Tuesday Tunes: NaNoWriMo 2014 Soundtrack

Contrary to what the banner says, and my NaNoWriMo profile says, and all other evidence to the contrary, my NaNoWriMo project for 2014 is not Hex Drive. Well, not only Hex Drive anyway; Hex Drive (having originally been the working title for Bit #1 of the Ambivalence Chronicles) is the second of two novellas in the Ambivalence Chronicles I have been working on this month. (Pay attention, there will be a test later.) And the other day I finished the first – Nineteen Eighty Two: Bit#2 of The Ambivalence Chronicles.

And so, it being Tuesday and all, I thought I would present a selection from the soundtrack to that novella, to whet your appetites for when it eventually gets finished and maybe sees the light of day. Mostly, these are in no particular order, and largely represent what I have been listening to in order to get in a slightly distorted 1982 mindset – namely, a lengthy playlist of covers of somgs from 1982. However, if I ever actually do compile them into a proper soundtrack once the story is finished, I will try and make them make some sort of sense. Anyway, on with the music!

Lazyitis: Come On Eileen (Blinky’s 8-Bit Chasers Version)
The theme for 1982 for several reasons: Come On Eileen was the best selling single in the UK that year; it was by Dexy’s Midnight Runners, and I have a character called Dexy; and the 8-bit sound of this version fits the story perfectly; and it’s just fun.

Dinah Eastwood: Hungry Like The Wolf
The covers of 1982 hits theme worked best when the cover was a completely different style to the original, and this is about as far from Duran Duran as it gets.

Adagio: Fame
Is there as song which says 1982 more than Fame? And is there a cover with subverts it more than this one?

Covox: Computer Love
Back with the 8-bit sound, and a computery theme to boot.

Hellsongs: Run To The Hills
If you are not familiar with Hellsongs, trust me, it’s nothing like you’re expecting.

The Magnets: Town Called Malice
Possibly the best Jam cover since The Kinks did that wersion of David Watts; I see this playing as our heroes explore the town early in the story.

Megan Wyler: I Just Can’t Get Enough
Depeche Mode covered as tea room background music.

Paul Anka: Eye Of The Tiger
Because Rocky does swing in my universe.

Powerman 5000: Should I Stay Or Should I Go
A slightly creepy Clash cover to go with some of the creepier moments.

R.E.M.: The Lion Sleeps Tonight
Because Wimoweh.

Republica: Are ‘Friends’ Electric?
Electric friends, computers, covers from 1982, shouty girl vocals… it’s all here.

Bauhaus: Bela Lugosi’s Dead
Because one of my characters went through a goth phase in Chapter Six.

Henry Mancini: Pink Panther Theme
Because it’s good sneaking around music for Gary the Hi Vis Ninja.

Seu Jorge and Almaz: The Model
Another Kraftwerk cover, this one decidedly creepy.

Slow Moving Millie: Don’t Go
Yazoo, in case you were wondering.

Solar Twins: Rock the Casbah
I don’t know what this is… driving music maybe? I just like it.

The Stranglers: Golden Brown (Foiled Dragon Mix)
I’m foreshadowing. In a slightly obscure way.

Tara Busch: Let’s Go To Bed
Because you didn’t think The Cure could get any weirder…

The Cure: One Hundred Years
I put some original Cure in because of the aforementioned goth phase. And this was from 1982.

Karen Souza: Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?
And again turning the cheesy pop hits of ‘82 into something quite different.

Clawfinger: Vienna
Getting a bit more edgy with the covers as the excitement mounts near to the climax…

Siouxsie and the Banshees: Slowdive
Another not a cover version, a 1982 song for our goth girl again.

Lawnmower Deth: Kids In America
Fitting for a fight scene I think… bring on the Hi Vis Ninja!

Hecuba: Killing an Arab
Another weird Cure cover, suits the epilogue I think.


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NaNoWriMo: Half-way review

So, somewhat later than planned, how about a look at progress so far?

Well, it has to be said, as far as wordcount is concerned, not great; at the end of day 14, having needed a three day break for real life, I was bubbling away under the 17k mark (thats about 6400 words behind the curve, for those keeping count). However, I got a good weekend in in, and with some handy spreadsheeting (that’s pronounced pro-crass-tin-ay-shun) came up with a word count target that had me going fairly easy for week three, and picking up bigger wordcounts during the last week.

Unfortunately real life has intervened further, and I’m going to have at least two more days of not writing this week, so it will be a particularly frenzied final week as I attempt to reach the end of this particular part of the story by the end of November.

All this has been slightly hampered, not just by the day job, but by the unwarranted appearance, fully formed, of a completely other story idea in my head the other day. Needless to say, one of my characters has suddenly developed the urge to become a fiction writer and is filling a chapter of Hex Drive with her various fictive musings.

Speaking of Hex Drive: the original idea for NaNo 2014 was for Bit #2 of The Ambivalence Chronicles (no, you haven’t missed Bit #1 yet, it still needs editing) but it has turned out that I’m writing Bit #2: Nineteen Eighty-Two and Bit#3: Hex Drive this month. At around 25,000 words each, I’m not [that] crazy!

As is usual for NaNoWriMo, it took about 13,000 words and over a week for a key element of the story to fall into place; it took another 7.000 words for all the characters to stop being cardboard cut-outs, but I think when I pick this up again later this week it should be slightly less rubbish for the second half.

And who knows, I might even find time to blog about it slightly more regularly.



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The Twelfth Doctor

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I’m going to make this quick, because, well, I should be writing; but it would be silly at this point not to throw together a few thoughts about the Twelfth Doctor at the end of his first season in the Tardis hotseat. It is always possible (but unlikely) that I’ll revisit some of these thoughts after November’s writing frenzy – I guess if there are comments to that effect I will do so, but I’m sure the internet has more to say on these things already.

The Doctor

I found Peter Capaldi’s Doctor a breath of fresh air. Obviously, it’s nice to have back a Doctor who is older than me, but also one who is so wonderfully alien. I enjoyed the moments where he was flip from apparent uncaring offhandedness to probably inadvertant humour in a couple of sentences. He was different – distant, often – but still obviously attached to Clara.

And as for those who thought he might put off some younger viewers who have become accustomed to the younger and more human Doctors? Well, my nine year old got bored of Matt Smith’s tenure, but has happily watched most of the last season. Make of that what you will.

The Stories

I don’t remember there being a bad story this year (minor plotholes notwithstanding). That may be because we’ve had the new Doctor/Companion dynamic to keep us interested, or because Twelve is awesome, or just because we’ve seen some new tropes this year: the shrink-ray (still can’t believe that hadn’t been done before!), two-dimensional aliens, bucketloads of timey-wimey stuff, and the occasional nod to continuity. It’s been a wild ride, as Doctor Who should be.

The Series Arc

Ok, it wasn’t so much an arc as a few teasers to the finale along the way, but that’s fine. I think new Who has been much better at standalone stories than any attempt at doing a larger arc anyway. The teasers did their job though, and made the finale that bit more satisfying than perhaps it would have been otherwise.

I did actually think Gallifrey would play a bigger part in the series than it did, after the excitement of Day of the Doctor and that business on Christmas; maybe the end of the season will prove to be a teaser for more of that next year.

The Finale

It was pretty epic, to say the least. I suppose bringing popular baddies back for the finale is a tried and tested formula for new Who, but it had a nice new twist here. Also – and this is something I would go into further if I had longer to spare – plenty of nods to religious and spiritual matters, as you would expect from a storyline which confronts the question ‘What happens when we die?’

I don’t think that question was really answered, and nor should it be; but it gave the Doctor the chance to be more of a Christ-figure than ever before – being prepared to go to Hell for his companion, and later, coming out with this little nugget:

Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?

There was also plenty of stuff about the nature of love; whether the Doctor is a soldier or a general (a question which has been raised in new Who before); and some great cameos and nods back to ‘Day of the Doctor’ and before.

Spoiler alert

Missy

Missy’s existence was foreshadowed waaaay back at the end of Series 3, in Last of the Time Lords, so a much anticipated return for some Whovians no doubt. And she was every bit as evil (offing Osgood as she did) and manipulative (getting Clara and the new Doctor back together again) as any incarnation of the Master before her; she was also brilliantly bananas.

Her existence also directly addressed the issue of a Time Lord’s ability to change sex during regeneration – something which has been mentioned in passing previously, but has remained the subject of much debate. It is probably too big and important a subject for me to get into at the moment, so I’ll just reiterate my feeling on the matter, for what it’s worth: the Doctor should be a good male role model. Admittedly this season’s Doctor has spent a lot of time figuring out whether or not he is actually a good man, but I’d like to think that on the whole he has done the right thing all along.

Anyway, that’s my summary of thoughts on the Twelfth Doctor and his adventures so far; now if you’ll excuse me, I should be writing.

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Tuesday Tunes: Monster Tunes

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It may not have escaped your notice that it is, in fact, NaNoWriMo (more about which later in the week), which seems to present an ideal opportunity to recycle some old blog posts.

So, inpsired by last week’s retro review of Night of the Living Dead Christian by Matt Mikalatos, here is a Top Ten I put together way back in March 2012 for the CSFF Blog Tour. Unlike most of the Top Ten’s for the tour, however, this isn’t just ten songs obscurely connected to a book; in the back of Night of the Living Dead Christian the author gives us A Layman’s Self-Diagnosis Guide to Common Monstrosities – with ten monster types identified!

So here it is, a slightly unorthodox Top Ten Monster Songs:

Gargantuans. The Kinks: King Kong
A song about the best known giant monster (Godzilla who?) by those gargantuans of rock (see what I did there?) The Kinks.

Invisible People. Paul Weller: Invisible
The former Style Councillor gets in a jam because his ex can’t see him. Yes, I really went there.

Mad Scientists. Coldplay: The Scientist
You know this one, it’s the one where Chris Martin turns into a werewolf about 4 minutes in.

Mummies. The Fall: I’m a Mummy
He doesn’t try to scare people, he only came back to meet Paul McCartney.

Robots. Kraftwerk: The Robots
Originally I included the awesome cover by the Balanescu Quartet because Kraftwerk was way too obvious; but that’s not on Spotify any more. So here’s the full nine minutes of the 2009 remaster.

Sasquatches. Talking Mountain: The Abominable Abdominal Snowman
This sounds like something that belongs on a quirky Christmas compilation. Also, contains the OMG phrase, if that bothers you.

Trolls. Red Hot Chilli Peppers: Under the Bridge
I could put the cover version on the list, but it’s a few days late for an All Saints pun, and really this is just better in every sense.

Vampires. Jonathan Richman: Vampire Girl
Just so that I avoided anything that previously featured in the Top Ten Vampire Songs (which is one of my favourite Top Tens in fact).

Werewolves. Mogwai: How to be a Werewolf
I thought they became gremlins?

Zombies. Jonathan Coulton: Re: Your Brains
Best. Zombie song. Ever.

And that reminds me: I should be writing.

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Re-Dwarf: Justice

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I’m going to say this at the outset: Justice is not one of my favourite Red Dwarf episodes. It doesn’t completely suck, but… well, the proximity of the escape pod to Justice World after (presumably) three million years seems a little convenient, and a whole lot of the story relies on Kryten’s hitherto non-existent ability to insult Rimmer at will. Maybe it’s just the continuing development of Kryten’s character, or maybe (this being Justice World and all) it’s because Rimmer actually is ‘an incompetent vending-machine repairman with a Napoleon complex, who commanded as much respect and affection from his fellow crew members as Long John Silver’s parrot’; either way, we’ll forgive the potential plot-hole just because the deadpan mechanoid delivery of such lines is fun to watch.

Anyway, to the episode. The crew find a escape pod from a prison ship, and unsure whether its occupant is the (potentially) beautiful Barbara Bellini or a Simulant who looks like a cross between a psychotic Borg and Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner, they locate the original destination of the prison ship, and decide to open the pod in the safety of Justice World.

As is the nature of these things, they get distracted by Rimmer’s misplaced sense of guilt about killing the crew, which leads to Kryten’s insults and the best use of the word ‘yoghurt’ in any science fiction show ever. During Rimmer’s appeal hearing, however, the escape pod opens, and… somebody gets out.

The theme here is, obviously, Justice; inside the Justice Zone, ‘whatever crime you try and commit, the consequences happen to you’. Scientifically improbable, to say the least, but a neat story idea and certainly as it plays out here, an interesting way to explore the ideas of justice, guilt, punishment and so on. Lister certainly gets the message when he inadvertantly sets light to his treasured leather jacket.

On the surface this might seem to be quite a humanistic and almost revenge-centred form of justice, wherein criminals get what’s coming to them until such time as obeying the rules becomes second nature. But on another level, the victims are taking no part in revenge; if it’s needed, vengeance – and as we see during the course of the story, a form of forgiveness – is given out by the unseen ‘Justice Field’.

All of this is quite neatly summed up at the end of the episode in Lister’s philosophical musings on justice, religion and free will:

Mankind’s history has been one long search for justice. That’s what all religions are about: they accept life as being basically unfair but promise everyone will get their just desserts later: heaven, hell, karma, reincarnation, whatever. Those guys who built the penal colony tried to give some order to the universe by creating the Justice Field. But when you’re living in an enviroment where justice does exist, there’s no free will. That’s why in our universe there can never be true, eternal justice – good things will happen to bad people, and bad things will happen to good people. It’s the way it’s got to be. Life, by it’s very nature, has to be cruel, unkind and unfair.

Back to the story: in a very real way, Rimmer is sentenced by nothing more than his own sense of guilt (which, as we discovered in Polymorph, is very much Rimmer’s defining emotion), and very nearly kept there by his own foolish pride not allowing his counsel to do what needs to be done to get him off the hook.

Forgiveness is not always an easy thing; and sometimes, like poor old Arn, we can find it harder to forgive ourselves than to forgive others – even if, like Arnie, what we perceive to be our wrongdoings are really nothing of the sort. So, forgive people, forgive yourself, and maybe you won’t end up of the receiving end of a Justice Field.

If you object to your own counsel once more, Mr Rimmer, you’ll be in contempt.

But the fact is, of course, we’re all far more like Rimmer than we are Kryten; we’re not programmed to be helpful and not call someone a smeg-head when he acts like one. We do that stuff and, because whether we like it or not we are surrounded by the Justice Field many know simply as ‘God’, our default setting is to receive whatever punishment is due (and it may well be said that 9,000 years alone in deep space is pretty close to what God dishes out).

But we also have a defence counsel. A defence counsel who will do whatever is necessary to get us off the hook; He probably won’t resort to petty name-calling – at least not in public – but He is willing to go to places a lot lonelier than 9 millennia alone in deep space, a lot scarier than fisticuffs with a rogue simulant, so that we don’t have to.

The trouble is, of course, that being Rimmer by nature, we tend to argue with Him when we don’t like what He says, or object to what He is trying to do for us… or just forget that He’s even there at all.

Don’t be a yoghurt.

 



This week, I have been mostly…

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Just time for a quick update post as the end of the month approaches – although it has, all things considered, been a very busy month:

Publishing.

I’m not making a big thing of it, but it is available, if you’re interested. I mainly just snuck it onto amazon so I could offer it to fellow WriMos for cheap, and plan a more concerted marketing effort after NaNo.
 

Planning.

For NaNoWriMo of course. I am actually going to be writing two more Bits of the Ambivalence Chronicles, aiming at roughly 25k each; Bit #2 is fairly well planned out, but things are much more sketchy when it get to Bit #3. That’s still an order of magnitude better than my NaNo planning most years, so we should be off to a good start.
 

Soialising.

Before I get into the post-NaNo (in fact, probably January) publicity thing, I’ve been preparing myself to actually be more present on social media. So I now have a Facebook author page, an Amazon author page, and a Goodreads author page (all linked from the main page here). Obviously that could all backfire when I bore the pants off everyone with my NaNo word counts, cheats and other tales of woe, but we’ll wait and see.
 

Website building.

At the moment, the ebook is only available on Amazon, and it looks like that may be the case for a little while. I do at least have that to link to, so the plan – possibly even before NaNo – is to put those permanently on the shop page along with checkout links for purchasing the paperback direct; the cover’s not as nice, but I do still have a few copies to shift.
 

Coming soon…

The Ninth Annual NaNoWriMo Takeover, of course – yes, it seems I have attempted it that many times, although the first two pretty half-heartedly (and unsuccesfully). Since 2008 it’s been my main source of first novel drafts, and hopefully as 2015 and the epublishing revolution march on, some of those might become final drafts, and then ebooks…. but I’m getting ahead of myself. There’s some of the usual stuff I made earlier lined up for November, just to make a break from all the NaNo news.
 
In the meantime, I should be continuing the NaNo prep…

 


Book Review: Night of the Living Dead Christian by Matt Mikalatos

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I don’t celebrate Halloween, but if I did, I’d celebrate by getting a copy of Night of the Living Dead Christian by Matt Mikalatos for my kindle. For free.

Matt Mikalatos is clearly insane an eccentric genius; his first book, Imaginary Jesus, remains The Book I Wish I Had Written, and based on that I opened this book expecting something like a paperback Shaun of The Dead with a little spiritual insight mixed in for good measure. And, apart from the fact that it is less about zombies than it is about a mad scientist (actually, I would have thought that the British would be more likely to use the term eccentric genius, but what do I know?), a spiritually interested werewolf, the worst robot of all time, and our Generic Christian hero, Matt Mikalatos himself, that’s almost what it is. There are zombies; they belong to a church that wants to remove the brains of its congregation. One of them is even adopted by story Matt – he’s called Robert, and the fact that author Matt has the nerve to just go with the obvious gags like that only makes me love this book even more.

Culbetron snickered. “He just said ‘at stake’ to a vampire. Hee hee hee.”

More Christian books should embrace childlike humour. Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child and all that. Also the phrase ‘It’s clobbering time!’ That should be in more Christian books too.

So far, so Shaun of the Dead. But what of the spiritual insight? Well, drawing the parallels between the common stumbling blocks to a truly transformed life and B-movie monsters works so well that it had to be done sooner or later. It may well have been done before, but that doesn’t matter because Matt Mikalatos does it so well. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that he has a degree in Stealth Theology or something, because he just slips those little nuggets of truth in among the silliness.

Vampires, werewolves, zombies, mummies – they can all be cured. If they want it badly enough.

And that is one of the great things about this book. In amongst the monsters and the silly jokes and all the other mayhem, suddenly something will just jump off the page and you will be face to face with your own dark side. Take a quick glance at the amazon reviews for the book, and you’ll see words like ‘convicting’ come up almost as much as ones like ‘hilarious’. The book doesn’t pretend that there is an easy cure to any of our monstrosities – as Lara the vampire says, ‘It’s simple, but it’s not easy.’

For me personally, I think this book works because the author is talking my language. He understands my life, my sense of humour, my enjoyment of things geeky, my parental frustration…

the kids were probably doing the afternoon snack ritual, which involves the children begging for snacks, rejecting whatever is offered to them, and then complaining about their day until they finally take the offered snack and are given sufficient energy not to be upset about all of life anymore. My presence mostly just adds an extra step, the part where I yell at them to stop being so cranky and eat something…

So, all that being said, the big question is: had Matt Mikalatos managed to live up to the expectations set by his debut novel? Well, I was laughing out loud by the end of page two, but on the whole I didn’t do that quite as much as I did while reading Imaginary Jesus. What I did do a lot of though, was think. And I had a whole lot of fun while doing it. So, yes, definitely, Night of the Living Dead Christian is every bit as essential a read as Imaginary Jesus is.

Full disclosure: this is basically an edited version of a review I posted in March 2012, fresh from first reading it. A couple of days after posting the review I shared a paragraph that really jumped out and bit me in the neck; there are plenty of them, snippets of dialogue that contain real thought-provoking truth. As a writer, moments like these serve to remind me of the power that stories can have – even silly stories about vampires and zombies. As a flawed and arguably monstrous human being, this particular moment was really a little closer to home than it had any right to be; this is Lara, the reformed vampire, relating what she learned from a pastor:

He showed me the fountain, but I’m still drinking from it. There’s a well inside of me, but sometimes I want a drink that’s faster, easier, and I take what I can get. There’s a part of me that’s not a vampire anymore, and there’s this other part that still wants to be, sometimes. So every day I have to get a little sunshine, because sunlight doesn’t kill vampires, it just burns the vampire out and leaves the human stronger. But until all the work is done I’m a vampire with a tan.

I think I need to be less afraid of the sunlight.

And I think you need to download this book – do it now, it’s free until October 31st. Zero pennies, zero excuses!



Adventures in e-publishing: creating my first e-book

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Now that I actually have an e-book to show for the efforts of the last many months, I thought – for my own future reference as much as anything – I should record a few of the things I’ve learnt in the process of bringing the project to completion.

For the moment the ebook is only available from amazon; this was just a way of getting it out there, primarily for any fellow NaNo peeps to get hold of on the cheap, before giving it a proper launch in the new year. At some point other ebook formats will be available, and the online shop here will stock them too.

For that reason, and having read of various woes getting Smashwords not to butcher the layout, I basically started afresh. This wasn’t a major problem, as I needed to do a word-by-word edit of the file in order to weed out the typos that crept into the paperback and make a few minor alterations to things that I since decided I didn’t really like. It wouldn’t be a massive amount of extra work to blitz the formatting and check that out at the same time, would it?

Actually, it wasn’t. And it seemed to work – not that I have tried to send the file to Smashwords yet, so I could be jumping the gun somewhat. Anyway, here’s the step-by-step of how I put my first kindle book together, for better or worse:

 
1. Save the original .doc out as a plain text document in NotePad.
2. Paste it into a fresh Word document, with all auto-formatting and auto-correcting disabled.
3. Set up a new Style specifically for ebook prep; I called it ‘ebook’, and it is a straight-forward 12 point Times New Roman affair. There’s a separate style for chapter headings and so on.

(All of this just takes Microsoft’s interpretation out of the equation – any layout errors remaining are therefore entirely my fault.)

4. Get the final edit done. I did this with paragraph returns etc displayed, so any errant spaces could be taken out along with the typos. I didn’t use a lot of italics, but some had to be reinstated on this pass.
5. Put page breaks in at the end of each chapter, and bookmark the beginning of the next (making sure to insert links so the contents page works).
6. Update the front matter to be ebook relevant.
7. Add a bookmark to the contents page. I missed this on my first pass and couldn’t work out why the default navigation on my kindle draft had no Contents option like all the professional ebooks. Google was my friend here, and revealed the missing link – a ‘toc’ bookmark at the top of the contents page.
8. Add the end matter. Such as the first chapter of the sequel, assuming your remaining copy of the file hasn’t been eaten by the hard drive goblins in the 6 years since you threw it together one November. Now I just have the obligatory ‘about the author’ page and a link to the spotify playlist for the soundtrack.
9. Check it over on amazon’s previewer and download a draft to review offline. This turned out to be vital, as it turned out an errant tab, somehow missed thoughout the earlier steps, had thrown my centred text off centre. Easily, if somewhat tediously, remedied.
10. Get a cover. I found mine on fiverr.com – cost me more than a fiver, but didn’t break the bank and ended up being less than some ‘pre-made’ covers that are available. I found an artist rather than a cover designer, but if you have a photo or two and just want them put together professionally there are squillions of people offering such things.

And that, in a nutshell, is how I went from word document to ebook. Next time, the hard slog of publicising and getting people to actually read the thing… but we’ve got NaNoWriMo to live through before that.

 


Re-Dwarf: D.N.A. – Do Not Alter

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I’m not sure how far into series IV we are going to get before the NaNoWriMo madness takes over my life and my blog, but there’s no reason not to quickly dip in here.

Following on from Kryten’s futile attempts to grasp the human qualities he admires most, here he inadvertantly becomes the recipient of a DNA transmogrification (which is possibly the best word in this series of Red Dwarf so far) thanks to an abandoned spaceship and a small organic component lying almost forgotten somewhere within his mechanoid brain, and by some stroke of luck becomes not a chicken or a hamster as Lister did earlier, but human.

My heavens. I am human.

And so it is that we first experience a human version of Kryten’s character (although Robert Llewellyn had previously made a cameo without the mask in series III’s The Last Day) – and therein hangs the philosophical wotsit for the episode, not to mention extrapolating a motif popular in the contemporary Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Kryten – in many ways a superior being, despite having been relegated to ironing and cleaning before joining the Red Dwarf Posse – becomes human. And he doesn’t like it. At first, once he has got used to the somewhat primitive zoom mode and non-functioning nipples, he sets out to enjoy what is, after all, his wildest dream come true; but deep down he knows he is neither one thing nor the other.

And so, after some wrestling with human emotions and a few fish out of water gags, the crew head back to the DNA ship to put things straight, whereupon there is an accident with a mutton vindaloo and the final act of the piece begins.

But we’re not here to talk about that, we’re here to contemplate the moral of the story, which here, as Popeye (or possibly Descartes) said, is ‘I am what I am’. Kryten tries to be something else – something more, in his view – but ends up unhappy, and hurting those closest to him. With the help of closet philosopher Dave Lister, Kryten figures out that the best thing for his mental health is to stay true to himself.

There is also much to be said about the abuse of technology – the mutton vindaloo beast is a very real embodiment of what can go wrong, but Kryten’s inner struggles may be more the kind of thing that we need to look out for. The internet through which I speak to you, for instance, can allow anyone a degree of anonymity which can be a slippery slope to all kinds of trouble – I mean look at me, I pretend to be a writer but lack the motivation to string together 3 blog posts a week on a regular basis.

So, what was the take home from all this? Well, in a roundabout sort of way, just be yourself. It may take some false starts to figure out who you’re supposed to be, as it did with Kryters, but once you figure out who you’re supposed to be, you can be a better you. Yeah ok I’m fluffing that a bit, so I’ll leave you instead with the words of Howard Thurman, who said it much more succinctly than even a writer like me could:

Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

 



Book Review: The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

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Pretty much since forever Tony C Smith of Starship Sofa has been holding up The Forever War as a definitive work of science fiction, and so when I found a second-hand copy last summer I figured why not? Gotta be worth a quid.

And in fact, I think it was.

The Forever War is the story of Private William Mandela, an ordinary soldier thrown into the deep end of a war against the Taurans, a mostly unseen alien enemy. And yes, as such there are plenty of battle sequences and military jargon, but it somehow manages to stay away from being just a military sf story in a couple of ways.

Firstly, the science bit is clever. There’s nothing new or particularly clever about the time dilation effect of near light speed travel, of course, but in Haldeman’s capable hands, it becomes not only a plot device – on which, you’ve probably guessed, the title is based – but a way to show a potential future for mankind through the eyes of a single individual not too far removed from our generation.

And it’s that future that also sets this apart from ‘just another war story’. Over the decades of the novel, humanity gets so caught up in the war that nothing else seems to matter. There are, history tells us, times when this is necessary, however the threat here remains somewhat nebulous throughout and the whole conflict is ultimately futile (which is the more usual upshot of wars after all).

The effect of a protracted, futile war on humanity as depicted here is… well, depressing, basically. Over the generations homosexuality is normalised, and humans become a watered down, homogenised race of vat-grown almost-clones. Which, presumably, was at some point considered better than whatever the Taurans had planned.

The trouble is, in a world where peer pressure leads too easily to the erosion of individuality, and where the words ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ are not pc enough to be used in school… Well, bring on the Taurans!