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...)