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...