29 January 2010

A Bunch of Five Four

1. Today I'm trying to finish my working synopsis for the prospective novel I was calling The Arrow and the Circle, and have now renamed (under what may be the too obvious influence of Christopher Priest) The Devices. Once I know what the shape the plot takes, writing a 120,000-or-so-word novel in which it all happens should be, er, simplicity itself.

This clearly calls for diligent application and undivided concentration on my part. Hence this blog post.

2. I've managed to keep @trapphic, my Twitter account for microfiction, going at a steady rate since reviving it for the New Year. For those who can't be bothered to join Twitter (and you're not missing a huge amount, unless you're the kind of person who's desperate to be informed whenever Stephen Fry scratches his right ear), I've appended more stories to the already lengthy back-catalogue on my website. I'm quite pleased with some of them -- the Quaestor's tale[1] in particular is one I'd like to revisit at greater length.

Being an enormous narcissist, I'm always interested to see (either from comments on Twitter itself or, more commonly, after reproducing the stories on Facebook) which of the stories receive most approval from readers. Some of the ones I've been most pleased with turn out to be overly complicated, the way they hang together neatly in my head failing to reproduce itself in anybody else's. (This failure is, naturally, mine entirely as the person trying to communicate the ideas in question.) I was, for instance, much more impressed with my own account of an alternative history of Vikings and Egyptians on Mars, recounted in Anglo-Saxon alliterative verse, than anybody else seems to have been[2], while what I thought was a throwaway metafictional joke turned out to be the most popular story I've posted yet[3].

3. A couple of weekends ago B., R. and I made the trip to London, to attend both a friend's birthday party and the British Museum's Moctezuma: Aztec Ruler exhibition, which closed last Sunday. We'd been intending to visit the latter back in December, but the difficulties of reliably transporting a baby 100 miles in a car intervened. This time, through careful booking of advance train tickets and two nights in a rather good hotel, the whole enterprise became substantially more feasible.

The exhibition was impressive, although limited by the failure of many Mexica artifacts to survive the Spanish Conquista. The sophistication and variety of what was on display was a strong reminder of the complexity of the Aztec civilisation and its occupied territories, as well as of the relativity of human cultural values. Despite their ability to make a simple carving of a bunny rabbit look terrifying, there was evidently nothing special about the Mexica that was "savage", "primitive" or "inhuman". And yet they built a culture around ripping the hearts out of living victims in numbers that ran into at least the hundreds of thousands. It's a conundrum which is difficult to get one's head around (and has produced two extremely good, though very different, Doctor Who stories). The exhibition naturally offered no glib answers, but seeing items which were routinely used by the people in question helped to make the abstract question considerably more concrete.

I was amused by the exhibition's use of the term "deity impersonator", which made what I assume was a fairly straightforward sacramental role sound like an exotic drag act.

(The party was also lovely, and R. extremely popular at it -- although we had of course to leave for our hotel bed, and his cot, relatively early. We also managed to meet up with one of his godfathers on the morning of the Sunday, which was nice.)

4. In "Prose I Didn't Write" news, I've recently managed to finish two more books: The Corner by David Simon and Edward Burns, and Transition by Iain "Look, no M!" Banks. I want to say more about both of them soon, but... well, I really ought to be getting on with writing that thing of my own. I'm now reading The Panda Book of Horror, Obverse Books' follow-up to last year's Iris Wildthyme and the Celestial Omnibus which I bored you all about at the time.

5. [Edit: See separate post above.]

[1] Within the reservation my badge meant nothing. The tribal authorities ran the show. ‘You’re on Catuvellauni land now, Quaestor,’ I muttered.

[2] Our sky-craft’s snake-prow glints proudly / As we stand sturdy on Tiw’s red world. / Bronze bowmen hail us, bragging of Horus. / We fight...

[3] ‘Once I’d had the idea, the book wrote itself. After our creative differences and arguments about royalties, it erased itself out of spite.’


  1. I liked the 'Vikings and Egyptians on Mars' concept the best, but I rarely comment on Twitter or Facebook unless I feel I can add value. All of which is to say 1) you shouldn't rely too much on social media feedback, and 2) if the Mars story turns into something bigger you have one customer.

    John H

  2. Helen8:38 pm

    I was intrigued by Vikings and Egyptians on Mars, but it needs a more expanded format to work, I think.

    I'm fascinated to know what you made of Transistions: I liked it, but found it a little incoherent - I got the impression there were all these different ideas he wanted to put into a novel, so he threw them all into the same one - and there were bits I didn't really get (like the dolls in the abuse aftermath scene - what was all that about?)

  3. Helen8:40 pm

    ...although (re Vikings/Egyptians) I really liked the verse format.

  4. Do you remember my Triffids vs Ice Warrior poems? I like yours too.

    Simon BJ

  5. I remember liking it / them, I think. (And I generally like your stuff very much, so it seems likely.) I can't actually track down where they were now, though.


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