28 February 2007

You're It

Ooh look, I've got tags.

[Edit: Although tagging all my past posts is going to take quite some time, I, er, seem to have done the first year's worth this afternoon. The novelty's beginning to wear off now.]

I gather from the stony silence which met my last post that I'm the only one who finds that video link amusing as well as offensive. Oh well.

I'm still embroiled in novella writing, so I'm still not getting much time to update the blog [Edit: Not that you'd think it from the way I've just spent my afternoon, but never mind]. I can't say much about the book before at least a blurb is publicised, hence the succession of rather dull wordcount figures I've been subjecting you all to recently. I can, however, reveal that the last chapter I completed contained the words "crabmeat", "volcanic", and "quarterstaff", plus explicit depictions of caffeine consumption.

Other than that -- and a certain amount of what we used to call "mindless absorption of pop culture" when I was at Oxford, but which would probably now have to be described using the words "product" and "consumer" -- it's mostly been work of one kind or another.

Pleasant exceptions have included a couple of brunches out with B. (which we deserve, this being the busiest time of her working year as well as mine so far) and the anticipation of Bristol Beer Festival this coming Saturday. Unpleasant things have included being told "I'm sorry, I thought you were young," by someone in her twenties, who went on to imply that I looked over forty. Bah.

25 February 2007

Additional Vaultage

I've spent the last few days revising and writing more of the novella. Current word count is roughly 18,000 out of 25,000 words, although as I have at least 9,000 still to write it's looking like I'll be overrunning a little.

(Oh, and I've written the Giant Space Mirrors column. Watch this blog for news of its appearance at Surefish.)

I've also been reading books and watching TV, but I'm probably not going to get the time to blog them for a short while yet. Life on Mars is good, though.

Fortunately, I have some more of The Curse of Odin-Hotep in reserve.
The first sign of the burglar’s arrival was the careful removal of a grille set into the ceiling, protecting the bottom of a ventilation shaft. It was a time-consuming process, as each strand of the grille had to be sawn through individually and silently, without alerting the patrols of Royal Archivists in the Vault below.

This done, the grille was lifted gently up the shaft, from which the intruder’s balaclavaed head emerged almost at once to peer down into the Vault. A pair of gloved hands followed, and soon the body that connected them was wriggling, sloughing off the tightness of the shaft with painful slowness, until its hips came free and it fell.

The figure twisted in the air with agile and uncanny freedom to land crouching, feet-first, upon the nearest stack of crates. It was still holding the detached grille of the ventilator and the handsaw, both of which it placed quietly upon the wooden slats of the topmost crate. Its night-black clothing, set about with bulging nodes, vibrated silently with obscure energy.

A quick glance around reassured the thief that the untoward presence in the Vault had not been noticed. The Archivists were changing shifts at present, and were occupied in the complicated security protocols associated with the process.

The figure stepped to the edge of the wall of crates, and dropped – lightly again, and gracefully – down to the concrete floor. It paused a moment to examine the lettering on the nearest crate, then headed purposefully away along the alleyway.

Despite some knowledge of the basic filing algorithms, the search was not an easy one, and it was not long before the Archivists had successfully negotiated their defensive rituals. The burglar had some idea of the pattern which their patrols would be following, and took an altogether different route among the crates.

Name after name, date after date, presented themselves, identifying men and years long lost to the world: P ASKWITH – 1940. DR C T MONTAGUE – 1909. W L WONG – 1956.

A soldier turned the corner at the far end of the alley, his head turned back to call behind him to his mate. Quick as a snake, the thief leapt limberly onto the nearest, mercifully low, wall of crates. Clambering to the top the intruder lay still, coveralls throbbing gently, breathing as unobtrusively as possible.

Had the Archivist noticed something amiss? Had he been ordered to vary his routine from time to time? Was he just bored?

The danger of discovery passed with the echo of his boots.

Five minutes later, the thief was examining one of the oldest crates, whose yellow wood and greying stencilled letters spelled out the inscription: T G TRAVERS – 1896.

In one deft movement, the figure unbuttoned a pocket at its thigh and withdrew a short and slender crowbar.

[Pax Britannia series elements © Abaddon Press 2005.]
Can you guess the later twist about the burglar's identity, gentlemen and -- quite possibly -- ladies?

...I'm going to run out of this sample at some point, probably before I stop being so busy. I may have to resort to posting links to amusing videos.

(Oh, all right then. WARNING: The above link is not for the easily offended, especially sincere believers in the divinity of Mel Gibson.)

18 February 2007

Of Books and Bacilli

I've been struck down by the cold-with-a-side-order-of-nervous- exhaustion which seems to have been circulating the country this winter, so have spent the last day or so doing very little. Which is restful, though it doesn't seem to be making me any less tired. B. is similarly afflicted, but has been having to go into work anyway, poor love.

This means that very little's happened to me recently. The novella's going O.K., although I've had to revise my schedule to fit in my recent indolence. I need to write this month's Surefish column by Friday.

I've been reading Pashazade, which is... well, as I've said on a mailing list, it's clever, and the prose is pretty slick, but it all seems strangely soulless. The ideas are interesting, the setting is interesting, even the story could be interesting if I cared about the characters, but it's all so attenuated and substanceless, like certain very wrong people accuse William Gibson of being.

Kate Orman's Return of the Living Dad, on the other hand, is great. I'll try to give it a proper writeup once I'm back on form.

Meanwhile, the best I can do is to leave you with some more of the opening chapter of my pulp steampunk novel that would have been, The Curse of Odin-Hotep:
The Archives of Her Britannic Majesty’s Government were a labyrinth. Located underneath the capital for reasons of supreme security, their tunnels spread for miles beneath the city, connecting Downing Street with the Bank of England and Great Scotland Yard with the Tower of London. Reputedly one divergent branch stretched out as far as Lord’s cricket ground, to which, at the demand of certain of the Whitehall mandarins who frequented the tunnels, it also provided access.

All of these corridors were lined with paper files, boxes and ledgers, most of them filthy with accreted cobwebbed grime. Every step taken was muffled, all its resonance absorbed by dusty stacks of paperwork.

Each shelf bore a brass rail along which, very rarely, automatic filing devices would skitter, search-and-retrieval schedules mapped out for them by the great governmental engine-houses in Vauxhall and Battersea, whose tenders had named them, in a fit of uncharacteristic whimsy, after the city’s legendary protectors Gog and Magog.

Ingress to this vast archival root-network was through strong metal doors: dozens of them across the capital, to be sure, but each stoutly defended against unauthorised admission. A battery of craniometers and phrenological comparators ensured that the only persons admitted were those whose facial features and cranial contours were in perfect correspondence with one of the thousands of punch-cards held by Gog at Vauxhall. In case of differences of opinion, these devices were backed up by Royal Archivists armed with electric rifles.

There was, or should have been, no possibility of an intruder gaining access to the secrets, tedious though many of them may have been, which the Archives held.

Nowhere was this truer than the Vault.

The Vault was where Her Majesty’s Government put all the things for which it would have preferred not to be responsible, but which it certainly would not have wanted anybody else to get their hands on. Vials of highly virulent experimental bacilli; ancient relics of reputed occult power; blueprints and prototypes for devices too infernal ever to be built; scandalous information relating to half the crowned heads of Europe (the half, some of the Archivists suggested ribaldly, for whom the scandals in question were not already public knowledge): all of them ended up, sooner or later, inside the Vault.

It lay deep beneath Bloomsbury, deep below the British Museum’s own enormous vaults and cellars: a great echoing space which could have easily contained a concert hall or ballroom (such cultured metaphors came naturally to the men who had commissioned and designed the Vault). It was laid out in a dozen aisles stacked with wooden crates, thousands in all, identical in size but of visibly varying ages. They reached halfway to the ceiling, each neatly stencilled with a legend identifying its donor (willing or unwilling) and the year of its acquisition.

These names and dates gave little indication of the boxes’ contents, and deliberately so. The filing system applied to the crates by Magog was also assiduously obscurantist. The Royal Archivists’ Battalion were one of the few units who still refused to use steam-driven military drudges: the enlisted men’s duties were too delicate, their officers insisted, to be performed by anything other than a human. Yet humans brought special problems of their own, and it was undeniable that the men worked and slept easier for not knowing when they were patrolling within feet of the crated remnants of a captured Chinese military satellite and its midget operators, or leaning for a quiet cigarette against a box containing the inurned ashes of a Romanian vampire-prince of bloody reputation.

The Vault was the holy of holies, the secret of secrets. It had levels of security all of its own: a second, even more stringent array of physiognometric devices was supplemented by graphological and electrolytic tests, and the single door was guarded at all times, inside and out, by six heavily-armed Archivists.

For all these reasons, if there had happened to be an all-seeing observer watching the Vault at half past ten o’clock on the night of the third of March, 199–, the said observer would not have been expecting there to be a figure, clearly not an Archivist, creeping surreptitiously between the aisles of crates and peering at their stencilled designations. A slight and furtive figure muffled in bulky black coveralls would have been, so our hypothetical spectator might have thought, a precise example of the kind of thing that there most certainly should not, on this occasion or any other, have been.

There was such a figure, however; although there was not any such spectator, apart perhaps from that ubiquitous, omniscient Observer who oversees us all.

[Pax Britannia series elements © Abaddon Press 2005.]

08 February 2007

I Can See Your Blog From Up Here

Ohh, this is exciting:

Visitor Map

You can create your own visitor map here.

...I really should be working, shouldn't I.

07 February 2007

Books Update: Shirtopener

During the last week or so I've mostly been reading telefantasy tie-in titles.

The Prisoner: The Original Scripts Volume 2, edited by Roger Fairclough, is just as fascinating as the first volume was. As there, Fairclough's editorial apparatus is a little erratic: it's sometimes difficult to tell where informed speculation ends and fannish wish-fulfilment takes over, for instance. Furthermore, in this volume Fairclough really goes to town with the script annotations, so that while reading Hammer into Anvil we are told among other things that "As filmed, Number 2 doesn't sit in his chair" or "As filmed, the Prisoner doesn't ask for adhesive tape" -- facts which are: a) fantastically trivial and b) easily observed by anybody in possession of the D.V.D.s (or even, like me, the ancient 1993 V.H.S. boxed set).

The scripts themselves, however, are just as absorbing as those in the first volume, with the genuinely substantial scripting changes, both subtle and huge, being fascinating to follow. It's really interesting seeing how It's Your Funeral originally incorporated a Manchurian Candidate brainwashing plot, for instance, or how the flirtation between the Prisoner and Number 86 in A Change of Mind was ruthlessly edited out by Patrick McGoohan. Even The Girl Who Was Death lost what would have been some gloriously funny and surreal sequences (including one where a gardener who has been spraying bushes with a canister marked "Insecticide" suddenly begins pursuing Number 6 with a canister marked "Homicide").

The most astonishing discovery in this volume, though, is that the original script for Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling -- the sorry runt of the seventeen-episode family, full of precisely the kind of melodramatic plot, clichéd sub-S.F. devices and over-reliance on obvious back-projection which were so prevalent in the spy series of the era, and which The Girl Who Was Death would mock so mercilessly just two episodes later -- is actually really good. Somehow this intelligent, subtle script, where a well-paced plot develops gradually through revealed clues and the more extreme elements emerge naturally through the action rather than being baldly stated upfront -- this quintessential Prisoner script, in fact -- was mangled during the production process until it became the drivelly mess that ended up on screen.

(For what it's worth, most of the changes made to the scripts in these volumes were largely McGoohan's responsibility, and are generally improvements, or at least not obviously detrimental. On the other hand, Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling was edited and mostly produced in McGoohan's absence. Make of this what you will.)

Like its sister volume, this is well worth the substantial cover price. Highly recommended.

Less weightily, Torchwood: Slow Decay by Andy Lane isn't bad by TV tie-in fiction standards, and certainly better than most of the televised Torchwood stories. Lane has a good grasp on the regular characters (better than most of the scriptwriters, or indeed some of the actors) and a way of coming up with clever, intriguing images which illuminate them and their situations. His prose is smoothly functional, and his horror scenes are appropriately unpleasant.

Unfortunately the plot is formulaic and predictable, and based irritatingly on a very obvious and stupid fallacy. (Highlight whitespace to be spoiled: A parasite in the human gut, however alien, will not make the host appear to lose either weight or volume by eating all their food for them. Instead the hosts, containing as they do a massive, bloated parasite, will look like big, heavy starving people. This makes the idea of using said parasites as a diet tool utterly idiotic.)

It's an O.K. tie-in book, but not a patch on the adult Doctor Who novel ranges of the past... speaking of which, I'm currently re-reading for work-related reasons (writing work, obviously, not administration work) Kate Orman's Return of the Living Dad, which I haven't looked at for many years, and which really is fabulous. I'm also in the early stages of John Courtenay Grimwood's Pashazade: The First Arabesk, which took a while to get into but which I'm now enjoying.

And that's this week's book news.

R.I.P. The Curse of Odin-Hotep

I don't think I mentioned, but the pseudonymous pulp-S.F. series novel I was talking about possibly writing a year and a quarter ago isn't going to happen now.

This is a shame, because I had a cast of thousands, including time-travelling Nazis, cyborg soldiers, eugenically enhanced Pharaohs, flying dragon-sphinxes and berserker warrior-mummies, poised to perform for your reading pleasure. Or at least the reading pleasure of the people who enjoy reading that sort of thing.

Never mind. Maybe I can salvage some of it for a future project.

Here (in pointedly purplish pulpy prose) is the beginning of what you missed out on:
At this height the wind is deafening, blinding: it shrieks past your ears, drying out your eyes. It buffets and bruises you as you hang in place, held there by lines of aetherial magnetism, counter-gravity. It is as well you have dressed warmly: at this altitude, the wind’s chill is intense.

Not so below. Beneath your feet, beneath the level of the birds and airships, the air across the ground is stagnant, warm and dense with smog. Exhausts from myriad flues vomit forth the steam and soot of burnt-out fuel, from coal or coke or oil or anything that, thousands of millennia ago, was once alive. From the tiniest micro-furnaces which fire the hand-held processing-engines of businessmen and bureaucrats, to the great belching chimneys of the automated factories and shipyards, every device in this great capital exhales smoke. It combines with the natural vapours of the slug-trail river whose floodplain this is, to create a foul, miasmic cloud.

Laid out above its gloom like veins on jaundiced skin, a spider-web of viaducts maps out the lines of the overhead railways. Between them the tallest of the city’s edifices emerge, the office-buildings and the slum-containment blocks. They burst forth accusingly from the murk to point at you, the spy, anchored by arcane science far above their precious city.

This is London. Or rather, that was what she was once. Now she is Londinium Maximum, Greatest London, the dark and cancerous heart of the global body that is Magna Britannia. The greatest empire and the most malignant tyrant the planet Earth, and now the solar system, have ever known.

From the suburban terraces of Slough and Windsor in the west to the commercial docks of Canvey in the east; from the slums of Dagenham and Dartford to the voluptuous townhouses of Mayfair; from drab St Albans in the north, and spreading down along the southern coastal railway-line as far as Horsham and Grinstead – London sprawls open to her visitors, balefully inviting.

Accepting, you descend.

[Pax Britannia series elements © Abaddon Press 2005 or thereabouts.]
Hmm. I'd been reading Perdido Street Station. Can you tell?

03 February 2007


As you may have noticed, I haven't had time to get to this blog during the past week or so. That's probably going to continue for a little while, as I try rather manically to catch up with writing my novella for War Stories.

What with there having been Christmas last year and everything, this work has slipped back rather, so that I've had to impose a fairly rigorous writing schedule on myself to get it... well, started, to be honest. I'm pretty much entirely hopeless in matters of self-discipline, as anyone who saw me at mealtimes over Christmas can attest.

Being remarkably anally-retentive, I've broken my time down into all the days I'm free from work, then worked out how much of which chapter I can sensibly expect to write on each of them -- factoring in the necessary Surefish columns, a couple of possible one-off articles and a Beer Festival, all of which are coming up in the next few months.

Fortunately the fact of knowing that this expectation exists, even if only in my brain, has been sufficient so far to force me into actually doing the work, rather than arsing around on the internet, reading mailing lists, fiddling with Wikipedia and the like.

When I was an undergraduate I could write 4000-word essays overnight. Admittedly I didn't enjoy it much, which is why I left it to the last minute. And nobody was holding me to a publishable standard, and non-fiction is different anyway... but still, I envy my younger self that facility with language. Even when I was writing Of the City of the Saved... I often managed 2000 words in a day, and there were a couple when I was pushing 3000, but they were exceptional even then.

I can't imagine being able to work that fast now. The more fiction I write, the more pitfalls and difficulties I can see, the more care and attention I feel I have to put into each individual word, sentence and paragraph, and the longer it takes.

Admittedly, getting broadband probably hasn't helped either.

Over the past four days I've managed a respectable 6000 words, but it's been a killer. Most of the schedule demands 1000 to 1250 a day, which is more achievable but still a bit punishing.

All of which is a roundabout -- and, under the circumstances, an unnecessarily verbose -- way of saying that updates to this blog are going to be slowing down somewhat in the forseeable future. Before, of course, being reborn triumphant after my deadline.

I'll try to keep up the mini book reviews, but I'm behind on those already. Expect something, er, Wednesday possibly. If that's all right with everyone.