoding a genome … if you want to learn more about all that just head over to the Singularity Hub and do some reading, or watch a few Ray Kurzweil interviews.

But I’ve been thinking about batteries and other forms of power storage. We have exoskeletons now that enable the crippled to walk and, if you check out ‘Boston Dynamics’ on You Tube you’ll find some excellent robots. But these exoskeletons, even though they have FDA approval and are being trailed in America have unwieldy and short-lived power packs, while the robots you mostly see are running at the end of a power cable. We need smaller or more powerful batteries, super- and ultra-capacitors so, what I was wondering is, is there a Moore’s Law for batteries? Opinions vary:

Energy efficiencies have gotten pretty good…but the scary thing when you look at it from a capacity and efficiency standpoint with regard to weight and volume, it hasn’t really changed that much. It’s clearly improving, and I think costs have gotten a little bit better, but not all that much either. When you compare it with the electronics that we’re using it with and Moore’s Law, it’s basically standing still,”

...because there’s not currently a Moore’s Law for batteries, and I’m doubtful that we’re going to ever hit a Moore’s Law-style pace of accelerated progress and lowered costs for batteries. Yes, batteries will come down in price and become smaller, but at nowhere near the same speed — and with a lot less progress — as to be able to be compared to Moore’s Law.

Sure, the Moore’s Law of electric cars  – “the cost per mile of the electric car battery will be cut in half every 18 months” — will steadily drive the cost down, says Agassi, but only once we get scale production going. U.S. companies can do that on their own or in collaboration with Chinese ones. 

But I guess we have to remember what an exponential curve looks like and remember we might not be on the rapid up slope with batteries – on this one we might well be right down in the bottom left of that blue box.

What do you think?  

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Moscow Mule

Posted on my Facebook page by Keith McDade. So, if you're a long-time reader of my books, what word are you seeing here? More in comments...

Writing Update

I’ve just passed the 130,000 word mark on Penny Royal II but this last week I haven’t been hitting my target of 2,000 words a day. Generally it’s been at about 1500 a day, but in total. I’ve probably been writing more than 2,000 but deleting plenty too. About 1,000 words disappeared into my BitsSF file at the start of the week. While going through the text altering certain plot points I’ve been coming across bits that just do not need to be so complicated and hacking them down or deleting them. A new character put in an appearance then was quickly disappeared. And then there are those bits of text where the motor has been idling while a clear the ice off the windscreen – often rambling and sometimes repetitive – and they have to go too.

This slowing down process always happens with me at the end of a book. It’s the start of moving into the editorial phase. It’s also even more involved this time because I’m not only altering and deleting stuff in Penny Royal II but in Penny Royal I as well. It’s all very necessary because, near the end, I don’t want you skipping stuff because you’re thinking, ‘What the hell happened then?’ or the even worse, ‘Oh get on with it will you!’

And at the BBC...

I guess the fact that they were put through the mangle over cutting that program about Jimmy Saville led program makers to feel they had carte blanche on the next target. The complete lack of judgement kicked in as soon as they heard the words ‘Thatcher’ and ‘Tory’. All this was of course exacerbated by a complete lack of sensible oversight. Yeah, George Entwistle needed to resign because quite obviously he wasn’t worth his huge salary. But next a sharp knife is needed to cut out some of the diseased wood. It’s easy enough to spot – just check on who regularly buys the Guardian. No, strike that, it’s probably paid for out of our licence fee and then distributed free in Broadcasting House.

Oh, and I’m seeing twitters about how this is distracting from the child abuse. Do these people think that being accused of paedophilia isn’t abuse too?  

Thursday, November 08, 2012

The Cutting Room Floor 1

While in the process of writing a book I occasionally reach a point where, having just written a large block of text, I decide, on reflection, I've been heading in the wrong direction. Sometimes this text is amenable to some heavy editing, and sometimes it just has to be cut out like a growing tumour. Thing is, I’m a bit of a hoarder, and am reluctant to throw something away I’ve spent work on. So, what I do is drop said block of text into a file called ‘BitsSF’. Sometimes I’ll go back to that file when I want to start something new, maybe a short story, another book, but not often.

Anyway, I just tweeted ‘Okay, so what shall I blog about now? Any bright ideas?’ whereupon a guy called Robert Annett replied, ‘What about some extracts from the cutting room floor?’ I do believe I’ve done this before, but it’s still a good idea. Here’s a small piece from BitsSF for you, warts an’ all:

The NEJ’s weapons carousel was much more complicated than the name implied. It spanned the nose of the ship between nacelles and not only offered up selected weapons to the various launchers within those nacelles, but was also an autofactory in itself. From this complex of packed moving machinery and shifting linked belts carrying the ship’s armament, Jack could select a variety of missiles and also customize them to specific purposes. Here there were also facilities to make entirely new weapons to the AI’s specifications. It was all either automated or utterly under Jack’s control. There was no room in there for human beings – they would have been minced by the machinery.
Standing in a corridor that ran beside the bulkhead to the rear of the carousels, Cormac glanced at Blegg and smiled.

More later.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012


While we were in Crete I got an email from Jude Feldman who is the general manager at Borderland Books in San Francisco. A customer was trying to obtain a copy of Mindgames: Fool’s Mate. While I couldn’t provide Jude with said book I did let her know about the publication of The Departure, Zero Point and Jupiter War by Night Shade Books in America, told her how nice it was to see my books selling well in Borderlands (ego search of course) and in return received the nice email below:

Jude Feldman
General Manager
Borderlands Books
866 Valencia St.
San Francisco  CA 94110
415 824-8203

Glad to hear those titles will be coming from Nightshade!  We like working with them, they are local, and of course when they publish your books it is a lot faster for us to get them than when we have to import them from the UK.  As to our bestseller list, you are a frequent guest there.  Every time you have a new release, a dedicated group of customers (including the store's owner and several of our staff members) sets up what is essentially a vigil, checking with us every afternoon to see if the post (and therefore your new title) has arrived yet.  It's not quite a bank holiday when the books do arrive, but it might as well be, because at least a handful of those folks stay up all night reading and skip work the next day. 

There are only a small number of authors who inspire that kind of loyalty, so although it is completely understandable, it's pretty heartening for a bookseller to watch.

Thanks for your work.


Monday, November 05, 2012


Yesterday wasn’t a very good day. I managed to leave our freezer open all night and now it has apparently packed up, I dropped hot cigarette ash on a new blanket Caroline had bought in Crete, and then I had the horrible misfortune of watching Ridley Scott’s Prometheus.


What a spectacular failure this film was. It had many superbly cool elements in it that should have had the SF nerd in me squealing with delight, but unfortunately they were delivered with such a lack of coherence I started to lose the will to live about halfway in. This was a bad film and now I will talk about why I think it was bad so, if you haven’t seen it and haven’t noticed the spoiler warning above, stop reading now. And let me point out now before anyone offers explanations: yeah, I probably missed picking up on some of the exposition. That was because I failed to care.

Where to begin? How about starting with an octopus creature removed from a woman’s body by auto-surgery? This thing started off at about the size of a human fist and in a matter of hours grew into something the size of a car. Did it eat the auto-surgery? This was something that annoyed me in the original Alien film. I later discovered that the original script contained stuff about food stores being raided, but that 'detail' not appearing in the finished film was a fuck up.

Move on then to the female this thing was removed from. Apparently, along the way, she acquired super powers that enabled her to run like the wind and leap chasms with her torso sliced open and then stapled together again. Perhaps it was the power of her faith that kept her going – the same faith that made her realise that the ‘engineers’ had invited humanity to their home world. Oh sorry, that was wrong. Apparently these engineers had left messages throughout human history indicating the position of some sort of weapons dump or military research facility. Why?

Why did the android infect one of the scientists (archaeologists, whatever) with the stuff from pots scattered inconveniently across a floor like alien eggs? Because his delicate sensibilities were offended? Putting aside the sheer silliness of this infection turning said scientist into an octopus seed carrier, can I just point out that frying him with a flame thrower seemed like a rather extreme and irrational response? But then none of these people were behaving rationally anyway and no motivations were clear. Why did two of our intrepid explorers stay in that building? To get rich? Or to provide us with the convenient cliché of the idiots who wander off in the territory of monsters? Why did one of them then suddenly start treating a creature that seemed a by-blow of a snake and a flatworm as if it was Tiddles the family cat?

What was going on with that fucking big head? Yeah, I can see that the need was felt for a rehash of scenes from the Alien films with talking heads scattered about, but come on. So, this engineer’s head, severed apparently for a couple of thousand years and failing to decay, gets somehow zapped into life, bleeds a bit, bubbles up like an accelerated boil and then explodes. Why?

Then we have one of the cliché idiots coming back to the ship after having his snake pet wiggle into his mouth. He’d undergone a similar transformation to flame thrower man but in his case, instead of turning suicidal, he turned psychotic and started killing everyone. Why?

Now let’s look at the ending. Along the way our intrepid heroes have learnt that underneath that building is an alien ship apparently full of bioweapons to be used against Earth. How they learned this is a mystery. Apparently, the all-knowing Alien films android cipher learned this but I didn’t spot him telling anyone earlier on. These weapons are to be used to clean the slate to ‘start again’, so he later told super woman. Why would you want to spread something across Earth that seems to generate all sorts of fast evolving life forms that are as hostile to you as anything else? Now, I could think of explanations for this just as I could think of explanations for so much in this film. I could write this as an off-shoot of some war between two factions of the engineers. But that’s not my fucking job!

Moving on… super woman runs back from the launching alien ship and, over suit radio, tells the captain of the Prometheus that if the alien ship gets away there won’t be any Earth left to go back to. This guy is then apparently so convinced he decides to be a suicidal hero by crashing Prometheus into the alien ship. His two crewmen go with him because … well because obviously you at once decide to kill yourself at the babbled behest of someone with a torso of steel. Where they on fucking drugs?

This film was a colander of plot holes, undeveloped characters who did stuff without motivation (and who I failed to give a shit about), crap story-telling, and Alien films clichés and rehashes. It was visually beautiful and special effects were superb, but we’re past the time when the new gobsmacking stuff like that was enough because now everyone can do it and it’s time to return to the real foundation of such entertainment, which is story-telling. And finally, and most annoyingly of all and most sad, it could have been brilliant. 

Very disappointing.      

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Complete Genomics

Interesting article and video clip over at Singularity Hub...

Reid expects single cell sequencing to be commercially available within two years, and he’s very optimistic about the potential of whole genome sequencing in the fight against cancer. “I don’t think my kids are going to worry about cancer. I think we’re going to nail it in my lifetime. We’re never going to be able to stamp it out [completely] because they are mutations, and mutations are going to happen. But we’re going to be able to treat it. We’re going to turn cancer into a chronic disease, not a death sentence.”

Saturday, November 03, 2012


Bloody hell!

Gene Therapy

One of our habits/traditions in England has been weekend papers, read in bed (with tea and coffee and cigarettes for a healthy start to the day). Previously we’ve had these delivered but now that delivery costs more than the papers themselves we’ve started going to fetch them. I enjoy a chuckle at Clarkson, read some of the politics, skip over the celebrity stuff then Caroline removes the puzzle pages which we take off to Crete. This morning, out of all the articles about the economy, Europe, whatever, the one that really caught my attention was a small column quite a number of pages in. It was the most important article there and it was about this:

Regulators yesterday approved the first therapy in the western world that can correct errors in a person’s genetic code.

Europe has approved Glybera to be used against a rare inherited disorder which disrupts fat production in the body.

The treatment uses a virus to counteract LPLD, lipoprotein lipase deficiency, which can led to acute inflammation of the pancreas.

I can remember when this was confined to science fiction and the most speculative science articles about what it might be possible to do (Remember that chat between Roy and Tyrell in Bladerunner?). I can remember when this was a future possibility but maybe in ten or fifteen years if massive hurdles could be leapt. This is about changing something as ineluctable as fate: genetic predestination; the hand of cards you were dealt with in the womb and could never change. 

Friday, November 02, 2012

Writing Update: Penny Royal II

Penny Royal II is now past 122,000 words and I’m slowing down a little as I enter the home straight. This is because I have had to go back to alter and add or delete plot elements, even in the previous book, to ensure things lock together. For example, I found it necessary to go back to the start of this book and have a particular entity, with a soft and changing body, undergoing radical surgery to install a ceramal skeleton. Other alterations required are about emphasis. I need to ensure that some King’s Guard warships are seen as very powerful, while an ancient factory station is outdated and vulnerable. I also need to concentrate on the internal life of a particular war drone so the reader understands its motivations.

All this is pretty much a tidying up exercise. When you write fast to produce a massive uproarious story some things fall by the wayside – you drop the ball and have to go back and pick it up. You forget things, like I forgot that a particular prador controlled a number of skeletal Golem, and I also forgot that a Penny Royal Golem is along for the ride. I need to elaborate on how a renegade prador reproduces (incidentally there’s more in this about prador biology and society: prador females, mating, fourth-children). And thinking about the next book, I might have to add something about a black hole and something called ‘the black hole paradox’.

Righto, back to work.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Cancer Deaths

The main news story on breakfast news this morning is about lung cancer now being the main cause of cancer death in women. This is obviously a terrible thing, isn’t it? A doctor came on explaining the demographics: many decades ago more men than women smoked and now we are seeing the results of women catching up in that respect. He pointed out that there is usually a large delay between smoking and this kind of cancer death, though neglected to mention that the delay is often a life-long one. Deep in this blog you’ll find a graph with lung cancer deaths along one axis and age along the other. People can die of it at any age, but the bulk of them die when they’re over 70. Now, while death of any kind is a terrible thing, are these new statistics a terrible thing too?

That many people die of cancer now is because they’re not dying of the killers of the past. Anyone who has done some research into family history will know about that. Consider for a moment the possibility that an increase in lung cancer deaths in women in the above demographic might be because many of them are not dying of something else. In fact the woman they had on the show had been cured of breast cancer before her lung cancer was discovered. Breast screening, smear tests and the resultant treatments have hammered those kinds of cancers and, of course, the most difficult one to cure remains. Life is 100% fatal – remember that next time some of these TV dipsticks start shouting statistics at you. It is arguable then, that this increase in deaths from lung cancer can be seen in a positive light.

Let me illustrate: Kevlar vests are introduced during a war. Statisticians bemoan the increase in the number of deaths from head wounds.

Monday, October 29, 2012

SF Wars

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

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

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Downton Abbey

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

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

Friday, October 26, 2012

Jerry Bauer

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

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Maria Tsouraki-Antonakaki

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Packing Up

Wednesday 17th October

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Beaches and Booze

Wednesday 10th October

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Deadwood and Parasites?

Wednesday 3rd October

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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