Friday, December 21, 2007

Friday Review - 2007

So, before wrapping up for Christmas, just time for one final Friday review.

2007 was a year which started out promisingly, started out with sci-fi related commentary, and then wandered off into sub-plots about music and old cars. Personally I think that made it a bit more interesting (and colourful) than 2006, but I think I'd like to see a bit more sf in the sequel (working title: 2008).

There was an interesting sub-plot involving Her Babyship in the middle, which was largely in the background (and comments) but which obviously distracted the protagonist while it was going on. It was an emotional rollercoater, but reached a satisfying (if unrealistic and cheesy) conclusion when Her Babyship took her first faltering unaided steps on her second birthday.

Back to the sci-fi: Robin Parrish and Austin Boyd found their way onto the reading list via the CSFF blog tour, where they joined classics by C S Lewis and Mary Doria Russel.

On the telly front we had the Doctor's best season so far, the slow and ultimately disappointing Primeval, and the last couple of seasons of Angel on DVD. Finally. Oh, and of course Life on Mars, with all its attendant Yoda-shaped goodness.

Writing seemed to suffer from the Babyship crisis. Early promise of Hitchhikers inspired blog posts and some original fiction went unfulfilled, but things did pick up again towards the end: I started a (non-sf) novel, finished a short story (but was never happy with it) and started a couple more. I even got an article published (admittedly a butchered version of one I wrote a decade earlier).

At least that all leaves some loose ends to be tied up in 2008. Until then, have a merry Christmas and a peaceful New Year.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Phursday Photos: Christmas for Minis

These pictures are from the Christian Mini Owners Club stand at the London to Brighton Mini Run in 2001. Find out more at

That reminds me, I really should get that Christmas tree up...

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

CSFF Blog Tour: Wayfarer's Journal

CSSF Blog Tour

I think I've mentioned here before that I'm rediscovering the short story as one of science fiction's strong points - just throw an idea out there, give the reader something to think about, and end the story before over-cooking it.

I've been in my car a lot lately, and listening to a lot of fiction (mainly sf) podcasts while driving, and as a result I've had a lot of recent exposure to some great stories. I'd love to say that those on Wayfarer's Journal easily match up to the best, but from what I've sampled I can't honestly do that.

That's not to say there aren't some good stories on the site - there are, and I'm getting to that point - or that I could do better, because I probably can't (although I may well try). But I've been listening to Hugo nominees, stories published in Asimov's, and other well practiced and respected authors. Wayfarer's Journal is a new market, and can't be expected to match that. Hopefully as it gains readers and contributors (helped along by this tour) the ideas, story telling, and editing will all improve.

As an aside, there has been some interesting feedback on some of the stories during this tour(reviews by Steve Rice, John W Otte and Mir have highlighted some areas for improvement, for example) and I would like to see some form of reader feedback on the site, so the writers and editors can try to give the people what we want.

Now, the good stories. I don't think anyone on the tour has commented on Me That I Am by Dale Hansen yet, possibly because it's not a current story. I haven't read all the stories available yet, but this has been my favourite so far. It is the tale of one man's journey into faith, a journey facilitated by a uniquely sci-fi device which 'the bright minds of our time are calling an “Event Threshold” and whispering it’s name like they’re afraid it’ll hear them and show up'.

Oh yes, it's got humour too - those bits which may have wandered into As you know, Bob territory are packaged in lines like 'the mathematics of the whichness of where could drive a man to drink tea.'

I don't even care that some of the sentences didn't trip off the tongue that easily. Or that I had to keep mentally changing where into were for the thing to make sense. Me That I Am took a nice sf idea, wrapped it around a spiritual journey, and sprinkled it with lines that just tickled my sense of humour. That is enough for me to want Wayfarer's to go on to bigger and better things.

Brandon Barr Jim Black Justin Boyer Grace Bridges Amy Browning Jackie Castle Carol Bruce Collett Valerie Comer CSFF Blog Tour D. G. D. Davidson Chris Deanne Jeff Draper April Erwin Marcus Goodyear Andrea Graham Jill Hart Katie Hart Michael Heald Jason Joyner Kait Carol Keen Mike Lynch Margaret Rachel Marks Melissa Meeks Rebecca LuElla Miller Mirtika or Mir's Here John W. Otte John Ottinger Rachelle Steve Rice Cheryl Russel Ashley Rutherford Hanna Sandvig James Somers Speculative Faith Jason Waguespac Laura Williams Timothy Wise

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Tuesday Tunes: Space Christmas

I would have liked to have posted a Christmas story somewhere by now, but life has gotten on top of me again (pesky life) so I haven't done. Maybe next year?

Instead, I bring you the final instalment of my festive Tuesday Tunes offerings. Christmas has, for a long time, been a time for me to discover new music. It's got even better lately, with the facility to amble along to a download store, type in 'Christmas' or 'Santa' and see what novelties come up.

This isn't one I discovered that way, though I guarantee it will be new to many of you. It has become almost as traditional as White Christmas or Santa Claus is Black in our house since I first heard it played by the late, great John Peel, probably 15 or so Christmases ago.

SciFi Santa Song of the Week

Space Christmas by Shonen Knife.
Yes, there I go again - pop-punk guitar music with girly vocals and an accent (this time Japanese). I downloaded it a year or two ago, though I can't find it available now. Check out the samples at amazon instead:

Monday, December 17, 2007

CSFF Blog Tour: Wayfarer's Journal

CSSF Blog Tour
A lot of the time the subject matter of this tour passes me by, because I don't do fantasy, and there seems to be a lot of that around. So I am particularly glad to say that the tour has pointed me in the direction of Wayfarer’s Journal recently.

Wayfarer's Journal is an e-zine for 'science fiction with a difference' - by which, obviously, they mean that with a spiritual dimension. And the author's guidelines are quite specific about wanting science fiction only. So if you're on this tour only for the fantasy, well, you probably know better than to read what I have to say most of the time.

There have only been a couple of issues so far, and the plan is to remain semi-annual (it says February and June, but the most recent issue is called the Fall Issue... ) with little features in between, and an ongoing blog.

Apparently there have been some technical difficulties lately, and when I last popped in there was at least one story missing, but hey, what website doesn't have occasional glitches?

I'd like to have more time to comment on some of the stories, but there's work to be done. And I haven't even got the Christmas tree up yet. (Christmas? What's that?) Hopefully I'll get round to it later in the next couple of days. And then maybe I'll post on the tour again too.

Meanwhile, your tour continues here:

Brandon Barr Jim Black Justin Boyer Grace Bridges Amy Browning Jackie Castle Carol Bruce Collett Valerie Comer CSFF Blog Tour D. G. D. Davidson Chris Deanne Jeff Draper April Erwin Marcus Goodyear Andrea Graham Jill Hart Katie Hart Michael Heald Jason Joyner Kait Carol Keen Mike Lynch Margaret Rachel Marks Melissa Meeks Rebecca LuElla Miller Mirtika or Mir's Here John W. Otte John Ottinger Rachelle Steve Rice Cheryl Russel Ashley Rutherford Hanna Sandvig James Somers Speculative Faith Jason Waguespac Laura Williams Timothy Wise

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Tuesday Tunes: Relient K

So, I was rooting around my favourite download sites for tunes for my latest Christmas compilation, and I came across this. I look forward to terrorising the in-laws with their manic interpretation of 12 Days of Christmas ('Whats a partridge?/And what's a pear tree?/ I don't know so please don't ask me/ but I bet those are terrible gifts to get') and We Wish You a Merry Christmas, followed by the shouty pop-punk 'I'm Gettin Nuttin' for Christmas' and then alarming them with Handel's Messiah in the style of a soccer terrace chant with rock guitars, Good King Wenceslas in the style of bad carol singers, and the post-Christmas melancholy of Boxing Day.

And then - and only then, because it's more fun that way - I will reveal that this terrible band with their loud guitars and stupid lyrics are, in fact, good Christian boys. I can hear the scoffing noises of disbelief now... until I skip to the sublime I Celebrate the Day. That'll shut them up.

Seriously, if you only download one Christmas song this year, make it I Celebrate the Day.

Sci-fi Santa Song of the Week

If that wasn't enough Christmassy rock fun, see if you can track down a copy of I Want an Alien for Christmas by The Fountains of Wayne.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Eight Random Facts

Posts are a bit thin on the ground here at the moment, mainly because the pesky day job keeps dragging me across the country for one reason or another. Tsk.

Still, those nice bloggers at The Sci-Fi Catholic tagged me for this, so I figured that since it saves me actually thinking too much I'd take a stab. So here are 8 (count 'em) random facts about moi:

1. My fourth car was a Mini. Yeah, my first one was too, but that sounded a bit predictable and not at all random. My second and third cars (and fifth and sixth) were Minis too.

2. I don't currently own a Mini though. Technically Yoda belongs to Mrs UKSteve.

3. I've gone off the idea of progress. It's over-rated.

4. I have an annoying tendency to quote The Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy whenever the opportunity arises. Also Red Dwarf and The Italian Job if they are more suitable.

5. I have read His Dark Materials. Yes, the whole trilogy.

6. And if I go to hell, it probably won't be for that.

7. One of my first published writings was a witty little thing called '101 Things to do with a Kettle'. The sequel, '101 Things to do with a ZX81', was far better in my opinion, but due to the more limited target audience I have yet to make a fortune from it. I made a couple of half-hearted attempts to put it online, but never quite found the right format.

8. I don't think this blog has eight regular readers, especially not eight that haven't already been tagged by DGD and his blogging pets.

So, if you happen to be passing through and haven't done the 8 Random Facts meme yet, consider yourself tagged.

Actually, that was quite fun.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Tuesday Tunes at Christmas

It's an interesting phenomenon (possibly) that a lot of things that I would try to avoid most of the time become strangely palatable around Christmas. Like mince pies - I don't really like them, normally, but can't help myself come December. And a more common example, of course: sprouts.

And as far as tunes are concerned, there are, I think, three Cliff Richard numbers on high rotation during the festive season. That would be a frankly alarming propsect under normal circumstances, but Christmas without Cliff just doesn't seem right any more.

A slightly more bizarre variation on this theme features as this week's Sci-fi Santa Song of the Week: A Spaceman Came Travelling, by retired bin man Chris de Burgh. Completely mental nonsense about a spaceman who travelled for light years of time to bring a message for mankind to hear. Utter drivel really, but hey, it's Christmas, peace and goodwill to all men. Even Cliff and the de Burgh fella.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

CSFF Blog Tour: Stephen Lawhead

CSSF Blog Tour

As regular visitors will have gathered by now, this month's CSFF Blog Tour is about Stephen Lawhead's latest book, Scarlet. You will probably also have gathered that this blogger is more interested in science fiction than fantasy or legend. So as a compromise, I'm going to review Lawhead's science fiction epic, Empyrion.

The story begins about 300 years into Earth's future, but quickly flings it's heroes even further into the future and a very long way from Earth, thanks to a convenient wormhole. Your main protagonist is the unlikely hero Orion Treet, who, despite his cool name, is a rather boring historian. He and three others are sent to check up on the first extra-solar colony, set up by the Cynetics Corporation five years earlier. Unbeknown to them, so long has passed on the Empyrion colony that a whole civilisation has risen and subsequently fallen into a violent, oppressive and generally unpleasant state, sealed off from the wider world in a crystal dome.

The peoples origin has faded into legend, Cynetics a kind of legend, a rarely spoken name. Religion - of the worst kind - has risen again, with the people worshipping an entity called Trabant. Apparently communist block automobiles have also faded into legend.

They later discover that as well as this dystopia, a second civilisation has risen on the planet: the apparent paradise of Fierra, and so, naturally, begins a battle between good and evil, as our heroes either get acquainted with the God of the Fieri, or lose their minds thanks to the paranoid leaders of Dome.

The worlds are all well imagined, and spiritual themes run throughout the book, from the two contrasting religious societies, to the spiritual journeys of Treet and Yarden, to the talking fish, communication with which seems a lot like prayer. (On which note, intelligent marine mammals bringing a message of impending doom.... rings a bell somehow.)

The second half - originally the second book, Siege of Dome, gets off to a slow start, especially following the action towards the end of book one. It is partly concerned with Yarden's spiritual awakening, and partly with what became of Crocker, another of the Earthlings, but honestly I got a bit bored and just wanted to see how Treet was getting on. Once things got going again it was ok, but the whole 900 page volume is just too long.

And there's a couple of things that didn't work for me because, well, they didn't appear to serve any useful purpose. Like Crocker - as far as I can tell he should have just gone away and stayed there. And what was the deal with the coccoons? OK, this is a spoiler, but like I said, has no impact on the plot. Our hereos, on their way to Fierra, pass through a sort of mist or cloud, and get a bit wet. Later they get sick, bust out in boils and such, and eventually become coccooned by their own secretions. (Eeww!) And later they break out of them again, feeling younger, fitter and prettier than before. This much I get; it's a wierd alien disease they've contracted, and it works on that level fine. It also works as a sort of paralell to baptism and rebirth. Clever. And making them fitter probably enables them to survive the journey. Fair enough. But what I don't get is this: nobody mentions it again once they've moved on. If it were me, the first thing I'd be asking when I met a Fieri is 'What is the deal with that cloud and the coccons?' But no, they just carry on as if it was perfectly normal to spend days or weeks encased in pus in the middle of a desert on an unknown planet. Eh?

Anyway, that aside, I mostly like Empyrion, although the second book did drag at times. It's good sci-fi with a bit of a fantasy feel, and lots of spiritual (Christian in all but name) threads. My recommendation would be to skip all the bits about Crocker and his cat, and shave a few pages off your total reading.

And if anyone knows how to pronounce 'Tvrdy', please let me know.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

CSFF Blog Tour vs Tuesday Tunes

CSSF Blog Tour

Or: 'The Post That Wrote Itself', because rather than leave me to come up with the Top Ten Scarlet songs (obscure album tracks by Bananarama and U2 are all that come to mind), a couple of chaps called Jeff Johnson and Brian Dunning have put together a soundtrack CD for Scarlet, and a bunch of other Lawhead novels for that matter.

As you may know, I think soundtracks for novels are a pretty nifty idea. When they release the soundtracks for Empyrion and Dream Thief, I'll be sure to check them out.

Which rather scruffily leads us to the Sci-fi Song of the Week:

well, since I've already mentioned it once, here's another track from the classic Bananas LP True Confessions: Venus.

Monday, November 26, 2007

CSFF Blog Tour: Scarlet

CSSF Blog Tour
This month the CSFF Blog Tour rolls round to Stephen Lawhead’s place, for a peek at his latest novel, Scarlet. Which is banned in my part of the world, because we all know Robin Hood was from the East Midlands and not Wales, and therefore I haven’t read the book.

Fortunately Mr Lawhead has also written a couple of science fiction novels in his time – the Empyrion duology, and Dream Thief, both of which I first read about a decade ago when Christian science fiction was a rare thing - not like now, when the shelves are awash with the stuff. Or at least, should be. Oh, and he co-authored City of Dreams with his son Ross, which looks an intriguing re-telling of the life of Jesus (set that in Wales – or Nottingham – and I’m in the queue!).

Anyway, Scarlet. Even at this early stage in the tour it looks like opinion may be divided over whether another Robin Hood story was a good idea. More reviews will be appearing over the next couple of days, so I guess we'll find out whether the actual books are any good: keep an eye on these bloggers:
Trish Anderson Brandon Barr Wayne Thomas Batson Jim Black Justin Boyer Grace Bridges Amy Browning Jackie Castle Valerie Comer CSFF Blog Tour D. G. D. Davidson Chris Deanne Jeff Draper April Erwin Beth Goddard Marcus Goodyear Andrea Graham Jill Hart Katie Hart Sherrie Hibbs Timothy Hicks Christopher Hopper Becca Johnson Jason Joyner Kait Karen Dawn King Tina Kulesa Mike Lynch Margaret Karen McSpadden Melissa Meeks Rebecca LuElla Miller Mirtika or Mir's Here Eve Nielsen John W. Otte John Ottinger Lyn Perry Deena Peterson Rachelle Cheryl Russel Ashley Rutherford Hanna Sandvig Chawna Schroeder James Somers Rachelle Sperling Speculative Faith Robert Treskillard Jason Waguespac Daniel I. Weaver Laura Williams Timothy Wise

For anyone still reading, and bothered how my writing expedition went this month, the wheels sort of fell off last week when Her Babyship got sick. Not badly, just enough to distract my attention from writing. I did get that short story finished, but it was very hurried to get it on time and within the word limits, so I don't expect any prizes. Which of course means I can revisit it in a couple of months - I'll probably trim it to its original size and post it somewhere (probably here) as a flash piece (depending on how short I think it should be and what you define as flash, of course...)

And another problem arose with the timeline of Project Seven, which looks increasingly like being set sometime after the London Olympics.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Time Crash

I know there are people reading this that wouldn't have seen Children in Need last week but might like to know about the Doctor Who bonus scene.

I could waste your time by going on about how it sums up everything good about Doctor Who in one eight minute scene, but I think it would be better just to let you watch it for yourselves if you haven't already done so.

As far as I can tell the beeb uploaded it with embedding disabled, so I'm going to do the decent thing and just give you the link.

Oh, and say that if you like it, give some cash to Pudsey or one of his colonial pals. ;)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Phursday Photos: Brrrrr!

It's our first frosty morning of the winter, and, having the day off work, I thought I'd wander around the garden with a camera for a few minutes. It's not a very big garden though, so all I came back with was this:

But that inspired me to post these, taken on the road up to the Basilica di Superga, which overlooks Turin, way back in February 2005.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Writing, Competitions, and Absent Titles

So yesterday wasn't a particularly productive day, wordcount-wise, although I did manage to scribble a couple of sentences when inspiration struck about the next chapter of the novel. I'll keep that turning over in my mind for a few days now as I need to get that short story finished and mailed off in the next week or so to meet the contest deadline.

Which seems a good point at which to throw in some linky goodness, if only for my own later perusal:

Creative Writing Contests - does exactly what it says on the tin: a whole bunch of poetry, fiction and non-fiction contests and calls for submissions in a handy blog-shaped format. They all seem to be from the US, which is not a whole bunch of use to me, but I subscribed to the feed so I don't miss anything too yummy.

Jacqui Bennett Writers Bureau has a whole list of UK writing competitions, as well as all kinds of other useful stuff.

What I definitely will be doing next year is entering a few more of the Writers' News and Writing Magazine competitions. I've done a couple in the past, without any success, but you know what they say about practice...

And of course, once I've had lots of practice and can do a good short sf story...

But first I need to finish the one I'm working on. Which still doesn't have a title.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Writing update #2

Well, it looks like even without the help of NaNoWriMo, this blog is becoming a somewhat thinly populated blog about writing. Maybe I'll actually write something about writing next time, rather than just copping out like I am.

Still, the writing is coming along: the novel wordcount is at around 1770; if I can keep that pace up I'll easily have enough words to make a novel in 12 months time. Whether they fit together in any coherent way is an entirely different matter of course...

I have, however, hit a slight stumbling block. A passage that actually works quite well in itself simply does not work, chronologically speaking. I tried a little bit of research with a view to rewriting it later; alternatively, I could just set the novel ten years or so into the future, which may render some bits I have yet to write more difficult, but at least I could kid myself I was writing sci-fi after all...

Monday, November 05, 2007

Writing so far this month

So here's my first progress report for those interested (but mainly to keep me honest in my daily writing intentions).

So far I've managed to find somewhere between 20 & 40 minutes every day to do a bit of fiction. I've got a short story project up to about 960 words, which I need to get up to at least 1500 to qualify for the contest I am writing it for. I think another rewrite, a bit more showing not telling, should get me somewhere near the mark without padding.

Didn't get any long stints over the weekend, but spent some time pulling a few ideas together and scribbling notes for Project Seven. I've decided it would be nice to get a first draft of P7 finished in the next 12 months, and maybe participate in NaNo next time round.

Unlikely, but nice.

Total wordage for the month runs to about 2000 so far on the two projects. Which isn't a bad start really.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Spooky coincidence

Last night I was being industrious, and getting some long overdue web updates started elsewhere in my virtual empire.

I was uploading these photos, and decided I should try and find a suitable link to serve as a reminder of what the X-Files movie was all about and what it had to do with Minis.

But I couldn't track down the official movie web page because of all the chatter about the sequel. Well, let's hope that drags some more custom round my little corner of the webbiverse, eh?

I haven't seen the X-Files in a long time. I kind of lost interest in that last season, the one without Mulder, and I think it went on a bit too long. Surely Mulder finding his sister, and Scully becoming the believer, keeping the X-files going with a sceptical partner, surely that was the end?

I dare say I'll go see it, or if Her Babyship doesn't allow, watch it on DVD. Who knows, maybe it will even have the desired effect and send me scurrying out to amazon to get the TV series on DVD...

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Phursday Photos: Tintern Abbey

If there's not a ruined castle nearby, an Abbey that Henry VIII got his hands on will do. This one is in the Welsh borderlands.Don't you love that archy goodness?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Is it NaNoWriMo again?

Well, it is tomorrow, and for squillions of wannabe writers like me, that means sitting down reguarly and trying to bash out a 50,000 word novel in 30 days flat.

Only, I will be doing no such thing. There is not even a remote possibility of the day job letting up in November, except for a few days set aside for long overdue tasks like boarding the loft and stowing Her Babyship's disused baby stuff securely, so no chance of getting close to 50k.

But I have been neglecting my writing somewhat lately. So, in a sort of spirit of solidarity with all my insane fellow writers who are diving into the NaNo thing, I'm going to make an effort to write something every day. I can probably cram 20 minutes of fiction writing into a lunch break, or before or after my working day (although that's usually when I write this rubbish, so I don't know what will happen there). There is a novel draft I need to add to, and some short story projects I want to at least attempt. There are plenty of ideas I can try to distill into, if you're lucky, blog-post length.

No targets at the moment, other than just to get back into the habit of writing. I guess I'll start tomorrow and see how far I get. Who knows, maybe I will get to 50k after all....

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Tuesday Tunes

It's going to be quickies all week I think, so here's your Sci-fi Tune of the Week:

Buck Rogers by Feeder.

Does that work? My filter messes the 'Tube up....

Thursday, October 25, 2007

CSFF Blog Tour: Rewriting the Bible

CSSF Blog Tour

Well, the tour's officially over, but I'm hoping I might catch a few stragglers here, because I might just say something interesting.

Obviously, I haven't read Bark of the Bog Owl, but I have read a few of the reviews and other posts on the tour this week, so I've picked up that it isn't a guide to recognising the calls of fantastic creatures.

What it is, is a fantasy re-telling of the story of King David, and it is the comments on this aspect of the story which I have been most interested in.

For those who have figured out what Old Testament Space Opera is, it should be fairly clear where I stand on the subject - and why I'm interested in the opinions of readers of CSF.

Opinions like:
The plot is predictable. But how many children's stories aren't predictable? The joy is in the journey and the journey Aidan led me on was most enjoyable.(Sally Apokedak)
Now I'll be the first to admit that once you figure out where Countless as the Stars is going, you have a pretty good idea how it's going to end. I guess the story may be less well known than David and Goliath, but, at heart, it follows very closely the Old Testament story, embellishing it with spaceships, rayguns, and sub-plots of my own invention, all of which I hope would make for an interesting journey.

My problem is that while 'predictable' may be ok for a kids book, following so closely the OT, I have ended up with a lot of sex, drugs and violence. The sex is all behind closed doors, and it's included for good reason (it was in the Bible, after all) but it's enough to rule it out as a kids book - and I fear predictable may be less ok for an adult book.

On the other hand, Brandon Barr said:
Fantasy fiction can retell a story, giving it a new setting, new names, and can
refresh our senses, reminding us of the true power of the story. .
And Becky Miller wrote:
I discovered I had a greater understanding of the Biblical event and yet
experienced a story that was so unique and fun, it was in no way spoiled because
I knew key plot points in advance.
Which are the kinds of things I hoped to achieve in Countless as the Stars. Certainly, I learned a whole lot while studying the Biblical events and trying to relate them to 21st Century life through a science fiction novel.

That's why I translated wine into drugs, and deliberately kept the sex in. (My original intention was to continue the story, and explore the consequences of these actions; there's a semi-plotted sequel in existence, although it may never see the light of day unless some publisher is willing to remix Countless and put both novels out.)

If I were to re-write King David, he would be a computer nerd, dedicated to finding the achilles heel of the genetically engineered super-human Goliath (the pure space opera version already being well known of course - Luke & the Death Star). But I'd include all of David's less admirable traits - I would certainly make him a womaniser (he may be a nerd, but he's a nerd with fame, money and power). He may, for the sake of relating to real life, stop somewhere short of murder to get the woman of his dreams, but you can be sure it would be pretty unpleasant - and surprisingly ungodly.

And, probably, not really suitable for a children's book.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Bark of the Blog Owl

CSSF Blog Tour

I'm back in familiar territory for this month's blog tour, bluffing my through having never picked up the book in question (which, for the interested among you, is called Bark of the Bog Owl, and is part one of the Wilderking trilogy by Jonathan Rogers.

I won't bore you with a stock synopsis, you can find that on the book's website, or browse through my tourmates' blogs for a proper review. Suffice to say, it's a fantasy novel, and the protagonist is 12 years old - that should be enough to know whether you want to read it or not.

I do have one question though: Why are the heroes of CSF novels all called Aidan? Wilderking's hero is called Aidan Errolson, The Door Within's hero is called Aiden Thomas, and the hero of Countless as the Stars is Aidan Qqayle... Coincidence? Or bizarre subliminal messaging?

Check out these blogs for the answers to none of these questions...

Brandon Barr
Jim Black
Justin Boyer
Grace Bridges
Amy Browning
Jackie Castle
Valerie Comer
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
Chris Deanne
Janey DeMeo
Merrie Destefano or Alien Dream
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Marcus Goodyear
Andrea Graham
Jill Hart
Katie Hart
Sherrie Hibbs
Christopher Hopper
Becca Johnson
Jason Joyner
Dawn King
Mike Lynch
Rachel Marks
Karen McSpadden
Melissa Meeks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Eve Nielsen
John W. Otte
Lyn Perry
Deena Peterson
Cheryl Russel
Ashley Rutherford
Hanna Sandvig
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Donna Swanson
Daniel I. Weaver
Laura Williams
Timothy Wise

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Tuesday Tunes: Justified & Ancient

I seem to recall saying I would use this feature to review some of the more obscure acts in my music collection.

I'm not sure if the KLF really fit that, since 1990's What Time is Love? brought them to the attention of most of the world, and they didn't exactly avoid publicity, but that's where we'll start.

I can't remember what it was about them (although I'm sure the whole Mu Mu thing had me curious) but something got me hooked, and a lot of my pocket money in the early 90s was spent buying up any record I could find by the KLF or their alter-egos the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, resulting in a collection of remixes of some tracks, none of which sound anything like the radio version...

And lately, thanks to the wonders of e-bay, I have started to fill the gaps in my collection, notably a copy of The JAMs' original and unedited LP 1987, an album which straddles the thin line between genius and lunacy as only Drummond & Cauty can.

The album wavers from the sublime to the ridiculous right from the opening Hey Hey We Are Not The Monkees ('We don't even like the Monkees/I don't think I ever liked the Monkees', King Boy shouts, before the now familiar refrain 'We're justified, and we're ancient...') and frequently detours to the utterly insane - random sampling from last weeks Top of the Pops anyone?

The (then) new technique of sampling other people's records was abused pretty much indiscriminately, at its best on Don't Take Five (Take What You Want), which takes its title from Dave Brubeck's heavily sampled Take Five, and All You Need Is Love, which starts with a Beatles sample, and relies heavily on the Government's 'Don't Die of Ignorance' AIDS awareness campaign and Samantha Fox's Touch Me to make what sounds suspiciously like a political point...

Side 2 starts, bizarrely, with Mu Re Con, apparently recorded by accident when a Vietnamese session musician sang it while the tapes were running, and Bill and Jimmy happened to like it...

From there we descend again into madness: The Queen And I, the infamous track which took pretty much the whole of Dancing Queen without permission and had Abba forcing withdrawal and destruction of the record... which subsequently became the basis of much of the JAMs 'mythos', right up to the KLF's huge hit 3am Eternal.

The final track on the album, Next, takes similar liberties with copyright, taking obvious samples from Stevie Wonder's Superstition, and The Lonely Goatherd from The Sound of Music, among numerous, less obvious, others.

It is completely bonkers, and at times virtually unlistenable, but with far more high points than low. And it's an essential part of the JAMs/KLF story, which so intrigued me as a yoof...

Now, since I had such fun tracking down obscure Mars related songs the other week, I thought I'd add another little feature to Tuesday Tunes...

Sci-fi Song of the Week

Normally I'd suggest you all try and track it down from your favourite download site, but you might need to hit e-bay for the inaugural offering, which, to tie in with the rest of the post, is of course...

Doctorin' the Tardis by The Timelords (also known as the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, furthermore known as the KLF).

Monday, October 15, 2007

Miss, I wannabe a Marcher Lord!

Ah, to be a careers adviser in the 13th Century, when there was no more noble calling than to defend England's borders against the Welsh.

Of course, things have moved on a bit since then, and nowadays Marcher Lords are out on the borderlands of fiction, setting up an outpost for Christian speculative fiction. Or, as Jeff Gerke puts it, 'weird' Christian fiction.

Weird Christian fiction eh? Now that's an idea I can relate to. So I - and I'm sure, many visitors to this blog (many? Do I even have many visitors?) - will be watching Marcher Lord Press over the next 12 months. I may well become a regular customer. If I put my mind to it and write something good (and weird!), who knows, there may even be an outside chance of becoming a MLP author (well, it's a more realistic ambition than becoming the next Iain Banks, isn't it?)

Personal ambitions aside, I wish MLP the best of luck, and look forward to some quality Christian weirdness next Christmas.

Oh, and I really should go check out his forums & collaborative fiction site some time.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

What are the chances?

Not that I was bored and just messing about online instead of working or anything, but by a curious coincidence, this happened:
Well, it amused me anyway.

Monday, October 01, 2007

miscellaneous bloggery 9

I've spotted a few interesting titbits around over the last week or two, which I was going to share but Elliot beat me to it.

This looked fun too: What 5 scifi movies do you watch over and over? Well, based purely on the movies I've actually bothered to buy on DVD....
  • Star Wars (Episodes 4 & 5. Is that two choices?)
  • The Matrix
  • Serenity
  • Back to the Future (Part 2 if I could only take one)
  • ...and, if the judges are lenient and let The Empire Strike Back, I'll put Ghostbusters in for light entertainment.

And here's a little something that's been amusing me lately: The Ongoing Adventures of ASBO Jesus.

Proper writing may resume shortly. If I can find the time.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Phursday Photos: Criccieth Castle

One of my favourite things to photograph is ruined castles. These shots were taken at Criccieth Castle in North Wales this summer.

Unfortunately the local flora wasn't up to much, or that last would have been a much better pic.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The CSFF Blog Tour of The Return

CSSF Blog Tour

And we now reach the point in the tour where I completely break with tradition, by actually talking about the book in question, during the tour, rather than six months later.

Some reviewers have commented that The Return works as a stand-alone novel, but I'm a bit obsessive-compulsive about trilogies and can't cope with starting anywhere but the beginning, so this might turn into more a mini-review of the Mars Hill series.

When I first started reading the series, there seemed to be a lot of words - a lot of technical jargon and explanation. Once the story got running, the techno-babble mostly just blended into the background, secondary to the story. And what a story: Action, suspense, the colonization of Mars, wierd fertility cults, cloning... there's a lot going on in the last part of the series, with John Wells back on Mars, and Raines and his growing cult forming the backbone of the Earth-bound story.

The faith of the Christian characters is tested here by the possible existence of not only aliens, but also clones. I think, incidentally, I've worked out what's wrong with Christian characters in CBA novels. If they have cause to speak about their faith, they can come across as either preachy or just plain forced. I don't know about you, but I always find it awkward trying to talk about it with colleagues, and often wish for the benefit of countless revisions and a sympathetic editor before committing to a final version of whatever I might want to say. I think it is fair to say that John and Amy Wells suffer a little less from this than many Christian characters, and in fact the whole Christian element seems surprisingly natural for a techno-thriller/sf hybrid story.

The main characters develop quite nicely over the series; even Malcolm Raines improves with age. In The Evidence I thought he was a bit of a Carpathia clone - generic CBA villain A - but by the final part of the series he has turned into Hugh Hefner's evil twin.

There is at least one fairly significant plot thread left untied at the end, but hey, that shouldn't be enough to spoil the book, much less the trilogy. If you like realistically imagined sf, Clancy-esque techno-thrillers, or a good story with a spiritual dimension, you should read some Austin Boyd.

Other highlights of the tour:

Jim Black asks what stories about Mars we like, and nobody answers.
Valerie is reading the trilogy backwards. Let us know how that works out, won't you.
Deena has an interview with the author.

And there are various other reviews scattered among these blogs:
Trish Anderson - Brandon Barr - Jim Black - Justin Boyer - Grace Bridges - Amy Browning - Jackie Castle - Valerie Comer - Karri Compton - Lisa Cromwell - CSFF Blog Tour - Gene Curtis - D. G. D. Davidson - Janey DeMeo - Merrie Destefano or Alien Dream - Jeff Draper - April Erwin - Beth Goddard - Marcus Goodyear - Jill Hart - Katie Hart - Sherrie Hibbs - Christopher Hopper - Becca Johnson - Jason Joyner - Kait - Karen - Dawn King - Tina Kulesa - Rachel Marks - Karen McSpadden - Rebecca LuElla Miller - Eve Nielsen - John W. Otte - Lyn Perry - Deena Peterson - Rachelle - Cheryl Russel - Chawna Schroeder - Mirtika Schultz - James Somers - Speculative Faith - Laura Williams - Timothy Wise

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

CSFF Blog Tour vs Tuesday Tunes

In honour of the CSFF Blog Tour, this week's Tuesday Tunes will present... the Top Ten Mars Tunes!

10. Bon Jovi - Captain Crash and the Beauty Queen from Mars
Horrible Bon Jovi naffness. Cool title.

9. Mylo - Mars Needs Women
He doesn't specify what they're needed for, so apply with caution.

8. The Undertones - Mars Bars
Purveyors of Teenage Kicks raid the Spar.

7. T. Rex - Ballrooms of Mars
Look, it's that guy Bolan again, not satisfied with having the inaugural Tuesday Tunes all to himself...

6. Red Hot Chilli Peppers - Death of a Martian
There are better Chilli Peppers songs, but not about Martians.

5. Hawkwind - Uncle Sam's on Mars
I suspect these psychadelic space rock pioneers may show up here again in the future...

4. Alice Cooper - Might as well be on Mars
Seven whole minutes of gloriously moody rock greatness! And apparently he's a Christian too.

3. MARRS - Pump up the Volume
What? You want to make up the rules, do it on your own blog!

2. The Misfits - Teenagers from Mars
Horror punk lunacy, not for the faint-hearted (and some sweary lyrics). Less good is I Turned into a Martian.

The absolute all-time best ever song ever with Mars in the title. And the B-side was a fantastically jangly indie-guitar instrumental number by the name of Cantina Band. Credited to someone called John Williams. I'm not sure where I've heard it before, but it rocks! :)

Honorable mention for Blondie's Rapture, for the mental rap about the man from Mars who 'stopped eatin' cars and eatin' bars / And now he only eats guitars'.

Yes, alright, I know I missed one. But it was the first song you all thought of, so I hardly needed to bring it to your attention did I?

Oh yes, and don't forget to buy The Return, or another book by Austin Boyd.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Return of the CSFF Blog Tour

CSSF Blog Tour

When I started this blog, some 18 months ago, it was partly intended to record my hunt for good Christian science fiction. Along the way I discovered - among others - the blogger now known as 'the Claw Man', and his expanding list of mainstream sf with religious characters or themes. Those books I have read from his list are undoubtedly good sf, but not quite what I was after. I wanted proper, in-yer-face Biblical themes or in-yer-face Christianity. What they refer to in the USA (where there's an association for everything) as CBA fiction. With spaceships.

And thanks in no small part to this very blog tour, I've found out that there is actually quite a lot of it around. You just can't buy it in the UK. (Which is, of course, why God created amazon.)

All of which pre-amble is to say that this month's featured author, Austin Boyd, has created just what I've been looking for: The Mars Hill Classified trilogy, the final instalment of which, The Return, was released earlier this year and is the focus of the tour.

Before we get to that though, let's have a little recap of the story so far - skip to the list of participants if you don't want to find out too much...

In book 1, The Evidence, we meet our hero, Navy pilot turned astronaut John Wells, who finds himself embroiled in two seemingly unrelated plots - a series of terrorist attacks across the USA, and the discovery of mysterious images being transmitted from the surface of Mars. The Martians, apparently, decide to communicate via wacko televangelist Malcolm Raines, who does all he can to prevent anyone who may threaten his World Inclusive Faith, such as Christian John Wells, going to Mars. But fails.

Book 2, The Proof, sees John Wells reach the pinnacle of his career, as he forms part of the first manned mission to Mars, looking for proof of alien intelligent. Of course, Murphy's Law states that as soon as such a mission launches, alien intelligence will be discovered right here on Earth, which is indeed what happens. While Wells is off meeting Martians, his wife Amy takes a stand against Raines and his alien prophecies (despite the fact that they keep coming true). And, this being part two of a trilogy, some loose ends are tied up, while more important ones are loosened in preparation for the big finish.

Also dropping by the Mars Bar this week:

Trish Anderson - Brandon Barr - Jim Black - Justin Boyer - Grace Bridges - Amy Browning - Jackie Castle - Valerie Comer - Karri Compton - Lisa Cromwell - CSFF Blog Tour - Gene Curtis - D. G. D. Davidson - Janey DeMeo - Merrie Destefano or Alien Dream - Jeff Draper - April Erwin - Beth Goddard - Marcus Goodyear - Jill Hart - Katie Hart - Sherrie Hibbs - Christopher Hopper - Becca Johnson - Jason Joyner - Kait - Karen - Dawn King - Tina Kulesa - Rachel Marks - Karen McSpadden - Rebecca LuElla Miller - Eve Nielsen - John W. Otte - Lyn Perry - Deena Peterson - Rachelle - Cheryl Russel - Chawna Schroeder - Mirtika Schultz - James Somers - Speculative Faith - Laura Williams - Timothy Wise

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Phursday Photos: Yoda

Don't worry, it's just September, and the car show season going out with a flourish - next week's photos will be altogether different. In the meantime, here's Yoda at the National Mini Day last weekend.

Yoda and friends

Reflections (again)

Yoda again

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

I'm a proper writer, me.

Well, sort of. For amid the blog posts of varying quality, miscellaneous unfinished works of fiction, and a novel that nobody wants to read, there are occasional moments of quite-good-ness.

One of these, I thought anyway, I wrote about seven years ago, an interesting (if you're interested in that sort of thing) piece on how some of the characters in the ancient Ladybird book Tootles the Taxi and other rhymes were based on Dinky Toys. This article, some admittedly average accompanying photos, and a spare copy of the book in question were bundled up and sent off to Model Collector magazine, never to be seen again.

Until today, when part of my original work, spliced together with another piece submitted coincidentally on the same subject, appeared in the November 2007 issue (IPC Media still use the Roman calendar, apparently). It goes without saying that I thought it was far better before all this dicing and splicing went on, but one or two (yes, I think it's two) of my sentences are still recognisable, and hey, I'm not proud, so I'll take a credit where I can get one.

Maybe someday I'll post the original version up here. Or possibly somewhere else where it won't be quite so off-topic.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Introducing... Tuesday Tunes

What's this, I hear you say, another new semi-regular feature?

Well, possibly. If you would like to occasionally hear what I think about the last CD I bought, and perhaps be introduced to some of the more obscure acts in my music collection.

I'm going to start off gently though, by banging a gong for T.Rex.
T.Rex never really made it across the Atlantic (probably too sophisticated) so, for the uninitiated, they were part of the vanguard of the glam rock movement in the early 70s, which later gave us the likes of Slade and, um, The Wombles. T.Rex were around before it all got too silly, and the early hits - songs like Get It On, Telegram Sam, Metal Guru and Children of the Revolution, were actually good, if rather similar. And 20th Century Boy, like many other classic tunes, had something of a revival in the early 90s thanks to a certain purveyor of denimwear.

The reason for starting the feature and this somewhat random point in musical history is that it is 30 years this week since T.Rex frontman Marc Bolan died. In a Mini 1275GT, which is the main reason I know that fact. Apparently his girlfriend got the heel of her platform shoe stuck under the pedals - an unfortunate but very glam rock way to go.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Friday Review - Dark Benediction by Walter M Miller Jr

Readers of Christian-themed sf will no doubt know Walter M. Miller Jr as the author of A Canticle for Leibowitz, but since it has been short story week here, I'll take a quick look at this collection of his shorter works.

This collection includes a dozen or so stories, including the novellas Blood Bank, The Darfstellar, and Dark Benediction (wasn't he in The A-Team?). Many of the stories reflect Miller's interest in religion, and particularly the Catholic faith he followed, with priests, prayer and religious imagery appearing in several stories.

Many of the stories have little in the way of characterisation or plot, but do what short sf does best - present an idea, then leave the reader to worry about its possible implications. Miller's ideas often deal with moral or ethical problems - which has the advantage of not dating the work as tends to happen with technocentric sf (is that a word?).

Interestingly, some of Miller's technology has - sort of - come about. The idea of actors being replaced by robots as in The Darfstellar seemed, at first, a bit outdated in these days of movies on demand and reality TV. But the men in white coats have recently reanimated Bob Monkhouse, and before that there was Gene Kelly's VW ad.

Among the other ideas presented for your consideration are a distant future world regressed to a pre-industrial state, and then presented with a supercomputer and its robot gurdian (Big Joe and the Nth Generation); the social implications of alien abduction (You Triflin' Skunk) and telepathy (Anybody Else Like Me?); and various treaments of what it means to be human in Dark Benediction, the eerily current Conditionally Human, and the more technocentric, but quite disturbing, I, Dreamer.

I could go on - I've barely scratched the surface. Not all the stories hit the spot for me, but there is plenty of variety, plenty of good, intelligent stories and thought-provoking ideas, and a Christian worldview underlying most of it. If I had to pick a favourite story, today it would probably be Blood Bank, a somewhat dark vision of mankinds evolutionary future, but there's probably a story to suit every mood...

Dark Benediction is published in the UK as part of the SF Masterworks series. In the US you'll have to settle for The Best of Walter M Miller Jr, which was published around 1980 but seems to include the same stories.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Introducing.... Phursday Photos

Which could be a new, semi-regular feature, or it could just be an excuse for me to post some of the more arty pics I took at last weekend's British Mini day. This collection would be called something like 'Reflections of an Icon', but I'm not feeling cheesy enough.




Wednesday, September 05, 2007

More short stuff

For those who may be wondering, I do intend to give writing short fiction a bit more of an effort. There are, after all, markets, especially for short genre fiction. (Interestingly, I hear that Fantasy & Science Fiction is short of science fiction and humour...) And there are always plenty of short story competitions to enter. Most are not spec-fic related, but I've been playing with some of the themes, and twisting them into a speculative story seems like it could be fun. I suspect it will frighten or at least bemuse the judges, but when that happens, there's always this blog to post it on.

Now, the reason for my sudden interest in the short story is partly that, while plundering the extensive back-catalogue of Escape Pod, my current source of short sf, I have come across a number of stories with some kind of religious content or theme. And I'm getting a taste for how some of these things might be dealth with in a more overtly Christian story.

I've said this before, but for those of a podcasty nature, I recommend Escape Pod. I like the amusing way the stories are all rated: 'Contains profanity, sexual situations, and the undead, in various combinations' or 'Contains battle scenes, Imperial propaganda, overenthusastic chemistry, and bad poetry.'

And I like some of the readers: host Steve Eley's female character voices always make me smile, and Mur Lafferty - well, she hasn't read one for a while, but something about her voice would make me hang on every word of the phone book. Actually, perhaps that's not the best thing to listen to while driving...

Monday, September 03, 2007

Short stuff

I think we're probably overdue a post about science fiction. This post, or something like it, has been in a holding pattern for almost a month waiting for me to finish it off and post it. It's probably not as polished as it should be for all that revision time, but you get what you pay for at this blog.

Way back in the mists of time, a blogger with the unlikey moniker of 'slushmaster' made this post. Which, in turn, solicited replies like this one, and this. And, eventually, this one.

I haven't made a subscription yet, but the whole discussion has made me take another glance in the direction of short sf. As a rule I don't read short stories. I have a collection of Stephen King's shorter works, and I've read a number of sf anthologies over the years, but generally I'm a novel reader.

And, because I like the whole world-building exercise, and find bringing characters to life and telling a story in about 1600 words waaaaay too challenging, so far I have remained a novel writer too.

But sf and short fiction are old pals. A short story can be just enough to bring an idea to life, without flogging it to death the way an over-long novel sometimes can. Science fiction is the fiction of ideas, and the more I think about it, the more I am persuaded that short stories are often the best way of conveying a single idea.

And ideas are one thing I have in plentiful supply. So maybe I should get a bit more practice in. And maybe, just maybe, when I find myself with a few quid spare in my current account, I will get that subscription too.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Big Kid post of the week.

So, I'm not going to ask why a grown man was going through a box of Lego the other day. Mainly because there's a box of my own been knocking around waiting to be put in the loft, and my building fingers have been getting itchy...

I was (am) a big Space Lego fan. The classic stuff - early-mid 80s was my period - although I have some of the original trilogy Star Wars stuff tucked away too. I have to agree with Elliot though, I suspect all these big money tie-ins have removed some of the play value, partly with the number of highly specialized bricks that can only serve a limited purpose, and partly because you don't need to invent your own characters and stories.

And just to prove you don't need all those special bricks, this was done long before Star Wars Lego was invented.

Anyway, I'm quite excited about Her Babyship turning 2 in a couple of weeks - that's officially old enough to play with Duplo! With appropriate adult supervision (ie me) of course. :)

In other news, the inexorable pull of facebook has started in this direction. Granted, it has already allowed me to catch up with an old friend before he got married and left the country, but from here it will probably either be abandoned (like the MySpace account I have lying dormant somewhere, having decided it wasn't going to sell any books) or sap every last spare second (and some that aren't spare) from my life.

Next week: something about science fiction and Christianity. Or possibly a Lego enactment of Countless as the Stars.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Yoda on Mars: Reunion

So this weekend a bunch of people whose classic cars appeared, at some point, on Life on Mars, got together at the Cheshire Classic Car Show at Capesthorne Hall. And yes, this is the actual Cortina.

Elsewhere at the show there were some other nice '70s cars, including this Mini which came 2nd in the 70s concours class (Yoda was joint 3rd with the other 16 entrants).
Although I think this is what a Mini should look like when souped-up 70s-style.
If we can ever afford to take a long vacation in the States, we're doing a road trip in one of these.
Failing that, I'd settle for a picnic in one of these.

The Life on Mars group, incidentally, won first prize for the Club stands. So we got a little plaque to share between about 20 of us from throughout the Midlands and North West. I think it's my turn in about 2013.

Actually, all I did was turn up, the prize really belongs to those who organised the gathering, and especially put together the backdrop and the 70s memorabilia collection that lurked behind it. Rumour has it we put some noses out of joint among the more established clubs too... see, a sense of fun (and letting kids crawl in and out of your Cortina) goes a long way.