Friday, 30 March 2012

Argy-bargy in the SF World

I found this on Twitter. Of all the authors mentioned the only ones I know are China Mieville and Sherri Tepper. I loved Grass by Sherri and most things that I've read by China (Kraken, The City and The City, King Rat very much, Perdido Street Station not quite so much, Embassy Town - umm, impressed by the invention).
I was particularly taken with one comment in the list. The commenter pointed out that, in this group, Arthur C Clarke would not have been shortlisted for his own prize. Interesting and probably true. The last thing I read by Arthur was The Light of Other Days, which, since it has clearly been done by someone who can do characters well enough to write the biros off Arthur, strikes me as being more a book by Stephen Baxter. I haven't read anything solely by him yet, so I don't know, but I have strong suspicions.
One point this brings up is the difference between the writers of the Golden Age and now. I loved Heinlein, Asimov and Clarke when I was a kid, but I wonder if anything but early Heinlein would keep me interested now. Later Heinlein was too full of people who were essentially Heinlein for my tastes. Asimov and Clarke were a bit like Kilgore Trout, great ideas.
Another point brought out by the commentators was that it was good to see a really good rant going on, especially when this was about SF, which they all cared about. I do too, so I like the fact that people are getting up and shouting about this. I might be going out on a limb here, but I would class The Hunger Games as being SF. In the suburbs of the genre at least. It's in the future, has genetically modified animals and a firm view that people are still going to be people, whatever the tech can do. It's also well written, doesn't have shiny boyfriends or girls who have a pathological obsession with guys who can kill them anywhere. (Is it something about teenage girls liking blokes who show restraint? He hasn't ripped your throat out in weeks, it must be love - and that counts).
I like this as a general trend. I'm really happy that the biggest selling film of the times is one that is set in the future, gets people to think about ethics, uses of technology (oppression), has a really strong independent female lead (father of a 12-year-old girl writing here) and is clearly leading towards revolution. I'm going out to buy the other two books to find out if the word 'occupy' sticks up in them in any way, but won't care if it doesn't.

Thursday, 29 March 2012


The grains of sand crashed back into each other and somehow became me again. An improvement on being nothing, yes, but not an experience I could enjoy. My skin was trying to crawl off my body and my stomach up my throat. Both feelings went quickly, but I didn’t feel good. Some aspects of verisimilitude could easily be cut, to my way of thinking.
I was now standing in daylight on a grassy hill. Somewhere off in the distance was the glint of early morning sunlight on water. I tottered forward to where a Scot was saying to come and sit down. There were others, adults and kids, coming out of the thin air behind me. No one crashed into anyone else, but everyone had the same kind of bedsprings-recovering-from-an-orgy look to them.
I flopped down on the grass, propped myself up on an elbow and thought, 'Oh,________'.Ah, the ____ nannyware. I couldn't even think a good curse. The grass, anyway, felt good; it felt real. Really grassy grass stalks tickled and gently prickled at my hands and the back of my neck. There was a smell in the air of full summer. I was preparing to lie down on that real grass and feel even better, when something offered me a drink.
It was a dwarf. There’d have to be some here, though, wouldn’t there? Pun completely intentional, but it’d be a minimum. This one was about a metre tall with muscles like a small wrestler. Clean-shaven, and dressed more like a coffee-shop waiter in charcoal grey than an extra from Lord of the Rings, it… he, held the tray towards me and mumbled, “Dringim.”
I took a cup and sipped at it. The taste was a lot like rooibos, which I drink to escape endless cups of green tea, but the effect was incredible; I was instantly clear in the head. It was obvious everyone else around was feeling the same. There were a few ‘wows’- but not ‘like wow’s’, which the kids all say now. A small thing, but it registered as a neat touch. You hear it everywhere; the kids in Kyoto were ‘like-wowing’ before I left, but we never used the expression back then.
A last figure flowed out from the thin air of the Gate; outlined on this side by standing stones covered in runes. It became a tall, lean, dark-haired man, dressed all in black- jeans, shirt and some kind of trench coat. His collar was open and he looked as if he hadn’t shaved or slept, except perhaps in the clothes, for a few days. His eyes were bloodshot, with bags and black circles beneath them. Looked like he'd escaped from the lead role in a Hollywood blockbuster. He blinked, shook his head as if to clear it, and picked up a cup with a mutter of “Thanks, Gava.”
He took a long swig from the cup, and I swear the red in his eyes faded away while he was drinking. When he lowered the cup and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, the stubble was still on his face and the creases still in his clothes, but the signs of exhaustion had vanished. He gave a sigh and a healthy sounding belch and said, “Ah, better.” It was the voice from the other side of the gate.
He moved in front of the bodies sprawled on the grass and addressed us.
“Seekers. Welcome to the Land. I know the first Crossing is not a pleasant thing, but we have to press on. From here we must walk to the river. Then we’ll take boats to get us to the City of Black River Bridge. There you’ll undergo your Initiation - the Ceremony of Opening.” He paused and looked around at us.
“For some of you, that’ll mark the end of your stay here,” That was said seriously enough to make it sound like bad news. “While for others it’ll mean the beginning of your training.” That somehow didn’t sound as if anything more cheerful was in store. “To all, I wish you well, I wish you well. Now please,” he gestured, “To your feet. The walk to the river will take about two hours. You’ll be so kind as to follow the Mages.”
There was a thing about him; what he said, you did. This guy was a lot like Uncle Steve - a leader; you could read it in every line of him.  Not a violent man, at a guess, but one who was very confident in his own abilities and used to giving orders and having them followed.
I stood up and realized I reached only as tall as the middle of his chest. Before I had the time to think he was some kind of a giant, I noticed a boy standing slightly to one side of him. The boy couldn’t have been more than twelve, more likely eleven. He was the same size as me; possibly a little taller. I was eleven years old again.
Take my word for it, when I say it’s the sort of thing that can ruin your day, I’m not joking at all. I’d known it was going to happen, yes, but as a fact like something I’d read in the in-flight magazine. You know the thing, 90% of Dubai’s buildings have been green-roofed, oh isn’t that interesting? It’s very different to feel it in your suddenly-much-smaller bones. I worked hard and managed a 'Damn' - a  whispered one. It wasn't nearly enough.

Hah! Believe me sonny, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Oh dear, oh dear.

Not about my book, but definitely about writing and the response it can get. If you look here you will find the story of how a parent complained that a school teacher read to her child from Orson Scott Card's classic SF book, Ender's Game. I haven't read it in a while, but rate it as an intelligent, well written book. For those who don't know, it tell the story of the battle school, which takes young kids in a future Earth and trains them for a war against an alien race, known in the book as the Buggers.
For the Brits who read, I have to point out that Card is American. For the Americans, you might want to know that that term translates as Sodomite in the UK (and maybe Australia/New Zealand, I'll have to check on that one, though.)
That wasn't the reason for the complaint, though. Apparently, the parent thought the work pornographic. It seems that the kids in the book use a few swear words. I won't argue, though I don't remember that standing out when I read it.
I would point out that the book is on a list of the 100 best books for Young Adult readers. That Card is a Mormon, so is a bit unlikely as a source of child corrupting porn. That the story, from one point of view, is all about comradeship and loyalty. The bit you might not like is that there are some murders and Ender does commit them. He doesn't know that, though. The adults who run the school keep that fact from both him and the others, as they don't want this very promising strategist to be put off, or kicked out. In the end, (I don't think this is a spoiler), Ender is tricked into fighting and completely destroying the aliens. He is led to believe it's a training exercise.
He finds out, too late, that the aliens - social insects - didn't realise that they were killing intelligent beings. They'd taken us to be like themselves and thought the creatures they could see must be just appendages of the hive queens. You don't kill hive queens - that would be barbaric - but the workers and drones they deal with as we would a termite infestation.
The writing is high quality, the characters ones that you can engage with, the story one to inspire thought. A number of people have decided that is the real reason the parent complained, as there is a very clear link that any intelligent child might make between the kids who get tricked into becoming genocidal murderers and the US army. Or any other to be honest, but this took place in America, so...
I don't know the parents, so I won't comment on that, but the idea of trying to raise your child in such a cotton-wool wrapped vaccuum strikes me as foolish. It won't protect them, it will just leave them without defenses in a world that has much worse to offer than a few swear words.
This matters to me as the father of a 12-year-old daughter and a writer who knows that the kids in my daughter's year group are already using words that they know better than to use in front of me. I think it's a part of growth, a phase that they need to go through. One of Aki's classmates once told her that you have to swear when you go into secondary. We all pooh-poohed that idea, but I'm sure that she can curse like an average 12-year-old (better than a nun, worse than a sailor) by now. They'll all play with it for a while and then grow out of it, meanwhile learning who not to get caught by.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Goodreads - some amazing things

I've been on Goodreads for a while, since Rachel Lange (colleague at UAEU at that time), introduced me and Kimi Klassen to it. Initially I went wild, adding books and writing reviews. Then, inevitably for me, I started  to slow down and did less and less. For quite a while I hadn't added any reviews to it at all. Then, very recently, as a result of the Dubai Lit Fest workshop I attended, I looked back at it and found that I could both add Chronicles to the list of books and myself to the list of authors.
Then I started exploring what you could do as a Goodreads author. It's quite impressive. Inviting friends to read your book and review it was never going to be a big deal for me, as I don't know that many people on Goodreads and don't really feel like adding people I don't know just to build up the circle of readers.
However, you can offer your book as a giveaway - you choose how many copies and for how long the offer will last, they pick the winners from the people who request to be in on it, then you send a paperback copy to those who are chosen. I've actually won one copy of a book through this, which should be on its way to me now. I'll read and certainly review it and try to be nice (though I insist on being honest). There is no real obligation on the part of the winners to write reviews, but it tends to happen.
Meanwhile, over 200 people had requested the chance to win my book and over 30 have put it on their to-read lists. Granted that only three copies are going out, that means a lot of people aren't going to get a free copy and, unless the 30 really stir themselves, there probably aren't going to be that many buying the book and actually reading it. However, I'm approaching people from the list who seem as if they might really be interested and offering them free digital copies. It doesn't cost me anything and might generate more reviews and therefore more interest.
Another neat thing about Goodreads are the forums. There are people who will offer to review a book for you  just because that's what they like to do. I haven't approached any with Chronicles yet, as they all seem to instantly deluged with requests as sooon as they make the offer, but I'm going to follow up as soon as I can find time to sort through and see what kind of reviews each writes and what kind of thing they like to review.
Another nifty little trick they offer is the preview app. If you look at the top of this blog, you'll see a new small window. Scroll down it and you find that it shows the cover of Chronicles. Use the Next Chapter button and you can read through an epub edition of the book. It's not the greatest way of reading, I'll grant, but it can give someone who is just skimming a blog an easy way of getting a taste of the writing.
All good stuff, all free. The more I look, the more I find for publicising work. Good, good.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Whoo hoo.

God knows what happens next, but I'm in the top five. Apparently, there will be videos of the top five and then people vote. I was in it and I still don't know what for, or how many for.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Excellent presentation by Alexander McNabb

You can see most of it here and read his blog too, which is a treat. Alistair and I both said we'd write up a summary of what was in the presentation and put it up on Sand (FB). I might just link to it instead as that would be quicker and feel more honest.

Saturday, 3 March 2012


A useful word that one. Snarl it at someone in the Emirates and they will be at a bit of a loss. It isn't a recognised curse, so they can't take legal action like this or this. They will recognise, however, that you've just said something very bad to them.
I went to see them on the 23rd, to tell them that we were moving on the 25th and to request that they shifted your account address and Internet connection to the new address. I had to go to four different counters to do this and one of them, to give him his due, did warn me that I should be careful to tell the others which date very carefully, as they were sometimes a bit careless about it. So I did, very carefully and often. Didin't make a blind bit of difference. I got back to find that the Internet connection had been cut. Back to the office and try to get it reconnected.
Turns out that they always and only disconnect on the day that you come in to request - there is no chance that you can book this in advance and have to come onthe day that you are moving, 'cos you don't have enough to do when you are shifting house, you also need to go sit in the Etisalat office and wait while hell freezes over. A genuinely nice lady (not one I'd seen before) tried to sort this out and get us reconnected. The fact that it didn't work wasn't her fault. I called the helpline and they couldn't help, beyond promising to send out a technician to see to it. On the 25th. I said not to bother, as we were moving that day and needed it transferred then. On the 25th, I went back and requested the shift. They promised me that the job would be done in five days.
Everyone agrees that that is a particularly mean joke. Reconnections after a move usually take a month. We've passed the first week with no sign of anyone from Etisalat. I may go back and ask for progress, but I'd rather stick one of my fingers in a pencil sharpener. Connected life now depends on us all visiting Internet cafes. Needless to say, this cuts down on the amount of email, Facebook and blogging that can be done. This is probably all that I'll put up here until we get reconnected. By that time I might have some thoughts on the matter of our interconnectedness that might be worth reading and not have too much cursing in them. Maybe.