Tag Archives: Observation

Editing day


In an effort to be disciplined and productive, I’ve decided that every Thursday is going to be an editing and rewriting day. What I’m trying to do is keep a story still fresh in my mind, reading and re-reading the previous few days output until I’m happy with it, at the same time keeping a lid on the typos and filling in details I missed on the first and second read throughs.

I’ve tried editing MSS all the way through from end to end and the results, to be quite candid, have been a bit patchy. Far better to run through the last six or seven thousand words and get what you want to say as close to right as humanly possible. Keeping the sentences rhythmic and fluid without getting too ‘flowery’. And try to keep the characters, dialogue and situations reasonably credible. Keep the ‘passive voice’ to a minimum without messing up the cadence.

Readers need to suspend a certain amount of disbelief, but not so much as to sprain a neuron every time they trip over an impossible plot device. Even if you’re writing fantasy, a certain amount of logical consistency has to be applied. These are the rules I write by. Even if I don’t always manage to live up to them. We’re all human.

So, today is the naming of parts. My editing day. Back to the keyboard, and maybe a walk later.

Progressing a storyline


Sometimes you have to sacrifice wordage on the altar of a story. That is today’s lesson. ‘A falling of Angels’ first draft will be complete within the next three weeks at around 80,000 words. Current word count is 76,000 plus, but I’m going to have to excise 18,500 words of that for the greater story to make sense. On the upside, it will mean I no longer have a glaringly orphaned storyline. The material will be transferred to the MSS of ‘On a bridge, burning’ where it fits in better with the narrative of Paul Calvins latest fall from grace.

As a means of improving my proof reading I’ve taken to reading passages of my latest output aloud. With my office door closed of course. If the language sounds right when I say it, it stays in. If I stumble on a first and second read through, then I have to take a big virtual hammer on a passage to simplify until it reads properly.

The good news is that after all the upsets and disruptions of the past few months, I’m actually settling down to some steady writing. The weekends fishing expedition, which ended as honours even between myself and brother in law Ian, helped unravel some mental kinks that were getting in the way. I think we’ll be repeating the experience next month.

How civilisations fail.


One of the themes I’ve been exploring in the ‘Stars’ series of novels is the nature of civilisation. What makes some thrive and others quickly crumble into the dust. Essentially what changes cause catastrophic failure in any given society.

On a little ramble around the Internet, I came across a number of sources which might help me finish the third volume in the series and tie up all the loose story threads. Having given the matter some thought, I compiled a timeline of six stages. I think they make sense;

  1. Prolonged warfare, dramatic over expansion of administrative function, catastrophic environmental change, destructive social movements, or failure to adapt to any given changes which destabilise the supply chain of resources.
  2. When the supply chain of general resources grows too destabilised, the overall living standard of those who depend upon it declines. Critical infrastructure maintenance also declines while resources are diverted by an administration for non productive purposes.
  3. Resource flow declines further as available resources shrink. More resources are diverted into administration than the general supply chain.
  4. Administration leaders and their contacts unsustainably divert resources for their own benefit.
  5. Increasing authoritarian control and surveillance is required by administration to ensure that the population continues to comply with increased resource reduction / diversion and other constraints.
  6. In the final phase, administration turns against its own people, treating the previously compliant like enemies (Failure of criminal law). A general failure of socio-economic agreements (Failure of civil law) is followed by economic and social collapse, often marked by excessive unrest and riots, capital flight, excessive inflation, and the permanent departure of the most productive.

Note:
By ‘supply chain’ I mean the flow of resources that a civilisation depends upon to flourish; be it the flow of commerce and trade, harvest, processing and use of raw material, or development of the intellectual capital of appropriately skilled people. It may help to think of these items not as things, but as processes. Like a flowing river, not a pond.

In ‘Darkness’ the collapse of Earth rule gives rise to ‘Khan’s rules’ as Suresh Khan and the other newly independent Association world leaders try to hammer out a workable constitution. One of the key items below.

Except in time of declared war, administrative function shall not form a total greater than one quarter of any planetary economy.

By the way, I’ve had to disable comments on most of this sites web pages because of the spam issue. IP blacklisting is also now in place for all comment spam trolling advertisers. Apologies to anyone who has anything to say. Use the ‘contact’ form if you get stuck and I’ll try to respond.

Research oddities


Researching information on golf clubs and woodland in the Sutton & Cheam area, I was busy googling for information on the Banstead Downs Gold Course near where I once lived. As well as the usual web pages on golf clubs in the area, I came across the ‘Sutton & Cheam WWII bomb map‘, which added an extra paragraph or two of local colour.

Certainly would make me think twice about using a Sand wedge to get out of the rough on the 18th fairway at Cuddington. If I played golf, which I don’t.

New short story sample and minor anxieties


New short science fiction sample posted here. It’s bit rough round the edges and in need of further editing. Just something to keep my mind off the possible disruption to air travel over Iceland. Eldest Stepdaughter Laura is flying back from Tanzania to the UK this Sunday and I’m mildly concerned in case the authorities completely shut down European airspace like they did with the Eyfjallajokull eruption.

Trying to look on the bright side, at least Badarbunga is easier to pronounce. Webcam of eruption progress here. A very useful Icelandic geology web site run by a local geology student. Icelandic Met office site here. The whole saga is surprisingly gripping.

Update: The good news is that Laura is safe back home in the UK, and this eruption doesn’t look like it’s going to cause major European air traffic disruption like in 2010.

Characters discussing morality


I’ve been playing around with a dark little idea that fills in some backstory detail for the final volume of the Stars Trilogy, which is still far short of its proposed total. The following excerpt is an attempt to throw the light of discourse onto why otherwise cultured and civilised peoples can allow, even rejoice in, terrible things done for their cause. This is a topic which has always fascinated me. See what you think.

“Why did the Gaians insist on using human grown neural cells for their Assault Cyborgs, not artificial neural nets? Why did they have to core out all those millions? Kill all those poor people?”
“Cost. Autonomous neural net manufacturing technology used to be amazingly expensive and glitchy, even as recently as ten years ago. I guess they found it cheaper to just harvest pre grown material for cores. Do the math. A thousand assault units at a hundredth of the cost of a full Biotech AI means you can afford a hundred times as many. Simple. It doesn’t matter that there’s only a twelve percent success rate. To the Gaians that was perfectly acceptable because there were plenty more dissidents where they came from.” Suresh Khan raised a philosophical jet black eyebrow at the newcomer.
“That’s sick. The mere thought makes me want to throw up.”
“Congratulations. That at least proves you’re still human.”
“Considering it was humans that thought it up, that’s not much of a compliment.”
“Not all humans, just a few.”
“That few is too many.”
“You know, it’s amazing how many think that everyone else should think as they do, and given the opportunity would murder millions to make them do so.”
“That’s just cynical rubbish!”
“Look in the mirror and ask yourself the question.”
“Crap!”
“Really? Aren’t you being a little dishonest now?”
“No.”
“The question is this. Given the opportunity to make what you think is the perfect society. Everything exactly what you want it to be, world peace, everyone living in harmony, who would you be willing to kill or have killed?”
“That’s an unfair question! People don’t have to die for a society to become perfect!”
“No it isn’t unfair. It’s actually just about the fairest question there is. There will always be those with a contrary view, and as putative leader, it is your responsibility to manage societies response. Who and how many are you willing to send to your executioners?”
“No-one!”
“Even if they pose a physical threat to your perfect society? Even if they murder and terrorise at will? I’ll ask you again. How will you kill them, and how many are you willing to kill?”
“Well there’s the people who created the Gaian murder machine. Most of them are dead anyway. There’s also the people who gave the orders for Ahmed to be blown out of the sky.”
“And?”
“The people who did the killing and everyone who approved of it.”
“Good answers. Now where would you stop?”
“I don’t know.”
“Now you know why I disapprove of killing.”
“But, but, you’ve killed more Gaian Borg and soldiers than anyone else I know.”
“Did I say I enjoyed it?”
“No, but you’re the one lecturing me on the morality of killing.”
“Have I ever even suggested killing one of our own people?”
“That’s not the same and you know it! What about him? He’s killed more people than anyone in the history of the world.” A quivering finger pointed at Richard, who briefly glanced at the accusing digit before returning to his studying.
“Now you know that this isn’t what this discussion is about. It’s about how many people are you willing to have killed to get what you want?” Suresh sighed and leaned back for a moment, arms folded. “ One death? Ten? A thousand? Ten million?”
“Now you’re being ridiculous.”
“No. It’s a perfectly valid question. How many, and where do you stop?”

Now if only I could find a way to shoehorn it into the current story. Without sounding contrived, that is.

Happy Birthday World Wide Web


Today is my birthday. 12th March. I had no idea that Tim Berners-Lee first submitted his proposal for the World Wide Web today, twenty five years. A quarter of a century ago. Although the technology itself didn’t go public until 1993.

So short a time. Back in 1995 I recall penning a thousand word piece called ‘Cybermarket – the future of retailing’. Just a speculative PR article for the trade press. I believe I managed to place it in one of the trade technology journals of the time, although have no idea where it was printed. In the article there were predictions about Supermarket chains like Tesco’s getting into Financial Services and having online stores. Reference was made to the amount of bandwidth necessary to create an interactive online 3-D model of a Superstore, and how it might come about. Now Supermarkets provide online banking and financial services, the world and its wife provide on line shopping, and I think the fully interactive 3-D catalogue is not that far away. Certainly Internet driven home deliveries have been popular for some time now, and the graphics of certain game engines might be adapted to provide a better interface. Maybe the next iteration of online shopping will be a sort of World of Warcraft meets Second Life meets the retail sector.

Didn’t foresee the rise of eBay or Amazon, but those were then outside the scope of the article.

Anyway. Happy birthday World Wide Web. Well I never. So far so fast.

I like George R R Martin


I’m not generally a fan of fantasy as a genre. On the other hand, I’m very happy to read and watch the work of George R R Martin. The series is engrossing, and I think (takes deep breath as I’m about to write fantasy heresy) better than Tolkien. I’ve read Tolkien, and it just never took hold with me the way that George Martin’s work has.

I watched this interview, and discovered much that finds resonance with me. No-one is completely good or evil, and his female characters are less bound by stereotype than in many similar works. Characters morph and change throughout a story, being moulded and in turn moulding the narrative. They do the unexpected for their own strange reasons. Loyalties shift, even within families, and I feel this is a good thing, as it adds depth and surprise.

The only thing I hope he doesn’t do is kill off Tyrion Lannister. Not yet anyway. Both the narrative version and Peter Dinklage’s performance in Game of Thrones are far too much fun.

Oh well, I have my own lonely furrow to carry on ploughing. Back to the keyboard.

Skipping Christmas again


Times are tight, as is the money supply, and this year we’ll be sending gifts and money to close friends and family as usual. As well as sponsorship for youngest daughter, who is firewalking for charity this year. But with the kids (Grown up young women really) and other family on the other side of the Atlantic and Pacific, Angie and I will be making this festive season a very low key affair. We’ll have a guest and friends over for Christmas eve and day but won’t be making a big thing of it. Don’t think I’ll bother with a tree. I might string up a few lights, but that’s all. I’ve even managed to avoid the day job Christmas party. Which gets me out of the interminable gift giving I can’t afford to people I hardly know. Fine if you’re well paid and have money to spare. Not so fine if you aren’t and haven’t. My boss was surprised when I told her I didn’t want to come, but respects what I do, at least enough to acquiesce. She even sat down as if expecting an explanation. I just hunkered down to begin my shift and said it would take a decade to explain why this time of year always makes me uncomfortable. Which it does.

This doesn’t mean I hate Christmas or any other time of year. No, I say live and let live. Respect the rights of others. If they want to participate, fine. Just don’t judge me for wanting to have a quiet time instead. Maybe work a little, go easy on the whole conspicuous overconsumption thing, smile affably, nod, walk on by. Chill away from the fuss, noise and ‘fun’. Most of it’s for the kids anyway.

John Grisham has a little novella called ‘Skipping Christmas’ about a couple who want to take a break from interminable ‘celebration’ and go on a cruise. Like all these cautionary tales it doesn’t end well for Luther and his wife. Charles Dicken’s ‘Christmas Carol’ and other like works of emotional blackmail are, like Santa, fantasies for small children. “Be like everyone else or bad things will happen.” Is the implied threat. Real life is usually somewhat more forgiving. ‘Couple go away for Christmas, save money and have a really nice relaxing time’ wouldn’t have made much of a story.

As I shall be working on and off, as well as putting in time and energy on my major writing projects, the TV will stay tuned to Netflix and YouTube. We’ll spend time with close friends. New year calls for study, when I intend to improve my various Technical Writing certifications. Writing novels is all very well, but it’s not very good at paying the rent.

Heading those chapters


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.

First snow


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.

Random thoughts of the day


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.

Something for nothing


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?

Thought for the morning


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.