Tuesday Tunes: Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)

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Originally conceived as the soundtrack to a teleplay about a carpet-layer who emigrates to Australia, Arthur sounds more obviously like a concept album than it’s predecessor Village Green Preservation Society, but with the play never having been produced, it stands as a sort of sequel, building on the same themes of how frankly awesome it is to be English, despite the drudgery of suburban working life and the crappiness of war.

It’s a bit of a sleeper in my collection, not one of those CDs I pull out very often, but I think that may just mean that I’ve under-rated it. Not that I’m the only one; two of the singles from the album, Drivin’ and Shangri-La, utterly failed to chart, despite being probably the best tracks on the album and full of Ray at his most charmingly English. The third single, Vistoria, which opens the album, did make the UK top 40 but with none of the success the band had been used to. Perhaps that is just the price to be paid for releasing albums that actually work best in that format.arthurdent

There is a slight return to the rockier edge of Kinkdom in evidence here notably in the title track and Brainwashed, while Victoria is a joyfully satirical ode to an empire which once reached from Australia to Cornwall.

Contrast with the decidedly downbeat music and lyrics of Yes Sir, No Sir and Some Mother’s Son, which really deserves to be much better known as an anti-war song… and is followed immediately by the ridiculously jolly Drivin’, which is guaranteed to make me grin inanely if I play it in my Mini.

I’m making this sound like a decidely bi-polar album, but the songwriting is brilliant, even when borrowing from Mr Churchill, and while the music does vary from jaunty (Drivin’, Shangri-La) to melancholy (Young and Innocent Days) to just plain weird (She’s Bought a Hat Like Princess Marina) it somehow manages to come together in a way that just works.

The latest release includes both Mono and Stereo versions of the 12 original tracks, plus contemporary single Plasticman (banned by the BBC for including the word ‘bum’… I guess they truly were Young and Innocent Days), a couple of Dave Davies compositions, and a clutch of live performances and alternative takes.

Stand-out tracks: For me, Drivin’ is the clear highlight, but Some Mother’s Son deserves some airplay as we approach Remembrance Day.

Listen along

Get a copy

Linky goodness

The Kinks Official Website
Ray Davies’ website
Dave Davies’ website
KindaKinks.net

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!



It’s finally here…

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You may have noticed I haven’t been around much. I have, however, been very busy – and not just with the day job, for a change. I have, in fact, finally finished the ebook! But before we get on to that, how about what else has been, and will be, going on:
 

Planning.

NaNoWriMo approaches, and I have decided to carry on with Bit #2 of The Ambivalence Chronicles, for which I have had to borrow the working title from Bit #1 and reshuffle some of the plot points in order to get the 8-novella arc somewhere close to workable.
 

Website building.

This may not emerge until after November, unless circumstances allow me the time to fiddle before then; the ebook of Countless as the Stars will be out on amazon by the end of the month; other formats and outlets will follow shortly, but my priority (after NaNoWriMo) is to get an outlet of my own going here. If time permits and I can get it working sooner rather than later, I will do so.
 

Publishing.

Did I mention I have finished the e-book version of Countless as the Stars? It will, finally, reach an e-tailer near you (ok, amazon) and, as promised, before NaNoWriMo. In fact, you can even pre-order it from amazon.co.uk or amazon.com, and probably all the other amazons too.
 

Coming soon…

Well first, NaNoWriMo, more about which next week. Elsewhere, I have stuff like amazon author pages and how best to promote this e-book to contend with after November.
 

And finally…

I will leave you with the cover reveal, in all its glory:
Completedbookcover

October approaches…

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And with October, comes the inevitable annual dilemma: which story to attempt for National Novel Writing Month.

I actually have ideas too, so I thought it might be nice to spend October, you know, planning for NaNo, rather than plumping for a project on October 31st and winging it completely (fun though that approach is).

Raspberry Time.

Inspired by a throwaway line from Camp NaNo:

We hired an airship and set off, following a temporal anomaly detector powered by loombands and a Raspberry Pi.

Has the downside of only actually meaning anything until loombands are superseded by something else.

Bit #2 of The Ambivalence Chronicles.

This was sort of where Camp NaNo started out, before getting hopelessly sidetracked. It won’t mean a lot to most people, of course, but it does feature a Dodge Spacevan and a ZX81. And it is the thing I want to concentrate on, long term.

Bad NaNo Novel.

A completely off-the-wall idea; I’ve always kept the ‘wild card’ option in reserve for previous NaNos, the idea being to pluck characters, plots and settings almost at random from the Adoptables on the NaNo forum, and see what I can come up with. This idea takes it a step further, with the aim to be as nonsensical, in-jokey and self-referential as possible, and then throw it out as an ebook for giggles. Except, of course, having announced that idea on the internet, even using a pen name won’t necessarily detach me from it.

I also have a non-fiction idea, and need to write the sequel to Countless as the Stars all over again because the original file is fubar, but neither are NaNo propositions. So have your say, decide which sorry tale you would prefer me to wibble about for the next three months:

Tuesday Tunes: Equinoxe by Jean Michel Jarre

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You see what I did there? Equinoxe? On 23rd September? No? Oh, if you don’t get it, just forget it.

Anyway, enough nonsense, on with the music! Equinoxe is Jean Michel Jarre’s not-quite-as-impressive second album, and if Doctor Wikipedia is to be believed, reflects a day in the life of a human being. I’m not quite sure if I believe that… although Part 1 certainly wakes up quite slowly, so I suppose it’s conceivable. Might even work as writing music considered that way.

But that, of course, is for the literary fiction crowd; here we are far more interested in the slightly spacey moonwalk ambience of Part Two, which fades into twinkly and melodic Part Three (anybody spotting a theme with the track titles?) and, yes, thence on to Part Four, making the whole album somewhat difficult to review like this, but having set up the calendar-based pun, I feel the need to see it through.

Anyway, Equinoxe Part 4 is one of Jarre’s better known pieces, a great tune too many layers to do anything but just let the music wash over you. Part 5 opens side 2 (or it would have done in the old days) with a crash of thunder and another jolly and instantly recognisable tune, embellished with loads of little electronic flourishes which some might find over the top, but personally I can’t get enough!

Part 6 doesn’t really do much for me; and while Part 7 takes a while to find its own identity away from Part 6 (such is the seamless nature of Jarre’s segues), it settles down to become a pleasant bit of background music, with plenty of variety in tone without becoming intrusive.

The whole things rounds off with more thunder, and a little tune later reinvented as Band in the Rain, but here going by the much catchier title of Equinoxe Part 8. Unfortunately once the jolly French accordian player has done his turn, Part 8 reverts to a slowed down variation on Part 5, which is ok as it goes, but hardly an epic finale to the album as a whole.

Stand out track: for me, Part 5 is an easy winner, although the more ambient sound of Part 2 is a close runner up.

There is a lot of good stuff on Equinoxe, perhaps not quite as obscure and orchestral as Oxygene, but for me it just doesn’t quite hit the same spot as some of Jarre’s other albums.

Listen along

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Five Annoying Writer Tweets

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I haven’t fully engaged with the whole twitter business yet, but with an ebook imminent and hopefully more next year, I kinda think I should. To which end, I have been observing the goings on of other indie writers in the twittersphere and started to compile a list of things I should avoid (if only because they irritate me):

Only ever tweeting about your book.

Universally acknowledged as the ultimate crime among tweeters; even worse if the writer in question has only one book, but insists on telling the world about it every hour. I have to admit to eventually being worn down and checking out the previews of some books that come my way like this, but by that time I already want to hate it… make of that what you will.
 

Tweeting your one five star review repeatedly.

A more specific variation of the ultimate crime, with an added undertone of dishonesty. Clearly we are supposed to think ‘Wow, this book gets a 5 star review every week, I must check it out!’ but seeing just one review when you click the link is a bit disappointing.
 

Using txt spk.

Ok, you have a limited number of characters at your disposal, I get that; but you claim to be a writer – wordcraft! Edit! Either say what you need to say in 140 characters, or write a whole blog post and tweet us the link. Rptd use of txt spk doesnt inspire me 2 read yr bk.
 

Selling me sex.

This is a personal taste thing (and not something I am in danger of doing myself). For obvious reasons I follow the tweetings of various indie authors, and as indie publishing is well suited to publishing mucky fiction, occasionally it appears on my timeline. I’d just rather not see it.
 

Not tweeting enough.

That way when you do tweet something interesting it just disappears because I haven’t realised how interesting you are. Oh, wait, that’s me at the moment…
 
Any more things to avoid?

Tuesday Tunes: The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society

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Where Live at Kelvin Hall was a snapshot of the early Kinks live experience, The Village Green Preservation Society is very much the definitive early Kinks album – although, at the time, it utterly flopped at home and in the US.

As the title might suggest, this is an album about England – that strange, idealised England that was foreshadowed in Something Else and should really be the setting for a Stepfordland-style novel (coming soon to an e-reader near you: Something Else by Steve Trower) – the original album following the title track with 14 more Davies-penned tales of English village life.

There is no genre-busting guitar riff like the band’s early hits, but to try and recreate You Really Got Me at this point in their (apparently failing) career would have seemed desperate. What there is, is the simple beauty of the title track; jolly little little ditties like People Take Pictures Of Each Other and Picture Book; the melancholy reminiscences of Do You Remember Walter and Village Green; the blues inspiration of Last Of The Steam Powered Trains; the weirdly fantastical Phenomenal Cat; and the dark and mysterious Wicked Annabella – a change of pace from the rest of the album, heightened by Dave Davies’ slightly creepy vocal.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that the only thing missing from the album is filler. For my money this is not only the Kinks’ best album, but probably one of the best albums I own. It is also the best deluxe re-release; coming in on 3 discs and an epic 62 tracks, this does somewhat address the shortage of filler (as if that was really a problem), but also gives the first CD release to some rare tracks – including the awesomely titled instrumental Mick Avory’s Underpants – as well as the usual collection of instrumentals, alternative mixes and BB sessions.

The deluxe release also includes the simply brilliant Days (one version for each disc) which, being in part about the end of the Kinks golden era (Village Green was the last album recorded by the original line-up), has an emotional depth to it that Kirsty MacColl could never hope to match.

Basically what I’m saying is if you only ever buy one Kinks album, buy this one. It is nothing short of pop perfection.

Stand-out tracks: From the original track list, The Village Green Preservation Society is jolly, quotable fun. From the bonus material, Days of course, and of the more obscure tracks, Where Did My Spring Go, in which Ray has a fun little poke at getting old.

Listen along

Get a copy


Linky goodness

The Kinks Official Website
Ray Davies’ website
Dave Davies’ website
KindaKinks.net

Re-Dwarf: Camille

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Here we are then, if my broadband holds out, the start of a shiny new season of Re-Dwarf.

It’s a small, off-duty Czechoslovakian traffic warden

The last time we saw Kryten, he had lied to his replacement about the existence of Silicon Heaven; presumably lying to a fellow mechanoid is different to lying to a human, because Red Dwarf IV opens with Lister trying desperately to teach him the noble art of lying.

Continuity gaps aside, this scene does give us some of Kryten’s most quotable lines… ever, possibly; it also gives us the theory that lying can be noble – ostensibly Lister’s reason for trying to break this particular subroutine in Kryten’s programming.

As usual, of course, Rimmer cuts the fun short, wanting Kryten to take him asteroid spotting; it is on this trip that the main thrust of the episode starts, when Kryten disobeys Rimmer’s cowardly order to turn back, and instead rescues a female shaped mechanoid going by the name of Camille.

When Rimmer meets Camille, we don’t really know what is going on, but it doesn’t take Lister long to realise something weird is going on, and forces a confession: Camille is a pleasure GELF – a genetically engineered life form created to be everyone’s perfect companion.

With the truth out, it transpires that Camille has genuine feelings toward Kryten, who gallantly lies about Camille’s bum looking blobby in her natural state, and even takes her on a date as herself.

It’s the old, old story. Droid meets droid. Droid becomes chameleon. Droid loses chameleon, chameleon turns into blob, droid gets blob back
again, blob meets blob, blob goes off with blob, and droid loses blob, chameleon and droid. How many times have we seen that story?

The moral of this story, beyond the dubious nobility of lying, is that appearance is not everything. What we are is more than what we look like, more than the way we appear to those around us.

Rimmer, Lister and Cat are content – while it lasts – to look on Camille and see their perfect mate; a mirror for their obsessions. It took someone pure, someone programmed to be ‘good’, to see beyond outward appearances and see Camille’s heart – and, ultimately, do what is best for her, however much it hurts him.

The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.
1 Samuel 16:7 NIV

 



What I Did On My Holidays

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Well, it’s the beginning of September, so why not break open that age old tradition so beloved of primary school teachers, of writing about what we got up to over that long summer break. With a writing slant, of course; I’m sure you’re not all interested in Newquay Zoo and a couple of car shows. So, here’s what I’ve achieved this summer:

Writing.

Just bits and pieces really, the grand Camp NaNo vision of doing something every day sort of fell by the wayside, but did at least generate some interesting ideas for November or beyond.
 

Publishing.

Well, almost; the ebook prep for Countless as the Stars is well under way, and I have a somewhat nebulous yet ambitious plan to get the ebook on the eshelves for NaNoWriMo in November. Watch this space!
 

Planning.

In a dramatic break with tradition, I already have three potential projects for NaNoWriMo. One of them is Bit #2 of The Ambivalence Chronicles, which I want to get up and rolling in the not too distant future, so I have also been trying to come up with a loose series plan and a more detailed Book Two plan along the way.
 

Website building.

Along with planning to get an ebook out by November, comes the obvious complimentary requirement for a sales channel of some sort. Obviously amazon will be my friend, but I also have a shop page to be added on here being tinkered with behind the scenes.
 

Unrelated stuff.

Irrelevant to the world of writing, editing and publishing, but kinda cool in a Geek Dad sort of a way, I took my eldest daughter to Maplins, bought a multipack of LEDs and helped her program a traffic light sequence in Scratch. We are a breadboard away from inventing the Raspberry Pi Time Machine here!
 

Coming soon…

The Great Red Dwarf Re-Watch actually will start Series IV on Friday. And of course more news about that NaNo project, and probably a post or two about my epubbing experiences as they move forward.
 
In the meantime, what did you get up to this summer?