24 February 2005

Demolishing Our Holmes

Congratulations to Kelly Hale, who's been signed up to write the fifth Faction Paradox novel, Erasing Sherlock.

Kelly's an excellent writer, visceral and funny by turns. She's one of the ten minds jointly responsible for The Book of the War, and co-wrote Grimm Reality with Simon Bucher-Jones (another author who I very much want to see a Faction novel from). She also produced one of the best stories in Walking in Eternity.

Erasing Sherlock is apparently a Holmes pastiche, which sounds like an excellent addition to the range (and ties in oddly well with Of the City of the Saved...). By all accounts it's shaping up to be a fine book, as it should be with such an author to its name. I'm really looking forward to it.

23 February 2005

Greenbelt Talks Online

Finally, I have my talks from Greenbelt 2004 online at www.infinitarian.com: behold "Science Fiction as the Bible" and "The Bible as Science Fiction". Behold also the now fully hyperlinked Reading List which accompanies them.

The talks have been transcribed more or less directly from minidisc recordings, so don't expect polished prose (or even vaguely coherent diction, some of the time). Getting them written up has has taken me quite a while, largely because they amount to 15,000 words between them -- although I've also added roughly 250 hyperlinks across the three pages, for ease of access to footnotes, the reading list and other relevant sections.

When reading the talks, please do bear in mind that they were written for a Christian audience (albeit an unusually broad-minded and tolerant one – Greenbelt is the only large-scale Christian venue in the U.K. where I'd expect to get away with some of the things I say here). I hope that what I have to say is nevertheless of interest to secular readers, or those of other faiths. If that's you, though, you'll have to forgive the implicit assumption in the wording that most of the audience will be of a Christian persuasion.

Putting the talks online is all part of the plan to get myself a rather more high-profile speaker slot at Greenbelt this year, which in turn is just one more stage in my programme for world domination. So it's all in a good cause.

I've also pared down the text of the short story proposal for "Sex Secrets of the Robot Replicants", as mooted earlier today. I'm thinking of possibly setting up an account with a free online search engine, so that visitors to the site can search what now amounts to over 90 pages of stuff. Does anyone have any experience of using FreeFind?

Intellectual Propriety

So, copyright. Mm.

I am, of course, broadly in favour. This is to be expected, given that I make money from having my writing published: I naturally don't want other people pretending to have written what I've written myself, or passing off my concepts and characters as their own.

On the other hand, I'm not fanatical about it. I do, after all, write for shared-universe series; and the couple (so far) of times that other writers have written stuff which draws on my concepts for their own creative work have made me feel all warm and glowy inside. I imagine I'd get a similar feeling from being quoted (provided it wasn't, you know, whole paragraphs or chapters).

All of which means I have conflicting feelings about the cheque for £67.50 which I recently sent off to the agents of H.G. Wells' literary estate, in return for their permission to reproduce 100-odd words from The Time Machine. I am, I think, pretty much rock-solid behind the idea that a writer should keep control of the things that he or she has written during his or her lifetime. That seems only fair and reasonable, and the fact that in practice I might be prepared to be quite laid-back about this doesn't mean that other writers should have to be.

However, as things stand, works remain in copyright in the U.K. for 70 years after the death of their author, by which time it might be argued that it isn't going to do the writer in question an awful lot of good.

(I remember when this duration was upped from 50 to 70 years, in 1996. Controversially, and to the severe detriment of a number of academic publishers, the new law was made retrospective, so that the publishers of, for instance, critical editions of the works of James Joyce (d. 1941) found themselves suddenly forced to withdraw them or face substantial fees.)

Now, H.G. Wells died in 1946, meaning that his works won't come out of copyright until 2016. However, he was 80 years old at the time of his death, and The Time Machine was published in 1896 when he was 30 -- meaning that (barring another change in the law) it will have remained in copyright for 120 years before it enters the public domain.

An even more extreme example is George Bernard Shaw's early novel Cashel Byron's Profession -- published in 1886 when Shaw was 30, and remaining in copyright until 2020 thanks to Shaw's extreme longevity (1856-1950). That's 134 years, very nearly twice the nominal 70-year limit. Compare this with, to take a fairly random example, Portraits in Miniature and Other Essays (1931) by Lytton Strachey (1880-1932), which was published fully 45 years later, but is already up for grabs, having remained in copyright for only 71 years. [Addendum: Actually, I've just realised, only 57, as it would have initially fallen out of copyright in 1982 and only had it restored with the change to the law in 1996.]

All of which seems anomalous to me, to be honest. Franz Kafka (1883-1924, and therefore out of copyright) wanted his unpublished manuscripts (which, at the time, was all of them) burnt after his death: it was only because his most trusted friend refused to carry out his dying wish that we have The Trial or "Metamorphosis" at all. The cultural impoverishment that would have resulted from this suggests to me that an author does not have the moral right to control his or her works after death.

It seems to me that a far saner law would have a work remaining in copyright for 70 (or, more sensibly, something like 30) years after its first publication, or until its author's death if he or she lived longer than that. Authors would try to buck the system by producing revised and definitive editions on their deathbeds -- which is fair enough, but then the original edition would enter the public domain at the appropriate point.

Terry Pratchett (1948- ) said recently (although I can't find the quote online) that, although he loves his family very much, he doesn't see it as being particularly his job to ensure that his grandchildren are rich long after he's dead. Assuming that he has grandchildren already (and he's of an age to), if his novels were to continue to sell well under current copyright law, his descendants could be provided for down to the sixth or seventh generation. Which is frankly daft.

Back at Work...

...and very dull it is too.

Among the books we're withdrawing today so that the students won't be tempted to broaden their knowledge by reading them is Billion Year Spree -- Brian Aldiss's seminal history of science fiction, and the only work of S.F. criticism we stock, apart from interminable "Reading For Dummies" notes on The Handmaid's Tale.

Admittedly, this is the 1973 version rather than the 1986 update Trillion Year Spree (co-written with David Wingrove), but its out-of-dateness is not the reason we're withdrawing it. No, it's because the students haven't been using it, apparently, and because the style is too difficult for them. Perish the thought that one particular student might decide to buck the trend, as I did when I read the same book at roughly the same age; and perish in flames the thought that the rĂ´le of an educational institution might include stretching its students, or expanding their reading range to prepare them for university.

God, I'm disillusioned with this job. If I'm not careful I'll start writing bad things about it on my blog, and get myself sacked. I should make it entirely clear at this point that I'm writing about an imaginary sixth form college called St Brad's which exists only inside my head, and not about any real institution located in Bristol which might have a similar name.

I'll be rescuing the book, even though I already own the update and therefore have nowhere to put it. It would be too upsetting to see it thrown away with all the others.

In other news, it's snowing like a bastard, although I'm not entirely convinced that the stuff is going to stick to the ground. Either way, I've foiled its nefarious plans: I came in by train and bus this morning, not on the scooter. I had to get up 40 minutes early, but it's worth it to avoid a repeat of this incident.

Web Fiddling

Some of you may already have spotted that www.infinitarian.com was updated at the weekend with the original short story proposal for "Sex Secrets of the Robot Replicants" in A Life Worth Living. I'm actually having second thoughts about this now, as it's so close to the final product that a) I'm not sure it adds much, and b) it could actually substitute for reading the story, and therefore for buying the book. I may well be taking it down shortly, in fact (maybe cropping it down to the form of the prose extracts which didn't make it), so make the most of it while it's there.

Thank Heavens, I also now have the transcripts of my Greenbelt talks in a more or less usable form, together with a hyperlinked version of the current reading list. Pending final tweaking, I can probably have them up and running in the next day or so, which is nice. I'm also trying to come up with a paragraph blurb for my short story in Wildthyme on Top, but the nature of the story itself doesn't make that particularly easy.

I also have some smart new pages which are awaiting the official announcement of Peculiar Lives to go live.

18 February 2005

The Full Story...

OK, admittedly I feel a bit of a prat for causing the reports of Mulder's death to become exaggerated. But I honestly didn't think there was any real chance that he was still in the neighbourhood and alive. As it is, I'm very impressed (as well, of course, as desperately happy and relieved) that he managed to last out for so long -- there must at least have been some trickling of water into the place where he was trapped.

So, here's what happened. This morning, B. got up and went downstairs to feed Scully (who's never shown any signs of wandering off, thank God), and found that once again we had two cats. Mulder is, as I've said, looking really thin, seems rather weak, and he's certainly being clingier (and hungrier) than usual -- but he's still sleek, perky and obviously very happy to be home. He's emerged from the whole thing remarkably unscathed, in fact.

Half an hour after we'd made this discovery, we had a phone call from someone in the street which backs on to ours, who'd had one of our flyers through her door days ago. Being reasonably sure that her shed was impregnable to cats, and not having opened it recently, she hadn't checked it for Mulder's presence.

Yesterday evening, however (and this is the remarkable bit), a white cat started behaving oddly in this woman's back garden -- miaowing outside her back door and, when it had her attention, walking over to her shed. It did this several times, until eventually the woman decided to investigate. She found her shed door blocked by a fallen pile of magazines (which very likely explain why someone who had been able to get into the shed might then have found himself unable to leave), and couldn't open it more than a few inches. On the offchance, though, she left a plate of tuna and a bowl of water inside.

This morning, at around the time we were delighted to see Mulder, she checked again, and found the tuna gone and the water depleted. (Whether she's been able to get into her shed properly yet, history does not relate.)

The lady didn't know the white cat, and nor do we (very possibly Mulder does -- I don't know). But, whoever this feline hero was, he or she deserves many, many cat-treats.

Mulder is now recovering, sitting in his favourite places and being stroked and fed (a little at a time, though, to give his system time to get used to it). B. and I (and probably Scully as well) feel very, very lucky to have him back.

Massive Relief

Mulder is back. The poor little sod's been shut in someone's shed for eleven days. He's very thin, but otherwise fine.

More later. Right now, someone needs stroking.

17 February 2005

Pottering Around Update

Today I sent off three short story ideas for the follow-up anthology to A Life Worth Living. I can't go into any more detail at present, either about the stories or about the collection itself, but I am hoping one of them gets picked up, as I think any of the three would be quite fun to write (and, hopefully, read).

I've also had a friend contact me with the suggestion that I might want to co-author a critical book on S.F., which (after some initial reservations) I find I'm getting rather enthusiastic about. It's been some time since I did any proper academic criticism -- I haven't even kept up the fan reviewing of late -- and I did wonder if I'd be able to summon up any enthusiasm after the lengthy drawn-out slog that was my thesis. The proposal is a really fascinating one, though, and since reading it I keep finding myself thinking of things to add to it. (What's more, the friend in question already has a publisher seriously interested, which from my point of view cuts out a great deal of the work at a stroke.) Er, I probably shouldn't say any more about that, either.

Finally, I'm trying to put together some more stuff for my webpage -- primarily some Extras relating to Wildthyme on Top for after it's published, including at least one piece which should prove of interest to fans of Of the City of the Saved.... I'm also trying to think of some extra material for A Life Worth Living, as well as getting round to finishing off the bloody transcripts of my Greenbelt talks. It's getting to the time of year when I need to pitch something for Greenbelt 2005, as well, if I'm hoping to benefit from a free ticket again.

It is, in short, all go here... I may have mentioned below that half term has been mostly quiet. This is clearly only because I've been ignoring everything which ought to have been calling urgently on my time.

Factioneering

I want to write about some non-upsetting stuff, so as to try and steer this blog back to its normal, relatively cheery, self. I've got a rant about intellectual property and copyright which I've been meaning to get around to for a couple of weeks now.

First, though... half term has (apart from the obvious) been reasonably relaxing, and I've managed to get a fair amount of reading done. I'm nearly 2/3 of the way through Lance Parkin's Warlords of Utopia, the follow-up book to Of the City of the Saved... in Mad Norwegian's Faction Paradox range. It's not the first time I've read it -- I saw it in various draft formats -- but it's the first time I've read the final version, bound as a book, with a spine and everything. It's kind of short, relatively speaking -- 180 pages as opposed to City's 248, or This Town Will Never Let Us Go's mammoth 282 (and don't forget that these are big books, in terms of sheer page size and text density). It is, however, utterly fantastic.

For those of you who haven't encountered Lance's glorious S.F. premise, it's sheer high-concept spectacle: the countless parallel worlds where the Roman empire never fell discover the countless parallel worlds where the Nazis won World War Two, and they all have a great big fight! It's written as a work of idiosyncratic military history (by Marcus Americanius Scriptor, the character who turns up in the City of the Saved in Lance's Prologue to Warlords), and is somewhat in the style of I, Claudius, which seems to be emerging as something of an influence on the Faction line. Despite this being the second or third time I've read the novel, I'm finding severe difficulty in putting it down. Highly recommended.

I've recently finished Justina Robson's Natural History, which was (although through no fault of Ms Robson's I got distracted for a few weeks in the middle) also fab. I bought it on the basis of this review in The Guardian, which is quite correct in praising it highly. I may get round to reviewing it here sometime soon. (Alternatively, as ever, I may not.)

Oh, and back on the topic of the Faction... the cover for the fourth book in the series, Mags Halliday's Warring States, is now up at the Mad Norwegian website -- click on the small cover image to see a big one. Splendid, isn't it?

15 February 2005

Mulder

It's been over a week now since anybody saw our cat, Mulder. We've been doing everything in our power to find him -- ringing around all the voluntary organisations we can identify, flyering and postering, even going back to search at our last addresss (although honestly, even if he did head back in that direction, to have made it back across the river and through the city centre would be pretty astonishing). It's seeming unlikely, though, that he'll ever be coming back.

As I've said already, Mulder had never even stayed out overnight before last week -- tonight will be the ninth night he's been absent. We know he hasn't been taken in to a vet or shelter, or found by the council, as he has a subcutaneous ID-chip and we'd have been informed. It doesn't seem likely that he's been shut inside all that time, especially since we've distributed flyers asking our neighbours to check their sheds and similar. I can't honestly believe he decided to leave us of his own free will, either -- it would just be so out of character for him.

There is a chance that he somehow found his way into a car boot or something and was taken elsewhere, but that seems slim as well.

Of course we'll carry on doing all we can to find him, but I'm afraid it's looking increasingly as if something dreadful has happened to him -- either an urban predator (there are patches of waste ground nearby where I wouldn't be at all surprised to find foxes, and some of our neighbours have bloody big dogs as well), or an accident (we live near to several large roads and a train line)... and that his body is either somewhere inaccessible, where it won't be found for months or years, or else has already been found by someone who doesn't understand how much people love their cats, and has disposed of it without informing anyone.

It's upsetting to be writing this, but I can't honestly believe any more that another outcome is at all likely.

Mulder was a lovely cat -- so affectionate and loyal. He jingled and chirrupped when he ran to greet us, and would chew the finger of anybody who let him. He panicked easily, especially at the sight of things larger than himself, and would run madly ahead of anyone moving from one room to another, usually running back the other way a few seconds later. He would stand on top of us while we were watching television and assiduously knead at us with his claws, in the hope that doing this might provide him with a source of milk. At other times he would sit quietly on a chair or a shelf, or curl up asleep, cuddling his back legs with his front paws. I have rarely felt more content than those few times when I took a nap on the sofa, and Mulder slept too, warm and heavy on my stomach.

He will be very sadly missed.

09 February 2005

Missing Cat

As some of you will have read on B.'s LiveJournal, we have a missing cat crisis. Mulder was last seen early on Monday evening, which doesn't sound like a long time ago but he's a very home-loving cat who's never stayed out all night during the six years we've known him. We're both very worried -- frankly, I'm finding it difficult to concentrate on work at present, let alone write any of the stuff I've been meaning to add to this blog.

The chances are that he's OK, but shut into a neighbour's shed, or else hurt in a particularly bad fight and recovering before he comes home. There's no reason yet to assume that anything terrible has happened (although of course it might have). And we've done everything we can, by way of flyering our neighbours, adding him to the RSPCA missing cats database and so on. Still, it's bloody upsetting.

So if I seem quiet at the moment, that's why.

05 February 2005

Wildthyme Update

Big Finish have confirmed the announcement of the anthology Wildthyme on Top, to be published later in 2005. The collection features time-traveller, raconteuse and occasional nightclub singer Miss Iris Wildthyme, as created by Paul Magrs. Paul himself has edited the volume, and the contributors are Jonathan Blum, Stephen Cole, Jake Elliot, Craig Hinton, Kate Orman, Lance Parkin, Jacqueline Rayner, Justin Richards, Stewart Sheargold and me.

My short story's entitled "Minions of the Moon", and I'm particularly proud of it.

As yet there's no sign of a cover image or blurb for the book, so the information available is still rather minimal. Nevertheless, I've set up a rather spartan webpage here.

I'd Like to Thank My Cats...

Some pleasing news this morning: Of the City of the Saved... has come first in a number of categories in the 2004 Jade Pagoda Awards, organised by the redoubtable Will Salmon and voted for by members of the Jade Pagoda Doctor Who books mailing list.

As a perusal of this post will reveal, OtCotS won both "Best Doctor Who Related Book" and "Best Book"[1], while the concept of the City itself was awarded "Best Returning Character or Concept" after its previous appearance in The Book of the War. I was awarded "Best New Author" and "Best Author" (the former slightly unfair as I'm a first-time novelist rather than actually a new author, but there you go), and even www.infinitarian.com received (again rather inaccurately) "Best Doctor Who Author's Website".

Admittedly not all of the Jade Pagoda's 460 members will have voted in the awards. I'm also a long-term member of the list, so there may well have been some bias in operation. But even so, I'm pleased and flattered, and very slightly embarassed.

(In the Acknowledgements to the novel, I do actually thank my cats for their contribution. This may have been overkill.)


[1] Some elaboration is probably required here: "Best Doctor Who Related Book" covers all Doctor Who-related books not covered by the other categories, including spin-offs like the Faction Paradox novels. "Best Book" in this context covers all the categories, and therefore means... well, best Doctor Who-related book. Er, clear now?

04 February 2005

Finally Friday

Well, the week's relaxing hasn't gone as well as I expected. What with skiving (or, if you insist, legitimately absent) workmates, a puncture to the back tire of the scooter and a Wedesday evening spent subjected to furniture shopping at the Pestilent Vatican of Beelzebub, things have actually been appallingly busy. Still, I do now get a weekend off, rather than a weekend of work, and the week after next is half term, so with luck I might get a chance to relax a bit then.

Today at work I have been mostly withdrawing books from stock and updating the library catalogue with links to websites, which tells you all you need to know about the state of library provision in education at present.

There has now been a rather minimalist official announcement of the anthology in which my short story "Minions of the Moon" is appearing. It's called Wildthyme on Top, will be published by Big Finish (who put out A Life Worth Living), and is edited by the respected novelist Paul Magrs: see Stuart Douglas's Iris Wildthyme website for (currently rather sketchy) details. I'll be updating my own site once the publishers have updated theirs.