Process Mapping and Things

A long awaited piece of work – process mapping for a high street name – is close. While I’ve been plotting that into my diary, my middle daughter has finally, at the age of 20, cut the apron strings (again). She has finally cobbled together enough (with her boyfriend) to get on the housing ladder under the help to buy scheme; so hurrah to that. In my head she’s ready for this step. The pluses add up because she’s taken the dog from hell with her – intelligent but totally spoilt. This creates a little more space at home for my youngest, back at home while her second year of university transmogrifies into third.

At the beginning of August, a small thought (I only have small thoughts —read the wrapper :-)) popped into existence.

Northern Voices

Aspects of this are controversial. I raised the subject around the community; most of the players are keen. Watch this space.

Recently I cried off writing groups many starts, not enough finishes. Normally I aim at 2,000 words plus, flash fiction is by accident not design.

A quick list of recent short fiction:

01/06/17 Phil’s Real Encounter (Phil of Irwell Writers had an encounter with a beautiful Asian girl which I’ve helpfully interpreted) 300 words

31/07/17 Loom 13 (textiles / narrow fabric weaving – anecdote) 1,000 words

14/08/17 Weeding Time (robots / perils of AI) 300 words

15/08/17 The Name is Pond, James Pond (suburban caper) 900 words

16/08/17 The Swift (Burnley in the 60s) 600 words

Currently working on:

Peril Mansion (adventure / horror) 883 words so far. Will work out less than 5k words.

Zorke’s Folly (science fiction – an alien race with 13 sexes, all female – who needs men?) This is working out quite long – probably novella length – there’ll be some sexual politics – 3,400 words done so far.



Posted in General, Opinion, Trivia, Writing | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The New SF – New Wave Science Fiction

The New SF – Langdon Jones (ed)

Arrow Books 1971 paperback, 224pp, ISBN 0 09 003890 8

The New SF front cover

front cover

This collection is a fingers up to both the literary establishment and the normal reading public. There’s so little SF, that the back cover blurb:

From the world of Science Fiction writing there has come a totally new literature, a Space Age fiction…

is nonsense. The Trade Descriptions Act might not apply here but only just. Few of its pieces flow well and its originality lies in ad hoc additions of extraneous material eg a shopping list, a business report, a maintenance schedule, notes on the process of writing, extracts from a dictionary. In a well ordered narrative these might make sense but they only serve to break the flow of what are already disconnected narratives —note to the author of The Communicants (John Sladek) which takes up a full third of this collection, just as a story has structure, management is a process with a purpose, with 40 years in industry and finance under my belt, I want to see The Communicants as more than oddments pasted onto paper but I can’t.

The New SF p124, extract from the Communicants

The New SF p124 from the Communicants

The New SF p139 from The Communicants

The New SF p139 from The Communicants

The New SF p159 from The Communicants

The New SF p159 from The Communicants

There’s an awful lot of inner narrative from which one may deduce that the real objective of that long ago fad was to take some of the worst excesses of English Fiction eg navel gazing, and amplify them. The reader may be forgiven for feeling that he or she has been served little more than a pointless collection of randomly generated paragraphs. Michael Moorcock’s The Peking Junction is yet another disorderly, Jerry Cornelius fragment – Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius always left me feeling that writers’ polemic was centre stage. Once I detected it, the affection of ‘writer talks at his readers’ became evident, even in his Fantasy output, and Michael Moorcock fell off my radar. The Anxiety in the Eyes of the Cricket by James Sallis sits in the shared world of Jerry Cornelius demonstrating the continuous antihero is merely a symbol of literary tourettes. So Far from Prague by Brian Aldiss is a fractured contradictory narrative of the times. A couple of archaisms come over as clumsy eg ‘Indian Languages’. Aldiss’s early work, could be direct entertaining. This wasn’t. Seeking a Suitable Donor by DM Thomas is reminiscent of the many (risible) exercises in poetic expression, so common in writing groups. The Holland of the Mind by Pamela Zoline is a jumble of random interjections, definitions, instructions, plotless expressionism. To those with an interest in that 60s / 70s zeitgeist, the discussion: JG Ballard & George MacBeth – The New Science Fiction is probably the most important part of the book.

The following extract (pp 108-109) suggests a peek into the author’s head (in this case Maxim Jakubowski).

P108-109 extract from The New Sf. Maxim Jakubowski – A Science Fiction Story for Joni Mitchell

Maxim Jakubowski – A Science Fiction Story for Joni Mitchell

How easily stories date.
The New SF may appeal to those wondering where New Wave SF went wrong, or those with an retro interest in disconnected narratives. Equally those involved in preparing business reports may find some nostalgic amusement here. This book was first published in 1969, it shows its age. Best considered as something to jar the senses or perhaps a humourless university prank.

The New SF p193 from Pamela Zoline's The Holland of the Mind

The New SF p193 from Pamela Zoline’s The Holland of the Mind

Looking back

Though keenly interested in the genre, at the first time of reading (circa 1976) I confess to finding most of this offering impenetrable. Sketchy fiction deserves a sketchy response and the following is reflective of my impressions from that time.
Giles Gordon – Fourteen Stations on the Northern Line
Michael Moorcock – the Peking Junction
cliquey, smug, talking at the reader, trying to shock, trying to get (the writer some) attention
George MacBeth – Fast Car Wash
James Sallis – The Anxiety in the Eyes of the Cricket
a good deal of scene setting
JG Ballard & George MacBeth – The New Science Fiction
Takes itself very seriously.
Brian W Aldiss – So Far From Prague
Charles Platt – Direction
It was round about here that I realised:
a) SF wasn’t on the agenda
b) meaningful fiction wasn’t on the agenda either
there is however an awful lot of inner narrative
Michael Butterworth – Postatomic
in principle this qualifies as SF though no story develops
scattershot scenes, quirky impressions, dispassionate / distant pov
Michael Moorcock – For Thomas Thompion
a poem?? a poem for goodness sake!
Maxim Jakubowski – A Science Fiction Story for Joni Mitchell
a lot of inner narrative posing as story
John Sladek – The Communicants
an adventure in junior management, random nonsense
DM Thomas – Seeking a Suitable Donor
Pamela Zoline – The Holland of the Mind
Thomas M Disch – Quincunx
By this time I was thinking: was reading any of this worth the effort?

Books I have by the above authors

for the stattos 🙂

Michael Moorcock – 50

Michael Butterworth  – 2 (1 co-written with Moorcock, the as editor of The Savoy Book)

John Sladek – 3

James Sallis – 1 (as editor of The War Book)

JG Ballard – 7

Charles Platt – 2 (including co-editing New Worlds 7 with Hilary Bailey)

Brian W Aldiss – 33 (including 7 co-edited with Harry Harrison – The Year’s Best SF 2, 5, 8, Nebula Award Stories 2, Hell’s Cartographers, The Astounding Analog Reader 1 & 2)

Maxim Jakubowski -1 (as editor of Travelling Towards Epsilon)

Thomas M Disch – 2

Posted in General, Opinion, Review | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Billion Year Spree – further thoughts

Just finished The Neried. About myths, legends and homelessness; set in Blackpool.
Just started Core. Set in the core of the Milky Way, in the Galactic Bar. Explores aliens —lots of aliens —sexuality and that kind of thing. ETA: unknown (but as it’s set 30 Galactic Years back I should be, maybe, using something different than ETA as that implies future 🙂 🙂 ); length: unknown —I’ll see how things hang after a few trial chapters.

Back to Billion Year Spree

From a world of ignorance and savagery to light
From a universe in which no one knows anything to one in which Godly awareness and foreknowledge is just the first step. Check your bearings.

The development of SF is in some ways analogous to the growth in understanding of Western Man.

The first step.
└─> Outside your field of view a gift
– to bring us into their power
– or to make us something stunted / locked / harmless

Worth exploring and probably, in the long run, relevant. So…

Do we really understand the consequences of no longer being unique, of this universe being the the hunting ground of creatures much older than us, who have survived? …or do we prefer pleasant fantasies – Earth Strikes Back, Earth Wins Again, Human Federation Goes Forth and Promulgates (a TV soundbite) Motto of Peace and Prosperity…

Screw the philosophy, this is about content.

My younger self listened with interest to the blandishments of the likes of Brian Aldiss, Michael Moorcock and New Wave Science Fiction in general. At that time it was clear that they were on a serious endeavour and my reactions were most of the contributors to that long ago project couldn’t write – never mind they’d slung random words together that were variously offensive, experimental and sometimes offensive and experimental – little of it interested me.
With the virtue of hindsight I see that that long ago movement had a point – it’s also pretty obvious than many of the (enthusiastic) participants made horrendous mistakes which in turn had a seriously negative impact on British SF¹… you can learn from the past, you can’t unpick the consequences, but still I’m drawn to those long ago prophets of change, so back to Billion Year Spree.

Billion Year Spree contents

Billion Year Spree contents (scanned)

Much of Spree (i.e. Aldiss’s Billion Year Spree) considers what came before SF. “What did writers of the past write about? Come on, dad, you’re old, you know the answer.” In reality I don’t see the average kid asking that kind of question even though I was little more than one when I got my copy. Yet this is of more than academic interest because it’s a sign of our long ago preoccupations. What content pre-SF authors were delivering? Each chapter in Spree dwells on a particular theme – from now’s perspective, I lump them all as fantasists (it’s pre-SF innit?) but to give a flavour, here’s the chapter titles for that early stuff:

1 The Origins of the Species: Mary Shelley
2 A Clear-Sighted, Sickly Literature: Edgar Allan Poe
3 Pilgrim Fathers: Lucian and All That
4 The Gas-Enlightened Race: Victorian Visions
5 The Man Who Could Work Miracles: H.G. Wells
6 The Flight from Urban Culture: Wells’ Coevals
7 To Barsoom and Beyond: ERB and the Weirdies
8 In the Name of the Zeitgeist: Mainly the Thirties

Yep – it took 8 chapters to get going  – The last three chapters go on to deal with Campbell’s Astounding, the 50s, and the 60s and constitute 45% of the book by page count. Given the obscurity and unremarkable nature of the early works considered, this is probably wise.

I’ve always wondered why significant inputs of contemporary works were neglected, e.g. Heinlein, Zelazny, Norton – these authors were huge in the marketplace. A serious literary appraisal can’t fail to notice what is going on; favourites are being played. There’s an implied irritation with American authors; whether conscious or not, it shows through. In addition the decision to ignore success is at best wilfully perverse. As a contrast consider how Spree glosses over the troubles of Moorcock’s New Worlds. The causes of those troubles were well-known then and self-inflicted; Moorcock and his self-appointed literatii set out to give offence. Why gloss over this given it had significant commercial repercussions? New Worlds magazine, Moorcock and others paid the price…
Those last three chapters could have been more even-handed, and useful to would-be authors by showing what’s required to be successful; e.g. Heinlein’s books sold well –they were right up there, even getting onto the New York Times best seller list —he had a proper agent/publisher deal. As a result of this his works were better reads on many levels. A poster boy for success in the world of SF writing. Yet there is a drip, drip of venom directed at Heinlein. An anodyne reading of this might be:

Watch out

Billion Year Spree is on a Crusade: No Prisoners……

Peer through the venom and there’s no justification leaving you to wonder whether the real substance is misplaced literary jealousy. Contrast that to the authors lauded by Spree… Dick, Moorcock, Ballard… a cornucopia of self-destructive, maladjusteds, (but you have to look in other places get a ringside seat).
As in fiction, the most plausible explanation is the one that makes sense: jealousy at success (a very British character trait) and intellectual snobbery. I’ll go with: my point of view is perfect, stop bothering me…  most do.

This —a partial survey of then prominent writers, glossing over success when it could analyse what works, offering generalisations and (in Heinlein’s case) nit-picks, as justification —becomes a central flaw to Spree.

Ragged-trousered evangelist come art critic asserts that success isn’t important.

Hmm. Try telling that to the wives and families of failing businesses. A failed publisher employs no one, least of all, authors. For failed publishing ventures refer to New Worlds.

New Worlds 8

New Worlds 8, Editor Hilary Bailey
Sphere Books, 50p, 1975 edition
Cover artist: Patrick Woodruffe

Interesting fodder for the eternal question: Where next in SF?

A motto for the human race:  our point of view is perfect, stop bothering us, could yet explain the need to the genre to rethink itself. Take the reaction to Ace Books celebration of the first lunar landing. What does Spree dwell on? We’re worried about going into space because we’ve a nasty streak:


Oh my goodness; if anything is out there it’s unlikely ‘the bomb’ would give cause for concern. One might as well say: “Wee’s reeli bad peepuls and that’s our history ‘cos we jes’ worked it out and it’ll get writ real large in space ‘cos we’re all there is… ‘cos we’re definutli da pinnerkill of civilisashional attaynment.”

Worthy of a brief chuckle.

…to be continued (with a brief peek at Timarchy)

¹ i.e. the demise of New Worlds Magazine, the then preeminent forum for British SF

Posted in History, Opinion, Philosophy, Review, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Billion Year Spree – a retrospective

When I start a new piece my first consideration is theme. If it’s not SF I generally launch straight into it, knowing it’ll be out of the way in a day or two.

SF poses additional considerations, for example what, exactly, is it going to be about? Have I read anything similar or, if not, am I drawing from general wells of inspiration provided by works such as Billion Year Spree, Hell’s Cartographers, Visual Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction, New Maps of Hell, Who’s Who in Science Fiction

Like many teenagers, my youth was marred by lack of money and even less wisdom. When I could I bought anything to do with SF, including the above. In his introductions to the Spectrum Collections, Robert Conquest makes the point that as the genre deals with areas outside the scope of conventional fiction, the literary conventions for normal fiction should not apply.  This poses the question: what is the legitimate purpose of the genre. The answer to that changes, depending on what’s in vogue – SF is no less prone to fashion that other genres.

To go back to ‘legitimate purpose’ I find it instructive to revisit those long ago surveys of the genre and I am currently dipping into Billion Year Spree

First UK paperback publication: Corgi SF Collector’s Library, 1975.

Cover to Corgi SF Collector's Library edition

Cover to Corgi SF Collector’s Library edition

Tolkien is contrasted with Peake with an extract from each.

Peake says little, filling his character with the self-regard so prevalent in the literary outputs of yesteryear.

Tolkien progresses the action and briefly dwells the resonance through dream.

Tolkien is more direct whereas you feel Peake is close to breaking into a paean of all the words he knows on a theme. In many works this is a sign of all too prevalent Thesaurus Gambit; the writer throws a list of everything that could be found in say An Exotic Market, in hope of conveying Exotic to the reader. This tendency isn’t confined to the genre; attendees of Writing Groups pay heed please.

The critique of Heinlein is hilarious – “(an adroit way of dropping in) a telling detail”  err Brian, that’s writing in the here and now; Dickens detailed characterisations, with high wordage levels splayed out over pages and pages have their market – most of which has long since passed beyond the pale.

What’s more important, character tick boxes or action? It’s a matter of taste.

That’s not to say that Billion Year Spree has no value – indeed for the purposes of orienting, one considers the editorial pitch, looks at the array of books considered, assimilates and moves on. It’s worth, however, taking a shot at books you’ve already read and this is where it gets easy to pick holes in Aldiss’ Spree. It’s almost too easy. You have to remember we each climb the mountain by using the endeavours of others.

Note on  Corgi SF Collector’s Library

The Library was limited to works published by Corgi so in an irony of ironies: no Philip K Dick, Ursula K Le Guin, J. G. Ballard or other luminaries of the time.

Here’s my Goodreads review

Posted in General | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Back Catalogue

It’s time to go through stuff. I’ve shedloads, literally: comics, SF paperbacks, & Fantasy, Penguin Classics, PC Games (in their boxes) etc.

This time it’s my back catalogue. When you go to writing groups you, almost invariably, get a writing prompt.

“Write something about this word I found on the net; come back next time and we can have a jolly laugh at the frustration it caused us.”

Some things you don’t finish, there isn’t time.

“Have you anything to say?”

“Write what you know.”

It’s that or… well finish what you started with the prompt. They’re a waste of time. If you haven’t anything too say, what’s the point of a random narrative you’ll never finish. How about a carefully crafted poem that looks like a shape, or is produced to a pattern?

“Ooh look at this. It’s got 15 lines and if you look at it sideways through a mirror, repeating the Lord’s Prayer backwards, you can see something crawling out.”

Yep, more creative writing to a nice easy formula. Sounds familiar, mechanical and dreary. Do your best to avoid getting sucked in.

The are some areas where a mechanised approach is essential, my poetry… indeed most of everything I’ve done is tabulated. It’s in Excel: Unfinished Schedule.xls. Rather than explain why – kinda obvious – I thought I’d note the categories I use for analysis.

  • Status: There’s all sorts of considerations for this: is the work aborted? / to redevelop? / a fragment-chapter of a longer piece? / the most recent fragment (and thus the one I am working on)? / completed? (a, d, f, l, c)
  • Year – self explanatory
  • Timestamp – when I last worked on a piece
  • Wordcount – self explanatory
  • Expected length – how long’s it gonna be
  • Title: of each respective fragment-chapter
  • Story – the writing process gets broken by attending writing group but I do actually write stories 🙂
  • Genre: Anecdote, Children’s, Detective, Dystopia, Fantasy, Historical, Humour, Poetry, Retro, SF… I find it worth identifying significant sub-genres. This is great for tracking down those bits of unfinished whimsy e.g. a pantomime I once started – The Glass Slipper – my only attempt (so far) to do something from stage.

Finally I have a marker to make sure I know what’s self-published and what’s in the locker. Keep on top of your catalogue and know where you are.

Posted in Writing | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

I Hope the EU Fixes Itself

Don’t rejoice in Brexit failings. We remoaners must shape the future

(says Zoe Williams in the Guardian)

Juncker is the compromise candidate propelled to to prominence. There is plenty unremarkable about him as well as some murky areas that his supporters would rather remained murky. The debate on the merits or otherwise, of EU membership, was overwhelmed by meaningless soundbites. I didn’t expect a reasoned argument for staying in and Cameron didn’t disappoint. The fundamental challenges facing the EU won’t change and neither will the stance of those that lead it. UK is the voice for reform and it has left, long time followers of this issue will recognise this. It’s not all sweetness and light out in the wide world. The UK has advantages shared by few other EU member states (which goes without saying).
By morphing into a political project, the EU has triggered its doom. All empires fail. The fall-out from that will be horrendous. I hope the EU fixes itself — better it remains a point of aspiration. I’ve long maintained that there’s a case for an halfway house between the EEC and the EU… the process by which the nations and peoples of the world leave the shadow of despotism / autocracy / self-destructive zealotry of social upheaval / rule of religious bigotry, takes a time that’s measured in decades and longer. Those who want to move from there to here i.e. to democratic & economic freedoms, need a template. A model that works.

Posted in General, Opinion | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Last Library

Finally coming to the end of this. Back in December 2016 I expected it to max out at about 6k words; it’s now over 20k. Phew.

It concerns a wannabe librarian, fallen angels, civilisation forced to live by the rules of art, a Supreme Being (just don’t call him God), WelteMenn (men of the world)  and odd bits of dystopia.

Am still writing.

Nearly at draft.

Genre: Fantasy / Dystopia / SpecFic

Posted in General, Writing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

How real books have trumped ebooks

Has the Guardian identified a publishing revival?

The Guardian | Books | 2017 | May | 14: How real books trumped ebooks

Atmospheric: the Daunt Books branch in Marylebone, London.

This article has plenty of anecdote but is short on hard data.

What do I expect?

Units shifted, sales + margins, the author’s cut. Strip out the JK Rowlings — do a little market segmentation, show where e-books sit. While you’re on with that say something about how, by gaming Amazon’s book metrics, the traditional publishing model is hollowed out.

Is it equilibrium or just a brief respite?

Posted in General | Leave a comment

China’s Xi lays out $900bn Silk Road vision amid claims of empire-building

China lays claim to the world’s biggest project

The Guardian | world | 2017 | may | 14 | China’s Xi lays out $900bn Silk Road vision amid claims of empire-building

A Chinese flag flies over Tashkurgan, a tranquil frontier town on China’s border with Pakistan, which is bracing for change as President Xi Jinping kicks off what some call the most ambitious development plan in history, the ‘Belt and Road initiative.

This could  fundamentally change the pattern of  world trade. There are big challenges but, other things bring equal, this could mark a high-water mark of containerised ocean going freight. A significant side effect will be the impact on Central Asian economies which could be very significant.

An intriguing idea. I used this as part of the backdrop in Erisse of the Illyany.

Posted in General | Leave a comment

Man Cannot Survive on Mobile Alone.

For Xmas my eldest bought me a smart mobile. I’d been struggling along on my ailing Nokia. It held battery charge great but internet connectivity was a chore. I didn’t bother. Other things being equal I was quite open to the idea of getting a smartphone. The one he got me was a HTC Desire 530.

The big gripe about smartphones is battery life (& unwanted screen activation & fiddly text handling & invasive browsing experience but those are further down the gripe experience). The big embarrassment is commenting. Anything beyond a snappy sentence becomes a marathon; might as well not bother. I tried various ways to engage – it’s just not worth it. I put this down to CKS (crap keyboard syndrome) Even my laptop suffers from this – any serious typing won’t work unless you have a decent keyboard. Laptops (mine’s an Acer Aspire ##something-something-something##) have the magic of a touch pad which, if you accidentally activate it while reaching over in order to type, becomes a dead weight in which you’re constantly fighting with the touch pad’s desire / aspiration to activate the mouse pointer.

In the middle of a word? Activate the mouse pointer, quick, quick, so your typing is shared more equally among open applications.

Anyway, I finally got my old PC up and running following a disastrous move some six months back, and onto the net.

Here’s the proof:

Yippee. Life isn’t prefect but it’s a sight better than faffing about, all clumsy fingers, on my mobile or laptop. All I have to do now is decide whether to backfill all the crap I put out since September 2016

Because I’m like that, here’s a better view of Thomas Lessman’s Eastern Hemisphere, 400 AD.

Eurasia 400 AD, after Thomas Lessman - get it and drool

Eurasia 400 AD,
after Thomas Lessman


Posted in General, Opinion | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment