Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Thinking About Buying a Smartphone.

Okay, I’m thinking about buying a decent smartphone but, before I waffle on about that, let me get something straight. All I have ever used is a simple mobile phone for making phone calls. The only reason I bothered with one was because in Crete we don’t have a phone line since with the few calls we make it’s hardly worth paying the line rental. It was also the case that doing so was pointless for Internet because, apparently, there was no broadband up in the mountains where we were. (It is possible that there is but OTE didn’t want you to know that, preferring to sell you a year’s dial-up Internet then sell you broadband on top of that. The phone company there is as corrupt as the rest of everything in Greece.)

So, smartphones and what do I want? I’m trying to clarify my thoughts on this and, frankly, I don’t know what these phones are capable of.

I want to be able to get onto the Internet in Internet bars and cafes. I want to be able to twitter and send and receive emails when away from such access and in such circumstances I don’t want to be paying set costs for tweets and emails or be spending a lot of time connected to the Internet through the mobile network.  I want to send all this stuff as text messages (which apparently discounts Virgin and T-Mobile as they are not carriers on Twitter).

I don’t want to have to type these tweets, blogs and emails through the keypad or touchscreen of the phone. I would like to be able to plug it into my laptop where I have typed them, load these to the phone to later send either through the mobile network or Internet connection. In effect I want to use the much more easy-to-use keyboard on my laptop and I don’t want that phone on for long. I don’t want to be tied into a contract; I would rather have pay-as-you-go. This is mainly because I will mainly be using this phone in Crete – I don’t want to be paying monthly for the five months here when I simply won’t use the phone.

What do you think? (And keep it simple)

Monday, January 30, 2012

Science Fiction Singularity

I had gone off Horizon programs because of how dumbed down they’ve been, how so often they were lacking in content – what content they had often being spread over an hour when, if you cut out all the pointless camera shots, they might have filled twenty minutes – and by the frequent righteous environmental preaching. However, I did record one called ‘Playing God’ (a title that put me off straight away), and enjoyed it immensely.   

This was about synthetic biology – essentially genetic modification – and how far advanced it is now. In the program we see the spider goat – a goat that produces a useful spider silk in its milk – and a pre-production plant for making diesel from GM yeast as simply as alcohol is made from the normal kind. The advances are coming at an ever increasing pace what with people being able to do this stuff in home labs. They can buy ‘bricks’ which are chunks of DNA that express certain characteristics, over the Internet, and mix and match them. For example, a bunch of enthusiasts pasted a jellyfish gene into e-coli to make luminescent bacteria – this in the kind of lab any of us could put together in a garden shed.

This is massive; this is a game changer. As the presenter noted this is like Bill Gates putting together a computer in his garage.

Of course the presenter had to whiffle on about the ethics of it all and whether it should be done. All the objections were based on either the Abrahamic religions or the ones springing from the Church of Environmentalism, and of course the terror of change they like to stir up. However, it is far too late to put this one back in the box.

It has been said (well by me at least) that nothing dates faster than science fiction, and this program brought it home to me. In science fiction there’s a lot of talk about various kinds of singularity. It’s usually related to the creation of AI and is seen as an ‘intellectual event horizon, beyond which the future becomes difficult to understand or predict’. It occurs to me that science fiction itself is facing its own singularity of exactly the same kind. We’ve reached the stage now where between writing a book and it being published, part or all of the content of that book can go out of date. Of course with e-books the gap between writing and publishing can be closed but, in maybe just a little time, we’ll reach the point where even as we speculate or extrapolate we will be going out of date, then the point when we’ll simply be well behind the curve.

There has been (for a very long time) much talk about ‘the death of science fiction’.  Maybe that will occur when the need for sensawunda, which we all look for in SF, is supplied by the news every day, or even in our day-to-day lives. If that happens I’m not sure I’ll be particularly upset about it.   

Friday, January 27, 2012

Loony Tunes

Bloody hell, it’s pouring out of me. It’s 3.25PM as I write this and I’ve done my 2,000 words despite having taken an 8-mile cycle ride and despite twittering like a canary. I think this might be due to the constraints I had to write under with The Departure, Zero Point and Jupiter War. In those books I was writing about the near future and necessarily had to limit myself to technology that was a few steps back from A C Clarke's Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Further constraints of course kicked in with the later books because they had to relate to the previous ones. The whole story was set in our solar system too so I couldn’t let myself go with weird ecologies nor could I march in any acid-spitting monsters, or creatures with multiple stages of life, or giant tentacled fish.

Now it’s different. Now I have the feeling I experienced most with The Skinner, in varying degrees throughout the other books (the next one I felt it most being Brass man). That feeling is fuck it, I want to get really weird, I don’t want constraints, I’m going stick down every bizarre idea that comes to me, run with it and try to weave it all together. This is why Tuppence, Dr Whip and Harriet are now on the scene. These are, respectively, the captain of an ancient prador cargo-hauler who we see in avatar form but who is also something … monstrous; a pale tall doctor who was once adjusted by Penny Royal and who never takes off his sunglasses; and an exotic dancer who has transformed herself into a troodon dinosaur, and likes eating people.

Feeling a bit loony today.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Maldon Prom

We took a little walk around the Maldon prom a couple of weeks ago. Here's a few pictures:

Maldon on the mud.

Thames barges.

This is where they have the Maldon mud race.

More boats.

HSE haven't found this yet.

View back towards Maldon from the prom.

The prom lake, which used to be a swimming lake that thousands visited every summer until some berk dived in (ignoring the presence of 'No Diving ' signs), smacked his head on a post and died. Subsequent involvement of the HSE and a compensation claim closed the lake to swimming. Congratulation all round. 

The statue of Byrhtnoth a 10th century leader under Ethelred whose claim to fame is getting spanked by the Vikings. Erected in honour of council leaders who were wondering how next to blow a silly amount of money.

Steam boat.

Him again.

I needed chips. It was bloody cold.

16th century pub, with a parrot.

Maldon high street.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Stem Cell Success

Hitting the sack last night to read for a while I did not get to see the 10.00 o’clock news (probably a good idea) but I did hear some mention of a stem cells success. On Twitter this morning I picked up on a story about two people, who were losing their sight, being treated with embryonic stem cells. One of them, a 51-year old graphic artist who was ‘legally blind’ i.e. could read nothing on an eye-chart, and a 78-year old suffering from macular degeneration.

A week after having cells derived from a days-old embryo injected into her eye, the graphic artist could count fingers, and after one month she could read the top five letters on the eye chart. She can see more colour and contrast, has started using her computer, and for the first time in years can read her watch and thread a needle. The macular degeneration patient recently went to the mall for the first time in years.

There’s some about the possible dangers of using stem cells in the article, how they can differentiate into the wrong sort of cell. I read a story somewhere (which might be apocryphal) of someone being treated for Alzheimer’s and ending up with bone growing inside their brain. Then there are the moral issues. Being an atheist myself and more inclined to the idea that intelligence is more to be valued than species this is not an issue to me. And isn’t it also the case that adult stem cells can now be used and that ways are already being found to multiply them?

This from 2006:
Researchers of the Whitehead Institute have discovered a way to multiply an adult stem cell 30-fold, an expansion that offers tremendous promise for treatments such as bone marrow transplants and perhaps even gene therapy.

"A 30-fold increase is ten times higher than anyone's achieved before," says Lodish, senior author on the paper.

Perhaps any biologists here or those who have read up on the subject can elaborate?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Errors in the Books

I’ve just been told by the nice lady who deals with the copy-editing on my books that they can and do correct mistakes in the books after publication. I have in fact asked if it would be possible to supplant all instances of ‘whilst’ in The Departure paperback with ‘while’. Now, can any of you come up with any errors in the books that you’ve spotted? I know that there was a typo in the first pages of Line War and one or two other errors have been pointed out to me, but these are buried somewhere deep in this blog.

If you do come up with any mistakes, please let me know exactly which issue it is of the book concerned – whether it’s the hardback, trade paperback, mass-market paperback, and which cover – since the page size and spacing may be different with each. An error on page five of the hardcover might appear on page four of the paperback.

Short Stories and Stuff

Well, it looks for sure like Piper’s Ash, who published Runcible Tales, has closed:

After some 40 years promoting new authors, we regret to say that we are now closing down our business. We wish new authors every success in the future with new publishers.

This means I now have a handful of short stories to go towards another collection: Always with You, Blue Holes, Dragon in the Flower, The Gire and the Bibrat & Walking John and Bird. Other stories that could be made part of a collection include Shell Game, The Cuisinart Effect, The Rhine’s World Incident and perhaps some others sitting in my files that are unrelated to the Polity (as most of these are) or Cowl (the Rhine’s World one).  The thing about The Gabble was that Peter Lavery asked me to confine myself to Polity stories so it fitted in with the rest of the Macmillan books, so I have plenty of other stories knocking about that don’t really fit anywhere.

Meanwhile, it’s lovely to discover that I’m right-wing (and probably a fascist) and that my writing is ‘a bit moronic’ and the ‘political anvils’ I drop into my work are naïve. This of course means that all of you who enjoy my books were too stupid to notice my obviously deep desire to stomp all over you with jackboots as opposed to, say, always protesting about big autocratic government. I never realized, but now it’s been made clear to me I will of course be off to get a swastika tattooed on my forehead. Surely it was clear that all the Polity books described the fascist state I wished we all lived in?

And meanwhile I’ll get back to Jupiter War, the last book in this Owner trilogy. I ask what I consider to be some serious questions, but these books are completely irrelevant. In failing to conform to correct political thought and not loving big state socialism I’m obviously as dumb as a box of spanners.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Writing Update

It didn’t take me very long to go through the copy-editing of Zero Point. There were a few questions asked to which the answers ranged from, ‘Yes, do it,’ to, ‘No, leave it alone’. What would you think the answer should be, for example, to changing EMR and EMF to EM radiation and EM field? The rest of it was all about house style. I had a momentary worry when I thought they might be deleting all my ellipses until I was informed they were supplanting them with just a more widely-spaced version. I also learned something about enquire/inquire (as used by Macmillan). The former is for general usage, the latter is used more for asking for information as part of a formal investigation. I really should have known this since the distinction is in their dictionary definitions.

Perhaps it’s time for me to pick up and read again Fowler’s Modern English Usage. Incidentally another much simpler book to read about this sort of stuff is Bill Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words, though in this case it doesn’t happen to make the distinction.

After finishing with Zero Point, also writing the acknowledgements and dedication, I was undecided for a while about how to proceed. I really needed to look at Jupiter War again, but was reluctant to get into another boring read-through when I was having so much fun with Penny Royal. I decided on the boring read-through, since it wasn’t going to just go away, and it’s going quite well. Little inconsistencies and conflicts that were niggling at the back of my mind it turns out I had already nailed, and the reading is easy. I’m now more than halfway through it and when I’m done I’ll print it up, hand it over to Caroline, then later go through it myself again, backwards.

Then it’s back to Penny Royal.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Super Massive Black Hole Power Plant

I just love this kind of thinking...

The structures of the power plant basically revolve around the central SMBH in Keplerian motion to form “Dyson Shells.” In an advanced case of Type II, the central star is almost fully covered to form “Dyson Sphere”. Here we discuss the case of structures partly covered, or the Dyson Shell type, and call it a Dyson Sphere. Unlike a stellar environment, or Type II Dyson Sphere, there are complex structures like relativistic jets, accretion disk and accreting matters, rapidly rotating stars, etc., and hence it would be very difficult to construct a fully covered structure, like a system studied by Birch over a large gaseous planet (e.g., Jupiter). However, it is not easy to set numbers of power plants with similar distance orbiting around the central SMBH. Hence, it would be a possible solution to set the power plants on a solid framework, something like structures studied by Birch. Some areas should be kept uncovered to yield emanating jets and accreting flows.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

More on the Departure

Having gone ‘ouch’ a few times after daring to venture a peek at the bad reviews on amazon and elsewhere, I’ve been having a little think. One of the main criticisms of The Departure seems to be the ‘political diatribes’ (or in one case ‘Thatcherite propaganda’) in my chapter starts. Admittedly I should have attributed them rather than let them stand, since some of them are from subnet bloggers and some from govnet bloggers. Anyway, that’s beside the point. I decided to do a little experiment with one of them by just changing a few words. This first one is directly from The Departure (shortened a little):

Once the Committee had firmly tightened its grip on Earth, it distributed wealth only on the basis of its own survival. In the beginning, ‘zero asset’ citizens received just enough to keep them fed, clothed and housed, whilst ‘societal assets’ could receive considerably more, calculated on the basis of their use to the Committee and how much more of a contribution could be derived from them by allowing them more. But the Committee itself sucked up the bulk of world wealth through building the infrastructure of utter control, and by maintaining its upper executives at a level of luxury never before witnessed on Earth.

And here’s another version:

Once the corporations and bankers had seized control of Earth from democratically elected governments, they distributed wealth only on the basis of their own survival. In the beginning, unemployed citizens received just enough to keep them fed, clothed and housed as a ‘labour pool’, while those employed in the corporations could receive considerably more, calculated on the basis of their usefulness and how much more of a contribution could be derived from them by allowing them more. But the corporations sucked up the bulk of world wealth through building the infrastructure of utter control, and by maintaining their upper executives at a level of luxury never before witnessed on Earth.

It would take me at best a week, mainly using find-and-replace, to completely flip this book over into the realms of ‘acceptability’. Sad but true.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Writing update

Macmillan emailed me the copy-edited version of Zero Point, along with a list of questions from the copy editor and also a request that I supply acknowledgements and a dedication. They want all these sorted and returned by the 31st which shouldn’t be a problem, though I will wait on the hard copy so I can sit down with paper and pen to work through it. It’s noticeable how, in the email version, they’re now using a marked-up PDF document and I reckon on that becoming the way things will be done in the future i.e. a saving will be made on printing and postage. I don’t suppose it will take me very long to get used to that.

As for the acknowledgements and dedication, they ask earlier on if I would like a couple of pages saved for them. I tend to say yes, even when I’m not sure who I might acknowledge or who or what I might dedicate the book to (and also be in danger of repeating myself) because I suspect they are a case of ‘use them or lose them’. I also feel that just going nah, I won’t bother, is a bit lazy.

So, Penny Royal is on 32,741 words and I’ll soon be abandoning it for a while to turn my attention to this editing. When I return to Penny Royal I’ll have to deal with a growing feeling of ‘time to introduce another character or twist’ – time in fact to do what Raymond Chandler did when he felt things needed ramping up. His approach was to walk in a man with a gun. My approach has structural similarities to that but might be ‘time to bring in a massive brass android with a penchant for ripping off people’s heads’ or ‘time to bring in the ancient and thoroughly unpleasant Golgoloth’.

It’s something I’ll have to ponder.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Neal Asher Video Clip 15/1/2012

Here's the latest. As always, further questions in the comments section below.


The other night we watched two episodes of something Caroline had taped – Borgen – then went on to watch another two episodes shown on Saturday night. It is a political drama set in Denmark and surprisingly, since it involves politicians, I’ve been enjoying it. Stuff like this perfectly illustrates how successful politicians will compromise their idealism to the point of non-existence so as to get their noses in the trough. We’ve seen this sort of stuff before in dramas like State of Play and House of Cards and in what can only loosely be described as a parody: Yes Minister.

The female who rises to the position of Prime Minister is an idealist politically-correct twat of the kind we know well from Labour’s years in power here. This being TV, which is dominated by lefty twats of a similar stripe, her initial portrayal couldn’t have been more saintly if she’d walked around with a CGI halo hovering above her head (I should also add that she was unbelievably naïve for someone so high up the greasy pole). Of course the good guys always want more welfare spending, love Islam and immigration, want to piss money away on International Development. Equally, those depicted as conservative or to the right are racist authoritarians with horns growing out of their heads.

However, I’m hoping this is not going to be too simplistic. Already our saint is finding it necessary to lie and cheat as she scrabbles for power. Quite possibly this will be a riff on the ‘power corrupts’ aphorism, or maybe even something more adult about how idealism fails when it impacts with reality. I will watch it to the end.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

25 Years!

Someone bought me a journal for 2012 with a blank page for every day. I had been filling in such journals for many years until a couple of years ago, when I asked for hardcover notebooks without a date on every page because I was getting behind (and bored with the daily recording of  my life) and most of my ‘warm-up’ writing started to go here on this blog. This morning, getting behind as usual, I waffled on back-filling empty pages and, while doing so, realized something: I’ve now been self-employed for 25 years. When I muttered something about this Caroline said, ‘Where’s it all gone?’ but I don’t feel like that. The last 25 years have been quite eventful.

I started paid work while still in school – at the weekends – and when I left school at age 16 I went straight into a full-time job in a factory making steel furniture. From there I progressed through various firms, acquiring a college certificate in ‘Mechanical and Production Engineering’. I worked for an aluminium boat and house window companies and a couple of other engineering companies, mainly using milling machines, but in the early eighties I was getting bored with that and broke away for a disastrous stint in a building company (it went skint owing me £600 in wages). A brief spell of unemployment was followed by me being seconded by someone to help clear up storm damage in ’87 and, thereafter seeing the financial possibilities and freedom of working for myself, I went self-employed.

Throughout all this I was writing of course, working my way up the small press ladder, taking an English A-level to prove a point just to myself, and gradually becoming more successful. I ran my own business cutting both domestic and council grass, cutting hedges, trees, laying concrete, building fences, repointing houses … the list is a long one. I occasionally worked for builders, delivered coal and skips, did bar work, rebuilt and sold a few motorbikes and cars. I met Caroline and moved into her flat (I wrote The Skinner in my first year there) and we then moved together to a bungalow (I have to wonder what people thought of the Sherpa truck parked outside) and then, in 1999-2000 by synopsis and sample chapters of Gridlinked hit at Macmillan.

I continued with the grass-cutting etc. for another year (or two?) then went over fully to writing. Since then we’ve bought a house in Crete, and I did a lot of work on it myself. I’ve had about 20 books published, now live in Crete for 7 months of the year and have had both enjoyable and traumatic experiences throughout the whole process.

Looking back to ’87 I see that figure in some woodland in the pissing rain cutting up fallen branches with a bow-saw. He just had no idea…

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The New Space Opera

I do have a bad habit with anthologies I’ve been published in. I tend to receive them then stick them on a shelf as eye-candy yet, of course, they probably contain lots of stories I would like to read. The other day I changed that habit by picking up The New Space Opera edited by Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan. It contains a story by me called Shell Game, and has been sitting on my shelf since 2009. I did enjoy this and out of the 19 stories enclosed there were only two I didn’t finish and maybe only a couple more I finished with a ‘meh’. Particular highlights for me were the stories by Robert Charles Wilson, Peter Watts, Kristine Kathryne Rusch, Jay Lake, Sean Williams, John Meaney, Elizabeth Moon and John Scalzi.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Follow Friday, Apparently

So, I just passed 30,000 words on Penny Royal (having been slowed up over the last two days by feeling crap). The backstory I previously mentioned is now at about 29,000 words and looks likely to turn into a book by itself. What more can I say? Nothing. I don’t want come-backs of the, ‘But you said so-and-so was going to happen’ kind. Everything is up in the air at the moment and I’m just writing where the fancy takes me.

People have been recommending me for a ‘Shorty Award’ on Twitter. After contemplating getting my stilettos out of the wardrobe I realized that this is for ‘producers of the best short content on social media’. Since this is Twitter I’m wondering about the redundancy of the word ‘short’. I went over to the site concerned where there was a questionnaire for me to fill in. I don’t suppose they wanted the kind of answer I gave to their question about a hash tag thingy I would like to see more of: #facesICouldNeverTireOfPunching. Today I’ve discovered that #FF means ‘Follow Friday’ wherein people recommend other people to follow. What a strange introverted place the Twitterverse can be.

Another social media site I’ve signed up on is Google+, but with a sigh, desultory attempts at posting and swift fuck-off flashes of irritation when I encountered problems. I think I’m suffering from social media fatigue #SMF … or something.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Video Clips

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of those video clips. I’m told by various people that they like them but, unfortunately, I’m not getting enough questions. Here are the questions in the comments of the previous clip:

ChrisW: You've probably answered this before somewhere, so feel free to ignore, but, what's up with "The Departure"(the HB not the eBook) not being available/published in the USA? Is it going the way of "The Line of Polity"?

Still annoys me that when I look at my Asher shelve that there is no Line HB. Bloody publishers! :)

Spaceoperaghost: Will you ever expand on the story of The Quiet War?

Taylor Preston: When you write, do you revise/edit as you go or do you just hammer out the first draft before you put pen to paper and start making changes? I know you've said before you don't normally outline, so I'm wondering how much revision you end up doing and how you go about it.

Huan: What size are Amistad and Sniper?

arj209: Have you reached the lofty heights of stardom of being recognised in the streets?

Friso: Your Wikipedia article mentions "runcible" is an homage to ansible. Is that how you intended it?

Thezzphai: In an interview you talked about your next Polity book possibly being called "Penny Royal". Can you already tell something about the content (pretty please) and when it will be released approximately? Are you already working on it or is it just an idea for the time being?

The last one here has been answered and is being answered on the blog but I suppose I can go over it again a bit, and the first one here is just a ‘don’t know’ but I guess I could waffle on about the subject for a bit. But I could do with some more questions. Please append some in the comments below. Oh, and I’m saving this one from the last post for the next clip too:

Chrish: ‘I’m finding the writing ridiculously easy (which is worrying)’. I'm puzzled, why worrying?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Writing Update

I’m starting to get the feeling that Penny Royal is struggling to turn into something larger. I started out by jotting down backstory involving the prador/human war and some later events concerning my main character. Then I moved on and wrote a piece of the ‘present day’ story. Next returning to the backstory I began filling it in, also having some ideas concerning hooders that were just too juicy to resist. The ‘present day’ piece is just over 1,000 words long while the backstory is 25,000 words long. Ahem.

That backstory has also grown because of the necessity for conflict, and has grown in much the same way as the ‘B’ plotline for Gridlinked. Let me just revisit that for a moment:

I submitted a sample and synopsis of Gridlinked to Macmillan at the end of 1999 and received a request for the whole book shortly afterwards, which I sent by email. At the time Gridlinked was 65,000 words long and I knew it was too short for present day publication requirements. I suggested, by email, that I could expand it – maybe put in more about the doings of the villains in the story. Meanwhile that email crossed one on the way back with a reader’s report from Simon Kavanagh (now an author’s agent): it’s too short and maybe I should expand the B plotline i.e. the story of the villains. I did as requested, expanding Gridlinked to 135,000 words in, I think, about two or three weeks. Peter Lavery at Macmillan expected a load of padded crap, what he got instead was Mr Crane (who wasn’t in the original version).  

In Penny Royal I’ve been concentrating on a villain – someone who encountered Penny Royal during its time in the Graveyard. I’m finding the writing ridiculously easy (which is worrying) and am starting to contemplate the idea of introducing other characters like her (Isobel Satomi), who have experienced similar encounters with Penny Royal. I can’t really say much more than this … well, I can add that prador and hooders have joined the cast, along with second-child ship minds, shell people, a heavyworlder thug, Jebel U-cap Krong and Sylac (who some may remember from Gridlinked and Prador Moon).

I’d like to get back to work now, but again I’ve got a sty in my eye and feel like crap. Concentrating on a screen ain’t helping.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Dreams and Nightmares

Damn but I wish I had dreams, and nightmares, more often. Last night I was chasing sheep off a vegetable patch I had in my parent’s garden whereupon I came upon a really tough cobweb made by a large green spider. When I cut the web it collapsed into a powerful spring. When I showed this spring to Steven Spielberg he didn’t believe me, so I threw part of it at him and told him to get it analysed. Next I was in a toilet in which the urinals and toilet bowl folded out from concealment, which was good, because they were filthy. There I found another web and another spider, though this spider was larger and covered in flowers. The spiders then made a perfectly natural transformation into worms I kept in a pencil packet and thereafter things got a bit chaotic…

Why do I wish for more dreams and even nightmares? Consider a nightmare I had many years ago. I was on an island covered in jungle, stepped onto a bridge over a stream and saw what looked like trout in the clear flow of water. Then one of the trout lifted its tubular thread-cutting mouth out of the water and I realized it was a leech. Retreating to the beach lying before a wall of jungle I saw long spidery blue hands reaching out and grapping someone (it might have been me – you know how jumbled nightmares are). Later this person was found, still alive, without his skin… I think you can work out where this one went.

Another nightmare involved being trapped in a cellar. The floor of the cellar was mud I was fighting not to sink into, and while struggling I realized the mud was actually alive. Next, out of the darkness came something moving like and ape. It turned out to be the still living body of a man, headless and chopped off at the waist. But he was okay because I knew he was there to help me. This nightmare I turned into a story called The Halfman’s Cellar which got me ‘honourable mention’ in the ‘Writers of the Future’ contest in 1991 and was published in a magazine called Scheherazade in 1994.

So what do I need to do, eat more cheese or something?

Monday, January 09, 2012

Brass Man

Thanks to Geoff Utley for this picture. It seems that Barnes & Noble might be a little bit behind the curve, but nice to see this anyway.

Brass Man on Amazon, Kindle & Book Depository.

The knight errant Anderson is hunting a dragon on the primitive Out-Polity world of Cull, little knowing that far away a man has resurrected a brass killing machine to assist in a similar hunt that encompasses star systems. When agent Cormac learns that an old enemy still lives, he sets out in pursuit aboard the attack ship Jack Ketch … whilst scientist Mika begins discovering the horrifying truth about that ancient technology ostensibly produced by the alien Jain, who died out five million years ago.

On a planet roamed by ferocious insectile monsters the people of Cull must struggle to survive, while they build the industrial base to reach their forefathers’ starship still orbiting far above them. An entity calling itself Dragon assists them, but its motives are questionable having created genetic by-blows of humans and the hideous local monsters, before growing bored with that game. And now Cull, for millennia geologically inactive, suffers earthquakes…

Meanwhile a brass killing machine seeks to escape a bloody past it can neither forget nor truly remember. It mindlessly continues its search for sanity, which it might find in an instant or not for a thousand years…

Sunday, January 08, 2012


Now this is why I don't just go for that SF buzzword prefix 'nano'. It's great for 'technology indistinguishable from magic' but with just a little thought you soon realize that microscopic robots should come first and will be very useful. For example, dealing with cancer doesn't have to be a nanoscale operation unless you actually want to repair the DNA faults responsible. Microbots in the body should be able to nip in and zap the relevant cells.

Journal of Applied Physics - Precise manipulation of a microrobot in the pulsatile flow of human blood vessels using magnetic navigation system (3 pages)

There are many other researchers working on bloodstream robots but we are still about 3 to 5 years away from clinical use because of the regulatory timeline.

Super-Soldier Ants

Over at The Register:

Ants can grow from larvae into many different bodily types, including soldiers, workers, or queens, depending on how they are fed and raised within the colony. The team analyzed the genetic structure of the supersoldiers and found the mechanism for their growth, a juvenile hormone.

When the team applied the hormone to larvae from these species, they found it easy to create the super soldiers. The surprise came when they tried a similar technique with species that don’t normally produce such heavy soldiers. They found that they could still create supersoldiers in these species, by activating genotypes from a common ancestor of the pheidole genus.

Ah, meat and bread for the science fiction writer. Sort of makes me think about Pournelle and Niven's The Mote in God's Eye. It also makes me think about a battle version of the Brumallians in Hilldiggers.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

About Those Breast Implants...

So, the moment I heard this story about possible problems with industrial-grade silicon breast implants my knee-jerk reaction was, ‘Hey, you wanna buy bigger tits in France then that’s your problem and I shouldn’t have to pay for it!’ Then I thought about it for a bit and completely changed my mind. I’m guessing that someone who has shelled out for breast implants in France is someone with cash to spare on cosmetic surgery and is unlikely to be a dole scrounging parasite. Therefore, it is probably the case that they’ve been paying into the NHS, and quite likely they have paid in a damned sight more than they’ve had in return, so why shouldn’t they have medical care if there’s a problem with those implants?


NHS doctors do not have the right to lecture us on our lifestyle choices or refuse care. They especially do not have that right when we are forced to pay them. I’ve written this before but I'll write it again: it is like going into a chemist’s to buy Aspirin, paying your money, then being asked why you need the pills. When you say you have a hangover the assistant replies, ‘You shouldn’t drink so much and, because you have, that’s your own fault so I’m not giving you your Aspirin, but I’m keeping your money.’

Of course while this has been going on some NHS berk was on TV connecting these breast implants to smoking and drinking. ‘The NHS has to pay for smokers and drinkers!’ she said, righteously offended. Okay, so the NHS has gone out and earned its own money has it? And it is now having to shell out on those evil smokers and drinkers is it? Erm, no, Mrs NHS Berk, that’s OUR money you’ve got there. We gave it to you on the basis that you would look after us when we’re ill. I don’t recollect anything about you being able to pillory people who aren’t behaving as you would wish. You can’t start changing the rules after the fact.

Incidentally, smokers provide huge revenue for the government and, no matter how the righteous try to twist the figures, they cost the NHS less than non-smokers. Did you think dying young was more expensive than the cost keeping you dribbling and in incontinence pants in an OAP home?  

This is a long and slippery slope, whatever your opinion about smoking and drinking, or fat people (or rather, how much you have responded to the constant indoctrination, de-normalization and demonization from NGOs, government and the NHS itself). Where does it stop? Why, for example, should we pay for the rescue and care of a climber who has fallen off a mountain? Why should we pay for any sports injury? Why should we pay for maternity stuff and childcare? I mean, having children is a lifestyle choice nowadays, isn't it? Why should we pay for that guy cutting off his finger – he obviously wasn’t paying attention when using that Stanley knife. Why should we pay for that woman with malaria? It’s her fault she went on holiday. Why should we pay for that guy with AIDs? He should have used a condom. In fact, on that basis, we shouldn’t pay for any STDs.

And so continue the excuses for refusing treatment because a socialist experiment is, as always, running out of money.

The NHS was supposed to be free for all UK citizens at the point of use, but it is not. Foreigners get treatment they’ve paid nothing towards. We get charged exorbitant prices for medications that can be bought over-the-counter in other countries for a fraction of the cost. NHS dental care costs the same as private dental care elsewhere. Prescription charges are uneven, applying in England but not if you happen to live anywhere else in the UK. The NHS should be broken up and privatised and the only enforced requirement for UK citizens should be medical insurance, which would lead to real choices about your medical care. And, if that happened, the dependence on customer money rather than ‘free government money’ would rapidly shut up such righteous pricks like Mrs NHS Berk.

Friday, January 06, 2012

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

We went to watch The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo yesterday – a film we were looking forward to after seeing that Daniel Craig was in it, and after one glimpse at the actress playing Lisbeth Salander. The title sequence was gobsmacking: James Bondish but in an oily and dark and somewhat disturbing way, thereafter I found the music a bit annoying at first and got that feeling of, ‘Oh dear, they’re doing the intrusive music to cover the crap content,’ but this turned out not to be the case.

As Blomkvist Daniel Craig was excellent, but then he’s excellent in just about any role he takes, though of course he is always Daniel Craig. I’d add that he was excellent in Quantum of Solace and that the reason the film was crap had more to do with the story and direction. Rooney Mara, as Salander, was simply brilliant. I think my criticism of the Swedish version was that both these roles weren’t filled adequately and, certainly, the Salander of that version wasn’t anywhere near enough as edgy, dangerous and disturbing. I reckon it was Mara’s bleached eyebrows that tipped it. The rest of the cast were great too. Christopher Plumber of course could be relied on to deliver the goods, and Salander’s new guardian did a very good job of being thoroughly detestable.

I could see where bits of the book had been excised and I could understand the reasons why. A large book of course has to be cut to fit into the film format and the need for the plot to head in a relatively straight line to the end. I was slightly annoyed by the cutting of what I will call the ‘Australian bit’ but even then could see why it might have been removed. It didn’t fit the tone and texture of the film and was, in essence, after the dramatic ending - subtext.

Thoroughly recommended.  

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Writing Update

And another 2,000+ words written today. How many times should I repeat this before you all get bored with it? Anyway, I’ve now reached the stage where I’ve got nine sections, or episodes of the story, chronologically ordered in a large lump of text 17,000 or so words long over 26 pages. I also have a contents list which details what I have, with one brief line describing each section. (I use this list to keep track of the story. I then copy it when I’ve finished and convert it first into a long synopsis, then that into a short synopsis, then that into cover blurbs)

Now it’s time to start deciding how I’m going to structure the book. Usually I divide up what I’ve written into about ten pages per chapter, but in this case I might be working slightly differently, in fact more like I did with Brass Man. A lot of what I am writing now is, essentially, backstory. I’m considering making these sections into ‘retroacts’ to start off each chapter, or to insert where relevant in the current story as reveals. This backstory also comes from two perspectives, so there will also be opportunities, in those reveals, to show stark contrasts.

So far as I plan, the story itself begins during the prador/human war (that backstory), then continues just after the events on Masada in The Technician. So far. Maybe I’ll end up just writing my way through to that point, I’m certainly enjoying myself at the moment. And maybe you’ll end up with more than one book.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Resolution ... well, sort of.

At last, Christmas is over, the New Year is beginning and I can get on… I quite often feel like that at this time of year and, since this is resolution time, many other do too. Now the compulsory gorging, socialising and alcohol excess has come to an end. Now it’s time to sober up and look at the costs.

The first cost I noted last night. Unable to get to sleep I sat up reading a book. While reading I looked down at my torso and noted that it’s measurement front to back is now more than the one from side to side. This is despite doing twenty sit-ups and press-ups every morning for months, and cycling 16 to 24 miles a week. It really is time for me to do something about my big fat gut.

January is our zero alcohol month so that’ll knock off the calories, prove to myself that I’m not an unrecoverable alcoholic and allow my liver to recover… Then again, I read recently an article titled ‘Janopause detox does more harm than good’. Apparently ‘doctors say’ this is medically futile and fails to rejuvenate the liver. Yet, the liver does regenerate very quickly so how can a month off the booze not be a good thing? Of course, reading between the lines it soon becomes evident that this is an article patched together by the anti-alcohol lobby – the kind of people who want the pointless minimum pricing on alcohol. Taking a month off apparently encourages people, who are of course all idiots, to think that they are immune to the effects of alcohol for the rest of the year. And we must all stick to the government advised limit on alcohol units … oh yeah, let’s revisit that (have to pay to see it now):

The safe limits were introduced in 1987 after the Royal College of Physicians produced its first health report on alcohol misuse. In A Great and Growing Evil: The Medical Consequences of Alcohol Abuse, the college warned that a host of medical problems – including liver disease, strokes, heart disease, brain disease and infertility – were associated with excessive drinking. The report was the most significant study into alcohol-related disorders to date.

But Richard Smith, the former editor of the British Medical Journal and a member of the college’s working party on alcohol, told The Times yesterday that the figures were not based on any clear evidence. He remembers “rather vividly” what happened when the discussion came round to whether the group should recommend safe limits for men and women.

“David Barker was the epidemiologist on the committee and his line was that ‘We don’t really have any decent data whatsoever. It’s impossible to say what’s safe and what isn’t’.

“And other people said, ‘Well, that’s not much use. If somebody comes to see you and says ‘What can I safely drink?’ you can’t say ‘Well, we’ve no evidence. Come back in 20 years and we’ll let you know’. So the feeling was that we ought to come up with something. So those limits were really plucked out of the air. They weren’t really based on any firm evidence at all.

In fact, take a look at this bit of QI on this matter, then google the subject and try to find anything about this in the righteous bansturbation proliferating across the Internet.

I’ll also be ramping up the exercise and cutting down on what I stick in my mouth. I often start this off by spending a day eating nothing – the next day finding I’m no more hungry in the morning than I was the day before – thereafter, eating less and having further ‘days off’ like this shrinks my stomach so I just don’t feel as hungry. Of course this is, apparently, a bad thing to do too. I disagree. What the hell is fat for? It is a way of storing up calories for lean times. So what happens if you don’t eat? You burn up fat rather than the half a pack of chocolate biscuits you ate last night. It’s quite a simple equation.

Okay, I’m off for a cycle now.