Showing posts from 2013

2013 in review

Not a lot to review, honestly, but the picture's not a reflection of the kind of year I've had. It's just the closest to a Christmas picture that I have. I've just finished putting the children's presents around the tree and now I have to just sneak into their room with their stockings before going to bed myself and hope they don't wake up as I do so.

Each year I think that, as I delicately place a stocking at the foot of a bed, the lights will suddenly come on and I will find myself staring at my wide awake children, trying hastily to think of a reason why it's me and not Santa putting the presents out.

One year they may set up tripwire alarms for that very purpose. My wife wonders why I don't buy them electronic spy-kit sets, but that's just me thinking ahead. Might be a good idea to pass on the My-Little-Waterboarding set too, in case they get a bit too sophisticated with their interrogations...

Anyway, 2013 has had its usual share of ups and do…

It's all Rousseau's fault

I wrote about violence in fiction in my last post, where I briefly made the case for campaigners who believe that the fictional depiction of violence causes or worsens violence in real life.

Do I need to point out that violence is perfectly natural? Apparently so. Many people believe that movies and video games cause violence. There are even some who believe that atheist godlessness causes violence, and there are others who believe that rapacious capitalism causes violence. And there are some who believe that it's The Patriarchy and the insiduous influence of masculine culture that causes and perpetuates violence, for which (according to one book) we all need counselling.

If only we could be women, then all the world would be nice. Or so it goes.

It's natural to fear violence and to want to keep it at arm's length. To start with, it hurts. It can also kill you, and survival instincts are natural too.

But the idea that violence is some sort of inhuman disease, that it inva…

A Celebration of Violence

I have a confession to make. I glorify violence. How do I do that? Well, I make it an essential part of the hero's journey.

I make it essential in that, without it, the hero cannot complete their mission. It must be done either by the hero, or on behalf of the hero. It is a situation whereby violence is the solution, or a vital part of the solution, to the problem.

For instance, a Mrs Marple or Poirot mystery would not count. The story may contain violence in it (like when the murder victim is killed), but the means by which the perpretator is caught owes nothing at all to violence. The detectives in question only use their powers of detecting, whatever they may be. A Sherlock Holmes story, on the other hand, may well glorify violence, since occasionally Holmes or his trusty armed sidekick, Watson, must resort to violence to move the case onwards or solve it.

Some authors try to shift the responsibility from their heroes so as to make them seem a little more moral, and less viole…

Where's science fiction going?

It's been said that science fiction has lost its vitality, that it's lost confidence in the future and is in danger of having nothing new to say. This is the view of old school 'hard' SF types. Their remedy is that science fiction should revitalise itself, find again its ground-breaking positivist roots and show what a post-capitalist, post-everything-white-and-western world would look like. With confidence and verve.

They're missing the point. They've certainly missed the boat. The Golden Age of science fiction coincided with the ascent of America to world power, closely contested by the USSR as it too stepped up to the podium. They were both Enlightenment regimes in their own way. And confidence about the future was high. It was just a matter of seeing which future would unfold.

Fast forward to now, and people claim that the 'genre of ideas' has run out of ideas. But the reason why is rather obvious.

The 20th Century ran through the gamut of Enlighte…

Clean no longer

The writer Michael Lind once used an analogy of Star Trek versus Star Wars as a way of highlighting the modern exaltation of barbarism in America. In Lind's view, Star Trek represented scientific achievement and rationalism, while Star Wars represented degenerative regression and romantic medievalism.

American science fiction once saw the future with optimism and hope. A future of technological advances and inclusive government. A future where, perhaps, some planetary Federation (a multi-ethnic America enlarged, basically) might send starships out on five year missions of peaceful exploration, rather than for conquest or profit. An enlightened future. A nice future.

It wasn't just science fiction that saw it this way. It was America itself, freed from the shackles of the evil empire (Great Britain) and the corrupt manipulative ways of the Old World. America embraced the Enlightenment values of Liberty, Social Development and Individual Rights, and it emerged from WW2 as numbe…

Random things

I love new pictures. With the impending publication of the third X-Troop novel, I thought it might be a good idea to replace the covers on the first two to match. Alas, I don't have the money to replace them outright, so I opted instead to redo them slightly and make them look a little more professional. You can see them above, mounted on my facebook banner (click on the banner for a real good look. It's worth it). So far, I'm loving the improvement, and seeing them like this reminds me why I bought Luca Oleastri's Alien Spy. It's just an awesome picture, and looks more evil rendered in black and white. I've had a lot of mileage out of that pic, and I'll have to come up with something different for the third story, but I don't know what.

Want to hear more about the third X-Troop story? Of course you do. What will it be called? Err, not sure about that one yet. I can tell you however that it will be set in Guatemala, and will feature the Maya civilizati…

The Bechdel Test

On a writer's forum I frequent, someone posted the topic: Does your writing pass the Bechdel Test?

So what's the Bechdel Test?

Here, in summary, is a popular rendition of the Bechdel Test that should be applied to any story:
1. Are there at least two women in it?
2. Do they talk to each other?
3. About something other than a man?

This test has become something of a cause célèbre among people who feel that women are under-represented in fiction, be it in movies or in novels. On the forum in question, it generated a lot of talk about how women are ignored or marginalised in movies or genre fiction, about the injustice to women in general, women being 50% of the population, and the need to apply the Bechdel Test (if you believe in doing the right thing) to your work as a writer and to question whether you are doing enough to solve such injustice.

That's right. Women are 50% of the population, but the test should be applied to all fiction. Because clearly there is no such thin…

Really don't watch this movie

I watched Skyline today. Yes, I know I'm three years too late, but time runs different in the alternate reality that is my brain, because it seems like only yesterday that I remember the movie coming out.

Like Monsters, another movie I discussed not so long ago (five minutes, wasn't it?), it's a low budget affair, set almost entirely in one luxury apartment, with unknown actors and a lot of CGI, and it's divided audiences, who can't agree on whether it's good or bad.

But wait. It wasn't actually a low budget movie at all - it just feels like one. Monsters cost half a million dollars to make, and is testament to what can be achieved with modern techniques and technology. Skyline, on the other hand, cost a mindblowing $20 million to make.

What did they spend the rest of the money on? Drugs? Call girls, alcohol and wild orgies? I sincerely hope so, otherwise they've been robbed. And the bit where I said that audiences are divided on this? Well, actually t…

Supercharged vision thing

I mentioned in this post, and this post, how the X-Troop series got started: essentially on the back of disillusionment with my previous attempt at a series, and possibly the writing process itself. I got all hung up on being a proper writer, doing things the proper way and a whole bunch of neurotic hangups that really just sabotaged whatever I was doing. A common newbie writer trap, I'm sure. Or maybe not. All I know is that when I finally said, 'fuck that' and just did my own thing, it started to come together a little more harmoniously.

Influences, you see. That was my main stumbling block - and I just couldn't see it.

I was writing science fiction, and science fiction authors that I researched kept going on about their biggest influences - 60's, 70's or 80's written science fiction - and how it shaped their reading lives and, ultimately, writing lives. Writers like the late Iain Banks kept mentioning the importance of knowing the SF 'canon' (wi…

New book, new direction

The new book is out! The second story in the X-Troop series, called, as you can see, er, X-Troop. That's going to look odd on Amazon as it will be listed as X-Troop (X-Troop). No matter. It's a 40,000 word novella, compared to the teaser Amped which was 17,000, and it sets the tone for the rest of the series as Alex and his boys go into action against the alien threat. Lots of action, squaddie humour and aliens being sent back home in body bags.
And as we say hello to a new story, we say goodbye to an old one, for Even The Dead Dance To Live, my first self-published novel, has now been taken off the market. Why? Because it wasn't really the book I wanted to write.
Let me explain. When I first wrote Even The Dead, I'd never heard of self-publishing, and I was geared to selling it to agents and publishers in the traditional manner. This was a problem because, as I'm sure you're aware, it's not easy to get your book accepted by a publisher. The general advice…

Don't watch this movie

A friend lent me this movie. He said, "A lot of people didn't like it, but I really enjoyed it."

I went away, thinking, "Hmmm, it's probably shit then." I checked out the reviews on Amazon, and found opinion split down the middle, from 'I found it really beautiful' to 'It's crap! Nothing happens in it!'

I left it on my shelf for about a month and a half.

When I finally got round to watching it, my expectations were suitably low, and if you're planning to watch it too, then I recommend you do the same. It's a low budget flick - a project where the Director/Producer/Writer Gareth Edwards took a crew of six, plus two actors, on a road trip through Mexico and Guatemala and filmed a rambling movie.

A disaster waiting to happen? It sounds like it, doesn't it? There were no other actors involved - they just paid whatever passing local person they could find and gave them some lines to say. And all the special effects were inserted …

Aliens ate my sequel

Okay, so I was writing the next Shakespeare Cruz novel, and it wasn't coming together very well. Six months and forty thousand words and still it wasn't happening. I tried and tried, but the project remained lifeless in my hands. I began to dread each day of writing, like I was doing a job I really hated. As the daily word count dropped, I reached the point where I doubted my ability to write.
Doubt - the writer's worst enemy. I knew it well and assumed that a good dose of stubborness would drag me through. It didn't. It just made it worse. I was bored of the story, bored of the setting, and unable to fake it any longer. So I quit.
Although I only published my first novel a year ago, the story as a concept was born about four years before. I spent a year putting together the 130,000 word first draft, then another year editing it, rewriting it, putting it out to publishers, getting rejections, rewriting it some more, agonising over the next round of rejections, and rew…