I've figured out what I'm going to get myself for Christmas (and possibly one or two other people, too) - journalist Jon Ronson has a new book coming out called "The Men Who Stare At Goats". Casting about for words to describe Ronson's particular shtick, I'd say he writes books reflecting 'extreme' politics and worldviews, such as 'Them - Adventures with Extremists', which was also a tv series here in the UK. That book took a look at many of the more bizarre mindsets of the more militant libertarian/isolationists in the United States today - the same kind of mindset that created Timothy McVeigh. It's a journey into the wilder side of the human psyche and the depths of absolute paranoia, and makes for uncomfortable but remarkably entertaining reading.

Jonson has an excerpt from '...Goats' online at The Guardian Online, which frankly has to be read to be believed. It reads like something out of a Lucius Shephard novel. I read the full article on Saturday morning with equal parts inspiration, amazement and depression (unfortunately, the online piece itself is only an excerpt from what appeared in the newspaper). Inspiration, because it's close to the subject matter of the book I next want to write. Amazement, because of the view it gives of parts of the modern US Army as being almost (if not genuinely) occult in some of its practices. Depression, because although it's not fiction, I still feel somehow like Ronson beat me to it. It did give me pause for a moment to consider whether or not, judging by the events described in the aforementioned article, I could set 'Things Unseen' in the present, but there are plot elements in there that may well keep it in its current setting in the Seventies.

Here's a tiny sliver of the excerpt, a chat with an unidentified soldier who worked at Abu Ghraib:

"We sat on the balcony of the restaurant and he pushed his food around his plate. "You ever see The Shining?" he said."Yes," I said.

"Abu Ghraib was like the Overlook Hotel," he said. "It was haunted."

I assumed Joseph meant the place was full of spooks: intelligence officers - but the look on his face made me realise he didn't.

"It was haunted," he said. "It got so dark at night. So dark. Under Saddam, people were dissolved in acid there. Women raped by dogs. Brains splattered all over the walls. This was worse than the Overlook Hotel because it was real.

"It was like the building wanted to be back in business," he said."

Yeech. Completely unreal. There's the roots of a genuinely politically conscious horror novel right there. And as for the title of the book, 'The Men Who Stare at Goats', that refers to Psych Ops attempts at causing the hearts of goats to cease beating by staring at them really, really hard. Really hard.

I'm fifty pages from finishing my second run-over the edits on Against Gravity, and still making a few last-minute changes here and there. The interview on Agony Column seems to have been pretty well received, which is good, and what's slightly weird about it (although I'm happy to get used to it) is seeing my name on the Locus Magazine website's front page. Slightly weird, because it's my default homepage, so everytime I start up netscape, that's just about the first thing I see. Until next week, anyway, when it gets replaced by something else.

I finally have a working title for the other book I wanted to write (apart from Things Unseen), a space-set book involving colonisation and sub-ftl technology: Slow Burn. Which I rather like. A quick browse through Amazon reveals, to my mild astonishment, that this title most often appears in assocation with romance novels. No sf books with that title I can find, which does surprise me: it seems like a perfect hard-sf title to me, anyway.

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