23 September 2004

Without a Hitch

This blog is liable to go a bit quiet for the next few weeks, as our removal to the new house approaches. Next week, in particular, looks set to be a bitch. I had hoped to write something about the books I've been reading recently, but it's going to have to wait.

A mini-observation meanwhile. The radio reception in our current house is frustratingly rubbish, and my quaintly nineteenth-century lack of a broadband connection means it's not feasible to tune in via the internet, either. I rarely listen to the radio, but once in an epoch I feel its absence, and the broadcasting of Fit 3 of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is just such an occasion. So much so that when I discovered at work today that the original Hitchhiker's computer game was up at the BBC website, I fell on it with great glee and will, if I don't ease off a bit, end up in serious danger of being sacked.

I never had this in the 80s (I didn't have a decent enough computer), and am currently stuck trying to stop the Vogons' cleaning robot flying off with my Babel fish.

Share and enjoy.

18 September 2004


I've added a few updates to the website today, amounting mostly to an expanded FAQ and some photos of the cats. Awww.

I haven't added to the FAQ the Question I actually get Asked most Frequently, which is "How well's your novel selling?", since I keep forgetting to ask that same question of the publisher. Basically, though, Of the City of the Saved... has a certain expected readership: it's bound to sell pretty well within a certain narrow demographic, and hardly at all outside. Still, some figures on that would be nice.

(NB: The mirror site at Thoughtplay is likely to be a while updating -- and indeed is visibly behind by two updates already -- as the webmaster's in the midst of a messy house move. If you do happen to be doing any linking to the site, use www.infinitarian.com.)

One further thing I want to do with the website, apart from putting up the Greenbelt talks and giving the Links page a proper revamp, is to find a banner image to go on the Online Short Stories pages. All the other sections now have their own images (the various book covers, the bitmap Daleks, me as a pirate, me not as a pirate, the title page of my thesis, the Greenbelt, Doctor Who and Faction Paradox logos), but I can't find anything suitable for the shorts. I did try a photo of my monitor with some word-processed text on it, but it looked crap.

Does anyone have any suggestions? (The idea that I should use a pair of shorts will be frowned upon.)

[Edit to add: As an experiment, I've just added a guestbook to the front page, using the same Haloscan technology as for this blog's comments facility. I'll decide whether to keep it or not once I've seen whether I get any comments at all, and whether they're interesting, offensive or whatever.]

14 September 2004


B. has a science degree -- more than one, actually -- which sometimes gives rise to a certain amount of discussion when we watch science fiction or similar on the television.

'All irregularities will be handled by the forces controlling each dimension,' the TV informed us the other day. 'Transuranic heavy elements may not be used where there is life. Medium atomic weights are available: Gold, Copper, Lead, Jet, Diamond, Radium, Sapphire, Silver and Steel. Sapphire and Steel have been assigned.'

Fortunately we managed to get past the whole 'But Sapphire and Steel aren't elements!' conversation a while ago, agreeing that they might be considered elements in some alchemical sense which diverges from the paradigm used by modern chemistry. This time, however, B. suddenly said, 'But Jet and Diamond are forms of Carbon. That's got an atomic weight of 12. 12 isn't medium!'

I thought about this for a moment. 'Perhaps there are an awful lot of lighter agents, though. Maybe they have a whole load of them based around various allotropes of Hydrogen and Helium, for working inside suns.'

She looked at me suspiciously. 'I suppose that's a technobabble workaround for the scriptwriter's error, yes.'

I'm getting good at those.

Personal Life Update

1. I'm still working on my second professionally-published short story (unless you count the material in The Book of the War), "Minions of the Moon". I've had to write out the manticore and replace it with a hydra, which is a shame, but otherwise it's shaping up nicely. When it's done, I need to dive straight back into the novella...

2. ...except that the house move still hasn't happened, and keeps occupying my time in annoying ways. I had to spend a recent weekend screwing floorboards down in the loft, for instance, which is a bloody unpleasant job, let me tell you. I was dripping with sweat and smothered with filth when I emerged, and I'd only got about ten floorboards down in four hours. And I have to do more of the same this week.

3. On the plus side, I've managed -- most unusually -- two very nice daytime meals with rarely-seen friends at weekends recently. (B. wasn't able to join me for either, which is a shame -- but she gets to go on subsidised meals out at work, which never happens at St Brad's.) One was at the exquisite Demuth's in Bath, which does phenomenal vegetarian food; the other at Bristol's friendly and bohemian Boston Tea Party. One of the friends in question has just returned from five years working in the U.S., to take up a lectureship a mere few hundred miles away in Sheffield -- it will be lovely to see her more often.

4. Work goes "blehh".

13 September 2004

All Irregularities, Etc.

I've been temporarily assuaging my X-Files withdrawal by rewatching the fantastically good Sapphire and Steel. I'm not very far through it as yet (just finished watching the aptly-named Adventure Two), but I'm being forcibly reminded of how atmospheric, tense and downright creepy the series could be.

Virtually nothing about the central characters' background, motivations or aims is ever stated, and the plot, and much of the action, of the episodes is wilfully obscure. Sapphire and Steel seems to tap into the logic of dream or myth, rather than that of conventional TV narrative. The term may be overused, not least by me, but there seems to be something archetypal about these elemental characters and the ritual dramas they act out.

I've also been impressed by the challenge facing Big Finish (coincidentally also the publishers of A Life Worth Living) in their attempt to resurrect Sapphire and Steel as a series of audio dramas. I had thought the idea of publishing novels based around The Prisoner was ambitious in terms of crossing between media, but this seems, if anything, to face even more significant obstacles.

For one thing, on TV a great deal of Sapphire and Steel's narrative progresses through dialogue-free scenes where sinister occurrences -- often, but not always, ghostly apparitions or distortions of time -- are conveyed through purely visual action. It will be remarkably difficult to achieve any similar effect through the use of sound effects -- there are only so many times you can employ distorted clock noises or half-heard babbling whispers. Furthermore, expository dialogue (never desirable in audio drama anyway) is entirely out of character for the elemental agents -- it's difficult enough working out what Sapphire and Steel are talking about when you can see it in front of you, let alone when it's only implied.

I'm intrigued to see whether anything of the aesthetic of the original can be preserved -- despite the fact that some of Big Finish's Doctor Who audio dramas, especially The Chimes of Midnight, have made bold attempts to evoke and sustain a similar atmosphere.

As if this weren't enough, neither David McCallum nor the resplendent Joanna Lumley is available to reprise their rôles. The parts of Sapphire and Steel have been assigned (yes, yes) to Susannah Harker and David Warner respectively. I'm not familiar with Warner's work, but he's supposed to be a decent actor, and Harker was fantastic as the bereaved scientist Angie in Ultraviolet.

Lumley and McCallum, on the other hand, have been called wooden, an accusation not without a polished grain of truth. However, this works strongly in Sapphire and Steel's favour. Excellent actors Warner and Harker may be, but they'll have to be prepared to play impersonal, immaterial forces obliged for mere convenience to put on the semblance of human personalities like masks. There are times in the TV series when Lumley's face becomes so inanimate and doll-like it's simply terrifying. If that's an artefact of bad acting, it's a remarkably fortuitous one -- and also one it won't be easy to reproduce on an audio track.

As with the Prisoner novels, I'm going to have to buy at least some of these CDs, simply because I'm so intrigued as to whether this can possibly be pulled off.

11 September 2004

Slight Update

Many thanks to Stuart Douglas (who manages the excellent Welcome to Wildthyme site), who's just pointed out that A Life Worth Living has materialised on Amazon.co.uk. It's an excellent collection, with short stories from Paul Cornell, Kate Orman and various other SF luminaries as well as my contribution, and I urge you all to go and buy it.

(A less commercially-minded update or two should be appearing on this blog sometime this weekend, incidentally.)

08 September 2004

Robot Replicants Are Go!

Rather later than expected, Big Finish Productions have announced the details of their forthcoming SF anthology, A Life Worth Living, in their Bernice Summerfield range. The collection includes my short story, "Sex Secrets of the Robot Replicants". Hurrah.

This is another shared-universe project, which is to say the short stories, and the anthology as a whole, are part of an ongoing series based around characters created by other authors -- in this case, Professor Bernice Summerfield, 27th-century archaeologist, adventurer and diarist, sometimes described as "Indiana Jones meets Bridget Jones". Benny was created by Paul Cornell for Virgin's New Adventures series way back in 1992, and has since branched out into her own series, published first by Virgin and more recently by Big Finish. She's a character with a lot of fans, including me, and it's been a privilege to write for her.

The collection as a whole focuses on Benny's academic life, but my story also deals with her relationship with her ex-husband and current lover, Jason Kane (created by Dave Stone for the New Adventures in, erm, 1996 I think). It's about love, life, literary criticism and human/alien porn, among other things. (Oh, and it's a comedy).

I'm particularly pleased because it's my first professional paid-for piece to be published by anyone other than Mad Norwegian Press. Mad Norwegian are marvellous, of course, but it's comforting to find out that more than one group of people believe your work is publishable.

A Life Worth Living is out sometime this month, supposedly, and you can buy it (if you want to, of course) from Big Finish via the link above. It doesn't seem to have reached the Amazon listings yet, but I'll update this blog if and when it does.

02 September 2004

Website Update

My website is now updated with the promised fruits of Greenbelt -- the reading list from my talks and the short story I contributed to the anthology zine thing. I've put up a couple of other short stories while I'm at it, including the "Lucid Episode" entry from this very blog. (I'm not entirely sure the stories are a good addition, actually, and I may decide to take them down the next time I update.)

I'm hoping at some point to hyperlink the reading list comprehensively; and also to put up a full transcript of the talks themselves -- they weren't officially recorded by Greenbelt, but we were able to make recordings on a borrowed minidisk player, which have apparently turned out OK.

In the meantime, here's a quick straw poll. I'm aware that I didn't talk much about issues of faith or religion in Peculiar Lives for quite a while -- pretty much since the beginning, in fact -- and that recently (what with spending a fair amount of time preparing these Christianocentric talks) I've started making rather a habit of it. The perils and misconceptions attendant upon self-identifying as a Christian are complicated, and I'm mildly interested to know how many of my regular readers (assuming I have such things, which may be unwise) have found these recent entries either screamingly embarrassing or more boring than usual.

You all know where the comments button is. Alternatively, email me. I'm genuinely interested...


I've had through a proof copy (well, proof PDF) of the anthology wherein "Sex Secrets of the Robot Replicants" is being published. Very nice it looks too. Very soon now the whole announcement of the contributors will be made, and I can tell all those of you who care which anthology it is... probably around the same time as it's published, actually. I'm looking forward to proving that I haven't been making the whole thing up, at least.

Cutting Comment

The library cards we issue to the students at work have a space for passport photos which is far smaller than the size of the photos most booths print out. This means I have to trim the photos, often down to just the head, before I can attach them to the card.

I try hard not to see this as a metaphor for the whole exam-driven educative process. As I told one student yesterday, "We have to cut you down to size so that you fit inside the box". He didn't seem to notice -- probably already had all the imagination and subtlety branded out of him during his GCSEs.

I blame Thatcher, myself. I mean, obviously.