30 January 2005


...I do apologise for last night's manic post.

Today I decided that enough was enough. I did a last-minute fix for the minor plot implications of a historical error I'd made, checked carefully that none of the changes I made yesterday when in a not-terribly-stable state of mind were actually catastrophic, made sure that my contents page matched my chapter titles, and ran a final spellcheck. Then, even though my deadline isn't technically until tomorrow, I sent the final draft off to my editor. Hurrah.

Now I'm taking books from my "research" shelf, which I have located on the wall just above my computer monitor, and putting them back in their correct places on my other shelves. Which is remarkably satisfying, even if some of them have acquired colleagues while on the research shelf and therefore don't necessarily fit properly any more.

For the first time in about a year, I don't have an ongoing writing project, at least that anyone is paying me for. Maybe I'll get to lounge around for a few weeks watching videos and drinking tequila. (When I'm not at work, obviously. We do tend to frown on that kind of behaviour in the Library.)

Of course, I have just received a document inviting pitches for yet another short-story anthology. And I have some proposals for full-length books I want to put to a couple of publishers, plus I'm waiting to hear back about one I submitted in July or thereabouts. And I have some ideas for both mainstream S.F. and actual-mainstream novels which I want to do some work on while I'm not otherwise occupied...

...but sod it, I need a break first. Tequila it is, then.

29 January 2005

We All Have Our Albatrosses to Bear

I'm in the final, exhausted stages of Peculiar Lives now, printing out, reading through, noting changes, making changes, printing out again, etcetera ad infinitum or until I go STARK RAVING MAD, whichever happens first. Except that my printer has run out of ink, so I may be stuck with noting the remaining changes electronically.

This final stage is always frustrating, because I'm too close to the text to be able to assess it with any kind of objectivity: by now I can scarcely read a single sentence from it without groaning. I know, with all the certainty with which I know that I am not Pope Pius XII, that as soon as the damn novella is in print -- no, as soon as I get the proofs back from the publishers, as soon, in short, as it's too damn late to make any substantive changes -- that huge egregious errors in the writing will leap from the page and dance up and down in front of my eyes, twirling their ragged skirts and singing "Knees up Mother Brown".

Excuse me. I think I may have, as previously posited, gone STARK RAVING MAD.

In other news, there is no other news. There is is no possibility of other news. There is only The Novella. The whole of the rest of existence has receded, and is barely a smear on the horizon of my ocean of self-obsession.

And now I must plunge back in.

All together now: "Readers of my earlier book, The Peculiar, will recognise in the current volume the sequel and conclusion to its remarkable story. Like The Peculiar, Peculiar Lives is not fiction, but a true chronicle..."

25 January 2005

Speculative Cityscape: Tokyo

It's been a week since I promised to explain why I want to go to Tokyo. (For context, see here.) So, here we are then...

Why I Want to Go to Tokyo
by Philip Purser-Hallard aged 33 1/4.

I've never visited Tokyo, of course, this being pretty much the point. I'm almost entirely ignorant (or at least I was before I started researching this piece) about the particulars of the place itself: what appeals is its status as an archetype. For Tokyo is basically the nearest thing on present-day Earth to the Ultimate Sci-Fi City™[1].

For a start, it's big. Admittedly it has relatively few skyscraper-scale buildings because of caution regarding earthquakes (for actual high-rise buildings it seems Shanghai or Taipei are better bets), but it sprawls quite impressively. It contains more people than any other urban conglomeration, with some twelve million individuals (forty times the population of, say, Iceland) living in the city itself. It's been the definitive twenty-first century megalopolis for a good fifty years now, its scale matched only by the destructive power of the nuclear-spawned monsters recruited to demolish it in those (equally nuclear-spawned) post-War Daikaiju movies.

It's not only big, it's alien. Naturally I'm using the word in its old-fashioned sense here (although at least one traditional strand of science fiction has always used its extraterrestrials as metaphors for non-Western cultures -- and there's nothing intrinsically wrong with that, even if it has given us some of media S.F.'s more clichéd alien societies). I'm also speaking, of course, as a white European, and therefore as someone who would have been barred from Japan altogether until 1853. From my point of view, Japan is a country on the other side of the world, which deliberately isolated itself from all outside influences for centuries, and which -- despite the last few generations' superficial Westernisation -- retains many aspects of a mindset and a culture which are completely foreign to my own. This comes across visually in every aspect of the city from the religion to the advertising, and I find it fascinating.

Most of all, though, Tokyo is almost insanely futuristic. This is partly because it actually is a hotbed of cutting-edge technology, partly because the vast majority of it has been built during a period of intense architectural experimentation; but mostly because, during a particular (and recent) era of the genre's development, science fiction so frequently looked to Japan as its exemplar when imagining Earth's future. Everything I wrote about cities as concrete expressions of culture applies, but in Tokyo's case everything is both amplified and fast-forwarded: it expresses equally our hopes and fears about the future of our global civilisation (which I always understand as "citification", from the Latin "civis"). And I want to take a closer look.

(Besides, they have the world's only Japanese Orthodox Cathedral. And pagodas, and artificial islands. And a slightly larger replica of the Eiffel Tower.)

[1] Note that this context -- that of discussing the archetypes and cliches of media science fiction -- is the only one in which you will ever see me using that particular abbreviation unless I'm writing in character.

21 January 2005


Some exciting stuff this week, relating to my current and to my last-completed writing projects. From least through to most exciting:

3. I've received the written confirmation of the permission to use certain copyright quotations in my novella Peculiar Lives (due out in July and with a deadline of the end of this month). These are the vital context-setting quotes I was really hoping I wouldn't have to get rid of. I've also heard back from the agents of the H.G. Wells estate about the Wells excerpt I also wanted to use: it seems I can do so if I cough up £57.50 first. Hmm. I'll have to think about that one.

2. I've also had, much earlier than I was expecting, the proofs of the short story I finished back in October, "Minions of the Moon". It looks very nice laid out, and is in a lovely font as well. I've been through the proofs thoroughly, and I still think this is the best thing I've written to date. The provisional publication date is May, and given that they're getting this organised about it this far in advance, I wouldn't expect too many delays to that. No news as yet on when the publishers will be making their official announcement, but I'll be updating this blog (and my website) the moment they do.

1. But most exciting of all, I've seen the cover for Peculiar Lives, and it's fantastic. I really wish I could show it to people, but again it has to wait until the publishers (not the same ones as for the short story) make their official announcement (possibly mid-February, possibly March). It really is very effective, and manages to recreate elements from inside my head in a creepily accurate way. This is only the second cover to a book I've written all by myself, and I'm probably overreacting somewhat -- but God I'm impressed.

All in all, then, I'm feeling pretty enthused at present, and keen to finish Peculiar Lives and hand it in. No thrilling new projects on the horizon for the moment, but to be honest I'm rather looking forward to having a bit of a rest.

18 January 2005

Further Urban Musings

Starting shortly (and probably with Tokyo), I'm going to try and write a bit about each of my top fifteen cities to visit / revisit. In the majority of cases what I write will be heavily based on ignorance, as two-thirds of them are cities I've never been to in my life, but I hope that I can at least justify why these are places I'm keen to visit.

I've never been able to afford a great deal of international travel. Apart from a month of interrailing (as it actually was then) in 1992 -- passing through France, Italy, Greece, the Czech Republic and (if we'd only happened to be awake at the time) Germany and Austria too -- I've only managed trips to countries beginning with an "I" and ending with "land". I've never been out of Europe, unless you count the portion of Iceland that's on the North American continental plate. The non-British cities I've visited (as opposed to staring at in bleary confusion through a train window) have been precisely ten in number: Paris, Milan, Venice, Florence, Rome, Athens, Prague, Dublin, Cork and Reykjavik. Oh, and I think I went to the lavatory in Limerick once.

The point is, I've loved them. (Although I wasn't particularly taken with Limerick.) I find the permutations of behaviour and expression which manifest themselves in human cultures endlessly fascinating, and I'm hungry -- indeed, after not having been out of the country for over five years I'm positively champing at the bit -- for more direct experience of societies and civilisations against which to compare my own. (Other than that of the U.S.A., that is. I've nothing against it, but it does get pumped into my house on an hourly basis, so I'm more or less used to it by now.)

It's one of the things I respond to so strongly in science fiction, I suspect: the exploration of other ways of thinking, of seeing the world, and of responding to it -- whether these are alien in the biological, or merely the parochial, sense.

More specifically, though, I adore cities. Aesthetically, I respond to them with something like the reverent awe which the Romantic poets (who loathed urban spaces to a man) reserved for the countryside. Politically, I warm to their heterogeneity, their cosmopolitanism and their progressiveness. Spiritually, the City of God has always been a far more compelling image to me than that of a dreary horticultural Paradise.

Most of all, I love cities as concrete (or brick or stone or wood or glass or plastic) expressions of their society's characteristic concerns and aspirations -- and all the more so because, simultaneously, they form the environment in which the physical life of that society takes place, resulting in a glorious feedback loop of humanity and its habitat.

It's like art -- no, it's like culture -- that you can walk around in.

That I feel this way may be kind of obvious to those who've read Of the City of the Saved..., but I felt it needed saying anyway.

Feline Update

The cats are settling in well in the new neighbourhood. For several months now both of them have been happy and relaxed about the house, and have identified favourite places to sit (the sofa, the empty shelf above the satellite TV unit, the hamper my brother and his girlfriend gave us for Christmas two years ago, etc.), but haven't been going outside much, except to sniff at the grass occasionally and come back in.

During the past week, though, Mulder has taken to spending most of his evenings outside, popping back briefly to check that we're still in and then buggering off again before we shut him in. I don't know where exactly he's managed to find some territory to claim as his, but it's evidently out of earshot, because he doesn't come when called[1] and we don't hear his bell.

Yesterday, the Evil Cat whom we've seen occasionally in the area came and sat outside the catflap, and he and Mulder spent quite some time yowling at one another. (Scully stood by with her tail fluffed up like a duster and provided moral support.) Shortly afterwards, Mulder came trotting upstairs to the study to be stroked, seeming very perky, and we've not seen the Evil Cat since. Apparently Mulder is managing to hold his own among the neighbourhood moggies despite his relative smallness and his lack of testicles, which is a good thing.

Scully, on the other hand, just lounges about the house all day. She likes it that way.

[1] Yes, I know -- coming when called isn't exactly a widely-observed behaviour among cats. Mulder isn't terribly bright, however, and almost always does.

13 January 2005

General Update

Well, life is busy at the moment, what with the rewrites on the novella, the early weeks of term happening, occasional exploding baths and the like.

I'm not getting a lot of time to read non-research stuff at present, but The Separation and Natural History continue to be good. On the research front I've also been reading a pre-proof copy of the novella which comes before Peculiar Lives in its series, which continues a notable trend in this particular series of being rather excellent. (Soon, I hope, I'll be able to mention explicitly which series this is.)

I've also heard from the representative of the estate of one of the S.F. authors I've been hoping to quote, granting me permission to use some specific excerpts. This is a relief, as the quotes in question are crucial context-setting stuff, and help to establish from the beginning that the (rather unappealing) opinions of my narrator are not necessarily my own. I've not yet had written confirmation of the permission, but there's every reason to suppose it's in the bag.

In other news, the students have been running amok at the Library -- talking in the quiet areas, putting books back in the wrong places, making "beep-beep-beep" noises when they walk through the security barrier, and similar horrors. All of this is perfectly normal, of course, and makes me long for the days when librarians were constitutionally empowered to impose custodial setences (or did I make that up?).

I think that many of our students have grown up without direct experience of libraries, and therefore have little conception of the behaviour that's expected of them within one. (The teachers, on the other hand, are often still of the generation which saw librarians as terrifying authority figures, which can be quite fun.)

Oh, and my scooter blew over in the violent winds the other day, smashing its left-side mirror. Fortunately I wasn't straddling it at the time.

11 January 2005

It Really Is Appalling

It's gone very quiet here since New Year. Is anyone still reading, or have I managed to vanish silently up my own appendix?

Anyway. Not that I want to sound like Disgusted of Bedminster, but reading this story (linked to from Neil Gaiman's Journal) has made me really cross. OK, so this is only one person's version of events (and there are certainly things to be said about the advisability or otherwise of referring to one's employer directly in a blog, which is why I always use the thinly-veiled alias of "St Brad's" for my place of work) but even so, for God's sake.

If Mr Gordon had been giving away company secrets, or entreating his readers to boycott Waterstones, then that might have been justifiable grounds for disciplinary action. All he seems to have been doing, though, is using his blog to moan about the occasional stresses of working for an employer for whom (according not only to himself but also Neil Gaiman, Richard Morgan and Charlie Stross) he was an assiduous worker, an excellent author liaison and a popular public face.

The whole thing reeks of internal management politics, but the fact that the cultural climate is such that Waterstones felt justified in picking on an employee's out-of-hours writings as its excuse for sacking him is pretty bloody sickening, frankly.

(Still, at least I've discovered Ken Macleod's blog through reading Mr Gordon's page. Surprisingly, it seems to be mostly about left-wing politics.)

[Edit 12/1/5: The story's been picked up in the national newspapers now -- The Times, The Scotsman and The Guardian. The Guardian's article in particular does a magnificent job of making Waterstone's look really really bad.]

08 January 2005

Your Guest Is As Good As Mine

The Guestbook at www.infinitarian.com hasn't been getting a lot of use really, and I've decided that it's not serving much of a useful purpose. I'm going to remove it from the website.

I was going to archive the link here for posterity's sake, but it seems that Blogspot won't allow the use of javascript tags in posts, so that won't work. Apologies to Sarah, Stuart and Mags, whose comments will no longer be accessible to the world. (They would of course have begun to disappear soon anyway, unless I got organised about upgrading my HaloScan account.)

Urban Legends

Ten cities I have to visit at least once before I die:
1. San Francisco
2. Samarqand
3. St Petersburg
4. Petra
5. New York
6. Machu Picchu
7. Budapest
8. Rio de Janeiro
9. Istanbul
10. Tokyo

Five cities I have to go back to before I die:
1. Florence
2. Prague
3. Reykjavik (NB site is in Icelandic, but the photos are good...)
4. Athens
5. Edinburgh

Oh, well. At least that last one shouldn't pose too big a problem... less so than Machu Picchu, at any rate.

(LiveJournalists, or indeed anyone else: feel free to adopt this as a meme, if you happen to have the time and energy.)

[Insert Pythonism Here]

Periodically this blog acquires spam-type "comments", obviously placed there automatically, advising me (or perhaps my readers) to check out some dubious source of prescription drugs. I've been banning the specific I.P. addresses via HaloScan, but as one might expect that doesn't seem to be preventing them from appearing. This is annoying, because HaloScan seem to have decided that the blog deserves a maximum of 120 comments (I really really must get round to upgrading the account), and deletes the oldest permanently whenever a new one is posted.

Does anyone else have this problem, and is there any way of fixing it that they know of?

03 January 2005

Recent Acquisitions

Christmas this year was splendid on many fronts. It was, however, somewhat less productive of presents in the form of books than I was hoping, although I did get a new phone and some of the CDs I asked for. (B. and I also received as joint presents a number of items of kitchen equipment she particularly wanted, which is of course very pleasing and not irritating in the least.)

I did, however, manage to acquire the following, by courtesy of my kind and generous birth and marriage families:

Natural History by Justina Robson. Interesting exploration of biological posthumanism, with characters who are passenger airships, deep-space probes and giant breeding machines for creating all the other types of people mentioned. I'm only 100 pages in, but so far it's providing the kind of exploration of the subjectivity of posthuman existence which I found so lacking in Greg Egan's Diaspora. I've not read any of Robson's previous novels, but she's damn good.

1602 by Neil Gaiman. Gaiman's reimagining of the Marvel superhero universe for the year 1602, with a pleasingly spurious time-travel justification. I'm not an avid reader of Marvel, and indeed have learned most of what I know from the recent films based around their characters, but I found this most entertaining (particularly Dr Carlos Javier and his School for the Sons of Gentlemen). 1602 seems not to have been terribly popular among Gaiman's fans, but this kind of creative exercise, of fitting an existing narrative pattern (or complex of patterns) into a novel setting is something I find enormously intellectually stimulating. The example par excellence is Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, with its Victorian superhero team-up. Speaking of which...

The Killing Joke by Alan Moore. Not really Moore's best work, despite being his take on by far the best superhero / supervillain pairing, Batman and The Joker. I still prefer Arkham Asylum, but The Killing Joke has its undeniable moments.

The Writer's Handbook 2005 edited by Barry Turner. Useful for work, obviously, so rather less exciting than the others, but still very necessary (and little-sister-in-law tempered the utility of it by also giving me The Killing Joke, so she's lovely anyway).

In addition, a very nice book token from a generous grandfather-in-law allowed me to purchase:

Raw Spirit by Iain Banks. One of my favourite fiction authors, both SF and mainstream, writes as his first non-fiction book a travelogue of Scottish whisky distilleries. This is the sort of project you can only really get away with suggesting when you're very very famous.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (white cover) by Susanna Clarke. New author, absolutely vast historical-fantasy novel which has been raved about widely. Currently half price from Blackwell's, if anyone's interested.

Newton's Wake by Ken Macleod. I've been wanting this for a while -- MacLeod is another favourite of mine, although his obsession with left-wing politics (much though I approve of it in theory) has become rather overbearing after seven novels. This is his first non-series novel (although I suppose he may yet write a sequel). Looking forward to it, but slightly cautiously.

It may take me quite a while to get around to reading some of these, given that I'm still working on The Separation, which I bought with birthday money back in November... and given that another birthday present, Banks's The Algebraist (which I must get round to reviewing here) took me a month and a half. Who knows, maybe they'll even last me until next birthday.

Honestly, I Just Found It Lying in the Street...

Feel free to climb down from the brain racks -- the total bewilderment from all quarters which has greeted my enquiry has convinced me that I was probably imagining the whole thing, and that the idea I've outlined is actually original to me. Either that, or that I've nicked it from an author so obscure that nobody's going to notice the borrowing in the novella either.

Of course, I've now given away the ending of the novella to around 95% of the people who actually care. And knowing my luck the first review to appear will say, "The major flaw in the novella is Purser-Hallard's blatant and unacknowledged borrowing from Myron Parboil's The Dominatrices of Time", and I'll immediately bang my forehead and shout "Of course it was bloody Myron Parboil! How could it possibly have been anyone else?".

Which will be unfortunate, but will at least provide some closure for my current sense of unresolved frustration.

On the Ninth Day of Christmas...

Astonishingly, the answer to the question I asked back here:

Presumably, in our new next-door neighbour's perceptions, the festive season begins just after Bonfire Night, and finishes -- when? Septuagesima? St Valentine's Day? August Bank Holiday?
...turns out to be "New Year's Day, if you count from when the Christmas lights are switched off, or 3 January if you consider when they actually come down".

Of course, this does no less violence to the ecclesiastical year than putting the damn things up on 6 November did. But it's a great deal more welcome.

Happy New Year, everybody. Hope 2005 has been pleasant and shiny for all of you so far.