Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The real me

Bloodthirsty, Explorer-Nabbing, Jogger-Abducting Monster from the Isolated Necropolis

Get Your Monster Name

"Ben" was just "Bloodythirsty Evil Nightmare". This seemed more fun, especially the jogger-abducting.

Monday, February 26, 2007

More news just in gets a post of its own

Under Torch Wood is credited to Verity Stob and the script is available here. End of public service announcement.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Redemption achieved

Okay, that was fun. Only one klingon, for a start - the legendary warrior strangely missing from the Trek canon, Khq'as. Yes, there were many other costumes too, some but not all of a Trek orientation, but when they're as cute as the two little cyberboys you really can't complain. Here they are with, presumably, their cyberdad.

Sadly my camera didn't have the battery oomph to power the flash too, which limited the number of pix that could have been taken. This was an especial shame for the masquerade and caberet. However, still photography could not do justice to the astonishing dance acts (to Gogol Bordello's Start Wearing Purple, one that I think was to original music, and let's not forget seven year old Karen's dolphin dance), and the best act of all didn't need costumes. A Hugo and Oscar should go to whoever penned Dylan Thomas's Under Torchwood.

There was sufficient serious sf discussion to be had, and it can safely be said Battlestar Galactica (the new one) has achieved beatification - so much so that I almost felt a heel in my final panel session, "Creating an alien culture", by raising one tiny implausibility about it. (Okay - I'm feeling brave. The 12 colonies have been at peace for the last sixty years and as far as we know they got on okay before that too ... so why the massive, budget consuming fleet of battlestars?) Anyway, I'm happy.

Two most favourite panels:

1. Room 101. Scott's subjects: instruction manuals, Rupert Murdoch, modern pronunciation and computer technology. Mine: digital rights management, smart-alec shortarses, and birthday banners that get tied to roundabouts and are still there a month later. Sadly we ran out of time before he could get on to cricket on Radio 4 and I could get on to A.N. Wilson. Most of our choices were successfuly argued for inclusion in Room 101, but he had to keep modern pronunciation and I had to keep smart-alec shortarses, as represented here.

2. What would Blake's 7 be like not set in space?
We came up with a series in which a resistance fighter to the British Raj is transported to Australia and escapes halfway in a before-its-time zeppelin. Three quarters of the way through his adventures, the zeppelin is destroyed and he acquires the Nautilus. Zen is a Babbage difference engine. Orac is a bald dwarf with an astonishing aptitude for telephone technology. Our heroes winch him down from the zeppelin so that he can tap telegraph wires. My suggestion that he be Scottish and called McApple was cruelly rejected. Star One is on Rockall (or possibly Ascension Island) and is a listening post into the transatlantic cables. Queen Victoria is Servalan.

And yes, I might even do it again in '09. I assume that by then I'll have seen Galactica's third season.
  • News just in: I've just received an email telling me that the results of the Blake's 7 slash writing workshop are available at Before going there, make sure you fully understand what slash is ...

Friday, February 23, 2007

Seeking Redemption at the weekend

I've been going to science fiction conventions on and off for many years - my first being in Cardiff in 1991. There are conventions going on all the time catering for all aspects of the field and so I've always stuck to the more literary-oriented ones. Partly because that's where I am myself, with my unswerving conviction that progress in science fiction is made at the literary end of the spectrum, and the better known / more publicised media end will catch it up ten years later. And partly because ... well, I just don't want to be surrounded by people who have lovingly crafted their very own Klingon battledress complete with an exact replica of the medal bestowed upon Worf by Picard during the third series of ... and so on. It makes me ... uneasy.

All very stereotyped, I know, and I finally feel secure enough in my own identity to be venturing into the heartland of media SF conventions. Specifically, Redemption, to be held in Hinckley (a small triangle of grass between the M1, M69 and M6, on which someone has built a hotel) this weekend.

Redemption is a once-every-two-years series of conventions based loosely around Babylon 5 and Blake's 7, but now broadened out even to other shows that don't follow the B + numeral pattern. The title is of course - how sad that I know this - taken from the first episode of the second series of B7, in which our heroes, having spent the first series swanning around the galaxy in their stolen alien starship Liberator, are finally called to account by the Liberator's builders who want their ship back. In other words, as Blake helpfully says, redemption. Which, yes, is a technically correct definition of the word, but not how it is generally perceived. I suspect Terry Nation, who wrote the episode, just wanted to use the word in the title.

I have absolutely no idea what to expect, save that I've looked at the membership list and it features some gratifyingly sane people known personally to me.

Partly as a means of getting involved, and partly as a way of making sure I generally have at least a table between me and the Klingons, I've volunteered for various panels. And golly, according to the programme I'm down for seven. Seven! Three of them being back to back on Saturday morning, and me with my incipient sore throat, though it's still best not to be absolutely sure what's happening in a programme until you turn up. They are:
  • What would Blake's 7 be like not set in space?
  • Room 101 (with the guest of honour!)
  • Narnia: film vs the books
  • Elections and politics in SF
  • What would you cut first? Making a programme to budget (no idea how I got onto this one)
  • Legal systems in Babylon 5 and Blake's 7
  • Creating an alien culture
Guest of honour is an actor named Scott Fredericks, who had small parts in Dr Who and B7 way back when and has diversified since, not least into writing and directing. His photo on the web site shows he has aged gracefully, though it would be hard not to improve on his appearance in the 1972 Dr Who episode "Day of the Daleks". The series had a bad case of the seventies back then, and when Mr Fredericks's character - a time travelling freedom fighting guerilla - first appears with the rest of the group, you take one look at the sideburns and moustaches and have to force yourself not to start humming:
"Young man, there's no need to feel down, I said, young man, pick yourself off the ground ..."
"Day of the Daleks" also has a famous scene of precisely three Daleks being wheeled out of a tunnel, over and over again in different orders and shot from different camera angles, to give the impression that a whole army of pepperpots is invading. Gave me the willies at the time. There was no CGI in those days, children, and we were better off for it.

Anyway, it should all be great fun and I'm looking forward to it. Reports will be made next week, depending on how reportable it all is.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Hours of endless fun

There's a very silly but addictive game to be played with book titles and author names. I remembered it in my publisher's office yesterday, looking at the cover of a book by new writer Peadar O'Guilin. The cover text was laid out:

Peadar O'Guilin

and I thought how wise it was to do it that way round. Putting his name second would have been unfortunate.

See how the game is played?

Other contenders include Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone J.K. Rowling and the legendary The Sheep Look Up John Brunner. And there's many more here, of which my personal favourites include:
  • Fear L. Ron Hubbard
  • The Wolves of Willoughby Chase Joan Aiken
  • Flush Virginia Woolf
  • A Time to Kill John Grisham
But you may have your own, or even better, track down some new ones.

Turl churl

That was nice. As of yesterday morning I had two works in progress - the novel I delivered to my publisher last year and was awaiting feedback on, and the next novel which is now 30,000 words in.

As of a meeting with my publisher, the lovely David Fickling, yesterday evening, I now have two more. One of them is part of a much bigger secret that I hope I can tell here eventually, the other I'll let you know all about once the contract is signed. Still, not much sleep last night as a result of this meeting - ideas for works in progress buzzing around in my head, Jerusalem artichokes from my starter at the QI Club buzzing around in the rest of me.

Ah yes, the QI Club ... very pleasant, nice food, clean and well kept, can't believe it will last another five minutes without going bankrupt. At seven in the evening the place was empty apart from us and three others, and they all worked there. Not what you'd expect of a trendy club and restaurant in the middle of Oxford.

And for no other reason than that the club is in Turl Street, here are a couple of Turl Street jokes.

Q: why is Turl Street like the Church of England?
A: it goes from the Broad to the High and passes Jesus on the way. [Link provided for those who don't get it.]

An American tourist is standing in the middle of Turl Street, looking from one almost identical college on one side of the road to another. She laments: "I just can't tell Lincoln from Jesus." A porter pops his head out of the lodge: "Yes, madam, a lot of Americans have that problem."

Monday, February 19, 2007

Plus, tubular bells!

That is actually a complete misnomer because not only are there no tubular bells, there is no option to add any either. But it is Mike Oldfield we're talking about and I've always wanted to say that.

Bought Mr Oldfield's latest, Light & Shade, with my birthday money. Four of the tracks are available in, apparently, U-MYX format. This is nothing to do with rabbit diseases but is in fact (very limited) remixing software. The different tracks are broken down into segments and you can fade them in, out or completely shut them down as you wish. What you can't do is reorder them, or introduce new stuff - hence, no tubular bells. All in all a bit of a waste of time, but what the heck, it's a nice novelty.

If you really want to waste your time with a bit of remixing, try these guys. I once set our company's development programme back by a good 30 minutes by circulating this to the Strategic Technologies division.

A Snake dominated by Wood

Which sounds a little rude, but I didn't invent the Chinese zodiac. Anyway, happy Chinese new year. Read all about it at

I was apparently born in the Year of the Snake:
"Snakes have always been the seducers of human beings ... Snake people are born charming and popular. Snakes are spotlight magnets, and they will not be ignored. Peer group attention and public recognition are the least of what he expects."
Darn tootin' (seducers of human beings? Aren't there laws against any of the alternatives?), and it gets better. I am also dominated by the Wood element:
"Those born in the years dominated by the Wood element are people of high morals and great confidence. They know the intrinsic value of things and are apt to appreciate all that they have."
Well, that's us Aquarians to a T.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Platitudes in stained glass altitudes

When I got the proofs back for His Majesty's Starship, I found that a copy editor deep in the bowels of Scholastic had obligingly changed every mention of the ship's attitude jets to altitude jets. I obligingly changed them back and included a restrained note on how attitude control is quite a useful accessory in any good spacecraft, while altitude control is just another way of saying "wings" and is pretty meaningless in the context.

All brought back to me by reading Charles Stross's Iron Sunrise, in which on page 242 the spaceship Romanov departs a space station and Charlie uses one of each - attitude at the top of the page, altitude at the bottom. I strongly suspect he knows the difference so will just put it down to over zealous copy editing or under zealous proof reading. Either way I will feel politely smug.

Except that, do you know, it's just occurred to me I never checked the US edition ... hang on ...

[A moment later] DAMN!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

How to make your wife disappear

Best Beloved use to work in Saudi Arabia, and she picked up one of these nifty little numbers for getting about in public.

It's astonishing. The woman you love is standing a few feet away from you and her identity has vanished, subsumed into a surprisingly light and airy black cloak. (Well, it felt light and airy to me, but she said she was sweltering even under the lights in our room.) She has been erased.

If I can use the language of one religion to describe another, it's been an epiphany. And not a nice one.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Take a look at the lawman beating up the wrong guy

Sometimes your birthday falls on a weekend. I would guess this happens about 2/7ths of the time, which is basically a third, give or take. And if your birthday falls in the middle of February, it generally manages to hit half term, or come very close.

But today was the first time I have ever actively instigated a holiday on my birthday, i.e. taken a day of annual leave allowance. Blame my lovely wife for the idea, but it was a very good one and shall be repeated.

So, a lie in, breakfast in bed and a home made card from the Boy, with a message that made me quite nervous until I had read it all the way through:
"I just want you to know that the ONLY people I send birthday cards to are attractive, intelligent and sexy individuals. Merry Christmas."
Then a walk to the Fox for lunch and back (for those with local knowledge: okay, we parked at Long Furlong and walked the rest of the way), and an evening that will probably consist of last night's Life on Mars and who knows maybe some Cadfael too. Having married someone who has opened my eyes to The Bill, Judge John Deed, Waking the Dead, Foyle's War ... well, you get the message, anyway, LoM should be the ideal crossover point for our mutual tastes.

Badly handled birthdays suck. Done properly, they rock.

Monday, February 12, 2007

It's the principle, innit

You can't sneak anything past the bright bods of Homeserve GB Ltd.
"During a recent review of our customer records, we identified that you may live in a flat or apartment."
The letter was correctly addressed to my full postal address, which includes the word "Flat" as the very first word of the first line. So, spot on, eh? You can see where all our graduates are going.

Anyway, they urged me to call to check that my cover was still appropriate for my newly flattened address. Some is, some isn't - and some of what isn't never was. So, you'll be refunding my premium, then?

Well, apparently not, as the policy documentation that I have received (having bought the policy) allegedly drew my attention to my ineligibility. Except that (a) it doesn't (I've just checked it for the third time) and (b) the person to whom I gave my address over the phone really should have picked up on the f-word when I said it. A brief moment of being put on hold while the minion consults with the manager ... and yes, I get a refund, to be with me within 28 days.

It's £15. But like I say, it's the principle.

I've also discovered an acid test for those of us who like to be reasonable, British, non-complaining, don't make waves etc. Aside from the sense of natural justice, just ask: "Do you expect sympathy if you go home and tell your wife this?" If the answer is no, then it's not reasonable and you go for the jugular.

Could the Daleks be any more evil?

Yes, apparently they could.

And as if that wasn't enough ...

Yes, there are Monty Python / Dr Who fans with far too much time on their hands, and we salute them all.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Well, I tried

Up at the normal time, peek out of the window: snow! As promised. We must have listened to the rundown of closed schools in Oxfordshire four or five times - there's a lot of them - and eventually established that every school in Abingdon except the Boy's seemed to be shut. So off he went, hah. Hoping and praying for a day off, but he's not back yet, an hour later.

Best Beloved could walk to work, her Swedish blood itching to get out into those snowfields. And me ...

Getting out of the drive was the hairy bit. After that, I reasoned that with the rush hour already well established, the roads would have been swept clean by at least three or four cars gliding in pirouettes to their hideous deaths, and so I could get to work safely. Right?

Got to the first roundabout; decided that if even a main well used road was still this slushy, no way was I going further. I would love to be knocking those three reports on virtual private networks into one glossy brochure, I really would; more to the point and more seriously, I would love to be in an all-day centrally heated building where someone else pays for the heating. But my family would miss its main breadwinner if I skidded to my own death. So, a day at home and not even the compensation of being ill in bed to help pass the time. Comfort eating, second series of Battlestar Galactica on DVD, and the wonders of NTL film on demand, here I come.

UPDATE: oh, okay. M'colleague Claire, or Comrade Stakhanov as we like to call her, having successfully fought the drifts into work, has been able to email me those VPN documents. So, goody, I can work at home, where I pay for the heating and the free coffee isn't on tap. Not that I'm complaining or anything.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

If the bus principle holds, there'll be a third along any moment now

Good grief. There's another me out there. See here.

I expect we can easily be told apart. He's aged 16 or under, and good at sport.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Sunday, February 04, 2007

My, that is rounded

A shocked world learns that Daniel Radcliffe is to appear nude on stage in Peter Shaffer's Equus, opening in London in February. (He's 17, for crying out loud - is this legal?) A spokeperson says that he wants "to show he is a rounded actor".

Must - control - urge - to - make - innuendo. (Well, apart from the subject line.)

Anyway, good for him. He knows he won't be Harry Potter forever - and who would want to be - so wants to make his mark in other ways. Though I can't help wondering if a condition for taking the role was that his mum should be barred from coming anywhere within a billion trillion squillion miles of the theatre.

There is precedent. Peter Firth played the same role opposite Richard Burton (whose part will be taken on stage this time by Uncle Vernon, strangely) and he was in the Double Deckers. (He's the one in the orange shirt ...)

Saturday, February 03, 2007

A year ago ...

Riots over the cartoons in Denmark. A visit to the marriage registrar. And I installed Statcounter, since when I have had 9557 visitors, 1221 of whom were last month. Obviously a rising curve, then. So, just a quick note to you all to say thanks, and if you enjoyed this blog, why not buy one of my books?

Friday, February 02, 2007

Why rude health?

Health isn't rude. Illness is rude. It barges into your life, unwanted and uninvited and unannounced, and proceeds to embugger your existence without a by your leave.

A slight cold yesterday, achy sinuses, bit of a runny nose. Slept okay during the night, but fitfully; felt bored, got up at about 5 a.m. for the bathroom.

Woh! Dizziness, cramps, headache, very light headed, imperative need to return to a horizontal position ASAP. Which is how most of today has been spent, with a 39 degree temperature. Or if not completely horizontal then sitting up in bed, part horizontal and part vertical, which I suppose averages out at 45 degrees.

I honestly cannot remember missing a day at work in all the time I've been in Abingdon. Yes, I've been ill. I was laid low by some kind of gastric flu one New Year's Day - but the holiday extended over a long weekend so work was not affected. Since 2000 there was the time my back went twang at the London International Book fair and I spent a couple of days lying down; also another bout of flu. But I was working from home so could still read manuscripts. This is a novel experience. But I'll tell you one thing - it's much more fun to be ill with someone to look after you than sweating it out on your own ...

Anyway, pink elephants are floating around on the monitor and I'm pretty sure it's not some novel screen saver, so back to bed I go.