Teahouse on the Tracks (Alastair Reynolds)
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Monday, 1 September 2008
Sci-Fi Lullabies
Now Playing: Suede

When I was growing up, the term "sci-fi" had almost universally positive connotations - to me, at least. There were "sci-fi" double-bills on BBC2. My dad would sometimes let me stay up late on fridays if there was a "sci-fi" film on. I liked drawing "sci-fi" pictures and writing "sci-fi" stories. I liked going to the "sci-fi" section of WH Smiths and buying "sci-fi" books (usually media tie-in novels by the likes of Alan Dean Foster, but that's another story).

Then it all changed. When I started reading into SF more seriously - reading about the genre as well as the genre itself - I quickly learned that calling things "sci-fi" was a bit of a no-no. The term, if it was used at all, was reserved for the schlocky, tacky, end-of-the-pier stuff: second-rate comics, bad films and TV shows, derivative tie-ins and so forth - all the stuff that proper, serious SF wanted to disassociate itself from as quickly as possible. To use the term "sci-fi" in polite society - well, what passes for polite society in SF circles - was to reveal yourself as a bit of an ingenue, not yet fully versed in the ways of grown-up SF discourse. Over time, I too learned not to talk about "sci-fi" unless I was explicitly talking about the bad stuff. And I quickly learned that many SF enthusiasts liked to talk in withering terms about something called "skiffy", a word I've never used and never will, because it speaks volumes to me about the smug insularity and in-jokiness of a certain strain of fandom. I think that's their clever way of saying "sci-fi", but in a manner that "mundanes" - for which read: most normal, well-adjusted people - won't get.

 It took me almost as long to realise that "soof-wah" was what people in fandom said when they meant the SFWA (itself rather an obscure, niche organisation, when you get down to it, as if it needed to be made even more obscure by pronouncing it in a funny way).

The thing is, I don't think we're going to win this one. To the average person in the street, sci-fi is what we do. It's what copy-editors will always insist on putting into newspaper articles, even if the original author used the terms SF or science fiction. And guess what, I'm a sci-fi writer. I write sci-fi books. They get shelved in the sci-fi section. It's not the worst thing in the world.

So here's a suggestion. We get over the sci-fi thing. We can still keep talking about SF and science fiction, but we should give up the knee-jerk sense of insult whenever the sci-fi label is applied to what we do. To the outside world, we're like music bores getting upset with the term "hi-fi". It should be "high-fidelity", doncha know.

If we still need a term to isolate the tacky end of the genre, I've got one right here. We can call it "crap sci-fi", like the rest of the world does.

 (Today's post has been brought to you by the letter Q and a sense of grumpy injustice that it's the first of September and we haven't had a summer).

Posted by voxish at 10:30 AM MEST
Updated: Monday, 1 September 2008 11:03 AM MEST
Wednesday, 27 August 2008
Big Issue Cymru now out
Now Playing: Crystal River - Mudcrutch

Before I bore everyone senseless about this, just a word to say that I popped into Cardiff today and (thanks to a couple of friendly vendors) was able to pick up The Big Issue Cymru with my story in it. It'll only be on sale until the weekend, so get cracking if a) you want one, b) you live in Wales.

While not wishing to dent sales of the magazine (not very likely) the story in question will eventually reappear in the UK edition of Zima Blue in April 2009. So even if you can't get hold of the mag, you'll still get a chance to read the story eventually.

Trying to play on my guitar: Andante, by Ferdinado Carulli, Carrousel by Gerard Montreuil, Like a Hurricane by N Young.

Posted by voxish at 11:28 PM MEST
Geek out

Meant to mention it earlier, but I participated in a panel discussion on the subject of maps and illustrations in SF and Fantasy over on Bookgeeks. The other writers were Jaine Fenn, Brian Ruckley and Jeff Somers.

I come across as a bit snotty in my initial posting, for which apologies to all concerned. Must have been having a bad guitar day...

Posted by voxish at 12:16 AM MEST
Tuesday, 26 August 2008
Weather Report
Now Playing: Three views of a secret

I'm delighted to say that "Weather", one of the original short stories from Galactic North, has won the Japanese National Science Fiction Convention's Seiun award for best translated short fiction. That's my second award of any kind, so you can understand that it means a lot to me - especially as I'm rather fond of the story in question.

My thanks to all the members of the convention who voted for "Weather". Technically, it means I'm perfectly entitled to say that I've "won the nebula award" (Seiun=Nebula in Japanese.)

Which is nice. 

Posted by voxish at 7:28 PM MEST
Updated: Tuesday, 26 August 2008 7:35 PM MEST
Saturday, 23 August 2008
Joker Hysterical Face
Now Playing: The Fall

First up, Miles (see comments below previous post) got a copy of The Big Issue Cymru last week and according to that one, my story will be running in this week's issue, not the previous one as I reported below. Apologies for any inconvenience...

In other news, I caught up with The Dark Knight while back in the Netherlands, and for the most part enjoyed it rather a lot. As has been noted elsewhere, it's very much Heath Ledger's film, and I don't think there's ever been a better Joker. Nicholson's version is still pretty damned iconic ("Wait 'til they get a load of me!") but Ledger's take on the character wins in terms of sheer, oozing menace: a truly evil and psychotic villain, up there with Kurtwood Smith's superbly deranged Clarence Boddicker from the first Robocop film. You certainly wouldn't want to be in the same room as any of them.

What I didn't like so much - and this is seems to be the case with all the big superhero films of recent years - was the excessively convoluted plot, in no way helped by the apparent need to stuff another villain into the story. Two-face (another Fall song, pop pickers - and there's also Riddler, while we're at it) would surely have merited a film in his own right. And he didn't really get to be Two-Face for long enough, in my view. Perhaps he's not dead after all.

I also didn't like the nonsensical subplot about cellphones and sonar, and I couldn't for the life of me work out what Batman was doing in that forensic reconstruction scene with the Joker's bullet. The fact that Bale delivered all his Batman lines in a gutteral croak didn't exactly assist matters.

But I liked Ledger, I liked the Batpod motorcycle (although I bet Judge Dredd is fuming); I liked the action set pieces (not too much obvious CGI, for once) and it was fun to relate to Chicago in a way I hadn't been able to do before my recent trip. I much preferred this film to Spiderman, Hulk, Superman etc.

Onward to Hellboy II.

Posted by voxish at 11:34 PM MEST
Updated: Saturday, 23 August 2008 11:53 PM MEST
Wednesday, 13 August 2008
Now Playing: The Bats

Right - the StarShipSofa podcast is up (Aural delights number 37):


As always the whole thing's worth listening to, but for them that's interested, my bit is 29 minutes into it, followed by the narration of "The Real Story". Which is very good, incidentally - the narration, I mean. Top marks to Tony Smith of the Sofa for coming up with this idea.

I've got a naff voice for this kind of thing, incidentally. In my head I sound like Anthony Hopkins, but for some reason it comes out more like Mr Bean.

But everyone hates their voice, don't they?

Moving on, I'm told that the Big Issue Cymru with my story in it will be on sale next week. More on that when I know for sure.

Posted by voxish at 8:51 PM MEST
Wednesday, 6 August 2008
Not the most organised of people
Now Playing: Still Walter Becker

Lately I've become very poor at dealing with correspondence, for which many apologies. I hit a difficult patch after Christmas, which meant that I was finding it unusually hard to finish, or even get started on, various projects. It had nothing to do with anything going on in my life, except perhaps as the fallout from a difficult and stressful year involving relocation to the UK. Whatever - the point was, I hit some roadblocks, and work wasn't going as smoothly as I'd have liked. I've talked a bit about this in a podcast which will be going out as part of StarShipSofa in a little while. The upshot was that - after I got back from Minneapolis - I badly needed to get some focus and cut out distractions. That's a large part of why I removed my email address from the website - not because I didn't appreciate the feedback (most of the emails I received were interesting and welcome, and generally very kind, and very few encouraged me to go and kill myself) but simply because dealing with them was swallowing more and more of my time, even after I'd made it clear that I wasn't necessarily going to respond to everything. (In fact, I think I still responded to 95% of all emails).

However, that's not really the point of this update. Very occasionally, I do get actual mail, forwarded on via my agent or publisher. Again, they're mostly very welcome. I've received some crank material, but I doubt that there are many SF writers who haven't.  The problem, though, is that I'm just as chronically bad at dealing with this form of correspondence as I am with the electronic variety. A case in point - and I really hope she's reading this - would be the nice letter I received from a young lady called Megan some time ago. I put it aside with the intention of replying ... and then didn't, and time went by, and now - even though I swear I knew where the letter was - I can't find it. I'm still hoping I'll turn it up, of course. But I feel an apology is due. At least with emails I can go back into my inbox and theoretically locate any that I haven't responded to, but a physical letter is a different matter.

 So. Much grovelling from me, and due apologies to anyone else who's still waiting on me for anything.

Veering in a completely different direction, I'm taking guitar lessons. On one level, it's an admission of failure. I got a guitar 14 years ago (ta, mum). I got some books and started teaching myself how to play. I kept doing this for another 14 years. I got a bit better, working slowly through the exercises. I enjoyed myself tremendously, but - a year or two ago - it began to dawn on me that I wasn't really improving, at least not at any measurable rate. And while I could sort of read music, I had an almost hopeless lack of understanding of basic theory - scales, key signatures and suchlike. What I could play, I'd more or less figured out by a painful process of memorisation.  So it was time to do something about it. The tipping point was the Telecaster I treated myself to after the House of Suns signing in Forbidden Planet - that and spotting an advert for guitar lessons in a shop window.

So now, once week, I get on my bike and cycle around to Richard. Richard's a nice young guy who can play just about anything - he's classically trained, but likes Steely Dan and death metal. And under Richard's guidance I think I've learned more in the last couple of months than in the 14 years since I got my first guitar. I'm still crap, of course. But it's a different, more refined crap. Right now the reason my fingers feel like the ends have been sawn off is "Prelude" by Matteo Carcassi, and I'm having a blast. Maybe because I don't have a musical bone in my body, I'm enjoying it all the more. And I'm doing it because I want to, not because I'm made to do it by a teacher.

Posted by voxish at 11:34 PM MEST
Updated: Thursday, 7 August 2008 12:07 AM MEST
Monday, 4 August 2008
We got the Steely Dan t-shirts
Now Playing: Walter Becker

Walter Becker has a new album out. It's called Circus Money and is his first solo release since 1994. This can only be a good thing.

Have you ever bought an album on the basis of who produced it? If the answer's no, then I'm willing to bet you're not a Steely Dan fan. If you are, on the other hand, then you may well have bought Zazu, Rosie Vela's one and only album, purely on the basis that Fagen and Becker were on it, reunited for the first time since 1980's Gaucho. Or you may own albums by China Crisis or Fra Lippo Lippi that wouldn't otherwise form part of your collection, because Becker produced and played on them.

Since 1982, Fagen has maintained a blazingly productive output of approximately one solo album per decade. Becker, by contrast, has recorded a scorching two albums in the same time interval. Of course, there's the not insignificant matter of Steely Dan reforming in the mid nineties, but even allowing for their two new studio albums (or is it three? I can't remember) they can hardly be accused of flooding the market. Which makes Becker's new one all the more welcome, and I for one expect to be enjoying it for at least a decade.

Oh, and the title of this blog? A Fagen song, of course.

Posted by voxish at 3:10 PM MEST
Updated: Monday, 4 August 2008 3:51 PM MEST
The Big Issue; the Dakota thing etc
Now Playing: Mouse on Mars

It turns out that, rather than running a special issue of Welsh fiction, The Big Issue Cymru is running one story per issue - and that these stories have already started appearing. I hadn't managed to buy a copy for a few weeks (until I picked one up on Friday, just before going to see Wall-E*)  but I'm presuming they haven't run my piece yet. The upshot of this is that I may not be able to give very much notice of when the relevant issue appears, but I'll do my best.

Over on rec.arts.sf.written, there have lately been a couple of queries concerning errors or anomalies in my fiction. One that's come up many times in correspondence is the cock-up in "Diamond Dogs" where I referred to one, rather than two, as the first prime number.  There's no excuse for this; it was just pure stupidity on my part.

Much the same can be said for the Dakota thing in CENTURY RAIN. As part of her alibi, Verity tells people that she's from Dakota, without specifying whether she means North or South. Some people have even speculated that this is a hint that the entire book is embedded in an alternate history. Would that I were that clever, alas. The truth is, while fully aware that North and South Dakota are separate states, I just didn't realise that no US citizen would ever refer to Dakota as a larger entity formed from the two states. Another error in that book, one that's been pointed out to me more than once, is the reference to a Molotov cocktail - unlikely in a world where WW2 fizzled out just after the Ardennes offensive.

I really ought to create some kind of web page where I list these (and other) cock-ups. I'm certainly not proud of them, but at the same time I've come to realise that in writing big, multifaceted SF novels, it's almost impossible not to get some stuff tragically wrong.

 * - loved Wall-E, by the way. Pure sense-of-wonder...

Posted by voxish at 11:17 AM MEST
Updated: Monday, 4 August 2008 11:38 AM MEST
Monday, 21 July 2008
Now Playing: What I put on my MP3 six months ago

Just a reminder that Chris Beckett's excellent new collection, "The Turing Test", will be out from Elastic Press in a couple of weeks. If you've been reading Interzone - or any number of other SF short fiction venues in the last fifteen or so years - you'll need no further recommendation. If you've somehow missed out on Chris's work, this is a great chance to catch up on this thoughtful and underrated writer.


In other news, that all-round good bloke Jeff Vandermeer gave a nice plug to The Prefect on the Omnivoracious blog.

Finally- and more on this when I'm done - I'm reading Paul McAuley's new novel THE QUIET WAR and enjoying it tremendously. It's exactly the kind of clever, densely-detailed, colourful, medium-term future tour-of-the-solar-system hard SF/space opera mashup that rocks my world. Even better, it's only the first half of a two-book story.

Posted by voxish at 11:12 AM MEST

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