Sunday, 28 September 2014

Log 2014 28th Sep: Thoughts

What I say and mean is not what you read and understand.

I say this not to gnomic or profound in any way, but to clarify a point about why I write this blog, and post reviews of sorts.  I'm not a critic, in the sense of someone who is trying to address a particular work and write commentary on it.  Though I have been know to criticize games, when writing for magazines.  However, on this blog what I do is review in passing the things I have been reading and watching, and talk about my own work.

So any author who I have featured here I've done so as a fellow author.  I write because your work has touched me in someway.  I do not intentionally write critiques.

Currently I'm reading Peter Watts Firefall, which is an omnibus edition of Blindsight and Echopraxia.  It's a weighty tome that could be used as an offensive weapon or a door stop.  I'm loving it.  It's so good that I feel like shooting myself and putting myself out of the misery of knowing I will never be able to write something as good as this.

That is a taster, I will be talking more about this book when I've finished reading it.

Currently we are watching Xena Warrior Princess, which is cheesy fun filled goodness.  Season one started off a bit rough, as in the cheesy fun wasn't piled on high enough to carry one through the rough as shit stories, but after episode eight, and certainly by the mid-season cliff-hanger the series found its legs.  Season two has mostly been good, with only a couple of what I would call cringingly bad episodes.

We've stopped watching at this point to catch up with Arrow.  The first episode of season two on the disc being a recap clipisode, which if we had bothered to check the sleeve info I would have skipped.  it wasn't bad, but there again I don't think it was aimed at me.  Rather it was aimed at viewers with a low knowledge base of DCs universe.

Saturday I was at a writers group event where Sandra Sawicka, a foreign rights assistant for the Marjcq literary agency spoke at some length about her job.  Other than that it was good to catch up with Sean, a fellow writer, and chat about stuff, like the LonCon 3, and made me realize how low I've been feeling has been down to post convention withdrawal symptoms.

Finally, this weeks writing dissected.  Not a great tally. I managed to add 818 words to my current draft of The Bureau, my only excuse being how low I've been feeling.  In addition I did manage to write 1,096 words of stuff that needed to be written to support my Bad Dog novel; as in ideas for future blog posts etc.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Sin and Syntax

I've been reading Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale.  I would like to say it's a page turner, but it's not.  There again I didn't expect it to be.  I've been putting Post It tabs  in while reading it, and scribbling marks in pencil in the margins where I want to find stuff.  It's what I tend to do when reading books that are basically research.  In this case this is me reading to improve my writing. Something I've been working on after my first critiquing session.

I have at least one friend who will tell me that reading books about writing is not as good as reading well written books.  But I think my craft is weak; or perhaps I should say I fear that my writing is dull, uninteresting and boring.  So I've set about improving my craft.

Because craft require graft.

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...