KPMG Audit of HBOS

Backlash as watchdog closes probe into KPMG’s doomed HBOS audit

KPMG audited HBOS in 2007. HBOS had to be bailed out following extreme financial conditions in late 2008 (ie the debt crisis). Politicians and the media have over the years bayed for blood, under the view that someone must take blame. The FRC (Financial Reporting Council) were tasked with looking at KPMG’s role as auditor. To the consternation of the Treasury Select Committee, the FRC have reported that KPMG cannot be held to blame. Having watched the Treasury Select Committee in action, that consternation comes as no surprise. Put another way, the public good would be better served if the committee had a deeper understanding of finance.

What is an audit for? Many assume it’s a business bill of health when it’s actually a check on whether statutory reports are true and fair. Interpretation is for investors and risk takers. I personally wouldn’t have put any money into any bank after 2004 but it’s plain many rode the market to the top and beyond. It is fair to say, however, that debt financing – the continuing cause of problems – has had far too easy a ride and in that regard, we haven’t really moved on from 2008.

The Financial Reporting Council will scrutinise KPMG's auditing of HBOS 
Posted in Opinion | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Best Philip K Dick Novel

Best Philip K Dick Novel

The Guardian ran an article on Dick’s Best Novels chosen by Nicola BarkerMichael Moorcock, and Adam Roberts on 27th August 2017 at Philip K Dick Best Novels. There’s all the normal stuff you’d expect to see – Adam Roberts sensibly chose Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? You find out Moorcock’s take on Dick –as editor of New Worlds, Moorcock sought out voices to flesh out his vision of Science Fiction, indeed Moorcock was one of the high prophets of New Wave SF. Nicola Barker’s take set my brain into gear.

Dick: “the core of my writing is not art, but truth”, and – still more perplexingly: “I am a fictionalising philosopher, not a novelist.”

Nicola Barker: deny it as he might, he is a novelist

This misses the point; Dick didn’t fit into the traditional author-publisher mould. Even now, a publisher would be itching to hack through his work.

In 1960 Dick was willing to take twenty to thirty years to succeed as a literary writer. His overtures into mainstream were declined – rightly so; his unique talent would have been destroyed by the editing process and, on a more selfish note, he’d have been lost to SF.

His work survives because he found a way through – first via the Science Fiction magazines and then Ace Books. Remember the Ace smaller format? they used to drive me mad while trying to force my makeshift library into some form of neatness. Back in 50s and 60s Ace was one of the big two US SF paperback publishers (the other being Ballantine). Ace books woes in the mid-1960s – they could no longer pay authors reliably – would have affected him (Ace were boycotted over a Lord of the Rings copyright infringement – they settled but their business was damaged). It’s round about that time that Dick’s output declined – I’ve always wondered if this resolved in some way to the question: how can you write with no pay? Upfront royalties were significant in the Ace business model. Bringing me to my favourite Dick novel.

Galactic Pot-Healer

I fed my early Science Fiction addiction via Burnley Library and, when I could afford it, used paperbacks from the second hand book stalls on Burnley Market. This gave me cross section of beat up (but treasured) US SF editions which is how I discovered Dick. Most of my 40+ collection of Dick’s books are pre-1980. I read all Dick’s SF novels and most of his short stories.

Philip K Dick: Solar Lottery Arrow Books edition 1972 - cover

Philip K Dick: Solar Lottery
Arrow Books edition 1972

Now Wait for Last Year Macfadden Books 1968 edition - front cover

Now Wait for Last Year
Macfadden Books 1968 edition

Eye in the Sky Ace Books H39, 1967 edition, front cover

Eye in the Sky
Ace Books H39, 1967 edition

Clans of the Alphane Moon Ace Books 1964 edition, F309 - front cover

Clans of the Alphane Moon
Ace Books 1964 edition, F309

The Unteleported Man Ace Books double (with Dr. Futurity) 1972 edition - front cover

The Unteleported Man
Ace Books double (with Dr. Futurity) 1972 edition

We Can Build You DAW Books #14 1972 edition - front cover

We Can Build You
DAW Books #14 1972 edition

A favourite of mine is Galactic Pot Healer which came out in 1969. I had the 1976 Pan edition (sadly lost in a recent house move).

Joe Fernwright, the protagonist, lives in a future Earth with intriguing yet disturbing resonances to the here and now. He repairs art on a commission basis but has virtually no work (gig! gig! gig!. He is hired by a powerful being – Glimmung – for a one-off bit of art restoration. The restoration project involves beings from different planets and as it progresses, Joe strikes up a romantic relationship. In the background, Glimmung is in a struggle with the Kalends, which manifest through a book that foretells the future. This struggle is desire vs the inevitable but which is fake, Glimmung’s words or the Book of the Kalends? I can so easily imagine the kind of Earth Dick describes (in my head we’re almost there). The work transmogrifies via the gestalt… but Joe Fernwright chooses to go back to normality.

Telling the difference between the fake and the real is more than keeping up appearances, it’s about preserving normality, without which people (beings) don’t function. Galactic Pot Healer is a transitional work, yesteryear’s mutants, ESP, precogs etc are well on their way to VALIS. It contains many of the darkly funny moments I like about Dick’s work. He is an acquired taste but once you slip through the doorway, he writes an engaging tale. Dick’s work evolves into his exegesis. He also did drugs. Are the two connected?

Dick and Drugs

Drug damage? Certainly – Dick acknowledged this. Did drugs invalidate his message? I’d say both yes and no and then as a rider, would add that this is up to the reader to decide. Importantly he put stuff in the public domain that stretched the genre. SF / Fantasy normally struggles when depicting metaphysical matters – with Dick it just works. It took me a long time to realise he was well read (I was a product of lower class inverse snobbery and despised arts, philosophy etc – it took some autodidact to catch up on where he was at). Most of his work is good – the early SF novels are the least ‘Dick-like’ but these are a must for those who want the journey.

The overall impact of drugs? I just accepted them as part of him as opposed to a separate influence. On the doing of drugs, I’ve seen it do damage to those around me – I see it as not too dissimilar to the continuous intake of media input of only one kind – it distorts your perceptions and leaves permanent marks that aren’t too easy to shuck off. I get it that just as speed, or whatever, helps keep going on the job, it can help churn out wordage. Do drugs open the doors of creativity or just passive consumption? Of course a writer can interpret (words are his work) but all that’s actually happening is for a few brief hours, the filters of everyday existence are slackened off. In my case (as a writer) I rarely write under the influence of alcohol – or even too much coffee.

Dick died as Blade Runner came to completion. Since then more of his works have leaked into the media and his reputation has grown. imho he died too soon.

Dick in the Media

They won’t let him alone. Can’t. Dick provokes cerebration. We’ve had Total Recall, Screamers, Minority Report, Impostor, Paycheck, A Scanner Darkly, Radio Free Albemuth, The Man in the High Castle and more. The upcoming series: Electric Dreams adapts some of his shorter stories interspersed with episodes inspired by his works. I’ve listed these and, for episodes adapting specific stories, shown year of publication.  Episodes marked * are amalgams from various Dick works.

Episode Year Other writing credits
The Hood Maker 1955 Matthew Graham
Impossible Planet 1953 David Farr
The Commuter 1953 Jack Thorne
Real Life * Ronald D Moore
Crazy Diamond * Tony Grisoni
Human Is 1955 Jessica Mecklenburg
Kill All Others * Dee Rees
Autofac 1955 Travis Beacham
Safe And Sound * Kalen Egan, Travis Sentell
Father Thing 1954 Michael Dinner

Aficionados will have the opportunity to debate respective influences, indeed it’s possible they may argue over how true this is to writer Dick inspired work. As of writing, that’s still to look forward to.

Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams airs on Channel from 4, 17th September 2017. 

In Perspective

I well remember Michael Bishop’s Philip K Dick is Dead, Alas. Dickanian? Yes. Ultimately I read little beyond chapter 1. Then wasn’t the time to write about Dick in a Dickanian style. It wasn’t the right postscript to Dick.  A good postscript would be someone to carry forward the baton Dick let drop. You watch and you wait. He, or she, must be out there, somewhere; meanwhile we look back to the Master. Ever decreasing circles.

Philip K Dick is Dead, Alas - Michael Bishop Grafton edition 1988 front cover

Philip K Dick is Dead, Alas – Michael Bishop
Grafton edition 1988

I’ve read a lot of Golden Age SF plus a fair sampling of authors up to the 80s: Aldiss, Anderson, Asimov, Ballard, Bradbury, Clarke, Farmer, Herbert… to name a few (there’s 1,500 genre paperbacks in my library) eventually you get to a point where formulaic fiction begins to irritate you. I got my intellectual kicks from Idries Shah’s works on Sufism. His Darkest England delves entertainingly into the character and mores of the English. Caravan of Dreams is a more general work on Eastern thought. For an eclectic takes on space fiction, Doris Lessing, who moved in the same social circles as Idries Shah, produced a 5 volume work: Canopus in Argos. I’m easily led astray by the history of other civilisations. At present that revolves around Central Asia, nomadic eruptions and the Khwarezmian Shahdom. I pretend to myself it’s research for a Fantasy project but the reality is how can you write about the rise and fall of galaxy, or even star spanning civilisations if you haven’t grasped the emergence and subsequent collapse of our own great civilisations? The vicissitudes of life (kids, pets, writing groups) mean I don’t write enough SF but here’s a novel.


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

Strange New Black Hole at the Galaxy’s Core

From the Daily Telegraph

Scientists discover strange form of black hole at the heart of Milky Way

Supermassive black holes lie at the heart of many – probably all –  galaxies. There’s one in the core of the Milky Way. These weigh as much as 10 billion suns, however a cut down version, weighing in at a mere 100 thousand suns has been spotted. It could be a freak but scientists have actually been expecting something like this to crop up. This is a candidate for helping explain how both black holes as well as the Milky Way evolved.

The centre of the Milky Way, 27 000 light-years away from Earth

The centre of the Milky Way, 27 000 light-years away from Earth CREDIT: AFP/GETTY IMAGES

From Nature Magazine

Check out the rocket science behind this in: Millimetre-wave emission from an intermediate-mass black hole candidate in the Milky Way

Figure 1 a, Colour map of HCN J = 3–2 emission integrated over V LSR = −110–0 km s−1. The white contours show the same map of HCN J = 4–3 emission obtained with the ASTE 10-m telescope4. The contour levels are 50, 100, 200 and 400 K km s−1. The half-power beam widths (HPBWs) of ASTE and ALMA are also presented by a white filled circle and black filled ellipse, respectively. Yellow arrows indicate the lines along which position-velocity slices are made (Fig. 2), and the white cross shows the location of CO–0.40–0.22*. b, Zoomed-in images of HCN J = 3–2 velocity-integrated emission (contours) and 266-GHz continuum emission (colour). The contour interval is 5 Jy beam−1 km s−1. The white filled ellipse shows the ALMA beamsize. Magenta dots show the loci of cloud particles in the gravitational kick model at t = 7.2 × 105 yr.

“a” Colour map of HCN J = 3–2 emission integrated over V LSR = −110–0 km s−1. The white contours show the same map of HCN J = 4–3 emission obtained with the ASTE 10-m telescope4. The contour levels are 50, 100, 200 and 400 K km s−1. The half-power beam widths (HPBWs) of ASTE and ALMA are also presented by a white filled circle and black filled ellipse, respectively. Yellow arrows indicate the lines along which position-velocity slices are made (Fig. 2), and the white cross shows the location of CO–0.40–0.22*.
“b” Zoomed-in images of HCN J = 3–2 velocity-integrated emission (contours) and 266-GHz continuum emission (colour). The contour interval is 5 Jy beam−1 km s−1. The white filled ellipse shows the ALMA beamsize. Magenta dots show the loci of cloud particles in the gravitational kick model at t = 7.2 × 105 yr.

I was kind of wondering where my socks and pens had gone.

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

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.
My next piece is proper SF Core. Set in the core of the Milky Way, in the Galactic Bar. Explores the issues of lots of aliens living together —gender, sexuality, politics, alien civilisation. ETA: unknown – it’s set 30 Galactic Years in the past 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 maps the growth in understanding of Western Man, suggesting future paths
e.g. step into knowledge – add what’s watching, add constraints…

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 TV Sound-bite, The 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, 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 both – 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 seriously damaged 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 (Spree)

Billion Year Spree contents

Billion Year Spree contents (scanned)

Much of Aldiss’s Spree considers what came before SF.

“What did writers of the past write about? Come on, dad, you’re old, you know the answer.”

I was little more than a kid when I got my copy but the reality is the average kid isn’t going to ask that kind of question. Yet this is of more than academic interest because it’s a sign of our long ago preoccupations – our worldview and how we saw the universe. SF is our way of exploring beyond this small Earth; it’s a ‘no-limits’ genre. What content were pre-SF authors 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?). The chapter titles give a flavour of 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

There are a total of 11 chapters so, 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. This is probably wise given the obscurity of the early works considered (my sampling of these includes reading  James Edgar Rice Burroughs, James Branch Cabell, E.R. Eddison, Lord Dunsany, Franz Kafka, William Hope Hodgson, William Morris, H.G. Wells)

It’s here where a long suppressed exasperation with Spree bubbles over. 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. In 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 go on to slam successful authors on style. The lesson here is success means a negative critique. This is just petulant nonsense. It would have been more even-handed, and given that style lessons are on offer, useful to show  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 and Tolkein’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. Ace Books commissioned a work to celebrate the first lunar landing. In noting this, what does Spree dwells 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, it’ll be short and 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.  Peake says little, filling his character with the self-regard so prevalent in the literary outputs of yesteryear whereas Tolkien progresses the action and briefly dwells on 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… a sign of all too prevalent Thesaurus Gambit where the writer, given the challenge of An Exotic Market, throws in a great long list, presumably in the hope that this will convey Exotic. These are passages I just skim through. Nothing is happening, lists add little. Thesauruses are great writer resources but they make for dreary reader reads. This tendency isn’t confined to SF – attendees of Writing Groups can look away in embarrassment…   NOW!

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: a meticulously detailed, tick box narrative, or action? This along with other examples caveats Spree significantly. Sniping at successful authors is a well worn path and bitching about success is second nature in Britain. It doesn’t belong in what purports to be a serious examination of the genre.

That’s not to say that Billion Year Spree has no value, it name-checks a vast array of books and in doing so, shows the flavours of yesteryear’s fiction.

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.

I also reviewed this on Goodreads

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