Sunday, 21 December 2014

Merry Xmas and all that


Another week, with not much writing done because I've been doing a lot of editing, which makes it difficult to account for progress, but it's still writing.  I've been busy with parties and shopping, and still have a couple of last minute things to get before Xmas day.  So let me wish you all a very Merry Xmas, or whatever other name you may use for this Winter solstice celebration, and remember it's all good at the end of the day.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Log 2014 Dec 14th: Writing Update

This last week I feel I've spinning my wheels going nowhere fast.

The progress I've made on the The Bureau has been dismal.  The first week back in the saddle on this project saw me re-read my work to date, do an editing pass, and write 301 words.  This week I only managed to write a further 702 words, bringing the running total up 47,556.  Quite frankly I've seen glaciers move faster.

About the only excuse I have for this abysmal performance is feeling ill.  I've had a bit of a chesty cough all week, but my body hasn't quite decided whether or not I'm actually going to come down with something.  Still no excuse really.

I have done some other writing: 2,201 words on an article called Escalation – The Last War, which will in turn form the basis of two entries for my other blog (plus it took an unreasonably long time to take the pictures to go with this article, and I still have more to do).  So if I'm being generous I've written 2,905 words this week.  Actually that's still a pretty dismal total.

Not to mention the gnawing anxiety as I wait for the editorial report on Bad Dog, which may or may not come before Xmas.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Log 2014 Dec 7th: Catch Up

 
Last week we were in Cambridge at a Thanksgiving party hosted by our friends Kate & Malcolm, what with our own Thanksgiving meal excesses on the Thursday I seem to have been derailed in posting last weeks blog in a timely manner.

I have a lot to talk about, but this last week has been hectic with one thing and another, so all I'll mention in passing is that I gave a talk on cognitive behavioural therapy at Carshalton High School for Girls for the students in A2 psychology, which went down very well – tweets were sent out by the school too, and I received a lovely box of chocolates and a gift card from the students.  So I was well chuffed.  I later learnt that one of the students has decided to change her degree option to psychology too.

Over on my other blog you will see a post about the demo game I ran at Dragonmeet yesterday for which I spent most of the week painting miniatures to get them ready for the day.  Afterwards we went off to Ilford for another party with our long time friends Brian & Caroline, which was most excellent.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Maplecroft


It's always a real pleasure to read a book by an author one has not read before, and be blown away by the story.  Cherie Priest's Maplecroft hits all the right notes with its re-framing of the Lizzie Borden murder case as a Cthulhu mythos tales of Deep Ones in the town of Fall River.  I started it last week and was entranced, and finished it in two sessions.  I really enjoyed the mix of history, and the creepy atmosphere of the story.  A joy to read.  I shall be looking out for more novels from her next time I'm in Forbidden Planet.

Well this week we managed to watch the last season of True Blood.  We've been fans from the start, but I confess I've only read the first of the Charlaine Harris books that inspired the show.  From reading that I've been holding back on getting the rest of the books, because I've enjoyed the TV series so much.  The final season wrapped up almost all of the plots, apart from the Were-panther's, and there was much sadness and joy.

We also re-watched the Wachowski's adaptation of Alan Moore's V for Vendetta.  A film that divides people.  I must admit the first time I watched it Hugo Weaving performance wearing the mask was a bit disturbing.  But the thing is that the film has lots of powerful scenes and performances, and the music is profoundly moving.  I shall have to sit down and reread the graphic novel now.

Work wise I spent three days working on Bad Dog, using Scrivener to compile a PDF that I read, which allowed me to see the text afresh, and pick up errors or things I wanted to change.  I've now sent the current 81,869 word draft off to my editor for a report on the things that remain problematical.  As much an exercise in communication – as in seeing whether or not we understand each other, or more like have I understood her comments and done the right things?

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Log 2014 Nov 16th: Bad Dog 5th Draft


I finished, for some definitions of finished, the fifth draft of my current novel Bad Dog on Friday evening - in a spurt of creative enthusiasm that comes when the end is in sight.  Of course I've now shot myself in the foot by getting Scrivener to produce a PDF, which I'm reading, and finding stuff I want to polish.  Still, for definitions of finished it's something.  This draft is structurally close to my original first draft, but a world away in terms of the writing, characterizations and setting.

Looking back at my files it took me 18 weeks to write the first working draft, which ended up being 93,075 words.  The second draft took five weeks with a total of 90,970 words.  I spent 20 weeks reworking the third draft, and ended up 87,999 words for my effort.  The fourth draft only took three weeks, and ended with 88,908 words.  My fifth draft took five weeks, and looking back at my records I cut about 8,000 words out, but ended writing extra scenes, which brought the total back up to 82,317 word, but this draft is still the best part of 10,000 words tighter than my original work.

I can only continue working to tighten up the text, reduce repetition and try to add more drama to the story.  This is all uncharted territory for me, but that has been true from day one.  I remind myself that being able to write a good story is 99% blood, sweat and tears, with the remaining 1% being a combination of talent and inspiration.  Though it can be argued that the latter is what makes a good novel great, but at this point I'm aspiring to be just good – great can come later.

Things I've been watching, or have watched, but forgot to mention - Edge of Tomorrow, which is the film adaptation of the manga All You Need is Kill, and for the Blu-ray release has the title Live, Die, Repeat added in front of the original title, because the film didn't do well at the box office  I know that a lot of people have mixed feelings about Tom Cruise, but given the likelihood that I will ever hang with Tom, or any other Hollywood star is less than one, and I really don't pay much attention to the tabloid gossip, none of this matters to me.  But that said I have been avoiding the film, because I knew that the plot is very close to that of Bad Dog, and it features power armoured troops fighting aliens.  As they say there is no such thing as an original plot, but Bad Dog's similarities are all surface level stuff, and the MacGuffin driving the plot is different; as in mine is based in real science and Edge of Tomorrow is just pure Hollywood razzle-dazzle.  Besides that Emily Blunt is brilliant and Tom gets killed a lot, so all is right with the world

Other films we watched since last week were Iron Sky: Dictators Cut, which is a Finnish B-movie that people either love or hate.  We loved it, because Space Nazis from the Moon invading Earth in flying saucers, what's not to like?  There is a sequel being made, and the trailer features Adolf Hitler riding a dinosaur called The Coming Race.  Finally, we also sat down and watched the Europa Report.  A found footage movie telling the story of the first mission to Europa, I don't think I'm giving any spoilers away by saying it doesn't end well for the astronauts.

So that's it for another week of internet raging where the old adage of you reap what you sow has never been more true.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Magnificent Maleficent


This has been definitely a week of watching lots of stuff.  In no particular order: Maleficent, Grimm, and all three The Thing films.

Maleficent was bought by my partner, and I had no particular expectations when we sat down to watch it.  The reviews I'd read had been a bit mixed, but I really enjoyed the film.  The writer is to be commended on how she re-framed the Disney version of Sleeping Beauty into a heart warming story of true love.  So yes it's a bit of a chick flick, but it has a dragon, and some weird and rather cool tree like warriors that guard the magic land called the Moors where Maleficent lives.  So highly recommended.

Grimm season three was fun, but not as good as season two, in that the cliff-hanger finale was less interesting.  Though to be fair having had the hero drugged lying in a coffin surrounded by zombies at the end of last season was going to be a bit tricky to top.  The show is still a monster of the week police procedural, and it is rather formulaic, but the relationship between Monroe and Rosalee makes me want to keep watching.  Also Sergeant Wu is being developed, though I think far too slowly, as it's about time he was a full member of Team Grimm.

We finished the week by starting to watch the three Thing movies, spurred on by listening to a series of podcasts.  We both enjoyed the Howard Hawkes version for the snappy dialogue, which really felt like real people speaking to each other.  We then watched the 2011 Norwegian prequel next, which is OK, but doesn't quite nail it - though it's a very loving homage to the John Carpenter version, which we have lined up to watch tonight.

Reading wise, I finished Max Brooks' World War Z.  I enjoyed it, but a couple of things annoyed me.  For example a soldier calling a magazine a clip, and I wasn't totally convinced by the big zombie take down scene where the descriptions of the details about the battle stretched my credulity.

The soldier recounts that he was firing one round a second, and while he had breaks, the battle lasted for 15 hours.  One round a seconds is 60 rounds a minute, which is 300 rounds every five minutes, which is 3,600 rounds/zombies per hour - the ammo weighs 3lbs per 100 rounds, so 1,770lbs of ammunition for each soldier.  Seems reasonable, but the numbers don't make any sense.

Accounting for dramatic license, and assuming the zombies came shuffling in at a steady pace and peaked somewhere around the seven and a half hour mark, this equals 27,000 zombies per soldier for the battle.  Say 1,000 soldiers (number not specified, but unit described as forming a British square, which has to be large enough to contain the lorries carrying the ammo sitting in the centre, so my best guess), then that's 27 million zombies.  I calculated from the description of the size of the piled up bodies - about 1.8 million zombies - based on a ring of dead zombies at 500 yards out from the firing line).

While I may be being pedantic, I do think it shows that one needs to do one's research, and understand the implications for one's logistics.  Also, please can we not have a rehash of Napoleonic tactics - modern battles are based on fire and manoeuvre for a reason, and just don't get me started on why being surrounded is not a good plan.  It's like the military forgot every lesson they've ever learnt from history!

Still mustn't quibble too much over the little niggling details, because the story was enjoyable enough.

Finally, another weeks worth of editing on Bad Dog.  Twelve chapters revisited for a total of 34,749 words.  Just under half way through the second edit.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Agents of Shield


I managed to forget to put my weekly update last week, which I'm going to put down to forgetfulness, rather than the onset of age related dementia.  

We've been having a break from Xena & Gabrielle this week, diving into Marvel's Agents of Shield.  We've been assiduously avoiding spoilers, but having watched Captain America: Winter Soldier, it was kind of obvious that Hydra was the big story arc.  We really enjoyed the series, yes the first few episodes were setting the scene, but the payoff was well worth it.  I guessed Agent Ward was the double-agent, purely from the process of reasoning from first principle.  Still, the story had enough twists and turns, clever surprises, and good dialogue to carry one through the slower parts.  Must admit we thought Agent Coulson was a clone, it was the whole Blade Runner mementos that sold us on that idea, the denouement of what had really happened was both touching and clever.

This week I finished my first editing pass of Bad Dog's fifth draft.  Checking Scrivener and my diary log of daily work I've reduced the running total from 89,368 down to 82,730, which is 6,638 words cut out of the text.  This draft I've gone through the work looking for all the tense errors, which were previously eluding me, but I can see them now.  That had been very frustrating, so it's good to have found my editing mojo.

Of course this still doesn't mean that my writing can carry the story in the manner to which I aspire.  Wishing I can write better is not going to make it happen, so I continue once more into the breach etc.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Portal: Boundary Series Book 3

   

Portal by Eric Flint and Eric E. Spoor is the third book in the Boundary series.

Boundary is the first book in the series.  The story starts with an archaeological dig finding the fossilized remains of aliens.  Apparently they were killed by a bunch of Raptors when they landed on Earth 65 million years ago, which places their death on what is called the KT boundary.  This discovery leads to sending a mission to Mars, where the discovery of a base on Phobos then leads to further discoveries of a base on Mars.  Needless to say the race is on to exploit the alien technology.  Threshold, the sequel to Boundary,  takes the story to Ceres, and then on to Jupiter, ending with the expedition stranded on Europa.

 So I was keen to read Portal, and find out where the story would go next.

The series is unashamedly traditional old school science fiction.  While it may not have won any awards, the story of finding the alien Bemmies (bug eyed monsters), makes for a fun read.  The story has dinosaurs, squid like aliens, and spaceships.  What more can one ask for?  I certainly wanted to continue turning the pages to find out what happened next?

Meanwhile we are still watching Xena Warrior Princess, and are now coming to the end of series three.  It is what it is - lightweight escapist fun.  Sometimes the stories are profoundly cringe inducing, but at the same time the series is strangely addictive.  On a similar note, we both really enjoyed both the recent Dr Who episodes.  The Mummy On The Orient Express played with the murder mystery tropes, and this weeks episode Flatline, which was stonkingly good fun, told a good story with scary monsters.  I like Capaldi's Doctor.

Writing this week has been quite exciting.

I began the week working on my novel The Bureau.  I managed to write 3,732 words, bringing up the running total to 46,803.  I then switched to making notes for a couple of articles for Miniature Wargames & Battlegames.  One about the Blast-Tastic!, a show I went to, and the other describing the scenario I ran at the show.  I then received an editorial report identifying some problems that needed fixing on Bad Dog.  So my week ended up with me adding 907 words during the rewrite.

So this week I wrote a total of 4,639 words, which doesn't sound like a lot until one realizes that I spent eight hours totally restructuring a ninety thousand word novel.  Exciting or what?

Without Scrivener I would have been stuffed.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Firefall - Blindsight & Echopraxia


As I mentioned last week I started reading Peter Watts Firefall, the omnibus edition of Blindsight and Echopraxia.  Well I sat and finished read Blindsight last Sunday and what can I say?  How about wow?  If you haven't read it, and you like hard SF novels about first contact scenarios, then I suggest it will be worth your time and effort to do so.

A Google search will bring up a ton of reviews, which I feel the need to comment on.

Blindsight is a novel that discusses complex issues, and therefore if you are not the sort of person that likes to be challenged by rational scientific topic you may find the work not to your taste.  No amount of evidence to the contrary will likely change your mind.

In someways this is the product of our own nature, and how one understands consciousness versus intelligence.  An argument can be made that consciousness deals with aesthetics and emotional responses, whereas intelligence deals with process.  However, the evidence is scarce, hampered by a lack of a general theory of consciousness, with the best research into whether it's nature or nurture that drives human behaviours, only showing correlation rather than causation with either.

As regard the free will debate, I agree in principle that we live in a deterministic universe, but with the caveat that calculating the choice a person, or people in polynomial time within our frame of reference problematical.  As such, while we may not have free will, we live and act in a way that might as well be called free will as described by the two stage model.  I bring this up, because otherwise one would be hard pushed to explain behavioural changes made through cognitive behavioural approaches otherwise.  I apologize for simplifying what is quite a complex argument into one line in the process.

As pitch line: Blindsight by Peter Watts is like Rendezvous With Rama by Arthur C Clarke, but with more despondency and despair at mankind's deficiencies.

And I finished reading Echopraxia today.  It's the sequel to Blindsight, and deals with what was hinted as happening back on Earth at the end of the first book.  Spoiler alert.  It's not going to end well for homo sapiens sapiens.  For that matter it's not going to end well for any of the other cognitive sub-species either; the vampires and bicameral hive minds.

One thing I will say now is that both books require close reading of the text.  Skim read and you'll miss the clues the author plants.  Reading this book reminds me of discussions about reading levels for information pamphlets when I use to work in the NHS.  Our research showed that we needed to lower the reading age of our pamphlets, so as to make our subject as accessible as possible to the widest number of readers.  I'm not going to comment on reading levels, other than to say that people who like to read have higher than average reading comprehension, and leave it at that.

The point I'm making is that Peter Watts makes no concessions to readers, he assumes you will keep up with what he is writing about.  I enjoyed rising to meet the challenge.  Some readers may find it makes the story less accessible.

My pitch line for Echopraxia would be, it's like Childhood's End by Arthur C Clarke, but with even more despondency and despair at the transformation of the world by the Overmind.  One final thought came to mind.  At the end of the story I was really touched by a line of dialogue from Valerie, who is a vampire, who says quote, "Wouldn't it be nice if we could all just get along?"  In the context of what a vampire is, I found this a very moving statement.

One day I hope I will get the chance to meet Peter and talk about consciousness.  Until then I will have to console myself by reading his books.

As for my work this week I see I've managed to write 1,668 words, but this translated into five finished chapters.  So on reflection this has been very much a week of edit what I've written before.  So the evidence suggests that I'm still working my way through the morass of plot and structure hurdles, resulting from the process of converting the first draft of what was a graphic novel, into a first draft of a novel.

In addition I wrote 1,600 of reviews for Henry at Miniature Wargames & Battlegames  magazine.  So all-in-all not a bad week, even if it's not the most productive week of writing I've had.

NB: Edit to add opinion.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Plotting, Story & Structure


I'm big into plot, story and structure.  The latter is probably related to why I pursued a career as a cognitive behavioural therapist too.  For me, structure is about splitting the story down into acts to create a beginning, middle and end, which are the basic components of every story.  As discussed here.

Above is a picture of what I've been doing this week as I work through the plot, the story and what I need to do to get the whole structure to work.  Mostly this has involved moving scenes around in Scrivener, and making notes about how I'm going to rationalize the Cthulhu mythos in a plausible manner.  I have had some ideas about that.  I'm almost feeling the excitement of wanting to start writing stuff in earnest again, which is a good thing.

I can't recommend Scrivener too highly for this sort of thing.  Without it I would be forced to use post it notes or a cork-board. 

Sunday, 28 September 2014

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

Touch: Book 2 of The Queen of the Dead


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 BureauScrivener 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

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 was able to get 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 series 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 3 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're 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 lecturer in Film Studies and Contemporary American Literature at Manchester Metropolitan University, Erin Underwood editor for Underwords Press small press specializing in in YA SF anthologies, oh and me.
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...

Thursday, 21 August 2014

LonCon 3: Thursday First Contact!

Brian Aldiss on the right with Steve Lawson at the closing ceremony.
Not going to rift on The Clash's London Calling, or allude to Paul Cornell's London Falling and make comments about The Severed Streets around ExCel over the weekend.  No, not doing anything like that, or any shouts outs, or mixed metaphors either *cough*, or mention that ExCel is down by the river.  No sirree Bob, short for Kate BTW, none of that here.

Cue Lost in Space Warning. The narrative is now going to go a bit wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey, as I travel forward to Monday.

LonCon 3 was not my first WorldCon that honour goes to SeaCon '79, which was held in Brighton where they had Brian Aldiss and Fritz Lieber as their Guests of Honour.  I mention this because Brian celebrated his 89th birthday on the 18th.  As a result he had a hall full of fans sing him Happy Birthday at LonCon 3.  And that as they say is what fandom is all about; a community of fans who appreciate the authors that write the books we like to read.

Cue Tardis Sound Effects.  It's now Thursday again.

We had a plan of what we wanted to see at WorldCon, but no plan survives contact with what goes on at a convention.  The things that come up daily to defeat the best laid plans are: eating, drinking and sleeping, with a large side order of meeting old friends, and making new ones.  I wouldn't have it any other way.

Oh, and just in this case I forget to mention it in passing, lots of walking.

We arrived at ExCel around 11.30, and went on the first of the many long walks down the central boulevard of the convention.  On reaching the end, where the registration desk sat majestically back lit by the morning sun, we found ourselves in a queue where we stood for 90 minutes before getting our badges.  During which time I went off to find us something to eat.  With both of us now being representatives of an ethnic minority,  I went and bought Cornish Pasties, and black coffees.

Voice Over, "The coffee kicks back the fatigue from a sleepless night."

Susan hadn't slept well, because she was nervous about attending such a large convention, and me, me I was over excited.

Cue What Excitement Sounds Like to Me.

This meant neither of us got enough sleep.  Not a good way to start a convention.  However, we passed the time, by chatting to the people around us, and were entertained by a roving guitar player singing filk songs as well.

Due to the time it took to get our badges we missed going to the Opening Ceremony, and the Learn How to Swing Dance item, which resulted in us skipping the Swing Dance event we had originally planned on attending.  So much for our well laid out plans.

Cue A-Team Theme. So we went to Plan B; have fun.

Right to left: Roz Kaveney, Carrie Vaughn, Martin McGrath, Laurie Penny and Takayuki Tatsumi.
Our first event was watching the Occupy SF: Inequality on Screen panel, which had Roz Kaveney contributing cutting insights into shows like Continuum, and Alan Moore's V for Vendetta.  She is one of the smartest people I know, and a lovely person.

Then we went to The Fermi Paradox in Light of the Kepler Mission panel because Charlie Stross was a speaker on it.  He always has something interesting and erudite to say, which makes panels with him on worth going to see.  It also had Gerry Webb of Commercial Space Technologies Ltd., as the moderator, who was very good.  Interesting topic, even though nothing really new about the existence of aliens arose out of the discussion.

We missed The 1939 Retro-Hugo Awards Ceremony, our desire to see the results of the vote were trumped by the need to eat; so as to prevent us turning into ravenous hungry monsters.  We had steak, and it was delicious.

Cue Clever Girl.  Impromptu Jurrassic Park re-enactment averted.

On the way back from the restaurant we dropped in to see a play some friends were presenting called The Cancellation and Re-Imagining of Captain Tartan.  It explored the complex processes behind the production of a successful series, and the importance of the writer in the creative process when re-imagining a much loved classic show *cough*.  Afterwards we went to sit down in the fan village area, and had a drink from the bar with a few more friends, before starting the long walk back to our hotel to retire for the night.

To be continued...

NB: *cough* indicates irony.  This has been a public service announcement *cough*.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

LonCon 3: Hugo Award Winners 2014


This is not going to be a full discussion of the 2014 Hugos, rather a snippet to comment on a few that I voted on, and if they won.

Best Novel:  Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie.  Definitely a yay as far as I was concerned.  I reviewed it here, the first novel I read this year, and I loved it.  It was also great to meet Ann, and exchange a few words, she comes across as a very nice person.

Best Novella:  Equoid by Charles Stross.  I like Charlie's Laundry series, and I enjoyed reading the teaser he put out for this.  I now have a signed hardback, and all I have to do is find the time to sit down and read the story in full.

Best Graphic Story:  Time by Randall Munroe.  I didn't vote in this category, because I failed to remember I had read this strip, and how seminal it was.  So, I was pleasantly surprised by it winning.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form:  Gravity written by Alfonso Cuarón & Jonás Cuarón. and directed by Alfonso Cuarón. I've read elsewhere that some people didn't think it was SF, because it appears to be set in the real world of contemporary near Earth orbit space research.

In a word no, it's SF because it's set in an alternative future where the shuttle is still flying, and all the space stations are functioning, and in the same orbital plain.  I won't be pedantic about the science of the orbital mechanics, because shooting fish in a barrel.  Hollywood did hard science better for The Right Stuff and Apollo 13.  So Gravity is SF, and it was a righteous win.

Best Dramatic Presentation Long Form, Short Form: Game of Thrones "The Rains of Castamere" written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, and directed by David Nutter.  We was robbed.  In an ideal world I would have like Orphan Black to have won, but really both The Day of the Doctor and An Adventure in Space and Time were better in my opinion.

So disappointed, but on the other hand the Hugos are what they are.  The winner is the one with the most votes, not necessarily the best of anything, just the favourite show of many who took the time and trouble to vote.  In short, the result of a democratic voting system from being part of the franchise from being a member of WorldCon.  So no real grumbles from me.

I will be posting two further pieces on LonCon 3 over the next few days.  One on what and who I saw, the other on what I did on the panels.  There will be pictures.

Monday, 11 August 2014

LonCon 3: Updated Panel List


This is my final update with the complete listing of the five panels I'm on.  When and where they are,  what time, and who with.

THURSDAY

The Retrofuturism of JJ Abrams
Capital Suite 2 (ExCeL), time 16:30 - 18:00.
Val Nolan (Moderator), with Pawel Frelik, Sorcha Ní Fhlainn, Erin M. Underwood, and me.

SATURDAY

2014 Hugos: Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
Capital Suite 13 (ExCeL), time 11:00 - 12:00.
I'm the moderator, with Iain Clark, Abigail Brady, Saxon Bullock, Jacey Bedford.

Military SF: Continuity and Change
London Suite 2 (ExCeL), time 12.00 - 13.30
Myke Cole (Moderator), Joe Haldeman, Jean Johnson, Rohan Shah, and me.

What is I?
Capital Suite 14 (ExCeL), time 16.30 - 18.00
Ken MacLeod (Moderator), Russell Blackford, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Martin Poulter, Tim Armstrong, and late addition me.

The Knowable Other
London Suite 2 (ExCeL), Saturday 19:00 - 20:00.
Viktoriya H (Moderator), Michael Morelli, Justina Robson, JY Yang, and me.

I've got a very busy on the Saturday, and will need my running shoes on to get between the Hugos and the military SF panel.

Been away this weekend partying before the big event, hence the lack of my usual Sunday update.  As I will be at LonCon 3 next weekend there will be no update next Sunday either.  However, I will be posting an after convention report with pictures etc. just as soon as I can.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Log 2014 3rd Aug: Yesterday's Future of Tomorrow



Yesterday was rather exciting for the simple reason that we live next to the Hammersmith & City line, and London Underground were running a heritage train during the day.  The above picture is of one of the locomotives, they had one at each end of the rake of carriages, which was powering the service.  Isn't it glorious to look at.  One would almost mistake it for some fevered steam-punk creation if it were not for the fact it was built in 1923 and is nearly a hundred years old.  You can see more pictures of the full train here.

So lots of excitement at watching other people have fun riding the train, and the stories they will have to tell of the day.  My partner took the photos for me and I put them on Twitter, and in the process had more retweets than I've ever had for anything I've posted.  By my estimation over 20,000 people saw the pictures.  You can see the Tweets at the bottom of this page.

Today rather tired.  That's what excitement does, it wears you out.  Or it does if you are an old fogie like me.  So today I had to have a nap.  Hence the lateness of this post.

I was going to talk about re-watching Stargate Universe, and reading Sin and Syntax, but they will be mentioned in another post.  This week I've continued to work on my novel, re-wrote my short story, and received my first rejection slip (from Asimov's magazine).

Thursday, 31 July 2014

LonCon Panel 5: What is I?


My fifth panel at LonCon Is the What is I?  I asked if they would like me on this one, and they said Yes!  This mean I'm working my little cotton socks off on Saturday.  The panel is being held in the Capital Suite 14 (ExCeL), starting at 16.30 and ending at 18.00.

The blurb for the panel is as follows:

What is consciousness? What is it that we think we are? What does science, religion, mysticism say about this, and are we any closer to working out what 'I' is

Panelists

Ken MacLeod (Moderator), Russell Blackford, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Martin Poulter, Tim Armstrong, and late addition me, so I'm not in the printed book.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Log 2014 27th Jul: Cold Outside Critique


I must be a sucker for punishment, that or an eternal optimist, as I submitted another short story for critiquing with the writers group I joined.  This is the third time I've put myself through the grist mill.

My story, called Cold Outside, was inspired by reading Ruthanna Emrys The Litany of Earth, which I mentioned here.  When I started writing my story I discovered to my chagrin that Peter Watts had beaten me to the idea of writing a prequel to John Carpenter's The Thing with his prequel The Things.

Fortunately, my idea was not to rewrite the whole movie from the alien POV, but rather cast the monster as a tragic victim of circumstances beyond its control.

In fact my story really only deals with stuff that is described in passing in Carpenter's movie, because what I wanted to do was tell was the story of the alien being dug up out of the ice by the Norwegians. This is told in more detail in the prequel to The Thing, called unimaginatively the Thing.  A title that might be a tad confusing when referring to both.  They could have gone with Don A. Stuart's, a pseudonym of John W. Campbell, original story title of Who Goes There? of course, but they didn't.

So overall I got a lot of very useful feedback, mostly about how opaque my story was to those not immersed in the Cthulhu mythos, which was good.  Still it left me feeling as per the picture.

On my writing progress this week, Scrivener fails to really keep track of the number of words written when re-writing a piece.  I can get widely varying totals, depending on the time I take a snapshot of the ongoing running total.  At the end of the day I actually judge what I've done by comparing the running total of the novel.  This is usually in negative numbers.  Currently the novel is running at 87,133 words.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

LonCon Panel 4: Military SF: Continuity and Change


My fourth panel at LonCon is called Military SF: Continuity and Change, and it is on Saturday, starting at 12:00 and ending at 13:30, and is being held in the London Suite 2 (ExCeL)  .

The blurb for the panel is as follows:

Many of the classics of military SF, Heinlein's Starship Troopers and Haldeman's Forever War, sprung from the Korean and Vietnam Wars; the Cold War, with its looming threat of nuclear annihilation, spawned fresh responses.

How has military SF changed for modern audiences?  Have its themes kept pace with changing perceptions and forms of war?  What are some of the things military SF needs to be concerned with?

Panelists

Myke Cole (Moderator), Joe Haldeman, Jean Johnson, Rohan Shah, and little old me.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Log 2014 20th Jul: Countdowns


The first countdown is LonCon 3, with less than four weeks to go.  I'm on another panel too, details to follow during the week.  The other countdown is the rewrite of my novel Bad Dog, which I hope to have done by the time LonCon 3 comes around.  If only to say I have a novel out doing the rounds, but more importantly, just to get what feels like an anvil off of me.

So this week Hulk smash puny chapters that make up act three.  Word count hard to estimate, because I'm in negative numbers, with the running total now standing at 86,701 words.  When I started the rewrite the novel came in at a hefty 93,075 words; so Hulk smash!

We finished re-watching Stargate Atlantis this week.  Season five had the feeling of watching a cat take a pratfall, regain its composure and pretend what happened was what it meant to do all along.  By that I mean the ending was rushed to tie up all the loose threads of the plot before the show was cancelled.  As a season some of the stories, while nice enough, were quite frankly not necessary to the overall plot; namely the Wraith problem is left hanging.

We've started re-watching Person of Interest, and wow it's better than I remember it, and that is saying something.  Why this wasn't on the short form Hugo list is beyond me (perhaps people think of it as a contemporary police procedural conspiracy thriller, which given the Wikipedia entry is not that surprising).  Still, to me, it's quite clear by episode twelve that Person of Interest is so much more.  The Kurzweil shout out in the previous episode being the first giveaway, and the ending scene from the machine's point of view being the other.

I shall be keeping out an eye in case they drop in references to Hugo de Garis and Marvin Minsky next, because both of these men have made predictions about the future of AIs, which is a topic I find fascinating as someone who trained as a cognitive behavioural therapist.  It's also a central theme in Ghost Dog, my third novel.  So that's it for another week.  I hope you all had a great weekend, and catch you on the bounce.

Friday, 18 July 2014

LonCon Panel 3: The Knowable Other Update


The Knowable Other is now the fourth panel* I'll be on at LonCon.  It's on Saturday, starting at 19:00, and ending at 20:00 in the London Suite 2 (ExCeL).

The updated blurb for this panel is as follows:
 
SF has a long history of alien Other characters that function as representations of identities that depart from the dominant paradigm of white, male heterosexuality. Many of these have been problematic: such Others were kept distant and "unknowable", allowing them to be quarantined within a conventionally heroic narrative framework. In recent films and TV shows, however, we see more characters who fulfil the role of Other while being rooted in humanity in some way, such as the rebooted Cylons of Battlestar Galactica, the androids of Almost Human, or the undead of The Returned. Such characters can be seen as more "knowable", lacking the distance of conventional aliens.

What does this shift mean for the exploration of marginalised identities on screen, at a time when we're also seeing more (if still not enough) actual representations of such identities in heroic roles? What are the advantages and disadvantages of human-seeming characters, and what is the impact of presenting them -- all too often -- as antagonists? Is there still a space for new visually alien characters, or are they inevitably tainted by the history that precedes them?

Panelists

Viktoriya H (Moderator), Michael Morelli, Justina Robson, JY Yang, and me.

Updates

I have updated the LonCon Panel 1: The Retrofuturism of JJ Abrams post with location, and a change of panelists too.

Also I've added the location for LonCon Panel 2: 2014 Hugos: Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form panel too.

* Yes, this means I'm on another panel, which I'm totally stoked to have been asked to do.  More details in a separate post.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Log 2014 13th Jul: Whither the Day


I'm sitting here typing this wondering where the day has gone?  I woke up this morning, had breakfast and went back to bed to read, but fell asleep instead.  I didn't sleep well last night due to being set upon by a gang of mosquitoes that wanted to drink my blood.  When I was on methotrexate they didn't use to bite me, but since I've stopped taking a regular weekly dose of cytotoxic medication mosquitoes find me ultra delicious.

Unfortunately, I'm allergic to mosquitoes bites, and I now have eleven rather large welts on my arms and legs.  I did all the things one has to do to cope when this happens.  So the day has been one of washing, rubbing cream in, and then rubbing in some more, and then applying camomile lotion etc, repeat ad nauseam.

Still mustn't grumble, it could be worse.

This week I've re-written three chapters of my novel, and finished another short story called Cold Outside for submission to my writers group.  My Alpha reader gives me a fifty-fifty chance of them getting it.  In the process of doing this I've started working on three other short story ideas.  I find working on short stories while editing my novel helps me to overcome the feeling of despair I have when I'm trying to polish the deathless prose of my earlier drafts.  Well whatever works, works, right?

Thursday, 10 July 2014

LonCon Panel 3: The Knowable Other


My third panel at LonCon is called The Knowable Other, and is on Saturday, starting at 19:00, and ending at 20:00.

The blurb for the panel is as follows:

"SF has a long history of (mis)representing identities that depart from the dominant paradigm (e.g. queer and/or non-white characters) as distant and unknowable non-humans. In some recent TV shows, however, we see characters positioned as other yet in some way still rooted in human-ness; the AIs of Almost Human or the undead of The Returned, for instance. How do the stories told about such "knowable others" differ from the use of "conventional" aliens? Do they offer advantages or opportunities for exploring marginalized identities, or is it an inherently conservative gesture that forecloses the possibility of genuine alterity* -- or even an avoidance of writing about actual human diversity?"

I have to admit that when I read the above blurb I was stumped by at least one word that I had to go look up to see what it means.  I've suggested that perhaps a blurb written in plain English would be less opaque, though I'm told this is supposed to be an academic stream panel, so who knows.  "Not I," she said. 

Unfortunately, I can't list the other people who are doing this with me at the moment, because the original moderator and one of the other panelists pulled out, and I've not heard from the other person who I sent an email too.  I understand that this problem is being resolved, and as soon as I know who I'm on this panel with, I shall let you all know the details.

Still, I can see why I was chosen to be on this panel, and look forward to talking about the representation of alien minds in both fiction and film.

NB: alterity is a philosophical term meaning "otherness", strictly being in the sense of the other of two (Latin alter).  I would have just said otherness, and not limited myself by implying a binary, but heh that's the way I roll.