22 December 2003

More Website Wittering

I should perhaps explain, since I gather at least one person is reading this weblog, the reason why the promised plug for my website has failed to appear. It's basically because I'm still awaiting confirmation from my publisher (who's obviously a busy human being) that the pages relating to my novel, and the encyclopedia-cum-anthology I was previously published in, The Book of the War, are acceptable and in line with all their relevant policies.

The college holidays have commenced, and I'm into the late stages of rewrites -- and yes, I'm aware that that still isn't interesting, as I promised it would be. Look, I can stay in and work on my first novel which is out in about three months' time, or I can go out and do interesting things so they can go in my weblog. Which do you think I'm going to choose?

I have seen The Return of the King, though. I could talk about that.

The Inevitable Return of the King Review

Well. I thought it was great -- as good as The Fellowship of the Ring and better than The Two Towers, where the military posturing of Helm's Deep and the insipid Ent attack on Isengard (in the books a far more memorable sequence than the Helm's Deep siege) annoyed me equally.

Some of the design work was quite amazing, Minas Tirith (and its demolition) being a particular triumph. Mordor's destruction was fantastic, stampeding orcs and toppling towers and all. (If I'd been the kind of person to get uneasy when art imitates real-life horrors, that sequence with Sauron's tower falling would have impressed me far more strongly than the use of "The Two Towers" as a title.) Nearly all of Gollum's scenes were phenomenal, including the flashback to Smeagol's fall from innocence. And the sequence with the beacons was quite beautiful, showing off the New Zealand scenery while demonstrating quite effectively what the ancients would have used instead of an internet.

I think it's clear these films will become completely definitive until such time, generations hence, as either their acting or their effects become so out of date as to seem positively quaint. At that point they may get remade, but I sincerely doubt they'll find another adaptor as sensitive and skilled as Peter Jackson. That said -- and inevitably -- I had a number of bones to pick.

I didn't think enough was made of Shelob (and what was she doing in this film anyway?). The effect used for the Army of the Dead looked altogether too much like Casper the Friendly Ghost. And the oliphaunt attack on Minas Tirith was terribly reminiscent of the attack on Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back.

More seriously, the ending was rushed, and horribly so. The healing of the various participants in the Battle of Pelenor Fields was glossed over, poor old Eowyn seemed to be stood up by Aragorn in his hour of triumph instead of finding true love with Faramir -- and don't get me started on the Scouring of the Shire, or rather the complete lack of one. To have Frodo mention three times in the last five minutes that the Shire just doesn't feel like home any more is confusing literal fact with allegory. The Shire simply can't end up the same as it's always been, the entire structure of the story forbids it. Argh. Never mind.

I understand the need to make the third film watchable in its own right, not just the final volume in a trilogy -- but skipping over such a significant element as the resolution of the Eowyn/Aragorn plot didn't even achieve that. (Doubtless there'll be more made of this in the DVD release, but that doesn't make the experience I paid for at the cinema any more satisfying.) I do wonder if five films, one for each "Book" (rather than each volume) of the parent novel would have been a wiser choice... but, if it had to be three, surely we could have lost some of Helm's Deep and moved Shelob back to where she belongs, thus making more room for some time spent on resolution in the final film?

As it was, it felt as if there was need for a spin-off TV series just dealing with the aftermath of it all -- the healings, the Scouring, Eowyn and Faramir, Saruman's downfall, the departure of the Elves, the Grey Havens, the Gamgee Family and so on. Never mind. Peter Jackson has said he'd be willing to tackle The Hobbit as a prequel, and that would, at least, produce a film of sensible length.

What I'd really like to see him try his hand at now, though, is The Silmarillion. Then we'll see what counts as "unfilmable"...

17 December 2003

That's interesting...

...the last item I posted here was about scooters, and now the Blogspot banner at the top of this page is advertising scooters. (Albeit electric ones.) Which would have been very handy if I'd wanted to get my hands on a scooter, rather than boasting about my ownership of one. I wonder what would happen if today I decided to discuss tactical nuclear devices, say, or Nicole Kidman's breasts?


Technical Izzardry

Last night B. and I went to see Eddie Izzard's current touring show, Sexie, at the Millennium Arena in Cardiff. A horrible venue, frankly, resembling nothing so much as a bloody enormous church hall, but the show was excellent. It was the first time we'd seen Izzard live, but we own most of the videos of his previous shows, and he was certainly up to their standard.

That said, it is possible to spot ways in which his style has changed. I do admire the freshness of his very early stuff, Definite Article especially, and he has developed since then the mildly annoying habit of labouring his jokes slightly beyond the point where I find them funny. Since a lot of his material seems to be ad-libbed or improvised, and to change from night to night, it's possible this is a kind of destruct-testing process, attempting to indentify the tolerances of a particular item. (Certainly he makes a joke of pretending to write notes on how the audience reacts to certain lines, which may not be entirely a pretence.)

On the other hand, a lot of the audience seemed to find the recurrent repetitions funny in themselves -- thanks as much as anything to Izzard's remarkable comic delivery, I suspect -- so maybe I'm in a minority there.

This show also seemed to rely more on funny noises than previous material -- dentists' drills, exploding pilot fish, horses galloping very fast in Mexico -- but since Izzard's funny noises are very, very funny, that wasn't a problem.

By this point in his career, Izzard's transvestitism is pretty much incidental, but I have to say he looks very good indeed in fishnets and a split-thigh skirt. Not many men would have had the legs for it. He's also started wearing padded false breasts, which he makes look surprisingly dignified. (Unlike -- to pick a name at random -- Nicole Kidman, who'd probably look rather silly in them on account of already having breasts of her own.)

The first half was slower than the second, but by the end of the second I was in fits. The naturalness of his performance was remarkable -- his informal delivery and habit of paying almost indecently friendly attention to audience heckling makes the experience feel very like a conversation -- but it has to take a great deal of technical skill to build an audience up into an unrelenting climax like that.

In the second half, only the encore -- a reasonable impression of Christopher Walken, but without any funny material to go with it -- was disappointing. Although B. isn't a big fan of dentists' drills.

My favourite item was unfortunately indescribable, but it involved horses trying to climb a firemen's pole because they wanted to play canasta.

He is indeed a funny man. With tremendous legs.

12 December 2003

Discussing the Weather

I got extremely wet coming to work today. There's a lot to be said for a scooter as a form of transport in a large city, but protection from the elements isn't one of them.

We're talking scooters as in small mopeds with footwells, of course, not those ludicrous skateboards-with-a-steering-column which were popular three years ago. Since those were the apex of human technological achievement, not to mention cool, they transcended this plane and become gadgets of pure thought, which is why you never see them around any more. My scooter is still very much a material object: it eats petrol, needs its tires filled and refuses to start on cold mornings.

It also looks silly and evinces contempt from car-drivers, proper motorcyclists and even pedestrians, but I don't care. I can steer carefully around stationary columns of traffic, dive down cycle lanes when counting as a motor vehicle becomes inconvenient, and keep my means of transport indoors overnight. OK, pedestrians could say the same, but the scooter also moves at up to 30 miles an hour, which few pedestrians can manage.

It also gets me bloody wet, and sometimes very cold as well. It can't be used when the roads are icy, which is a disadvantage it has over feet. Visibility sometimes becomes problematic, as well. I can't keep my crash helmet's visor down while driving, because it steams up as soon as I exhale, and I have a 25-minute journey to work. A champion Greek pearl diver might possibly be able to work with that, but not I. However, keeping the visor up means that my glasses become susceptible to the weather. Yesterday there was freezing fog, which I was convinced became very much worse during my journey. When I arrived, and removed my glasses to take my helmet off, I found I could see much better without them thanks to the ice crystals encrusting the lenses.

Wind is the worst thing, though -- great gusts of it making me steer into walls, lorries, ravines etc. (Strictly speaking there are no ravines in Bristol, no, but there are some nasty dips in the road.) And the sun, getting in my eyes and blinding me for entire stretches of straight road. Bastard.

09 December 2003


I didn't post anything over the weekend, because my weekends at the moment (including Mondays) consist of sitting at a computer screen, disembowelling entire chapters of my novel and then trying to fit all the bits back together again. Apart from eating, going to the lavatory and -- for one evening only -- babysitting for my goddaughter Ella, my entire time has been spent on rewrites. Even my dreams.

Sorry, that isn't very interesting, is it? Er... see that new Yellow Pages poster advert? The one that says "There's Only One Yellow Pages"? Well, that's a great big lie. We've got three of the bastards in the office at work.

No, I'd never make it in stand-up. I'll try and ensure more exciting things happen to me between now and Christmas.

05 December 2003

Mocking Taunton

Yesterday I was in Taunton, at a seminar relating to technical aspects of a particular library software system. (Yes, yes, when I'm not writing I work in a library. A sixth form college library, no less. I'm so very sorry that I conform to a cultural stereotype.)

Taunton is a medium-sized town in the reasonably close vicinity of two cities, Bristol (very large) and Exeter (not large, but larger than Taunton). It baffles me why it should be the library training capital of South-West England, but every single training event I've been to has been held there, and not even at the same centre. I managed to piss off some of the local attendees by suggesting that it might make sense to hold such events in Bristol occasionally, given that it has two mainline stations, and a motorway coming into the city, and more than one taxi and so on, but they were of the opinion that this would be absurd given that there are so many centres for library training in Taunton. Which is a position with a certain integrity to it, I suppose.

The lunch was remarkably stingy (and barbarically coffee-less), one man was kind enough to imply I looked old enough to have been at university twenty years ago, and when I left I had to walk back to the train station because (the receptionist informed me) the taxi would be busy picking up schoolchildren -- but all the same it was a rather good session. I'd say more about it, but then I'd be a librarian talking about his work and anyone who's reading this would never speak to me again.

Is anyone reading this, incidentally? Let me know.

To anyone who is:
1. Hi, and
2. You may be pleased to know that my website ought to be going live sometime in the next few days. I won't announce the domain name here until I've actually purchased it, as I have a vaguely paranoid worry that scammers may pre-emptively buy it up and charge me extra for it. The announcement will be made here, though.

"Buy previously" is actually the root meaning of "pre-empt". Isn't that interesting?

My brain has clearly gone into freefall, so I shall stop now.

Dear Sir...

Throughout my own schooldays up to the age of 18, I was required to address every male member of staff above a certain class threshold (that's English social class, not school class) as "Sir". Researchers into the fossil remnant of the English class system in public schools in the 1980s may be interested to know the extent of this: headmasters, teachers and the bursar were all to be "Sir"ed; the school marshall (a terrifying sergeant-major figure whose role was primarily disciplinary) was either "Sir" or "Marshall"; the catering manager was "Mr _____" but definitely not "Sir"; and male cleaners, groundsmen and porters were called by their first name.

However -- and this is the point I'm meandering towards making -- the "Sir" category very definitely covered the school librarian.

Now, it doesn't bother me in the slightest that the students at the sixth form college which I will, for the purposes of this weblog, refer to as St Brad's, don't call me "Sir". Indeed, I don't think that the subliminal linguistic assumption that every adult male of a certain social class was automatically my superior has done me many favours in later life, and it bothers me far more on the extremely rare occasions that they do. (It mostly seems to be the Muslim lads, for some reason). What dumbfounds me, though, is when they call me "mate".

As I say, the last thing I want is for them to be servile. But I mean, honestly, "mate"? Nobody calls me "mate". My mates don't call me "mate". These aren't even students who know me well, just random library users. They're not taking the piss in an affectionate (or indeed an aggressive) way -- they just appear to be under the honest impression that "mate" is a perfectly appropriate thing to call an adult.

Am I suddenly "out of date", as the young people say these days? Or am I still carrying round a crippling burden of resentment from my decade of "Sir"ing every vaguely patrician male in the vicinity, and don't see why the younger generation should have it any better? Worse still ("mate" being a pretty working-class appellation, after all), is this a symptom of snobbery which my school, despite my best efforts, succeeded in indoctrinating me with ?

Or is it, actually, slightly (or even more than slightly) rude for a child to call a man nearly twice his age, whom he doesn't know particularly, "mate"? Answers on an email, please.

03 December 2003

Where Eagles Dare

It's been a busy couple of days. Here's something I wrote yesterday and didn't have time to post:

B. and I watched the Fellowship of the Ring DVD last night. The Mordor & Gondor expansion to the Lord of the Rings Risk set is out in games shops now, and I found myself considering the whole getting-the-Ring-to-Mount-Doom problem in strategic terms.

The problem is, of course, that only the fires of Mount Doom can destroy the Ring, but Mount Doom is in the middle of Mordor, surrounded by Sauron's forces. The free peoples of Middle-Earth stand no chance whatsoever of taking or holding any part of Mordor as long as Sauron is in power. The plan the Council adopts is to send in a small taskforce -- the Fellowship -- in the hope that they can avoid detection. It's a plan which (with plentiful hitches) pays off in the end, but it's hideously risky. There's far too high a chance of the ring falling into Sauron's hands, which spells apocalyptic disaster.

Unlike Sauron with his winged Nazgul, Gandalf, Elrond and Co have omitted to consider the possibility of an aerial assault. My alternative plan would work as follows.

First, you need the Eagles on your side. If they refuse to help for reasons of Good or of enlightened self-interest, then offer them a yearly tribute of thousands of sheep or something (protected species status, possibly). You might need to call in Radagast the Brown as a negotiator. While this is going on, you send out a general call for as much mithril as can possibly be obtained, and set the Dwarves to smelting it into armour for the Eagles. They probably need at least helms, to protect them from mobs of carrion birds, and mail on their bellies to cover ground-to-air arrows. Mithril is light enough not to impede their flight, and pretty much impermeable.

Then, while Aragorn and others arrange the diversion with the armies at the Gates of Mordor (just as in the books and films), a battalion of armoured Eagles with riders heads for Mordor, disposed as follows:
1. Outriders with Elven archers, to ward off flying Nazgul and other aerial attackers.
2. Bombers carrying military "fireworks" (we see Saruman deploy explosives at Helm's Deep, so they surely can't be beyond Gandalf's expertise), who take out all the approaches to Mount Doom.
3. The leader (Gwaihir probably) carrying as incorruptible a Ringbearer as can be identified. (You'd need to do some research -- exposing people momentarily to the Ring and gauging their reactions -- but I reckon a youngish Elf like Arwen might well be your best bet here. She'd also not be much of a threat if she became corrupted.)

After this, it's a simple matter of landing the Ringbearer at Mount Doom and consigning the Ring to the flames, destroying Sauron and throwing his forces into disarray, which the armies of Men can mop up fairly readily. After that all Aragorn need do is set up an interim administration until the Orcs can be persuaded to elect their own democratic government, and the whole Mordor problem is contained.

Of course, he may then decide to turn his attention to Isengard. And, of course, Moria. Then possibly the Southlands...

30 November 2003

Hurrah, I've Discovered the Title Field

I'm into the intensive rewrite stage for Of the City of the Saved..., and it's melting my brain. Yesterday I went through implementing a shedload of suggestions my editor had made: cuts here, rewordings there, changes of tense and other tweaks... in many ways, this part is more exhausting than the writing itself.

More exhausting, but also less demanding, in that I can do it even when I'm tired or not in the mood. To actually create stuff, I need to be a) reasonably awake, b) caffeined up, c) wholly uninterrupted, and d) in possession of a quality of mood I've never been able satisfactorily to define, without which -- even if a) b) and c) are fulfilled -- I just end up staring at the document on my screen and thinking "Black line make pretty pattern". Probably "inspired" would cover it.

Inspiration's still required, though. There are some much more major rewrites to be done -- events which need to happen differently, scenes to recast from one point of view to another, background detail to go through inserting or changing entirely. My characters' speech patterns, points of view and motivations need to be consistent. I need to smooth over some ugly infodumping in the early chapters. Roughly every third adjective has to go. That sort of thing...

Not that I'm complaining, you understand. I mean, I'm getting a novel published. My whole writing career has been leading up to this, (although I rather hope that I'll still be saying the same thing about my tenth novel, or the rest of my life is going to be something of an anticlimax). Just... well, it'll be nice to get something of a social life back once this one's over. That's all.

28 November 2003

I'm rereading Philip K Dick's novel Valis, which I studied as part of my doctoral thesis. Dick isn't the kind of writer you can avoid if you're researching theological themes in science fiction, and Valis is, along with The Divine Invasion, Dick's most overtly theological work.

Fortunately, I simply can't get enough Dick. Do Androids Dream..., A Maze of Death, Ubik... Valis is perhaps not his most accessible novel - you certainly won't enjoy it if religious ideas leave you bored to tears - but for the sheer scale, complexity and outrageousness of the ideas involved it's among the best of his novels. The experience of reading it admittedly resembles being followed by a hypermanic street lunatic shouting biblical exegesis in your ear, but it's very entertaining exegesis.

In Valis, at least according to the speculations of the protagonist Horselover Fat (who's as transparent a Dick-substitute as you're likely to find outside a branch of Ann Summers), the Universe is the domain of an insane and evil Old Testament God, but is in the process of being subverted and subsumed by the benevolent and liberating New Testament God, the Logos. (That's the briefest, baldest summary. There's a lot more about three-eyed aliens, symbiotic plasmates, and God getting accidentally buried for two thousand years at Nag Hammadi.) It's a Gnostic worldview, albeit a Christian Gnostic one, and three-eyed aliens aside it's one I can't help having some sympathy with.

In fact Valis presents a theology in which Dick firmly believed, having had it communicated to him by God from a satellite in beams of pink light during February and March 1974. (This was shortly after the KBG began to send him threatening letters, and eleven years after he was haunted by a gigantic metal face glaring down at him from the sky whenever he stepped outside. Fascinated as he was by the nature of reality, Dick was not the most adept of human beings at distinguishing it from the other stuff.) The astonishing thing is that he nevertheless maintains a degree of ironic detachment which allows the reader of Valis to laugh at Horselover Fat just as often as they gawp at his latest revelation. Indeed, although Dick begins the novel by explaining that Fat is Dick himself, presented in the third person for objectivity, by the halfway point Fat is objectified to the point that the two of them meet socially and have frequent conversations, and Dick is commenting continually on how screwed-up Fat has become.

Incidentally, to maximise the comedy potential of the surname "Dick", one needs to use it in combination with that of Michael Moorcock. I leave this as an exercise for the reader.

27 November 2003

"Currently in its infancy, if not its embryohood". That's what I've just written on my website about this weblog. My website is also in its embryohood, although it's pretty well developed now. It long ago passed the arms / legs / head stage, and for a while has been sucking its thumb and kicking me when I'm not looking. Occasionally it appears to go into REM sleep, although nobody has ever hazarded a convincing guess as to what it might be dreaming about.

When it emerges, my website will be a venue for advertising the books I've written (all one of them, although I've also contributed to anthologies), showing off my doctoral thesis (not that I'm going to let anyone actually read it, oh no) and, in the long run, wittering occasionally about Reading, Writing, Art, Politics, Religion and my Life.

Most of that part of it will be going on here. Which is where we came in.

This is all new to me. I had a website when I was at university in the mid-nineties, but that was very basic text-only stuff (with a couple of photos held together by code I'd painstakingly scissored out of someone else's page). I mainly used it as a place to put my comic poems. My new website, on the other hand is a great deal better designed. I've learned how to use colours, and columns, and all kinds of exciting things.

I've also spent the last couple of weeks (and please don't mention this to my employers) translating a lot of old material into HTML. Old comedy sketches, old short stories, old... well, a couple of comic poems actually, but a lot of this stuff has never seen web publication before. I hope I can put up at least one piece of worthwhile academic criticism too, to show that I Am Serious And So Is My Website.

In the course of this, my brain has caved in. I'm supposed to be doing the rewriting and polishing on my first novel, Of the City of the Saved..., published by Mad Norwegian Press in March. Instead I've been madly assembling HTML code in an effort to publicise the book I haven't even finished yet. It's all excruciatingly postmodern.