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Magma [Aug. 8th, 2011|05:19 am]
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I’ve said many times –in many places– that I don’t write because I want to, I write because I have to. It’s a compulsion, which if it’s blocked off, leads to something close to clinical depression (my name is Colin, and I am a creative junkie….)

Ever since I ended a particularly brutal bout of writing a couple of weeks ago, with the synopsis and sample chapter for a new novel, I’ve been concentrating on administration and blogging.

Which is a pain, but keeping adequate financial records is a legal requirement as well as a particularly time-consuming chore; the other time sink has been completing an application form for an MA, which has taken up most of the last two weeks.  and of course, there’s the blogging, which takes more time than you might expect from the haphazard way I seem to throw words onto the page.

In theory then, no time for writing fiction.

Which would seem to contradict my theory that you need to write every day. Except that by blogging I am writing (although it’s not fiction), and I’ve racked up enough experience (I have written over a million published words) not to need to write every day as much as a novice does. But still….

…the urge to write fiction runs deeper than even I realized. I awoke on Saturday morning with the scenes from an unfinished story called Razorbill Island running through my head.

For a variety of reasons I’ve needed for some time to road test the Scrivener package, and this was the perfect opportunity.

I only got a couple of hundred words written, but I’ve worked out what to do with the story now (the problems were as much structural as of writing the words).

Which just goes to show that even when I think I’m okay with my schedule, my subconscious knows better; that like magma beneath the Earth’s crust, the words are always ready to ooze out any time.

Originally published at colin-harvey.com. You can comment here or there.

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Black Static 23 Reviewed [Aug. 5th, 2011|10:24 am]
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Black Static for June / July 2011 contains the usual reviews and commentary, while the stories are mostly by returning regulars.

V. H. Leslie appears for the second time in three issues, and already looks to be the magazine’s most prominent newcomer of the year. In ‘Time Keeping’ Howard believes that he keeps time running smoothly. It’s a demanding time-consuming job, so when he meets Helen, Howard couldn’t shake the feeling of danger. Leslie has an elegant, assured style, and while the story may need more than one reading, the (initially) opaque timeline does eventually come clear, and the reader learns what the danger is. Recommended.

 

‘Hail’ by Daniel Kaysen is an extremely busy story –there is much more plot than is usual with Black Static stories, which tend to concentrate on atmosphere- but it’s no less effective for all that. The narrator picks up a girl while sheltering under an awning from the rain, and she asks him directly if he wants to go back to her flat. When she has want she wants, she throws him out, from which point the more the nameless protagonist tries to escape his fate, the more tightly he is caught in its web of inevitability. Highly Recommended.

 

From the moment the protagonist (and therefore the reader) gradually awakens to the sound of the underground, it’s clear that Carole Johnstone’s ‘Electric Dreams’ is something special. Eli is a young man accepting food and shelter, and occasionally –perhaps enough to just get him by- money in return for hearing what people need; whether he can work miracles, is a god, or  previous events are just coincidence, Eli’s supplicants believe that he can

kill the wife’s lover

put the office rival out of action (“You won’t kill him, will you?”)

cure a woman’s mother of end-stage breast cancer

save the rats on the Underground.

Now Eli has to decide whether it’s time to change again. To start again. Two years was a long time –the longest yet- and success bred notoriety. It’s a top-notch story, one of the best in recent months.

World Horror Convention

Robert Davies won the 2011 World Horror Convention / Black Static short story contest, and from its opening line of When Jackson Cade woke and felt his right lung missing, he knew the Harvesters had come again, ‘The Harvesting of Jackson Cade’ makes it clear why. There are a couple of irritating non sequiteurs early on, but the story of physical disintegration at the hands (or should that be at the mandibles?) of the nightmarish Harvesters is unrelenting. Recommended.

Joel Lane ends the fiction for this issue with ‘For Their Own Ends,’ in which Barry awakes from a heart attack in a private hospital to find that patient care has taken a back seat to ‘market awareness.’ Lane’s prose is as precise as ever, allowing him to generate that frisson of fear with the most apparently innocent of phrases: a young man took Barry’s left hand and felt his pulse, then jabbed a needle into the vein of his wrist. Without speaking, he attached the syringe to a drip stand holding a bag of crimson fluid. Highly Recommended.

 

Comment

As always the fiction is enhanced by the quality of the non-fiction embracing it. Stephen Volk’s ‘Coffinmaker’s Blues’ looks at [moving] the debate about so-called “evil” away from the realm of religion and moral philosophy into the realm of science. Christopher Fowler is interested in how Spanish cinema seems to be adopting the mantle of the main maker of horror movies with the power to move audiences. Finally, Mike O’Driscoll studies the work of political philosopher John Grey, whose latest book is a brilliant dissection of our continuing desire to console ourselves with delusions, either in the form of a secular afterlife, or through the deification of humanity by means of “the abolition of death.”

 

Reviews

Peter Tenant interviews new horror star Tom Fletcher and reviews his novels, The Leaping and The Thing On The Shore, both Cumbrian-set contemporary horror novels. Other Case Notes feature chapbooks from Joe R. Lansdale, Ramsey Campbell and Gary McMahon, plus three anthologies; Dark Minds Press offer the eponymous Dark Minds, The End of the Line is published by Solaris, while Tor provide an American perspective in Nick Mamatas and Ellen Datlow’s Haunted Legends.

 

Finally, Tony Lee reviews DVDs and Blu-Rays, such as Natalie Portman’s appearance in Black Swan, and the Stanley Kubrick boxed set Visionary Filmmaker Collection, as well as a reissue of the classic Witchfinder General, starring Vincent Price. It’s a good way to round out another excellent issue.

Originally published at colin-harvey.com. You can comment here or there.

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End Games [Aug. 3rd, 2011|05:20 am]
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People are always talking about the openings of stories. It’s an often quoted truism -especially by me!- that the first dozen lines of a story are critical. They are the unsolicited writer’s escape from the slush pile, or the path to a sometimes bewildered rejection. For the story that has been sold, a poor opening is a potential return to be To Be Read pile, from which there may be no return.

Perhaps as a reflection of that, half of the workshops that ran at alt.fiction were about beginnings, openings, settings, and establishing characters. It’s as though if you get the beginning right, the ending will take care of itself.

But if the beginning is important, how much more important is the ending? If the story works, it’s what the reader remembers. Think of Paul Atreides’ mother standing beside Chani and uttering the line, “history will call us wives,” or –no, better you go and read Alfred Bester’s “The Pi Man,” or John Varley’s “Air Raid,”  or Gardner Dozois’ “Morning Child” — because I’d hate to ruin the ending.

Because to get to the ending, you have to go through the story. The ending isn’t something a writer just tags on the end; it flows organically out of the story, and should tie the threads together and leave the reader with a sense of completion. Context is everything, because the ending isn’t just about the ending. Maybe that’s why the topic is often ignored.

How the writer gets there, of course, is a journey that has as many routes as there are writers. That’s for another time.

we’ll talk more about this later.

 

Originally published at colin-harvey.com. You can comment here or there.

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Digital Communications Reading List [Aug. 1st, 2011|05:12 am]
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One of the posts that’s seemed to generate more responses over the last year was my SF and Fantasy reading list for Genre Studies.  Perhaps that’s not surprising, given the demographic of this blog’s readership.

Perhaps there’ll be as much interest in Digital Communications, which I’m taking in the third year, the elective geared toward writing for the digital media.

This is my reading list for the next year for the subject:

Katherine wrote; “There are many digital entrepreneurs and gurus out there, what follows is just a selection. They usually have websites and twitter sites where you can find out more.”

(*essential reading)

*Anderson, Chris: Free:  The Future of a Radical Price: The Economics of Abundance and Why Zero Pricing Is Changing the Face of Business (Random House, 2009)

And read his blog: http://www.thelongtail.com/ as well as Malcolm Gladwell’s responses to Anderson’s work (Google these).

Ellis, Mike: Managing and Growing a Cultural Heritage Web Presence: A Strategic Guide (Facet, 2011)

 

Darnton, Robert, The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future (Public Affairs, 2009)

Fried, Jason, and Heinemeier Hansson, David, ReWork: Change the Way You Work Forever (Vermillion, 2010)

 

Gladwell, Malcolm, Outliers: The Story of Success (Penguin, 2009) and his website: www.gladwell.com

Godin, Seth, Tribes (Piatkus Books, 2008) and see his website and work on the Domino Project for Amazon

And

Poke the Box (Domino Project, Amazon, 2011)

Jenkins, Henry, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (New York University Press, Revised edition, 2008)

 

Kawasaki, Guy, The Art of the Start (Viking, 2011) (ex-Apple Macintosh)

 

Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds and Actions: How To Woo, Influence and Persuade (Viking, 2011)

 

Leadbeater, Charles, We – Think: Mass innovation, not mass production (Profile Books, 2009) (paperback) and see his website

Marsh, David, Guardian Style, (Guardian Books, 2007) (2nd revised edn):

Print and online (this version updated regularly)

 

Oxford Style Manual (Oxford University Press, 2004)

*Reed, Jon: Get Up to Speed with Online Marketing (Wiley, 2010)

 

 

Rose, Frank, The Art of Immersion: How the Digital Generation is Remaking Hollywood, Madison Avenue and the Way We Tell Stories: Entertainment in a Connected World (Norton, 2011)

 

Search Engine Optimization for Dummies, 3rd Edition (John Wiley & Sons, 2008)

 

Shirky, Clay, Here Comes Everybody: How Change Happens when People Come Together (Penguin, 2009)

 

*Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age (Penguin, 2011)

 

Smith, Jon, Get into Bed with Google: Top Ranking Search Optimisation Techniques (Infinite Ideas Limited, 2008)

 

Quinn, Stephen, Digital Sub-editing and Design, (Focal Press, 2004)

 

 

*Vaynerchuck, Gary, Crush It!: Why Now is the Time to Cash in on Your Passion (HarperBusiness, 2009)

 

Weinberger, David, Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder (Henry Holt & Company Inc., 2007) and his website: www.everythingismiscellaneous.com

Also:

The Bookseller’s FutureBook blog

Wired magazine

Literary Platform

Mashable

Huffington Post

Guardian Media; Word of Mouth blog

 

 

 

Originally published at colin-harvey.com. You can comment here or there.

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This Last Week [Jul. 25th, 2011|05:11 am]
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On Saturday, I indulged a little home-assembled time travel. I managed to blag a spare ticket from a friend to the 2011 Graduation Day, and a foretaste of what I may be doing in one year’s time – assuming that I pass my exams. I suspect that I won’t be too observant next year, that the  day will fly by. But unless the uni make wholesale changes, I’ll have had a useful dress rehearsal.

That was about the only relief last week from a punishing schedule – I’ve now delivered a sample chapter and synopsis for the new book, but getting it done that every spare second was eaten up – I even ate at times staring at the laptop.

This week should be a little easier, starting with the monthly meeting of the Bristol SF and Fantasy Society.  A few drinks, some good company….

Originally published at colin-harvey.com. You can comment here or there.

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Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat, by Andrez Bergen, Reviewed [Jul. 22nd, 2011|06:22 am]
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Cut to Melbourne, Australia–the most glamorous city in the world.It also happens to be the only one left standing… meet your narrator, a certain Floyd Maquina, a likable chap with one hell of a story to share.

Cue guns, intrigue, kidnappings, conspiracy and all sorts of general mayhem that make for cracking good headlines. Does Floyd stop the bad guys? Does he get the girl? Does he make Humphrey Bogart proud? Grab some popcorn and read on.

Notice the instruction to grab some popcorn. Andrez Bergen’s debut novel is a book drenched in film imagery.  From the title, which is taken from the 1956 film That Certain Feeling, in which villain George Sanders utters “Get that tobacco-stained mountain goat out of here,” through a multitude of references, to George Lucas, Marlon Brando, anime and Doctor Who, the reader is left in no doubt what floats Bergen’s boat.

The concept of Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat is either reassuringly familiar or cliched, depending on one’s perspective;

Sometime in the future the world is drowning in acid rain and near-perpetual darkness. The Seekers are a sort of militia holding back a rising tide of Deviants. Anyone who commits a crime is labelled a Deviant; anyone who falls ill is relocated, and classified in the same way.  Floyd’s wife has lived fro three years with cancer, and the only way he can pay for her care is to work as a Seeker.

There’s not a lot of Novum in  the world of Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat - indeed, the background doesn’t bear close examination;  ”Where the heck do they get the grapes to make this? Or the sunlight to grow the grapes?” (p.131) Sadly, no one has the time or inclination to answer the question.

But on the plus side, Floyd Maquina has a distinctive voice, and a likeable character, and i’m a sucker for both. New publisher Oregon-based Another Sky Press have put together an impressive-looking package, and I hope that this quirky novel brings them every success.

 

Originally published at colin-harvey.com. You can comment here or there.

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Playing Away [Jul. 20th, 2011|05:56 pm]
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The fumigators are in hoovering the carpet and generally cleaning the website, so I thought I’d decamp for a day or two. 
Instead, I scurried over to Jo Hall’s LiveJournal site, where I’ve posted an interview originally conducted by Doctor Grasshopper as part of a contribution to the Codex Blog Tour.
I can fully understand how a doctor involved with the lives and erm, the lives of patients might be a little distracted, so after a couple of months or three of it not appearing, I decided I ought to look for a new home for the interview.
Jo kindly obliged, since she’s ultra-busy promoting her new collection The Feline Queen and organizing Bristolcon, from which blogging takes precious time.
I’ll be back on Friday with the weekly review. Assuming the fumigators are done by then…

Originally published at colin-harvey.com. You can comment here or there.

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An Unsatisfactory Ending [Jul. 18th, 2011|05:16 am]
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One of the drawbacks of real life when compared to the tidy plotlines of story, is that it refuses to be shaped into any kind of ending, let alone the uplifting ones beloved of Hollywood.  When it’s the lives we’re living, where does one fade out, run the credits and play the epic power ballad?

So it is with the series of posts on the blackbirds outside our back door that I’ve been running for the last three or four months.

Last week I reported that Mrs Skanky, widowed, was trying to bring up three chicks on her own. We didn’t know if she’d kill herself in trying, or bring back insufficient food for all three chicks, leaving only one or two to survive, or whether all three would grow to adulthood. What we’d forgotten about is that real life is seldom that conclusive.

For four days it looked as if, against all the odds, she and her chicks were going to prosper.

Then on Friday morning, we heard the sounds of blackbird scolding (and boy, can she scold!) outside the kitchen. Mrs Skanky was sitting high at the top of the hedge, well away from the nest. The nest itself was empty and tipped over.

Kate checked the small bushes at the base of the wall, where a fluffy ball the size of an apple  opened its mouth in an obvious ‘feed me’ gesture. Kate righted the nest, scooped up the chick and dropped it back in the nest. A few minutes later Mrs S returned to her now solitary offspring and examined the nest as if to say ‘what the hell happened here?’ We assumed that something, perhaps a cat, perhaps an adult magpie had attacked the nest, but we couldn’t know.

For the next two days she continued to feed the last chick, and then yesterday we looked, and it was empty. We’ve seen Mrs S around; she may have moved the youngster to cover, and hidden him somewhere; we couldn’t find a body, although a predator could have carried him off.

And then yesterday afternoon, I heard a little quiet birdsong from the main flowerbed, on the opposite side of the the garden, some fifty yards from the nest. Mother must have smuggled him out at first light, but there sat the missing chick, with Mrs S in attendance.

This sort of happy ending is that rarity in life, a moment of uplift, so I’ve decided that I’m going to draw a line here under the blackbird saga, because it’s the nearest we get to a happy ending.

Originally published at colin-harvey.com. You can comment here or there.

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F&SF August 2011, Reviewed [Jul. 15th, 2011|08:15 am]
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The August 2011 edition of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction is heavier than usual on the science fictional part, with around half the stories -including most of the longer ones- being SF.  

 

‘Bronsky’s Dates With Death’ by Peter David is the story of an old man who can’t stop talking about death. Bronsky is the ultimate salesman, because he’s perfectly sincere. Just as he’s sold beauty products, vacuum cleaners and anything else that a man can sell, so he sells people the idea that he’s reconciled to death by never stopping talking about it. Initially irritating, then laugh-out-loud funny, and ultimately poignant. Recommended.

 

Peter S. Beagle’s ‘The Way It Works Out And All’ is a tribute to the late Avram Davidson, and like its hero, the story meanders like few other writers can manage. As evidence of the authors’ skill, take the word “Overneath” which Beagle uses to portray the magical realm through which Davidson shortcuts in his globe trotting – just that one word sums up all the strangeness of the realm, while the story itself is charming, and the circumlocutory style reminiscent of Lafferty at his best, as well as Davidson. Outstanding.

 

In Rob Chilson’s ‘Less Stately Mansions’ the last member of the Mannheim family continues farming the land in the face of glacier advances, buy-out offers from Earth’s now-independent colonies, and  greedy grandchildren scheduling a competency hearing. Infused with the spirit of Clifford D. Simak, it strikes a suitably timeless agrarian feel. Recommended.

 

In ‘The Ants of Flanders’ by Robert Reed, our world faces the strangest alien invasion since Gardner Dozois’ classic ‘Chains of the Sea.’ But the tone is entirely different, and with Bloch, the six-foot-five sixteen year-old “mental defective” who feels no fear, Reed has written perhaps his most engaging protagonist. As well as terror in the face of the apocalypse, Reed writes of wonder and joy in one of the best novellas of the year; Their driver was barely three weeks older than Bloch and barely half his size, nothing could be more astonishing than the extraordinary luck that had put him in this wondrous place. “I can’t fucking believe this,” said the driver, lifting up on the brake and letting them roll forward. “I’m having the adventure of a lifetime. That’s what this craziness is.”

 

Joan Aiken’s ‘Hair’ is a splendidly Gothic piece about the widower of a young woman who has burnt out and died too young. It manages to unsettle without ever actually offering any overt threat. Outstanding.

 

Steven Saylor’s ‘The Witch Of Corinth’ is one of F & SF’s regular excursion’s into historical fantasy, but by depicting the setting in no small detail and combining it with a mystery and a true historical event –the fall of Corinth- it’s a considerably above average of the sub-genre. Recommended.

 

‘Sir Morgravain Speaks of Night Dragons And Other Things’ by Richard Bowes is a curious Arthurian tale filtered through a science-fictional perspective.

 

Michael Alexander’s ‘Someone Like You’ isn’t quite up to the standard’s of last year’s ‘Ware of the Worlds,’ or ‘Advances in Modern Chemotherapy,’ but it’s still one of the better time travel stories with a new take on The Grandfather Paradox.

 

In ‘The Ramshead Algorithm’ by KJ Kabza an inter-reality traveller based on earth comes into contact with his family when his father decides to rip out the hedge which is the basis for his being able to slip between planes.

 

With Book Reviews by Charles de Lint and Elizabeth Hand and Films reviewed by Lucius Shepard,    science from Paul Doherty And Pat Murphy, and humour from Paul Di Filippo, it’s another enjoyable issue, at times edging the sublime.

Originally published at colin-harvey.com. You can comment here or there.

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Kindle Price Promotion on Winter Song [Jul. 13th, 2011|05:17 am]
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The word from Robot Towers is that those nice folks at amazon are doing a price promotion on Kindle for a range of Angry Robot Books; until August 31st, if you live in the UK and you have a Kindle, you can buy Winter Song for the ludicrously cheap price of 99p a copy.

And if you want more (why? <g>) there are fifteen other titles you can pick up as well. The full list is available at Angry Robot’s website.

Originally published at colin-harvey.com. You can comment here or there.

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