Camp NaNoWriMo Update 2

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So, it has obviously been a long time coming, but the story is now starting to happen. Some 4,000 words in I have some bad guys about to start chasing my heroes across the Home Counties, and the good guys are about to be given an utterly ridiculous quest upon which to embark whilst evading said bad guys.

That is just the good stuff, of course; there’s a lot of rubbish lurking in the draft so far, most of which has nothing to do with the Ambivalence Chronicles, but it’s keeping me writing, and that has got me to this point, the point of almost having a story, so it can’t be all bad.

Well, ok, this is Camp NaNoWriMo, so it pretty much is all bad.

I don’t think I’ve written a line I feel like sharing yet, which I suppose goes to show just how bad it all is, but at least there are words getting committed to a Scrivener file, and a plan is developing.

Of course, what I really have no idea about at this stage is how any of this is going to fit in with the wider arc of the Ambivalence Chronicles; I think what this indicates is that we shouldn’t expect a public release of any of the Chronicles until such time as there is a sort of coherent link across the whole series.

And no, I still don’t know what this story is actually called.

Tuesday Tunes: Music For Airports by Brian Eno

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So now I am, theoretically, immersed in Camp NaNoWriMo, it seems an appropriate moment for a quick review of some writing music. And it will be quick, because:
(1) I should be writing, and
(b) this is probably the most minimalist album in my collection.

The opening album in Eno and friends’ 4 album Ambient sequence, Music For Airports consists of four subtle pieces, with various combinations of short piano melodies, wordless vocals and subtle synthesisers.

Eno revisits the technique used in Discreet Music of repeating two or more melodies slightly out of sync to form a constantly evolving musical background and give your ears something to do while your fingers get writing.

If you find Music For Airports a little too easy to nod off to, the Bang On A Can cover version is slightly less sparse arrangement of the same tunes, with a greater variety of instruments and sounds, and may indeed lend itself to a different set of writing tasks.

Speaking of which, this Camp NaNoWriMo project is not writing itself…

Listen along

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Linky goodness

brian-eno.net

Monday (Quick) Review: Let’s Go To Golgotha

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Just a quickie today, since I should be NaNo-ing and everything (more on that story later).

It being, as you may have noticed, the Easter season, our thoughts inevitably turn to chocolate and time travel.

Because of course, among the many and varied time periods visited by science fiction, Biblical settings are a popular setting for time travel, and obviously one in which Christianity and science fiction regularly meet. The crucifixion of Christ is recognised as such a crucial point in time that it becomes a central meeting point for time travellers in Poul Anderson’s There Will Be Time (incidentally, an intriguing interpretation of time travel in that it doesn’t require a time machine of any sort).

But the story I really wanted to draw attention to today features the crucifixion as the central time location and, indeed, the main point of the whole story. Lets go to Golgotha by Garry Kilworth (available in this collection) is a brilliantly thought-provoking short story for Christians and non-Cristians alike, posing questions about both the paradoxical nature of time travel and the crucifixion of Christ. I won’t say any more about in case it spoils the story, but if you can find a copy, I’d recommend a read, especially this week as we turn our thoughts away from chocolate and towards the cross.

See, told you it would be quick. I should be writing,



Camp NaNoWriMo Update

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For reasons now lost to common sense, I decided a little while back to draft Bit #2 of The Ambivalence Chronicles for Camp NaNoWriMo this April. Unfortunately this so-called idea came with a couple of minor drawbacks:
(1) I had completely forgotten what passed for an ending to Bit #1 when I drafted it last summer; and
(2) I couldn’t remember if or how I ended Bit #1 when I wrote it last year.

I know that may sound like only one reason, but it turned out to be significant enough to mention it twice. In fact, trying to figure out where the story was – and where it needed to go next – was such a stumbling block I wasted the whole first week of April on the day job. I know, right?

Anyway, it’s up and running – well, hobbling like a 3 legged donkey doped up on Kalms – and already I’m procrastinating, not least by writing this blog post.
 
Then I realised that I was collecting various pictures and bits and pieces of reference material all over the place – bookmarked websites, photos in random folders on my PC or, in especially sensible moments, in the appropriate Scrivener file.
 
So yesterday, in a moment of extreme procrastination, I decided to start compiling them onto a Pinterest board, at the moment just for my own reference purposes; obviously when I become famous and best-selling, people will flock to see how the Chronicles came together.
 
On which note, it has just occurred to me that I should compile one for Countless as the Stars, the typo edit of which is now just a couple of chapters short of the end, so hopefully that will be heading to ebook readers everywhere some time after Camp NaNo.
 
Here, we reached the end of Re-Dwarf Series 3 just in time to rest it for Camp NaNo – blogging my be a little sparse from here until the end of April as I try and get Bit #2 – working title Nineteen Eighty-Two, but I have a strong suspicion that will change any time now – into shape.
 
It will, as is the nature of NaNo writing, take a few days for the start of the story to show itself, and then for the actual story itself hopefully to take shape and, maybe, even give itself a title.

Re-Dwarf: The Last Day

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Finally we reach the end of Red Dwarf series 3. And, from an ‘intersection of science-fiction and Christianity’ perspective, it’s a doozy. (That’s a theological term, by the way.)

The iron shall lie down with the lamp

Kryten, having over the last six weeks fully integrated himself into the crew if Red Dwarf, is obsolete. His manufacturers, DivaDroid International, as part of their customer service package, send out the new model to replace him – this is all very nice and something many 21st century companies could perhaps learn from. However, this is not the 21st century -it’s not even the 23rd century any more, and three million years alone in deep space have sent the new model, Hudzen 10, a little bit batty.

Along the way we discover that Kryten has become more than just a useful crew member:

You would gamble your safety for a mere android? Is this the human value you call “friendship?”

We also discover that Lister was abandoned in a cardboard box under a pool table – a detail that was proposed for inclusion either in Timeslides or the cancelled season opener, Dad, but finally found its way into a drunken conversation in the Officers’ Club.

And we discover that Rimmer’s family were Seventh Day Advent Hoppists – an obscure religious cult whose legalistic interpretation of an already dubious Bible translation (‘Faith, hop and charity, and the greatest of these is hop.’) is probably the best argument against literalism in… well, in this series of Red Dwarf, anyway.

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This upbringing does make Rimmer a little more sympathetic towards Kryten’s ‘religious’ views, especially when Lister tries to impose his view (which essentially is that Kryten’s beliefs are a load of baloney) on Kryten.
And all this, of course, is where it gets quite interesting. It appears that the kind of pop spirituality which seems to be becoming more popular these days somehow evolves into a commonly held pantheistic belief system,leading to this exchange between Kryten and Lister:

KRYTEN: Surely you believe that god is in all things? Aren’t you a pantheist?
LISTER: Yeah, but I just don’t think it applies to kitchen utensils. I’m not a
frying pantheist! Machines do not have souls. Computers and calculators do not have an afterlife. You don’t get hairdryers with tiny little wings, sitting on clouds and playing harps!
KRYTEN: But of course you do! For is it not written in the Electronic Bible, “The iron shall lie down with the lamp?” Well, it’s common sense, sir. If there were no afterlife to look forward to, why on Earth would machines spend the whole of their lifes serving mankind? Now that would be really dumb!
LISTER: (Quietly) That makes sense. Yeah. Silicon heaven.
KRYTEN: Don’t be sad, Mr David. I am going to a far, far better place.
LISTER: Just out of interest: Is silicon heaven the same place as human heaven?
KRYTEN: Human heaven? Goodness me! Humans don’t go to heaven! No, someone made that up to prevent you all from going nuts!

Well, there’s enough in that little exchange alone to base a decent sized sermon on, but I won’t do that just now; instead I’ll jut throw a few questions out for your consideration:

• Is God in all things?
• Can an artificial intelligence form some sort of religious belief?
• Without an afterlife to look forward to, why do any of us do anything?
• Did someone just make up ‘human heaven’ just to stop us all going nuts?
• If they did, would it matter?
• Where do all the calculators go?

Feel free to answer those – or pose your own, probably far more interesting, questions in the comments.

Re-mastered

A couple of CGI spaceships. That’s your lot really, besides the usual colour and sound clean up.

Watch this episode for an abundance of android and skewed human theology.

 




Monday Review: The Infinite Day by Chris Walley

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The Infinite Day is the final part in Chris Walley’s Lamb Among the Stars trilogy, the earlier volumes of which are reviewed here and here.

There’s not much to say about the writing or the story that can’t be gathered from my reviews of the earlier books; in a nutshell, it’s all good. Here the action is turned up to 11, our heroes find their way into the heart of enemy territory and back, and then move on to Old Earth – proper Space Opera stuff. Yes, this is the book I wish I’d written, but at the time (2008) I wouldn’t have done half as good a job.

There is some really good stuff about how evil sneaks in when you’re not looking; our heroes – from a sinless Utopia, if you recall – variously fall back to human traits like lying, wandering eyes, lust for power and internet addiction. And it didn’t occur to me until it did appear, that I don’t think the name of Jesus was mentioned until very late on in this final volume of the trilogy. Of course we all knew who ‘The Lamb’ was, but not specifically naming Him until late was an interesting – and perfectly logical, in the story world – move. It makes for a nicely non-threatening story, yet one which is undoubtedly Christian.

I’m not sure if I was distracted by real life during my reading of this volume, or if the pacing was just slightly off, but I didn’t find it the page-turner I had expected it to be. That leaves it far from being a bad book – I still wish I had written it, and even the italics stopped bothering me most of the time.

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The climax of the trilogy, however, was truly epic, about as big as it’s possible to get, spoilt only by the addition of a slightly drippy and over sentimental Epilogue that I really could have done without. It was the Hollywood ending tacked on after what should have been the final scene.

My recommendation? This trilogy is a definite must read for Christian sci-fi fans. But when you see the end of Infinite Day coming, when the good guys have won (does that count as a spoiler?) and the dust is starting to settle, put the book down and walk away. The heroes can carry on quite happily without you.



Re-Dwarf: Timeslides

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This is a story about bubblewrap. No! This is a story about time travel. Yes, that’s it.

Timeslides starts from the somewhat obscure premise that, somewhere in the next few centuries, digital photography falls out of favour and doing it the old fashioned way – with hazardous chemicals in a darkened room – is back in vogue. And as everyone knows, hazardous chemicals that have been left in a cargo hold for three million years should be handled with extreme caution, in case they have mutated and are liable to produce side effects that might inspire JK Rowling.

Which is, of course, what happens; Kryten is innocently developing a few films he found lying around, when they inexplicably turn into YouTube clips. Further experimenting leads the crew to discover that by developing slides in the same way, they can physically enter a literal snapshot of the past.

Cue temporal shenanigans.

In fact, cue an epic temporal power struggle as Lister and Rimmer both try to invent the Tension Sheet and become disgustingly rich and famous.

You can’t just stick one on the leader of the Third Reich!

Having utterly failed to convince Germany that Hitler was a complete and total nutter, Lister goes back and meets himself as a budding young musician, giving him the idea for Tension Sheet and making himself so rich he bought Buckingham Palace and had it ground down to line his drive.

Against all the odds, it works; even more improbably, Rimmer, presumably aided by Holly and the skutters, is able to create a time portal to Lister’s mansion – Xanadu – where he tries to persuade Lister that being the last human in the universe, with only a smeg-head, a cat and a mechanoid for company, would be better than being a multi-multi-multi-millionaire and having to have sex with Lady Sabrina Mulholland-Jjones on a regular basis.

Rimmer fails spectacularly.

He does, however, attempt to show Lister’s life for the shallow, empty existence we all want people like that to live, but when the only contrast he can offer is ‘me with…. with what I’ve got,’ he is forced to concede that, of the two of them, Lister is in every way the richer man.

Instead, Rimmer (by means best not considered to closely) creates a time portal back to his dorm room at school, to persuade his (much) younger self to patent Tension Sheet – apparently oblivious to the fact that Thickie Holden, original inventor of the Tension Sheet, is right beside him and listening intently.

Lesson of the episode: you can’t change what has happened in the past. It all just ends up part of life’s journey, the experiences – the good, the bad and the ugly – that lead us to the place we are, as the people we are today. And that, more often than not, is exactly who and where we are supposed to be. Destiny – God’s purpose – will be worked out, one way or another.

Also, you don’t have to be disgustingly rich and famous to be leading a shallow and unfruitful life. Being a git will often have much the same effect.

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As a side note, both Lister and Thickie Holden end up married to Lady Sabrina after inventing the Tension Sheet. The two seem to have little in common except being disgustingly rich and famous – perhaps Rimmer could have comforted himself with the knowledge that Lady Sabrina had only married Lister for his money.

Or he could have learned to be a better person, faced with the possibility of being even more sad and lonely than he already was; but of course, his messed up loneliness leads Rimmer to the conclusion that being rich and famous was the solution to his multitude of problems.

Re-mastered

A couple of ageing jokes have been cut, along with Adolf Hitler’s guest star credit; and the sound effect from Series IV’s ‘matter paddle’ has travelled back in time to play the part of the time travel sound effect.

Watch this episode for Craig Charles’ musical talents (he wrote the music featured in the episode, and performed) and his little brother, playing the part of Young Lister, photographed performing ‘The Om Song’.

 




Tuesday Tunes: Up The Downstair

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Up The Downstair is the first ‘proper’ Porcupine Tree album, ‘On The Sunday Of Life…’ being more a compilation than a project conceived and released as an album. And as such, Up The Downstair pretty well sets the stage for what the band intend their sound to be.

Of course, I’m listening to the 2005 remaster, which may or may not sound more Porcupine than the original, but that’s not really important right now.

What is important is that Porcupine sound – the trippy prog-rock soundscapes with soaring guitar solos and incomprehensible lyrics – which kicks off the album on Synesthesia, then slows down a notch or two for the more melancholy Always Never before disappearing into the spacey ambience of the title track, itself a ten minute epic that builds from a spooky, minimalist beginning with some Gregorian samples buried in the mix somewhere, into something altogether stranger and more brilliant.

Not Beautiful Anymore has hidden away in it a message about how sex can spoil a relationship, but other than that it’s back to the 90s style psychadelia, from tiny snatches of wierdness like Small Fish, to the epic Burning Sky.

330483bAnd, this being the reissue, it comes with the 1994 Staircase Infinities EP – itself made up of stuff that wasn’t finished in time for inclusion on the original Up The Downstair – on a bonus disc. Which is more of the same – mostly instrumental and with suitably random titles like Yellow Hedgerow Dreamscape – but it’s not bad for all that; the epic guitar driven soundscape of Navigator is equally good for driving or writing, and the eerie opening to Rainy Taxi puts me in a strangely Blade Runner-esque frame of mind before it ventures off into something like an uncanny church organ.

Up The Downstair is not my favourite Porcupine Tree disc – I think being released soon after the brilliantly trippy Voyage 34 made it almost disappointing in its not quite perfection, but all the Porcupine Tree strangeness is there, along with plenty more. Fans of psychadelia, prog-rock, or just plain weirdness should give this a listen.

Stand-out tracks: Always Never, and the title track. On the bonus disc, Yellow Hedgerow Dreamscape is every bit as weird as its title.

Get a copy


Linky Goodness

Porcupine Tree official website
Porcupine Tree are on Spotify

Monday Review: The Dark Foundations by Chris Walley

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A couple of weeks ago I mentioned how I found the first book in Chris Walley’s Lamb Among The Stars series a bit on the slow side, and wasn’t really sure it lived up to the Lewis & Tolkien comparisons plastered across the cover (well, except for the Tolkienesque slow start, anyway). Well, with The Dark Foundations I think those comments have been well addressed.

Previously the story concentrated on events on Farholme, and although the main narrative still centres on accidental hero Merral D’Avanos, the scope broadens at the start of Dark Foundations, and we see the evil plottings of the bad guys beyond the Assembly, and the effects the limited news of these events has on distant Earth. Epic.

It is a dark tale; D’Avanos and his small, hurriedly formed armies face vast armies of mechanical orcs and strange, mind-reading demons. And as if that weren’t enough, evil is working in more subtle ways, turning the naïve, sinless humans of Farholme into the kind of secretive, backstabbing humans the reader can more readily identify with.

3 books

The battles, both internal and external, are nicely handled; I particularly liked the way spiritual warfare is brought into the realm of humans by means of that old sci-fi standby, sub-space (or more accurately ‘Below-Space’, since Star Trek is largely forgotten in the 130th Century). All in all, a highly recommended piece of Christian sci-fi.

If the final volume in the series ups the ante again, I may even see fit to forgive the overuse of italics.




CSFF Blog Tour vs Tuesday Tunes: A Draw Of Kings

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So it turns out Patrick Carr isn’t a real saint, at least not in the sense of having a day to himself in the middle of March. Unless that’s when his birthday is. Um. Anyway, what he does get, is a whole Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Blog Tour dedicated to him and his book A Draw Of Kings.

Which means it is time to draw randomly from the King’s Lead Hat a selection of loosely related listening material – it’s the Top Ten King Songs:

10. T-Rex – The King of the Mountain Cometh
It seems a while since we heard from Marc Bolan and the boys.

9. Belly – King
Not Belly’s best track, but you have to love early 90s indie-rock with a girly vocal.

8. Run DMC – King of Rock
Ah, Run DMC: Kings of rock, rap, hip-hop, Aerosmith covers…

7. King – Love and Pride
About the only memorable moment for this short-lived 80s band.

6. The Proclaimers – King of the Road
A frequently covered country-esque song from the 60s, I like this version mainly because I love the way the Pro’s can sing with such thick Scottish accents…

5. China Crisis – King in a Catholic Style (Wake Up)
Quality 80s pop moment this. Lyrics are utter nonsense, but it sounds great.

4. Brian Eno – King’s Lead Hat
Somewhere between Roxy Music and selling his soul to Bill Gates, Eno was a genius. Lyrics are utter nonsense, but the whole album is great surreal pop.

3. Fun Lovin’ Criminals – King of New York
Combining rap and rock like a 90s version of Run DMC.

2. Apocalyptica – Hall Of The Mountain King
The theme from Manic Miner performed on heavy metal cellos. I bet that’s a sentence Patrick Carr never expected to read on his birthday.

1. Lana Lane – In the Court of the Crimson King
A King Crimson cover by that chick from out of Smallville. Probably.

As ever, the playlist is there for your aural pleasure while you visit the other bloggers on the tour. And don’t forget that all this jolliness is part of the CSFF Blog Tour for A Draw Of Kings, which continues in the sidebar.