reviews and more redesigns

I'm assuming there's some kind of review of Stealing Light out somewhere, because my hit counter just spiked again, to almost three times my usual daily hit rate. The last time it spiked really high was when I talked about fantasy and sf, a topic that got me more hits in a twenty-four hour period than I've had in any single week since starting this blog. I don't recall saying anything vaguely controversial in the past several weeks, so this time I figure it's a review. Somewhere.

The attempt to design a blog page for the Stealing Light excerpt somehow morphed into an attempt to redesign the main blog page itself. I got some suggestions about switching to Wordpress, but for the moment I'm sticking to Blogger on the basis I've just about figured out roughly what's going on under the hood there, whereas with Wordpress I'd be starting out all over again. So until I have the time to spare, I'll have to stick with Blogger. It might not be perfect, but it does work. At some point in the next several weeks I'll switch the new design to this blog, at which point you can expect blogging cataclysm, I suspect, considering the source code here hasn't been updated since, gosh, 2003?

If you're seen or are intending to see (as I am) Cloverfield (over the course of the Chinese New Year while down south in Tainan), and if you also happen to be a fan of Lost (as I am. Yeah, yeah, whatever. I don't care. I'm in 'till the probably extremely bitter end), you'll want to see the video below: a twenty-minute talk by J.J. Abrams about exactly why he doesn't want you to have any effing idea what's going on in the island.


At the movies

Yesterday evening I wound up at something called MTV (Movie TV), in the company of Emma - not the music television station, but a cinema split up into a maze of tiny to tinier private viewing booths where you can preselect a movie from whatever the cinema has on display in the foyer (new-ish movies to older stuff in DVD racks) and watch it on a ten-foot screen. The tickets cost about the equivalent of seventy or eighty pence each. Not only that, you can watch two or three movies in a row, and the place is open twenty-four hours a day. The booths can take anywhere from two to maybe eight people.

We watched Syriana, which I'd meant to see for a while. As cinematic experiences go, it's not the greatest. The door into the booth is right next to the screen, and has a small window in it that lets in the light from the corridor, with the result that the picture gets washed out by the light, making it hard at times to figure out what's going on in scenes that are primarily dark. The sound is rubbish too, which didn't help when it came to following an extremely complex drama featuring an enormous range of characters and dealing with the nature of modern covert politics.

But for all that, it's dirt cheap, and if I was eighteen I'd probably live in the place. And judging by a large number of the people using the place, I'd say its prime attraction is to sixteen to twenty year olds who want a cheap night out where their parents can't see them for several hours at a time. There was a slightly seedy quality to the place which sort of added to the experience. If I was writing a crime novel set in modern Taipei, I'd say it would be a great place for people to meet and talk about drug deals, or sell guns to each other. File under: curious.


In the corner

Fifteen hundred words yesterday, not so much today, having written myself into a corner. Must. Not. Ignore. Outline. So not much in the way of writing, but a fair bit of chopping and changing, together with staring out the window at the rain pouring down over the Shui-Yuan Road. Dinner in Shi-Da Night Market tonight, probably something with rice and chicken at the heart of it.

I'm slowly playing around with CSS, trying to guess my way to a redesign of the blog. I've decided to keep it very simple after all, and I haven't made up my mind whether or not to port the whole thing over to Wordpress. My idea is it won't look hugely different, just more ... modern, and much more functional (like you might actually be able to see the titles of the entries on the blog page).

It's not just us, you know

Tripped over a fascinating article in The Guardian Online (Populist Prejudice) by the British television arts commentator Mark Lawson, which sounds remarkably familiar. Straight from the start, he mentions Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin's annoyance at reviews suggesting his writing 'almost transcends the genre of crime fiction'.

Like I say, a complaint that sounds more than a little familiar. But the whole article is worth reading indepth not only for Lawson's defence of 'genre' - an argument that only slightly tangentially defends science fiction - but for this description of a recent legal case which almost sounds like something out of a Monty Python or Not The Nine O'Clock News sketch:

This week, Joan Brady - a talented American novelist living in Devon, who won the Whitbread prize in 1993 - received £115,000 in an out-of-court settlement from a cobbler close to her Totnes home. The novelist alleged that fumes from solvents used at the plant had caused her physical distress and mental distraction.

One example given of her problems - and here we come to the reason that Brady should probably not walk down any dark alleys filled with crime writers - was that she had become so confused by the fumes that she was forced to abandon a serious novel, Cool Wind from the Future, and turn instead to mystery fiction, with Bleedout.

So really, it's not just us, you know. Though personally, I have the feeling I could get seriously Judas on genre's ass to the tune of a cool hundred thousand green ones with change to spare. Holiday in the south of France, anyone?


Back to work

About time I started blogging regularly again. I'm going to try and haul my camera out a bit more and take some pictures around Taipei and post them here.

It took me about a week to get everything ready before coming over, and my ex-girlfriend is looking after my place back in Glasgow in the meantime. Under the circumstances it's no surprise my writing bit the dust for the duration of the preparations, although since arriving back in Taiwan I've resumed work on the current book.

For all that, the new book's been an absolute bugger to get back into, and every sentence feels about as much fun to write as pulling my own teeth. This is the kind of situation, I guess, that separates the pro's from the amateurs: do you keep writing or stop?

In my own case I'm still writing, and to my considerable surprise I'm knocking out upwards of a thousand words a day. I'm usually up and at the Mac by nine each morning, but it still often takes me three, maybe four hours to actually get started. But for all that, I've been in this situation before and it usually passes. That I already had the book fairly completely plotted beforehand helps a lot.

I passed through Hong Kong on the way here. In a sad and sorry testament to my own miserable levels of nerdiness, it occurred to me as I surveyed the high mountains beyond the airport that they looked a lot like the mountains you see in the distance in the original Doom.


Best of lists

Crap! I had no idea Stealing Light had made Sci Fi Now magazine's 'best books of 2007' list, at least not until I happened to read it on Lou Ander's blog. Here's the list, copied and pasted from Ander's blog:

1) Halting State (Stross) - ORBIT
2) Stealing Light (Gibson) – TOR UK
3) Brasyl (McDonald) – PYR/GOLLANCZ
4) The Metatemporal Detective (Moorcock) - PYR
5) Helix (Brown) - SOLARIS


Other stuff - I'm back in Taiwan right now, and still a bit jetlagged. It was surprisingly cold the first few days here, but it's back to balmy weather and sunshine again. Double nice.


Because you can't keep a good argument down ...

Too late! You tried to turn away from the screen before the dreadful words burned themselves into your retinas, but it's true, they're talking about definitions of science fiction over at SF Signal.

My favourite is possibly Nancy Kress's (... fiction that replaces one or more facts about our current world with speculative element(s) that are presented in a way that does not seem magical. That element might be scientific or technological change, or sociological change, or just a time change -- a future reality instead of today's.), and I think Mamatas also approaches my own take when he says:

"Science fiction is that subset of fantasy fiction in which the rationalistic, as opposed to the romantic, inclinations of the audience are valorized by the narrative."

Though personally I would have stated it slightly differently if I were stating my own view:

"Science fiction is that form of fiction in which the romantic inclinations of the audience are valorized through an at least reasonably plausible rationalistic narrative."

I could go on ... and on ... but I'll spare your poor scarred brains any further injury.


Next stop ...

Things might be quiet round here for the next week or so because I'm packing a lot of stuff away to go back to Taipei for a while; at least a couple of months, somewhat longer if I can manage it. I leave early next week, and since Sunday I've been doing pretty much nothing but packing stuff and storing it away for a friend to move in and look after the place. With any luck the packing will be done by Sunday next, which'll leave me Monday free to relax and finish off packing whatever I'm taking with me.

Taipei's a big, busy, modern city and the capital of one of the most successful countries - Taiwan - in that part of the world. Note: that's Taiwan, not Thailand. I hate it when people keep mixing them up. If you're wondering, Taiwan is off the south coast of China, and was the point of final retreat for the then-government of mainland China when Mao marched in and took over in the late Forties. Up until the end of WW2, it had been occupied by the Japanese since the late 19th Century, which is one reason the culture - so I gather - can have a Japanese flavour to it at times.

Did I mention that apart from the high standard of living, it's incredibly cheap to live there as well?


Jeremy Clarkson, in case you don't know, is one of the presenters of a UK tv programme called Top Gear, about cars. There's a lot I could say about Top Gear. It's sort of a guilty pleasure for a lot of people who watch it without necessarily admitting it because they do things like turn a Robin Reliant into a space shuttle and actually manage to launch the damn thing. Guilty pleasure because the three presenters are perfect examples of the Arrogant Uncle (or brother-in-law, or cousin, or ...) that you often run into at family gatherings.

You know the guy; intensely self-assured to the point of arrogance, probably works in some sales or advertising capacity if he doesn't own his own business, has a girlfriend who runs a hair salon, and given to bellowing inappropriately about why global warming is really a left-wing plot and the unemployed should be placed in shackles from the moment they sign on and put to work making license plates.

Top Gear has three of them, and king of them all is Jeremy Clarkson. Clarkson recently declared in an article that all the concern over the loss of computerised personal details of millions of Britons by the government was, well, a bit of a palaver and a lot of fuss about nothing. Which is why it was such a joy to read the following in the Guardian Online:

"Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson has admitted he was wrong to brand the scandal of lost CDs containing the personal data of millions of Britons a "storm in a teacup" after falling victim to an internet scam.

The outspoken star printed his bank details in a newspaper to try and make the point that his money would be safe and that the spectre of identity theft was a sham.

He also gave instructions on how to find his address on the electoral roll and details about the car he drives.

However, in a rare moment of humility Clarkson has now revealed the stunt backfired and his details were used to set up a £500 direct debit payable from his account to the British Diabetic Association."

The word for today is hubris. Jeremy Clarkson: entering the Twilight Zone sometime soon, one would hope.


New Year's Resolutions

If you're still looking for a good or worthwhile new year's resolution, here's one for you: this year write at least one brief (about one paragraph) review of a book you liked on its Amazon page.

There are lots of good books out there with no reviews at all and, personally, I do read a good few of the Amazon reviews for various products, though I often come away with the distinct impression when I read the bad reviews that the person voicing their opinion has not, in fact, read the book (or whatever) to which they are apparently directing their ire. The worst example is probably the Amazon Kindle reviews page on the American site where the authors of a huge number of overwhelmingly negative reviews quite candidly state that although they've never seen a Kindle - and aren't often very sure just what it is - they've decided not to like it, thank you very much.

This is very annoying.

So buck the trend; find a book or cd or whatever you thought was good or even excellent, preferably one with no reviews (or reviews you wildly disagree with), and give it a quick write-up. It won't take five minutes during the morning coffee break and you'll feel all warm and accomplished afterwards because the chances are good that the author/musician/whoever will see your words.


Procrastination: An Expert Guide

I got a bit annoyed reading various blogs wherein Jay Lake and others proudly attest to knocking out a quick ten thousand words of publishable prose a night, despite holding down a day job. Not annoyed at them, annoyed at me. I'm getting there, sometimes a little under a thousand words most nights, if I'm doing well closer to two thousand words. Usually. But I always feel like I could do more if I could just stop getting bleedin' distracted. By web page designs, for instance.

Like I said, I'm slowly designing some test blog pages for a revamp of this blog, and for some additional pages featuring excerpts from each book as well as, eventually, associated downloads in a couple of different formats for handhelds, computers, ereaders and so forth. To this end, I've been playing around with header designs and the like. One thing I was thinking of putting at the top of the main blog page in particular was this.

It would sit behind the blogtitle and the underlying description.

Unless, of course, I decide I hate it in another week or so.


Why Stealing Light is sort of like Star Wars, except that it isn't

Somebody made a comment here that made me think it might be worth clearing up a point of potential confusion arising from the fact that even though Stealing Light is the first of a projected series of three, you couldn't necessarily tell that from picking a copy up in a shop. It's not like it actually says 'Book One of the Shoal Sequence' anywhere on the cover or inside. Here's why.

It's because of the way certain contracts panned out. There was a contract between me and my publishers that included Stealing Light, but not necessarily anything beyond that. As a result, Stealing Light sold as a standalone novel. It was only during the course of writing it that it occurred to me I might be able to either extend the story in interesting directions, or write other stories set within the same universe.

I think it's fair to say the publishers really liked Stealing Light. Liked it so much, in fact, that they followed up on a passing suggestion on my part via email that I might be up to extending it into a series. At this point the book hadn't yet been published. Further, I suspect they wanted to watch and wait to see how well this book did before necessarily asking for more of the same.

As it is, the contract for another two books got signed pretty quickly, and I'm working on the second right now. If you want a point of comparison in terms of how things worked out, an example might be the way the movie Star Wars ended up getting made.

Star Wars is a movie with a very distinct ending. When it's over you think, yeah, it's over. We all know Lucas already had plans for other movies, but nobody was signing on the dotted line until they saw how that first film performed in the cinemas. As a result, Star Wars - despite being subtitled 'Episode Four' - was required to be an entirely self-contained narrative. That there was room for sequels (and, unfortunately, prequels) was obvious and ultimately fortuitous. You could say the same for the Back to the Future movies.

Which is kind of why Stealing Light ended up with sequels but doesn't say 'Book One' on the cover. It could, but I'm not sure whether or not it should. I like to think anyone could pick it up, read it, and feel like they'd read a finished story without necessarily being mugged into buying another book to find out what happens next - but that's not to say there aren't strong hints in the narrative to suggest what might be coming if they chose to read more.

I wasn't sure until fairly recently whether Book Two was going to be a direct sequel or a separate narrative set in the same universe. As it is, it's a direct sequel. I can't even say for sure if Book Three will follow straight on from Book Two, although it's starting to look very likely.

I'm about halfway through book two at the moment. I suspect it's going to end in such a way that again you feel like you've read a complete story, with a definite end ... but with big fat teasers to suggest something really, really cool might be happening in book three, should you choose to buy that when the time comes. In fact, let's not call it a trilogy ... let's be really up the ass and call it 'three sequentially linked but nevertheless distinct narratives'.

I'm not ruling out the possibility of a separate novella set in the Shoal universe at some point. There's a story I have in mind that's currently intended to be part of Book Three, but I'm not sure yet whether it'll fit in neatly with everything else I'm expecting to happen. If it doesn't quite fit, I may write it as a separate story.
Hope that clears up some potential confusion.



Ah, the joys of procrastination. I decided a wee bit ago it might be a good idea to rearrange the website, since in terms of the code that's holding it up it's getting kind of out of date, so I'm thinking of tarting it up a bit. I've been using the page carrying the new excerpt from Stealing Light as a kind of testing area for this, but whether or not I carry that design over to the main blog is another matter, and whether or not I chuck out that excerpt design and start all over is yet another matter. I'm picky. But it does feel like something like this should really be there, and on top of that I think I'll be saving the excerpt in a couple of easily readable formats - pdf, rtf, etc - for reading on everything from e-ink readers to PDA's.