Friday, April 30, 2010


Blathering Buccaneers

Back in 2006, not long after my 40th birthday, I completed a novelette entitled 'Rommel Cobra's Swimming Carnival' that was intended for the pirate anthology Fast Ships, Black Sails edited by Jeff VanderMeer. This novelette introduced my Postmodern Mariner character and I was extremely pleased with myself when it was done; indeed I still regard it as one of my best stories. However it failed to get into the anthology. So I wrote another pirate story, 'Castor on Troubled Waters', that did get into the anthology and also seeded an entire sequence of similar linked stories. The end result was that I was able to put together an entire book called The Postmodern Mariner; and that's just one example of how a rejection can actually lead to a better final result.

Anyway... one of the conceits in 'Rommel Cobra's Swimming Carnival' (full marks, by the way, to anyone who spots that the title is a displaced allusion to Monty Python's Flying Circus) is that the Postmodern Mariner is a blogger. His blog motto is typically postmodern: "Do you feel lucky, albatross? Well, do ya, punk?" and he specialises in reporting on sea-based absurdist mysteries. In the novelette, he has adventures in the semi-mythical over-sweetened Sea of Tea where he meets eight pirate captains who have made that brew their temporary slurping ground. To demonstrate his professionalism in dire circumstances he calmly interviews each pirate, but the interviews aren't included in the story itself. It is merely stated that they can be found on the Postmodern Mariner's blog, the address of which is given as follows:

It was therefore my task to write those interviews and post them online, to make the postmodernist jest complete, to render the full conceit viable. But I was less than efficient in completing this task! The first interview was posted on October 24, 2006, but the second didn't appear until August 18, 2008. Whoops! True, the third appeared only a couple of weeks later; but the fourth wasn't written and posted until March of this year. Clearly something had to be done. I got my ass into gear; my mule also. Finally all eight were done. It only took three and a half years. Ahem!

Here are links to the eight interviews:

#1. Charlotte Gallon: the Pirate Princess
#2. China Melville: the Hunter of Moby K. Dick
#3. Jacob Qwerty Wuthering: the Subaquanaughty Boy
#4. Captain Nothing: the Opposite of Something
#5. Henry Morgan: the Living Rum Bottle
#6. Captain Faraway: the Long Distance Personality
#7. Captain Dangleglum: the Trader in Fat Cat Paperweights
#8. José Gasparilla: the Independent Shadow

At last it's done! Anyone who hasn't read The Postmodern Mariner will probably still understand the interviews, most of them at any rate! The timing of this is quite good, as the oft delayed official launch of that book should be happening in June (I know I have announced dates for this launch many times and it keeps getting postponed; but I'm more confident this time that it'll happen). Personally I regard The Postmodern Mariner and my forthcoming Tallest Stories as my funniest books; the former has a further advantage in that it's relatively cheap; and yet it has been the poorest selling of all my books so far. I don't understand why! Allow me therefore to plug it yet again, a mere two years after its unofficial launch and two months before its official launch!

It is available direct from the publisher here... Just £7.99. And here is a review to whet your appetite... And here is a link to a picture of two seahorses, to wet your appetite. Puns. You either like 'em or you love 'em.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


Twisthorn Exists!

As promised last week, here's my sales pitch for my new novel Twisthorn Bellow... It exists at last! It can be obtained directly from the publisher; just click on the following link to the Atomic Fez website. Or it can be ordered from Amazon and other online bookstores.

What can I say about this book? I wrote it last year in a white hot frenzy! It features monsters, lots of them! It's a metafictional satire! It's a fantasy pulp tribute! It's funny and inventive! It simultaneously attempts to spoof and evolve the subgenre of the fantastical adventure tale! There are vigorous nods to Hellboy, Philip José Farmer, Norman Spinrad, Michael Moorcock and Oliver Postgate within its pages! Mike Mignola himself praised it excessively! It's connected to all my other work!

In fact my novelette 'The Singularity Spectres' from Journeys Beyond Advice is especially connected, being a sort of prequel that describes the first meeting between Professor Shylock Cherlomsky and Mark Anthony Zimara and their descent into the centre of the Earth where they uncover a fiendish plot by the government of France to make French the official language of Hell.

Cherlomsky was named after a mispronunciation of "Sherlock Holmes" uttered by a character in Felipe Alfau's Locos: a Comedy of Gestures... Mark Anthony Zimara was named after an obscure inventor of that name (1460-1523) who attempted to build a self-blowing windmill, in other words a perpetual motion machine... Kingdom Noisette is a tall hatted nod to the great engineer Brunel... République Nutt is Brunel's perfect French counterpart...

The above photograph shows the private party thrown for the monsters who appear in Twisthorn Bellow. Not every monster turned up, and not all are capable of being photographed, but here we see the golem himself, Ptula Graark (wielding the golem's kpinga), Ruby dubDub and Tiktac Spittlegit. What's a collective noun for monsters? A clutch? A grunnngh? Answers on a claw, please.

Thursday, April 15, 2010



Soon I'm going to have to plug Twisthorn Bellow with a degree of excess. It's my duty. But not this week. Instead I'm going to talk about how hiking and camping weather has returned at last! Fires and beer on the beach! Doubtless this time of spring joy won't last long, especially as a cloud of volcanic ash is on its way south from Iceland to blot out the sun. I would be tempted to believe that most of our Council Tax is used to make our weather worse through sinister atmospheric experiments, but are Welsh engineers really competent enough to take advantage of an erupting volcano in this way, to alter the direction of the winds and manipulate localised air pressure? One is forced to conclude that our Council Tax is being wasted on useless sinister atmospheric experiments. Bah!

The trees are in blossom, which is another wonderful thing about spring. My knowledge of botany isn't great, but nectarine, peach and cherry blossoms are pink, while plum, apple and almond blossoms are white; so the tree in this photo must belong to the latter list. Don't know which type it is though. Tell me, if you know! Blossom, of course, attracts pollinators: butterflies, bees, little birds and... the noses of human beings? Why not! We seem to have a compulsion to visit many different trees, sniffing as many flowers as possible. Who will categorically deny the possibility that the noses of humans are also one of the natural pollinators of flowers? Evolution has done stranger things. Look in the mirror if you don't believe me; my mirror, if you wish.

Talking about pollination and pollinators reminds me that my story 'The Pollinators' has just been accepted for The Worlds of Philip José Farmer, a forthcoming tribute volume to the great PJF himself. Details of the book can be found on the official PJF webpage here. As may be readily discerned by anyone who visits this page, the volume will be a limited edition product and only a few dozen copies more than the pre-ordered amount will be printed. This is an interesting way to determine a print run. I'm not aware of anyone else doing this before, but it may catch on. My own story was inspired by PJF's famous novel, The Lovers, which I read as one of the three PJF works contained in the Strange Relations omnibus (pictured here on the beach with its hideous Baen cover). Needless to say, The Lovers is one of the most important novels in the history of SF and I worked hard to make my story worthy of such a classic tome. Why not buy the tribute volume to see if I've succeeded or failed in this venture?

The Lovers is a swipe at repressive regimes and a plea for tolerance, but the satire it contains is never ambiguous. The reader knows precisely who are the good guys and who the bad. If I had to list my favourite SF writers, PJF would definitely be in my top 10, together with Lem, Aldiss, Bayley, Sladek, Vance, Moorcock, Ballard, Delany. That's 9 names. Room for one more, but who? Zelazny? Bradbury? Disch? Or maybe the underrated Norman Spinrad, whose satire frequently was ambiguous, too ambiguous sometimes. I have discussed this matter briefly in an Incwriters blog entry called 'When Satire Goes Too Far', a text that can be found here and makes special mention of Norman Spinrad's amazing novel The Iron Dream, which I am currently reading.

Thursday, April 08, 2010


Odyssey 2010 Report

Odyssey 2010 was my first convention as a punter. I mean that I wasn't a Guest of Honour and I wasn't invited to take part in any panels. I was just a simple grunt with a new novel to promote, and I had to pay out of my own threadbare pocket for the privilege of attending.

The last convention I took part in was an event at the University of Glamorgan where I earned good money for delivering a lecture on OuLiPo. The convention I attended before that was themed around 'Travel in Literature' and took place in Matosinhos in Portugal; I was one of several guests and everything was paid for, flights, five star accommodation, food, drink, taxis, etc. And, of course, before Matosinhos there was Hispacon in Seville in 2007, where I was also an official guest; and a few weeks before that was the magnificent British Council sponsored event in Lisbon, where I was the main draw; and before that was Porto and Monção, etc.

So how did I cope with being a 'nobody' this time?

Not so well, to be honest. For a start, I'm not physically and mentally built for spending long periods indoors. Most of the conventions mentioned above were located in environments where it was possible to leave the conference hotel for a walk in the countryside or through historical cityscapes or along the coast before returning invigorated to the schedule of events. This wasn't the case with the Odyssey 2010 convention, which was held in… Heathrow! A gigantic airport on one side of the hotel, an industrial estate on the other, noosed with a tangle of motorway sliproads and tunnels just to hammer the point home. Ugly!

I therefore felt like something of a prisoner over the weekend. I might as well confess that I'm not very good in social situations. I don't mix easily with new people. It takes me a while to get to know folk and I tend to be too formal and stilted in situations such as these (it was different in Spain and Portugal, maybe because the general atmosphere is more relaxed). To recharge myself for the effort of meeting yet more new people, I need to go for walks on my own, but in Heathrow this simply wasn't possible.

I also felt at a loss with having nothing much to do. Rather bizarrely, the organisers of Odyssey 2010 were reluctant to allow me to promote my book with a proper launch; they didn't want me to give a public reading or take part in any panels. I have encountered this sort of opposition before. Possibly I've offended one of the organisers in the past; maybe I parodied or deconstructed something I shouldn't have!

The great John Sladek had to endure this kind of treatment. He was often regarded as an arrogant troublemaker by humourless thin-skins, although in fact his main crimes were intelligence and irony. Some SF fans really don't like writing that is genuinely radical and challenging. I only bought two books over the weekend and a Sladek collection was one of them!

As it happened, I did manage to do a reading. I read a tale entitled 'The Mistake' at an event based around 'tall stories', specifically the tall stories of Arthur C. Clarke's Tales from the White Hart. As that book inspired my own forthcoming Tallest Stories volume I was determined to get involved in this event! Only by the skin of my teeth and the intervention of fate was I able to take part, and I literally fell off my chair before uttering the first word, but as it happened the reading itself went very well indeed. And yet the best thing about this entire event was meeting a remarkable fellow by the name of Andrew J. Wilson, a writer of unusual erudition and impeccable taste, who happens to have a vigorous personality and a bone-crushing handshake to boot!

Without a formal book launch I didn't sell too many books, but I didn't really expect them to be snapped up. Twisthorn Bellow belongs to that rather rarefied and unpopulist sub-genre that Brian Aldiss calls 'Cosmic Inferno' and it's surely destined to be a slow burner (rather like the golem who is the main character!)… As for my publisher, the inestimable Ian Alexander Martin, a more likeable person would be difficult to encounter in any conference. He's funny, flamboyant and talented and he gave me a bottle of traditional Canadian 'ice wine', now drunk dry, which is quite an expensive gift. It was astoundingly fruity!

I also met several people who up until this point had only been names without faces. Neil Williamson, Ellen Datlow, Pat Cadigan, all good souls… Best of all for me was to meet Ian Watson, a writer I hold in the ultimate regard. He turned out to be very funny and friendly. I now have a signed copy of his latest book and I didn't even need to buy it. I'm happy! I turned into something of a gibbering fanboy in his presence and I barely managed to blurt out that he was a "conceptual genius". Watson's early short stories were ideas-based and very intellectual, like the stories of Sladek and Barrington Bayley. Back in the early 1990s I wrote an article that explains exactly why I rate him so highly and that can be found here.

As for the scheduled events… I attended a talk by Ben Goldacre on 'Bad Science'. Although most of what he said was absolutely right and needed to be said, he came over as somewhat smug. Although science can and does improve the world, it always takes away something in return. Goldacre spoke with reverence about the miracle of the iron lung, which enabled some polio sufferers with paralysed chest muscles to cheat death and recover from the disease. Yes, that was good, obviously. But the same invention also condemned the ones who didn't recover to years or even decades of a living death, trapped in life-sustaining coffins. Give with one hand and take with the other. That's science for you!

I was starting to wonder if I was completely out of place when I happened to find myself in the audience for a demonstration of pyrotechnics with a selection of explosives set off on stage by a special effects expert (I can't remember his name, unfortunately, but he was a no-nonsense professional). This was more like it! Old fashioned detonators, sizzling fuse wire, fuel-air devices… Hugely enjoyable!

On Sunday evening I went to the first screening of a Hungarian SF film that was almost certainly inspired by Tarkovsky, though I don't recall the name of the director (I don't even remember the name of the film!) The theme of the film was the painful withdrawal effects experienced by humanity when TV, mobile phones and computers suddenly stop working. Cold Turkey in Hungary, so to speak. Bleak but intriguing.

The best event of all, however, was the musical comedian Mitch Benn, who resembles a sort of alternate history Bill Bailey. He sang ironic songs, absurdist songs, and ironic absurdist songs in the voice of a dalek. As an encore he did something extremely well in public that I do extremely badly in private, namely a rendition of Lou Reed's 'Perfect Day' in every separate voice of the singers who produced the communal version for the BBC several years ago. Magnificent!

A brief note about accommodation. I am far too poor to afford Heathrow hotel prices, and even if I wasn't I would resent being ripped off. Britain is vastly overpriced and anywhere in the London area is shockingly expensive. So every night I caught a free bus to the airport, loped down the corridors to the Departure Lounge of Terminal One and crashed out there on the seats with a sleeping bag. Total price of accommodation for the weekend? £0 and 0p. An acceptable price…

To sum up, I only went to a fraction of the events and only spoke to a fraction of the people present. I could have made a lot more of Odyssey 2010 if I had tried harder. But I didn't. I am available to be sued for this offence in the Court of Fictional but Very Serious Crimes any day of any week between any hours.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010


Stalling for Time

I'm back from Odyssey 2010 but I don't have time to blog about the event yet. I'll try to do that in the next day or two. In the meantime here's a photo of something that has absolutely nothing to do with the convention, namely what was probably my favourite ever book back in the 1980s, Douglas Hoftstadter's Godel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid (or GEB for short)... Actually there is a slight connection between this tome and Odyssey 2010, in the sense that one of the convention talks (given by a fellow named Nicholas Jackson) was about non-Euclidean geometry, which is discussed in one of GEB's many astounding sub-chapters. I'm kicking myself for missing this talk! But as a reverse demonstration of the principles in question, this photo also shows something that is non-Euclidean in regular space (a face; my face, in fact) transformed into something that is more Euclidean (though still not entirely so) via a mirrored surface...

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