Tuesday Tunes: On The Sunday Of Life…

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On the Sunday of Life…. – the first studio release by Porcupine Tree – is 20 years old now, and compiled of songs written between around 1988 and 1991, and seems to be looked down upon by a large chunk of the fans the band have picked up with their more recent releases.

Me? I was there at the beginning; Jupiter Island was the song that got me hooked on Porcupine Tree, and I still think this is their best album.

Why? Partly I think because of the eclectic mix of sounds and styles – from the jaunty psychadelia of Jupiter Island, to the instrumentals like Third Eye Surfer, to the decidedly weird and slightly creepy spoken piece Space Transmission, to the weird ambience of Hymn, to the brilliant prog rock epics Radioactive Toy and It Will Rain For A Million Years….

In between all that you get a random nod to Lucy in the Sky with DiamondsFootprints borrows ‘Tangerine Trees and Marmalade Skies and Plastecine Porters with Looking Glass Ties’ straight from it, and by a curious coincidence is followed by Linton Samuel Dawson, which, unlike the aforementioned Beatles number, is quite clearly about drugs.

In fact much of the album has a decidedly trippy feel to it, but every moment of strung out weirdness (Queen Quotes Crowley) there’s a Begonia Seduction Scene.

Yes, it’s weird (which, as you may gather, I like for writing music), but it’s also bloomin fantastic. If you like Porcupine Tree’s later work, it’s worth a listen, but may not be what you’re expecting… If you like psychadelia, prog-rock, musical jokes or just originality, this has it all.

Stand-out tracks: Nine Cats is just a gorgeous song, and closing track It Will Rain For A Million Years is ten minutes of moody prog-rock so awesome it’s on the soundtrack to Countless as the Stars.

Get a copy

Linky Goodness

Porcupine Tree official website
Porcupine Tree are on Spotify

Camp NaNoWriMo Update

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Before I throw myself laptop first into a long Friday of wordcount boosting, time for a quick review. I’ve missed a couple of days this week, and then my creative brain got distracted by a couple of other projects that are totally awesome in my head, but, um, I may not actually have the talent to bring into being.

A lot like The Ambivalence Chronicles then.

I did – against all the odds – manage to make quite a bit of progress at a CampNaNo write-in last weekend, and not only started out the week just ahead of target, but also (following on from last weeks post) started to get the story into some sort of order. But then a couple of days without writing came along and spoilt it all…

Who are we to say who the bad guys are? Maybe they just want to cure world hunger and play a bit of Tetris like rest of us.

I did have a crisis of confidence a few days ago; a few years ago when I started The Ambivalence Chronicles during NaNoWriMo, I pictured my protagonist as being about 19 and living with his parents. Now, realising that retro computing is a heavy theme of the series, and most people who remember the sort of retro computers I’m talking about are over 30, I thought maybe my hero should be as well.

Whereas, when I started Hex Drive on July 1st, he was 25, for reasons of plot. Hmm.

For now, I’m carrying on with the original (a few NaNos ago) idea of him being 19, and about to head of on his first big adventure, in the desperate hope that it doesn’t turn out to be deeply symbolic when they reach Chapter Twenty. There is a certain appeal to a teenager more interested in breathing life into an obscure 30 year old computer than keeping up with his mate’s iPad, so I’m going to play with that idea.

Progress-wise, I’m half way through may target wordcount; word number 10,000 was ‘our’. My daily average has dropped to 526, and needs to be 770 to finish on time now. So, what’s that expression? I should be writing…

Monday Review – Doctor Who: An Unearthly Child

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I’m sure I can’t be the only one who, faced with months of waiting for a new Doctor Who episode, and having seen those tantalising glimpses of other Doctors in The Name Of The Doctor, went off in search of an alternative Doctor Who fix.

There are many theories as to how best to get into ‘classic’ Who; I used a combination of receommended viewing lists found on the internet, half remembered episodes from my youth, and what was cheap on amazon that day to start my own collection of Doctor Who DVDs. One obvious choice for me though, was the three volume The Beginning box set, which brought the first three serials from 1963 together for anyone wanting a real history lesson. And so that is where we shall start: at the beginning.

Now, I have absolutely no frame of reference for what TV was like in 1963; by modern standards the pacing, the effects, and some of the acting looks pretty amateurish, but for the most part, once I got into the story, none of that mattered. I was able to sit back and enjoy it for what it is: escapist television fantasy from 50 years ago.

Eh? Doctor who? What’s he talking about…?

On which subject, my observation was that it didn’t look 50 years old – at least in terms of picture quality. The remastering process has presumably come into its own in making these early episodes available to a new generation.

The first episode, An Unearthly Child, sets out the stall for the series to come. The title comes from Susan Foreman, an unusually gifted 15 year old who has some fairly obvious gaps in her knowledge. In an effort to find out why this might be, two of her teachers from Coal Hill School pay a visit to her home. Which, it turns out, is a scrap yard, within which they find a police call box… and the rest, as they say, is wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff.

Which brings me to an important observation. In the beginning, the Doctor is… well, less fun than his later incarnations. This is a Doctor with a dark side; in the first episode he basically kidnaps the curious teachers (Ian Chesterton and Barabra Wright) when they make their way into the Tardis. He is superior to them, and my gosh don’t he know it. Human morals appear to mean nothing to him, and although that might change as the Doctor matures and regenerates, his tendency to make his own rules up is there from the outset.

This pilot episode also gives us our first clue who the Doctor and Susan are: exiles, wanderers in the fourth dimension, cut off from their planet and their civilisation. Why, we don’t know; maybe even the Doctor’s own people think he’s a miserable old git.

We are also introduced to the ‘bigger on the inside’ concept of the Tardis; it seems to me that this incarnation of the control room – complete with food (well, near-food) replicator – is a lot bigger than those I remember from Four to Seven. Susan reveals that she came up with the name ‘Tardis’; that, for me, is going to take quite some timey-wimey stuff to make happen, but, well, this is Doctor Who.

Now, unless you are a Time Lord too, I’ve probably taken up enough of your time. I’ll share some more thoughts about these episodes another time.

 




The Trouble With Pantsing

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I officially hate week two.

The trouble with pantsing – which is my chosen approach to all things NaNo – is that of having only the vaguest idea what is going on. Hex drive is very much that way for me: I have a beginning, I have an end… everything in between I’m making up as I go along.


There is no cooler way to die than in a 1275GT

And, as is also traditional for NaNo, part way into week two, I discover that the story I am writing doesn’t actually include most of the 5685 words I’ve written over the last 9 days. Which means that, in true NaNoWriMo style, day ten’s offering pretty much consisted of my two main characters sitting down and retconning the events of the previous week because I’ve come up with a more coherent idea. I think.

So far I’ve had one day of not making any forward progress (most of it now being retconned out notwithstanding) so I’m unsurprisingly a day behind, running with a daily average of 625 words. That only needs to go up to 655 to reach my target for the month, but I expect that once the new and improved version of the story kicks in properly I’ll be churning out more than that most days.

There is a lot of editing to do though; not least for the rewriting of the first quarter, but for comedy, and what small number of facts I feel obliged to sneak in under cover of fantasy.

So, now I have to go and remind myself of the plot of Mad Max, mix it up with some fantasy quest motifs, and chase it with a dinosaur all the way…. to story time.

Tuesday Tunes: Orblivion

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In this digital age I don’t tend to buy many CDs. I had already collected a fair amount of vinyl and a couple of drawers full of cassettes before CDs came along, so my music collection, although modest by a serious collector’s standards, already takes up too much valuable space. When I look around HMV these days I find myself liking odd tracks on a bunch of CDs, but nothing really enough to buy…

With a few exceptions, one of which being The Orb. There’s a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, they’re not a singles act. They make the sort of music that is intended to be played as an album. Secondly, the spacey, largely instrumental electronic sound is perfect for writing to – especially for writing sci-fi to. And then there’s the fact that, just occasionally, they sound ever so slightly like the KLF, one of my favourite bands of all time.

Orblivion was originally released in 1997, but I recently got hold of the remastered & expanded version released last year. As an album, Orblivion is The Orb at their spaciest, and the second CD, the remixes, takes the whole trip off on a variety of insane tangents.

For some reason, this was not a particularly successful outing for Dr Paterson and his colleagues, at least in the UK. It is, arguably, an album of two halves, the first four tracks blend into one, all hypnotic beats and trippy electronica about as good as it comes; then half way through you hit S.A.L.T., which is based on the ranting sermon of a street preacher who has read too much Left Behind; Toxygene, the unloved Jean-Michel Jarre remix that I referred to in my last writing music review (the Kris Needs Up For A Fortnight Mix on disc 2, which is about 90% bass, is currently one of my top driving tunes); and Secrets, a trippy little number introduced by a weather forecast that needs a double-take.

Stand-out tracks: Well, I mentioned Toxygene in that Jarre review a few weeks back; the original version is my top pick for this collection too, followed by S.A.L.T.

It’s all good, if you like that sort of thing, and the remix disc, while arguably not adding much to the original, is a welcome bonus.

Listen along

Get a copy

Re-Dwarf: Me²

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Watching this again I come to realise that Red Dwarf season one sort of tailed off at the end. Me² is, in many ways, just too similar to the episode before; rather than Lister having to deal with all too real aspects of his personality, Rimmer is now living with a duplicate of himself who is even more officious and annoying than the one we have come to know and, er… the one we know.

This does pose the interesting question of whether the original Rimmer has been changed so much by being around Lister and the Cat that he no longer recognises the person he was when the hologram was made, or whether in fact any one of us would be that irritated by ourselves if we were ever to meet.

Unlike Confidence and Paranoia though, this episode gives us plenty of Red Dwarf laughs – mocking the drab greyness of its own sets – and adds much to the wider Dwarf story.

I don’t believe it – I’ve been ippy-dippied to death

Here, for instance, is where Gazpacho Soup Day is explained, a turning point in Rimmer’s career that he managed to epically screw up; and when the two Rimmers are still in the honeymoon phase, Rimmer 1 is heard to say of his counterpart: ‘What a guy!’ in a way which sounds oddly familiar all these years later…

 

Re-mastered

Most of the changes to this episode seem to be to reduce the amount that Lister smokes – presumably he did that a lot more in this episode without Rimmer whining about it all the time – but there’s some shifting on shortening to improve the flow.

In the original version, Lister takes the opportunity to point out the the clippings on the Rimmers’ wall (‘Arnie does it again!’ and so on) are about an entirely different Arnold; viewers of the re-mastered edition have to work that out for themselves.

Watch this episode for an insight into Rimmer’s character, and a better take on fighting with yourself than Confidence and Paranoia gave us.

 



Camp NaNoWriMo update

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It all started, as so many good stories do, on ebay.

So begin The Ambivalence Chronicles: A Comic Urban Fantasy in 8 Bits.

Bit #1 is, for the time being, entitled Hex Drive, because that sort of ties in with at least some of what the story will be about; it is still very much a process of discovery writing though, so anything could happen. I mean, literally anything, going by some of the things I have got planned…

Progress is going well; Day One got off to a flying start, allowing me to fall a little below my daily requirement of 650 words today and still stay ahead of the curve.

I’m making a surprisingly good pace of around 600 words per hour so far; unfortunately it isn’t as funny as a Comic Urban Fantasy should be. Hopefully I can edit somejokes in during August – and I’m hoping tonight will bring some suitably wacky dreams as I drift off to sleep amid fumes of Waxoyl coming up from the garage…

Monday review: Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

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Snow Crash is a novel which, every now and then, pops up in certain sectors of the media – recently the Wall Street Journal – usually on account of it’s unnecessary level of prescience on the subject of all things internetty. Personally I wouldn’t read too much into that, it’s just a good bit of extrapolation on the author’s part from what was already possible or proposed in 1992.

Anyway, I thought it’s recent emergence was enough of an excuse to post a review, so here it is. Snow Crash is an odd little number, partly because it crammed so much in, and partly because it treads the fine line between genius and lunacy.

Essentially, the main character, Hiro Protagonist (whose name is either a stroke of genius or just plain laziness) discovers that a cyber-drug has been invented and is being used maliciously against hackers like himself. And so begins his quest to take out the drug barons, using all the hacking, sword-wielding and pizza-delivering skills at his disposal.

This Snow Crash thing–is it a virus, a drug, or a religion?


Along the way, Stephenson takes us through a near-future USA in which federal government has all but collapsed, leaving the nation in a kind of commercialised anarchy, and the Mafia going about its business behind a friendly pizza-delivering front. Even the ostensibly Christian church has been turned into a chain store operated by one of the worlds richest businessmen (apart from some offshoots, like the Russian Orthodox church, which went paramilitary at some point).

So far, so off-beat cyberpunk wackiness; but worthy of special mention here is the idea of civilisation and religion as a virus, which crops up towards the end of the first half. It’s explored in some rather conspicuous info-dumping, and soon veers away from the Biblical concept of Babel and on to Sumerian versions, but the whole thing is an intriguing exploration of religion in a scientific (or at least, pseudo-scientific) context. It even has some things to say about pentecost and speaking in tongues that would probably have made some of the anti-Da Vinci Code lobby blow a gasket or two.

It’s not without humour, as the hero/protagonists name suggests, and if I have one recommendation regarding this book, it is this:

Find a copy in a library or bookshop, turn to chapter 37, and read the memo on ‘NEW TP POOL REGULATIONS’. It’s a work of beaurocratic genius, and if you have ever worked in a large office you may need to sit down. It is the humorous high point of the book – too long to reproduce here in full, but here is a quickie on the subject of BTDUs:

This reduces to a minimum the number of transactions in which the distribution unit is depleted (the roll runs out) during the transaction, a situation that can lead to emotional stress for the affected employee.

What are BTDUs? If you haven’t guessed, the definition in the memo:

bathroom tissue distribution units (i.e., rolls).

It is quite sweary, for those who don’t like that sort of thing; but it’s a great science fiction novel, in the cyberpunk tradition but with an added injection of fun, and has a lot of religious opinions within it to get thinking about.



Store Openings and Camp NaNoWriMo

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It’s been a busy couple of weeks since my last update post, both here on the website and creatively, as Camp NaNoWriMo approaches…

Updating the website.

The Old Testament Space Opera section is slowly growing; the soundtrack to Countless as the Stars is now listed there, with Spotify links where tracks are available. There is still a few more pages to go in there, sample chapters being next on the list.
And of course the shop page is now up and running – eventually e-books will be available there, but for now it’s your exclusive supplier of Old Testament Space Opera in paperback. What’s more, while the shop system is untested, the prices are as low as I can get them without actually paying your postage as well as giving the book away, so grab a copy while you can!

 

Writing.

This has basically consisted of plotting, planning, and throwing away ideas for The Ambivalence Chronicles #1, which will be drafted for Camp NaNoWriMo during July. Also trying to come up with a title – current favourites are Hex Games, Hex Drive and Hex Bomb. Which of course means it will end up being called something entirely different.
 

Editing.

Countless as the Stars edits have reached the end of chapter twelve; it is unlikely any will get done during July, obviously.
 

Coming soon…

Camp NaNoWriMo. I’ll be posting occasional updates and frustrated posts here as I splurge words over the next month, and who knows, maybe even some of the better sentences!

CSFF Blog Tour: Storm by Evan Angler

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Set in a future North America that is struggling to recover after famine and global war, the Swipe series follows the lives of three kids caught in the middle of a conflict they didn’t even know existed. United under a charismatic leader, every citizen of the American Union is required to get the Mark on their 13th birthday in order to gain the benefits of citizenship.



Swipe

Logan Langly is just months away from his thirteenth birthday and the biggest day of his life––the day he will finally be Marked. The Mark lets people get jobs, vote, even go out to eat or buy concert tickets. Becoming Marked means becoming free. Or so he is told. Five years ago when Logan’s sister went to get her Mark she never came back. Now Logan can’t shake the feeling he’s being watched… And then he finds the wire.

Sneak

When Logan went on the run after the events of SWIPE, no one thought he could survive on his own.

He proved them wrong. But when Logan finally makes it to Beacon City, he finds that the capital holds more secrets than anyone could have guessed. And all his careful planning is worthless against a government that will do anything to gain absolute control.

Storm

Now the unlikely leader of the Markless revolution, Logan Langly is fighting for much more than he’d ever imagined. With the threat of a chemically manufactured plague that could kill millions and a drought that is nearing critical mass, someone has to step in. But when an old friend appears with a special mission for him, it is no longer clear who Logan can trust. And with the weather becoming more and more unstable, a storm is coming that will put everything Logan and the Markless have worked for at risk…

Spark

The fourth book in the series, available in November according to amazon.

The CSFF Blog Tour this month will be looking at the most recently published book in the series, Storm. You can find out more about it by following the tour through the links on your right, or by visiting the author’s website.