November 2010 Archives

November 30, 2010

The City & The City - China Miéville

The City & The City is the first China Miéville book I've read, the previous urban fantasy new weird stuff didn't appeal to me (although, yes, everyone says they are awesome), and it felt like a good place to start seeing as it's won a bucket full of awards and is described as the most Science Fictional of his novels. Unless you listen to China, who says it's a crime novel.

And the start of the novel is a crime novel, but it has a dark sheen that feels Science Fictional, in the way that the Sprawl feels Science Fictional. The true Science Fictional nature of the story is revealed slowly, which is one of the joys of this novel. Slowly, slowly the world is revealed as the plot unfolds. It's great fun to realise what's going on and guess what will happen.

That is perhaps the big criticism of this novel, the idea at the centre of it overwhelms the plot. And it's a wonderful, brilliant idea. An idea that lingers and lingers. Days after finishing the book I was still thinking in terms of "unseeing" things. That's not to say the plot isn't any good, because it kept me hooked and it builds to a very clever crescendo. There are plenty of twists and blind turns and sleight of hand. At times it's the sort of plot in which you realise that none of the characters really know what is happening.

I'm being deliberately vague about the plot and the ideas, as I enjoyed discovering it all so much for myself and don't want to spoil it, but I recommend it highly. I'm going to label it Science Fiction for the wonder of its brilliant central idea, but if you like crime stories you'll probably enjoy it too.

November 25, 2010

Star Wars Leia Merchandise Gets Even Worse

The Star Wars shop is full of tat. They keep emailing me about it. But the tat keeps getting worse. Especially the Leia, Slave girl stuff.

I know they’re aiming for middle-aged geeks who fell in love with Princess Leia when they were young, but isn’t this iPhone case going a bit far?

And then you get a pen that changes from Leia in white dress to Leia in slave girl outfit. Like one of those cheap naked women pens.

You can either laugh, be offended or drool. Personally I’m a bit bemused, when did Star Wars become a licence to sell crap like this?

November 20, 2010

The Matrix + Quantum Leap + Groundhog Day = Source Code = Awesome

The new film due from Duncan Jones (who made the brilliant Moon) is called Source Code and the trailer is out, and embedded below. It looks like an awesome mix of The Matrix, Quantum Leap and Groundhog Day. Can’t wait until March when it’s released.

November 19, 2010

The Windup Girl Finally Gets A UK Release

Up until now the fabulous The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi (review) has been only available officially in the US, published by Night Shade Books. What this has meant is that anyone in the UK who wanted to read it (like me) had to buy the US version. The availability was not too bad, I got mine from Amazon, and the price was not too bad, a few quid more than normal. However it did mean that it couldn’t be nominated for, let alone win, any UK based awards, such as the BSFA Award or The Clarke Award.

All of that is about to change as on 2nd December 2010 Orbit will publish a UK version of The Windup Girl. Hurrah! It’s available in paperback, audio edition or on the Kindle.

November 17, 2010

Cowboys And Aliens. Rubbish Title, Good Poster, Good Cast

From the title Cowboys & Aliens sounds a bit dodgy, but firstly look at this poster:

Then look at the cast: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford and Sam Rockwell.

Then look at the co-writer: Damon Lindelof.

Then read the summary: In Silver City, Arizona, Apache Indians and Western settlers must lay their differences aside when an alien spaceship crash lands in their city.

Now tell me you don’t want to see it.

November 16, 2010

The eBook Haters Meme

Over at SF Signal, John posted a set of questions about eBooks, for people who aren’t keen on eBooks. If you’ve been listening to Wordpunk you’ll know that I’m not the greatest fan, so I thought I’d try and spell out why, using the questions as my framework:

Have you ever tried reading an eBook?


If so, on what device?

I’ve read a book on a Nokia 6230 which is not recommended, the screen is tiny and the experience is terrible. I’ve also read portions of eBooks on laptops, but generally I end up printing them out to finish them. I’ve tried out in shops various E-Ink readers and was unimpressed with the display and the refresh. I’ve read web pages on an iPad, I couldn’t imagine reading a book on it. No, I haven’t read anything on a Kindle.

What's your single main reason for not reading eBooks?

An inferior reading experience to proper books. I spend all day at work staring at a computer screen, the last thing I want to do is read another screen in the morning or evening. Reading from paper is relaxing. Plus the form of a paperback book is far superior to current eBook readers, they’re small, portable, zero-boot time, you can drop them on the floor, put mugs of tea on top, generally not care about their safety, flick back and forwards etc. etc.

Are there any other reasons you don't usually read eBooks?

Cost, both of buying an eBook reader device and of buying the actual eBooks. Instead of buying a Kindle I can buy at least twenty paperback books.

What would it take to get you to read eBooks?

A good reason. If eBooks are as expensive as paperbacks, or sometimes more expensive, and if the reading experience is, in my opinion, inferior, why would I? The often quoted reason is that you can carry lots of books around with you. For music I can understand that, on average a song lasts four minutes, you need a few to keep you listening for a while. But a book? On holiday I might finish a book in a week, but usually it takes longer. I don’t need to carry lots of books around with me.

What do you think is a fair price for an eBook?

Less than a paperback. I’ll probably regret saying that when my first novel is published, but as a consumer I don’t see why I should pay more when I get less physical stuff. Yes, yes, I know all the arguments about production costs, marketing, on and on. That argument played out in the music business a while ago, and the result is that the price of a digital album needs to be less than that of a physical CD. Same for books. Arguing the point is delaying the inevitable.

November 15, 2010

Stormtrooper Guitar

Via Guitar Noize: it's a stormtrooper head guitar!

November 11, 2010

Another Outcasts Picture

The BBC have some extended information on the new drama Outcasts, which is sounding better each time I hear about it. As a reminder, it’s a Science Fiction programme from the production team behind Spooks and Hustle, which means it should be great. Still no news of when it will be broadcast.

We meet our characters at a moment of incredible anticipation, they've lost all contact with Earth but the arrival of the last known transporter signals fresh hopes and dreams.

November 10, 2010

Pick Your Super Powers T-Shirt

I’ll have Alien Gift please.

November 9, 2010

The Pleasures And Sorrows Of Writing Longhand : Or What I'm Doing For NaNoWriMo


NaNoWriMo, if you don't know, stands for National Novel Writing Month. It's not entirely clear which Nation this moniker stands for these days, it's probably The Nation Of The Internet or something.

I feel conflicted about NaNoWriMo.

On the positive side it gets people writing. It's hard to start writing: there's worries and procrastination and concerns. Most people need a push to get started, an acceptance that they can just write, then come back and make it better. I know I definitely needed that. My big breakthrough moment was when author Deborah Bosley told me of a friend of hers who wrote scenes, lots of scenes, then organised them into a novel after. There is much to debate about that practice, however I felt it gave me permission to write, any scene, out of order scenes, ideas. Get it out of my head and onto the page. And NaNoWriMo certainly does that, thousands of people write, start writing, continue writing, come back to writing, spurred on by the camaraderie of a collective effort.

However... Have there been many great novels that are 50,000 words long and took a month to write? I'm sure there are some, but I would suggest that it is a bit unrealistic to expect to write a novel in a month and for it to be any good. If that isn't the aim, then fine, but I'd hate for would-be writers to be suffering delusions that in one crazy month that was it. Perhaps most people are fully aware that the novel will take a lot of editing, a lot of work, after the initial frenzy? Perhaps there will be a few novels of genius in there. Perhaps I'm feeling bitter because I know too well that I could never write a novel in  a month? (It's taken me a year per novel for each of the three novels I have "finished".)

On top of my worries I have an aversion to following the crowd. It's organised, I want to be free to do my own thing. Revolution! etc. As an alternative, one year I wrote a piece of flash fiction every day instead of a novel (I know, what a rebel).

This year however, my writing activities in November are entirely consumed with an on-going task of typing up a large backlog of stories that I have written long-hand.

Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, I write stories long-hand in a notebook with whatever pen I can lay my hands on. I blame Neal Stephenson and Nail Gaiman. Whilst I was writing my third novel I got stuck. Which was a shame, and a surprise, as the first twenty thousand words came out in a NaNoWriMo style rush. In order to work around my brick wall block I started writing long-hand. After all, if Neal Stephenson can write the entirety of The Baroque Cycle long-hand it must be a good thing, right? And on top of that stories from Neil Gaiman of writing whilst queueing at the Post Office etc.  and the romanticism overwhelmed me. Perhaps not so surprisingly for someone who spends all day in front of a computer, I rather enjoyed it. I still do. I like the feel of writing the words, the pen on the paper. It gives me time to think. It's easy on my eyes. It's relaxing. And fun.

The downside of writing long-hand is that I then have to type them up in order to edit and submit them. The sensible solution I hear you say, is to do that once I have finished writing the story in my notebook, it's just the next step of the process. Well, yes. I don't do that. I blame Jay Lake.

A few years ago I decided to write a short story every week, for the entire year. Jay Lake said it was a good idea! And it was. A few weeks here and there I wrote a flash story to catch up, but mainly I wrote stories of a few thousand words. Proper short stories. Lots of stories. And when I finished one story I started another, I kept going. For an entire year. My rationalisation of this was that it would be like Prince recording lots of demos and then locking them in a vault for a year; when I went back to them I would be fresh and objective. And that's true, the problem being that I'm only just getting around to typing them up. The backlog has got so bad, that to track it I've started using an Agile Development tool that we use at work. Not so romantic now.

So that's what I'm doing now, and through November. Hopefully I'll have typed everything up by Christmas. Then I have to edit the stories, decide which to Trunk, decide which are worth working on. Already some of them feel very dated, but until I've caught up and assessed them all, I'll have the nagging feeling that there is a good story locked away in a notebook somewhere. I need a clean slate, and then I can start writing some new stories.

So will I give up writing long-hand? No. First thing in the morning, bleary eyed, writing in a notebook is a great, instant way to get some words down in the short time that I have (zero boot time!). And after a day in front of a computer, writing in a notebook is the only way I'll ever write anything in the evening. So, no. However it doesn't mean that I won't ever write on a computer, I'll just have to feel like it.

Good luck with your NaNoWriMo.

November 8, 2010

Most Wanted 8/11/2010

Back from the dead like one of those all pervasive zombies, things that I most want this week.

  • Source Code by Duncan Jones (@manmademoon). The follow up to his awesome Moon. I'm trying to avoid spoilers, but had to read the  short summary which says "A sci-fi story centered on a soldier who wakes up in the body of a commuter who witnesses a train explosion." Yes.
  • Zero History by William Gibson and Surface Detail by Iain Banks. Dear Father Christmas, please bring me books.
  • Never Let Me Go, the film. Wonder if I should read the novel first?
EDIT Thanks to Lucy for pointing out that it's actually November, not October(!). Title changed.

November 1, 2010

Dark Fiction Magazine

Dark Fiction Magazine is a new monthly short fiction podcast magazine launched by Sharon Ring and fellow Wordpunker Del Lakin-Smith.

Episode one has the following content:

Editorial by Sharon Ring 
Story: Pumpkin Night by Gary McMahon (read by David Moore) 
Story: Perhaps The Last by Conrad Williams (read by Marty Perrett) 
Story: Maybe Then I'll Fade Away by Joseph D'Lacey (read by Alasdair Stuart) 
Story: Do You See? by Sarah Pinborough (read by Jennifer Williams)

With the next two episodes having themes of "Dystopian Desires" and "A Brave New World".

November's Ansible Is Online

Ansible 280, November 2010 

 "The long-established Ansible email list died in September...."