29 June 2005

Vicarious Sibling Acquisition

As of 2:30pm tomorrow, I will have three sisters-in-law, rather than just the two I currently possess. I love them all dearly, but I can't help feeling that that's rather a lot. It's not as if I've been going round collecting them deliberately.

Anyway, and connectedly, B. and I are off to Sussex tonight to attend my little brother's wedding. I won't be posting to this blog or replying to comments for the next couple of days.

Have a nice rest of the week, everybody. I intend to.

28 June 2005

Midwinter Celebrations

Among the things I achieved over the weekend (most of which were unspectacular and non-writing-related) was to finish "The Long Midwinter", my latest short story for a Big Finish anthology.

I'm reasonably pleased with it... less so than with some of the things I've done, but more than with some others. (Which stories each of those descriptions might apply to I leave as an exercise for the reader.) It's the closest thing to hard S.F. I've written -- I had to do research and everything. (Well, I read a couple of astronomical web pages. Well, skimmed them.) It's also, erm, 20% over the original agreed length -- that may change, though, as at present the story is still subject to editorial revision. (This is actually fairly restrained for me: "Minions of the Moon" is rather more than 100% overlength.)

Those who've been following my writing career closely may not be entirely astonished to discover that the story is set in the far future, and has posthumans in it.

It's not clear when the author lineup for the book in question is going to be announced, and I don't want to steal Big Finish's thunder by mentioning the title here. There'll be an update when the announcement happens.

Media Update

A selection of the programmes and films which B. and I have watched recently, whether at the cinema or through the technology of the Digital Versatile Disk, would be these:

Bubba Ho-Tep

Any film which starts from the premise of an elderly Elvis Presley and a mad black man who thinks he's J.F.K. defending their old people's home against a soul-sucking Egyptian mummy in a cowboy hat, is unlikely to fall flat. Bruce Campbell's cranky Elvis is fabulous, and there's some extremely dark humour about old age, death and their attendant indignities. It's a decent script, which manages some touching moments (such as Elvis's dream of meeting his long-lost daughter) despite the intrinsic absurdity of the concept. The film's not actually either as funny or as scary as the better episodes of Buffy -- with which it shares a good deal of its approach -- but it's a good deal scarier and funnier than The Stepford Wives.

The Stepford Wives (2004)

The original film undeniably has its flaws -- it's slow-moving, and (although it may persuade us to suspend our disbelief) it does very little to convince us that an entire community of men could actually become so morally corrupt as to conspire to murder their wives and replace them with robots. Still, it has atmosphere, and it's creepy. I was intrigued at the idea of seeing it remade as a comedy, as I thought the change of approach could suit the material very well.

Unfortunately, it's a bit rubbish. Not dire in the way that, say, Three Men and a Little Lady or Look Who's Talking Too are dire, but not much good. Not even the ever-glorious Nicole Kidman, Christopher Walken and the creepy pharmacist out of Desperate Housewives can compensate for the poverty of the script (and Bette Midler most certainly can't). The satire splurges everywhere, undecided as to whether it's aimed at reality T.V., suburban life, career women, women who react against being career women, or gay Republicans. It's fairly shaky even on the definition of "robot". Its main legitimate subject-matter relies on the audience believing in a degree of misogyny which appeared violently extreme in 1975, and hence such satire as does actually work seems to be coming several decades too late. Very much a wasted opportunity.

The West Wing

This continues to be damn good, although from what I gather we should make the most of that while it lasts. Currently we're halfway through Season 3, and the Congressional hearings arising from the President's health problems are far more gripping than such a thing could ever be in real life.

I think this is probably the most tightly-scripted and intelligent mainstream T.V. drama I've seen. (I say "mainstream" because I'm sure there's some S.F. or telefantasy which is more intelligent, even if I can't think of it at present... I mean, there must be, mustn't there?) And the episode Bad Moon Rising, which introduces the recurring character of the White House 's legal counsel, has a pre-credits sequence with the funniest punchline I've ever seen on television.

Twin Peaks

Currently a third of the way through Season 2, and -- Oh my God! Leland's possessed by Bob! And he's murdered Maddy!

I was disappointed at first by Twin Peaks, because I felt that, bar the odd dream sequence, there was very little about it that was non-realist, except the implausibly high incidence of utter barking madness among the inhabitants of one small town (and an F.B.I. agent). Fortunately -- what with the introduction of the Giant, the messages from space, the "inhabiting spirit" in the One-Armed Man, the small child who teleports food and various characters' visions of Bob, this has long since ceased to be the case.

Apparently Frank Silva, who played Bob, was a set-dresser and prop-handler: this was his first acting job, and he died of a heart attack in 1995 without having another. Presumably only David Lynch would want to employ someone who looked so fucking scary.

Batman Begins

I didn't enjoy this as much as I expected to, but that may have been partly due to mood. Almost everything about it was fine, with the exception of the fight scenes, which I found unnecessarily confusing. This may have been a deliberate stylistic decision (as combat is, presumably, often a frantic and bewildering experience for those involved) but so much of the movie consists of fighting that I found it alienating.

I thought Christopher Nolan's earlier independent films, Memento and Insomnia, were great, and the idea of his doing a back-to-basics approach on such an iconic comic-book hero was very intriguing. There's a general feeling of the film throwing off unnecessary comics baggage; with Michael Caine, for instance, ignoring the traditional characterisation of Alfred as stuffy and stand-offish, and instead making him a warm and demonstrative working-class Englishman. This works fantastically well, as does the rejection of the usual presentation of Gotham as a Gothic monstrosity (whose presentation ranges from camp to sinister in various incarnations), in favour of an entirely realistic and non-stylised Chicago cityscape. (Erm... or possibly Seattle. I think it was Chicago.)

The film as a whole seems to have a programme of de-fantasticating Batman's world -- the immortality of villain Ra's al Ghul, a significant character point in the comics, is never mentioned, for instance. This has the effect of throwing the borderline dementia of Bruce Wayne's crime-fighting style into sharper relief than was perhaps intended. Indeed, one gets the impression that Nolan is more comfortable with corrupt cops and gangland bosses than with superheroes and supervillains. Both Ra's al Ghul and the Scarecrow (played chillingly by Cillian Murphy) are poorly motivated and underused. Ra's in particular now looks more like a conspiracy-theorist who wants to be part of the conspiracy than a machiavellian mastermind, and his philosophical basis for going around collapsing cultures which he considers "decadent" is hardly touched on.

There are a great many fantastic performances, although unfortunately Christian Bale is never entirely convincing in either of Bruce Wayne's personas. Caine is great, though, as are Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Rutger Hauer and pretty much every other male American character actor over fifty. There are some fantastic things about this film, and a great deal that's both impressive and enjoyable. It just never quite gels into as brilliant a whole.

27 June 2005

Big Finish: An Apology

It's been pointed out to me, apropos of my remarks here, here and here, and also here, that the staff at Big Finish are dedicated people who work hard contending with a variety of unpredictable factors of a kind which a small-press publisher has little or no control over. I'm entirely willing to acknowledge that this is true, and that my comments may have been uncharitable in the light of this.

I'd like to apologise to Ian Farrington, the editor of the New Worlds line, and to John Ainsworth the Big Finish webmaster, if they've been upset or offended by anything I've said.

My frustration at the delay to Wildthyme on Top, and the slowness of the website in acknowledging this, are entirely due to the fact that I expect the anthology in question to be phenomenally good (and I'm not excluding my own contribution there -- as I mention in Peculiar Lives, most authors are naturally vain. And there are two self-promoting links in one sentence, to prove it.) I'm excited at the thought of reading the collection sometime soon; and frustrated that I, and the rest of the world, won't get to read it yet. That the book is happening at all is obviously thanks in large part to the Big Finish team, so apologies again for emphasising the negative at the expense of the positive there.

25 June 2005

Peculiar Signs

I've just signed 120 sheets of paper, for binding into the Peculiar Lives hardback editions. It didn't take as long as I thought... but it wasn't any more interesting than I thought, either.

After some discussion, the publishers and I agreed that my usual signature (my initials) would be too short and unrecognisable, whereas my full name would take bloody ages to write out 120 times. We compromised on "Philip PH". So, if you've ordered a numbered limited edition deluxe hardback, that's what you're going to see written in it. If you're lucky, it may even be legible.

In related news, Telos note that they now have the full complement of paperback Peculiar Liveses, meaning that shops and other stockists should be receiving their copies relatively soon. If you regularly visit a specialist S.F. bookshop, you may well be seeing it there in the next few weeks.

(For some reason this doesn't apply to Forbidden Planet in Bristol, which doesn't stock any of the Time Hunter novellas, but does now have three copies of each of the Faction Paradox books including Of the City of the Saved... .)

24 June 2005

A Sound of Thunder

I love summer storms. Particularly ones which come after days and days of overheated, sweaty, high-pollen unpleasantness. This one has been brewing for a week, has been in full flow for at least five hours, and is only now tailing off... and I didn't even have to drive in it.

OK, so it took down all our work computers this morning. But it means I stand a chance of going home to a cool house with the pollen washed away, and sleeping in a cool bed without spending the whole night sneezing and itching. Hurrah for storms.

22 June 2005

Dear Diary

Another frustrating non-writing weekend, mostly taken up with faffage. Most of Saturday had to be spent sorting out the insurance claim for my moped, and I had to spend a while on Monday doing preparatory stuff for my brother's wedding. I'm doing all the announcements at the reception as well as reading at the ceremony, so I had to arrange for the hire of a frock-coat, and get one of those "haircut" things I've read about in magazines.

The wedding's a week tomorrow, and it should be fun.

I did manage some work on "The Long Midwinter", my latest short story for Big Finish, which is now looking in rather better shape, although it still needs polishing. I've also done some preliminary work towards the exclusive extras I've promised to put up on the website for Peculiar Lives. So far this consists of an essay putting my narrator and his ideas in their literary-historical context, and some early scribblings towards locating the novella in the context of the Time Hunter range. Peculiar Lives was always meant to be roughly the shape it's ended up being, meaning that there are no deleted scenes or early drafts to show off, but I'm hoping I can think of something a bit more creative to accompany the essays.

The Big Finish website is now listing Wildthyme on Top as publishing in June. With any luck they'll stick to that, so that it will be out in the next week or so. (It's not unknown, though, for their books to slip further and further back as their Doctor Who products get prioritised. Mark Michalowski's The Tree of Life was originally due out in April, and there's still no sign of it.)

Still, I'm trying not to get too upset. What's certain is that Wildthyme on Top is going to be a fabulous book -- it has an excellent editor, a number of very talented writers and a central character who's one of the great literary creations of the past decade. I'm frustrated less because of my story not getting out yet (although have I mentioned recently that I think it's the best thing I've ever written?), and more because I'm dying to read everybody else's.


It's twenty past nine, and I've been up for three and a third hours. This is a sin against nature.

To get into work on time without a moped, I have to catch the 7:01 train (which sometimes leaves three or four minutes early, helpfully) from the little local station round the corner from our house, to Bristol Temple Meads. I then need to wait twenty minutes for a bus, which gets me to the vicinity of St Brad's at 7:30. (I'm not paid to be here till 8:30, but the next train / bus combo wouldn't get me in till very nearly 9.)

If this was the early 1990s, I wouldn't even be awake yet. At university I used to go to bed at 2 or 3 -- much later, often, if I had a lot of work and / or partying to do. There was one particularly keen student living in the same building as me who semi-regularly got up before I went to bed. She ended up becoming a policewoman, which just goes to show what early-morning living does to you.

I managed to go my entire undergraduate career without -- despite my best intentions -- ever attending a single lecture, because the English Faculty insisted on holding them in the mornings.

I sometimes wonder whether going to the lectures might have made the difference between my 2:1 and a First, but failing some time-travel experiment going hopelessly awry, we'll never know.

17 June 2005


It's been a particularly busy and stressful week, and now some worthless bastards have stolen my scooter from right outside the house overnight. The first I knew of it was when I looked through the bedroom window yesterday morning to see what the weather was like, and discovered that I would at least not be riding to work in the rain.

I [used do] keep the damn thing chained to a metal post, for God's sake. How did they cut through the chain without waking anybody up? And why did they think it was even worth the bother, given that it's two and a half years old and was the cheapest model money could buy?

It's going to take the insurance company at least three weeks (read: months, probably) to get their arses in gear and pay for a replacement moped, and in the meantime I have to find some alternative means of travelling the five miles to work. Today I took a local train to Bristol Temple Meads and then a bus out of the city in the correct direction, all for £3.90. I had to get up at 6:30 to get here on time. Grr bloody hell.

At least I can get some reading done on the train, I suppose. But I am Not Very Happy about this.

Two Michaels

Blood of Angels was ultimately disappointing -- a superior but not terribly inspired serial killer / conspiracy thriller. It's well-written, and the prose pulls you giddily along with it; it's undeniably an entertaining way to spend your time, but there's none of the inventiveness and depth of Michael Marshall Smith's slipstream S.F. / fantasy / horror novels, or of The Straw Men itself.

The Straw Men had real intellectual substance to it: it delved into the prehistoric origins of civilisation, drew parallels between humanity's development of concepts of moral and physical boundaries, and thus made some fascinating connections between paleontology and architecture, which were its themes as much as serial killing or conspiracy (both of which it treated with horrific effectiveness) were. I've come to the conclusion that it's a book that should never have had a sequel, unless the sequel had things to say that were just as compelling.

Although The Lonely Dead at least took the palaeontological ideas and did something else interesting with them, it lacked the depth of its predecessor. Blood of Angels unfortunately relegates both palaeontology and architecture to an extremely minor subplot, concluding with a four-page conspiracy-theory infodump which makes The Da Vinci Code look sane. The story at which this small portion of the novel hints is most certainly one I'd have been interested in reading, but it isn't the story the book's about.

Instead, this conspiracy of serial killers which has been secretly attempting to undermine and destroy civilisation since prehistoric times becomes... well, just another terrorist conspiracy, as far as the plot's concerned. The fact that they're terrorists who actually are profoundly ideologically opposed to every value of the civilised world makes them an interesting metaphor for the fears of contemporary America, but even this isn't taken anything like as far as it could be.

Ultimately, Blood of Angels reads as a placeholder for a future novel. I really hope Michael Marshall writes something as exciting and original as Only Forward or The Straw Men again sometime soon, rather than spending the rest of his career turning out these passable imitations.

In other books-related news... some comments, mostly positive, from readers of Peculiar Lives have begun to surface in various forums. It'll probably be a while before there are any formal reviews, though. And Wildthyme on Top still hasn't materialised, despite the official launch date (for this, the first book of a new line from Big Finish) still being listed as May. Knowing as I do that the proofs were finalised back in January, I'm beginning to find this a little irritating. Never mind.

I'd completely stalled on reading Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, so I've now brought it to work with me, so that I'm persuaded to spend my lunch and coffee breaks reading it. It's good, honestly -- it's just physically unwieldy, bulky and so extremely long that it's difficult to feel as if you're making any progress with it. I've also embarked on The Dancers at the End of Time, which is one of those books I can never quite believe I haven't read already, and am enjoying it very much so far.

I am, however, having my usual pavlovian response to reading Moorcock, which is to have "Dickie Davies Eyes" by Half Man Half Biscuit going through my head:
Mention The Lord of the Rings just once more
and I'll more than likely kill you.
"Moorcock, Moorcock, Michael Moorcock,"
you fervently moan...
It happens whenever anybody mentions The Lord of the Rings, as well. I'm a martyr to my earworms, gentlemen, and that's a fact.

13 June 2005

Reading List

Mostly for my own convenient reference, but also for your edification and delight, here is the list of books I'm hoping at present to get read at some point soon (apart from Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, obviously). I'm not going to run another poll, but feel free to comment and tell me which I should read first, if you like...

Brian Bates, The Real Middle Earth.
Mark Chadbourn, World's End.
Umberto Eco, Foucault's Pendulum.
William Gibson, Pattern Recognition.
Gwynneth Jones, Bold as Love.
Michael Moorcock, The Dancers at the End of Time (S.F. Masterworks edition).
China Miéville, Perdido Street Station.
Vladimir Nabokov, Ada or Ardor.
Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveller's Wife.
Christopher Priest, The Space Machine.
Christopher Priest, A Dream of Wessex.
Jacqueline Rayner, Winner Takes All. (Not entirely sure I can be bothered with this one, actually.)

And, when they turn up:
Paul Magrs (ed.), Wildthyme on Top.
Lawrence Miles and Tat Wood, About Time 5.
Lawrence Miles, Dead Romance (Mad Norwegian Press edition).

(The list of stuff I want to buy and read at some point in the future is here. I mention this less for my reference and more on the offchance that somebody reading happens to be feeling both unexpectedly rich and unmotivatedly generous.)

10 June 2005

Marshall Lore

I'm halfway through Blood of Angels, which I'm enjoying. It does seem to be continuing a trend: The Straw Men was readable as a once-off novel (and a fantastic one), whereas The Lonely Dead read as an unplanned sequel. So far Blood of Angels reads, not even as the third volume in a trilogy (although of course a climactic enough ending could still change that), but as the next book in an ongoing series. Which is a valid enough thing to be in its own right, of course, but it does make it seem less of a worthy successor to the sheer horrific brilliance of The Straw Men.

After showing us a ribcage and the bones of a hand on the previous two books, the cover of Blood of Angels presents us with a pelvis. Which is always nice. If I carry on buying the series, will I eventually be able to assemble a complete skeleton? Interestingly as well, after adorning the ribcage with a necklace and the hand-bones with a ring, the artist chooses to break up the pelvis with a bullet. Perhaps the publishers felt that the kinds of jewellery generally found in the pelvic region might not go down well with book-buyers.

07 June 2005

Vague Maunderings

This blog's gone quiet again over the past week. Sorry about that.

I've been busy over half term trying to finish off 'The Long Midwinter', the short story for Big Finish that I mentioned back here (and briefly also here).

This has ended up taking all my time, so that the things which I haven't done which I intended to include the following:
1. Finishing off the Ossian's Reach proposal, or indeed even starting the sample chapter thereof;
2. Doing any work on the other synopsis, Unearthing the Princess, or on the other other one which doesn't have a title yet either [1];
3. Finding a 'non-religious' reading for my brother's wedding at the end of the month;
4. Finding a new suit for my brother's wedding at the end of the month;
5. Finding a wedding present for my brother's etcetera;
6. Getting any reading done.
And now, of course, I'm back at work, and feeling tired and fed up and pissed off and overworked, despite the holiday.

(I'm still planning a writeup of our trip to Portmeirion at some point soon, although though the photos are mostly useless. A combination of bright sunlight, cheap digital technology and personal incompetence, I suspect.)

It's not even as if 'The Long Midwinter', in its current draft, is good enough to actually satisfy me that it's finished. The dialogue needs work, and it's too talky anyway, and some of the scene-setting is clunky. It's all very frustrating. That's something else that's due at the end of the month, though, so I have a bit of time to rectify that, within the constraints I've been given.

More cheerfully, I found myself with an unexpected £30 over the half-term (some complicated knock-on effect of my late Granny's will, not that she died particularly recently), and blew it all on books at Borders. Hurrah. I now have the supposedly excellent China Miéville's Perdido Street Station, the S.F. Masterworks edition of Michael Moorcock's Dancers at the End of Time trilogy and Michael Marshall's Blood of Angels, the follow-up to The Straw Men and The Lonely Dead, to read. (Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is clearly a work in progress, and likely to remain so for some time.)

I was also entertained by the finale of Desperate Housewives -- amused by Carlos' comeuppance, shocked by Rex's death and how dark it was, satisfied by the resolution of the mystery (I guessed some time ago that it was actually Mary Alice and not Paul who killed Dierdre, but Mike being Zach's father still came as something of a surprise) and only a little irritated by the limpness of the cliffhanger. And Season 2 has Alfre Woodard in it. Hurrah again.

Still no sightings of Wildthyme on Top, although apparently there are early indications that it might start turning up on people's doormats sometime soon. (If they've ordered them, of course. I don't mean just at random.)

So... has anyone else got their copy of Peculiar Lives yet?

[1] This is no longer the potential proposal I mentioned previously called Alvin's Brood. Not that any of this is going to mean anything to anybody outside my head.

02 June 2005


I have copies of Peculiar Lives. They're lovely and shiny, and look exactly like the cover on the website. Only slightly smaller, and with a book inside.

As I've said, the copies Telos has now are going to be used to fulfil subscriptions and advance orders, so unless you've placed either of those you'll have to wait a few more weeks, perhaps until the originally-cited July publication date. (That's when the bulk of my copies will be arriving, as well, so if I've promised you one of my complimentaries, it won't happen until then.) But everyone who has placed such an order should be getting their copies shortly.

As for everybody else... well, if you liked Of the City of the Saved..., then this is a product of the same imagination. If you didn't like OtCotS, then this is very different in its tone and ideas. So allow me, from my admittedly not entirely disinterested standpoint, to urge you to consider purchasing a copy from Amazon or Telos whichever.

Or not, of course. It's up to you.

[Edit to add: While I realise that small businesses are inherently unpredictable, and that small presses in particular have to fit in wherever they can on a printer's schedules, I do find it rather amusing that I have copies of Peculiar Lives (due to be published in July) before anybody I know has even seen a copy of Wildthyme on Top (supposedly published in May). I'm still looking forward hugely to getting my WoT complementaries -- not least because unlike PL it has other people's work in it that I'm keen to read.]

01 June 2005


I gather from the Telos Publishing weblog that some early paperback copies of my novella Peculiar Lives now exist, along with copies of Simon Morden's Another War (which if it's anything like the other work of Simon's I've read ought to be a real treat). If you're a subscriber to the Time Hunter line or have pre-ordered Peculiar Lives specifically, you ought to be getting your copies through the post shortly (as, I hope, will I).

It's going to be wonderful to see the final product after all the work everybody's put into this. I'm hugely excited.

In other news, the holiday turned out to be at Portmeirion, which was lovely. B. and I had a great time, about which I will try to write at rather more length at some point shortly. There may be photos, if I can get them downloaded and linked to. Be seeing you.