The slog through the edits on Angel Stations is becoming harder now that I'm onto the last quarter of the manuscript, mainly because this is the section of the book which I had least opportunity to revise before the book deal appeared and knocked me all for six. Now I'm not only carrying out the suggested edits, I'm also reorganising the text to make more sense overall - including switching whole chapters around to make more chronological sense. I'm still hoping to finish this within the next fortnight, since the other book, Against Gravity, is getting workshopped at the writer's circle in two week's time, and it would be nice to get Stations out of the way for now so I can concentrate on that.

Meanwhile, out there in the real world, I found something very alarming on the BBC news site, about the American Government exporting anti-abortion laws to other countries by threatening to withdraw vital aid from those who refuse to co-operate. From the article;

"The anti-abortion movement is growing stronger under Bush. (He has) reinstated an old policy from the Reagan days (that) the United States will not allow its overseas aid money to be used to fund groups that carry out or provide any kind of advice or information about abortion.
"Hundreds of women's health organisations in the poorest nations of the world - places where maternal mortality and infant death are high - faced a tough choice. Either sign the gag rule and be silenced on abortion, or refuse and lose millions of dollars in US aid.
"Most refused to sign. As a result, thousands of family planning clinics across the developing world have closed their doors, making access to vital contraceptives hard to come by."

Apparently, abortion is already illegal in Ethiopia where half of all female fatalities are due to botched back-street abortions. Clinics that give the pill free to countless women in underprivileged societies are shutting down because they can no longer afford to operate ... because their funding has been withdrawn.

And further:
"In the region of Nazareth in Ethiopia's highland plains, Amare Badada of the Ethiopian Family Guidance Association lists rape, forced marriage and genital mutilation as part of daily life for women.
"'These women will always find a way to abort somehow," he said. "If they are forced to give birth they throw the children into latrines or abandon them for the hyenas to eat them.' Mr Badada refused to sign the gag rule, and has since watched his organisation's family planning clinics close down one after the other. In the region of Nazareth, there were 54 clinics last year. Next year there will be just 10."

Remember that line: many of these pregnancies are due to rape and forced marriage. There are still many, many countries where a woman's status as a human being is barely recognised, if at all. These are not women choosing to have babies. Others become prostitutes because it's a choice between that or starving to death. The social and physical result is devastating; that anyone could have doubts about the efficacy and rightness of free access to abortion continues to appall me. It seems to me a basic human right that a woman should have control over her body. Not only do these women not have control over their own basic biological functions, legislators from other countries who have never known hunger, or real fear, who are not forced to hide their faces when they go out in public, appear to be in a position of sufficient power as to degrade the quality of their life even further.

One can only wonder if it would be the same if those affected were men. One more jaw-dropping morsel: apparently Bush promised to spend at least fifteen billion dollars in the fight against Aids. What isn't so well known, apparently, is that a third of this money goes to faith-based, abstinence-oriented organisations.

All around the world, the lives of women who are not in any position to be able to stand up for themselves are being treated with the cursory disdain of a Roman emperor.


I've set myself a schedule of editing fifteen pages of Angel Stations a day. At the moment work at the printing business is wrapping sometime between two and three in the afternoon. I come home, eat and chill for an hour/hour and a half until my motor's running again, rip through ten or so pages on the laptop over about an hour, then go cycling on my new Ridgeback for anywhere between an hour and two hours. Come home, watch some telly, do another five pages.

I could actually probably do more on the book front, but I'm working myself into the ground in some ways. At fifteen pages a day, I'll have the edits finished in just under a fortnight - not next Thursday, but the Thursday after that, or just before. I may do more, but only if it gets a little quieter at my other job.

I'd forgotten how much I love cycling. Today I cycled down to an area called Govanhill, which is generally run down in some parts - though when some people say 'run down', they really mean 'full of people I don't want to live next door to'. meaning people who aren't white. Fortunately all of the people I know socially are rather more enlightened than this; when I hear people say such things, they tend to be a good bit older - say, the age-range of my parents.

But there are some who express such unpleasant views. This makes me uncomfortable. The part of Govanhill which is primarily populated by Indians and Pakistanis is a very colourful ... vibrant kind of area. It feels very busy, very alive. More so than many other parts of Glasgow, which feel sterile and empty by comparison. I liked it. For a few years I attended an immensely multi-cultural primary school near to Govanhill, populated by all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds. It was great. Previously my folks had sent me to an expensive, fee-based school from a very early age, but they ran out of money and I had to attend a state school. Shock horror, eh? I'm not sure if there even were any coloured kids at that school. Maybe one, or two, literally.

I was in the area partly because it was somewhere to go on the bike, partly because I've considered house-buying in the area of Queen's Park, which is adjacent to Govanhill. At the moment, I'm actually a little more inclined towards Ibrox, where one of the football stadiums is, because I realised I can cycle across the river and get there in not much more than ten minutes from where I currently am, and once the new roadbridge is built down that way (the BBC are apparently moving there) it'll be even closer to the extremely popular (and therefore incredibly expensive) West End.
Watching the news this morning, I discovered that a breakthrough in research has led scientists to identify the taste of peanuts with the same chemicals that kill a couple of dozen people with nut allergies every year - apparently the taste is the result of chemicals generated during the roasting process. Further, the chemicals produced are the result of 'the peanut's response to extreme trauma'. Take away the roasting process, however, and you lose all the delicious yummy flavour.

'Extreme trauma'. In other words, peanuts taste like peanuts because they get scared during the roasting process.

So if peanuts taste the way they do because we roast 'em before we eat 'em, does that mean when Cthulhu, dark overlord of the abyss beyond time consumes a mortal soul, we taste like peanut?


On the other hand ....

Chris Lawson in his Frankenblog tells an interesting story about food riots in Africa last year after - apparently - Green pressure groups tried to prevent gm food being given to people who were in desperate need of it. According to Lawson, "In the midst of a calamitous drought, the Zambian government took advisement from green-left NGOs and decided to ban 12,000 tonnes of GM maize. This sparked an uprising and villagers looted 500 bags of GM maize from the storage depot.
The police were called in, and at the end of their investigation nine people were arrested and nearly half of the food had been forcibly recovered from starving villagers and put back in the storage depot."

Which brings to mind the whole problem of just how much you can trust your sources of information, but Lawson mentions that anyway. Which is one of the problems with even so much as dipping an interested toe into political issues; whatever view you hear from any side is unlikely to be impartial and balanced, will always serve - unsurprisingly - the political stance of the person to whom you are speaking. I don't know Lawson's political views; if he turned out to be say, distinctly right-wing, would that mean that I, someone who describes themselves as a believer in democratic socialism and a strong welfare state, could no longer trust his views?

On the other hand, I'll be interested to see what happens in the case of the 'dodgy dossier', which was used to help justify the British involvement in the war on Iraq, which later turned out to have been plagiarised from someone's phd ... Jack Straw, looking incredibly uneasy during the televised enquiry, passed the buck onto Alistair Campbell, head of Blair's press department, with all the eagerness of a schoolkid standing in front of the blazing ruins of his school with a box of matches in one hand and pointing at his mate next to him and saying 'it was him, sir'.


I had an interesting conversation Friday night with a chap who turned out to be a Member of the Scottish Parliament for the Green Party. I have a curious love/hate relationship with the Greens. Prior to the mid-nineties, I might have described myself as fairly green. I'd voted for them once or twice. Then I started working at a place called the Glasgow Environment Centre, designing their newspaper and flyers and so forth on a part-time basis. That's when I stopped thinking of myself as a Green. Now, some of the people that came in there were seriously hardcore - people who lived in trees, literally; particularly people who lived on-site at a local park (Pollok) which had been granted generations before to the people of Glasgow in perpetuity. They were protesting - quite rightly, along with many local residents who previously hadn't had a political thought in their life - against the building of an enormous motorway right through the heart of this enormous swathe of natural woodland preserved along with surrounding parkland in the heart of the city.


As I got to know some of these people better, I found strains of thought amongst them which I found at times incredible. While by no means suggesting that they were in any way genuinely representative of the majority of people who either worked for or supported the Green Party, it was pretty clear to me that at least several of them weren't too wild about having to deal with things like, say, democratic process, in order to achieve their aims. Most worrying was when one or two previously apparently quite rational Green activists suggested that one solution to the problem of the deforestation by people living in South America was to go there and kill as many of them as necessary until they stopped.

A little bit of background; the Environment Centre was explicitly a local government funded scheme with a heavy bias to employing people who hadn't worked in a while. When I started there, I'd been unemployed and miserable for a year. I still suffered bouts of extreme illness which meant I sometimes turned up at the office, then turned around and went back home. The illness is eczema, by the way. I've had it chronically since I was a baby, but have it much more under control these days. The Environment Centre was for me an enormously good thing, as I had a solid experience of working in an office-y environment (mind you, no suits; combats, t-shirts and bicycles were positively de rigeur.) I've barely been out of employment since my year there, and I still feel gratitude for the experience.

However, because it was funded by the government, and one of its primary functions was to produce a monthly newsletter for the people of Glasgow about environmental issues, they basically couldn't say anything which might contradict the local government's own stated policies, since this might well lead to the severing of funds to keep the place running. Hamstrung and tied, basically. Unfortunately, most of the heavily Green workers there had other ideas; to them, the local council was the enemy; the local council was responsible for the new Pollok road-building. Because of this, the editor of the newsletter continually produced copy which the controlling body of the Centre simply would not accept. Because of that, the monthly newsletter was functionally bi-annual while I was there, producing precisely two issues during my time.

I found I had a great deal of spare time on my hands.

Now, the people hired to work at the Environment Centre had a point. Clearly, part of the Centre's raison d'etre was so the local council could point at it and say how much they were helping generate environmental awareness for the city. The people producing the newsletter and their co-workers would rightly say their hands were tied, as to address any environmental issues meant addressing the blatant faults of the local council, and on and on, round and round in a circle.

So why do I not feel as much sympathy for my fellow co-workers at the Centre as I might?

Put it this way. One article I had to typeset, written by the editor, concerned his suggestions for improving the environment vis-a-vis cars and congestion. His suggestion - and I swear, he wasn't taking the piss - was to remove cars entirely from the whole city, and force everyone - and I mean everyone - to ride around on horseback. He further suggested stables for these horses, placed conveniently close to football stadiums.

Can you imagine sixty thousand people descending on Hampden or somewhere for an Old Firm match on horseback? Just exactly how much horseshit would that generate? And it's not like you can just park the things. And what about feeding them? How in the name of whatever do you get all that feed into the city?

Hmm, maybe .... by trucking it in??

It was about this point that I began to detect a certain contempt for other people not just on the part of this particular individual, but of many who passed through the Centre. Again, not a contempt shared by the majority, but enough so - along with many other incidents too numerous to mention - that made me reconsider describing myself as a Green.

So anyway, it was nice to have a civilised, reasonable conversation with a member of the Green Party and think that yes, David Icke really was an aberration. The conversation centred around GM foods. Now, I've got to tell you, as a science fiction writer, I'm fascinated by the whole idea. After all, we've been genetically modifying crops and livestock for as long as civilisation has existed. GM provides a shortcut to the same end, but without taking generations of breeding and slowly gathered knowledge. I'm aware of certain arguments against gm; whether or not such genetically modified crops can be kept separate from natural crops.

Personally, I tend towards a degree of shoulder-shrugging on this. If it can happen, it will happen. I shook my head when politicians used to come on television and say ways had to be found to prevent human beings from ever being cloned. Whether or not it happens to be right to do so is one thing; whether it happens regardless is another. This is how the world changes beyond recognition for some people as they get older; how you wake up an old person one day, in a world you possibly have trouble recognising. The world changes, and what was unacceptable a few years ago suddenly becomes acceptable. Like live sex on Big Brother, or gay Bishops being elected in the Anglican Church, or many other signs of the time now and throughtout history; things that some people simply can't tolerate because their world view won't allow them to. The same, I suspect, will happen with subjects like human cloning and the control of gm food. It might not be the best future by any means, but it'll still be the one our grandchildren will wake up in.

But one thing the guy said really stuck with me. It was something that simply hadn't occured to me at all: gm crops and their relationship to globalisation. He pointed me to a couple of websites which, he told me, threw an interesting light on precisely who benefits from the development of genetically modified crops.

Let me tell you, what I found scares the crap out of me. This following is from an article by George Monbiot, first published in The Guardian: follow the Monbiot link here to read it in full.

A brief excerpt: "The principal issue, perpetually and deliberately ignored by government, many scientists, most of the media and, needless to say, the questionnaire being used to test public opinion, is the corporate takeover of the foodchain. By patenting transferred genes and the technology associated with them, then buying up the competing seed merchants and seed breeding centres, the biotech companies can exert control over the crops at every stage of production and sale. Farmers are reduced to their sub-contracted agents. This has devastating implications for food security in the poor world: food is removed from local marketing networks, and therefore the mouths of local people, and gravitates instead towards sources of hard currency. This problem is compounded by the fact that (and this is another perpetually neglected issue) most of the acreage of GM crops is devoted to producing not food for humans, but feed for animals."

Make of that what you will, but again it brings up another, more general argument. We live in a modern civilised world entirely because of science and rational discourse. But to what degree do we have control over the research process? The money comes from those who can finance it, and that's almost always big business or governments, usually the two tied in together. It would be about this point that many of the Greens I met previously would suggest that science was responsible for what was wrong with our world, but I know you all out there reading this know better than that.


I thought it might be a nice idea to add to the right of my blog a list of books which for no particular reason that I can think of are books which I highly rate without falling into the usual trap of listing stuff everyone is immediately familiar with. If I did that, it would be the usual suspects - Illuminatus, Dick, Snow Crash, Ellison, etc. Much more interesting would be a list of more obscure stuff which isn't immediately obvious but which, for whatever reasons, impinged on my young and fragile little mind in such a way that somehow, someway, created the freak typing these words into a computer. I'm thinking stuff that's known, and maybe you've read it, and maybe you haven't, but they are books which - for me at least - bear considerable repeated reading. Stuff like ... Roadmarks, by Roger Zelazny. Or Going, Going, Gone, by Jack Womack, also Let's Put the Future Behind Us, by the same author. Also Falling Horizontal, by KW Jeter, a magnificent short novel that completely captured my imagination; a book a lot more people really ought to read.

Apart from that, sending myself out to slaughter on the roads of Glasgow on my new bike as usual. I watched an interview on British tv tonight with JK Rowling; I haven't read a single one of the Harry Potter books. A couple of reasons; I don't enjoy reading kid's books. Also, I find in most cases that books that are very popular - popular enough to be read by people who don't usually read books, Crichton et al, are, when I open the pages, usually the kind of books which could only be enjoyed by people who don't usually read books. Furthermore, I've read the first couple of pages of the first book ... and I just don't get the appeal. It's a kid's story, leave it to the kids. I should warn you, I read the first book in Philip Pullman's Amber Spyglass series (whatever it's called) and didn't come away particularly impressed.

In fact, I think part of the motivation for putting up the list I mentioned is the sheer number of lousy rotten books I've been reading recently. Books which induce wall-denting moments - meaning that precise point where a book ceases to be a source of entertainment and becomes instead a missile aimed at the apparition of the idiot who wrote it. Believe me, there's been a lot of them.

I've never denied I've never been any kind of fan of 'high' fantasy, meaning that particular branch of literature which most closely resembles Lord of the Rings in terms of setting and subject matter. Every single time I read fantasy set in some made-up world of magic, I come away with the same sense of strong dissatisfaction. Every time your characters get stuck in a sticky situation, well, invent some spell to get them out. I include Lord of the Rings in this, by the way. Every now and then I pick up a copy in someone's house, listen to them rhapsodise about it, read a couple of pages, and come away truly and genuinely horrified that there are people out there who believe this is one of the greatest books ever written. You may not be greatly surprised to find I don't agree.

There are other words I can use, but this is a family blog. I don't even mind admitting this is exactly how shows like Angel and Buffy are written, but the point with them - what differentiates them from the teeming hordes - is the sheer panache and style of the writing and the visible strength of the characters, and therefore, in my mind, these shows are very much the exception. Very, very much so.


I note with more than considerable interest that Neal Stephenson has a website up for his new book Quicksilver, due out later this year, at this address. There's also an extract. Neal Stephenson is I think the only writer I have ever read whose books I will buy automatically regardless of subject matter. He's that good. I was into his sf first, of course, and wondered what the hell he was up to when I first heard about Cryptonomicon, but what can I say? Yet another incredible book. I'm looking forward to this one.

I saw Stephenson speak a couple of years ago on a publicity tour in Borders in Glasgow. Or rather, I saw him shift around a lot and look extremely uneasy. I'd heard he really hates doing book tours, and boy they weren't kidding. He had a vaguely stunned look around him, the sort of facial expression you suspect people have in the face of imminent death when they realise the cavalry isn't coming.

I also note with interest that another local writer called Mike Cobley (author of the Shadowkings fantasy novels) has started up his own blog, primarily talking about musical influences, apparently primarily derived from that genre of metal seemingly explicitly designed to be sold to the kind of kids who want to seriously piss their parents off. I know Mike, and he does like his metal. And my own record collection? Due to its extreme lack of coolness, you shall never know. Let's face it, writers don't always have, shall we say, the snappiest taste in music, in much the same way as many writers are also neither the snappiest observers of sartorial style.

Except for me, you understand.

It has occurred to me over many months that the writer's life is not conducive to physical activity and exercise. With this in mind, I decided - to quote Zero Mostel in The Producers - that I had worked very, very hard, and I wanted a toy. So I bought myself a new bicycle, an aluminium-framed Ridgeback with Shimano v-brakes for a reasonably light two hundred and fifty quid. You should know I really love cycling, and it feels very good indeed to blast off into the sunset for a couple of hours touring around when you've been slumped over a laptop for most of the morning/afternoon/whenever. My old bike actually belongs to Mike Cobley. He only used it maybe half a dozen times. I asked him once if it was okay if I could borrow it for a while.

Cut to several years later ... and the thing always was a bit of a banger, really. Steel framed, heavy, only six gears, not good when you're trying to get up a particularly steep hill. Yesterday evening I blasted off across the Clyde (there are pedestrian bridges as well as traffic bridges here and there), cycled around Ibrox Stadium and back across the river, all in a half hour, absolutely impossible on the old machine. This afternoon, I cycled up to Scotstoun, heading west and in the general direction of Loch Lomond, kept on going to Clydebank, cycled back the way by a different route, headed on into town to do some business, came home and just about collapsed from nervous exhaustion.

But I did feel very good for all that.


If there's one thing that really drives me nuts these days, it's that my mail keeps going missing. As I said before, I live in a fine old, somewhat dilapidated Victorian tenement building in Glasgow, with a controlled door entry system. Unfortunately, that also means if nobody is in the building when the postman finally turns up, nobody gets their mail. I'm particularly cranky about this at the moment because I just got an email from my publishers telling me they tried to send a cheque for not a huge amount (towards the cost of my hotel bill at a recent convention), and had it returned ... saying I was no longer at this address. Excuse me for shouting, BUT YOU COULD HAVE FOOLED ME.

Granted, it doesn't help there isn't actually a hole in the door for the mail to be shoved through, and that's a problem I hope I might not have to deal with for too much longer, fates willing, but still ... it's not just that. It's other things. Like - a couple of weeks ago Mandy came into the flat and found the mail for the entire close - that's about six flats - bundled up with an elastic band and shoved through our door. Gee, lucky we're not the kind of people who revel in looking through other people's mail, eh? What the hell else got shoved through somebody else's door that was addressed to me that I don't know about?


At work, we finally got a new Mac in for doing work. I have discovered new levels of disrespect for the man I work for. It has come to my attention that even after fifteen years in the business, his understanding of computer technology has come to this:

Part-time employer: those files you were working on yesterday. Look at this. They've all been deleted from the folder. Where are they? (Points abruptly at folder on old G3 desktop computer running OS9).

Me: (leaning over employer's shoulder). You have to scroll up.

Employer: Scroll what?

Me: Scroll up. You've scrolled all the way down. The files are at the top. (move mouse over scroll bar, and scroll up. Files magically reappear).

Fifteen years.

Fifteen years.

Ok, yes, he doesn't need to be a whiz with computers, he's a businessman. However, he has the ego of an emperor and the attention span of a gnat. This isn't idle boss-slagging, it's a serious problem. Now, I'm not exactly a member of the Green Party, but I'm at least environmentally conscious enough to at least feel guilty about my lifestyle, and I know just how much of a no-no it is pouring absolutely toxic waste chemicals down the sink in the kitchen as opposed to phoning the people who are supposed to come and take it away and dispose of it appropriately. Now, I could go and work for someone else, but the last printers I worked at turned out to be a bunch of notorious ex-forgers who'd been sent up for twenty years each and got out after six months on a technicality, and whom I ceased working for when I realised that, although they weren't printing money any more, at least two people who dropped round on a regular basis got named in a local newspaper's 'name your heroin dealer' campaign a couple of years back.

Hang on ... isn't this blog supposed to be about writing?

Well ... nothing very exciting at the moment, I'm afraid. I'm in the middle of a long, hard type-editing slog, which will take a minimum of at least another month, by which time - hopefully - Angel Stations will be in a finished, publishable state, all ready for the printing presses next year.


Either I have an uncanny skill for prescience, or I'm one of those people who's always the last to find out (or notice) what's actually going on. I found a blog by Julian Dibbell, who apparently wrote an article for Wired magazine called "Unreal Estate Boom, or, The 79th Richest Nation on Earth Doesn't Exist."

This entirely touches on what I was thinking about for RWK (as Real World Kills shall henceforth be known), as the main drive for the story: what happens when a virtual economy becomes so powerful that it can actually upset, in some strange way, real world economies? Everything else I've been thinking of comes out of this.

Now, I've been preempted before. Remember the Jackie Chan movie 'Shanghai Noon'"? My idea. Now I'm not at all saying the idea was stolen from me, I'm just saying I sat on my fantasy novel idea about a Chinese warrior who goes to the WIld West and hooks up with an American Indian who's just lost a gold claim to hunt down an evil Chinese warlord type who has come into possession of an object that could Destroy the World for far too long. It's not even the same idea, exactly; apart from the Chinese guy and the cowboy idea. Ah well. Adam Roberts recently wrote a novel called Polystom where the basic idea was kicking around in my head for years and years, and again I did nothing about it, and of course it's gone.

That I'm not really bothered about. What bothers me is the idea I might start writing something ... and halfway through, or even at the end someone beats me to it.

I note a paragraph from Dibbell's article: "A lanky, bespectacled 30-year-old, Stolle looks less like the third-generation construction worker he is than like the second-generation sword-and-sorcery geek he also is. When Stolle was 10, his father, a union electrician, died of a heart attack, leaving behind a cherished 1967 paperback edition of The Lord of the Rings and a copy of the Dungeons & Dragons rule set." Does this sound like the early bio of a burgeoning evil/misguided computer genius, perhaps the creator of the virtual world in RWK, or what?

What else? I"m halfway through a terrific book by William Goldman called Adventures in the Screen Trade, with a lot of interesting ideas about writing. And I think I'm maybe a third of a way through the edits on Angel Stations ... it's a long, slow grind. But I'm getting there.

Oh yeah. The Buffy finale. Very good indeed. Just exactly the kind of empowering ending it needed. What am I going to do with my Thursday nights now? he wailed.

No, really. What the hell am I going to do with my Thursday nights?

Late addition - seems someone has written a paper on virtual economies, and the similarities between them and the way the Mafia operate. Gnaagh ... must make tinfoil hat, before they finish reading my mind!
This is exactly the kind of thing a terrorist organisation like Real World in RWK would use ... I found this through William Gibson's blog actually, and it's exactly the kind of real-world element you can use to really flesh out a story and make it seem real.

"The RAPTOR Mark III is the fastest and most versatile security vehicle in the world. It mounts a devastating choice of firepower as well as a comprehensive assortment of non-lethal weapons, all interchangeable and deployed through a retractable top.It is shown here with the M-134 7.62 mm Minigun which has a rate of fire 3,000 rounds per minute. With weapons stowed the RAPTOR appears to be a civilian vehicle."


What else? Off tonight to talk to a friend of a friend about getting a possible mortgage sorted out and various elements thereof. Sort of feeling out the territory; an independent mortgage broker who did some business with another friend of mine, and it's always a good thing to be able to exploit any kind of personal contact in any kind of business arrangement. He knows the market well, so let's see.

Sad bastard that I am, I will be hooked to the tv tonight to see the last episode ever of Buffy show tonight on its first UK screening on Sky. And then .... I'm free! Free! I have my Thursday's back! And suddenly there's absolutely no reason for me to maintain my subscription to Sky ...


Well, I was thinking about going through to edinburgh tonight with mandy to see something called writer's bloc perform, but it looks like it isn't going to happen. Partly because I have a horrendous amount of work to do on the edits for my first book, partly because I feel rough as shit, and partly because they're having the thing on a Tuesday evening, which would mean dashing through a couple of hours after I get home from my part-time job, dashing back to the train station before I missed the last train back to Glasgow, and then getting home maybe some time after midnight. Originally someone had been going to take a car through (being pretty much the only one out of all of us, ie the Glasgow SF writer's circle who can actually drive), but they had to pull out.

I could go through, but I have a certain persistent allergic reaction thing which has been going since about two minutes after I was born that's been acting up recently, and if I went through I'd probably not enjoy myself too much. Next time, someone with a car might actually be able to make the trip through, and that makes things an awful lot easier. However, the irony here is that it was my idea to go through to a Writer's Bloc spoken-word performance. At least this way I get to hear reports about how the night actually goes.

There are ulterior reasons for going: the sf writers in Edinburgh and Glasgow have largely existed in entirely separate circles of influence and contact, rarely getting in touch with each other. Going through to see some of them do something like this makes sense to me. Over there, they have Iain Banks, Ken Macleod, Charles Stross, and several others. We have Richard Morgan, who wrote Altered Carbon (never met the guy, though), Alisdair Gray, and ... myself and Mike Cobley. Bringing these disparate groups of writers, I'm hoping, might result in some form of creative cross-pollination, a meeting of minds separated by only a short trip down a motorway.

Or, it might result in a group of largely middle-aged men sitting in a bar not really talking to each other. But you never know until you try ...

Apart from that, steadily ploughing on through the editorial comments and suggestions for Angel Stations. And let me tell you, there's a shitload of them. So all I can do is switch on the laptop and start tapping ...


In light of probably inevitable and considerable rewrites on Against Gravity, I found this on Wired, which might turn out useful for pumping up some of the future details on the military scenes - smarter soldiers, about wired-up uniforms that link the soldiers into a network of robot vehicles, constantly updated info and satellites. This would be particularly interesting in view of the military technology the hero of Against Gravity carries around inside him, which is meant to be a step up from this, towards the end of the 21st Century.

Also this, about the technology used in Gulf II: Rambo's Revenge - from this page in Wired.
"The prime example, he says, is a portal called the Warfighting Web. Launched just nine months ago, it lets military personnel access key data - battle plans, intelligence reports, maps, online chats, radio transcripts, photos, and video. Caddell sketches out a typical scenario: A Special Forces unit in northern Iraq attacks an Iraqi irregular unit. The firefight is recorded with digital video, which is uploaded to GCCS via secure satellite. JOC intelligence officers fire up the Warfighting Web, click through to "Latest Intelligence," watch the fight, write a summary, and post follow-up orders to the unit. The soldiers either download the orders directly or receive them by radio from the nearest Tactical Operations Center, the most forward command post on the network."

Not sure how accurate this is, it smells a bit of rant/polemic, but gives a scary idea of what the Russian Mafia are about. They aren't in Against Gravity, but they will be in Real World Kills.

Another link, to the BBC this time, about the Russian mafia, giving just the simple potted history I needed.

Another link, detailing the scale of their operations. And another, about the way it affects the media in Russia, the kind of thing that would make a nice detail in RWK. What about the idea of a cable-style channel devoted entirely to organised crime activities? Bet you it already exists ... "Crime is so much a part of life in today's Russia that the television channels carry special daily bulletins devoted to gangland killings, drug seizures and robberies, perhaps because the sheer volume of coverage would swamp the main news programmes. ...
... Broadcast twice a day, at 8am and just after midnight, the 15-minute programme 'Highway Patrol' trawls around Moscow with police units, filming corpses in pools of blood, drug stashes and fleeing prostitutes.
Reporters frequently interrogate suspects for the camera only hours after arrest. Captive interviewees reply to questions such as why they killed or how they became drugs couriers.
The programme sometimes completely crosses the bounds of decency, displaying, for instance, close-up footage of a suicide-by-hanging."
All good stuff.

Brilliant!! From that last link, a quote "One Russian gang tried to sell their new-found Colombian friends a Soviet-era submarine which would have enabled them to smuggle drugs into the United States easier." God, I have to use that somewhere.

"Embalming in Russia used to be the preserve of revolutionary leaders, but it has now become the must-have of the Mafia chieftains and wealthy new Russians who hold sway. " Which might make for a nice scene, if I want some Mafia types having a meeting over the embalmed corpse of one of their leaders.

Norrath, the setting for the online game Everquest, has been found to be the 77th richest country in the world, sandwiched between Russia and Bulgaria. This also towards the main drive of RWK.

From the same article on the BBC: "Many computer games designers predict that as computer processing powers improve virtual economies will play a bigger part in the real world stakes." Bloody hell. Maybe I'd better write RWK real quickly before it actually becomes true ...

Also towards RWK, this would make for a nice detail type of thing, except of course Playstations won't be around in the time RWK isset, or at least not in their current incarnation: "Scientists at the US National Center for Supercomputing Applications, (NCSA) have linked together 70 PlayStation 2s to find out how good they are at crunching numbers." Very good, apparently.

I've been wondering when someone would get around to doing this: "a multimedia, digital record of everywhere you go and everything you see, hear, read, say and touch ... known as LifeLog, a project by the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, or Darpa, the agency that helped build the internet ... a tool to capture "one person's experience in and interactions with the world" through a camera, microphone and sensors worn by the user. Everything from heartbeats to travel to internet chatting would be recorded."

Now, the article suggests the obvious Big Brother applications: bad news for people living in a dictatorship, yes, but a golden opportunity for a future generation of reality tv programmers. Also has real potential for creating genuine art, depending on who's hooked up. Also consider the espionage potential of such technology, if you could find a way to hide it on a person without their becoming aware of it. Definitely has potential for RWK.

Now this is the kind of info I need for RWK: "There are five covert ways to acquire the fissile material for a nuclear weapon, two involving highly enriched uranium (HEU), two that use plutonium and one that could use either ... one can buy a research reactor and then divert its highly enriched fuel. When the Israelis bombed Osiraq, they missed 12 kilograms (about 27 pounds) of its fuel, which is enough to make a single weapon ... according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, which inspects this suitcase-sized material twice a year, it could actually be readied for weapons use in one to three weeks (assuming the rest of the bomb is ready)."


It's probably time I started using this blog in one of the ways I'd originally intended to and never did - a way of organising some of the stuff I find on the net when I'm looking for information that can flesh out story ideas. Just keeping links under the favourites folder simply isn't enough; I can never quite remember exactly what I was thinking about when I save links to some sites, so linking to them through this blog, yes, probably would make sense. After all, the blog is supposed to be functional in that way.


Okay. Long pleasant weekend, but I've discovered something I suspect the majority of professional authors suffer from on a more than occasional basis - the need to write. It gets to a point sometimes where it's not that it's hard to write - it's that it's hard not to write. Your fingers get all twitchy for a keyboard, dammit.

So I spent a little time blitzing the Saturday night crowd with ideas for novels to see if any hit, and one seemed not so bad. I hate describing my ideas on here, partly because they tend to sound really stupid, but I think I mentioned I was thinking about something a few decades in the future, with a satirical spin to it. Arse - all right, I admit it, I'm setting myself the nigh impossible task of writing a Neal Stephenson novel. Go on, laugh, laugh for all I care. I'd be laughing too. But something in that direction - Sterling is in there somewhere as well - is what I'm thinking of. So we're talking to a certain extent about future hackers, computers, and their effect on real-world politics.

One idea I'm thinking of in all this is an organisation called Real World, very underground; terrorists, after a fashion. That's as much as I'm saying for the moment. However, I somehow always find it a good sign when I come up with a book title I like. Once you've got that, it's like you can picture it - all you have to do is write the words that fill it up.

The title is 'Real World Kills'. Now I'll leave it up here for a couple of weeks, then come back and see if it makes me wince or not.

And what of Against Gravity, the second novel in the two book deal I was battering out? It's been passed around a few people and I've only had a few admittedly general comments back about it, but I suspect I'm going to have to rewrite it a fair bit if I get the same comments from everyone else when it gets workshopped in mid-July. That's ok - the deadline is March next year, so no worries. Plenty of time. Still, you can sometimes get caught up in the idea that what you've got just needs to be typeset and then published so your unremitting genius can be seen by the world, but there isn't a writer on the planet who can stare at the trees and still see the woods.


Actually, I' ve had some further thoughts on the whole Turner prize/plagiarism issue I was talking about in that last post - there is a way for the use of someone else's work to be exploited like this. It's ok if the original work is acknowledged in some form - frequently financial. As I recollect, the original artist didn't even know this had happened until the painting was nominated. Also to my recollection, he was reported as either sueing or threatening to sue the Turner nominated artist involved. If he receives some form of recompense or at least some form of official recognition that his work played a role, then that's ok. But the whole nature of the exercise as it originally played out - a few people visiting a London gallery and noticing that the cover of an old paperback appeared to have been reproduced with remarkable accuracy and hung on a gallery wall, with no acknowledgement of its origin.

Sometimes, there's all kinds of extenuating circumstances - like maybe it's a spoof, or a comment on the original work say - who the hell did that big painting of the spitfire taken from a comic book? That's cool - but something about the whole Turner thing smelled rotten. I know this was a couple of years ago and I'm ranting, but there weren't any blogs back then, and it's my blog, and I'll rant if I want to ...
So I've been sitting around all weekend with little to do, having fired an email off to my editor asking him does he want a hardcopy of the edited manuscript posted to him, or does he want it by email, a question I need to ask since I wondered if he wanted to sit down with his marked-up copy and compare it with what I've done?

Or, dear God, it couldn't be that he trusts me to get it right? Could it? No ... it's simply too farfetched to be possible.

So I've been feeling quite chilled the past couple of days since I got an advance payment through. Simply knowing it's there gives me a certain ... frisson of calmness. I've been accused of being mercenary for saying what I'm about to say, but bollocks to that. It is some measure of worth, I think, when a publisher decides to give you a large sum of money for publishing your books. Of course there's an element of risk involved for them, but, nonetheless ... living in a capitalist society, this is the way things are measured, at least for the moment. I'm all for supporting the arts and so forth - and I'm sure you'll be really surprised to hear that I believe in the UK we don't give nearly enough support to our authors. And when it does come, it tends to be in the form of financial support (read: recognition) for those who write within the specific parameters of what is regarded by whoever the hell it is that decides these things as artistically viable.

Let's be straight. I'm not the kind of person who walks into an art gallery and says, 'bollocks! I could do that. Large wall-mounted canvas bedecked with hand-swirled fountains of paint? Giant astronaut composed entirely of coathangers? Easy life!' I like most of it. Even the stuff I don't like, I appreciate the point of it - even stacks of bricks in the middle of a gallery floor (it's about taking things we don't notice because they're such a regular part of our environment and placing them in a context where we are forced to pay attention to them, ie a gallery).

Not to say there aren't problems. I remember particularly Glenn Brown's 'Loves of Sheperds' from 2000, which was nominated for the contoversial Turner Prize here. It was, in fact, an exact replica of Tony Scott's cover of Heinlein's Double Star, done in 1974. Concerning this act, one of the judges at the time said:

"Glenn Brown has frequently used the work of other artists in developing his own work, but that is true of Picasso, who borrowed from Rembrandt ... this is not new.
"He uses other artists' work, but that doesn't mean to say you could possibly mistake his work for theirs... he takes the image, he transforms it, he gives it a completely different scale."

Bollocks. Utter, screaming bollocks. This is when people within a particular area of endeavour - in this case the visual arts - start placing themselves both intellectually and morally above everyone else.

Back to my point. If you live in Ireland and you're a writer, you don't pay any tax on your writing income. Genius. In many European countries, you get even greater financial support, because there's a recognition that writers are necessary. Even if sf authors do still tend to come at the bottom of the pile.

What else? Since I've been waiting to hear from my editor about the editing on my first book, I've been thinking hard about exactly what I want to do when I get round to writing a third novel. And I've decided for various reasons I want to do something much more contemporary, more in the mode of Gibson/Stephenson/Sterling. I enjoy doing space-based fiction, but it's hard to do anything that, as it were, 'says something' within that context. So now I'm thinking of something set no more than perhaps fifty years in the future, if even that. And I have some good ideas. Now all I have to do is become as good a writer as Stephenson (har), and I just might stand a slim chance of pulling it off.