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Has the downside of only actually meaning anything until loombands are superseded by something else.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

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?

Monday Review: The Twelfth Doctor

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You might have noticed that this time last week the internets were alive with various opinions about Peter Capaldi’s proper debut as everyone’s favourite Time Lord. I didn’t join in because, frankly, I don’t think it’s fair to judge a Doctor based on his immediate post-regeneration actions (although just how immediate all this was is unclear, what with him having pulled a dinosaur on his way to Victorian London) and I didn’t want to set a precedent and end up posting every week the same set of thoughts about the episode that must, in an infinite internet, already be posted somewhere.

That said, thoughts worth mentioning about Deep Breath:

  • It could have been a nicely meta sort of an episode, acknowledging the uncertainty of fans about such a whopper of a change, but that did get a little bit overdone in the end.
  • Apparently somebody complained about the lesbian kiss. Nobody noticed that Jenny was in fact snogging a millennia old lizard.
  • Neither did anyone notice that it wasn’t a kiss, it was mouth to mouth resuscitation. But, you know, any excuse to get in a flap.
  • Am I the only one bothered that they wedged open a plot-hole wide enough for Eleven’s chin? I mean, timey-wimey and all that, yes, but still… that bothered me. Sorry to everyone who cried at it, but it just made no sense.
  • You know what else didn’t make sense? Clara being bothered by regeneration. Didn’t she hang out with all the previous Doctors on Name Of The Doctor? Didn’t it sort of hint that maybe Clara was in fact Ace? And yet… she was bothered by Twelve. Oh well.
  • On the plus side, while the Doctor was staggering around London trying to find himself or something, Clara got a grip, stood up to Madame Vastra and actually threatened to become a decent character in her own right, which was nice.

Actually I’ve already gone on far too long about last week’s news: Into The Dalek. I was wondering if the steampunk opening sequence was just in honour of the clockwork robots from Deep Breath, but they seem to be here to stay; another big change from… well, the last 50 years, pretty much. But this is a new era for Doctor Who, a big change from the times of Ten and Eleven, so I guess it’s fitting.

This is Clara. Not my assistant, she’s some other word… Yeah, my carer. She cares so I don’t have to.

And that brings us to this point: the Doctor has had a little time to find himself – or, from Clara’s perspective, lose himself – and while neither he nor Clara are sure at this stage whether or not he is a good man, I think I like him. He’s even funny, but in a deadpan, almost oblivious sort of way; he’s also got a dark streak that Ten and Eleven lacked (or he may just really dislike soldiers).

Philosophically minded Whovians will find a lot to chew over here, not least the matter of Dalek morality (morality as malfunction), or whether it is enough to try to be a good person.

Not to mention Missy, guardian of ‘Heaven’, where people/robots who die around the Doctor seem to be ending up this season. That’s not likely to end well now, is it? I suspect we will return to this sub-plot later in the series.

Spoiler alert

However, the most interesting point, I thought, was the central conceit of the episode: a ‘good’ Dalek. Interesting to throw that one into the mix after 50 years, to say the least; and as unlikely concepts go, it’s right up there with redeeming Darth Vader. Our good Dalek – Rusty – is naturally predisposed to hate pretty much everyone, but the Doctor is able to work out (and this is where it turns out he really needs Clara) that all remaining vestiges of goodness within the Dalek’s squidgy bits are basically short-circuited by some clever technology.

So the Doctor goes in, flicks the switches, shares his own soul, his sense of the beauty and goodness of the universe, with Rusty, and sends him back into the Dalek fold, a redeemed Dalek.

And this, of course, is metaphorically what God does for us: He gets inside us, right down to our spiritual radiation leaks, and heals our inner wounds. And then because our minds are still short-circuited by sin, He shares His soul with us, so that we can see the beauty of Truth… and be free to follow our own path, instead of that which the masses around us take for granted.

The question which remains, of course, is what can one ‘good’ individual achieve among a corrupt and selfish race?

Where did all the water go?

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This story came my way a little while ago, courtesy of JJ Campanella on Starship Sofa Episode 348 (the news in question starts at 44 minutes with an amusing rendition of a conversation between Jim and Mrs Campanella, but do listen to the rest of the podcast too).

The gist of the story is that the wonder of science has found epic amounts of water locked away in something called ringwoodite, which lurks about 400 miles below the Earth’s surface and, apparently, sweats a lot. So much so, in fact, that if just one per cent of the rock at that depth is sweaty, there could be enough water down there to fill the world’s oceans three times over. And you were worried about the ice caps melting.

I don’t wish to go all young-earther here, but the idea that much of our surface oceans were in fact driven up from the mantle by geological processes, and not dropped off by passing comets as is more commonly believed, sort of lends a new slant to the creation narrative of Genesis:

And God said, ‘Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.’ And it was so.
Genesis 1:9, NIV

Taken literally (which I’m not saying it should be, just throwing ideas around) this verse suggests that the Earth was once – before the creation of life – covered in water. Water which, for dry ground to appear, presumably had to go somewhere…

The theory – presented by Steve Jacobsen of Northwestern University, Evanston, IL – as far as I can tell is that the oceans we now have may have come up from below the Earth’s surface; the possibility of the process being reversible is just my own creative speculation based on a couple of mediocre A-levels taken a couple of decades ago and long since forgotten.

So, how about we get back to what the actual scientist behind this idea says?

The hidden water might also act as a buffer for the oceans on the surface; it may explain why our oceans have stayed the same size for millions of years. If the stored water wasn’t there it would be on the surface of the earth and mountain tops would be the only land poking out.
Steve Jacobsen, emphasis mine.

You probably see where I’m going with this. It’s not a perfect explanation, but it could (and probably will) be argued that some freak geological occurrence caused all this ringwoodite-bound water to the surface at some point in history, covering all but the very highest mountain peaks in sea water until a sufficient portion of the water seeped back into it’s underground lair.

The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered.
Genesis 7:18-19, NIV

Such an overflow of previously unseen water could easily have been a catalyst for the many universal flood stories that exist in antiquity.

Perhaps more importantly – at least for those who want to take the whole of Genesis literally – this underground ocean could provide an answer to the sticky question of where all the water went.

Biscuits and Bad Publicity

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I’m going to digress slightly here on go off on an uncharacteristic rant. Feel free to skip ahead to Friday if you wish, when I might start series 4 of Re-Dwarf.

It is sad but true fact that I have a biscuit problem. I know, I don’t seem the type, but that’s the nature of biscuits; it’s a more common problem than you might think. Anyway, there it is; it’s just another thing I deal with on a daily basis.

And in the process of dealing with this problem, I have start to support, or at least follow, various groups which exist to support recovering biscuit addicts, and to help those leaving the biscuit factories to go on and lead full and productive lives outside of the snackfood industry.

The reason I mention this now is that one such group, which we shall refer to as The English Addiction to Biscuits Awareness Group (TEABAG) has recently scored what I think to be something of an own goal.

Without getting into the details, a couple of new biscuit brands have come onto the market recently; one in particular has had quite a media frenzy over it recently, it turns out. Much of this has been of the typical Daily Mail ‘look at this new biscuit it’s really bad for you it will make your children have cancer and by the way they’re half price in Asda’ variety, which of course purports to be bad publicity but only serves to point out the existence of the biscuit, and if you’re predisposed towards biscuits anyway you don’t care that it kills kittens, you want to try this new biscuit, especially if you’re bored of custard creams and can’t afford Jammy Dodgers.
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Which is fine, as I don’t read the Daily Mail for more or less that reason; however, this particular biscuit, like another before it, came to my attention by way of TEABAG. Doing the exact same thing.

Perhaps I’m being over-sensitive, but it seems to me that if even part of your stated purpose as an organisation is to help people like me give up biscuits, it’s probably not a good idea to put a press release for this new brand in my facebook news feed on a Monday morning. It doesn’t matter that you were actually linking to teabag.org and your own (no doubt valid) views of how bad this new biscuit is and how it gives kittens cancer; I did not know this biscuit existed until you told me.

It doesn’t matter that you only showed the biscuit in its wrapper. You didn’t need to show it at all. You didn’t need to tell TEABAG supporters that biscuits make people fat and are making people fatter all the time – we already know biscuits are bad. You can tell us biscuits are getting worse without showing us the delicious jam and cream filled centre (even in its wrapper).

You may well say that these biscuits were all over the internet and social media, and that may well be true, but they weren’t in my social media – until you put them there.

I don’t care how good your intentions were; if I were in a weaker place, and able to get to Asda when I saw that piece from TEABAG, I would have tried to get the biscuit. I daresay others did just that; there is no such thing as bad publicity. There is, however, such a thing as badly placed publicity. Most Daily Mail readers, I’m sure, would have shared the moral outrage at this new biscuit, and resolved not to shop at Asda until they had stopped selling them.
Digestive_biscuitsTEABAG followers, however… well, as I can testify myself, TEABAG probably did the biscuit makers a great favour by highlighting the existence of this new kind of biscuit to just the sort of audience who need a new kind of snack.

Sticking that in their facebook feed was akin to leaving flyers for the local off licence lying around at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Unintentional, maybe; but plainly ridiculous.

Doctor Who: The Mind Robber

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I first watched this Second Doctor story back in the wilderness years, between McCoy and McGann, and I remember at the time thinking it was a little bit silly, what was supposed to be a science-fiction show getting lost in the land of fiction. But maybe my tastes have changed since then, I’ve certainly seen a bit more of Patrick Troughton’s Doctor, and almost universally liked him.

And, of course, the Thursday Next effect makes this episode fun to watch for more than the slightly surreal feel that the story always had.

So, we start out with the Tardis about to be encased in molten lava, and the crew left with no choice but to hit the emergency button which shifts the Tardis and it’s crew outside of reality – into an empty studio a white void where Jamie and Zoe are briefly chased by some robots left over from an earlier BBC sci-fi show – and from there… well, actually, when they leave there the Tardis blows up, leaving Zoe clinging to the console in a scene that would have been at home in 2001 or one of the weirder Star Trek episodes. But that’s all just pre-amble really, as the real action takes place in the land of fiction.

It all gets a bit meta here, with the Doctor at one point risking turning himself and his companions into mere characters if he makes a wrong decision; and together with the mix of mythology, literature and history that our heroes encounter, it all makes for a fun blurring of the lines between truth and fiction, reality and unreality. And just to add to the strangeness, the human mind responsible for maintaining the land of fiction turns out to be an author, kidnapped while writing about the adventures of Captain Jack Harkaway – who sounds oddly familiar in the 21st Century, as does ‘the Master’, the name given to the writer in question.

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The existence of this master mind operating the ‘land of fiction’ does lend it a scientific basis of sorts (and let’s face it, of sorts is often good enough for Doctor Who) and, on the whole, I didn’t find the whole idea as silly when I most recently watched it (but see again the Thursday Next effect). There are certainly lots of fun ideas in there, some of which could probably be used to better effect with a new-Who budget, but it was 1968 so we can’t complain about that really. You get riddles, you get the odd sword fight, you get existential Gulliver, and you get a reason to contemplate the nature of reality, the purpose of story, and the existence of free will.

As there often is with the Second Doctor, there are also some great moments of humour – the resigned sarcasm of Rapunzel, and the Doctor accidentally rearranging Jamie’s face (apparently a creative way of continuing production while Frazer Hines was sick).

This is worth watching for ’60s psychadelia, experimental fantasy, Rapunzel jokes and, basically, the Doctor doing Thursday Next.

We obey our creator, that is all that can be expected of any character, unless the Master bids us otherwise.

To close, I must go back to Existential Gulliver. Like many of the fictional characters our heroes encounter, his is just a cameo role, but he does make an interesting point about the nature of a fictional character: ‘We obey our creator,’ he says of himself and his fellow characters, ‘unless the Master bids us otherwise’. It could be said that we are all characters in some epic adventure being written by our Creator; he has a story arc in mind for us all, but all too often some other ‘Master’ bids us otherwise, and we lose the plot, so to speak. Maybe, if we stop trying to be our own Master all the time and just follow the Creator’s intention, life would be a lot more satisfying.

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