Tag Archives: Travel

The problem with writing dystopian sci-fi

Writing as I do about possible dystopian futures, it’s a bit of a shock to the system when reality crowds in.  Either my perception has shifted, or there is something very deeply wrong around my old home.

From when I was last here two years ago, Stratford upon Avon is definitely looking careworn.  Which is kind of odd for a major UK tourist destination.   Whilst Waterside by the Theatres is as tidy as ever,  grass in the other public parks and places we visited last night is either uncut or a little frayed round the edges.  Flower beds not as well-tended as I recall.  The little triangle of park between Grove Road and Rother Street was a case in point.   Almost everywhere there’s an air of neglect and cutbacks.  Five stores in Wood Street alone empty and up for rent.  Quite a number of changes in tenancies.  I counted at least four Estate Agents Offices closed down and moved on in Sheep and Ely Street.  And everywhere the pale ubiquitous dysfunctionality of CCTV and Wind Turbines.  Cameras, cameras everywhere, yet not a one to see.  I was half expecting some tattered old man to lurch up to me and recount a dire tale about shooting Albatrosses, or at least a pigeon, and being cast into the outer reaches of society.  To languish undying in a living purgatory for the great sin of hubris.

In some ways I’m reminded of the decline I observed in the 1970’s.  The party is over, and someone has to start collecting the glasses, recycling the bottles, cleaning the toilets, and giving the old place a damn good airing.

Angie and I dropped by the Kingfisher fish and chip shop in Ely Street, bought two portions of fish and chips, one of which was too much for us, so we donated the untouched other to a guy begging on the Tramway Bridge.  It should have been hot enough, and either he was a pretty good actor or that boy looked cold.  Having backpacked the Cornish coast path during the late 1980’s I’m no stranger to a cold, damp English June.  Yet there’s a sensation of a chill in the air, perhaps even the soul, that won’t quite go away.

My brother is always telling me that despite the difficulties we face making a new life away from home, we made the right choice to get out of the UK when we did, and from what I’ve seen to date, certainly the old place looks in need of a good tidy and scrub.  Nanaimo may be part North American strip mall, but City Hall does spend taxpayer dollar on infrastructure, and there aren’t half the potholes in the roads that I’ve had my teeth jarred with today.   Quite frankly I find myself more than a little shocked at the condition of the motorways and major A roads.  There must be a booming trade in fixing car and truck suspensions.

On the other hand, the people seem more resilient, and one gets the impression of a desperately cheerful ‘Keep calm and carry on’ zeitgeist in places like Truro, St Austell, Bath and Stratford.  What I’m certain of is this; times are hard, and getting harder.  The part living nightmare of Paul Calvin’s mid 21st century England is closer at hand than I’m really happy with.  It’s one thing to write about decline and decay, but to see it happening right in front of you is another matter.

Whoops! Facebook strikes again

Still jetlagged, but now in my home town (ish) of Stratford upon Avon, UK.  Have not been logging on to my Facebook account for the simple reason that I’ve had no secure connection.  Now I’m locked out of my ‘professional’ and public Facebook because it ‘doesn’t recognise’ my laptop.  I’m on the move for the next eighteen days, and silly me, forgotten the answer to my security question, which is currently on a piece of paper at home, in a locked file several thousands of miles away in Nanaimo BC.  Still, there’s always my personal Facebook, which I’ve managed to keep up and running.  Although I won’t be making that ‘public’.  Too much family and personal stuff.  Ergo it will have to wait until I get home.

This raises two problems; firstly I was going to let a couple of old mates know that I’m in Stratford this weekend because there’s a beer festival going on.  I was rather looking forward to catching up and either hiding from the rain under canvas, or enjoying the sunshine with a good English pint in hand, having a damn good chew over old and new times.  Still, I’m not beaten yet, and ways and means will be found to make contact.

Jet lag and the creative muse

I don’t know about anyone else, but at the moment my time sense is off by what feels like eighteen hours.  Had a long last 48 hours in airports and am began beginning this post in the deserted bar of an English hotel with my senses scrambled.  According to the local time it’s past two in the morning. According to what’s left of my sleep deprived brain I’ve lost all frame of reference.

The flight over wasn’t great, as two excited Dutch seniors gabbled on all night in loud voices, despite being asked to keep it quiet.  Maybe they didn’t understand, but I’ve found that’s unusual for the Dutch.  Most are such good English second language speakers.  Perhaps it was their first time coming back from BC.  I don’t know.  Angie was her usual restive self, so I watched the in flight movies with my neurons quietly dissolving  into temporal shifted chaos.  Tried to cat nap in the airport, which took the edge off it, but that was all.  At the moment, Mr Wonderful I’m not.  As I get older I get less tolerant of these things.  Next time we will plan at least a 24 hour layover between long distance flights.

Writing as I do about interstellar travel and its various challenges, this raised the point of ‘Star lag’.  A disconnect between Earth time zones and human diurnal synchronisation.  Say you have a star traveller who has been living on time zone in one world who makes repeated trips to Earth and a specific time zone there, what does this do to their body functions?  I’ve heard some issues referred to as ‘Biorhythm upset’ (Larry Niven) and a few other references, which not unnaturally escape me right at this moment.  In the Stars series, various characters report feeling less than in tune with themselves after forty or fifty light year trips.  Coupled with the time disruption caused by a disconnect between normal space / time function and what I refer to as ‘subspace’.

Working from personal experience of long distance travel, I’ve jotted a few notes on what it might be like for people who have to live and work on Star ships, and all the mental and physical challenges raised.  If there is a secret to faster than light interstellar travel, and if humankind is not dumb enough to self destruct in the meantime, what does this do to the people who will regularly traffic between worlds?  How will they cope?  What will their needs be?

Personal space will be an issue for star ship designers, and cabins will need to be roomy, with facility for low gravity sleeping arrangements.  Digging around for anecdotal reports and more scholarly data from Astronauts on the ISS, and from the old Russian Mir programme and Skylab leaves us with plenty of clues.  Regular reports on the condition of Astronauts like Chris Hadfield, for example, the Canadian Astronaut whose YouTube videos went viral on the web also provide material.  There’s a hell of a lot of good basic primary source material available, and research is half of what writing is all about.

In ‘Darkness’ all these themes have to be addressed, and with all the necessary astronomical data to plough through, there’s a rich seam to be mined.  Especially for the critical ‘Asteroid miner’ story thread.

Amazing what inspiration can come, even from jet lag.

Truro UK today and tomorrow.  Visiting Bath and seeing Jo and Laura the day after.  Then family in Stratford.

On the move

No word from the Kobo people on the account settings, so the Kobo editions of ‘Sky’, ‘Falling’, and The Calvin series first offering ‘Head of the beast’ will have to wait until the jet lag fades.  For the next 24 hours plus I’m living in alloy tubes and airports, navigating the indignities of airport security, and trying not to laugh as Angie’s hip implants set off the scanners.  Then we’re more or less on the road for three weeks.  Of course I’ll hunker down where I can to put a few words to storyline and keep a weather eye on my email.

Had a good nights sleep last night, so I’m fresh and rested.  Maybe the jet lag won’t bite so hard this time round.

The eBook version of ‘Head of the Beast’ needs a reformat, so that will keep me out of mischief.  Just font and indent changes.  A few italics need inserting, but on the whole, the story still sends chills down my cynical back.  I may even put some more work in on ‘A Falling of Angels’.  Although ‘Darkness’, the third and final volume of the ‘Stars’ series needs the most attention.

Notepad, laptop, travel documents, money and other essentials are ready.  We’re off.  We’ll see what inspiration hits while we’re on the road.

Packing and packaging

Packing and paperwork become a priority from today. We leave on Sunday for the UK, and all the paperwork is being double checked and then checked again. Arranging feeding exercise and watering of dog. Treats and presents for Jo and Laura. Flight, hotel and car hire bookings obsessively pored over. Scanning the small print in travel insurance. Checking cash supplies. Credit cards brought out of cold storage. The usual travel minutiae.

One thing I’m trying to get up and running before we go is some editions of ‘Sky’, ‘Falling’, and ‘Head of the Beast’ in the Kobo marketplace. From what I’ve read so far, since I exclusively hold the copy and publishing rights, I can utilise existing ISBN’s and simply have Kobo as a separate distribution platform for eBooks. My only issue at present is setting up the royalty payments. Despite repeated checks with my bank and a dozen failed attempts with Kobo, their site won’t register my account to set up the electronic funds transfer or direct payment. No doubt I’m missing a trick. Somewhere along the line. Possibly. I need to read the FAQ’s no doubt. Again. Perhaps it’s too early in the morning. Yet there’s this driven streak in me that won’t let go. I’ve started, so I’m going to damn well finish. Get it out of the way so I can enjoy time with family and friends without having to worry about it. Although I’m sure there will be something else to obsess about.

I haven’t even started packing.

Final checks and formatting

Have got to the point with ‘Falling’ where I’m happy to release the rewritten content into the wild as an eBook. I’ve been holding back in case I get one of those ‘Distribution rejection’ e-mails from the previous volume. Reformatting is time consuming, and trying to weasel out the reason for the rejection equally so. They just send you stock e-mails about your works ‘metadata’, and never respond when you ask for details on which specific field doesn’t match the content. Although a better help section has been in evidence over the past year or so. This time, I think, I’ve got the formula right. I think. Touch wood, all that shizzle. Fingers, toes, nostrils and eyes crossed. (Don’t go there.) Hoping for the best.

Final spell check is due this evening after work. Which will take two hours, even with semi automated shortcuts. Final proofing will take another two days and eat up all the spare time I don’t have. Primary release via Lulu.com will happen probably Saturday afternoon before we finish packing and cleaning for our UK trip. Dog will be well cared for while we’re away. He’s on a vet mandated diet at the moment to see if we can shrink a fatty lump he’s developed. Special food has been purchased with strict instructions of no treats.

Sunday is a travelling day, arriving Bristol Airport in the UK on Monday. When travelling to the UK I like to arrive at provincial airports simply because Heathrow is my least favourite air terminal in the entire world. Dirty, crowded, high flight taxes and fees. Flights often late and everyone seems so bad tempered. So I try to avoid using it. Far better, and cheaper to take a flight into Schipol, hang around in relative comfort for four hours, then take a short hop to Bristol. Truro for three nights to visit Angie’s family, then up to my old home of Stratford upon Avon for a week. After that a hike over to Ireland to see the sights of Waterford and environs, thence back to Bristol and a two night layover in Amsterdam before home for tea, cookies and sleep.

Will try to write when I can find the odd quiet corner to hunker down in. If not, I’m in Bristol, Truro, Stratford, Ireland, Amsterdam etc.

Ready to release the latest versions

Of late I’ve been in obsessive compulsive mode; ironing out errors, formatting and editing, proofing and polishing my prose. Apart from being bloody hard work, it has also been exhausting to the point where my brain doesn’t know where my body is going. I can function; but like with the sleep deprivation I suffered last year, the signs of strain are unmistakeable.

Notwithstanding the above, what I call ‘Sky’ the first of the Stars Trilogy is now re released as an eBook. Checked, edited, proofed, re edited, spell checked and reformatted. The basic story structure remains the same, but all those irritating clunky sentences have been hammered into something a little more elegant. A much better product. First reports back from my test readers are encouraging. It’s been submitted to the iBookstore and Barnes & Noble Databases. A Kobo version will follow in a week or two when I’m rested. Not sure about Amazon. I’ll wait a while and see how the distribution works out.

Price is CAD$4.99. UK GBP 3.80. That’s fair. Considering Traditional publishers are charging Ten or more bucks per eBook, I think it’s bloody good value for all the work I’ve put in. Links will go into the ‘published works’ page by tonight, Pacific Standard time.

The second volume, ‘Falling’ although three thousand words shorter, was never as rough cut as the first. Ergo, there is less work involved in bringing it up to scratch. The release of the updated and improved ‘Falling’ will follow shortly as an eBook. All the old print to order versions, with all their myriad faults have been ‘retired’. Better, cleaner, more well formatted versions will shortly be available. The same will happen with all my other Novellas, short stories and Paul Calvin novels. Over the next year I intend to throw a lot of mud at the wall. See what sticks.

Self publishing is truly a steep learning curve, and we all leave skid marks on those unexpected corners. Projects end up nose down in the ditch, and require more than a metaphorical winch and Turtle wax to put back in good working order. Doesn’t mean they’re no good, it just means a little more work is needed. Fortunately there’s scope and opportunity to do that.

‘Darkness’, the third volume of the Stars trilogy remains a troublesome work in progress. It is hard to keep the main story on track. There are so many probability chains to follow I’m currently finding it too easy to run up any one of the many blind narrative alleys. Like a Minoan Labyrinth, I know where the end should be and am equipped to slay the Minotaur, but I’m still not quite sure how to get to my desired conclusion.

The UK trip looms ever closer, and I’m viewing it with mixed feelings. I’ll be passing through Truro, Bristol, Stratford, Claverdon, and a few other of my old stamping grounds. As well as popping over to Ireland and the Hague. Catch up on news of the old places. Peoplewatch. See family. Openly wonder at how crowded and congested it is. Take my own cream into coffee shops because ‘Head office’ has decreed their outlets will not serve cream in case they get sued for clogging the nations already stress-hardened arteries.

I’ve amused myself in the Stars and Cerberus series poking a little fun at all these demands for bans and regulation on everything remotely pleasurable. One of the questions I repeatedly pose is; what would it be like to live in a world where wine and beer are strictly rationed, and spirits, tobacco, chocolate and meat are completely banned? Where the only permitted protein in the public diet is derived from blocks of ‘Go-Quarn’, a Tofu like substance, promoted as part of a ‘healthy vegetarian diet’. Which is derived from leftover humans – look up ‘Soylent Green’. Did I say I’ve got a dark sense of humour?

That’s all for now. Off to the day job.

Indexing and formatting for eBook

Getting an eBook right is a massive effort. Over the past two weeks I’ve done little but revise, spellcheck and index two pieces of work for release as eBooks while the muse for writing new works is passing me by. Headings need to be properly organised. Titles in Heading 1, Part section titles in Heading 2, and sub section titles in Heading 3. No stray code fragments to mar the text and all the major spelling and grammatical mistakes are being ironed out. It’s hard work and takes up every single free minute. Angie has been loudly wondering where her husband has gotten to.

Not far now. Another two days concerted effort I think. The Metadata is fixed. Cover artwork is fixed. Title, copyright page and forewords have matching Author names and title headers. Nothing for the automated format programs to reject. Along with a part time job that is more like full time plus overtime, I don’t get time to get out and sniff the air. Not that I’m a big socialiser anyway. I never was.

The trip to England, Ireland and the Hague is just over two weeks away and there’s a lot to pack in. Family, friends etc. I’ll take the slaptop and if I get a chance to write will pick a quiet spot and juggle concepts while the girls are off shopping and whatever else they do.