Alt.Fiction – short version.

Just back from a mammoth day in Derby at the Alt.fiction festival/meet/con/whatever.  I am very, very tired from driving so this will be a short post.  I’ll do something proper tomorrow.  I promise.

So, was it productive?  Well, technically yes.  I think I broke the record for most nose blows in a single day during the event, which (considering the volume I blow my nose at) was probably very annoying for all and sundry.

More seriously, very enjoyable.  I got to listen to, and meet, some very cool people and talk a great deal of my usual nonsense.

Win and awesome.
Also, Paul Cornell is a Nazi.  Just sayin’.

Beethoven’s Fifth, the new soundtrack to my life.

One of the birthday cards I got last week is a musical one.  It plays about sixteen or so bars of Beethoven’s fifth, lifted from a 2002 performance by the Royal Philharmonic.  I now use it to add dramatic weight to even the most mundane of sentences.

“Want a cup of tea?” DA DA DA DUUUUUUM!   DA DA DA DUUUUUM!

Brilliant.  I’m certain Lisa isn’t quite so enamoured as she was the first fifteen times I did it.

Right now I’m registering and installing the software that came with my camera.  It’s probably not worth the install but my computer is so application-light that I might as well do it anyway.  it makes me feel as though I’m actually using the system as something other than Firefox-in-a-box through which I get my daily dose of “news”.  Today’s “news”, of course, is that a fuck-and-tell blogger with associated book and t.v. deal has revealed her identity to prevent being outed by the Daily Mail.

It’s a laudable aim, I suppose, but that won’t really stop all the students in her department looking at her funny and swapping comments about being “well-travelled” and/or the possession of physiological features that resemble the top end of a wellington boot.

Next week, I suppose, she’ll be telling the papers about how telling the papers has affected her life or some other shit that supposedly eases her conscience and increases understanding but really just pads out her bank balance a little more and makes everyone around her increasing discomfited.

Back on the software thing, I’ve just clicked on my fourth licence agreement during this install.  That can’t be right, can it?  Four licences for one program…or maybe it’s a bundle of programs.  They’re taking long enough to get on the system.  I should’ve just stuck with MS paint.  That’s about my level.

One save draft and a reboot later, and I’m uploading images to Flickr.  Woo, and indeed, yay.  While that interminable process grinds away, I should probably go over what Alistair got me for my birthday.  First up, a bottle of Glengoyne 10 y.o. single malt, which is nice, although I haven’t tasted it yet.  We had a cocktail and a bottle of wine with dinner at Alistair’s on Saturday night and I’m such a lightweight that I had to stop drinking right after dinner to make sure I’d be fit to drive the next day.  It’s not something to be really proud of, that I just can’t drink beyond a certain point anymore, but it’s better that I’m upfront about it.  Not vomiting for the entire day afterwards is a reward in itself.

He also bought me some books: The Stuff of Thought by Steve Pinker, Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf, The Elements of Style by Strunk Jr. and White, and a digital photography book.  The last one I’m not going to link due to me encountering a vicious dislike of the author on opening the book.  He spends a good five pages right at the start promoting his other books, website, newsletter, promotions, etc, and therefore really doesn’t need any help from this quarter.

Hrm.  65% uploaded.  What else can I talk about?

Doctor Who, oh yes.  Spoilers after the jump.

Continue reading “Beethoven’s Fifth, the new soundtrack to my life.”

More search engine tomfoolery.

I am being productive.  I promise.  However, the story I’m working on took a bit of a dark turn and I needed a break for some light relief.

Where do I turn?  The internets, of course.

Following my previous call for a “see who can find the most disturbing search term that leads to this site”, I had a browse through the recent searches to see if there were any significant entries.  No such luck.  Apparently there’s a new and improved version of Bejeweled Blitz on Facebook and every single cheating bastard in the universe has apparently clicked on a link to this site off a variation on Googling for “Bejeweled Blitz Cheat”.

The winner has to be “can bejeweld make u ill”, though.  To give that one worried browser an answer: yes, yes it can.  I don’t play it and I’m fucking sick of it already.

What else?  I continue to be bombarded with spam comments, although not so much since I banned a whole bundle of Russian IP addresses.  Also, I’m not sure if it’s just sloppy advertising or they’re peddling fake drugs but it’s spelt V-I-A-G-R-A.  Come on, guys, show some nous at least.  It’s just tiresome and from the general experience of dealing with spammers, if I was made King of the World tomorrow I’d spend a serious chunk of energy hunting them down and having them spayed as an example to everyone.

So, what else.  I read a bunch of Charlaine Harris novels; Grave Sight, Grave Surprise and Ice Cold Grave.  They’re pretty enjoyable for stuff in the mystery thriller genre, much better than the Lee Child book I read.  It covers the same sort of plot points – there is a murder in Hicksville, the outsider with unusual talents can’t leave until it’s solved – but I much preferred Harris’s style to the clipped, macho, trying-too-hard tone of Killing Floor (“He was a cop.  A tall one.  He looked tough but I could take him.  I can take anyone. ” – I’m paraphrasing, of course).

That said, whoever is doing the proofreading for Gollancz needs a slap.  I really don’t mind spelling mistakes, but when things like attribution errors (early on in Grave Sight, the waitress appears to drink Harper’s coffee), gender shifts (Detective Young turns into a man at least once in Grave Surprise) and just general continuity breaks (Mariella, Harper’s younger sister, is eleven in the first book and nine in the second) creep in it really starts to niggle at me.

In a similar vein, I was willing to let slide the Swiss-cheese nature of the Malazan Empire until Steven Erikson started wittering in the preface to Ian C. Esselmont’s shared-universe novel Night of Knives about how scrupulously they had maintained  a complete history of the world, which is, in the face of the overwhelming contrary evidence of his novels, complete bunkum.

Granted, Harris makes no such similar claim, but with an author as successful as she is I would have expected someone at the publishing house to flag some really basic and obvious copy errors before they started the paperback run.

The faltering rise of eBooks.

Let’s ignore for a moment that the Kindle, Amazon’s wonder-engine that will push the world forward into the future of publishing is not available outside of the US.  Let’s ignore, also, that the current level of control Amazon hold over content distribution on the Kindle is a God-damned joke.

Back in March, I got a Sony PRS-505 eBook reader for Lisa, for her birthday.  I had high hopes for the format.  I still do.

But really, who pays £200 for a reader when there’s no financial incentive to purchase content for it?

Fair enough, I didn’t expect publishers to want to pass on the savings immediately, I mean, the financial sector isn’t keen on it, so why should an industry with a notorious margin of 4-5%?  But when eBook content is more expensive than the same title in hardback, it kind of takes the biscuit.

For the record, I doubt eBooks will ever replace print as a medium.  Not entirely.  But until we see some real incentives to start the ball rolling on getting eBooks into the mainstream consciousness, they will remain distinctly on the fringe of things.

Sadly, Amazon and Sony’s DRM-heavy content models do nothing but push the ball back up the hill a bit.  Now the Associated Press have started pitching a DRM format for news reports, replete with nonsensical diagrams that explain in no real manner how this micropayment/subscription-based system with lo-jack tracking of your reading habits is different from any other, previous system, or that it will work at all.  It’s snake oil, essentially.  Those naughty news pirates won’t stealz your intarwebs, it cries.  People smarter than me are already picking it apart, and mocking it for the sham it is.

What. The…

OK, so you see a guy riding on a bike with his son in a child seat on the back.  The road is maybe a little too busy for that, you think, so what do you do?

Pull a gun and shoot him in the head, of course. (found via

I love how real life perpetually conspires to make things like CSI seem plausible and understated.

Anyway, I just finished reading Isabel Allende’s Zorro.  It’s really entertaining, colourful writing.  I was kind of wary at first because, once translated from the Spanish, the writing is really heavy with bold, declarative sentences that feel a little too strong.  However, I soon got used to it and was really won over by the strong thread of humour that runs through the entire piece, preventing it from getting bogged down by the descriptive passages.  To give an example, when introducing Juliana and Isabel, there’s a page of description of the former that would feel clunky and overly emphatic on its own.  However, Allende follows it with an equal but contrary description of the flaws of the latter.  It’s funny and brilliantly constructed and totally at odds with my normal expectation of how the best character portraits are put together.

The lesson?  Read more, shoot people in the head…less.

Meanwhile, our fridge/freezer has died and the letting agents who are contractually bound to replace it are playing at being incommunicado.  Oh the joy of it!

All the stuff.

Long post today, I think.

First off, my brother has a website now.  He takes pictures and stuff and is a lot like me, but more acerbic.  Also, he sometimes forgets how to use apostrophes!  Still he’s funny and acidic and generally made up of distilled cleverness, so worth a look if you don’t know him.

He mentioned the Morgan Stanley teen memo furore the other day.  Sadly, all comment I might have passed on it had already been elegantly gazumped by a commenter on the Guardian’s website, who just cut and pasted part of the screenplay from A Hard Day’s Night (1964) into the text submission box.  More specifically, the part where George Harrison is mistaken for a male model.

Continue reading “All the stuff.”

Robin Hobb

So, I was thinking of going to see Robin Hobb’s talk/signing in Manchester this week, but since Lisa is on-call, I decided not to go.  I’ve seen her talk before, in Glasgow, when the first Soldier’s Son book came out, and it was nice to hear her talk about the process and inspirations she drew upon writing her novels.  It was also fun to watch the fleeting look of exasperation that crossed her face when asked for the third time that session if she was going to write more about Fitz and the Fool.  Even more amusing in retrospect was the poor girl in the queue to get a (lot of) book(s) signed* who decided to spend the time reading the backs of the Fool’s Gold trilogy.  Needless to say there’s a massive spoiler on one of them and she really should’ve known better.  Her cry of dismay brought one entire floor of the bookshop to a standstill.

Funnily enough, the reason she cried out was also the reason why Lisa refuses to re-read the books.  That’s usually a testament to how good Lisa finds a story – she refuses point blank to read the last of the His Dark Materials trilogy because she doesn’t want it to end.  She gets into stories that much.  Thankfully all the J-drama that she watches has disclaimers at the end of every episode reminding the viewer that they are viewing a work of fiction.

It’s probably indicative of how far out of the loop I am that I was completely oblivious to the fact that Robin Hobb has a new book out, so I should probably go find myself a copy.  I wasn’t massively enamoured by the Liveship Traders series, primarily because I felt that most of the character conflicts could’ve been easily resolved by shaking all parties like a British nanny.  I guess that means I was engaged by her writing, but nevertheless there were some outstandingly slappable protagonists in the trilogy.  Will the continuation suffer likewise?  I’ll find out, I suppose.

I’ve stopped posting excerpts of my own stuff as my feedback from test readers has been very much along the lines of “give big chunks privately and we can give feedback in conversation/email form”.  If you want to read the big WIP, let me know and I’ll sort out updates with you, otherwise hold tight for some short story stuff I’ve been mulling over to put up here in place of the WIP entire.

*I don’t understand it, myself, seeing someone holding an author’s entire back catalogue of books in the queue for a signing.  I guess it’s a massive compliment, but still…so many books to sign.

You canta have-ah two popes at the samma time*

Lisa and I are thoroughly regretting not changing to the summer duvet early enough.  Last night was the boiling hell of infinite tog ratings, and as an apparent result, i spent most of the morning clutching my head and going “hnngrrrrh” in pain.  Lovely.

In other news, I’m almost finished my copy of Toll the Hounds, by Stephen Erikson.  I quite enjoyed his other books, being as they are full of an enormous sense of scale with its vast warrens – sources of magic – layered on top of the “real” world and a cast of thousands to go with it.  Certainly there is an element of the ever-escalating about it: each successive chapter in some of the books seems set to introduce an ever-more ancient and ever-more powerful being to contest with the crowded muddle of super-powerful races that are already struggling with one another in the name of driving things onward, but it has never got in the way of the more appealing characters in the cast.

Toll the Hounds is a little different.  In attempting to draw some threads together, Erikson pulls a cast together towards a confluence of powers that will result in destruction for some, and resolution for others.  All well and good, but the tone and pacing leave a lot to be desired.  There’s a lot of chaff about Anomander Rake and his servants that is intended to be full of foreboding, but just seems to be there as padding, to remind you that Rake is still there.  There’s a great deal of omniscient narrator moralising, some of which is delivered in the style of the self-narrating Kruppe, and the rest is laid on with the interrogative air of a preacher pitching from the high ground.  I’m not sure if there’s meant to be a lesson buried in there somewhere, but the narrative kind of put me off considering it much further.

I’m sure there are Erikson fans out there who love it.  There’s a lot of story about things long passed and I’m sure anyone interested in cross-referencing the lot would have an absolute field day.  Sadly, I’m not one of those people.  I would have preferred a version with pretty much the entire cast of Tiste Andii excised from the text and all of the focus on the goings on in the city.  Also, the author hasn’t yet learned that he cannot write poetry.  I’ve never read verse so eminently skippable since I came across Tom Bombadil.**

*samma time, and the living is easy – God, Spike Milligan was a funny man.

**the library made me buy a new copy of Fellowship of the Ring.  I jest, of course.

Bookstore Discount!

Borders are running a special promotion at the moment where, if you fill out a display slip recommending a book in the store, they will give you 20% off of a single book purchase.  The space they give is pretty small, so it’s quite easy to smash out some gushing, generic praise for pretty much anything you lay your eyes on, and 20% is a pretty good discount.