Friday, 22 May 2015

The Dresden Files: Storm Front


I'm running two days late this week in posting something on my blog.  I've been ensconced in my writing.  Well maybe not exactly ensconced, as it hasn't been totally comfortable, but there's the satisfaction of finishing something that I found hard to do; and for once being relatively happy with what I've written.  So I finished the first draft of the new chapter one of Strike Dog, having managed to write 1,146 words yesterday afternoon.  When added to my running total for the week this makes 3,382 words written in total.

So I'm pleased to have gotten this done.  It has been difficult for me, because I still have my head in the re-writes of Bad Dog, where I'm in a holding pattern while my new Beta readers do their stuff.  My plans for the long late May Bank Holiday weekend is do some model making, and read some books.

Talking about reading I've have finished Storm Front (Book 1 of The Dresden files) by Jim Butcher, and thoroughly enjoyed it.  Given that it's urban fantasy, which is usually not my thing, this says a lot about the writing and story telling.  It's definitely a story that makes one want to keep turning the pages to find out what happens next, and I like his writing style, it's easy to read.  The main character is interesting, and there are a lot of promises of other stuff going on in the background that makes me want to read more.  Next time we're in town and can drop into Forbidden Planet we'll pick up the next book in the series.

I've also read Andromeda's Fall by William C. Dietz, which is a novel I've had sitting around on my to be read pile for quite some time.  Probably over a year in fact.  It was bought on one of our visits to Forbidden Planet when we were looking for novels with a female protagonist.  My partner read it, and then it got put in a pile to be read and forgotten about.  I enjoyed it, and it certainly rollicked along, but I have to wonder at some assumptions American authors have about the nobility and class.  Still it was nice to see the French Foreign Legion in action in space!  Again I shall also be looking out for the sequel in due course.

I've also just started reading Max Tegmark's book Our Mathematical Universe.  This is a big hardback that basically expands upon the ideas found in his articles on cosmology written for magazines like the New Scientist.  This book allows Dr. Tegmark to lay out his ideas on the nature of reality, and expand upon the idea that we live in a Platonic multiverse.  It's written in a simple to understand and straightforward manner, for what is rather mind blowing stuff.

Anyway, that's all I have time for this week.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Writing Plan

Click to embiggen.
Another week has flown by here, and I again find myself pondering the imponderable question of where does all my time go?  I can tell you what I've been doing, but everything seems to take longer than it should to get it done.  In this case I've been researching stuff about far away places for a new opening chapter to my novel Strike Dog.

This came about because I decided that the prologue of Strike Dog would work better as the epilogue for Bad Dog, which is titled Omake.  One thing leads to another and the result is I now have plans to go back and tweak Bad Dog again by adding some details to one chapter to punch it up a little more.

On top of all that I was reading Chuck Wendig's blog where he posted a plan for a novel.  This drove me to distraction, and I just had to go away and work through his list here.  This what I came up with.

ACT 1
     Hook                 1. Hey look there’s a problem.

ACT 2
    Plot Turn 1         2. I’m going to go and fix the problem.
    Try Fail Cycle    3. OMG I’ve made it worse.
    Pinch 1              4. Somebody else is making the problem worse.

ACT 3
    Mid-Point           5. Wait, I think I’ve got this.
    Try Fail Cycle    6. Bugger, bugger, bugger.
    Try Fail Cycle    7. It’s not just worse, it’s now a different problem.
    Try Fail Cycle    8. Even more buggeration ensues.
    Try Fail Cycle    9. Everything is so complicated.

ACT 4
    Pinch 2              10. All is lost.
    Try Fail Cycle    11. Wait, is that a light at the end of the tunnel?
    Try Fail Cycle    12. It is, but it’s not what you think it is.
    Plot Turn 2        13. Wait I have an idea.

ACT 5
    Resolution         14. Problem solved, but not in the way you thought it would be.

So looking back at my diary I find I've only managed to write 2,130 words this week, but boy-oh-boy it has felt like an intense weeks worth of writing.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Coming Home


Looking back across my diary it's fairly obvious I really didn't do an awful lot of writing last week; checking I see it amounts to 623 words, which comes from having written a couple of blogs, and doing some minor revisions to Bad Dog.  It rather looks like I didn't get out of bed.  But it should be said I've been working on a couple of short story ideas using secondary character's from Strike Dog.  I've even seen a way through the block I had with my other novel The Bureau, which only goes to show that there's a lot of thinking involved when writing.

The minor revisions I made to Bad Dog resulted from a conversation I had with my partner over Peter Watts Firefall; the omnibus edition of Blindsight and Echopraxia that I reviewed here.

Susan found Blindsight's lead protagonist rather off putting, for various reasons that I won't go into here, but enjoyed reading Echopraxia.  She especially thought the zombies were an interesting idea, and scarily plausible.  We then had a rather intense discussion about both books, with me being rather more forgiving about some of the the foibles my partner saw in Peter's writing.

However, I learnt a lot from reflecting on the discussion.

And as I said it provoked me to go back and add a couple of things to Bad Dog.  Mostly to clarify the point that my novel is not a time-travel story per se – it just looks like one, because I chose to tell the story in a linear fashion.  The alternative would be to write it as a multiple stream of consciousness novel, which is realistically a non-starter – even if I was brilliant enough to be able to pull it off, which I'm not.  The pitch line would be a cross between Finnegans Wake and Dhalgren, neither of which I've been able to finish reading (this says more about me as a reader & writer than it does about either of the books), and I would imagine that the story would have a very limited appeal, and be a hard novel to sell.

What I have been doing with my time is reading, as I've started to enjoy reading fiction again.  This is a bit of a relief, because if one wants to be a fiction writer it's kind of important to read fiction.

So I started off by finishing reading the other two books in Rachel Bach's Parodox trilogy, the first of which I mentioned here.  The sequels rollicked along, the characters were likeable enough, and there were enough twists and turns to keep one interested.  I do think that the romance sub-plot had a tendency to derail the main plot at times, taking me out of the big picture, but Rachel seems to be on a mission to bring more romance to SF.  My only slight criticism is that the ending was a bit schmaltzy, and while that's OK, in this case I asked myself was there a third option for ending the book? (I'm referring to the concept of having one of two obvious endings, and then trying to find a better third ending that surprises the reader).

After finishing and enjoying those two novels I started reading Coming Home.  This is the latest  novel in the Alex Benedict/Chase Kolpath series by Jack McDevitt, which I had been saving for the right time to read it.  Jack McDevitt is one of my favourite go to authors; as in I buy his novels in hardback, rather than waiting for the paperback to come out.  I will say that his previous Priscilla Hutchins series novel Starhawk was a tad disappointing.  It was a nice enough tale of her early life, acting as a prequel to the series, but it really didn't add anything to the story arc of the previous six novels about the clouds that destroy technological civilizations.

So let me start by saying that the first Alex Benedict novel, A Talent for War, was a hugely influential novel for me.  It's one of those books that stands out in my life as as having blown me away, and it would be one of my choices to take with me for a desert island stay.  The sequels have all been told through the eyes of Alex Benedict's assistant Chase Kolpath, and this may be down to the fact that the lead character generally knows more than the reader, and to maintain the novels sense of suspense one has to write through the eyes of another character who doesn't know what's going on.  The alternative I imagine would be a set of short stories.

In the book set prior to Coming Home, called Firebird, Alex Benedict discovers what's causing starships to disappear in space.  Mentioned because the plot of A Talent for War hinges on the starship with his Uncle disappearing.  Therefore this book forms a sort of trilogy with these two other novels, and in some sense it ties up the series for the reader.  Whether this means the end of the Alex Benedict series I do not know.  Jack has just finished a sequel to Ancient Shores, which up to now was a stand alone novel, to be called Thunderbird.  This probably means I will have to go back and re-read Ancient Shores when the sequel comes out, because it's been nearly twenty years since that was written, and I can't remember the last time I read it.

So what am I saying here?

He's eighty years old, and still going strong as a writer, which is awesome; but he's eighty years old, and the number of novels he will write is time limited.  So I'm grateful that Coming Home didn't disappoint me like Starhawk did.  For anyone who was undecided whether or not to read Coming Home, I would say that it hit all the right points for me; but it's a novel whose themes deal with loss and disappointment at the end of one's life, and therefore may not be everyone's cup of tea.  I still recommend reading it.

Then as a bit of light fun I read Larry Correia's Monster Hunter Nemesis, a series whose pitch line might be the NRA meets Cthulhu.

I'm not going to comment here about the furore around Larry, because enough has been written that the noise to signal ratio is such that it's pointless to add anything more.  I will say I like his Monster Hunter series.  They make me laugh, and I get most of the gun related jokes too, which probably helps.  For me they're page turners that I find hard to put down, and Monster Hunter Nemesis certainly delivers.  It adds to the mythos, expands some plot points, but I have two things to say against it.  The first is that I feel that Agent Franks and Earl Harbinger really didn't need to have the fight to work out who was the better fighter - for me too much like fan service, because it added nothing to the plot; apart from some kick ass action of course, but that goes without saying, because this is Larry Correia we're talking about.  Secondly Agent Franks was just being a jerk not to mention the meaning of the tattoo on Julie Shackleford nee Mrs Pitt's neck.  There said it.

Besides all the reading I've been watching a heap of stuff over the long Bank Holiday weekend.  I will talk another time about Lucy and Interstellar, because I want to do a longish compare and contrast of my reactions to watching both.  What I want to mention now is Continuum, and ask why oh why is this not getting a full fourth season?  That's a rhetorical question just in case it wasn't obvious.  Clearly it's not getting enough viewers, which makes me wonder are my tastes in TV SF so far off the norm that anything I like will be cancelled?  Another rhetorical question, because yes is the answer.

Continuum is a time travel series set in Vancouver that I did wonder whether or not it would be cancelled because of it's subject matter?  The story concerns a cop from the future coming back into the past, and pursuing members of a future terrorist group called Liber8 (pronounced liberate).  What makes the story interesting that the more it went on the greyer the main protagonist became.  She starts as a staunch upholder of the law, which is run by corporations after the governments of the world collapsed, into a sympathizer of Liber8, who in turn have become understandable (or understandable as much as any group of fanatics can be who modus operandi is killing people for the greater good).

It sometimes makes for quite uncomfortable viewing, which I think is a good thing, because it makes one question and think about what one is told is happening.  So really not that surprised it is getting a short fourth season before going the way of all the good shows that I like.

So that's it for another week.  Have a good one.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Work in Progress 29th Apr 2015

Just an interesting picture I found apropos of nothing much really.
End of the month, and a rather overdue work in progress post that goes back to last week, which was side-tracked by all the writing up of my con report about going to Dysprosium.

As I've said before I've been editing the two sequels I've written to the first novel I finished.  Last week I finished the first revision of Ghost Dog, which now runs at 99,615 words.  I edited, as in did a whack-a-mole revision, for all the double words, punctuation slips, and I removed the redundant he said, she said as I could – in short smoothed the rough edges off the first draft.  I also managed to write an additional 5,133 words in amongst the editing; mostly blogs, but I also somehow ended up adding 2,000 words to the text of Ghost Dog.  I've now started working on the feedback I received from one of my new beta readers on Bad Dog too, which has been most gratifyingly positive.  Next up is to start work on a fuller revision of Strike Dog, so as to get it ready to send out for criticism.

Everything grinds along slowly, but it does at least grind along.

Other than that we've been watching films and re-watching Continuum, which is much better than we remembered it, while we thought it was pretty good the first time around.  Having now watched the first two seasons back-to-back it really is very clever, with a solid time-travel MacGuffin that's well thought out for once.  As I write this we're waiting for season three to arrive in the post.

So that's it for another week.  See you all on the bounce.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Dysprosium: Monday

Left to right: Dave Mansfield aka Crazy Dave (moderator), Steve Lawson, and me yet again.
So it's Monday, and this is the final day of the convention, and therefore my final blog post giving a glimpse into what it's like to go to a SF convention.

The first panel of the day was my last panel of the convention, called Big Boys Toys - Real Superhero Weapons, scheduled for 10.00am.  After a long weekend of staying up late and drinking, this is a cruel time to get people to sit in front of a crowd, and attempt to be erudite and witty.  I was surprised at how many people were in the main hall waiting for us to speak to.  Did I mention that this was the only panel I was on that was in the main room of the convention.

A bit daunting because the main room is for the big name guests?

Still I mumbled my way through the various YouTube video clips that Crazy Dave had brought to discuss, and fielded a couple of questions from the audience.  I was told I was OK by my significant other, which will have to do.  Better that than having rotten vegetables thrown at one, which was what my partner said the audience felt like doing to panel.

Left to right: Dr. David Clements, Jaine Fenn (moderator), and Dr. Simon Morden.
Then we stayed in the main hall while I wound down, and listened to the next panel talking about Faeries.  It had Jim Butcher, Seanan McGuire and my friend Jaine Fenn, with several others whose names I don't recall.  Basically they talked about how the image of the fairy has changed from something that might be described as chaotic evil to the sweet little things that people think of today.

After that we grabbed a quick bite to eat, because we didn't want to crash later (sticking to the plan), and then we were off to the final panel of the day called What is a Planet Anyway?  This veered away from talking about is Pluto a planet, because it's not, it's special (name lead for Plutoids or Plutonoids, take your pick).  Dave and Simon were witty and entertaining, describing the various things we know, think we know, and what we don't know about planetary formation.

It was a very interesting discussion that overran by about fifteen minutes, because it could, being the last panel of the day.

Alice Lawson announcing the Doc Weir Award, which went to Martin Hoare.
Then we toddled off across the hallway back to the main hall for the Closing ceremony. Awards were given out, people thanked, much clapping occurred, and then the convention was over, and it was time for us to leave.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Dysprosium: Sunday & Masquerade

Guilia de Cesare the compere for the Dysprosium Masquerade.
It's Wednesday so it must be time to put up my Sunday post.  As my partner didn't take any pictures of the panels we went to see on Sunday at Dysprosium, you will all have to make do with the pictures she took at the Masquerade, which are probably more interesting, in that they show the hard work and creativity of the fans who go to all the effort to make costumes depicting their favourite characters.

I awoke Sunday full of good intentions, but lacking the energy to get-up and go, as in go to the morning Tai-chi practice.  Therefore we ambled around, got up late, had breakfast late, and so missed another chance to be virtuous.  It's a hard life being a fan at a convention.

So looking at our schedule I see that the first panel we went to was Truth, Justice and the Home Office, which can be best be described as a gag fest where Sabine Furlong, the moderator, joshed Jim Butcher and Charlie Stross about the awful truth that underlies hierarchical bureaucracies, by turn enthralling, thrilling and funny.

If I remember correctly, which I probably don't, I was also handed a fanzine by Joseph Nicholas, who was sitting in front of us with Judith Hanna called The Night is so Black that the Darkness Cooks (However, memory aside, this is as good as point as anywhere in the narrative to insert a mention of the event).  I read it after the convention was over, and have to say I'm impressed on two counts: first the fact I was given a copy, and second the fact that I was given an old school printed and staple fanzine.  I felt honoured.

Oustanding costume inspired by Jaine Fenn's Principle of Angels.
After too much fun we went and mooched around the various dealers rooms that were all off from the long connecting corridor.  Spoke to old friends, made some new acquaintances, and generally shot the breeze about the convention and writing.

After grabbing a light bite for lunch, all part of Plan B (don't flake out), we went to see Seanan McGuire Guest of Honour Q&A session.  She started by saying she would answer any question, with the caveat that a stupid or sexist question would get a lecture on how stupid and sexist the question was.  She was very witty and entertaining, and we loved her cat stories.

We also sat off to one side of the hall, rather than sitting in the centre as we had been doing on Saturday, and found that being able to stretch out in the chairs, resting on each other, was a far more comfortable way of sitting.  At least it meant I was able to keep on top of stuff, and not be wracked with pain, which when all things are said and done, can rather spoil one's enjoyment.

Steampunk mad scientist.
Then we were off to a panel called Imagineering Starships – How SF Starships work, or don't.  We had bumped into one of the presenters of this talk while having coffee, and being the SF spaceship geeks that we are, we were inevitably drawn into discussion about the British Interplanetary Society, Project Daedalus and stuff, as one is.

A very interesting talk by people who work in the field.  After the talk we went and grabbed a burger from the fan bar area, all part of the eat little and often plan, and bumped into Rob Hanson, where inevitably the conversation turned to the Hugo fracas.  My position on this is that you read the books, vote for what you like, and if there is anything that you feel is utter dreck, then vote no award above it.  No need to panic – we have rules, follow them.

Gary Stratmann with a steampunk adventurer that reminded me of Lord Flashheart from Black Adder.
After eating and chatting it was time to go to the Masquerade.  I'm an off and on again costume fan, because most of the time I cannot be fagged to go to all of the effort required to pull a costume together.  While I'm quite good with my hands, as in making things, I'm not at all into sewing and making clothes, so when I do stuff it's usually assembling items together.  Death from the Sandman series use to be a favourite of mine when I had dark hair, andI think that the last time we went to convention in costume it was a Stargate USAF MPs.

However, I really appreciate seeing other fans who have made the effort to dress up, and applaud them for doing so.  Cosplay has been a tradition of SF conventions from the very beginning when Forrest J. Ackerman attended the first Worldcon in 1939.  So colour me supportive.  My kind of fans.

I really like these two.  The costumes were gorgeous to look at.
So throughout the convention I tried to make sure I gave all the fans wearing their outfits during the day a tag provided by Dysprosium to acknowledge their efforts.  I've not wanted to be critical of the running of the convention, but this is one area where I think more could have been done.  For example better acknowledgement of hall costumes within the programme, and perhaps in future making up ribbons that one could give out.

My reminder to all con-committees to be inclusive of costume fans.

A group shot of all the participants in the masquerade.  The woman dressed as Cally was very good.
Finally, we came to the end of the day and the last item we would go to.  A retrospective called The Reunion: Spock in ManaclesDavid Wake moderated the reunion that had Kate Solomon, Caroline Mullan, and Steve Lawson on it.  We got to watch a cleaned up copy of the video taken by Colin Fine of the performance of Spock in Manacles that was put on at Beccon in 1985.  Susan tells me that I giggled like a little girl when I saw myself go on stage as one of the amazons.

Thirty years is a long time, and several of the cast have died since the performance, which is still being talked about today.  I understand that only four fans at Beccon didn't attend the performance of Spock in Manacles, preferring to stay in the bar.  Well bah yoo sucks to them.  I suppose this only goes to show that miserable old gits who don't like fun existed back then, much as they exist today.

After the days fun it was time to go to bed, for tomorrow is Monday and I'm on another panel.