toy fix

I don't know about you, but every now and then - okay, every couple of months or so - I get a severe rash of technolust usually focused on some financially-as-yet-unavailable toy that would probably have every Marxist on the planet tutting and shaking their head at my unbridled desire for gadget consumption. On the other hand, there's my parallel mental self-flagellation for even thinking of spending such money when I don't have a day job and the income from a writing career is sporadic by nature. Basically, I have to get my hands on an E-ink reader so I can decide I don't really want one or, worse, buy one of the damn things.

I had a moment a bit like that on my last visit to Taipei, when I finally got to play with an Asus EEEpc, the relatively inexpensive mini-laptop that's apparently shifting by the bucketload in the States. I'd read a lot about it and did indeed engage in a fair bit of pre-emptory technolust which was finally sated by playing with one in a gigantic computer store in the centre of Taipei and realising it wasn't really quite for me. Don't get me wrong, it's very cool and for a lot of people I'd recommend it, but it was just so teensy-weensy I couldn't see me getting a great deal of practical use out of it.

Now if I can only hypnotise myself into developing a desire for things that are cheap and easily available, like cardboard boxes and interestingly shaped pebbles, except that's not really the point of unreasonable material desire, is it ...


Stealing Dakota

On writing Stealing Fire, a direct follow-up to Stealing Light; it's about halfway there, and so far I don't expect to be doing any major structural alterations when I go through it for the next draft. It's pretty much all there.

Like I mentioned before, the idea was to call the three books Stealing Light, Stealing Fire and Stealing Time, with a nice uniformity to the titles. As names go, Stealing Time isn't really the greatest option because it doesn't really mean anything ... at least not yet. Then I took a look at the basic structure of the first third of Stealing Fire, which goes something like this:

Dakota gets kidnapped,
Dakota escapes.
Dakota gets kidnapped again,
Dakota escapes again.

Crudely speaking, of course. But it did rather lead to the temptation, instead of calling the new book Stealing Fire, to call it 'Stealing Dakota'. Eh, maybe I'll think on it.

web designs

It's been a while since I screwed around with HTML web design in any significant way, so I was pretty pleased with myself when I managed to modify a CSS-heavy blogger page design for the Stealing Light Excerpt (specifically, I spent half a day figuring out how to get that left hand column in with the help of a couple of online tutorials). Pleased enough I'm thinking of having a go at giving this here blog page a similar makeover. It's been needing it for a while, though I'll probably put some other kind of image in the background when it comes to that.

Along with that, I'll be putting together opening excerpts for Angel Stations and Against Gravity using very similar templates, and expanding things a bit to include info on upcoming books and the like. Bit of a New Year makeover, if you like.

When I look at the Stealing Light page, I see the image below. If what *you* see looks literally nothing like this - if it's got columns sitting one on top of the other, that kind of thing ... let me know, so I can fix it.


Hoover's Ghost

Back when I was writing my second book Against Gravity, I thought it would take terrorists nuking Los Angeles to persuade the US government of the late 21st Century to carry out mass arrests of its own citizens. Apparently it doesn't take that much at all, if the details of a newly declassified account (found via Boing Boing) are anything to go by:

"Hoover sent his plan to the White House on July 7, 1950, 12 days after the Korean War began. It envisioned putting suspect Americans in military prisons.

Hoover wanted President Harry S. Truman to proclaim the mass arrests necessary to “protect the country against treason, espionage and sabotage.” The F.B.I would “apprehend all individuals potentially dangerous” to national security, Hoover’s proposal said. The arrests would be carried out under “a master warrant attached to a list of names” provided by the bureau.

The names were part of an index that Hoover had been compiling for years. “The index now contains approximately twelve thousand individuals, of which approximately ninety-seven per cent are citizens of the United States,” he wrote."


In a fit of unprecedented procrastination, and at least partly motivated by a discussion over at David Louis Edelman's blog on what people look for in a writer's online presence, I have finally - finally - put together an online excerpt of Stealing Light, being the first couple of chapters thereof. Somehow it seemed the right thing to do. There's already an excerpt up at Pan Macmillan's website, but it's very small. I figure something slightly more substantial might be a better idea. So here it is. I'll be linking it into my main blog here at some point ... soon-ish.



I read a review of the book Moondust, which consists of interviews with post-Apollo astronauts, on Ian Sales' blog where he makes the following comment:
"In one telling scene in the book, Smith goes to see Dick Gordon (Apollo 12 CMP) at a Star Trek convention. Gordon is sat alone in a corner of the signing room, while long queues stretch before the tables of TV actors. Gordon, a man who really went to the Moon, is ignored. I know which person's signature I would treasure more..."
Which strikes me as one one of the saddest things I've ever heard. It's the kind of scene you wish could be somehow retroactively inserted into the film Space Cowboys.


writing update

Book update: the sequel to Stealing Light is almost at the halfway mark on the first, rough-ish draft. Draft is a misleading word in some ways, since it creates an image of an author bashing away on a manual typewriter until he has a complete manuscript, then marking it with a pen and then typing it out again, with appropriate adjustments. On a computer, things are much more organic, in that as you add new details into a constantly growing text file, you often take a step back into earlier parts of the story, adjusting them to fit the new material, and making various minor or major tweaks as you go (at one point during the writing of Stealing Light, I ripped out twelve thousand words of Dakota backstory that weren't working for me and brainstormed a brand new backstory over the next couple of days. It's easier than you think, once you get some practice: just open up a new file, call it 'rough notes' and type out whatever ideas come to mind until you have the germ of an interesting subplot).

I'd say there's about three phases a modern manuscript goes through - there's a first 'draft' of the appropriate length. Then you rework it from the start, chopping and changing sentences and paragraphs, trying to make everything clearer and more dramatic. Then a third run-through just to see what you missed the first two times. Then you find someone foolish enough to volunteer to read it and make comments. Phil Raines was one of the few people who read Stealing Light before it got emailed to the publishers, and the suggestions and comments he made definitely influenced the final shape and outline of the book. So then there was another short period of making adjustments, and then off to Pan/Tor.

In terms of time, you've got: full rough manuscript, eight to ten months. Redraft, maybe two months. Final redraft, two weeks, tops. Post-comment adjustments, two to ten days.

And then the publisher reads it, and you're into the unique hell that is the editing process. Word by word, line by line, paragraph by paragraph. I'm very glad to say I'm a long way from that on the new book.


A personal take on the distinction between sf and fantasy

When I work on a story, I've got three main concerns. 1: It has to be strong in terms of plot and action, because that keeps my publishers happy. 2: It has to have some thematic depth, something that fleshes it out and makes it more round and whole (because that makes me happy). 3: It has to have a certain level of plausibility.

By 'certain level of plausibility', I mean: it might contain an idea or concept entirely fantastic and/or impossible within our current understanding of the laws of physics and the universe as we know it (force fields, FTL etc), but contained within that idea or concept is the notion that our understanding of the universe is sufficiently incomplete that new paradigms might, maybe, some day make the apparently impossible possible, or at least potentially achievable. When you live in a universe where once-impossible things like atomic bombs and space travel have since become everyday, where the instantaneous teleportation of information is well researched, and where concepts such as multiple alternate universes are regarded as entirely plausible by people incredibly better qualified than me to hold such opinions, the act of suspension of disbelief becomes rather more easily achievable. In fact, for me to say that something is either possible or impossible when I am unqualified to hold any such opinion (by dint of not being a physicist or a scientist) strikes me as entirely foolish.

Yes, personal force fields that let you hit a mountain and the mountain breaks (as in Stealing Light) are completely fantastic, but try and tell me Hugh Everett's Many Worlds theory is any less bizarre (or his theory of quantum immortality, for that matter). And yes, I am aware there's vastly more evidence for Everett's notion of multiple universes than there is or likely ever will be for personal force fields. But that's one of the fun things about being a science fiction writer.

Now to my primary concern here: it has on occasion been suggested to me that science fiction is a branch of fantasy. I disagree, and here's why.

Science Fiction is largely driven by the idea that the universe and its workings are still largely unknown. The human mind is driven to enquire into its nature in order to understand it. That understanding, though incomplete, is increasing. Science Fiction, then, is a form of writing that allows one to speculate on the apparently impossible, given that history is littered with incidents in which the impossible has been shown to be, in fact, possible. It's this latter point that allows for the willing suspension of disbelief on the part of a reader (or this reader, anyway).

This is not to say that all things impossible will eventually prove to be possible; but the incompleteness of our knowledge allows some of us to freely speculate, and to imagine the impossible made possible without feeling too guilty about it. This is particularly rewarding for those who, like me, lack any scientific training and yet have a fascination for the achievements of modern science. Given that scientific history is primarily composed of a series of paradigms giving way to each other as successive generations of enquiring minds throw up new questions with the aid of constantly improving tools, one might feel further justified in speculating on a world in which the current paradigms could perhaps also be superseded.

If we take 'fantasy' in its purest form - which to me usually means elves, magic swords and orcs - I think it's fair to say these are things which neither exist nor are going to exist, ever. One might speculate as to the (im)possibility of faster-than-light travel, time travel or alternate realities; no one to my knowledge has ever speculated on the possibility of finding elves, orcs or magic swords any time soon. Let's be clear: I do not say this to denigrate fantasy in any way, and I also acknowledge that as definitions go, it's an appallingly crude one. However, it is very much my contention that a work of 'fantasy' in this particular sense offers a fundamentally different form of experience from that provided by the majority of works of science fiction. Let me repeat: this is not the same thing as suggesting either form is intrinsically superior or inferior to the other; it is not to suggest a lack of equivalence in the writing skills necessary to produce either. I merely want to make clear my opinion that the suggestion one is somehow a branch of the other is, to my mind, incorrect.

I know there are probably countless examples and counter-examples. I don't lay any claims to impartiality in my reading tastes either, because I've generally avoided books with elves, orcs and magic swords like the plague throughout my life. I have never in my life picked up a book with a dragon on the cover and thought, 'gee, I really want to read that'. So why do I feel the need to make this distinction?

Because I get a bit annoyed when people tell me I write fantasy in such a way that the implication is (to my ears, anyway) that a work of fiction containing aliens and space craft is somehow the same as one featuring magic swords, elves and dragons. They're different forms, with different aims and different appeals. One might as well say science fiction shares many traits with, say, the detective genre, because both are bodies of fiction. It's a statement that is equally, on analysis, both true and untrue.

For me, sf and fantasy (within the very narrow definitions I've used here) merely are what they are; different things with different aims living in different boxes, that sometimes share the same audience - but not always.


cranky geeks

If you slide over to crankygeeks.com, a web-based video discussion show about tech and arts, you'll find the current show has some good advice for would-be writers. A quick search on the site reveals an earlier episode featuring Neil Gaiman as a guest, who also has similarly good advice on the life of a writer.

The filming for the short drama I wrote (co-wrote, really, given it turned into a collaboration between myself, a script editor and a director) for a BBC mini-project has had its filming date moved back to late January, which is a shame because I'll be out of the country at the time. But, it is getting filmed, which is the main thing: I have no idea how it's going to come out, since there's a big difference between a written script and a filmed script (as I discovered during a workshop earlier this year run by a TV director). But I should get a copy of the finished film sometime, I think, in February.

Kindle: last words. Probably. Ish.

Okay - I promise I'll shut up about the Kindle ebook reader. Soon. Probably. Or at least until I actually get the chance to play with one. However, some final-ish thoughts on the matter.

Yes, there are issues relating to the storing of personal data. Amazon, however, appear to have a reputation for telling lawyers and US governmental bodies exactly where to get off when it comes to trying to obtain customer data. And while it's true that some data could potentially be used to aid human rights violations in the near or more distant future - and already has been in some parts of the world (hello, Yahoo) - a government sufficiently determined and willing to ignore individual human rights will always find a means to entrap those it considers a threat, whether real or imagined. Evidence, after all, can be manufactured, exaggerated, implied or outright falsified, and a lack of evidence has never been a barrier to injustice and harassment anywhere in the world. I appreciate there are arguments and counter-arguments and complications beyond my crude analysis, but if it gets to the point where this becomes a serious issue and our rights are sufficiently eroded then, frankly, we're all fucked. And I speak as a citizen of a nation with more CCTV cameras per head of population than anywhere else in the world.

Most people who've seen the Kindle pictured online think it's 'fugly', but only a few who've bought it and started out with that opinion appear to have stuck to their guns. Many appear to find it more appealing once it's in their hands, but certainly not all.

Unfortunately, it's still too expensive to use in the bath. But then, more and more houses appear to have only showers, and no baths. Guess I'm just old fashioned.

As of writing, the Kindle - currently sold out on US Amazon - is going for insane prices on Ebay, often twice or more the retail price, and in some cases upwards of or even over a thousand dollars. I can only scratch my head in wonder.

Ebook readers mean the whole concept of a book being 'in print' or 'out of print' will soon become completely and absolutely meaningless.

People are entirely correct when they say ebook readers will never replace the printed word - in much the same way photography never 'replaced' the art of painting. Instead, the new technology encouraged the growth of new art forms and freed painters from purely representative depictions of the world, allowing for greater experimentation. E-ink readers are a complement to traditional books, not a replacement. Evolution, not stagnation.

And finally - I wondered just how many books I could get for free, CC-licensed and legal, that I could read on an ebook reader of whatever flavour, to help justify the cost of buying one when the time came. The results were surprising. I'm being very selective here - listing only books I want to read that are either out of print, or for sale in hardcopy but also available for free electronically. And I mean books I want to read. Here's a brief list of likely titles I came up with during one of my frequent bouts of procrastination:

Rudy Rucker - Postsingular
Peter Watts - Starfish
Jeffrey Thomas - Deadstock
Richard Kadrey - Metrophage
Nick Mamatas - Move Underground
Marc Horne - Tokyo Zero
Rick Dakan - Geek Mafia
Karl Schroeder - Ventus
Kelly Link - Stranger Things Happen
Robert Shea - All Things are Lights
Chris Roberson - Set the Seas on Fire
Michael Flynn - Eifelheim

Anyone with a passing familiarity with the current state of the genre will recognise most of these titles. They will also recognise the list is far from comprehensive, but certainly subjective. These are mostly books by authors I've never read but would like to read, and haven't yet read because of an unfortunate imbalance between the number of books I would like to buy, and the number of books I can afford to buy. Some of these are authors who write material I'm not sure would appeal to my tastes, but would be willing to sample in the form of a free download. All are freely and legally available for download. There isn't one I want to read on a normal computer screen. But I'd be happy to read them in e-ink.

There are some titles I've not included here I might otherwise have, because I already own them in hardcopy - Charlie Stross' Accelerando, Vernor Vinge's Rainbows End and Cory Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. I did some sums and figured out a rough cost of buying the remaining titles in hardcopy - not all in print - came to just about eighty quid, including post and packing for the few that wouldn't have free delivery through Amazon. In other words, almost half the cost of a device like the Kindle when translated into British currency. A few are award-nominated or award-winning novels, or else very well-regarded, plus there's a smattering of non-genre titles I stumbled across that piqued my interest but I wouldn't otherwise have bought because of that whole poverty/cost interface. With the exception of Rucker, I'm familiar with the work of none of these writers. Some off the rest might well turn out not to be of appeal to me. One, for all I know, might turn into my new favourite writer, leading me to buy the rest of their work in hardcopy or paid e-format.

The argument that really swung me around to the idea of perhaps myself putting some work free on the net some time in the future was Doctorow's argument that a writer's greatest enemy is not piracy, but obscurity. I personally wouldn't go so far as putting all my work for free on the net, especially not in an age when the electronic reading experience is beginning to so closely mimic the printed reading experience, but a portion of it? Sure, especially since the evidence appears to be it boosts rather than diminishes sales.

The strength of the argument came to me while in Taiwan; plenty of bookshops, not much in English - and even the translated works of sf, or even of Western fiction in general, were very few in number. A free book out of an author's body of work can be downloaded anywhere, from Brazil to Timbuktoo to Shanghai; any place where books are either scarcely available, or the cost of postage plus that of a book is particularly prohibitive. I found myself considering the usefulness of ebook readers quite a lot during my weeks in Taipei when I realised just how hard it can be to easily get hold of a lot of books outside of a few English-speaking nations (unsurprising really, but you don't think about it until you're confronted with it) without being forced to part with rather more cash than I'm comfortable with.


Kindle on Ebay

Just doing a little late night browsing on the British Ebay, and I decided to jump over to the American site. On a whim I typed in 'Amazon Kindle' to see what came up.

Well, colour me flabbergasted, lots of them for sale, brand new - frequently for up to or even over twice the price of the item as available on Amazon's own site, and with lots of bids. Clearly all those negative reviews on the U.S. Amazon site aren't putting anyone off, especially in the run-up to Christmas.


Kindle Redux

It's quite amazing the arguments and controversy that have surrounded, and continue to surround, Amazon's Kindle e-ink electronic book reader since its launch a few weeks back. Charlie Stross has weighed in with his own, largely skeptical argument concerning the device. Charlie makes some good points, and although I'd be prepared to argue with some of those points, one he does make I wasn't previously aware is the potential misuse of personal data, more particularly the revelation that the Kindle stores details on Amazon's own servers concerning the specific reading habits of a Kindle owner.

Centrally stored personal data is always open to abuse. Just look at the recent debacle of 25 million people's personal data being lost by a UK government department in the post. Or the recent apology the founder of Facebook had to make to his site's users when data relating to their online shopping habits was made visible to other account holders. There is of course the more insidious fear of being spied upon by your own, or someone else's, government. So the fact that data is being stored about what you're reading on a Kindle, and possibly even what pages of a book you spend the most time on, is of real concern.

Charlie is not the only one to point out that it would have been wiser to allow Kindle users the option of storing bookmarks etc. solely on the Kindle rather than on Amazon's own servers, thereby offering some degree of privacy. This kind of thing can be of particular concern to a writer, if they're working - say - on a book that requires research on militant Islam, bomb making, and methods of terrorism; it's the kind of information that you don't want being used against you in a political environment now or in the near future where free speech might not be a given.

However, it's also worth reading the hundred or so comments at the end of Charlie's post, which are full of comments and counter arguments of some interest. Again, it's worth restating that the Kindle is a particular implementation of e-ink technology, and an early adopter one at that. If there's one thing we can be sure of, it's that there will be many more e-ink readers to come.

In relation to the aforementioned post, it's also worth taking a look at an online article on the Publisher's Weekly website, in which we find the following paragraph:
"Among other things, the (Amazon.com Privacy) Notice says: “We release account and other personal information when we believe release is appropriate to comply with the law…” In fairness to Amazon and Bezos, his company has laudably fought snooping. But with all the new snoop fodder Jeff is creating, one wonders if he’ll always be successful. In the end the big question is, Can you imagine Jeff risking his billions someday in a major way to protect your rights? Bottom line: If you want a novice-friendly machine as perceived by most reviewers, by all means consider the Kindle. If you want a more privacy-friendly alternative, look elsewhere ... should consumers and the book industry trust Amazon with long-term storage of e-books, not to mention such a prominent role in their distribution?"
That 'account and personal information' bit relates to "information related to the content on your Device and your use of it (such as automatic bookmarking of the last page read and content deletions from the Device). Annotations, bookmarks, notes, highlights, or similar markings you make in your Device are backed up through the Service."

Hmm. On the plus side, from this article in news.com -
"Amazon.com won an important legal fight to preserve its customers' privacy by persuading a court to reject requests for 24,000 customer records made by federal prosecutors in Madison, Wisconsin ... Two years earlier (in 2000), a judge denied the Drug Enforcement Administration's attempts to get sales records from a Borders bookstore as part of a grand jury investigation. And perhaps the most famous case came when independent counsel Kenneth Starr tried unsuccessfully to obtain Monica Lewinsky's purchase records from Kramerbooks, a popular neighborhood bookstore in Washington, D.C."
"Amazon is following the tradition of other booksellers, which have a tradition of--individually and through the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression--opposing requests from overzealous prosecutors."
Unfortunately, these kinds of issues aren't going to go away for a long time. Most publishers are certainly going to hold onto DRM for as long as possible (with a few notable exceptions like Baen, and individual novelists who post commercially available works online for free), partly because of their fear of piracy, and partly because many people in the publishing industry are of a generation that is not entirely au fait with the online world and computers. The whole issue of DRM and copyright is part and parcel of an ongoing paradigm shift in the developed Western countries regarding the means of distribution of music, art, films and writing that'll take years to settle down, if ever.

However, on a lighter note; I tripped across this video clip - it's entirely on French so I can't understand a word that's being said, but it's worth watching nonetheless since it appears to offer a 'day after tomorrow' glimpse into what a world of cheaply available, second or third generation e-book readers might be like.

And a final note; one of the first complaints regarding the Kindle was its ugliness - curiously enough, some of those who found it ugly after seeing it online have apparently retracted this concern after actually purchasing one. In the end, nobody apparently really knows what they think of one of these things (including me) until they actually get their hands on one, at which point all bets appear to be off ...


The other day, I was checking out a magazine based in Taiwan aimed at expats that looked fairly glossy and professional. There were ads for paid staff to take care of things like advertising, marketing, sales and so forth. Everyone but the writers; they had to write for free. Everyone else got paid - just not the writers. And how can you have a magazine without writers?


Kindle continued

I've been keeping tabs on the whole Amazon Kindle thing, and as new(ish) technologies go, the whole thing's turned out to be rather contentious. If you go to the US Amazon site there are literally several hundred negative reviews of the device; a quick scan soon makes it clear that most of those commenting - and clicking on the review button while they're at it - haven't actually either bought one, seen one or used one or understood the fundamental difference between Kindle-like machines and anything else with a screen. But I turned out to be wrong about my prediction it might take up to a week or two to hack the device; according to a friend in the games industry, it took less than forty-eight hours.

I don't want to come across like some kind of Amazon groupie here because I'm in the position of never having been able to get my hands on one myself, but the whole idea of the Kindle is a remarkable one. And, like I said in a previous entry, the Kindle is only one particular implementation of a technology, not the final item, and as yet still very much at the early adopter stage - mostly because of the cost.

I've stumbled across two reviews of the Kindle which are interesting because they're so entirely polarised in each reviewer's response to it. One is a video review at scobleizer.com, and the chap concerned really, really doesn't like it. While attempting myself to remain as impartial as possible at this stage, I felt the review was perhaps not as fair as it could have been; but take a look and see for yourselves. The other review (on computerworld.com), which is far more glowing, presents a list of things Amazon say you can (and can't) do with the Kindle - and then backs it up with a list of things you can do with your Kindle, that Amazon aren't talking about too loudly.

In fact, it appears that the Kindle is hack-able to about the same degree that Apple's Iphone isn't. And the implication to some is that back-doors to the device's software have been more or less left deliberately left wide-open. Not only that, but many of the purported limitations - you can only read books downloaded through Amazon's website, you can't copy books, it doesn't work as a web browser - are, according to some, manifestly not true. For instance, the majority of blogs you purportedly have to pay to be able to read are accessible for free using RSS feeds through the Kindle's basic web browser, as in fact are the free online contents of many of the newspapers now selling Kindle subscriptions.

The latter review goes on to make some very salient points that simply hadn't occurred to me:
"What you didn't know: You can just surf the Web in general. Kindle comes with a Web browser called Basic Web, which supports cookies, JavaScript and SSL, but doesn't support plug-ins like Flash or Shockwave or Java applets. Basic Web lets you type in a URL, click on links and generally surf the Web like you would on a PC."
Now, the Kindle connects over a free, mobile-phone based network in the States primarily intended to give you instant access to Amazon's online store. That means you get to browse the net for free, without paying for the connection, a service that is presumably intended to spread to the UK and all other points. When you think about it, this is actually quite radical, once you factor in the minor revelation it can be used to a certain extent as a web browser - one that functions without being dependent on the availability of wifi hotspots. It makes me wonder if this is perhaps Amazon (or rather, Jeff Bezo's) intention - to create a device that does in fact slip somewhat under the radar of certain legal issues relating to DRM, distribution and networking - or to put it more simply, the problems that eternally spring up in relation to supply and demand where creativity is involved: someone creates something that people want (music, books, art), while someone else altogether creates the means by which that product is distributed; one feeds off the other. I have little doubt that a company as big as Amazon would have to develop such a device under any number of binding legal restrictions; but for there to be so many back-doors that allow those who look a little deeper a means to bypass many of those restrictions does rather make you wonder.

... of course, all that said, there is still that one humongous problem to date; you can't read a Kindle in the bath ...


Nice ebook reader, shame about the DRM

So the Amazon Kindle sold faster than a very hot thing on the hottest day of July; kind of proves my point really, given that it apparently sold out. I'm actually pretty surprised myself, the technology aside, given that it's a)butt-ugly and b)DRM'ed up to the eyeballs. I love the concept, I love the technology, but so often the actual implementation's a bitch after it's worked its way through a room full of foaming-at-the-mouth copyright lawyers.

So here's what I think is going to happen next:
  1. Somebody hacks the DRM on the Kindle two weeks from now: it'll be the unlocked IPhone all over again.
  2. Come the New Year, Sony and Iliad dramatically reduce the cost of their own (though DRM-free, to my knowledge) ebook readers, which currently cost twice as much at minimum as the Kindle.
I picked up a copy of the new SFX magazine on my way through Waverley Station in Edinburgh today and, lo and behold, there's me plastered all over a full page with an interview next to me, which is cool. And my jacket looks shiny.


Objects of Desire

Now that Amazon have brought out their new e-reader device, the usual torrent of caveats and dismissals have been descending from the blogging heavens in response. The same arguments recur: my handheld can do the same thing and doesn't cost XXX dollars or pounds; I can carry a real paperback book on the train/plane just as easily without needing batteries; and so forth.

I feel the need to defend these devices, in concept at least, if not in terms of the currently available - yet very pricey - lumps of hardware. Part of this defense is levying the same rejoinders that have also been wielded elsewhere:

The technology is not the same as your PDA or your laptop. It is, in fact, fundamentally different, right down to the physics employed. It can best be described in the same way I have previously explained the difference between, say, an image displayed on a television screen, and the same image printed on a piece of paper, in the context of my work as a graphic designer/layout person:
  • When you see a picture of a tree (say) on a screen, the screen is projecting light onto your eyeball. This requires quite a bit of power.
  • When you see a picture of a tree on a page, ambient light (the light from your lamp, window and so forth) is reflecting from the page and into your eye. Which means of course if you take away that source of light (turn the lamp off, close the curtains) you can't see the text anymore.
These two approaches are so fundamentally different that the means of creating the image itself are also very different. A projected image is constructed from three colours - red, green and blue, giving you RGB projection. These three colours combined - as Isaac Newton discovered - are extremely efficacious at reproducing a remarkably wide spectrum of hues and shades.

Printed colour is another matter however: this is based on the CMYK model (cyan, magenta, yellow and black [the 'k' is used since a 'b' might confuse it with blue]), these being the inks that, on paper, can produce the greatest variety of colour. Which means e-paper is particularly clever because even though it has a screen, it is instead reliant on ambient, rather than projected, light.

In other words, this is most certainly not your PDA or your laptop.

Ah, but, I hear you say: I can read a book on either a PDA or a laptop. And, if I were your optician, I might encourage you in the hopes that your rapidly failing sight might bring me business within a relatively short number of years as the strain of reading hundreds of thousands of words via traditional screen technology knackered your retinas. Well, yes you can, but speaking personally, the only time I read a book on a screen is when I'm forced to because, well, I'm writing it.

Yet the act of reading a printed book is a fundamentally passive act for pretty much the entire human race, allowing as it does for a kind of trance-state wherein we cease to be entirely aware of our surroundings. Given that a laptop or PDA is intended to be aggressively interactive, the experience is rather different when reading the same text off a traditional screen format. You are, quite literally, sitting for many hours, staring unblinking into a bright light you are shining in your own face.

One might rapidly come to the conclusion this is not healthy; nor is sitting with a laptop or desktop nearly as much fun as reading a book in your hand while waiting for the kettle to boil or for a delayed train to hurry up and arrive.

Further, as nice as real paper books are, they can in fact be terribly inconvenient. Yes, you can take one onto a train or plane. But first of all you have to go to a shop and buy it, or order it online and wait for it to arrive, then cram it into a pocket or bag where it gets crumpled. It adds to the overall weight of your luggage. Then you bring it home and have to find somewhere to store it, and fat chunks of my home are dedicated to the task of finding somewhere to put these things.

I have known people who could pack pretty much all of their possessions into a backpack and a couple of plastic bags, particularly during my student days. There's a certain implied Kerouac-esque zen freedom to this I envied even back then, given that I already had a couple of hundred books I had to tote with me from flat to flat every time I moved, not counting the endless, gigantic textbooks. I imagined myself like a turtle, slowly hauling around a vast shell made of books while others hurtled around me on their way to grand, lightly packed, adventures. And this isn't even counting the several hundred vinyl albums I owned. I liked the idea that if I wanted to simply light off somewhere - anywhere - I could do so, without having to worry about a couple of tons of paper and plastic that felt somehow essential to my sense of self-identity.

Since then I've converted pretty much my entire vinyl collection to MP3 format, contained on a single player slightly larger than a packet of cigarettes. See where I'm going? Right now I'm sitting next to several shelves of reference material. Given I'm hoping to spend a fat chunk of next year almost literally halfway around the world, the notion of accessing these works from a distance is currently somewhat lacking in the feasibility department.

Now consider the true market of the epaper readers now being marketed. They are not, in fact, aimed at people like me. They are aimed at: engineers, students, people who have to fly a very great deal as a part of their work, people in the movie business, and - possibly most particularly - the vast, manga-devouring hordes of the Far East. Engineers want to access reference works without doing their eyes in. Students want to be able to study both without ruining their eyes or breaking their backs with heavy bags full of books. Frequent flyers don't want to have to spend a substantial chunk of their preparation time ordering or buying books, and very likely don't want to be restricted to the incredibly narrow selection available in most airports. Directors, producers, scriptwriters and actors want to be able to read scripts at home as well as on the move without necessarily having to deal with humongous print-outs.

And as for manga ... well, we're talking graphic novels the size of telephone directories sold out of stores the size of aircraft hangar once you get to the Far East. Endless, sweeping rivers of manga which is now being increasingly found online. If ebook technology takes off anywhere, it's going to be in the streets and the subway carriages of Tokyo and rather a lot of other places too. In fact, I recently read some comics onscreen, using dedicated freeware readers like FFview and Jomix, having downloaded freebie issues of DC's Vertigo range. I used to devour Vertigo at an enormous rate in the first half of the Nineties. I find that I vastly prefer having electronic copies of comic books to the unwieldy, overpriced printed article. Suddenly, that which is notably expensive and unwieldy becomes immensely portable - once you take into account the potential ebook market.

Think of it: with an ebook reader, those with a secret passion for whips n'chains John Norman books - or even those who feel their deeply humanist analysis of posthuman politics rendered in experimental prose might have been better marketed without the wraparound Boris Vallejo cover - will never need feel concerned about their perceived status on the subway, since all around will simply assume you are once again rereading War and Peace on your ebook device in order to gather notes for your entirely nonexistent English thesis paper.

And let us consider one small fact which has appeared in my mind since I began writing this entry: is a book an object, or a collection of ideas? In other words, is a book the actual collection of physical pages, or is it the information contained therein? Is it possible - and I simply put this out there for consideration - that our culture has so long objectified a book as an artifact, that we have lost the means to separate the content from the container? Is it not more likely then, that future generations might see a paperback printing of a book as one possible expression of a book, rather than the book itself? In fact, would it not be philosophically healthier to return books and storytelling to the realm of pure information and ideas, thereby freeing them from the consumerist trap of 'things' which must be owned and lusted after as objects of physical desire in and of themselves?

Clearly I need to drink some more coffee.

So am I about to run out and buy an ebook reader? Well... er, no, as a matter of fact. Because they're still too expensive. But what people seem to forget is that we're still at the 'early adopter' stage, that these machines are aimed at people who can afford to splash substantial amounts of cash with relative whimsy. As with all new technologies, the price of ebook readers can be expected to fall until they become well within the means of the book-buying masses. In the meantime, the idea of having my entire, existent collection available to me on a device that doesn't hurt my eyes, that I can read in almost exactly the same way as a paperback, that can run for days on end continuously (due to extremely low power consumption), onto which I can download new material with a few simple clicks (like the new Amazon Kindle, momentarily avoiding the pertinent issue of DRM) and that I can take literally anywhere in the world without suffering the usual psychological fear of not having my book collection within easy reach does, indeed, appear rather attractive. And as for the inevitable argument that an ordinary book doesn't require batteries - well, given the very low consumption even of the early adopter models of the technology, I really wouldn't be surprised just a couple of years down the road to see solar-powered ebook readers appearing on the market.

And then, yes, I'll buy one - to supplement my existing collection of paperback books, rather than replace it.



Interzone, BBC and violence

Picked up the new Interzone today, with a picture of me next to my interview looking kind of rough. They used the dodgy photobooth pic of me I originally sent to Pan because, well, I couldn't be bothered going all the way down to London in order to have more pro shots done by whoever they use. One day I'll do something about it ... when I can be bothered. But in the meantime, I've been thinking about paying a friend who's a photographer a couple of tenners to do something at least halfway decent I could give out for those rare publicity occasions, with the advantage I don't have to go south. But the interview - on a casual glance through it - seems pretty cool, and in fact Andrew Hedgecock's done a really nice job of editing on the whole thing.

The plan to bugger off out of the country for at least a couple of months and possibly longer, depending on circumstances, continues apace. The next week will consist of booking a plane ticket for January and getting a visa sorted out.

Just back from a meeting earlier today at the BBC - I haven't been saying much about this one because I wasn't sure if it was going ahead or not, but apparently it is. I know a script editor Lizzy Gray through the scriptwriting group, and she - along with a couple of other people in the local Beeb - have been given some small funds to make a couple of very, very short dramas - not for broadcast, but purely as a kind of internal exercise for BBC staff in producing, editing, whatever. So they're doing one of mine, with the filming sometime in December.

It's only one minute long (!), very, very, very violent (we hope) and no, I don't get paid for it. But it's fun, and that's what counts. I suspect the chances of it actually being broadcast are leaning fairly strongly in the direction of 'very unlikely' but it does mean if anybody ever asks me if I'd thought of scriptwriting, I'll soon be able to say with absolute honesty that I've written a BBC drama and seen it made. That's ... one minute long.



Scrivener still feels pretty good less than a week after downloading a trial version of it, and it's proving very useful with the current part-done draft of Stealing Fire, which is currently sitting at about forty thousand words. The only drawback I've found to the software so far is the lack of a time-line function.

That was kind of annoying, until I realised the Mac version of Writer's Cafe, another piece of software aimed at planning rather than writing a novel, was completely free and contained a decent timeline program. I've never actually used a timeline generator before ... but since I downloaded this one the other day and started building a time-based framework for SF, I kind of wish I had.


Turn it Down

I picked up a pair of noise-reducing headphones - cheap ones - today, and road-tested them both on the subway and in an internet cafe in the West End with moderately loud music playing, dishes clattering and one or two people talking. Although the amount of intrusive noise was far from being reduced to zero, it was definitely reduced, and I managed to listen to some fairly laidback plinky-plonky ambient stuff on the subway home without having to whack it up to killer volume like I might normally have to. Sound quality isn't the greatest, but they did the job, being to let me work somewhere that isn't my house, with extraneous noise reduced to a level where it's a lot easier to ignore, while listening to exactly the kind of inoffensive background music that fades into the back of my mind without actively interrupting the writing flow.

I passed by Offshore on my wanders; it looked busy - very busy. Lots of people with laptops, tapping away. I felt obscurely ashamed at the idea of going in and joining them, and continued on my way. At least in Bibliocafe, you feel like you've got some sense of privacy if you go to the upstairs comfy bit. I ended up in ICafe, a door or two along, which was ... okay, but far from the best environment for what I wanted to do. I think Bibliocafe is winning out.

I'm still running Scrivener through its paces. So far it's great.


coffee and writing

I love the new ibook (not macbook, ibook). Silent. Pretty. Runs for over four hours without a recharge. Finds and connects to wifi effortlessly. I can even talk to people using skype without a headset, courtesy of the microphone built into the screen. Genius.

I used to love the Offshore cafe in the West End, but it's got too noisy. Music blaring, blaring all the time. I really need to get out of the house sometimes to write - sitting at home, it feels like the walls are closing in, so I go out. Offshore used to be quiet, comfortable, not at all noisy, at least during the summer. But it does have wifi.

I tried a place called Bibliocafe earlier today, right across the road. It's very, very nice - but no wifi: that's the killer. Otherwise, it's the perfect environment, assuming you're not unlucky and a gaggle of student girls come in and start screeching and generally bugging the hell out of me and everyone else trying to read/write/stare out the window. So now I have to spread my net a little wider. I've even been considering noise-cancelling headphones, that use a feedback mechanism to block out ambient noise, since I do tend to listen to Soma FM a lot when I'm writing.

On Bill King's recommendation, I've been getting a little more deeply into a piece of mac-only writing software called Scrivener, which comes with some very impressive recommendations on the sidebar of their webpage at www.literatureandlatte.com (See? There's the coffee connection again). I'm not one normally for splashing out on writing software, but this is only about twenty quid and I think it might actually be worth it.


What I did on my Holidays

I've been back from Taipei for almost a week now. I came home to the most miserable weather imaginable: grey sleeting rain and black churning clouds and a bitter cold wind. And lots of very depressed looking Scottish people. With weather like this, and you wonder why we all look so miserable.

Taiwan was great. Not perfect, but a lot of fun. It's also possibly to live there incredibly cheaply - I'm looking into going back over, possibly early next year, for anything between a few and several months depending on how certain visa issues work out, and whether I can get anyone to rent my flat out in the meantime. A lot of people from the States and Australia wind up there, teaching English. But a bit of a sabbatical and a break from Scotland - especially at this time of year - seems like the way to go.

I really love the cheap Sony Vaio I bought some months back, but if there's one thing I really don't love, it's Windows, particularly since I got a Mac Mini a year or two back. The Vaio ran W2000 and it was just an endless litany of crashes and software issues. In the end I got sick of it and dropped a couple hundred on a refurb 12 inch ibook from Cancom.co.uk. It's just sickeningly good, from setup through to its automatic detection of my wifi network. It's sweet to write on, like the Mac Mini, everything a portable writing experience should be. A mac notebook is something I've wanted for a long, long time.

More good reviews are still coming in, particularly this very nice one from Lisa Tuttle, who reviewed Stealing Light in The Times last week (I recall meeting Lisa a couple of times in the early Nineties when she visited the Glasgow Science Fiction Writer's Circle, and I still have a copy of Windhaven, a novel she wrote with George RR Martin some years ago):
Dakota Merrick is propelled into the centre of events against her better judgment. She is a former military pilot and “machine-head” — implants in her skull enable her to survive, but may be responsible for the trail of death and destruction in her wake. The action is intense — but it's intelligently written and thought-provoking as well.



The next issue of Interzone is going to be running an interview with me - should be out in the next couple of weeks, I guess. First sunny day in Taipei, really, since I got here, although it's been far, far from cold. I only really got over the jetlag the other day - my first week here I was walking, but asleep. Mostly we've been running around the city - those who know me in Glasgow will know what I mean if I say the area around where I am bears a certain cultural resemblance to the West End of Glasgow, if Glasgow had a population of several million and the West End covered the entire of central Glasgow.

Basically, Taipei has a couple of 'night markets' - shops, restaurants and hang-out places that are all open until early in the morning, occupying a maze of back streets, and always very, very busy. The one I'm nearest - off the Shui-Yuan Road - is definitely the best. At some point I'll be taking the bullet train down the coast to Tainan for a weekend. In the meantime, I did some browsing in YouTube, and found someone's video of one of the markets that gives a feel for what Taipei is like in general - although I'm rather less sure of the soft rock soundtrack the uploader concerned has chosen to put over the images:


The last thing you will ever see in Taipei is David Carradine in a leather mask, accelerating towards you.

I've been in Taiwan for almost a week now, and it's been fun. I meant to take a camera out with me on the streets of Taipei last night while out for dinner with my host (until recently resident in Edinburgh herself), but forgot, a slip that can probably be put down to a general state of jetlag and fatigue. Two quick observations: Taiwan is the Land that Building Regulations Forgot, and crossing the road feels a bit like taking part in a spontaneous, nationally-networked Flashmob re-enactment of key scenes from Death Race 2000. People here don't see stop lights so much as regulations, more as laughable impositions on their personal liberty.

I brought my laptop with me in case I got a chance to write. Surprise surprise, this blog entry is the first time I've managed it. Under the circumstances, expect entries to be sporadic until early November, by which time I'll have returned.

Yesterday involved a couple of hours trawling around a district almost entirely dedicated to the selling of computer components, followed by dinner near the riverside. I'm keeping my eyes out for the Asus EEEpc, a commercially available alternative to the 'One Laptop Per Child' machine, although according to at least one guy we spoke to the other night, when it's released here in Taipei in a couple of days it'll be going for twice the originally announced price of about two hundred US dollars, making it rather less appealing than it had been.

The view from the previous entry, by the way, is out of the living room of the flat I'm staying in, and into an alleyway. I'm in an area more or less equidistant between two universities, and a lot of students live around here, apparently. I'm somewhere off the Shui-Yuan Road, which I think is the name of a behemoth raised motorway like something off of a Halo 2 level I played a while back.

More later. In the meantime, it's time I got round to recommending an online radio station I've been listening to a lot while writing, called Soma FM. Yes, I know I said I find music too interfering for me to write, but the 'groove salad' playlist on the aforementioned site consists entirely of that very Nineties, very 'chilled' kind of stuff, all echoey keyboards, flutes and so on, that keeps my ears entertained without distracting me from the stuff I'm trying to write. And, I've found, has the added bonus of cutting down on extraneous distractions and allowing me to focus entirely on the fiction. At some point I'll have to start writing about WriteRoom and Q10 (for Mac and PC respectively), being full-screen text editors that blank out the screen, leaving nothing but the words to concentrate on; particularly effective if you're writing at night, in the dark. It's just you and the words.


Starburst review

Wow. I must be doing something right. Now I have a full page, lead review in the new Starburst magazine; Tor sent through a pdf of the page, and I just scanned through it. I'll pop into town later and pick up a copy 'for my files'. Or possibly just for reading and re-reading between sporadic fits of giggling. Here's a tasty wee line or two:
"Gary Gibson opens by taking on board a lesson Harry Harrison once demonstrated with the opening of his peerless Stainless Steel Rat - start with a line which hooks, and finish the first page with one that's so 'You said what?' that any reader - or overworked slush-pile assessor - simply has to turn the page."
That's not to say the reviewer doesn't have some caveats - and those make for interesting reading, because it's an opportunity to sort of look inside your own head from the outside. But still, it's a big review, and a very, very positive one. Yay for me.


Cheap Reads Done Dirt ... eh, Cheap

'Liviu' informs me via the comments boxes that in fact, The Book Depository have free worldwide postage, which means even if you're outwith the UK you can get Stealing Light ridiculously cheaply and easily, including deliveries to their good self in NY. Thanks, Liviu! The company's 'About Us' section makes for surprisingly interesting reading. So if you want the book and you're outside of the UK, you can probably get it sent to you for only £10.55 in all. I feel like such a huckster, but ... meh, it's cheap, what can I say? So once again I recommend it. I've updated the links under the cover on the left appropriately.

Friday night was Haggis night at Stravaigin's with friends, which seemed the appropriate thing to do given the circumstances, although it was so stowed it took about an hour and a half to get served, despite them having just about the best and friendliest service anywhere in Glasgow.

Saturday, took part in a reading - along with Hal Duncan, Mike Cobley (who has a new space opera series coming from Orbit in early 2009), Andy Miller and Neil Williamson - at a small convention near the city centre - and did a small excerpt from Stealing Light. Got a text on the way home and wound up at an art school friend's place, breaking guitar strings (sorry, L) and eating vegetarian shepherd's pie with her and some other people and hearing strangely familiar tales of woe of West End flat sharing. As you do.


SFX and more reviews

Did the SFX interview on Wednesday, over the phone, so that was a first. Met the photographer at the Glasgow Science Centre (my suggestion) this afternoon, and the weather was surprisingly nice and warm. My back's a lot better, but that's not to say it's not severely achy after an hour or so; that plus the fact I've got a bad case of 'runner's knee' means I wasn't able to go too long, and I had a feeling Jesse - the camera guy - was a bit disappointed I didn't want to stick around for more, but I was starting to feel some definite pain. Some of the shots looked quite cool, though to be honest I'm not one for standing around, and posing ... especially not when there's BBC employees sitting nearby, eating their lunch at the picnic tables overlooking the Clyde. Hopefully they can make some sense out of the garbled answers I provided when they called me the other morning. I'm afraid I don't generally make a great deal of sense before at least midday.

Being the day the book is out, I took a peek in a couple of bookshops in town, and saw one small pile lurking in the corner of one of the Waterstones. It's a start, I guess. The cheapest I've seen it online is just over a tenner, at www.bookdepository.co.uk, a site I've already used myself for several purchases (that's postage free, by the way, here in the UK).

Another good review, this time at Fantasy Book Critic:
"In conclusion, I’m extremely grateful to Pan MacMillan for sending me a copy of “Stealing Light”. Otherwise, I might never have been introduced to Gary Gibson who is definitely an author to keep an eye on. And, I might never have read “Stealing Light” which is easily one of the most enjoyable science fiction books that I’ve finished this year, and would make a great starting point for readers new to the genre…"



I have this weird kind of luck when it comes to seeing some bands. I don't actually go to gigs hardly at all any more, not because I don't like music, but because they are so often so incredibly, prohibitively expensive; so these days when some band comes through and I see them, it's because I get a ticket as a birthday present or - as was the case last night - someone can't make it and gives me their ticket. Andy was apparently called down south to play with Vashti Bunyan in Manchester, so he gave me his ticket to see Rush.

I'm somewhat tickled by the idea that these days you can go and see a band, come home, and less than twenty-four hours later watch them again, after phonecam footage has been posted on YouTube. There were two guys directly in front of me - I was about halfway back - holding up, respectively, a phone and a camera with video capacity. I suspect the footage above came from one of them.

The gig was fun ... especially the, eh, the early good stuff, as it were (and with apologies to Woody Allen). I'm afraid Rush haven't been quite the creative force they once were - in my entirely personal and humble opinion - since perhaps the late Eighties, and the last album I bought, on shiny vinyl, was Power Windows, waaaay back. On the other hand ... I like the track Subdivisions (above) a lot. Maybe if last night had been the first time I heard it, I wouldn't have been so enamoured of it. Who knows? But I am increasingly of the opinion that I'd rather see someone newer, for a lot less money.

Which reminds me ... I meant to write something about Led Zeppelin, since I was a huge fan, and the reunion gig and all ... but, you know, I've seen Page and Plant a couple of times and that is Led Zeppelin, minus John Paul Jones. So despite the fact I'd have happily trampled over grannies to get to a Zep gig a few years back, now I'm, like, eh.

Ps - new book out tomorrow! Remember!


Thar she blows

Here it is: the new hardback, next to my computer screen and mac mini from which it was, at least in part, spawned. It really says something for the Post Office that Pan had to send me a box of books twice. And the second time I'd lost such faith in the P.O. that I asked Pan to send it to someone else's house - necessitating first a trip on the subway to Hal's, followed by a taxi home with the package. Anyway, enough whining; it's here at last.


more reviews

More reviews in, all good so far.

SFRevu.com: "It's a tight and engaging piece of Science Fiction, and sets up the very interesting and tantalising possibility of any number of novels and stories in Gibson's universe. Two further novels in this immediate sequence have been bought by Tor UK, and the future looks deservedly bright for this star of the Scottish school."

SFFWorld.com: "... a good page turner and pleasing signs of an author on the up. For scale, pace and sheer entertainment value, recommended."

And finally, ComputerCrowsNest.com: "Gibson takes delight in bringing together a complex reality for just one novel and is sure to get many more fans as they discover his books. He is one author whom you really ought to be paying attention to where he goes next."


You're lazy, you just stay in bed

Three books in and the one time I finally decide to book a holiday, people decide they want to talk to me. Go figure. Got an interview on the phone on Tuesday and - still no sign of the copies of Stealing Light! Hal, apparently, had the same problem with Ink, when the publishers tried to get copies to him. I've now arranged for Tor to send the hardbacks of Stealing Light to his house, and I can just pick them up there. It's a hassle, but it might just incrementally increase my chances of seeing the f&&?*@g thing before I go on my hols. It's not like my house is hard to find.

Apart from that, I've been having a lazy weekend, possibly helped by the occasional ingestion of painkillers for my back pain, which is thankfully starting to fade. The most I've done for the past two days is: hang out, watch tv, browse the net, and sleep. How rock and roll is that?


Reviews just in

Went into town yesterday and picked up new copies of Death Ray and SFX magazines, both of which carried extremely positive reviews for Stealing Light, which is out on 5TH OCTOBER. Did I mention Stealing Light is out on 5TH OCTOBER? No? Well then, you should know it's out on 5TH OCTOBER, a Friday, so I wouldn't be hugely surprised to see it on the bookshelves a few days before then, if not already.

From Andrew Smillie's review in Death Ray:
"The story is progressed by smart, natural dialogue and mindblowing set pieces ... it's a truly dark book, examining all the worst human traits, a wide vein of blood, brutal sex and betrayal coursing throughout. An inventive and pacy adventure that's thrilling and unsettling in equal measure."
And from Saxon Bullock's in SFX:
"A gripping interplanetary saga ... balancing flashbacks, sharp characterisation and big-scale concepts, Gibson has produced a seriously entertaining page-turner not afraid to throw in shocking moments of violence, or to take the plot in unexpected directions."
Which is nice, as that guy in The Fast Show used to say. And hooray! I've done my back in again. Not nearly as badly as before, but that only got as bad as it did because I did things guaranteed to make it worse since I didn't know any better. A couple of days taking it easy, some painkillers, and ... hopefully ... I should be okay.


Amazon screw-up

Possibly I'm worrying too much, but I feel it's worth mentioning: if you've been thinking of pre-ordering Stealing Light from Amazon, you might have noticed it comes up twice - as both a hardback and paperback with the same release dates. The hardback is at more or less full price - but the paperback is going for about half that. Please note: there is no paperback for sale. I know people are pre-ordering the (nonexistent) paperback because its Amazon ranking is way, way higher and they're doing exactly like what I would do, which is click on the one with the ridiculously low cover price. And yes, I've informed both my publishers and Amazon, by email. Fingers crossed.

MySpace, the bell tolls for thee

It comes as absolutely no surprise to me that Facebook has taken off in the way it has. I joined MySpace a couple of years ago despite the atrocious layout, primarily to advertise the fact I wrote books, rather than any deep desire to connect with complete strangers. Facebook, on the other hand, is a site where I link solely to people I know, or have at least some form of clear connection with - other writers, say. It looks better and, for now, it feels better. I know I'm not alone in this, because the only thing missing from MySpace on the increasingly rare occasions I visit it are some digital images of tumbleweed blowing across the screen. Although Facebook started out as a social networking site restricted to students, since it was opened up to all it's grown exponentially until it feels like it's just about ready to swallow the net:
In late May (2007), the company's 23-year-old CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, got up in front of several hundred journalists, analysts, and industry leaders in San Francisco at an event the company called F8 (think of it as "fate") to say that Facebook would no longer be just another social-networking site. Instead, he said, it aims to be the place where you can involve your friends in everything you do online. The company has 24 million members (less than half of whom are now in college), and it is adding about 150,000 a day. In effect, Facebook is now offering the opportunity for any company, Internet service, or software maker - anyone at all, really - to build services for its members.
In advance of the announcement, which had Silicon Valley buzzing, Zuckerberg and other executives spoke to Fortune about the strategy. "We want to make Facebook into something of an operating system so you can run full applications," Zuckerberg told me. He said Facebook is becoming a "platform," meaning a software environment where others can create their own services, much the way anyone can write programs for Microsoft's Windows operating system on PCs. Facebook, he explained, is a technology company, not a media one.
Around about this point, the word hubris might occur to the casual reader until you realise Microsoft's interest in Facebook would put the value of Zuckerberg's product at something like ten billion US dollars. Ten billion. And even if that eventually turns out to be hubris on Microsoft's part, are you surprised Zuckerberg (pictured above) is smiling?

One last point: look at Zuckerberg's face again. This is the face of a one-time student who's now worth billions. People think he wants to take over the internet. But I know what he really wants: zeppelins with death rays. And maybe a giant robot monkey. Yeah, definitely; ten billion dollars could buy a few giant robot monkeys. Will Zuckerberg be the first Web 2.0 billionaire to construct an undersea base manned by women in silver jumpsuits and seals that can fire harpoons? I, for one, certainly hope so.


Damn laptop gods

Damn laptop gods! They're after me again, but this time they're disguising themselves as postmen. Yes, that's right, those sneaky uniformed bastards aren't just going postal in your local shopping centre, they're also cunningly disguised paper-eating demons with extendible jaws who like to stuff my precious mail into their ever-widening maws.

Tor posted me copies of the hardback of Stealing Light something like three weeks ago and they still haven't turned up. Several weeks before that, Tor sent me bookplates to sign and return; they disappeared too, along with copies of books I'd asked Tor to send me. The package finally turned up something like a month late - minus the freaking books. It was wrapped in some kind of plastic bag which stated something like, "we're really sorry we ripped open your package and sent the contents spinning into the black necromantic jaws of hell."

Consider this recent-ish encounter with a chap emboldened with the task of carrying the mail around my neighbourhood:

GARY steps out of front entrance of block of flats, very bleary-eyed, on way to work: encounters POSTMAN, as entrance door swings shut, and nods in vague greeting.
POSTMAN: Well, I can't deliver your mail now, you didn't hold the door open for me.
GARY (looking around in surprise): Oh, sorry, I didn't think. Early.
POSTMAN (stepping away from door): That's all right, I was only kidding. It's Flat ____, isn't it?
GARY: Er, yes.
POSTMAN steps away from entrance. A very fuzzy-headed, early morning Gary walks down block and realises the POSTMAN is a few paces behind. GARY glances nervously behind him.
POSTMAN: I'm just going to start at the end of the block. I'm no' going tae no deliver your mail.
GARY: Ah. Right. (nervously walks on, wondering why the other guy doesn't just ring the main doorbell on his communal entrance like he was going to anyway, and if it's too late to say, why don't we walk back right now and I'll open the door for you. Especially since one thing about such a reassurance is it really, really doesn't reassure you).

For all that, it's only the packages that seem to be having trouble coming through. Far as I can tell, all my regular mail gets through just fine. There've been postal strikes recently (probably demands for more brimstone in the canteen), but surely this can't account for the failure of anything package shaped to ever, ever get to me ...? Perhaps the one postman I know can answer my questions. Jim, are you there ... ? Jim ...? (voice fades into echoing abyss).


I can't remember if there's something I've forgotten to remember ...

Here's a question about a TV show I seem to remember from decades ago, in such vague detail I can't entirely rule out the possibility it is entirely a product of my fevered imagination. Sometime between very roughly the mid and late seventies, I'm sure there was a kind of documentary series on science fiction in both film and books that ran around teatime, possibly on BBC2. They interviewed writers like, I think, Michael Moorcock and Brian Aldiss. The opening credits featured a kind of line-drawing animation where a dragon would turn into a spaceship, would turn into a ... whatever. There might have been perhaps half a dozen episodes of it, possibly on the weekend.

If anyone has even the vaguest recollection of some series matching this, I'd be very grateful to know I'm not actually accidentally making it up, and what the hell it's called if it actually does exist.


Racing! Through! Time! To High Adventure!

I just finished Kage Baker's 'In The Garden of Iden' and realised two things: 1–That really cool idea I've been rolling around in my head for years? Someone got there first. 2–I need to read a lot more Kage Baker, it's that good.

I think I read one of the 'Mendoza in Hollywood' stories somewhere, but that's it, and it didn't really grab me - I suspect because I didn't have the context of an ongoing, novel-based narrative. But I'm going to track down the short-story collection 'Black Projects and White Knights' (the second novel in the Mendoza series not being republished by Tor until November) and read it while I'm on the plane in a couple of weeks time.

I picked 'Iden' up, by lucky chance, in Voltaire & Rousseau, a second-hand bookshop in the West End; it's one of the new paperbacks being published just now by Tor, and - to be honest, the cover's a bit rough. Or, shall we say, it's a very genre-type cover, showing a busty woman in some kind of futuristic capsule, zooming through ... time, or something. Given the novel is almost entirely set in a late-Medieval period English Country House with occasional excursions into high-tech stuff, it's far, far from representative of what lies within the pages. I thought, why not do something that actually looks good? Like, an illustration of a Shakespeare-period cast (the book is set shortly before his birth) with one small anachronism thrown in. Not this Racing! Through! Time! To High Adventure! bullshit that seems to be the standard modus operandi of so many art departments.

I can't help feeling the book deserves better; a more attractive and less embarrassing cover that might persuade people to pick it up and help it gain the wider audience it really deserves. With writing this good, I wouldn't be surprised to find Ms. Baker has been 'transcending the genre' in the mainstream newspaper review pages. Especially if it gets her classier-looking packaging.


Bring me the increasingly massive head of Gary Gibson

Working from home now, and fair tearing through the new manuscript. It's a few weeks before I go on my holidays, and in the meantime the slow grind towards publication of Stealing Light continues with the occasional review appearing, like this one from Concatenation (thanks to Jim Steel for digging this one up).
British SF writers have a long tradition of excellent space opera. Yes, there is the average stuff, but equally every generation for all of the latter half of the twentieth century has seen some stunning British space opera. So the question SF aficionados will be asking is whether Gary Gibson's Stealing Light is run of the mill or is it something more special? The unequivocal answer has to be that the novel is decidedly ahead of much of the pack. If you had to place Gibson's Stealing Light somewhere in the contemporary landscape (and while I am not fond of pigeon-holing it does help in letting you know whether or not this is the sort of thing you are likely to enjoy) I would say that the novel comfortably sits between the space opera of Alastair Reynolds and Iain Banks. I understand that there are (at least) two more in the 'Light' sequence to come. I for one will be looking out for these. With two to follow, please do not think that this ends in a cliff-hanger enticing you to read on. Stealing Light neatly ties up all the plot strands so readers are not suckered in to having to buy the follow-ups. I liked that. Having said that, if the sequels are as complete in structure and plot-development as this then the series could well add up to more than the sum of its parts. We will see. This is Gary Gibson's third novel. If he can build on this standard with a new novel a year over the next decade then he could become a very big genre name.
Ooh, get me.

I could write rather a lot about what it turns out was going on at my workplace just prior to my starting to freelance for them, but present circumstances forbid it. Trust me, it's a doozy. But right now I'm quite enjoying doing the telecommuting work-from-home thing. It's rather relaxing, to my surprise. I'd be blogging more, but if the manuscript is calling, it's calling. There's also the BBC mini-mini script which is still chugging along through development, and a couple of interviews I've been asked to do, the questions to which need answering soonish.

People have told me their mail is getting bounced on its way to me, although I've in fact received it. Go figure. I'm not really that hard to track down - at the very worst, I check Myspace every couple of days so you could always leave a link there, and I'm on Facebook too now.


If you watch this film, dead critics will rise from the grave and eat your brains

Just in case you'd forgotten I told you all to avoid actually spending any money on seeing the recent movie Sunshine - or buying or renting the DVD - I dutifully point you to this entry on Peter Watts' blog in which he also points out the film is totally, utterly shit ('what a silly, vacuous, inconsistent, scientifically absurd, and derivative movie'). And mentions something else that really bugs me too: why on Earth is anyone out there giving it anything like a good review? Why?


sore fingers

There's a surprisingly okay photo of me (for once) in this month's Locus, the one with Robert Heinlein on the cover. I have a vague memory of a Locus photographer taking a couple of shots of me (and Hal, and lots of other people) at the Glasgow Worldcon a couple of years ago. Lots of other photos of lots of other people in that magazine too, but it's nice nonetheless.

I spent most of this evening signing about six hundred bookplates for the approaching hardback publication. Sore fingers. Ouch. Prior to that, I spent part of the afternoon in the new BBC building by the Clyde, courtesy of a script editor - Lizzie Gray - who occasionally attends the screenwriting workshop that meets at a local arthouse cinema. Lizzie had asked people there and elsewhere for contributions towards a series of one-minute films which are intended less for actual broadcast, and more as a means to train staff and keep them busy when they're not filming anything else (or so I gather).

The inside of the new BBC is huge (picture above). From the ground at the entrance, it looks like somebody trapped a ziggurat inside a concrete box. Cool enough, in a vaguely Neo-Stalinist Brutalist Concrete sense. In fact, it looks more than anything else like a set from a Terry Gilliam movie inside; vast and stentorian, with unintentionally humorous posters hanging from the ceiling telling you to 'utilise your space for creative mixing through meeting, discussing and sharing ideas', and the kind of slightly cheesy bollocks you can imagine coming out of some brainstorming session where everyone is encouraged to 'think out of the box'. All that was missing, really, was a statue of Lenin, gripping one lapel and gesturing into the future.

Anyhoo, the script is called 'Dave, Unbound' and is a grand total of maybe two hundred and fifty words. Still, if it does get made, a very nice addition to the writing CV. We talked over some ideas in the (vast, stentorian) canteen for where to take the story, given the precise time limit of sixty seconds, and played around with some of Lizzie's own ideas. All in all a fun way to spend an hour, and a chance to check out a building I've been cycling past for a couple of years now.


i have a holiday

Before I say anything else, possibly the most fun way of completely wasting your time and not actually getting any work done this month is the 'simpsonize me' function at the promo web page for the Simpsons movie. I think this looks like me ... but I might try uploading another picture and see if it looks pretty much the same or different. I say this with the full knowledge I am almost certainly the last person in the universe to have become aware of this.

I finally booked myself a holiday for a couple of weeks, staying with a friend really quite a long way away (the 'better offer' I mentioned a few entries before) for a really depressingly large sum of money, but, like I say, I need the break. I won't say where just yet - I think it's more fun if I just maybe write a couple of blog entries once I'm there. I'm hoping I can keep writing and working on the book while I'm away, so I'm taking the laptop. I'm not leaving for a while though - I'll be away on a big jet plane from early October to the end of the month, so three weeks in total. That's just after the new book comes out, and between now and then I have to sign a shitload of bookplates for Forbidden Planet and the other main bookstores as well. Assuming, that is, the damn things actually turn up in the post; Tor have tried to send them to me twice in the past couple of weeks, and no sign of them ... yet. This, despite a trip down to the sorting office. Maybe it's a backlog after the recent strikes, but I don't know. I feel like I've been lucky that whenever Tor have posted me a marked-up manuscript for correction, it hasn't so far got lost in the post. If that ever did happen, I could see it causing major delays in publication (whenever I send them or my agent something, it always - always - goes recorded delivery).

I just spent the weekend in Dundee with a couple of friends (I don't think I've been there before), just for the sake of the change as much as anything else. Apart from that, work is moving ahead on the book front, which is good. There are some changes where the day job is concerned, but that's a whole saga in itself. More on that later, assuming it doesn't get turned into a Christopher Brookmyre novel between now and then ...


I need a holiday.

The full time job is definitely cutting into the writing in an annoying fashion. It's getting there, but very, very slowly. It's too easy to get drawn away from the writing for a couple of days, then find it hard to get back into the precise frame of mind I was last in while working on the manuscript. At the moment, it's still under ten thousand words, but I'm not really that worried since it's about the same place I was at with Stealing Light after a similar period of time. Lots of faffing about with the same couple of chapters, then boom, things get clearer.

What else? There's an interesting article in The Guardian that's worth checking out:
What people really want... is to be broke. At least, that's one likely interpretation of a new YouGov poll that shows more people in this country would rather be a writer than anything else. Now it's possible they've all got their eyes on the JK Rowling squillions, but the financial reality is rather more depressing. Most book manuscripts end up unwanted and unread on publishers' and agents' slush piles, and the majority of those that do make it into print sell fewer than 1,000 copies. So while there are a small number of writers making a decent living, something like 80% of published authors earn less than £10,000 per year.
Worth reading. What else? I'm in the process of booking a holiday for a good few weeks, possibly a month, for closer to the end of the year: the plan for going stateside has been temporarily shelved in favour of a better offer in another location, but I'll save the details for later.


getting hold of signed copies of Stealing Light

I had a query from Canada about how to get hold of one of the signed copies of Stealing Light that's going into London's Forbidden Planet in October. A quick query to FP's online customer services reveals they're happy to ship overseas, unless specifically stated otherwise. So if you're after one of those, that's the way to go.


days of honeywine and doom

Okay, that's been a fairly intense couple of days. Following the attempted break-in, I had to juggle endless calls from both the police and the insurers. Forensics turned up to dust for prints yesterday afternoon, which was quite fascinating to watch as they went about their work in my tiny hallway. They dusted one of the storm doors and came away with a couple of prints. They're probably mine, but you never know. Fortunately, I had to work from home that day anyway, since all the staff at the print and design company I work freelance for - for Reasons I Do Not Yet Feel At Liberty To Divulge, But Might Shortly Find The Opportunity To Do So - had to be away somewhere (except for me. Like I say, complicated.)

Today I had to hang around some more for someone to come make the damaged storm doors reasonably secure, until the replacements can be installed. A surveyor was checking out the damage earlier this morning. I did a quick dive into work for an hour to print off some urgent stuff, designs which need to be checked over and approved by clients. Then back home again, in case anyone nasty decided to pay a return visit and kick in what was left of my doors.

So that's been me pretty much at home the past couple of days, and I feel exhausted, which is perhaps not surprising, given how much I've had to deal with in a short space of time. Still, like I said in the last entry, could have been worse.

Stealing Fire is quietly doing that slow-grind-of-a-cold-engine-gradual-and- increasing-motion-forward thing I tend to associate with the start of a new novel.
There's just under ten thousand fairly rough words, but getting there, getting there.
I'm starting to find my way around. One character was originally called something like 'Scent of Honeywine, Sense of Approaching Doom', but I'm thinking of renaming him Days of Wine and Roses. No particular connection to the film or song - at least, not yet (and even then, it would be a stretch considering the story is set half a millennia in the future) - but it ... amuses ... me. So for the moment, it will do.

Oh yeah - the tumble dryer I found in the street? Works perfectly, so far.