Tuesday Tunes: Discreet Music by Brian Eno

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Brian Eno’s first solo ambient album does exactly what it says on the tin. The title track is basically two short, quiet melodies looped repeatedly with differing time delays; this was very much an early experiment for Eno and a technique he played with a lot in later ambient and instrumental pieces.

Here, it gives a somewhat ethereal, calming effect, the two pieces of music drifting in and out of hearing like a musical interpretation of the sea lapping at the shore.

On vinyl the title track, running to around 30 minutes, filled side 1, while side 2 was given over to three Variations On ‘The Canon In D Major’ By Johann Pachelbel, given a similar treatment in that excerpts from Pachelbel’s Canon are repeated with timing or other elements altered.

Unfortunately, Discreet Music is so minimal as to be barely audible at times, and without the break to flip the disc the jump from that to the slightly louder second track, Fullness of Wind, is somewhat jarring and, well, indiscreet.

However, once the volume has been adjusted to taste, both halves of this CD have a very similar effect: you can put them on in the background or to cover the noise of a squawking child in the next room, but not have it interrupt your thought processes. The repetitive nature of both halves, far from making them boring pieces, just helps them to disappear into the background and be forgotten. And for me, that’s exactly what makes this ideal writing music.

Stand-out track: Well there isn’t one, that’s kind of the point. However, my favourite track is Discreet Music, partly because being synthesised lends itself more to the kind of sci-fi background noise that suits a lot of my writing. I have found, however, that it is weirdly chameleonic, and will lend itself to a variety of moods and writing tasks.

On the downside, it’s equally likely to put me to sleep, so you know, there’s a time and a place.

Listen along

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Linky goodness

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Re-Dwarf: Stasis Leak

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Stasis Leak, with its full-on science fiction themes and high laugh quota, is one of the better episodes of series 2. Holly detects a stasis leak somewhere in the murky lower levels of Red Dwarf, which the crew decide to use to travel back to before the accident in order to marry Kochanski or not die.

I’m the nearest thing you can get to infullible.

For some reason the hologram Rimmer has completely forgotten the events of Me², and wants to bring himself back to the future, while Lister only wants to find the explanation for the wedding photo he found while snooping around Kochanski’s quarters. The Cat, it seems, just came along for the ride, allowing for some great lines to come from his utter bemusement:

He’s you and you’re him, and you’re him and he’s him – am I still me?

Cat is really starting to come into his own as a comedic foil to the sci-fi elements here, demonstrating the ‘What is it?’ line he used to good effect in White Hole, and starts a long tradition of amusing Rimmer insults with ‘Alphabet Head’.

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Anyway, the story: original Rimmer puts seeing his own gurning face popping up through a table down to Titan Mushrooms Lister slipped into his breakfast, and the whole plan goes a little bit pear-shaped. We do, however, discover that the crew find another way to travel back in time in five years time (which, in fact, they do, at the end of series six), and that is how Lister and Kochanski finally get together.

Aside from the whole destiny conversation that often springs up from time travel stories, there isn’t much of philosophical or theological note going on here. So instead, enjoy the random ZX81 reference and see if you can spot something that later appeared in Back to the Future Part II.

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There are a few changes scattered through the remix of this episode; most notably a CGI lift shot and new effects for the stasis leak of the title.

A reference to Felicity Kendal in Holly’s intro is inexplicably replaced with Marilyn Monroe, much to the chagrin of the ‘What’s new’ text track writers, who embark on a ‘Good Life’ retrospective in between changes.

There’s a caption removed, another spelling error in the new credits, a line cut to make older Lister seem a little less immature, and the argument between the three sets of crew is reinstated at the end to drive Rimmer extra nuts.

Watch this episode for science fiction and comedy coming together in style.

 



This week, I have been mostly…

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Planning.

In a dramatic break with tradition, I have decided upon my project for NaNoWriMo 2013, and not content with that, actually started planning it. I know, right? Don’t worry though, most of it will be thrown together in true pantser fashion during November.
So far I have the most basic premise for the story world, and three or four characters through whose eyes that world might be explored.

At the moment each of those potential characters has a slightly different story attached, so my planning at the moment is working out which of those stories to concentrate on, and how (or if) the others link in as sub-plots. That and world-building; the world-building could be a fairly epic task for the next 6 weeks – more on that story later.

As well as that, my brain informs me that The Ambivalence Chronicles would make an awesome (if technically difficult) sitcom, provided I can persuade a TV channel to put one out in eight episodes rather than the more usual six.

And I came up with another non-fiction e-book (‘another’ in the sense of another idea; I haven’t actually published one yet) that I could put together without too much effort.
Now, if my brain could just come up with a working design for a flux capacitor, I’ll get started on that last year and it will be available for Christmas.

Monday Review: The Third Day by Mark Graham

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A bit of a retro review today (this book was published in 2001); The Third Day tells a similar story to that I’m planning at the moment for NaNoWriMo, so I’ve pulled it out to make sure I avoid inadvertantly re-telling the same story.

And it is, if we’re honest, an oft-told story; many stories exist in the Christian and mainstream markets which have the protagonist travelling back in time to witness some Biblical event. This is one of only a couple that I have actually read, but that shouldn’t take anything away from how good it is.

It’s a good Christian novel, an exploration of faith, showing a slightly different perspective of incidents in the gospels; it’s also a great time travel story, as the protagonists play their part in the gospel story, they begin to wonder how much of established Biblical truth they are changing, distorting, or even creating.

Thomas Ford, a devout believer and teacher of religious studies, and Mariam Roberts, born a Muslim, married to a Christian, now just a jaded sceptic, are brought together in the most improbable circumstances, and find themselves sent into the past, and given the chance to meet Jesus face to face.

I thought the time travel aspect was well handled, and rather than just being an excuse to explore Jesus’ life through 21st Century eyes, the potential problems it brings with it are integral to the unfolding story.

There is also space to ponder the philosophical and theological implications of time travel – something I hope to do, from a different perspective, this NaNo. In this story at least, God certainly allows time travel; He may even be the one that brings it about.

Jesus himself is portrayed as very human; vulnerable at times, as if he feels out of depth with the task he’s been given. Meeting God in all his human weakness has a profound effect on both Thomas and Mariam, which, combined with the twisting paradoxes they find themselves entwined with, makes for a fantastic story.

As it says in the blurb:

Experience Jesus of Nazareth again for the first time. And be prepared for the unexpected.


Re-Dwarf: Thanks for the Memory

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Thanks for the Memory continues the writers’ attempts, started in Better Than Life, to make Rimmer a slightly more agreeable character. Having already given a little insight into his horrible upbringing, this episode opens with the crew celebrating Rimmer’s deathday on the surface of a convenient planet.

LISTER: It’s a state of the art sarny.

HOLLY: It’s the state of the floor I’m worried about.

Drunk Rimmer, with his guard down and having checked his usual officious manner at the door, is almost likeable, and as he and Lister deal with their alcohol-induced munchies, we get a rare moment of friendy banter between the pair, in which Lister is likened to the triple fried egg chilli chutney sandwich they are enjoying.

All your ingredients are wrong. You’re slobby, you’ve got no sense of discipline, you’re the only man ever to get his money back from the Odour Eater people, but people like you, don’t you see? That’s why you’re a fried egg, chilli, chutney sandwich. Now me … now me … All the ingredients are right. I’m disciplined, I’m organised, I’m dedicated to my career, I’ve always got a pen. Result? Total smeghead despised by everyone except the ship’s parrot. And that’s only because we haven’t got one. Why? Why is that?

Yes indeed, like a triple fried egg chilli chutney sandwich, we are greater than the sum of our parts. This could be a valuable lesson for Rimmer; but not, it turns out, quite as valuable as discovering one vital missing ingredient, which may well be the true reason for Rimmer’s being a smeghead all the time:

I’d trade it all in – all of it. My pips, my long-service medals, my swimming certificates, my telescope, my shoe trees. I’d trade everything in to be loved and to have been loved.

Spin forward to the hangover, and it’s a doozy: Cat and Lister have a broken leg apiece, and everybody – Holly included – has lost their memory of the last four days. (Comparisons have been made to the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Clues in this respect.)

In the course of investigating this occurence, the crew find that in a fit of drunken benevolence, Lister has donated an eight month love affair to Rimmer in an attempt to heal his brokenness. By way of the black box recorder we see Rimmer, now with the happy memories of being in love firmly entrenched in his memory, being… nice.

if you go through life without feeling, if you go through life never experiencing, you’re no better than a jellyfish. No better than a bank manager.

Hilarity, of course, ensues along the way; at least until that inevitable moment that it all goes horribly wrong, and Rimmer insists they undo it and – so that no-one is any the wiser – wipe their memories.

In the space of four days Arnold Rimmer gets schooled in the ups and downs of love. He learns what happens if we take a risk now and then; sometimes we get hurt, but that’s all part of this crazy ride we call life. In the memory of Lise Yates, Lister gives Rimmer the vital ingredient his life has been missing, the one thing that could raise him above being a complete git all the time – and Rimmer hands it back.

Choosing a life following Christ is just as much a rollercoaster. Less so here in England than in many other places, but it does demand personal sacrifice. It needs an occasional ‘unpopular’ decision to be made. It certainly isn’t all sunshine all of the time, but it does bring a love that will change us more profoundly – and more permanently – than eight months of stupendous sex with Lise Yates. Love that is offered to us as a gift – to accept and let it change us from the inside, or to hand back and forget it ever existed.

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The obvious change to this episode is with the Blue Midget design; there is a distinct possibility that in the redesign it was given legs (a bit like an Imperial AT-ST) specifically so it could stagger while under Lister’s tipsy control in this episode – something which I think comes across as a bit silly, even for Red Dwarf.
In addition, the various flashback shots are tinted, there’s some new music, and a joke about Spanish TV is cut (presumably to improve the chances of selling the show to, for example, Spanish TV).
Oh, and the new credits spell Lise Yates’ name wrongly.

Watch this episode for a Rimmer you could actually get to like.

 



Tuesday Tunes: The Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld

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Shall we have some writing music to kick off the autumn term here in blogland? Well, the Orb’s debut album pretty well set the tone for the band and for the ambient house genre they invented – and it’s great for writing science fiction to, as the title may suggest.

It opens with the classic Little Fluffy Clouds, probably still the best single they’ve ever released, and takes you off on a psychadelic trip into space and electronic music.

The first disc is of the mellower, atmospheric sounds, with flight instructions and other samples borrowed from NASA sprinkled through Supernova at the End of the Universe and the eerie Backside of the Moon, while the second disc spices things up a little with the reggae flavoured Perpetual Dawn, the upbeat Into the Fourth Dimension (which, incidentally, features a sample from Miserere by Gregorio Allegri, giving it a similar feel to Enigma’s MCMXC ad, which was released at around the same time), and the electro-poppy Outlands.

Along the way we’re treated to samples from the 1980 Flash Gordon movie, the prophet Amos, Vivaldi, and Kraftwerk, among others, before finally arriving at A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules from the Centre of the Ultraworld – the Orb’s first single, coming in at just under 19 minutes on this CD and truly setting the standard for ambient house music.

To be fair, the Orb, and others, subsequently raised the standard; some of the tracks here (Outlands, Earth (Gaia)) are largely forgettable, but as ambient/chill out music, or in my case, something quietly going on behind me while I write, it does a standout job, and as an album it surely deserves its place in the history of electronic music.

A deluxe 3-CD edition of the album was released in 2006, with additional versions of some of the best tracks – an extra mix of Little Fluffy Clouds, and two versions of the one with A Huge Ever Growing Title, plus a much better mix of Outlands.

Stand-out track: Little Fluffy Clouds, obviously. A predictable choice maybe, but it’s impossible not to love this tune! This is a version not found on the album, but if anything harder not to love…

Listen along

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CSFF Blog Tour vs Tuesday Tunes – A Cast of Stones

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This week I am once again joining the CSFF Blog Tour, highlighting A Cast of Stones by Patrick Carr. And according to my calendar, it’s Tuesday, so… hurriedly cobbled together by the village drunk, it’s the Top Ten Stone Songs…

10. Phantogram – Turning Into Stone
Here, have some weirdness to start with. At least then it can only get normaller.

9. Crash Test Dummies – Heart Of Stones
They never quite shook off Mmmm Mmmm Mmmm Mmmm for me; this is similarly minimal in its sound, but at least all the words are, um, words.

8. Electric Light Orchestra – Turn To Stone
Symphonic rock, 70s Birmingham style. You know you want to.

7. The Soft Boys – Only The Stones Remain
Robyn Hitchcock and the psychadelic post-punk band from Cambridge.

6. Graffiti6 – Stone In My Heart
Yes, we are on a tour of slightly obscure English music through the ages (this stop: London, 2010).

5. Phildel – Union Stone
Token current track, this came out in March. From the Chilterns, apparently.

4. Milk Maid – Pictures Of Stone
Sounds like something out of early 90s Manchester, but is actually from 2012, er, Manchester.

3. New Young Pony Club – Stone
Every Top Ten needs its quota of electronica, and this has some brilliantly 8-bit sounding bleep bloops.

2. The Stone Roses – Made of Stone
Our tour of obscure English groups who have recorded a song about a stone must end, appropriately, here; it sounds like Machester in the early ’90s – and for good reason this time.

1. Evanescence – Made of Stone
Not a Stone Roses cover. Because that would be so awesome Amy Lee would explode.

The playlist is ready for you to listen along, but don’t forget to visit the other bloggers on the tour, and then go and get yourself a free copy of A Cast of Stones for your Kindle.

CSFF Blog Tour – A Cast of Stones

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Wow, are we here again already? It seems like only a couple of posts since the last tour…. Yes, the tour has gone a little wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey, but worry not, that probably just means we’re getting a fun time travel romp to take a look at this month!
Actually, it means no such thing. This month my fellow bloggers and I have been reading (or at least thinking about reading) A Cast of Stones by Patrick Carr, which describes itself as ‘An Epic Medieval Saga Fantasy Readers Will Love’.


A couple of years ago I almost created the strange and nebulous concept of the fantasy spectrum, which had high fantasy, sword and sorcery stuff way out in the UV end waiting to give you cancer if you’re over exposed, and things like magical realism – the ‘real’ world with just one or two elements slightly askew – hidden in the infra-red, where you need a special camera to actually see that they are even fantasy.
I’ve never liked purple. Sorry Patrick, but I stopped thinking about reading this at ‘medieval’; it’s just not my bag, so I won’t even attempt to review it as I won’t appreciate how awesome it probably is.
You are advised, therefore, to find out more about the book by following the tour through the links on your right, or by visiting the author’s website. If the thought of kingdoms in peril, hermit priests and questing village boys doesn’t bring you out in a cold sweat, you might even want to buy the book from the clicky’s above, or, you know, one of those mythical ‘bookshop’ thingies I keep hearing about but have never actually seen.

Re-Dwarf: Better Than Life

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The story so far: three million years from Earth, radiation levels on board the Red Dwarf have reduced to a survivable background level, the one surviving crew member has been revived from stasis and ordered the ship turned round to return to his home planet.

Heading back towards Earth, they encounter a mail pod which has been tracking Red Dwarf through the millennia (presumably the last one sent before news of the crew’s demise, as no other such pods ever turn up). In the mail they find that Rimmer’s tax bill is massive and his father is dead; thankfully they also find a total immersion video game ‘Better Than Life’ with which to take his mind off things.

Using the new senso-lock feedback technology, “Better Than Life” is able to detect all your desires and fantasies and then make them come true.

This was, of course, in 1988, when the exciting potential of blocky ‘virtual reality’ worlds presented by goggles and interacted with by gloves was the very pinnacle of computer technology; Red Dwarf extrapolated this into a much simpler, more realistic and immersive experience.

It’s also another handy plot device to break the monotony of all the ship-based episodes – although those episodes, which tend to feature character interaction over sci-fi tropes, are often funnier.

Essentially what we have here is Cat and Lister going off to enjoy themselves in Better Than Life for an hour or two, when Rimmer’s ‘diseased brain’ tags along and fantasises unpleasantness on them all.

The potential consequences of all this – in particular the way Rimmer is using the game to escape the unpleasant realities of tax bills, dad parents, and indeed dead self – are explored more in the Red Dwarf novel of the same name, wherein addiction to the game is as socially and physically harmful as any drug addiction. If you’ve ever tried to hold a conversation with a teenager holding a smartphone, you’ll have some idea how prescient this idea was!

A Betterthanlife30 minute sitcom, however, is not the place to discuss such issues in any detail, so we will come back to that somewhere down the line.

What this episode does bring up is a throwaway line where Rimmer mistakenly refers to Marilyn Monroe as Mary Magdalene, and a news item in which:

Archeologists near mount Sinai have discovered what is believed to be a missing page from the Bible. The page is currently being carbon dated in Bonn. If genuine it belongs at the beginning of the Bible and is believed to read “To my darling Candy. All characters portrayed within this book are fictitous and any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.” The page has been universally condemned by church leaders.

This is from the late 22nd Century; since it has taken a computer with an IQ of 6,000 over three million years to conclude that there is (probably) no God, it seems unlikely that the Bible will have faded into sufficient obscurity for a page from an NIV to make the news, so presumably this relates to a page which looks like it could be 2,000 years old.

Yes, I realise it’s a joke and not meant to be analysed in any depth at all; I’m just highlighting the comment because that’s what this blog is about.

If there is a serious point to be drawn from this episode, it is to be careful how we choose to deal with life’s problems; running away and hiding in a computer game (or wherever suits us better) will invariably turn sour. And from the Christian perspective, we already have access to something far better than this life – we just need to allow ourselves to become totally immersed in Him. After all, God knows your true desires better than any senso-lock feedback technology could hope to, and has the ultimate power to make them happen – whilst still being able to see how our diseased minds could corrupt things.

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The most significant change to this episode was the addition of some sunshine to the exterior shots inside the game; why would anyone fantasise a beach on a grey, overcast day? We have Rhyl for that. The Berni Inn joke in Holly’s prologue is replaced with something more culturally relevant, and the Cat’s mermaid girlfriend (top half fish, bottom half woman) is edited out entirely.

Watch this episode for Lister remembering his dad’s death; and remember, choose your gaming partners carefully.

 



This week, I have been mostly…

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…keeping up with the day job – the school holidays tend to cause havoc with my work schedule. But it seems a long time since I’ve taken stock of my creative output, so here goes:
 

Writing.

Not much, really, following on from the 20,000 word epic that was July’s CampNaNo effort, provisionally titled Hex Drive. Now Hex Drive has given me an idea of who the characters are, and the starting point of an overall arc for the Ambivalence Chronicles, I have been playing around with very rough ideas for the later stories and how they might fit in to the bigger picture.
I will be picking Hex Drive up again soon – probably in September if I have my time management back under control!
 

Editing.

The Countless as the Stars rewrite continues at a similarly reduced rate… I still occasionally want to reboot the thing entirely but am disciplining myself to keep the edits to typos and minor wording tweaks.

I want to get The Ballad of Matthew Smith edited soon as well…

 

Updating the website.

Nothing yet, but there will be an Ambivalence Chronicles section soon.

 

Coming soon…

More of the above. The Countless e-book will probably be the first finished project, then hopefully Matthew Smith or Hex Drive – and it’s almost time to plan for November too!