Tag Archives: Amusing myself

Today’s ‘what if’


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.

Amusing myself with my wifes iPad


NewMKJprofilePhotoAngie 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.

Research and random directions


While researching the ‘Freemen on the land’ movement for ‘A Falling of Angels’, I’m beginning to see where they derive their philosophy. This is an incredibly complex world, both politically and financially, and I don’t really think that anyone outside of a few obsessive actuaries and lawyers really understand how and why it works, and exactly how fragile our western socio-economic structure actually is. And how dependent we are on it from a global perspective.

I also appreciate that there are people who can ‘game’ the system to increase their wealth, and use their subsequent economic leverage to obtain even greater power. It has always been thus. This competitive urge is part of human nature, hard wired, so to speak. Likewise, there will always be those who resent domination. This too is part of the human condition.

Therefore todays random story direction came from noting that arch economic manipulator George Soros is getting married, and how the guest list was going to be packed with the ‘great and good’. This kicked the ‘What-if?’ generator in my head into gear, and out popped a story idea. What if ultra high definition ‘Keyhole’ satellite coverage was available like in the movies, and ‘what if’ there was a weapons package that could be dropped from Low Earth Orbit into a guided trajectory which could hit and destroy a target within a centimetre? A system specifically created to eliminate specific ‘Terrorist’ threats without the bad publicity created by massive collateral damage. Too small and fast to be detected or intercepted. A literal ‘Sword of Damocles‘ to be used to eliminate threats to the greater public. Now let’s extend this conceit. What if said technology was hijacked? What if an event like a high society wedding, packed to the rafters with high level politicians and the ultra rich, was targeted? What if, despite multiple layers of protection, the great and powerful became as vulnerable as the rest of humanity? Their own weapon systems turned against them?

Oh, I’m going to have a lot of fun with this one. Amazing what random story ideas a little research kicks off.

Just as an aside, I first used a variant of this concept in ‘Falling Through the Stars‘ where a President who tries to tries to buck the ‘system’ is targeted by an anti aircraft missile meant to protect Washington DC from an airborne attack. This concept has a similar flavour. In ‘Falling’ this protagonist isn’t a rather mindless Terminator like ‘Skynet’, set to destroy all of humanity, but a non-human intelligence which is simply selectively protecting itself and the philosophy it is programmed with.

The five best Science Fiction TV shows, ever.


Of all the best Science Fiction series, not movies or one off specials ever aired on TV, I have five firm favourites which I can watch again and again. Presented, like in all contest formats should be, in reverse order;

Fifth: A tie between ‘StarGate SG-1‘ and ‘Enterprise‘. Two worthy franchises.

Fourth: Red Dwarf (But not ‘Back to Earth’ – A shockingly bad end to a fantastic belly laugh of a series.) A small cast forever on fine form. A perennial.

Third: Farscape. Not so much for the Jim Henson creature creations as for what was done with them by the writing, direction team, and the actors.

Second: Babylon 5 (Series 2-5) Michael J Straczinski’s epic. Great story arc.

First: Firefly. Joss Whedons magnificent writing shines through. Great character development, smart stories, and snappy dialogue. Possibly the best Sci-Fi TV show of all time. Until something better comes along.

Things I wish I’d known at 18


1. Don’t waste your energy.
Decide what you’re going to write about and stick with it. Experimentation is fine, but these should always be left for tinkering at weekends, like a mechanic might work on restoring vintage cars as a hobby. Keep the day job until the big bucks come your way.

2. Work at it.
Determination be thy friend. Don’t give up on a project. Finish it. All it requires is an act of will. Nothing else will do the trick.

3. Ignore naysayers.
What might matter to a professional literary Critic might not be the view of the public at large. In fact this is probably axiomatic. Same for family and friends. Everyone has a different agenda, and they all want your attention right this minute. Our lives are bombarded by trivial little voices who simply can’t wait to start wagging their mouths. These little voices are sappers of karma, time vampires who sink their attention seeking little canines into your creative neck and insist, without bothering to read more than a couple of paragraphs that you’ve written that “You’re wasting your time.” They will almost always be wrong.

4. Don’t rush it.
Great. You’ve finished it. Your great work. Now put your magnum opus aside for a week before reading it like a reader would. Tighten up sentence structure. Eradicate those excess articles. Punish those pleonasms. And spell check, spell check, spell check. Take your time. Get it right. This is important.

5. Don’t worry about publisher rejections.
Everyone gets rejected. You, me, everyone. Publishers will take on what they think they can sell and make money on. They, like you and me are mere mortals and therefore subject to the immutable cosmic laws of cock-up. They guess, go with their gut instinct, or are simply too busy or hard up to plough through a ‘slush pile’ of unknowns. This provides a very large rabbit hole for your literary tour de force to fall through. Simply tidy and reformat your work, then resubmit after a year. By then it is likely that they will have hired different readers, have actually drunk coffee that morning, or decided to look for new markets. Well, enough to get the story you’re trying to tell. We all have off days. Some more than others. And even closed minds open occasionally.

6. Believe, but not too much.
So you have a cause. Whoop-te-do. So have half the idiots on the planet. People with ’causes’ are at the root of half the world’s evils. They believe hard and too much. So don’t be one of them.

7. Read primary sources.
Not newspaper reports based on press releases. Dig deep for the scholarly papers on your subject and read carefully. Trust but verify. If you’re going to write about it, research. Read more than one source. It will pay off, eventually.

8. Remember that people like drama.
Drama fulfils a deep human need for stimulation. The thirst for the new, the immediacy of novelty. Everyone, apart from autistic souls who can’t connect with others.

9. Learn the ‘rules’ of writing.
Mainly to learn how to break them properly. Always remember that ‘rules’ are sometimes only guidelines. “For the guidance of the wise, and the adherence of fools.”

10. Make time for yourself.
Time outs are important. Chill, step away from the day to day craziness. Stop reading the news and blogs that drive you nuts. Make friends and spend quality time with them. Drink coffee, watch the birds. Do whatever makes you most relaxed. Whatever form that takes.

11. Ease up on the illicit substances.
Getting drunk or stoned is human. We all do it. Well, most of us. Either to celebrate or decerebrate, maybe both. Sometimes we need a little chemical assistance to soften the blows of life. Have a session, a binge to ease the pain. The trick is not to let intake take over.

12. Don’t forget family.
Even if they are…. well, let’s not go there. Remember birthdays, send a card or message. Stay in touch and be civil at the very least. When the chips are down, they’ll be there for you. Even if you behave like an idiot most of the time.

13. Learn the power of ‘No’.
Sometimes, no matter how much you care about or respect someone, you are going to have to refuse them. Learn to do it gently.

Here endeth the lesson.

Morning at the Office


Morning at the officeJust another day in the ‘Office’. Although you can’t see the Deer, Raccoon or Rabbits from here. The odd passing truck or car. Out on the water there’s just sail boats and the occasional Gin Palace passing through. Day job later, but only a six hour shift, then back here for half past five. Which after supper gives me two more writing hours until sunset.

Working more on ‘Darkness’ than any other project at the moment, as the story thread I’m following is quite robust. Nine thousand words in the past five days. Not bad, could be doing more, but at least the ideas are flowing.

Life, as seen from my deck


Before I came to Canada, I had no idea about what I now call ‘deck life’. Yet now Summer is here, that is where I find myself living and writing. If it wasn’t for the mosquitoes after nine pm, I’d probably end up sleeping out here as well. Not that there are many mossies around at the moment. They usually arrive three days after a rain shower, and there’s been no rain since last Sunday. Just in case there are any strays wafting about, I’ve lit the mosquito coils and citronella candles.

Angie is off at her yearly conference in Squamish, so until tomorrow it’s just me and the Dog, chilling, drinking beers and getting dive bombed by Hummingbirds on their way to the feeder. Watching the glorious British Columbian daylight fade from blue through a dusky violet into broad indigo bands around the horizon, and the 8:40 flight passes overhead from Vancouver. The dog in next doors yard, a curly haired mutt, barks sporadic greeting at the world, and a tiny cooling breeze strokes my feet therapeutically. Et in Arcadia ego.

It’s not all fun because there are hard choices to be made. Do I get another beer from the fridge? Or do I simply sit here listening to far off conversations, watch the odd boat go past and let the stress drip from my bones. Choices, choices. Would I like some tea and a Digestive cookie before I reluctantly go to bed? Well goodness me, so I do.

Have hardly written a thing over the past week, barely two thousand worthwhile words, but after all the travelling, I’m having a little private time out.

Blink part 1; an experiment in story telling.


Nice sunny day. Have decided to play a little this morning with this thought experiment. I may graft it into something bigger, but while Landlord is jarring my concentration with heavy duty brushcutter in overlush garden, and cold callers (Is anyone dumb enough to buy stuff from a telemarketing cold caller?) derail my mainline trains of thought. Here it is in first draft format.

Blink.

Sometime in the not so distant future. In a midnight data centre far, far away, something routinely trivial happens. A file, a data stub is corrupted during routine upgrade and transfer. The record attached is missing one key field. A simple pug ugly data entry fault. Missed keystroke. Typo. A box not ticked correctly. Record dumped as ‘corrupt’. Nothing to sweat about. One record. De nada. Everyday stuff. Fill in the forms. All be good.

Update: Corrupted backup gets dumped into cyber oblivion with whole bunch of inane Tweets, Picture and vid files, Pokes, Emails and message updates. Global impact is; Huh? Lots of inane stuff reposted. No harm, no foul, right?

Update: A small apartment, anywhere city in a brave new electronic world of Iris and retinal recognition.

Blink: Hey. Lights aren’t working. Oh, power’s out. Jeee-sus.

Blink: Kettle won’t switch on. Okay, no power. No crappy morning hot drink. Look out of window. Yay. Local cafe got power. Open and serving goodies. Treat for breakfast. Fine. Not so bad. Can see cute Barista on shift, the one with nice smile and taut package. Drool.

Blink: Clothes in closet look a bit stale, want to look good for the cute Barista. 3D print bling, and new shizzle from autocloset. Ten minutes and you’re lookin’ dangerous baby. Dress to kill. Look out world, here I come. Party starts here.

Blink: Shit! Power off. Autocloset 3D print not working. No new shizzle and stuff. Have to wear rumpled old crap from last night. Cute Barista maybe not such an attainable life goal today. Too much VPL.

Blink: Hmm. Blood sugar needed. What goodies in the Autofridge? Something sweet maybe?

Blink: Autofridge panel reads: ‘Retinal & Iris print record not recognised – Have a great day’. WTF? What’s this ‘Conserve Power’ crap?

Blink: Power standby light on phone is cool. Hey all little red lights are on standby. Wall screen, Web terminal, Mealcooker, Autofridge. Even toaster and coffee machine. Power not out. Glitch or what? Pull on rumpled clothes. Feel and look like like crap. So yesterday.

Blink: Come on, work will you? Blink. Blink. Blinkety frigging blink! Gotta call repair guys. Means three hours in a call centre queue so late for worky stuff. Sit down. Swear.

Blink: Hey. Not all lost. Call work with a brill excuse. Spend rest of day ogling cute Barista. Maybe date, get horny and grunty. Look on bright side. Miss boring meeting. Hey. Things looking up already.

Blink: Shit. Door sticking. Hate it. Junky moronic door. Open up. I wanna go get coffee an shizzle. Wassallthis ‘No known record’ crap? Kick door. Hah! Emergency override. Red button. Door opens. Ta-daahhh! Suck it, techno crap. Call tech support when get home. Call centres always jammed in morning. Genius me got all the answers. Better do worky thing first. Dull, dull-de-dull-dull. Major yawn. Get credit to fix crap techno stuff.

Blink: Bus won’t let me on. Hey, what is this? I ain’t no low-life. Got job. Got credit. I am not nobody. Homeless guy with empty coffee cup laughing at me. Big blush. Walk away. Humiliation. WTF is happening?

Blink: Walking sucks. My life is crap. Least not far.

Blink: WTF? Worky place door not working. Oh shee-it. Securi-bot software’s locked door. Hey. How come? Hey fuckwit, I work here. Let me in. Got big important meeting thing. Hey flunky ap. You get you’re worthless ass upgraded to electronic hell, pal.

Blink: Ow! The door Tazered me. People laughing. Manager from upstairs knows me. I’m on her team. Says she’ll contact security. Gotta wait at door. Aw bitchin.

Blink: Security guy with Manager in lobby. He’s shaking his head. She’s pointing. Yeah, right, flunky. I key team player. Hot shot on way to top. You better let me in or, or….

Blink: Manager at door says no go. Security glitch. Go home, full pay. Not your fault. All fixed tomorrow. Can’t let me in or security doors will tazer my ass. Everywhere. See you tomorrow.

Blink: No bus. Gotta walk. Blisters! I got pigging blisters! Hurts. Hate it, hate it, hate it. Rain. Hate that too. Junky, shitty rain. Don’t like wet.

Blink: Coffee store. Go ogle cute Barista. Yay. Mocha Latte heat drive the cold out. Brill.

Blink: Watcha mean, no credit? I got credit. I live there. That block, that apartment. See? You seen me before. I’m someone. Not nobody.

Blink: Cute Barista firm head shake. Get out bum. No Mocha Latte. Pram pushing bitch behind tells me to get lost. Walk away, head down, hot tears, cold rain.

Blink: Apartment block won’t open. WTF? I live here crissake! Lemme in! Slump. Cry. No one stops. Why won’t anyone talk to me?

Okay. That’s all for the moment. Just an hours messing around with a story thought. I foresee three possible endings. Like I say, just one of the many ideas I get to mud wrestle with. May be finished for release in volume of short stories and novellas some time later this year. May grind to a halt to live forever as one of my many story fragments. Who knows. Blink: and it might just happen. Or not.

What philosophical questions do you answer when you write?


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.

Picking up the baton #WritersBlock


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.

Language; art or science?


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.

Playing with immortality


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.

The joy of cornering #WritersBlock


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.