A walk on the dark side of Science Fiction ©
December 6, 2013Posted by on
There’s been a trend for some time with TV shows for episodes given punnish titles intimating brief hints about the episode content. While with ‘Stars’ I went for the rather dry numerical convention like with a technical document. In the Cerberus series I’ve taken a leaf out of the TV playbook, and gone with the pun. Not so much in ‘Head of the Beast’, but definitely in ‘A Falling of Angels’. Three sample chapter headings being ‘Breaking the bad’, ‘The End of a Beginning’, and ‘Lloegr’ (Which means ‘England’ or more poetically ‘Lost Lands’ in Welsh). For an additional example, I’m currently writing a chapter entitled ‘Travelling in Hope class’ which starts to take my hero back to his beginning, and final confrontation with the current bad guys. Possibly. While pursued by another bunch of bad guys who have him pegged as a terrorist. Kind of.
It’s complicated. A lot of fun to write, but quite involved.
December 5, 2013Posted by on
I’m sitting in our front room, looking out towards the islands, watching a very fine first snow fall. Tiny, uncertain flakes wending their way to the ground. Wandering with air currents, mostly down, sometimes up, but down they come, settling in small crystalline spots, lining up like migrating birds on top of the deck rail, blanketing windscreens in translucent white, but as yet not braving the ground.
Our local Ravens don’t seem to mind the extra crowded air. They sit on the wires as if critically examining each flake, discussing the merits of each ghostly crystal. “That one settle?”, “Nah, won’t last long.” before arguing and clumsily flapping off to some new perch.
So here I sit, dog at my feet, watching the visibility crowd slowly in, daydreaming of sunnier times before I finish my tea and start work.
December 1, 2013Posted by on
For Christmas this year I’ve decided; I’m treating myself to a full copy of Corel WordPerfect. I’ve always liked its functionality as a piece of word processing software, and liked the way I could always get deep into the code of a document. Unlike Microsoft Word, or Lotus, or OpenOffice which are basically very similar. All right, they’re fine for the basics, but when you need to turn out a document untrammelled by spurious code, you can’t beat WordPerfect. The ‘Reveal Codes’ command is the kicker as far as I’m concerned. It reaches the parts all the others can’t or won’t. Takes the Bloat out of the Bloatware, and makes a nice clean job of it. Especially when outputting XML or HTML formats for web based documentation.
I’ve always liked WordPerfect for its virtuosity as a piece of word processing software, although it requires a higher level of expertise than all the others put together. Yes, maybe the menu system looks a bit complex and old fashioned, but once mastered, you can do far more with it as an application. What has brought this desire to change on is my increasing frustration with the self correcting facilities in Word, OpenOffice or Lotus. When saving across formats, I tend to lose language settings and special characters, which in documents over 50,000 words long means a lot of extra proofing and re-reading. I’ve tried switching these features off, but even then MS-Word, OpenOffice Write and Lotus keep on losing the details, which is very frustrating. I actually gave up working in MS-Word when I found code fragments creeping in and ruining anything up to two months of work during document conversion. Yes, fine, Word can output PDF’s, it’s fairly intuitive, but because the code structure is not completely transparent and correctable, Word and its various clones won’t let you clean the whole document up properly. This has previously cost me time, money and energy that I could better spend elsewhere. There’s also the issue that WordPerfect is often the choice of Law Offices because it is more secure than most.
With the climax of ‘A Falling of Angels’ looming on my mental horizon, I’d far rather be writing than constantly correcting stuff that was already corrected.
November 29, 2013Posted by on
I’m in the middle of a story sequence that takes my hero and his not so dumb girlfriend through Rome on their way back to solving the main mystery in ‘A falling of Angels’. In the story, they are being stalked by a Sardinian boy with an unknown agenda. Also in the story, Rome, like so many major cities, is beset by a plague of enforcement cameras and sensors. Much to the annoyance of the public at large, and in response Paul Calvin, mind reading Detective Sergeant.
In response to such a circumstance, I find myself wondering if veiled hats might not make a comeback.
Originally part of ‘Widows weeds’ or to keep direct sunlight off delicate skin, the history of the veiled hat goes back to the 1200′s. Since then, net veils and veiled hats have popped in and out of western fashion for centuries. At present they are perennially popular at events like weddings and funerals, and occasionally as part of a stage outfit. Not so much at street level, but even there appearing more of an upmarket status symbol.
Perhaps using some form of Anti-infra red fabric, or ‘dazzle’ configuration, they might even cross the sex barrier to be adopted by security conscious men. Stranger things have happened.
I’ll write it and see how it feels.
Update: As an alternative, perhaps polarised sunshields might take off. Sun or ski goggles that cover most of the exposed face, or at least the visible brow and cheekbones most facial recognition software relies upon for its efficacy.
See this link for how modern facial recognition software works.
November 17, 2013Posted by on
Back deep in the narrative guts of ‘A falling of Angels’ at present. In order to add another layer, I’ve decided to expand the role of my mind reading detective characters current girlfriend. Because he’s made a nuisance of himself with the powers that be (as usual), he’s been suspended for a month this time, and since she has lost her job, they’ve gone on holiday together. While on holiday, and in response to exposing another clue about his past, his girlfriend demonstrates practical surveillance busting skills which solve several issues. Nothing out of character, rather using her known skill set to best advantage. Flirting with a sales assistant to distract, using her initiative.
In the days when I used to watch Doctor Who, the characters who used to annoy me most were the Doctors ‘Assistants’ who would, at a story critical juncture, scream, break a heel, get captured by the monster and be generally about as much use as a chocolate kettle. Just so the Doctor can leap into the Tardis and save them. The other kind were the über feminists who were oh so much better than everyone else. If you’re going to have a useful female character with a life longer than a single episode, you’ve got to flesh them out a bit. Let them kick a Cyberman so hard his batteries fall off, be smart enough to blind a Dalek by sticking masking tape over its silly monocular eyepiece, vent a villain out of the airlock occasionally without needing the Doctors sonic screwdriver sort of thing. A bit more than just a victim, but not so much they take over the show. In Doctor Who, my particular favourite remains (Predictably) Louise Jameson as Leela during Tom Baker’s sojourn as the Doctor.
It’s what I hate about teen slasher movies. The helpless cheerleader stereotype who you know is going to get killed in the first few minutes because she can’t do anything but totter along on four inch heels and scream for help as the implausibly dressed villain stalks after her. Female (and male) characters need depth to be credible, otherwise they’re just yawn worthy. They have to be able to spring surprises now and again. Display hidden strengths. Not too many, and always in line with what we understand about them as people. Human enough to be fallible, but not so infallible as to lose their humanity. That’s what keeps me awake through a movie or book. By the same token, stereotypes induce almost instant somnolence.
Ergo; Marcy, who first appears as Paul Calvin’s slightly slutty waitress girlfriend from ‘Head of the beast’ develops into a better defined character in ‘A falling of Angels’. She does things only she could do for reasons which matter to her, and in addition we learn facts about her designed to make a male reader nod with respect, and a female reader identify with. Both have to do with her family. Layers upon layers, a personality built up as she (and he) drive the story forward. It’s added over eight thousand words to the MSS over the past three days, and they all stand up to scrutiny. Another twenty thousand words or so and I’ll have finished this particular volume in the series. Yippee.
November 15, 2013Posted by on
Currently playing physical therapist to my wife Angie. She has a muscle spasm in her back which is proving difficult to relieve. Essentially what has happened is that the big muscles either side of her spine have tensed up and are compressing her vertebrae. This causes a great deal of discomfort. Unfortunately once this type of spasm sets in it’s a bugger to shift. I’ve had them myself, and the memory of the pain alone is enough to make me wince in sympathy. Normally speaking this state of affairs eases after two or three days rest with alternating hot and cold compresses, twice daily massages and a little A-35 cream. Sometimes it takes longer. I’m sure a quick dose of muscle relaxant delivered at source would ‘unlock’ the spasm and provide almost instant relief, but actually getting Angie down the stairs and into the car to get to the Doctors office might prove a little too much for even my robust frame. So for the moment I’m keeping up the compresses and massages.
Getting Facebook invites I can’t possibly attend is proving mildly frustrating. But as a compromise, I’ll make it policy in future that if I get an invite to turn up in say, central London when I’m over here in Nanaimo BC. I’ll save myself the two thousand dollars it would cost me to skip over to the smoke for a mere two hours by sending a ‘Friend’ request to whoever has been kind and thoughtful enough to invite me.
Blog comments are far and few between, as are readers, but I regularly find random remarks that make no real sense in the nets of this blogs spam filter. Usually attached to spammy commercial website links, all of which go straight to deletion with only a minor furrowing of my brow, as if to say “What the hell was that all about?” I can only assume they’re written by those for whom ‘care in the community’ has been prescribed. I don’t want to be unkind, but some people really twist your arm. Maybe those dumb and desperate enough to be tempted by those “My Sisters boyfriends uncle Earns $25 an hour working from home.” Spamverts infesting poorly tended comment threads.
I make no claim to be a Hardy, Hemmingway, Austen, Bronte, Tolkein, Tolstoy, Steinbeck or anyone, all of whom I detest reading – de gustibus non est disputandum by the way.
Maybe I’m not ‘educated’ enough to ‘get’ much 18th, 19th and 20th Century literature. Apart from Yann Martels ‘Life of Pi’ I’ve never read a Booker prize winner I’d ever try to read again without a gun to my head. None of them appear on my bookshelves. I’ll happily delve into classical literature, from Aristotle to Dante, science fiction from Wells and Verne to Niven, Pournelle, Hamilton, Bear and a few others. Quite fond of reading Shakespeare, Donne, Chaucer, and a few of their contemporaries. My own stuff? Hey. I write what I write and if anyone else likes it I’m delighted.
November 14, 2013Posted by on
Not much writing done today. Spent a good chunk of this morning sitting waiting while my car was being serviced. As I was leaving the house I grabbed my proof copy of ‘Head of the beast’ to pass the time. It’s a little wordy in places, but the dialogues fairly snappy, and as reads go, its as pleasant a walk in the dark as most places. I was so engrossed, the three hours at the dealership just flew by. Seeing as I wrote it, I’m quite pleased with the end result.
‘Head of the beast’ is a dark little story which speaks about how mundane the horrors can be, how those who are paid to cope with the darkness manage it, and how seemingly lofty motives can lead to appalling outcomes. As far as my sci-fi writings are concerned, it’s fairly typical. A mixture of the horrific and mundane. Rather like real life, really.
Ergo I’ve changed the header tagline from the rather anodyne ‘A science fiction writers web site and blog’, to the mildly blasé ‘A walk in the dark’. Which, I feel, is a little more me, and far more representative.
Have picked up the thread with ‘a falling of angels’ and am busy piling on the words as well as tidying up a loose end from ‘Head of the Beast’. Well I like it. Perhaps that’s all that matters.
November 5, 2013Posted by on
Reading LinkedIn this morning, I came across this echo of my own cri de coeur from the New York Times: ‘Slaves of the Internet unite‘. I’ve been writing various stories since the age of fifteen with fairly mixed results. Few of them that well paid. On one salutary occasion in 2006, for a paltry fifteen hundred word short story, I ended up with a cheque for seventy five pounds. Not bad, you might think. Seventy five quid for fifteen hundred words? Money for old rope, right? No. The original story, which was a pretty lean piece to start with, had to be cut by two hundred and seventy words because of a graphic. Four requested rewrites over a forty eight hour period later, I had met all three targets for the magazines shifting wordage goalposts. The original target wordage was fifteen hundred at first submission, then changed to fourteen fifty the following day, then thirteen fifty, and finally thirteen hundred and thirty two. It was a cute little ghost story, but I ended up writing it for an hourly rate that wouldn’t get the most low aspiration burger flipper out of bed.
All through my working life I’ve been approached by people asking “Oo, could you do a little piece for our magazine?” or “Loved that story – can we use it for free now it’s been published?” or “We need a new logo – could you knock something up for us?” I’ve done a little graphic design work, and it’s never just one design these freeloaders want, it’s several. Frankly, I’d rather not work than work for nothing. I’ll happily practice my craft, but I’d rather be shot than give it away, ‘exposure’ or no.
While we’re on the topic of something for nothing, I got a cold call Monday night from a ‘charity’ asking me to be a volunteer canvasser. I’m sorry, what part of the word ‘volunteer’ don’t they get? A volunteer comes to you, not vice versa. If I do not call a charity to offer my services, then how is it ‘volunteering’ if they call me? Who gave them my details, and who do I have some very sharp words with? Canada has privacy laws, and I think they just got violated. Anyway, I’ve done enough voluntary work over the last five years, and I’m getting a little tired. Come to think of it, from helping rewire and refit Claverdons Dorothea Mitchell Hall, working on committees and suchlike, I’ve given away a great many hours of my time and expertise over the years for no appreciation, and on at least three occasions, personal threats. No more.
The same goes for giving stories away to get attention or reviews. No. They’re mine, I’ve spent time and energy on them, and as the New York Times piece suggests; you wouldn’t ask a plumber or electrician to work for free, editors get paid, so why is a writer any different?
November 3, 2013Posted by on
Watching the sun rise this morning, I was observing the crepuscular light shedding angular dusty beams on the Eastern horizon. One beam of light was shining vertically through the clouds like some massive laser. Which made me think about alien invasion movies like ‘Independence Day’ where the invaders come zooming into Earth’s atmosphere with massive energy weapons, blowing up everything in sight. Thinking about it, why bother with Star Warsy / Trekkie type energy weapons? All very sparkly, all very pretty, but mostly all heat and fury with very little knockdown power. Comparatively speaking.
Now if it were me, I’d drop half a dozen or so hundred metre asteroids on the planet well before sending in ground troops. Any detonations, even within a kilometre or five of the surface would do enough damage to a major cities infrastructure to paralyse everything. Then leave for a year before hitting with another quick barrage of about ten Tunguska sized masses. Wait another solar year while all the humans run around shooting each other and running out of supplies before sending in my very expensive, and hard to fix number of terminator ‘droids. Minimal damage to the biosphere and game over for all those pesky humans. And some very nice living space on a des res planet once the meteoric dust has settled and things have warmed up again. Just send in the scrap scavengers.
Fortunately it’s all fiction. Because if any other species is smart enough and capable of crossing interstellar space en masse with hostile intent; basically, humanity is screwed.
Update: as opposed to airbursts, what if the asteroids were dropped in the seas near major coastal conurbations? A big enough water explosion a hundred and fifty klicks away would mess up LA, San Francisco and San Diego with Tsunamis. South and East of New York to push a wall of water up the Chesapeake. One in the Northern Caribbean would paralyse Florida and all of coastal Texas, as well as sending a massive tidal bore up the Mississippi. Polish off with a hit in Lake Michigan. Europe could be paralysed with three hits. One in the Northern English Channel, Eastern Baltic and central Mediterranean. Western Indian Ocean about equidistant between the Persian Gulf and Mumbai. The last reserved for somewhere in the Philippines. Residual tidal surges would at least severely damage every sea port everywhere in the world. Two years of solid rainfall from all the atmospheric water vapour would do the rest. Result: one freshly laundered planet ready for colonisation. Scary.
October 13, 2013Posted by on
The nature of science fiction is all about how a change in scientific knowledge or technology can alter human society. To play the ‘what if?’ game with a vengeance. It is a literary tree with many branches. From the ‘hard’, based on an extrapolation of historical understanding, real life human psychology and proposed technologies, to space opera and sword and sorcery fantasies. It’s a prophesy game, which is the key dark art of the genre.
Most of the early prophets, like H G Wells in “War of the Worlds” and “The shape of things to come” had elements which have been since come to pass; substitute lasers for ‘heat rays’, mass airborne bombardment, poison gas. Wells saw all these things in humanities future. Jules Vern’s “Voyage to the moon” and “20,000 leagues under the sea” foresaw moonshots and submarine warfare, but not in quite the way he surmised. Arthur C Clarke is credited with predicting communication satellites, and in one short story the widespread availability of pornography via satellite TV. In Clarke’s version, his protagonist was going to use the technology to subvert Western society. Forget the title or what collection it’s in. Either “The Nine Billion names of God” or “Tales of Ten Worlds” I think. Used to have copies, but they either got read to death, or lost in one of many house moves.
Today I finished a dark, ironic, even cautionary little story about the misuse of satellite technology. What starts out as the ultimate weapon against individual terrorists gets hijacked by a couple of bored slacker programmers, who inadvertently create devastation by tinkering with what they think is a ‘simulator’ package. The premise and outcome are fairly straightforward, the mechanics of the story not so much.
At six thousand, six hundred and sixty six words I find myself, for my own perverse reasons, liking both length and content. What gives the story punch is the proposed technology is one of those ‘on the horizon’ things. Just on the cusp of possibility. To be honest, I’ll be surprised if something very similar hasn’t already crossed some defence analysts desk as a serious weapon systems proposal.
Without giving too much away, I drew heavily on my knowledge of computer networking and security, wide area networks, orbital mechanics and ablation in order to tie various elements into a plausible, dramatic whole intended to both amuse and stimulate. For some it might prove a bit too geeky, for others overly simplistic, but that’s the fine line walked when you’re trying to mix in complex story elements with the cynicism of experience. What can a character do when their carefully defended world is going to hell, and everything that happens seems to make matters worse? Simply because they’ve been pushed into making a beta level system fully operational.
When I have another few of these stories completed, at present I’ve half a dozen as ‘works in progress’, I’ll put them into a little eBook collection and give it a punt into the great nowhere. See what happens. In the meantime it’s back to working on ‘Darkness’ and ‘A falling of Angels’.
October 12, 2013Posted by on
This morning I’m busily rounding off a 3000 word short story. Essentially it’s about a brand new anti-terrorist technology so good it not only eliminates individual threats, but also cannot be traced back to its source. Just another tale set in the not so distant future. Called ‘Keyhole’ it’s not part of my main story timelines, just one of those oddball tales that pop out of the woodwork between my ears every now and then.
Don’t know what I’m going to do with the story once finished. Despite what I think is rather a deft and savage twist in the plot, I don’t really think it’s that commercial a piece of work. Maybe I’ll do nothing. Perhaps lump it with a few others as part of a short story collection eBook at some stage.
October 9, 2013Posted by on
Angie has long complained that my current online profile picture “Doesn’t do you justice.” So during a keyboard break I decided to borrow her iPad, which has a rather good camera setup, and had a bit of a play. Then decided to try a picture using a mirror. After a few tries, which should probably be best buried on an obscure hard drive at midnight with a stake through its casing, I came up with this. Which for once meets with her approval, and as a writer of science fiction, the ‘infinity effect’ using the iPad camera also amuses. Good grief, I’m even smiling and don’t look as much like a crazed axe murderer as I usually do.
The more I get to play with it, the cooler I think her iPad is.
October 7, 2013Posted by on
Trying to move on with projects when your workplace is subject to unpredictable interruptions is difficult. So it has been for the past few months. Angie’s been panicking a bit over her Teaching History course exam, and I’ve found myself roped in to help with revision. All in all, what with new shifts, cuts in hours, hunting for a new day job, planning to move house, and a heap of other incidentals, finding the time to concentrate and write consistently has been at a premium. Even in the quietest moments there have been things clamouring for my attention, distracting from the job in hand. Next doors anti-social birds and my dogs habit of random fits of barking when there’s no-one there don’t exactly help. I don’t mind him calling me when there’s an issue, but barking at things which aren’t there, or a quarter mile away are not conducive to serious endeavour. So working on ‘A falling of Angels’ and ‘Darkness’ has proven quite an effort of late. Any sudden interruption sends my birds of thought fluttering off to the far reaches, and they’re a bugger to coax down from the rafters afterwards.
Normally speaking, when in a noisy environment, the human mind is rather good at filtering out the constant rivers of aural trash. When you’re in the ‘zone’ it’s like having headphones on, and the nervous hindbrain is lulled to a lower stress level, leaving the frontal lobes free to do the fine carpentry of narrative construction. Low flying aircraft noise, tugs in the narrows pulling log booms, gardening machinery, all these can fade into the background. Background music or documentaries help. But when the interruptions are random and unpredictable, the filters can’t work, and writing suffers.
It’s easy to write, any damn fool can string a sentence together and use a spell checker, but as good old Sam Clemens once noted, fiction has to make sense, real life doesn’t. You can’t just fling any old nonsense down on the page and hope it works. Within the framework of the narrative, premises must lead to conclusions, causality must be rigorously observed. Threads tied off. All that shizzle.
I do keep plot notes, I do try to write character traits down, but, and this is the big but; characters have to develop. They have to change with each major event or they simply become cardboard cutouts of stereotypes. Their humanity has to alter with each new challenge, just like with real people. Fixing them to a page can sometimes be akin to nailing jelly to the wall. Especially when inspiration keeps striking like random meteors. Those “Hey, what if?” thoughts constantly intrude. And if the story is changed, well nothing happens in isolation, everything has to be accounted for.
What is often not appreciated is how hard this is to do. At least for those of us who have real lives. Dogs to walk, day job to do, meals to cook, chores etc. Finding quiet time to let the consciousness roam without distraction and find answers to the many questions. Since Angie took her exam two days ago, the distractions are fewer, and I’m beginning to pick up the threads again. Yet again. Today I’ve sorted out a few gaping holes in the plot of ‘a falling of angels’, or at least nailed narrative planks over the worst of them, and I’m starting to write properly again.
October 1, 2013Posted by on
One of the things I think, and this is purely the opinion of a nobody so who really cares, is that when writing a story of any kind, an effort must be made to dodge all the incoming cliché’s. Hear the tell tale whistle of a tired old axiom and hit the metaphorical dirt. This is where I am with both ‘A Falling of Angels’ and ‘Darkness’.
Sometimes, like with Heathrow Airport, these hackneyed old saws can’t be avoided, and for a short while story lines can become predictable and even a little tired. Which can turn original story telling from a journey into a commute, having to use the same old piece of highway or train track, seeing the same old sights with the same old companions. Knowing you’re going to end up in the same old places. Day on day. Year after year. Recycling the same old same old without a new angle rapidly gets dull and repetitious. Which is rather like where Hollywood went with their usual crop of Blockbusters Summer 2013. No wonder audience figures are reported as down.
When I write I’m always looking for a new angle, a quirk or random element. Something unusual, tragi-comic maybe, but always human, always drawn from my or other people’s experiences. It’s my belief that a story path should jump the tracks occasionally to give any reader a fresh perspective. Flesh out a critical character. Surprise, astound, engage a readers thinking muscles by adding a new depth or level of perspective. All that shizzle. Excuse the neologism, but with two stepdaughters in their 20′s, these things tend to creep in. As has been observed, children can do awful things to a vocabulary. Which can be fun until everyone starts doing it, which is where I came in, I think.
Jean-Luc Godard observed that any given story should have a ‘beginning, a muddle, and an end‘, with the codicil “But not necessarily in that order”. By way of comparison, I often see posts about the ‘rules of writing’ on LinkedIn forums, only to observe that there seem to be as many rules as there are writers. I suppose, having thought about it, the key is applying your own singular world view. If other people like it, great, wonderful, fine, but as many a marketing manager stuck on a failing campaign has noted; what should doesn’t always. So it is with developing an idea into a narrative. Which is where I keep on getting stuck. Between what might be original, and what I think constitutes good.
As soon as I’ve worked out a relatively cliché free story direction, I’ll be able to move on. Today that involves stepping away from the keyboard for an hour or three. Making myself useful on the domestic front before evening shift.