19 December 2008


I realise I've really let this blog slide the past few months. Work's been ludicrously busy, as has stuff-outside-of-work, and I've been stupidly tired for most of the available time. (I have, however, also written a 5,000-word short story for an anthology, which I'll link to here once my involvement's been announced.)

Next year's likely to be busy as well, for a variety of reasons, but I'll be making a New Year's resolution to post here considerably more often. You're unlikely to be hearing any more from me until 2009, though. Until then, compliments of the festive season to one and all, and a happy New Year's celebrations.

Meanwhile, here's a Christmas story which I've also uploaded to the website.

As I did in 2006 with "Sol Invictus", I sent this story out in my Christmas cards last year, so if we're on Christmas-card terms you'll already have seen it. (Sorry about that, but on the plus side you should be getting a copy of "Blitzenkrieg" this year, which the ordinary blog-reading public will have to wait until December 2009 to see.)


Because everything in nature has an opposite...

* * *

Sualcatnas lives in the Antarctic, surrounded by an army of giants who do her bidding. A thin young woman, pale-faced and austere, she takes the work she does very seriously.

* * *

In early summer, the elderly or very ill will meet Sualcatnas. (Some say she travels the world in a raft pushed by leopard seals. Others believe that Sualcatnas has no need of such showy pomp, just as she takes no account of good or bad in those she deals with.)

* * *

They will not recognise her, however. She will be disguised as somebody they know, or as a normal working person going about their job.

* * *

She will ask them – the old, the infirm, the soon-to-die – which of their possessions they treasure most. She will listen attentively as they recount the story of the ring with which their long-dead love proposed to them; the silver cutlery their grandmother left them in her will; their memory of their son playing with his first dog in the garden.

* * *

Sualcatnas will nod, in sympathetic interest. ‘Oh,’ she will say, her attention captivated. ‘Oh. Oh.’

* * *

At midsummer or later – some time later, perhaps, for those who have been visited in past years – the old will be reminded of their ring, their family silver or their treasured memory, and search for it, in their house or their mind.

* * *

It will be gone. Sualcatnas has stolen it from them.

* * *

Sualcatnas is necessary, because the universe demands order. If we were to rid ourselves of Sualcatnas, we would be depriving ourselves of her opposite.

* * *

In the Antarctic, the giants toil to break down the spoils of Sualcatnas’s annual heist. They smelt them back to their component parts, the materials and emotions they contain.

* * *

A tunnel connects Sualcatnas’s realm with another, brighter land. Each year the raw components of her swag are shipped along this tunnel, through the centre of the Earth to the Arctic, where they are reconstituted into colourful new objects, bursting with the potential of new memories.

© Philip Purser-Hallard 2007

18 December 2008

Dante's in Queneau

For years I was convinced that the translator into English of Raymond Queneau's Exercises de Style -- which I've owned a copy of since (so my inscription in the flyleaf tells me) 1998 -- was the same person as Dorothy L. Sayers's god-daughter and biographer, who finished Sayers's mammoth and magisterial translation of Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy after her death.

I appear to have thought this because a) I knew Sayers's translator friend was called Barbara, and b) I had a vague feeling I knew the name Barbara Wright from somewhere.


I've discovered my error since my friend J-P Stacey -- whose self-published collections A Pocketful of Lies and Stones and Bones I've noted approvingly in past years -- embarked on an eccentric project of adapting Queneau's eccentric book in the medium of song.

Quenau's original Exercises in Style (to use the English title) tells the same inconsequential story of two men on a bus 99 times in different styles. The basic concept's already been adapted to a different medium in the graphic anthology 99 Ways to Tell a Story: Exercises in Style by comic book writer / artist Matt Madden.

In turn, J-P's elected to give the traditional drinking song "Show Me the Way to Go Home" a similar treatment by rewriting it in each of the 99 styles employed by Quenau, ensuring -- this being the killer -- that each version is singable to the same tune as the original. Admittedly it's a reasonably flexible meter, but it's still an admirably deranged ambition.

J-P's been web-publishing some of these versions as an online Advent Calendar, enabling you to read (so far) some 17 variant versions, plus a stray adaptation of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner written to the same meter. He's helpfully provided sound files to demonstrate how they should be sung. You can also order a print copy, my particular one of which arrived with me this morning.

I have to admit that I rather prefer J-P's short stories that are actually about stuff, but Exercises in Song is still a highly entertaining project. I'm particularly fond of "Telegraphic", "Official Letter" and one from the book which hasn't appeared online yet, "Cross-examination". [Edit: It has now, so I've added the link...] The Anglo-Saxon version's rather good too.

In honour of the three extra "Literary Classics" exercises incorporated in the print version -- and of my own aforementioned confusion -- I decided to attempt a one-off exercise of my own. I make no claims as to its artistic merits (especially relative to J-P's fractal efforts), but thought I might as well reproduce it here:

Divine Comedy

Great poet, lead me out
of this dark allegorical copse.
I tried to medicate my mid-life crisis with beer --
now I'll abandon all my hops.

Now no matter where we pass,
from Malebolgia to Mars,
you will always hear me praising the love
that moves the sun and all the stars.

I thank yew.

[Edit to add: I'm not sure whether this alternative second stanza is better or not:
Now no matter where we are,
in Inf. or Purg. or Par.,
you will always hear me singing of love
that moves the sun and every star.]

03 December 2008

As Promised...

...the not-particularly-long-awaited DVD-style extras pertaining to my novella in The Vampire Curse are now online at www.infinitarian.com, along with a handful of other things I've had hanging around.

First of all, we have notes on my novella, "Predating the Predators". DO PLEASE READ The Vampire Curse first, though, as these notes contain SPOILERS for the novella. You don't in any sense need to read these in order to understand the novella -- they're just intended as background, including some explanations of authorial choices and a few deleted passages to tantalise yourselves with. ("Predating the Predators" is actually one of the more self-explanatory things I've written, so these are pretty limited compared with, say, my annotations to the considerably shorter "Minions of the Moon".)

Also containing SPOILERS -- for both "Predating the Predators" and Of the City of the Saved... -- is "Unification Theory", a supplementary short story, featuring characters from "Predating the Predators" in the City. It's the first of these website extras that's been a crossover between different series I've written for, and I now need to resist the temptation to do the same with the rest of them. If I stick at this one (which, as the notes reveal, there was a moderately good reason for), I think it just about stops short of being self-indulgent.

And speaking of self-indulgent... a week or so ago, as well as updating my About the Author and FAQ pages to reflect The Vampire Curse's existence, I also added all the "About the Author" or "About the Contributors" biogs I've had published in various books to date. This comes with the facility to jump forward from one to the next (starting, as luck would have it, with Of the City of the Saved... and finishing with The Vampire Curse), so you can see how my self-image and verbosity have varied down the years since, er, 2004.

Since I was revamping the Short Stories page anyway, I've added another story, "Dave @1I8Σπ: A Romance of the Year 2006", which was originally published here on this very blog. Come Christmas I'll be putting up another short story, "Polarity", which went out with my Christmas cards last year, just as "Sol Invictus" did the year before. (Mind you, I'll be posting that here as well, just as I did with "Sol Invictus" last year.)

Finally, my latest Surefish column is up, and I've remembered to update the Surefish index on the website to reflect the fact. This one gives my usual woolly-minded christian perspective on the aspect of the SF writing process which I call worldbuilding, and JRR Tolkien referred to as "sub-creation".

[ETA: Damn -- it's just been pointed out to me that there's a linking error in the column. The reference to unreadable utopian fiction is meant to link to Wikipedia's article on utopian fiction, and not to CS Lewis's Cosmic Trilogy...]

Right, then. Hope some of that that's vaguely interesting to some of you...

24 November 2008


One day soon -- potentially as soon as 2036, unless the retirement age has been bumped up by then -- I'm going to get round to posting some actual content here, rather than continually pimping my own writing.

In the meantime, though... I have in my hand a physical copy of The Vampire Curse -- the three-decker novella collection about Professor Bernice Summerfield and a number of vampires, featuring the novellas "The Badblood Diaries" by Mags L. Halliday, "Possum Kingdom" by Kelly Hale and "Predating the Predators" by me.

It was posted to me at the weekend by the publishers, and I'm impressed by their speed of turnaround since I mentioned having first sight of the cover in, erm, my last entry here. Which admittedly was a few weeks ago now, but I mean, it's bound and everything.

I'm currently putting the finishing touches to my website extras -- a bunch of annotations to the text, as per my usual custom, together with an exclusive short story featuring characters from The Vampire Curse in the City of the Saved. (Well, I had to do it sooner or later.) I'll update here once those are up at the website -- I probably ought to hold off until people have had a chance to read the thing, at least.

05 November 2008

Cursing Graphically

And in slightly less momentous news... Big Finish have released Adrian Salmon's very fine cover for The Vampire Curse. Which means I've been able to update my pages too, with a larger version of the cover and the actual back cover blurb. I've updated Peculiar Tomes, as well, and put in links to pre-order through Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.

Now I'd better get round to writing those extras I promised.

Heart on Sleeve Time...

This made me smile. But only after this had reduced me to floods of tears:
"And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of our world – our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand. [...] And to all those who have wondered if America's beacon still burns as bright – tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from our the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope."
I don't think I've ever been so moved by a political speech. It's a weird feeling to be having, but just at the moment I kind of love the United States.

28 October 2008


God, I'm insanely busy at the moment.

This isn't really an update, more an observation that my latest Surefish column is now up and you can read it if you want to. It's a bit of a departure, in that it's not so much a discussion of issues relating to faith and science fiction as, well, a parable. Feel free to like it or not, as you wish.

16 October 2008

Vamping it Up

I've just been proofreading the pre-print PDF of The Vampire Curse, which promises to be a very pleasing book visually, with some lovely typesetting and formatting. (There's no news on the cover as yet, but I'll update you when there's anything to show there.) The actual content is also fab, of course, with Mags and Kelly contributing clever, sexy, funny stories with the full complement of heart, brain and fangs, which my Predating the Predators is going to have some serious trouble following.

In theory, I think this ends my involvement with the book until I get my free copies through the post. In practice, I still need to write up some extra material to go on the website. Meanwhile, here's my one of the three bios which should be appearing in the back of the book:
Philip Purser-Hallard has written stories about alien shapeshifters, draconian diplomats, robot replicants, hermaphrodites, angels, men in the moon, the risen dead, an elderly science fiction author and a wide range of posthuman beings, but not previously about catholic priests battling evil space vampires. Most of his other stories also have academics in them.

Philip lives in Bristol, where he divides his time between writing and a job you don't care about. He writes a regular online column on science fiction and religion, and occasionally gives talks. He believes that one day in the future, humans will rise up and overthrow their feline masters.
And speaking of Wildthyme on Top (which, er, I was briefly, just then), I'm delighted to see that February 2009 is going to bring us four more Iris Wildthyme audio dramas. (Well, those of us who buy the "Season 2" box set, anyway. The rest of you get them spread out between February and April.) Written by various talented gentlemen (to whit, the resplendent Mark Michalowski, Iris' creator Paul Magrs, my old adversary editor Simon Guerrier, and Paul's brother Mark Magrs), the four CDs pastiche, parody or affectionately homage (according to taste) the four decades of Doctor Who which aren't this one -- ie, the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s. Which is what Iris was created for, after all.

Despite the work I've done for Big Finish, I don't generally plug their stuff here unless it's directly relevant to the subject of this blog (viz, Me). But for Iris I'll make an exception.

In other news, it turns out that standing for President of the U.S.A. means that people photograph and film you even when you're looking remarkably silly. And make satirical websites about your emergency stand-in, to boot.

09 October 2008

Axis All Areas

As Frank Muir apparently once said: "I've just spent six months in the south of France finishing my latest book. I'm a very slow reader...".

Well, having starting it on the train to Greenbelt, I have indeed now finished Red Mars, and immediately made a start on its viridian sibling. It was a worthy read and I could feel it doing me intellectual good throughout. I'd not recommend it for actual fun, though.

(M'learned friend Vigornian points out that they're making Red Mars into a TV series, which I can see working very well. It would definitely be a serious drama series, though -- barely even SF, as TV usually understands the genre. Depending on the choice of style, it could be pitched as something very like The West Wing, only with a big red desert instead of Washington. And much bouncier walking-down-corridors scenes.)

I've also finally finished The Great Transformation by Karen Armstrong, which I found instructive and informative, but ultimately disappointing.

I've mentioned before that Armstrong's history of ideas within individual cultures is strong and coherent, tracing clear lines of evolution and influence through many generations of Chinese, Indian, Hebrew and Greek thought. I might have added, on the basis of her earlier A History of God and The Battle for God, that her view at its broadest is also a compelling one -- a philosophy of religion which sees faith as belonging to the intuitive and internalised form of truth known as mythos rather than the external, fact-based arena of logos; true faith as coming through mystic encounters with the divine rather than through the dogma of established religion; the practices of religions as valuable only to the extent to which they preserve or allow new access to this elusive (and often seemingly counterfactual) truth; and the vital and urgent importance in the modern age of celebrating the diversity of human faith for the different lights it shines on the divine reality, rather than viewing the world through the exclusive filters of our own traditions.

None of which, you'll be unsurprised to discover, is stuff I'm likely to argue with. The problem is that both Armstrong's overarching long-range vision and her aptitude for both close-up work tend to blur her mid-field vision, resulting in books which leap from the mundane to the transcendent with very little by way of coherent chains of thought linking them.

In particular, I'd been wondering while reading The Great Transformation how Armstrong would tie together all the developments in disparate and historically disconnected cultures which she identifies as signifiers of "the Axial Age" -- the development of the Jewish prophetic tradition, Greek philosophy and tragedy, the origins of Buddhism, Jainism and the other Indian apotheistic philosophies, and what basically amounts to the entire intellectual tradition of China for a thousand years. Unfortunately, she entirely fails to demonstrate that all of these amount to anything one could coherently consider as a step-change in human thinking regarding religion.

As this review by Diarmaid MacCulloch suggests, this is particularly clear in the vagueness with which Armstrong delimits this supposed "Axial Age", excluding a number of philosophers of her given era (the eighth to third centuries B.C.E.) on the grounds that they fail to live up to her ideal of "Axial spirituality", while going on talk about the first- and sixth-century C.E. figures of Jesus and Mohammed, in whom she has a special interest, not merely as individuals influenced by the insights of the Axial era but as "late flowerings" of it.

This mid-range view becomes so blurry that it's almost impossible to derive anything clear from it. Certainly the book comes nowhere near answering those questions from the back cover blurb:
But why did Socrates, Buddha, Confucius, Jeremiah, Lao Tzu -- among others -- all emerge in this five-hundred-year span? And why did they have such similar ideas about humanity?
Indeed, Armstrong's conclusion when it finally arrives is predictable from the ouset: that what she sees as the key themes of the Axial philosophers -- ecstatic experience, the transcendence of the self, the outworking of faith in daily life, empathy, non-violence, the Golden Rule -- constitute genuine insights into human and divine nature, and a universal toolkit for human living.

Again, it's difficult to argue with this. That these ideas were (by presumption, although again see MacCulloch) unprecedented, and have been of great influence since, is unarguable -- but that being the case there's a strong sense that Armstrong has taken 400 pages to state, at immense length and in exhaustive detail, the obvious.

The Great Transformation is a fascinating work of parallel history, and a significant stage in the development of Armstrong's own religious thought. Expect it to educate and inform you, but don't expect to discover any great insights that you haven't already heard.

04 October 2008

Ah, a Humourist...

I'm suffering from an uncharacteristically foul cold, which is giving me a new respect for the theory of the Four Humours. I'm full of phlegm, and as a result I'm feeling bad-tempered, bloody-minded and miserable.

01 October 2008


I've just been listening to Fat and Frantic on my Walkman, exactly as if this was 1988.

In 2008, however, my Walkman is considerably smaller than a cassette used to be, and currently contains 62 albums with ample room to spare. That's the equivalent of carrying around not only a machine half the weight of a brick on a strap, but a suitcase full of tapes to stick in it. And I keep it in my pocket with a phone I can carry round and use to ring people up from anywhere I like[1], and an object the size of my little finger that's functionally equivalent to a floppy disk, only with 4,000 times the entire storage capacity of my Dad's Amiga.

I'm not dismissing the deeply ambivalent effect that Western consumer technology has had on the world, improving quality of life immeasurably for a small portion of the world's population while fuelling a runaway consumerism which threatens to bankrupt the whole of humanity. Sometimes, though, it seems appropriate just to marvel.

[1]OK, so we had a few of those in 1988. But they were also the size and weight of half a brick, cost as much as a small car, and were exclusively used by yuppies for phoning up other yuppies and yapping about their stock options.

Culinary Advice

Don't try to make soup in a frying pan.

26 September 2008

Austen and Ostensibility

After the delay to my Surefish column last month, this month's is up with admirable alacrity. My title was the rather more Austenesque "Fandom and Fundamentalism", but Andy's variant works too.

I just ran a brief google for similarly Austenesque puns, and came up with this insanely wrong-headed blog post, by a freelance writer who subsidises his career with the money he won on a gameshow once -- and is, quite clearly, as wrong as a McCain supporter wearing a "We Love Noel Edmonds" T-shirt.

Not merely because Gillian Anderson is obviously an intensely cerebral, as well as a sublime, sexy, spiritual and deeply sensuous woman, who I'm sure would come in time to appreciate my complementary virtues if we ever met, but -- perhaps more importantly -- because Jane Austen's novels are saturated with economic necessity.

Anyone who thinks that Austen had a fluffy, woolly-headed view of matrimony as a romantic idyll separated from the sordid transactions of the real world, really hasn't been reading her novels properly, and has possibly never actually been in the same room as one.

All together now: "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife..."

25 September 2008

Transformation and Terraforming Update

I'm going to be reading The Great Transformation and Red Mars for a little while yet, I suspect.

As I said before, Karen Armstrong's thesis (not originally hers, but developed in great detail in The Great Transformation) is that the revolutionary spiritual philosophies she exemplifies with the figures of Confucius, Buddha, Socrates and Jeremiah, represent a paradigm shift in global (or at least Eurasian) thinking about religion, and thus in the consensus definition of what it means to be human. The main difficulty I have with this so far is the lack of connection she draws between the histories of China, India, Greece and Israel.

China's clearly the odd culture out here, as there are visible links between the remaining three: the first-millennium-B.C.E. Greeks and North Indian Aryans shared common (and relatively recent) Indo-European roots, while Israelite and Greek spiritual culture were strongly influenced by the common myth-systems of the pre-classical Mediterranean and Middle East. All three peoples later had common dealings with colonial Middle Eastern superpowers, most notably the Persian Empire and Alexander the Great.

However, as I understand it, contemporary China was a great deal more isolated, and isolationist. Although only rarely and sporadically unified, the people of the North China plain in the first millennium B.C.E. mostly dealt with one another, or at most with neighbouring peoples whom we'd also identify today as Chinese -- rarely travelling, under no threat from foreigners and warring only against one another. Aside from some trade with neighbours including India (the route by which Buddhism eventually arrived in the first century B.C.E.), ancient Chinese culture was monolithic and self-sufficient. Nor was the era of Chinese history which Armstrong takes as her starting-point -- the culture of the Shang Dynasty -- similar in any notable way to that pertaining in Mycenaean Greece, pre-Biblican Canaan or tribal Punjab.

Thus one might see Jeremiah, the Buddha and Socrates responding in the seventh, sixth and fifth centuries B.C.E. respectively to broadly similar (and distantly connected) social upheavals which led them to question contemporary belief-systems (Yahwism, the Vedic religion, Olympian polytheism) which in turn had originally been revisionist responses to yet more ancient polytheisms with a common ancestral background. The contemporary Chinese sages, however -- Confucius, Lao Tzu, Zhuang Zi et al -- weren't responding to anything that hadn't been Chinese for millennia.

I haven't read ahead, so it's possible that Armstrong's saving up her explanations for the last chapter. As far as I can see, though, if she really wants to justify these supposed simultaneous revolutions in thought (and let's not forget that Jeremiah and the Buddha, say, were roughly as contemporary with one another as Newton and Einstein) as anything more meaningful than coincidence, then her options are limited.

Unless she posits: a) a level of global travel and communication during this era that there's really no evidence for, or b) some kind of large-scale global influence (climatic or epidemic, perhaps, although she's shown little interest in those so far), she'll have to fall back on c) a load of mystical bollocks ("It was a quantum leap in human evolution", "God moves in mysterious ways", "It was Gaia achieving self-consciousness", etc). I can't really see her doing any of those... but if the conclusion's going to be "It was all a really big coincidence", then I can't altogether see the point of the book either. Oh, well.

Meanwhile, Red Mars is also exploring the gradual, large-scale tectonic changes which turn ordinary people adapting to a changing environment into an entirely new culture, and doing so at a very, very leisurely speed. At this rate I'm hoping I'll be finished with the trilogy by Christmas. Thank heavens for the lovely, brief short stories in Short Trips: Transmissions.

Incidentally, apropos of my tag for Robinson-related posts... when my fellow Bernice Summerfield authors Lance Parkin and Mark Clapham were writing their take on Martian history, the only mildly parodic Beige Planet Mars, their original suggestion for a back-page tagline -- veoted by Virgin -- was "Danger, Kim Stanley Robinson!". Which, in the absence of any humour in Red Mars, at least makes me smile wryly.

24 September 2008

The Cabinet of Sound

I'm disproportionately excited to read the announcement that Telos, my publishers for Peculiar Lives, have licensed Fantom Films to produce audiobooks of the Time Hunter novella series. These are full and unabridged readings of the books on CD and for online download, starting with Daniel O'Mahony's excellent The Cabinet of Light and Lance Parkin's splendid The Winning Side.

[Geek Note: The audio version of The Cabinet of Light has been sadly but necessarily stripped of its Doctor Who content, which was always a bit esoteric and tangential. Presumably to compensate for this, the actors they've got in to read these first two books used to play Davros and Leela respectively.]

It's too early to say how many of these audiobook versions will be produced (presumably it will depend partly on the success of these early titles), so no word as yet on whether, when and by whom Peculiar Lives is likely to be recorded. Watch this space for further developments.

19 September 2008


...my most recent column's up at Surefish now. It's another summery collection of lists, which gives you some indication of how long ago I wrote it.

It's ended up a little less topical than I'd hoped it would be, particularly now the second X-Files movie's sunk without trace. Still, now it's there all I need to do is finish this month's.

18 September 2008

Yahweh, Ares, Ganesh et al

Heavens, I didn't realise I'd left it that long between updates again. I'm going to try not to do that sort of thing now I've finished the novella.

I've been mostly in post-Greenbelt, post-novella, post-generally-busy-summer recovery recently, so there hasn't been a great deal to report. (Catching up with the events of the summer, on the other hand, might take some time. There've been two weddings, for a start, one of them my little-sister-in-law's. But they're too sizeable to tackle today, so will have to wait.)

Now I'm evaluating current and future writing projects, trying to work out what I should be doing next. There's talk of a short story commission, the continuing saga of one particular ongoing project which I've mentioned here occasionally, and the small matter of still wanting to get some mainstream S.F. publishers interested in my idea about getting paid lots of money to write some novels. I might also be involved in next year's one of these.

I'm still reading The Great Transformation: The World in the Time of Buddha, Socrates, Confucius and Jeremiah by Karen Armstrong. Which is fascinating, but very, very long, and the prose is on the arid side. Admittedly an attempt to trace the development of spiritual and religious thought in Israel, Greece, India and China between 1500 and about 200 B.C.E. was always going to be a bit of a mammoth undertaking.

I'm over halfway through, but so far it's the early stuff which remains the most interesting, looking at the original belief-patterns (for instance an increasingly absent and abstract sky god replaced by various more local and dynamic warrior-gods), which underly faiths as diverse as the Hindu and Olympian pantheons, Judaeo-Christo-Islamic monotheism and the apotheistic[1] belief-systems of Buddhism and its relatives. I'd have been interested to know more about how (if at all) this related to the oldest complex religious system for which we have extensive evidence, Egyptian polytheism... but one of the book's weaknesses is that, while it's very strong on the individual histories of its four "Axial peoples", it does less work in placing them in their global context or even tracing lines of influence between them. Still a fascinating read, though.

As if this wasn't enough to be getting on with, I've also finally immersed myself in modern S.F.'s own A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, Kim Stanley Robinson's Three Colours Mars trilogy. I'm two-ninths of the way in, and -- although as ever I enjoy Robinson's prose, his politics, and his sense of humans as creatures shaped by and shaping the environments they inhabit -- I'm finding both the volume and the detail exhausting.

It's an immense feat of worldbuilding, but I can't help suspecting that I've read the interesting bits of it already, in the portions of The Memory of Whiteness set on a terraformed Mars. If it had been me, I'd have written my equivalent of Blue Mars (or, knowing me, some kind of far-future Ultraviolet Mars) and left it at that, but Robinson is intent on showing us his working. The way he envisages Mars as a landscape is nothing short of visionary, but do we really need to see so much of the process whereby he gets there?

Perhaps we do. I gather Blue Mars has utopian aspirations, and I've talked before about how Robinson's previous utopia, Pacific Edge, works only because of the groundwork laid by its predecessors in the Orange County Trilogy -- the bleakly post-apocalyptic The Wild Shore and the seductively dystopian The Gold Coast. Presumably something similar is at work here.

But in the meantime, I find myself really yearning for a short book.

In other news, B. and I have a new favourite restaurant, happily within walking distance, which does fantastic Indian food that (the chef maintains) you might conceivably find actual Indians eating. There's an abundance of veggie stuff on the menu -- the chilli paneer is particularly marvellous, but the range of various creative breads is also wonderful. (If the elephant-god logo looks a little odd, it's because it's also spelling out the Sanskrit syllable "om". Which is cool.)

If you're ever in Bristol, it's well worth a visit. If you're not, envy us.

And finally -- goodness me, tomorrow is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. These things seem to come around again so fast, don't they?

[1] OK, so "apotheism" may not actually be a word. But its literal Greek meaning of "away from god[s]", and its combined connotations of "atheism", "apathy" and "apotheosis", seem to apply pretty well to Buddhism's insistence that the gods are irrelevant and that humanity's goal is union with an ultimate yet impersonal state. So I'll be using it. Cheers.

29 August 2008

A Quantum More

Just a quick update to say that photos of A Quantum of Sol (Rising Sun), B.'s sculpture with words by me, are now available at the web page. Enjoy.

28 August 2008

Re: Vamps

Now I've finally finished "Predating the Predators", my contribution to the Bernice Summerfield novella collection The Vampire Curse, I thought it was about time I put up a page for it at my increasingly antiquated website.

And lo, it came to pass. It's a bit minimal as yet, but I'll be fleshing it out later with stuff like the cover, the ISBN, the titles of Mags' and Kelly's stories, and the now traditional array of DVD-style extras. For the moment, the only real content is this off-the-cuff blurb, which relates to "Predating the Predators" alone:

Predating the Predators

Historians have long known that the eventful life of Professor Bernice Summerfield included more than one encounter with the paranormal predators known as vampires.

One such event which has so far received little attention from Summerfieldologists is the Murigen Infraction. This vampire infestation at Murigen’s First Colonial University coincided – if indeed it was a coincidence – with the First Interdisciplinary Conference on Vampirology, at which the distinguished Professor was a guest speaker.

Contemporary records, including the letters of a physicist and the journal of a Catholic priest, appear to place Summerfield and her granddaughter at the event. But what was their involvement in the affair? How could vampires thrive in a location with plentiful running water and near-constant daylight emitted by three suns? And what was the connection, if any, with Summerfield’s earlier expedition to excavate the ancient structure known (rather histrionically) as the Blood Citadel of Alukah?

This new sourcebook, assembled from contemporary documents by Prof. I.G. Ikigikato of Zebadee University, will finally allow students to decide for themselves.

I've also revamped all my pages which link to the Big Finish website, so that they now take you to the relevant product page rather than to a less than optimally cooperative redirect screen. At least, they do until Big Finish rearrange everything again.

For easy reference, those links are: (Eight Big Finish books I've been published in? Blimey. Still, that's with four different editors, so it's not like it's a sinecure or anything. Probably.)

27 August 2008

A Quantum of Sol

Those of you intrigued by the first and last items in that previous post may be interested in this, the first publication of the full text painted on m'wife's sculpture A Quantum of Sol (Rising Sun). See here for some photographs of the structure (more detailed ones will hopefully come later) accompanying some reflections on the text.

I've broken the passages apart here for the sake of basic legibility: on the sculpture itself they run into one another, with only the solar symbol to separate them.

A Quantum of Sol (Rising Sun)
– text-only version

...shall all ascend into the bright eternal apex of the enlightened and unconquered soul
the blinding helial light of conversion, h to he, exploding into a new clear sight, indiscriminate radiance corrupted by our polarising vision, everpresent effulgent distancy
sole potent parent to mother material, father to daughter spun also from that archane disc, the golden aten split into lead, ice, carbon, mercury, earth the filial and fecund, oval in her orbit, plump to receive the lightwarm seedflash of her father husband brother sun
lord of hours meting and mensurating dawndusk noonnight, nadir zenith, solstice equinox, years sidereal and cosmic, circling the milkblack core, spinning like a parasol while whirling aeroplanetary children, endlessly calendrical, infinitely stonehengible lord horus (lord graciously horus)
bright daybarge sailing the skyward ocean to the blue meridian, making its waves a tidal delta, cyclical waveform mounting in morn, declining in dusk, then passing into neutral harbour-mouth to weather the dark night of the soul
nightbarge setsailing for the netherworld, setting tonight to set-to with the night setspearing turtlesnake apep talk re your communication with the dead of twelvehoured chaos, anticipating your response by return, alimentary canal turned now to re birth
barging in, bursting from the skirts of night to rise with dayheat each dawn since the fourth to measure morning with the mercury
re treating winterly to arctic valley, re turning aestivally to easter vernal spring, an immillennial parousia of recirculation, re birth re curing with cyclic solemnity, in days, in years, in minutes of untimely dark devouring
son of mandala spread on cross, haloed by circle, spun on sunwheel in ecliptic pain, abandoned to mandated exocclusion, three hours dying, veiling and unveiling in the vale of the shade of the death of the son
dying into darkness (amon), graved in underworld (amun), doing nothing by thirds but arising on the first day (amen) a speedy mourning then an easterly ascent into heaven (ra ra ra!)
goldnaturedly doling out the wisdom luck and cancer, sole leonine pharaoh of the fifth house, mane sequence helionhearted millionmile yellowgold dwarf, far distanter than icarus may fly, winged eye melting featherwax and numbing nerve
feeding all, filling all, fuelling all, sustaining all, yet one day mere trillennia hence devouring all, re absorbing all earth’s sunstuff, if never first devoured by dragon monkey wolf serpent or blackholy goddess of galactic night
food of algae, idol of flowers, boss of roosters, sauna of lizards, lamp of lovers, garment of nudists, blight of deserts, torment of vampires, scourge of snowmen, wellspring of moonlight, yoke of oceans, pivot of planets, wheel of seasons, father of pharaoh, aim of archer, mango of monkey, spoil of scarab, dinner of direwolf, eye of heaven, light of vision and vision of light, seen now through dark glasses but one day eye to eye, unblinkingly unblinding
for this light of the world, epitome of glory, sun of heaven blazing with conversion light, the monad, carrion kissing, darkness lightening, nightperil delivering and all sustaining, is a mere lamp to light the way
a type, a symbol, font of wisdom, all seeing icon, sign to lead us, cycling now but soon to dismount, to the axle of all, samsaran wheels halting near vantage point to view the bright empyrion
circling sun and earth, comet and cluster, light and dark matter, stars and humanity, a joy to end soul enmity, the love that moves the son
and day is grey now, light is night now, fire is liar now, shown unknown now yet when dawn comes...

© P. and B. Purser-Hallard 2008

21 August 2008

Lifting the Curse

I finally sent off my vampire story today, and I'm bloody exhausted. Now I just have to wait to find out whether Eddie the Editor likes it, and how much he minds that it's a third as long again as it should be.

This has been one of many things which I haven't, what with one thing and another, had the time to mention recently... but tomorrow I'm off to the Greenbelt Festival in Cheltenham. B.'s been there for several days already, building a sculpture to which I contributed a chunk of text (the thing with the puns on Egyptian gods' names which I was mentioning earlier).

I'm not speaking this year, having once again failed to get organised. I'm also camping for the whole weekend, for the first time since... erm, I think it might be 1992. With good reason, because I loathe tents and everything that goes with, in on and around them. Especially the mud.

I will, however, be blogging for Surefish, as has by now become traditional. As in previous years, I'll post links to my Surefish entries here. (All of those links are broken now, such being the transitory nature of internet journalism. I don't know whether the entries themselves are still floating around the web somewhere.)

If you're very lucky, there may also be some photos of the sculpture.

19 August 2008

As the Romans Do

Recently, when I've not been scribbling frantically about vampires, suns or the interaction between the two, I've been reading either SF novels marketed as thrillers or books about ancient history. I'm currently on The Execution Channel by Ken MacLeod and The Great Transformation by Karen Armstrong, but it's Cowboy Angels by Paul McAuley and Rubicon by Tom Holland that I want to talk about.

Cowboy Angels has as its background a United States which, having gained access through the development of quantum computing in the 1960s to various alternative versions of its own history, proceeds to infiltrate, ally, fund and destabilise in time-honoured fashion until by the 1980s it has its own empire of client U.S.A.s, all dominating their respective globes but subservient to their political masters in "the Real".

This could be a fascinating story, but unfortunately we only get glimpses of it. Published by Gollancz S.F., is nonetheless packaged and marketed as a thriller, and written in the hardboiled, action-intense style of a Tom Clancy or a Dan Brown. This has been a recent trend in McAuley's fiction. His early space operas and quirkier S.F. high-concept stories (some of which are very good indeed -- I love Red Dust and Pasquale's Angel, as well as his Doctor Who novella The Eye of the Tyger) have given way recently to a string of would-be-bestsellers where an S.F. device in a near-contemporary setting is subservient to a war, espionage or crime plot. (It's a trend I'm pleased to see being reversed in his next novel, out later this year.)

To be honest, though, if you want to read an account of a global superpower extending its hegemony into multiple alternative realities as an allegory for contemporary US imperialism, I'd recommend (McAuley's fellow Doctor Who and Telos author) Lance Parkin's take on the same theme in his Faction Paradox novel Warlords of Utopia. Aside from the chutzpah of encoding a liberal message in a generally right-wing mass-media form, Cowboy Angels really doesn't accomplish anything that Parkin's book didn't do better.

In a direct comparison with Warlords, Angels comes off worse in several ways.

It's less subtle: where Warlords critiques the U.S. in terms of the Roman Empire (giving it a tranche of ascendant Nazi histories as its anti-democratic enemy), McAuley's evil empire is run by an alternative version of the 1980s CIA.

It's less imaginative: where Parkin has enormous fun with his variant Romes, McAuley deliberately confines his alternative histories (presumably on the basis of his target audience's imaginative limitations) to variants in 20th-century history (fascist and communist revolutions in the 1920s and '30s, nuclear war in the '60s) or unpopulated Americas where settlers can re-enact the frontier dream. A rival metauniversal superpower based around, say, a Confederate, Spanish or Aztec North America could have livened the whole thing up no end.

(The climax takes the mundanity even further, with a nuclear showdown taking place in our universe -- known here as "the Nixon sheaf", after the President at the time of first contact. Parkin's book credits the reader with understanding that danger is danger, and suffering suffering, no matter which history the characters are living in.)

Finally, it's far, far less interestingly written. In both books, the author encourages the questioning of neoconservative positions by using a viewpoint character who initially espouses them... but whereas Parkin's conceit of using as a Roman historian as his narrator allows him to write like Robert Graves, McAuley is obliged to write like, at best, Michael Crichton.

His change of direction may well be enabling McAuley to sell more books, but it's hampering him as a writer.

Tom Holland's, on the other hand, seems only to be benefiting him. I've not read any of his novels (I have both The Vampyre and The Bonehunter awaiting my attention), but his histories are getting him far more broadsheet attention than they ever seem to have.

The attention's deserved, too: Holland has a knack of retelling ancient history in a way which foregrounds individuals and their clashes of political, religious and philosophical ideas in a way I've rarely encountered outside historical fiction. Persian Fire brought an era about which I previously knew virtually nothing alive to me in unexpected and exciting ways, and Rubicon is similarly impressive.

The fact that so much Western culture has consisted of retellings of the various stages in the long, painful fall of the Roman Republic means that much of the story is inevitably familiar. I found myself constantly checking which other works the narrative had caught up with: "Ah, this is where Rome starts"; "So we're up to Carry on Cleo now"; "Ooh, the kid from Asterix and Son's just been born"; "This'll be the start of Julius Caesar, then". It ends pretty much as I, Claudius is starting.

Nonetheless, Rubicon reignited my long-standing interest in Roman history by showing me new perspectives and facets.

(I see that Holland's own forthcoming project is a history of Western Europe around the end of the first millennium, which is an interesting choice. I'd hoped he'd go for another period / setting in ancient history, possibly something Egyptian. I'd love to read his take on the Atenist Revolution, for instance. Still, this promises to be fascinating, if rather less for its evocation of an unfamiliar society and setting. They've even put the bloody Bayeux Tapestry on the cover...)

I also reminded myself -- while trying to remember how Coriolanus, of Shakespeare fame, fits into the late Republican history Holland’s describing (answer: he’s much earlier, from the time of the kings in fact, and probably fictional anyway) -- of the fantastic fact that Shakespeare refers to Coriolanus’s family, the gens Martia, as "Martians".

This makes me want to write a novel (or at least a short story) where the early expansion of the republican Roman Empire is disrupted by the earlier-than-scheduled arrival of H.G. Wells’s colonising aliens, and the legions slaughter the lot of them.

Romans are cool. Fact.

18 August 2008

The Hanna-Barbera Act

A: If the U.S. really wants to get tough on vigilanteism, then it's not your masked-and-costumed hero they should be cracking down on. It's the gangs of teenage youths who roam the countryside in vans with anthropomorphic animals, solving all kinds of crimes without any kind of federal or state mandate.
B: You say "all kinds"...
A: Well, admittedly they're usually the type of of fraud which entails dressing up as ghosts, vampires or some other form of monster in order to scare people away from whatever secret the criminal wants to stay hidden, like an altered will or stolen deeds.
B: Or a newly-discovered gold seam?
A: Well, quite. I wonder why crimes like that are so prevalent in the rural U.S.A.?
B: Just their equivalent of muggings and petty thefts, I suppose.


A: You'd think the government would do something about it. Make impersonation of a creature from folklore or the horror genre for personal gain a federal offence.
B: You would, wouldn't you?
A: I wonder why they don't?


B: Pressure from the Trick or Treat lobby, I guess.

08 August 2008

Bat Mehen

This week, for reasons of paranomasia and other forms of borderline insanity, I've been mainly writing puns about Egyptian gods. (I'll explain later...) If you feel I should have been writing about vampires instead, well, I'm not disagreeing.

Apologies again to those of you who've already seen this on one mailing list or another, but the only way to keep this blog going while I'm quite so busy is to run "The Best of PPH" while I'm on sabbatical. So...

I saw The Dark Knight on Wednesday. I thought it was great -- very enjoyable, with some brilliant acting. Some spoilers follow...

I didn't believe for a moment that they'd killed Jim Gordon. But at least it provided an opportunity to quote Brian Blessed.

Heath Ledger is, obviously, brilliant, playing the Joker as a shambling, demented individual with no social skills. He somehow manages to have tremendous charisma without any charm whatsoever, and makes the atrocities he sees as practical jokes seem like a convincing, almost rational response to the world around him. It's a more impressive performance than Jack Nicholson's, and that's not to denigrate the former. Where Nicholson's Joker made hideous things seem funny, Ledger's never lets you forget that they're hideous. But also funny. But hideous.

I've no quarrel with anyone else's acting, mind you, but even before his death it was always going to be Ledger who stole the show. I spent ages trying to remember who Maggie Gyllenhaal was, and why I didn't remember her from the first film.

The plot, however, goes somewhat to cock in the last third, with the Joker and Harvey Dent both spiralling out of control in different directions simultaneously. The film feels overlong, and really everything after the Joker escapes, maims Dent and kills Rachel could have been a 20-minute coda focussing on the Joker, with the Dent's revenge plot held in reserve for a future film.

Given the screentime the scarred Dent got, though, I was disappointed that more wasn't done with his duality as Two-Face. Admittedly this would also have been difficult to handle without disappearing into the realms of comic-strip psychology, but if they were going to put Two-Face into a realistic reimagining of Batman (and let's face it, Batman Begins is the most realistic film that could conceivably be made about a billionaire dressing up as a giant bat to fight a league of assassins and a drug-dealing psychiatrist with a bag over his head), I feel they ought to have done it properly.

Of course this isn't helped at all by the fact that Two-Face looks nothing like a horrifically scarred burn victim and everything like a genre movie special-effect, thus demolishing the carefully-constructed edifice of a realistic Gotham City where the villains really are tragically insane people, rather than cartoon characters. Gah.

Generally though, bloody good film. I could just have done with editing out most of the post-Two-Face Dent stuff and keeping it -- with entirely different design work -- for the next film.

(As it is, I'm wondering who they will have as the villain, assuming there is a third film. Two-Face is dead within the fiction, and they couldn't possibly recast Ledger's Joker. Catwoman's been ruined too comprehensively within recent memory by Halle Berry, and most of the other well-known Batman villains head off into the realm of the fantastical or obviously ludicrous. I'm wondering if the Mad Hatter could possibly work...)

22 July 2008

Nobody Calls Me Mezzo

Apologies to those of you who share a mailing list with me and saw this yesterday. I'm widening out the consultation.

For the past few years, every time I'd started worrying that I was coming to an end of the list of post-1990 TV which I could persuade B. to watch episode-by-episode and which we'd both be interested in, I'd been comforting myself with the fact that neither of us had ever seen an episode of The Sopranos, the groundbreaking series (and studio stablemate of the damn near perfect Six Feet Under) widely acclaimed as the best TV show of the past 10 years.

We've now watched a season and a half of it, and can't honestly see what I'm supposed to like.

For a start, I don't care about any of the characters -- except, rarely, a couple of the women. When watching drama I'm able sympathise with well-characterised villains, and with complex morally ambivalent characters, and with heroes who are forced to do terrible things in the name of a greater good -- but the characters in The Sopranos perform atrocities routinely, banally, as part of their daily grind. That's just... repellent. It's like watching a soap opera about concentration camp guards.

The macho face-saving culture to which the men all subscribe (where it's apparently shameful to admit to -- among other things -- receiving counselling, having a relative with a learning disability, performing cunnilingus, forgiving anyone for anything ever) is one with which I simply can't have the slightest sympathy. If this was a drama set in, say, imperial China then I'd be able to accept it as a given of the characters' subjective world, but this is, for God's sake, about 21st-century Americans. I keep wanting to slap them in the face repeatedly until they grow up.

I honestly can't imagine why I'm meant to care whether a single one of them lives or dies, but the fact that all the non-gangster characters -- and even the news programmes we see -- find these people endlessly fascinating strongly suggests that the writers are assuming the opposite is true.

The psychiatry aspect of the show is occasionally borderline-interesting (and Dr Melfi is one of the few characters for whom I occasionally feel a twinge of sympathy, when she's not too obviously hero-worshipping Tony), but it's so bound up in the aforementioned idiotic social assumptions, plus obscure U.S. pop-culture references, that half the itme I have no idea what it's getting at.

In the last episode I saw, Tony's therapy sessions kept referring to some ancient pop-folk song I'd never heard of, as some kind of keystone against which Tony judged himself and other people. It was never made clear what the significance of this, for him or for anyone else, might be. At the end of the episode something mildly unexpected happened, and the song played portentously over the end credits. It was like trying to decode a transmission from Tau Ceti.

As a piece of anthropological observation, the show may well have something to be said for it, although I wouldn't want to watch two episodes of it, let along 86. As it is, I'm too busy trying to get a handle on the anthropology to penetrate to the actual drama.

My imminent brother-in-law (according to definition 2b in Merriam-Webster, anyway), who works in TV and knows about this kind of thing, tells us that we need to watch the first three seasons before we give up on it. Honestly, though, I'm not sure I can summon up the stamina.

What am I missing? Does it get better, or will I never like it if I haven't yet?

Am I being racist (for U.S. definitions of "race", since as far as I'm concerned Italians are the same ethnicity I am) in assuming that Italian-American men should be capable of the same degree of moral, emotional and intellectual development as everyone else?

Am I broken inside, or is this the most appallingly overrated television series since the invention of the medium?

I'd welcome your thoughts...

Planet Carefully

My latest column, about solar and planetary religion, is now up at Surefish.

Reading it back, I'm startled by how incoherent it is. At the time I could have sworn I was more or less making sense. Sorry about that...

19 July 2008

Dr Acula, Ph.D.

The reason it's been three weeks since I last updated this blog thing is that I've been up to my throat in writing this vampire novella, the day job's been really busy and B. and I have been away every weekend and faffing about with stuff most evenings. Some of these are perfectly pleasant things in themselves, but taken together they've tended to engender a large amount of stress and busytude.

Life's been so hectic recently I've barely had time to update my Facebook status, let alone write a blog post. Sadly, B. and I have had to turn down a party in London tonight as being just that one thing too many for the maintenance of sanity.

The novella's coming along nicely, though, you'll be pleased to hear -- I now have around two-thirds of it written, at a little over 20,000 words.

I realise that I've not said much about Professor Bernice Summerfield and the Vampire's Curse here, except to praise my co-authors and to drone on about writing the thing. At this stage I know little of Mags' and Kelly's stories, and they're not mine to talk about anyway. My third of the book (originally entitled The Predator Principle, which proved to be rubbish, and now called, still rather tentatively, Predating the Predators) is about the First Interdisciplinary Conference on Vampirology, which is first infiltrated and then gatecrashed by a coven of vampires.

It's a blending of genres -- as a vampire novella, it's obviously a horror story, and as the umbrella title suggests it has a certain schlocky Hammer vibe. I also decided to go for the authentic Gothic flavour of Dracula and its ilk, by building the narrative out of letters, journal entries and excerpts from secondary documents. It's also inevitably a campus novel[la], and equally inevitably (given that it's part of the Bernice Summerfield range) it's S.F., taking place in Benny's space-operatic galactic milieu.

Being me, I felt that those weren't really enough genre referents, so I've also introduced a Jesuit priest wrestling with an apparently intractable theological problem on a remote planet, thus tying nicely in with the rarefied but venerable S.F. subgenre of "Jesuit priest wrestling with an apparently intractable theological problem on a remote planet" stories[1]. In a revolutionary twist, mine's called Imogen.

In short, it's an allegorical-epistolary-gothic-horror-pastiche-campus-space-opera -- not quite on the scale of a a detective-ghost-horror-whodunnit-time-travel-romantic-musical-comedy-epic, but not bad at only a little over 30,000 words.

I've also written my monthly column for Surefish, gone on a training course which may entitle me to do some Thought for the Day slots on BBC Radio Bristol, and am now working on a short piece for a kind of collaboration which is altogether new for me, though sadly neither earth-shakingly high-profile or notably paid (come back in late August for more on this).

Coincidentally, it's about something vampires are afraid of, although admittedly there seem to be quite a lot of objects that applies to.

[1] S.F. novices who feel disinclined to believe in this as a bona fide subgenre may wish to investigate Anthony Boucher's "Balaam", Arthur C. Clarke's "The Star", James Blish's A Case of Conscience, Philip José Farmer's Father John Carmody stories, the 80-page segment "The Priest's Tale" in Dan Simmons' Hyperion and Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow and Children of God. S.F. initiates who can spot any I've missed should feel free to chip in.

26 June 2008


Ah. My latest column's up at Surefish. It's a bit meandery and mentions vampires, which accurately reflects my state of mind recently.

A point of discussion which you may find it interesting to comment on here:
I sometimes try to imagine a scientific discovery which would persuade me that my faith was spurious. As yet I’ve come up with nothing.
What do we (and by "we" I mean "you", given that I wrote it) think of this? If you have a religious faith, can you think of a potential scientific revelation about the universe which would convince you to become an atheist? If you're an atheist, what revelations (actual or hypothetical) do you think should so persuade me?

Or do you think the question's a meaningless one?

25 June 2008


With apologies for the delay, here are the actual answers to last week's pop quiz:
1. "I have a dream, a song to sing to help me cope with anything."
     ABBA, "I Have a Dream" (Gold)
2. "I returned a bag of groceries, accidentally taken off the shelf before the expiration date."
     They Might Be Giants, "Dead" (Flood)
3. "Here I stand, looking out to sea, where a thousand souls have prayed and a thousand lives were laid on the sand."
     Iona, "Here I Stand" (Iona)
4. "Robin, the hooded man."
     Clannad, "Robin (the Hooded Man)", (The Collection)
5. "One, two three four... Oo-ooh, oo-ooh..."
     Queen, "Innuendo" (Innuendo)
6. "Life's a bitch then you die, black Hell."
     The Pogues, "Hell's Ditch" (The Rest of the Best)
7. "My life goes on in endless song..."
     Enya, "How Can I Keep from Singing?" (Shepherd Moons)
8. "Yo; el otoño. Yo; el vespero."
     Enya, "La Soñadora" (The Memory of Trees)
9. "Well, I was born an original sinner..."
     Eurythmics, "Missionary Man" (The Ultimate Collection)
10. "It was upon a Lammas Night, when corn rigs are bonny..."
     Magnet, "Corn Rigs" (The Wicker Man soundtrack album)
11. "Eurus, Afer Ventus..."
     Enya, "Caribbean Blue" (Shepherd Moons)
12. "If you change your mind, I'm the first in line..."
     ABBA, "Take a Chance on Me" (Gold)
13. "Much has been been said of the strumpets of yore..."
     Magnet, "The Landlord's Daughter" (The Wicker Man)
14. "He's a hypnotist, hypnotist of ladies."
     They Might Be Giants, "Hypnotist of Ladies" (Apollo 18)
15. "I work all night, I work all day to pay the bills I have to pay..."
     ABBA, "Money, Money, Money" (Gold)
16. "Toe to toe, dancing very slow..."
     Blondie, "Rapture" (Atomic: The Very Best of Blondie)
17. "What is there left for me to do in this life?"
     Queen, "Was It All Worth It" (The Miracle)
18. "When the ship runs out of ocean and the vessel runs aground..."
     They Might Be Giants, "Women and Men" (Flood)
19. "Why is the world in love again?"
     They Might Be Giants, "Theme From Flood" (Flood)
20. "Another red-letter day..."
     Queen, "Friends Will Be Friends" (A Kind of Magic)
21. "Bright the light through my windowpane. Shield my eyes from the beam."
     Audience, "I Had a Dream" (Life on Mars soundtrack)
22. "Monday finds you like a bomb that's been left ticking there too long..."
     Eurythmics, "I Saved the World Today" (Peace)
23. "I spy a boy, I spy a girl..."
     Pulp, "I Spy" (Different Class)
24. "Wasted youth! Wasted youth!"
     Meat Loaf, "Everything Louder than Everything Else" (Bat Out of Hell 2)
25. "Tell me that you've got everything you want, and your bird can sing..."
     The Beatles, "And Your Bird Can Sing" (Revolver)
...hence my embarrassment.

Minimal Kudos Points go to Not Invented Here for identifying 3., 4. and 7. and (implicit in her very correct diagnosis of "way too much ABBA") 1., 12. and 15.. Matthew (I'm not entirely sure which one) identified 10. and 13., Jon Dennis 9., 14., 23. and 25., Pete 2. and 24.(sort of), 19. and 20., Rebecca 11.. Simon BJ implied he knew what 5. was, but wasn't saying.

I conclude that you're all incredibly ignorant about The Pogues and Blondie, and are becoming regrettably lax regarding the works of Queen.

For the record, I'm ashamed of the Enya and the Abba, and wish the Walkman had picked a less banal Clannad track. And something from the two discs full of The Pet Shop Boys.

And more Beatles, obviously. Nothing confers musical respectability like a Beatle.

19 June 2008

Patagonia of Tiny Feet

OK. I'm not going to make a habit of this, you understand, but while I'm slavishly copying other people's ideas, Simon Guerrier has rather eccentrically requested me to select an S.F. book of my choice, turn to p123 and record the fifth sentence here.

Predictably perhaps, but also because I can reach it without getting up, I've chosen Olaf Stapledon's Last and First Men, which says:
"It became the party's most sacred object, for it kindled in every mind the strong parental disposition so characteristic of Patagonians."
So there you go -- Patagonians like having babies. You heard it here first, unless of course you've read Last and First Men at any point during the past 78 years.

Because I don't really do "memes", I'm not going to oblige anybody to continue this. If you think it would be fun, feel free to link to this post and say I told you to.

I'm still trying to write vampires today, although I've also sent off another Surefish column. As usual I'll mention here when it's been put up.

I'd normally be writing tomorrow as well, but I seem to be obliged to turn up here and learn to cook tapas instead. Saturday I'll be attending festive Midsummer nuptials in Oxford, which will be fun.

18 June 2008

Mi Mi Mi

I'm suspicious, frankly, of my Walkman's ability to select songs with anything resembling actual randomness.

Usually I'm too much of a control-freak to listen to music on shuffle mode in case a song I don't like comes up (although as you'd probably expect I'll listen to such songs all the way through if they come up in the correct play order on an album, because skipping them would be wrong).

On my way home from work today, though, it occurred to me that I had no strong feelings about what I wanted to listen to. Then I realised that, if I shuffled the contents of my Walkman, I could use the experience to generate a spurious blog post in the manner of those LiveJournal <air-quote> memes </air-quote> where the poster posts the lyrics of the first 25 songs selected randomly from their playlist, and their friends try to outcool them in the comments by identifying all the songs in question and sneering politely at them all. Given how little work this would be, and how much I've been neglecting this blog lately, this seemed appealing.

Admittedly my Walkman's memory, while not remotely approaching the trenditude of the LiveJournalling community, is somewhat catholic in scope, and in order to pick tracks with actual lyrics I had to skip past various instrumental pieces, Karl Jenkins's ravishingly beautiful but untranscribable choral gibberish, scenes from lost black-and-white Doctor Who stories released by the BBC on CDs with idiotically intricate indexing (just one of the five-disc The Daleks' Master Plan set contains 76 tracks), one of the quotes on the Life on Mars soundtrack album and that bit on Made in Heaven where Freddie Mercury says "Yeah".

Even so, the resulting edited list shows a disturbingly heavy bias towards the stuff which even I'd admit to being embarrassed about liking, rather than the stuff which was, at least, pretty damn cool during the late '80s. It also contains two separate instances of three songs coming from the same album. Some of the entries appear to have been carefully selected for their crashing obviousness.

Minimal amounts of kudos, therefore to those who guess artist, title and the album I found the song on (not always the one it was originally issued on).
1. "I have a dream, a song to sing to help me cope with anything."
2. "I returned a bag of groceries, accidentally taken off the shelf before the expiration date."
3. "Here I stand, looking out to sea, where a thousand souls have prayed and a thousand lives were laid on the sand."
4. "Robin, the hooded man."
5. "One, two three four... Oo-ooh, oo-ooh..."
6. "Life's a bitch then you die, black Hell."
7. "My life goes on in endless song..."
8. "Yo; el otoño. Yo; el vespero."
9. "Well, I was born an original sinner..."
10. "It was upon a Lammas Night, when corn rigs are bonny..."
11. "Eurus, Afer Ventus..."
12. "If you change your mind, I'm the first in line..."
13. "Much has been been said of the strumpets of yore, of wenches and bawdy-house queens by the score..."
14. "He's a hypnotist, hypnotist of ladies."
15. "I work all night, I work all day to pay the bills I have to pay..."
16. "Toe to toe, dancing very slow..."
17. "What is there left for me to do in this life?"
18. "When the ship runs out of ocean and the vessel runs aground..."
19. "Why is the world in love again?"
20. "Another red-letter day..."
21. "Bright the light through my windowpane. Shield my eyes from the beam."
22. "Monday finds you like a bomb that's been left ticking there too long..."
23. "I spy a boy, I spy a girl..."
24. "Wasted youth! Wasted youth!"
25. "Tell me that you've got everything you want, and your bird can sing..."
I imagine all of these can be guessed by at least some of my readership without illicit googling. My tastes may be eclectic, but they're hardly original.