29 April 2009

It's not the holy water, it's the font you put it in

It's been a little while coming, but The Vampire Curse has been reviewed at Sci-Fi Online.

Unlike last year's review of Nobody's Children, Richard McGinlay's opted to give the three novellas separate mini-reviews. He gives poor Kelly Hale (whose novella Possum Kingdom is for my money the best of the three) short shrift, but at least he likes Predating the Predators:
These are well-rounded and compelling protagonists, whose writings we want to read more of. Similarly intriguing is the elderly Bernice, whom we witness through the chroniclers' eyes. Philip Purser-Hallard captures the aged Bernice well, rendering a believably crotchety yet recognisable version of the character we know.
It’s my favourite story in this collection, and not just because of the accuracy of its typesetting.
It's always a morale boost to get good reviews, even when they do display an odd preoccupation with typography.

23 April 2009

Patient Iris

The 21st century isn't getting any less confusing. I'm beginning to lose track of the permutations of feeds between Twitter, Facebook, here and my website. I'm worried I'll start clicking through to check they're all working and get stuck in a never-ending loop. Ah well.

In less baffling news, I'm told that Iris Wildthyme and the Celestial Omnibus is now at the printers for publication in May, and copies are available to pre-order. Just go to the Obverse Books website and click on the Panda. After all Stuart and Paul's hard work, it's all looking rather marvellous.

140 Characters in Search of an Author

During an idle moment in Tuesday's lunch hour I created a second Twitter account, cleverly named "trapphic ", as a conduit for the 140-character microfictions I've been posting there occasionally. By 2:30 it had been picked up and recommended by Dave Gorman (the famous one, that is), and by the time I left work it had over 100 readers.

(The presence of celebrities in Twitter is strange and confusing, partly because of the possibility of sudden unexpected celebrity endorsements, but also because I haven't a clue who many of them are meant to be. I'm lucky Dave Gorman was someone I'd heard of, really, or I'd have been completely mystified)

The uptake rate has died down a bit since -- it's currently at 122 -- but I'm feeling the pressure to keep them entertained.

Rather than treating the 140-character limit imposed on tweets as a maximum, I've been pretending it's an absolute, and working precisely to that length. The resulting form is an odd one, because it often means exchanging a word or phrase that works perfectly for a slightly less sparkling one which fits the count. (Of course it's possible to fudge this to some extent by fiddling with the punctuation. Names are also useful, because you can always change them if they're a few letters too long or short.) Occasionally, though, the space will unexpectedly open up for an additional adjective (say) which finishes the whole thing off perfectly. It all tends to confirm the Oulipian principle of creative inspiration through willingly accepted constraints.

Being a perfectionist tinkerer, I'm finding the impossibility of going back and editing my tweets frustrating. It's all useful discipline, though.

More generally, it strikes me that the very short story, rather than being the haiku of the prose world, is rather like a cartoon caption without a picture. The trick is to give just enough information that the reader constructs their own mental image, thus completing the story. My favourite of the ones I've posted so far runs:
‘It’s true,’ Alice conceded. ‘I can climb from a room into its mirror image. But however would my ability be useful to this Dr Van Helsing?’
This requires the reader, having recognised this as an Alice in Wonderland / Dracula crossover, to follow through on the logic and complete the story. The actual punchline lies in the answer to Alice's question, some distance beyond the words themselves.

In a rather delayed response to my sudden following, I've updated my website with a shiny new microfiction page, and a fresher, cleaner design for the front page and some of its subsidiaries. (Aside from the rotating quotes at the top, the design isn't substantially changed from the six-year-old version, but the fonts and colours look a bit more modern. Well, I hope.) The whole site still needs a comprehensive overhaul, but I'm unlikely to manage that any time soon.

I wanted to put a feed from trapphic in here as well, but it doesn't seem as if Blogger allows the existence of more than one Twitter feed on a page (or if it does I'm too dense to work out how to juggle the code). Since this is, when all's said and done, a blog, I've kept the feed from the purserhallard account and included a trapphic feed on the microfiction page. I may fiddle with the template on the right there to link to that.

21 April 2009

The Condition of Moo

The twenty-first century to date has been very odd. The day before yesterday I was sitting in a Lebanese restaurant in Soho listening to someone in California playing "Yesterday" on a pretend ocarina. The Californian ocarinist (who was surprisingly competent, given the instrument they were working with) remained serenely unaware of my existence.

The day before I'd seen another iPhone simulation, this time of one of those plastic cylinders you get with a picture of a cow on them, and if you turn them upside down they go "moo". (The phone has a picture of a cow on the screen. When you turn it upside-down, it goes "moo".)

If nothing else, this demonstrates effectively that science fiction's function isn't predictive. As I said to the friend whose phone the second one was, any aspiring Grubgecks who'd tried to put this in an SF story 50 years ago would have been told by their editor to take it out because it was far too silly.

15 April 2009

Lack of Brain Error

I feel completely zonked. Every time I try to do something (update this blog with anything of substance, for example) I end up sitting and staring into space and / or my screen, and vibrating gently from side to side. It's a good thing we're about to go on holiday for four days, really.

Well, it would be if I could summon the energy to pack.

I have now -- finally, eventually and at both length and last -- reached the end of Blue Mars, and thus Kim Stanley Robinson's United Colours of Mars trilogy, which I've been reading on and off for nearly nine months since I starting it at Greenbelt last year.

It's... long. God, it's long. Hopefully I'll have the mental capacity to supplement that with some qualitative discussion sometime soon.

This isn't the sole reason for my mental incapacity, of course -- that seems to be primarily down to tiredness and overwork. Never mind, I'm sure everything will calm down once the baby arrives...

04 April 2009

Undermining Banks

There's a lovely (although perhaps inadvertently) double-edged compliment in the Wikipedia entry on Iain Banks's Raw Spirit:
Banks has said he felt more relaxed when writing this book; critics have said that this comes across on reading it.
I did enjoy Raw Spirit, but it reads more like a bunch of rather rambling letters to one of Banks's friends than something he's actually put effort into writing, let alone been given money for.

03 April 2009


[Three teenage boys are sitting in the shelter on a railway platform, possibly waiting for a train.]

TEEN 1: His dad was President before, yeah? Like twenty years ago or something.
TEEN 2: [Texting assiduously] Yeah?
TEEN 1: You know the first war in Iraq, yeah? That was George Bush's dad. Then he sent his son in to finish it.
TEEN 3: What war?
TEEN 1: There was this other war in Iraq, like twenty years ago. When George Bush's dad was President. You seen that film Three Kings, yeah? Where they steal Saddam Hussein's gold? With Ice Cube and... what's his name?
TEEN 3: George Clooney.
TEEN 1: Yeah, and Mark Wahlberg. Marky Mark.
TEEN 3: Who?
TEEN 1: Mark Wahlberg. He used to be a rapper, yeah? Marky Mark.
TEEN 3: Mark Wahlberg used to be a rapper?
TEEN 1: Yeah. You heard of Marky Mark, yeah? That was Mark Wahlberg.
TEEN 3: Yeah?
TEEN 1: Yeah. He grew up in the 'hood in, like, Boston or somewhere.
TEEN 2: Who did?
TEEN 1: Mark Wahlberg. He used to be that rapper Marky Mark, like twenty years ago.
TEEN 2: Mark Wahlberg?

02 April 2009


I finally succumbed to peer pressure and adopted Twitter a little over a month ago. (And yes, if all my friends jumped off a cliff I'd probably do it too. I'd miss them.)

Since then I seem to have posted there 83 times (84 including one I removed, which ill-advisedly commented on... ah, er, never mind). Assuming the code I cutandpasted has done its job properly, you should be able to view a selection of my recent wisdom imparted through the Twitter medium in the sidebar over to your right. (No, about a screenful from the top. That's right, there.)

[Edit to add: Oh, hang on -- not if you're reading the page for this individual post rather than the Peculiar Times homepage. Which you will be, if you followed my link from Twitter. Try here.]

I'm not going to start tediously repeating what others have said about the differences between Twittering and blogging -- suffice it to say that it is a different, and still reasonably novel, way to organise one's thoughts which is a lot more reactive and context-based. When it's used properly it can also help those stray ideas which wander across one's mind avoid becoming irretrievably lost in the spongy crenellations of undergrowth.

It's also a pretty good way to keep in touch with anyone else who spends most of the day parked in front of a screen, without it interfering too much with one's work. It's also handy for breaking news (although note the inevitable date on that article), and... oh, all sorts of stuff. At its best it's a little like being immersed in a direct-brain-fed gestalt stream-of-consciousness of the kind I imagine our grandchildren participating in almost constantly while they're awake. Provided such a thing supplements individuality (blogging in this restricted instance) rather than completely subsuming it, it has its interest and value.

Admittedly I'm making an effort to follow contentful stuff like daily crossword clues, microfiction and even microbiography rather than all the celebrity cigarette-break guff. (It's true that celebrities can occasionally be spontaneous and interesting -- but their interesting moments tend not to be spontaneous, and the converse applies.) I'm also trying hard not to be tugged into the tweeness of the jargon (whereby "tweeness", for instance, would have to mean the Twitter equivalent of a penis, because it begins with "tw" and rhymes).

...OK, so perhaps I am going to tediously repeat what others have said about the differences between Twittering and blogging. Sorry about that.

Anyway. Some of the stuff you've missed (assuming you're not reading them already on Twitter or Facebook) follows. There's probably a high-tech way to reveal them here, but I'm going to stick with what I know and cutandpaste them instead.

Microfiction (140 characters, to fit the post limit perfectly, seems to be the preferred form):
purserhallard To cheat death, Dr Ebbinghaus slowed time to an asymptotic standstill. Nobody experienced anything ever again, but at least they were alive.
11:29 AM Mar 27th from web

purserhallard Celebrity Exorcism: St Patrick vs Glycon! #sixwordstory
12:42 PM Mar 17th from web

purserhallard Diurnal amnesia is common in incipient lycanthropy. Some women learn of the condition only when an ultrasound scan reveals a litter of cubs.
10:19 AM Mar 17th from web

purserhallard "Eternal life, somatic control – they needed to rebel somehow. Odd though, the young hobbling down the streets, wrinkled and silver-haired."
9:00 AM Mar 16th from web
A handful of random pieces of what one might charitably call microcriticism:
purserhallard Actually: everyone, I love The Wire. Its humanity, empathy and rage at an obscene world make it everything The Sopranos should be and isn't.
6:51 AM Apr 1st from web

purserhallard ponders the eschatology of Desperate Housewives.
10:22 AM Mar 21st from web

purserhallard Modern art, n. Term used by lazy, unoriginal people as a byword for laziness and lack of originality.
9:53 PM Mar 19th from web

purserhallard thinks Carnacki the Ghost-Finder is more like Bagpuss than Scooby Doo. When he goes to sleep, all his friends go to sleep too.
10:30 AM Mar 5th from web
purserhallard resists the temptation to add "Abraham van Hesling" and "Buffy Summers" to the list of stakeholders.
11:41 AM Mar 23rd from web

purserhallard Tachycardia, n. Medical term for overexposure to Hallmark products.
9:30 AM Mar 9th from web
And a crossword clue:
purserhallard , in self-directed anger, betrays fellow agent with steel (8).
5:56 PM Mar 31st from web
Most of those are the kind of random rubbish I wouldn't dream of posting here -- which makes Twitter, where the scrutiny's less intense, the ideal repository for them.