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May 15, 2013Posted by on
Angie is reading Thoreau’s novel ‘Walden‘ at the moment, and we’ve taken to discussing pertinent passages over breakfast and during work breaks. Although a lot of Thoreau’s sentences and paragraphs always leave me feeling like I need to take a damn good run up before launching into them. He packs a lot of idea into his words. That said, I tend to take such works with a very large proverbial pinch of salt. I’ve done the whole close to nature thing, and have come to appreciate the comfort and convenience technology affords.
Nevertheless; today’s thought train was kicked off by one such reading, and came laden with the question, what are stories for? Why do we write and tell them? Are they simply for entertainment, or can they serve a deeper, more significant purpose? Does addressing a hypothetical question give a story a more rewarding depth?
For my part, I write science fiction to examine ideas and premises like; say you genetically engineer a ‘perfect’ alpha male, where would he find his role in life? What destiny could he carve out, and how would it affect his relationships? Or perhaps; almost fatally injured in a terrorist incident, one of my not-so-heroes has part of his brain rebuilt using a new variant of stem cell technology. Where does he fit in? How does being able to read people’s thoughts alter your relationships with one time friends and family? Or, what if immortality was a near symptomless disease? What are the larger implications? What good is luxury if you lose your freedom? All of these questions are woven into the underlying themes of my current projects. Like I’ve said before, it’s interesting and even fun to get down and dirty with these concepts and wrestle some sense out of them. I think that’s why a lot of people who write fiction do so. Because the ‘Big what if’ game of writing fiction is so absorbing.
May 14, 2013Posted by on
Three major projects on the go at present. Have picked up the MSS of ‘Darkness between the stars’ yet again. Just over 52,000 words when I last ground to a halt. There’s a missing coupling in the narrative train and up until yesterday I didn’t seem to be able to hitch it up properly without the connection looking overly contrived, or asking any reader to make massive intuitive leaps.
The problem is, in order to fit my self imposed timeline, a civilisation has to stop interstellar travel within a very short period, and I’m having trouble logically mapping this process out. The dots have to join up or the narrative doesn’t work. Four storylines have to run and converge to a single precise point fror the story to make sense. There’s something missing. A metaphorical link in my coupling, a critical pin in the linkage. Like any technician, I work on the premise that if I can work out what it does, and how it does it, I can create it. Simple.
In the meantime, pass the Tylenol.
May 12, 2013Posted by on
There’s always a bit of a buzz in Cedar when the Orcas come through. About a quarter past five this afternoon, I was taking a time out in the kitchen watching Time Team re-runs when a black triangular shape popped out of the sea about a quarter mile away. Took a second glance, and there it was again. A third time and a Killer Whale breached and blew, just south of a line between home and the Mudge- Link Island portage.
Managed to get my Skymaster binoculars on the shape as it came up again, and saw what looked like an Orca Mother and calf heading south, side by side down towards the channel between Link and Round Island. Saw one of our friends and neighbours, David Hill-Turner walking his dog, and yelled out the news. He told neighbour John, who keeps note of these things, but in the two minutes it took from first sighting to the pair disappearing southwards behind Round Island, the Orcas had moved on. Spent another half hour scanning what I could see of the water, but could see nothing further of the pair. At least from my vantage point. They’ll probably be passing Yellowpoint or the Trincomalee channel by now.
May 11, 2013Posted by on
Yesterday Angie and I finally bit the bullet and purchased an eReader. Specifically a Kobo Glo. Since then it’s been information overload. My learning curve is tightening like a hairpin bend. Libraries. Distributors. A whole world we knew nothing about. The scope and size of the opportunities it has brought up are simply enormous.
Up until yesterday I thought I was, in my own small way fairly well informed about eBooks, Digital Rights Management and the various electronic formats, but I’d like to say this; my mind has officially been blown. Megaton range. All via a Kobo Glo. No other eReader has quite opened the door like this. Not to just a whole new world, but a whole new continuum. I actually feel a little overwhelmed. I think I’ve just caught a glimpse of an almost unlimited publishing future, and it has the Kobo label firmly stamped in one corner.
What with that and learning how to produce my own hams from pork shoulders, plus our wedding anniversary, this is going to make for a full weekend.
May 10, 2013Posted by on
While re-editing a couple of paragraphs this morning, Angie threw a couple of things my way from one of her students. Quotations and examples from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet for the most part. Which kicked off the thought; is Language Art or Science? Or even both?
Metaphor and simile we are told, are mainly within the province of art, but when it comes down to metre and cadence and structure, it’s all down to syllable counts, pentameter, hexameter, and other rhythmic patterns doing the grunt work of communicating an idea. Which is the very function of language. Words can dance and skitter to the beat of the ideas driving them, giving both the context and subtext of a text. The science forms the rules of languages as they evolve from a purely ad hoc means of grunting, to a myriad subtleties conveying a layered whole rich with new meaning. Nonetheless, there is a subtle mathematics to language which can be broken down into components and reassembled to a common comprehensible formula. Context, intonation and juxtaposition are also tools from the same box.
Maybe it’s the Technician in me that wants ideas to have clarity, continuity, and the elegance of simplicity. The beauty of an efficient and well designed machine. Multiple processes binding together in a seamless whole. Many premises distilled, flowing to a single conclusion into a great river of thought. Tiny logical strings woven into a great hawser you can pull a Supertanker of concepts with.
Yet where does the science of language leave off and art begin? Like a single feather is not an Eagle there is no easy answer. The Science and art of which I write are sides of the same coin. Components of the same whole. Like the microscopically barbed elements that form the mesh of each Eagles feather can be viewed scientifically through a microscope, like the tempering and folding of metals can give additional strength to a component, there is art and science in everything. The subjective, which is art, gives us the desired whole, and the objective, which is the science, gives us the parts from which the whole can be built. Without the feather, the Eagle cannot fly. Without Science, there is no art. Without Art, we have no desire for science. Which is probably why well designed machines often have an artistic beauty all of their own.
Excuse me if I’m waxing lyrical and obscure today, but I’ve had a bit of a story breakthrough, and am feeling a tad giddy.
May 9, 2013Posted by on
In between shifts and running errands, and delving into the darker aspects of book and eBook distribution, I’m currently playing the ‘what if’ game with a story concept. It’s just a short at the moment and I’m only a couple of thousand words in. Set in my ‘Association worlds’ timeline some three hundred years after Earth has abandoned her one time colonies. It may even sprout a timeline branch of its own. Depends on what I do with the characters. It could go one of three routes to the final line, but I know exactly how I want the story to end.
Now I’ve been working on this story on and off for a couple of months, and every time I pick up the file end up hurdling cliché’s like some literary obstacle course. The ‘what if’ for today Mr Phelps, is what if someone discovered how to switch off all the mechanisms which cause cell mutation and ageing? What if they discovered a self perpetuating delivery system for this vector? What if they were bright enough to A) Develop the mechanism, and B) Foresee the possible consequences?
Without giving anything further away, a lot of science fiction authors have been here before, but I genuinely feel I’ve developed a new twist on the theme. Dark as Belgian chocolate, and almost as rich and bitter sweet.
May 4, 2013Posted by on
While the muse of Science Fiction has temporarily deserted me, I thought I’d write about something dear to my heart; driving. Car or motorcycle, doesn’t matter, the principles and sensations are the same. I’m a petrolhead at heart who simply enjoys the sensations afforded by motorised transport. Specifically the art of the corner.
Now this might sound odd to the uninitiated, but there is an art to driving around a corner that is seemingly unlearned by many drivers. They lack the ability or motivation to do it properly, they wander, swerve and clip. Lines are taken too fast, too narrow or too timorously. They never seek the optimum, explore the limits or push the envelope.
Yet but cornering’s simple isn’t it? Decelerate to apex, steer into the curve, then hammer down and out? Steer outside to centre, or centre to kerb, depending upon whether you’re covering a right or left hander. Easy. Yet each corner is different, with a pitch and camber, and even a character all of its own which alters throughout the day. Depending upon weather, angle of sunlight, spilled material and even roadkill. At best cornering’s an art form; one of fine balance and perfect judgement. Man and machine poised on the razors edge of a disaster curve. No tyre squeal, no flashy and wasteful Clarksonian tyre smoking power slides, just the singular pleasure of a simple task performed to a finesse. Forever seeking the optimum.
What I’m not going to do in this little piece is witter on about the technical process of making a vehicle change direction of travel along a stretch of road. There’s always the temptation to wax lyrical about ceramic brakes, of counter steering and tyre compounds, then miss the point entirely.
If anyone reads my bio or Facebook timeline, they’ll see pictures of me astride a couple of motorcycles, and in each image there is a big fat boyish grin on my face. I am and always will be a biker at heart. My soul, if that is what drives me, has two wheels. What they won’t see is my four wheeled vehicle history, which is not as salubrious. Overall I’ve driven many vehicles with a wheel at each corner and a faulty nut behind the steering wheel, from Morris 1000′s and Reliant Regals and Robins, to high end SUV’s and medium goods vehicles. I’ve owned Volkswagens, Rovers, Fords and even a Saab Turbo 900 for my sins. During a spell as a delivery driver in the mid 1990′s I even got to shuttle almost Ford and Vauxhalls entire UK range of saloons. Stick shift, automatic, whatever. I’ve driven Mercedes and Ford vans throughout fourteen, and even seventeen and a half hour working days, then gone on to do evening classes three nights a week. During the Eighties and nineties I regularly topped over fifty thousand miles a year. Highways, Motorways, Autobahns and side roads. Those weren’t the days. Yet to me the actual driving didn’t feel like work.
Each vehicle I’ve driven had their own little foibles, and some I really enjoyed, others detested, but all were tried and pitched into corners for the simple joy of it. Motorcycle, truck or car it didn’t matter. The dynamic sensations were everything. The deceleration, visual seeking of precise line and curve, a little sidewards G at the apex, then a mild sensation of drift and roll as I almost pushed my vehicle into the bend before powering smoothly out. All have shown me the pale edge of driving Nirvana. From an exhilarating sunny sidestand scraper up Fish Hill on the Evesham to Stratford road on my old Triumph 900, to a heart stopping close encounter with a late night Moose on the Ontario Trans Canada driving a Ford Windstar van. Corners have provided drama, adventure, and an adrenalin rush to lighten the dull samey greyness of getting from A to B.
So, what’s the secret of the corner? Well actually there isn’t one. It isn’t rocket science, dragon magic or anything remotely difficult. It’s like any simple task, not easy for the initiate or novice, but one that can be readily mastered. Although not as simple as turning the steering wheel, or leaning into it, cornering is an art anyone can become competent in. All it requires is a little thought and practice.
May 1, 2013Posted by on
As a self-publisher, I’m always on the lookout for ways to break the glass ceiling. Every self published author knows what this is; news outlets who won’t even think of reviewing a book published by an author, but will give acres of room to specialist works no-one but a handful could be interested in. Book distributors who need all sorts of incentives just to mention a self published work in their catalogue. The sixty forty split which makes it difficult for an author to make any money, even if they are lucky to break into the bookstores.
For a small time self publisher, the means of getting ‘out there’ into the larger marketplace are limited and time consuming. Which is what publishers do. They take the hard graft of getting noticed and into bookstores, and make it look easy because they have established and maintained media contacts and procedures which flow from manuscript to customer. They also get to say what style gets into the marketplace. Which accounts for some authors, in frustration, sending in the barely disguised first three chapters of a classic novel, only to find that it too gets rejected with barely a syllable being read. The castle drawbridge is up, portcullis down, and you peasants can just jolly well stay in your scruffy little self publishing hovels, what? Your betters have spoken.
In some ways the current situation reminds me of the old trades union ‘closed shop’ with all its negotiated restrictive practices. It’s ossified, semi-paralysed, looking for the next big thing, but hardly daring the radical move of expanding its catalogue. There’s always a sense that it’s not what you know, it’s whom.
For me, my frustrations reached boiling point some years ago when I spent weeks on a 1500 word short-short, revising and rewriting because the magazine in question had done “A very nice picture.” Afterwards; having ‘done the sums’ as they say, I worked out that I’d been working for something like five English pence an hour. Hardly a fortune. I’d also submitted several finished manuscripts and when publishers deigned to reply, all I got was one, repeat one, form letter from someone whose job it was to periodically clear the company slush pile of unread manuscripts. The rest I never heard a whisper from. So when I first heard of online self publishing, I thought “Great!” and like so many others piled in. So far the experience has been like building a boat, getting it launched, beating the tides and making it out to sea, then looking out at the big cruise liners disappearing over the horizon and thinking “Now what?” The ocean is open, deep and vast, there are continents to conquer on the other side, but not being able to keep up with the big boys leaves you feeling somewhat adrift.
At the moment, self publishing is an alphabet with letters missing. Like a language without the right words. Conceptually bereft. I suppose like the man in the small boat I’d better get paddling. Doesn’t matter where. Just pick a direction and go for it.
April 25, 2013Posted by on
In the Cerberus Conspiracy pages, I’ve decided to post the first two chapters from my work in progress ‘A falling of Angels’. I’m fairly happy with the chapters as they stand and the word pictures they paint. Paul Calvin, Ben Wallace, Fat Mary and Jed Carter feel right as characters living in a crumbling society, riding the razors edge between anarchy and stability. Link is here.
As matters stand I’m still only about a third of the way through the story, with a lot of ground to cover. Gang wars, the role of a shadowy corporate in societal breakdown, more on the Freemen, blackmail, and pleasure seekers made into techno zombies. Plenty of juicy filling and not too much in the way of bread for padding. So far so good. Well, I like it even if no one else does.
I’ve also added the first chapter from the ‘Shifting States’ MSS on a sub page of the Cerberus Conspiracy tab, which has been work in progress for just under ten years.
April 24, 2013Posted by on
Last weekend I agreed that yes, we should have some extra entertainment in the house. I won’t pay for cable TV, as so much television is simply not worth the subscription. So we went to Future shop and bought an Apple TV. We asked about not installing the dreaded iTunes on our business PC’s and were informed that no, we wouldn’t have to do that, we could set up the Apple TV over the phone. Fine said I, and stumped up the cash.
Minor issues with the Apple TV box not liking the first HDMI cable it was plugged in with, but once I’d swapped it for a non-ethernet HDMI cable, no problem. We switched on the TV, reading the instructions, following the steps and the Apple box fired up nicely. The screensaver looked very nice, and we were looking forward to buying and viewing premium content from the iTunes store. All well and good.
Today Angie asked me to get her an account set up to buy some movies. Apple ID created, great. The Apple TV box itself working, wonderful. Went to buy some content and……..ah. Despite having a verified Apple ID, credit card registered with Apple and everything else, we were unable to purchase a movie or TV series. After two and a half frustrating hours I gave up and called Apple support. After ten minutes the operator told me that I had to have iTunes loaded on my PC to register and connect via the iTunes store. There were no workarounds, no buy by phone, it was iTunes or nothing.
I’ll confess a prejudice here; I don’t like having Apple software on Windows machines, and won’t have it anywhere near a business machine for one simple reason, it’s bloatware. I’ve had Apple software like Safari and iTunes on PC’s before, without registering for the iTunes store. These have been the source of many system slowdowns and even the occasional crash. I’ve also spent too much time rootling around in registries getting rid of all the little surprise packages left behind by iTunes to trip up the unwary. Ergo, that application is forbidden on any system I administer. To me it is a timewaster. An unnecessary complication. If you can’t do it via web browser SSL, there’s something amiss. Amazon and eBay manage nicely, so why not Apple?
So today I have wasted over three working hours on a product that won’t let me use it. Tomorrow I will waste an hour and a half getting the guy at the store to help me verify my Apple store ID, but there is no way on Gods green Earth that I am allowing iTunes on a business PC. It may be just me, but thinking about it there’s also something rather posey about Apple Macs and sometimes their owners that just put me off. Something to do with the implied exclusivity of Apple products I don’t much care for. It’s a computer, not a religion for goodness sake. Full blown Apple Macs are great for DTP, animation and a whole bunch of other things, but overall I feel they’re rather over priced for what they are.
Funny thing; I was actually contemplating buying a Mac until this morning. Now I won’t. Not ever. Because of over four working hours lost unnecessarily. Four hours wasted, all because I couldn’t verify an iTunes store ID without clogging up my system with iTunes.