Sunday, 14 September 2014

Log 2014 Sep 14th: Touch

I have just finished reading Touch: Book 2 of The Queen of the Dead by Michelle Sagara.  You may remember that I counted Silence, the first book in the series, as one of the stand out reads of last year.  I would like to say this was as good, and it has many fine qualities, but it felt rough by comparison.  What I mean by that is there were phrases that threw me out of the text.  Another was a passage on page 218 where I can only assume a piece of text was eliminated when editing the book.  The story is also clearly the middle part of a trilogy, which ends with our heroes left with having to take down the big bad.

This is a problem lots of middle books in trilogies have.

However, all these criticisms aside, this was a book I'm glad I've read, because I like the way the characters are developed through the story.  All of the main protagonists feel like real people, and the formation of the gang who will go on into the next book to face down the Queen of the dead was nicely done.  From reading Michelle's blog I know that she had a lot of problems writing this book, but besides my minor copy-edit quibbles she delivers the story.  What more can you ask for than that?

Work wise this week has seen me restart writing my novel The Bureau.  Scrivener says I wrote 2,934 words, bringing the running total up to 40,049.  Looking back to February I see I had reached 38,957, which by my calculation makes 1,092.  This means that Scrivener is doing something very clever in tracking my word count when I rewrite things.  Anyway, in the break between then and now, I figured out what I needed to add to Act 2 to make it work, or at least make it suck less.

Susan, my Alpha reader, is in the process of re-reading Bad Dog and marking up errors in the text.  So yesterday I was editing Act 1, and today I will be editing Act 2, and when I've finished doing that I imagine I will be doing the edits for Act 3.  And so it goes on.  One of the things that is troubling me though is how long this all this takes.

Changing tack, this week we obviously watched the latest Dr Who episode called Listen.  I really liked it, but I liked all the previous episodes.  Even Robot of Sherwood, which was an over-the-top farce.  What can I say?  I'm a fan.

We also rewatched both the Marvel Captain America films this week prior to watching Winter Soldier.  Really enjoyed the series, and one can see that the writers were skillful in executing the foreshadowing and call-backs through the trilogy; though Avengers Assemble is not strictly the middle film of the Captain America trilogy,  it serves to connect the first film to the second.  The way the stories were told really show how to write the middle part of a series without falling into the usual trap of having an ending that is just the set-up for the next story.

In short make all your stories self-contained; complete in their own right.

TV wise we've started watching Xena: Warrior Princess - Ultimate Collection.  Yes all six seasons for a total of 132 episodes.  We may be some time.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Log 2014 7th Sep: Orphanage Legacy

What a difference a week can make.

Last week I didn't post as I was too tired from being ill after LonCon.  This week the con crud resolved itself and I felt a lot better and got back into the saddle to work on Bad Dog.  Last night I finished what I'm calling the fourth draft.  I've decided that drafts will now be categorized as revisions that occur as a consequence of reader input, rather than I've taken it into my noggin to rewrite a chapter etc. during the course of a week or so.

Why?  Because keeping track of every revision was driving me mad.

I'm not going to record the total amount of words Scrivener told me I wrote this week, because it really doesn't tell me much of any use.  What I will say is that the current draft stands at 85,732 words, which is down from 93,075 I started with at the beginning of this year.  In a fit of excitement I sent a copy to my Alpha reader for review.  She got back to me with I love the opening chapter, and Susan now has her head in her laptop reading the whole novel.

Last week I finished reading Balance Point, which is book three in the Orphanage Legacy series, itself a sequel to the Jason Wander series.

Robert Buettner’s 2004 novel Orphanage explored the war against the alien others, with troops encased in power armour, which is what attracted me to it in the first place.  However, the series is more than just a power amour combat fest.  It deals with the psychological costs of joining the military, and what it does to change people and their relationships with others who have not been through the grinder.  It's in my opinion one of the best military SF novels of the last few years.

I was pleased to see that the setting not only featured space battles, but also brown water naval actions.  The latter is not something you see much in military SF. 

The follow-on Orphanage Legacy sequel series features tanks.  Buettner's father was a tanker and he wanted to write something dealing with his father's experiences as told to him.  This is good, because it means I get to read stories that cover the whole spectrum of war, and the reasons why wars are fought.  I very much enjoyed the intelligence spy-craft aspects of the series, and the inclusion of operational aspects affected by logistics was good to see.  The question of how does one compel an opponent to stop doing what you don’t want them do is very much at the heart of the Orphanage setting.  The only downside of the series is that the story stretches the plot quite thin at times.  Still the big shout outs to A E van Vogt's War Against the Rull means I loved the books.

Watching wise, we've gotten through sheds loads of good TV series on disc over the last couple of weeks.  

Finally got to see season two of
Person of Interest.  Oh wow, words fail me on how great this series is.  Acting, plot, dialogue, character development, it doesn't drop the ball.  Season two's ending underlines that the story is about what happens to a world where there is an AI that can monitor everything, and can predict what we are going to do.

After that we finished watching season four of The Professionals.  A show very much of its time.  Despite this, and the last season repeating certain tropes, there were a couple of outstanding episodes that are still as relevant today as they were when written back in the late 1970s.  The acting by Gordon Jackson and Lewis Collins remains the highlight for me.  I find Martin Shaw's acting, by comparison, less than it could've been.

We also watched Edge of Darkness, the original 1985 BBC drama series that with the The Professionals helped to inspire me to write my first novel, The Bureau.  Yes this means that I'm back in the saddle next week working on my fourth novel.  I also have an idea for a sequel of sorts, which is changing how I think about plot development in The Bureau.

As I write this we are near the end of watching season two of Elementary.  A very strong season with no outstanding poke me in the eye gaffs about guns this time.  The Myecroft Holmes story arc has been a revelation in how to pull the wool over the viewers eyes, and then pull the rug out from under their feet.  Lucy Lui's performance gives the show real heart.

Finally, I want to give a shout out to Dr. Simon Bland  of Imperial College's Plasma Physics department for cooking at the BBQ on Friday.  I also got to meet a Ph.D student who just passed his viva and celebrate his success with good food and drink.  So I had a great time talking with scientists, a large number of whom were also readers of SF.

So that's all for this week.

Monday, 25 August 2014

LonCon 3: Monday Decoherence

The convention chair's Steven Cooper and Alice Lawson with Guest of Honours at the closing ceremony.
This is the last post about LonCon 3, so it must be Monday, and it is, even though it's a different Monday, and rain is falling.  Rain being de rigueur for a British Bank Holiday Monday.  So end of WorldCon, and a week later the end of summer.  It has a certain symmetry.

The first thing we went to on Monday was Pew Pew! Where Have the Lasers Gone?  We went to this partly because Ann Leckie was on the panel, but also because Susan works in Quantum Optics and Lasers at Imperial College.  It became obvious that there was an expert on lasers in the audience, who would have been a good choice to have had on the panel, because he was clearly very knowledgeable.  I also think Susan would have had a lot to bring to the discussion, with stories from the laboratories.  So a little disappointed.  However, seeing Ann Leckie, and getting to speak to her afterwards was fun.

We planned on going to the Fermi Paradox Book Discussion, but talking to Ann Leckie meant we didn't, and Ann Leckie talking to us.  Cool or what?  So when we had finished we went off for coffee.  Coffee being a singular constant in our daily routine during the convention, our favourite being from Andronicas who sold what we thought was the best coffee at ExCel.

Along with drinking coffee there was talking to friends, old and new.

New friend Vivian Perry jazz singer, and here in a costume inspired by the theme of the Lady of the Lake.
Long time friend Kate, with Malcolm as the Girl in the Fireplace with cute little clockwork robot doll.
Then we took the time to go around the dealers room for any last minute bargains.  I bought a copy of Charlie Stross's Equoid, a graphic novel anthology called To End All Wars, and a box of Dropzone Commander miniatures, because they made me an offer I couldn't refuse.

We ate lunch one final time, and had pasties as a treat, before we then went off to watch the Closing Ceremony, where we saw the LonCon promo trailer as a reminder of how the bid to hold the WorldCon in London began.  The committee chairs and guest then pulled a gag by entering the TARDIS to go back in time to report on the success of the convention.  We're geeks, we thought it was funny.

Our final panel of the convention was How Space Missions Happen, which was full of amusing stories and incidents about the problems of getting a mission launched.  After that I was wrecked and even though we had been invited to a Dead Dog party I insisted I needed to be taken home to have a hot bath to soothe my aching body, and an early night to sleep in my own bed.

So I hope you have all enjoyed this marathon day-by-day con report, and thank you for reading.

NB: For those who didn't go and who want to see the LonCon 3 events in full, here is the link to the online guide.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

LonCon 3: Sunday Exhaustion

Best in show winners.  Magnificent costumes.
Sunday morning I woke up after having a good nights sleep, but with the caveat that six hours wasn't enough, and therefore it felt way too early to be getting up at 08.30.  However, we both want to go and see a panel at 10.00, and that meant rise and shine.  I'm sure Myke Cole is laughing at us, but them's the breaks.

We made it in time for the Droning On panel, getting there before Myke Cole even, who the first of panelists to arrive, and for a moment it looked like the only panelist.  However, reinforcements arrived, which meant that Myke didn't have to drone on alone.  It was an interesting discussion about drones, even if unpacking the bee analogy wasn't all that useful; knowing that the professionals call them UAVs was, as was certain other phrases that came up, more useful.  All grist to the mill when one is a writer trying to create an atmosphere of verisimilitude in one's writing.  I was also very impressed Terrence Karney's insights.

Having read some other con reports, the one thing I'm taking away is the quantity and quality of the panels at this years WorldCon, I really felt like I was missing out on good stuff.  Unfortunately, I have neither time travel technology, or access to cloning to have been able to get to more items.

Then it was time for coffee.

For such a big convention we sure bumped into a shed load of our friends, mostly down to the boulevard where all the drink and food outlets were.  In fact I would go so far as to say this facilitated meeting up with more people than one might see at such a large convention, because everyone needs to eat and drink.

After drinking the juice of the bean, our minds quickened and we toddled off to A Queerer War, because it had Tanya Huff on it.  We are also both into the Blood Ties series that I talked about here.  On reflection I have realized that not only did C J Cherryh's Rim Runners book influence my first novel, but also Tanya Huff's Valor Confederation series.

The last panel of the day, and of the convention was The War on Science, with Dave Clements moderating, who we both know.  The examples of how scientific research is being ignored by politicians was quite chilling.  For example Canada's bureaucratic interference to prevent unwanted research results from being published.

Then it was off to nice restaurant for a steak meal, because we were worth it.

After eating we took the long walk back down the boulevard getting  back in time for The 2014 Hugo Awards Ceremony, with Geoff Ryman and Justina Robson acting as the compères.  I know Geoff from way back when and it was good to see him again after so many years.  All the results can be read here.

Then we retired to the fan village bar for drinkies, and much wine was drunk, before winding our weary way back to the hotel to sleep, perchance to dream.

To be continued...

Saturday, 23 August 2014

LonCon 3: Saturday Mostly

Left to right: Val Nolan, moderator, who lectures on literature and writing at National University of Ireland.  Pawel Frelik who teaches in the Department of American Literature and Culture at Maria Curie-Skłodowska University, Lublin, Poland.  Dr Sorcha Ní Fhlainn who is a Lecturer in Film Studies and Contemporary American Literature at Manchester Metropolitan University.  Erin Underwood is the editor for Underwords Press, a small press that specializes in young adult SF anthologies.
OK, the time-stream has been crossed, and the narrative will cut back and forwards in time until normality can be restored.

Cue Spooky Theme.

I forgot to mention that I was on Thursday afternoon called The Retrofuturism of JJ Abrams.  How remiss of me.

I felt that there was a certain bias in the choice of panelists, with three of them being academics, which coloured the tone of the panel.  I took a Devil's advocate position, by arguing that Hollywood is all about bums on seats, and that retro-futurism goes back way further than the work of J J Abrams.  Still it went well enough, despite car crash caused by me pointing out to Pawel that if one is going to quote a figure one really needs a reference.

Still I had several people come up to me to thank me for my contributions, and for coming down on the misuse of statistics to lend pseudo academic credence to what is being said.

One thing I took away from this panel was that reading out peoples bios is probably not the best way to introduce one's panelists.  On the other hand maybe I should have been thorough in listing my credentials, because I use to be a minion of science.  Part of my job involved interpreting statistics from the results of research trials, and using them to set up health services.  Just didn't think it was relevant at the time I volunteered to be a panelist.

Cue Reminder. Now to get back to Saturday.

Left to right: Iain Clark, Jacey Bedford, Saxon Bullock and Abigail Brady.
I had a great crew on the 2014 Hugos: Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form panel.  It was my first time ever as a moderator, and they all worked with me to have an interesting discussion about the six short listed finalists.  The fact we were all wrong in thinking that The Day of the Doctor would win doesn't change the fun we had discussing the topic, and learning about new shows to keep a look out for.

I was also very pleased when John Medany came up afterward and told me I had done good.  He also told me I was shaking and that I shouldn't be nervous, to which I replied that wasn't nerves that was excitement.  Still think we was robbed when Game of Thrones won though.

I'll just say it again, all my panelists were fabulous.

Left to right: Rohan Shah, Joe Haldeman, Jean Johnson and Myke Cole.
I then had to rush off to get to my next panel, which was Military SF: Continuity and Change with Myke Cole as the moderator. I was totally stoked to have been able to be on this panel.  I mean Joe Haldeman.  How cool is that?  Cooler than a cool thing.

Myke Cole asked us some really interesting questions, which due to the fact I wasn't on the round robin email, I had to field cold.  Afterwards he said that was a good thing, for definitions of good that probably meant challenging.  I liked his attitude and he was an excellent moderator.  I reviewed his first novel here, and I will be buying the sequels soon.

Me pontificating about who knows what, and Myke frowning, so I was probably talking out my ass.
Besides hearing Joe Haldeman talk, it was also interesting listening to Jean Johnson describe the research she did for writing her novel, and I must check her work out soon.  Rohan Shah's economic perspective on the military provided another interesting viewpoint on the topic, and I thought the panel was entertaining to listen to.

I may be biased, but it's true.  Honest.

Gay & Joe Haldeman.
Even more awesome, for me, was that on Sunday Gay Haldeman, Joe's wife, came up with her huband, and told me how much they appreciated my input into the panel.  Joe and Gay Haldeman, how awesome is that?
Right to left: Ken MacLeod, Martin Poultier, Teresa Nielson Hayden, me and Russell Blackford.
After lunch, and coffee, I went to my next panel, What is I?  Ken laid out a very comprehensive agenda for the panel, which I fear we failed to achieve.  However, we had a very lively discussion with some fantastic questions coming from the audience at the end.

The hall was packed and again I received a lot of very positive feedback from members of the audience, and not just, who the heck are you?  On Sunday I was sitting in a room waiting for another panel to start, and I heard people discussing what sounded like a very interesting panel they had gone to.  I turned around and asked what it was, only to be told it was the one I had been on.

A bit of an embarrassing moment for me.

Left to right: Viktorya H, Michael Morelli, Justina Robson, JY Yang.
By the time I got to my last panel I was pretty cream crackered.  This was on The Knowable Other and recent changes to the representation of aliens in films and TV shows.

I had started the topic with how I understood why authors used aliens to represent issues like being a Black American in the 1950s.  I should of perhaps mentioned the Star Trek episode with the white/black ve black/white aliens, but I was tired, and my brain not fully firing on all cylinders.  This resulted in JY Yang making a rather pointed response.

Fortunately, the moderator opened up the discussion to the audience, and we were able to talk about the topic.

Exhausted we went to the Masquerade and watched the display of quality costuming.  Afterwards we went to the bar for a drink, meeting up with friends old and new.  Then it was time for the long walk back to the hotel.  Hoorah as Myke Cole might say, "Work those legs, further, harder faster."

To be continued...

Friday, 22 August 2014

LonCon 3: Friday The Saga Continues

The totally awesome WorldCon Philharmonic Orchestra, made up of world class musicians from the London Symphony, Royal Philharmonic, and London Philharmonic Orchestras playing both modern and traditional classical music.
Friday morning and Susan had slept well.

Whereas I was woken early by the first trains going past our hotel, and couldn't get back to sleep.  As Saturday was going to be full on day for me, with Susan trailing behind, I let her lead the way on what we went to see.  Remember we are now running Plan B.

Besides I was feeling too frazzled, and my brains couldn't make any decisions.  And there was so much to see and do that one could only catch a small fraction of what was on.  Making decisions when one is tired is really hard.  It didn't help that I had forgotten to print out my list of all the things I wanted to see.

I know how very retro of me.

The first panel of the day was The Exceptional Girl Warrior, and what I learnt was avoid the tired tropes of making your young protagonists orphans without any skills.  It had a nice set of panelists, none of whom I had heard of, but they all spoke very eloquently on the topic.  What I took away was  make your protagonists competent at something, and show them becoming more competent instead of going through a learning to be competent story.

Afterwards we dropped into Social Media and New Authors panel, for obvious reasons.  It didn't tell me anything new, but it was entertaining enough.  It also confirmed I was doing the stuff I thought I ought to be doing as a writer.

We then saw the BIS: Skylon and Spaceflight of the Future a presentation by Alan Bond in the main auditorium.  It was good to see the progress being made on the Sabre engine, and the news about money starting to come in to fund the project from the British government.  If all goes well we will have single stage to orbit shuttle in about ten years time.  Susan was so excited by the talk we went to the dealers room, and she bought a model of Skylon to put on our shelves.

Mission accomplished, we went for lunch.

We walked down the long boulevard in an exploring the fast food outlets until we found something we liked the look of, and drank coffee while we ate.  We then got talking to friends who saw us eating, and then it was nearly 15.00, and time to make our way back to the main part of the convention for another panel.

Luckily I was wearing sandals made for walking.

We got into see Space on Screen, which had our friend Jaine Fenn acting as moderator.  Chris Baker was also on the panel and some people remember him back in the day as Fangorn.  He worked on the film Gravity, and had lots of interesting things to say, as did Bridget Landry, and not to forget Paul McAuley and Allistair Reynolds.  This really was an A-Team panel, and the room was packed to the gunnels.

At this point things get a bit fuzzy.

The next thing I remember doing was going to see SF: What it is, What it Could Be.  Another packed room, which made it hard to see the panelists, but I enjoyed the discussion.  After that we went on to what was the stand out item of the day.  A performance by the WorldCon Philharmonic Orchestra.  Live music of favourite SF pieces, and classics with themes relating to space etc.  Outstanding.

Given the time the concert finished all that was left for us to do was go to the bar for a quick drink, which turned into a long drink.  We sat talking to friends, and we didn't get to bed until 02.00.  There is nothing like having a good nights sleep to wake up fully refreshed with a spring in one step in the morning.  And we got nothing like that for the entire con.

This has been part two of my con report posted one week after the convention.

To be continued...