I have found the light at the end of the tunnel, and its name is Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog. I don't know how or why I never heard of this, but I just about had seizures laughing after I tripped over it on YouTube by semi-accident. Enjoy.


One other thing about Perfect Circle/Firecracker: it's short, which came up in a conversation between myself and Hal Duncan in the pub that despite the lengths of the books we both write, there's a lot of appeal in writing something much shorter. Firecracker is maybe three hundred pages - a rough estimate gave me a word count of between seventy and seventy-five thousand words. That's a little over half the length of the three books I've written so far for Tor UK. One of those can take me anywhere from three to six months to write, once I've got the intricate details of the plot worked out. I figure a book the length of Firecracker might be closer to six weeks, eight maximum. There's a lot of appeal in that because it means I could write a book outside of a contract 'between' contract books.

I did start writing a radio play a couple of weeks ago, but it stalled rapidly, partly because of outside stuff, and partly, maybe, because I was still tired after competing Stealing Light. I dug out the outline for A Hundred Houses - sort of a gothic horror-thriller - having forgotten how thoroughly I'd worked out the details of the story. It's all there. I can't help wondering if it might not be a good idea for the New Year to sit down and write the damn thing before I get lost in terminal procrastination.

I finally got around to reading Sean Stewart's 'Firecracker' (known as 'Perfect Circle' in the States) and found myself more than pleasantly surprised to find it entirely matched the hype it got on publication a couple of years ago. On the surface, it's about a guy called Bill 'Dead' Kennedy, so-called because of his love for punk and his ability to see and interact with dead people. There's some really nice touches in here, such as the ghost roads that materialise out of thin air and he's never quite had the nerve to go all the way down; or the fact he doesn't drive because he can't tell if the person he just had to swerve around in the middle of the road is really there, or dead and invisible to the rest of mankind.

Here's a snippet from an old review on SFSite.com by Donna McMahon:

Perfect Circle is about lots of things. It's about gender roles and class in a vividly drawn modern Texas. It's about ownership -- of people, money and guns -- and about pride, guilt and rage. It's a searing snapshot of "normal" life in a working class suburb of America where the dead people seem a lot more functional than the living ones.

It's also a good story, with a funny, likeable protagonist who we find ourselves rooting for despite his blatant flaws. Finally, pop culture mavens will get a kick out of the contemporary music references (all of which were lost on me, but what the heck).

This is a real rarity -- an intelligent, sensitive and entertaining novel about what it means to be male. I think it will speak most strongly to men, but it should appeal to many readers, mainstream as well as genre.

What Donna nails is that the book stretches out far beyond the default genre considerations, mainly thanks to the depth and quality of Stewart's characterisation. If you've got a bunch of book tokens by New Year, you could really do a lot worse than get your hands on this book.


I finally made it along to the refurbished Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow the other day - it's right around the corner from where I used to live on the edge of the West End. I particularly enjoyed the display of traditional African weaponry - shields, spears, and a very prominent AK47 in the centre of the case. Nice one.

Something occurred to me as I toured the exhibits and paintings with a friend: that it's easy to spot Scottish art, particularly traditional Scottish art, because everybody looks utterly miserable. There's the painting of a young child's funeral, outside a bleak cottage on a bleak hillside while bleak clouds sail overhead. Or the bleak last stand of a clan defending some miserable looking crag, or waiting bleakly for a ship to take them to the New World and away from the old, etc, etc. I can't remember too many of the details beyond that because it was all getting a bit bleak. Picture some corny chocolate box illustration of a Victorian street scene except everyone looks suicidal and you've pretty much got the picture.

I have a habit of missing the boat where particular online memes are concerned, but this is partly because writing deadlines are just about the only deadlines I meet in this or any other life. There was a recent blog-a-thon thing over Carl Sagan, and memories thereof, the idea being to commemmorate him. Two things I can say about Carl: when I think about his tv series Cosmos, the thing that always cracked me and friends at school up wasn't the way he said 'billions and billions', it was the way he said 'organic soup'.

Second memory: I'd almost forgotten about this one, shockingly enough. Sagan gave a public lecture at Glasgow University in the mid-Eighties.

I was there. Weirdly enough, the above link appears to imply he did quite a few lectures here, but I only recall one. Perhaps it was a paid thing and I couldn't afford any more than one, although I could have sworn (and of course memory fails me) it was free.

I remember it rapidly turned into a war between the Enlightenment and that Old Time Religion. Some bloke behind me and my then-girlfriend were arguing over exactly how many wings different types of Angel had, according to their Heavenly ranking system. Sagan batted through their arguments and shouted promises of salvation in the next life like Arnie in Terminator 1 drilling his way through a police station full of surprised cops. Now there's a memory.


After speaking to Bill King a couple of weekends ago (Bill's the author of several novels for Games Workshop) he gave me an old Palm handheld computer that was getting a bit old and that had been gathering dust. I've never managed to get my hands on one of these things or even get much of an opportunity to use one, so naturally, I wanted one really badly. Partly because I was aware some people - like Bill - have done a lot of writing and editing on these machines with the use of a portable keyboard.

By the way, if you have one of these things because of your work so you hate it, don't blame me, when I play with the thing it still feels like it dropped from out of twenty minutes into the future and straight into my hands.

I've got a roll-up keyboard I've never had a chance to use; however it's usb, so won't plug into the palm. So either I need another keyboard, or some kind of adapter. The idea that you could write, edit and so forth on something so small is still amazing to me. It also ties into my reaffirmed desire to 'do' something in the summer of 2007, like visiting the States or Europe for several weeks, finances depending. If I did do such a thing, being able to write on the hoof has a huge amount of appeal.

So far, it's been a busy December, without much in the way of writing. My boiler died, and it cost me more money than I'd really rather spend after several months unable to work both to get it fixed and to replace the ailing and now somewhat dangerous old boiler. I just spent the better part of a fortnight without any heating because it died after nearly blowing itself off the kitchen wall. My heating is back, but my savings have taken a big dent. My current lodger is leaving in early January, about the worst time to be trying to get someone new in. I've always got someone in really fast, though, so I don't think there'll be a problem. A friend has been muttering about taking the room for a couple of weeks, circumstances depending, while in-between places.

Otherwise, I find myself thinking no longer in terms of 'when I get better' so much as 'now that I'm better'. A couple of miles brisk walk is no problem now, which is good because I need the exercise. The only thing keeping me off the bike at the moment, really, is that it's so cold, although one of the wheels may need replaced and it probably needs a tune-up at the bike shop.


Every now and then, someone comes up with a point of view on some current topic - something so clearly and concisely true - that it offers itself up as the kind of conversational gambit that, in the mind at least, can easily be imagined creating one of those surprised and speechless breaks in a flow of heated conversation relating to that topic.

The topic: Iraq and the Bush Administration. There's an interview with James Morrow - one of the great satirists, and author of erudite and excoriating novels such as Towing Jehovah (about a tug delivering the fallen body of God, all one and a half kilometres of him, from the Equator where he landed to the North Pole before he gets stinky) - in the new Locus, and if you go here you can read an excerpt from that interview, in which he says:

For me, the great irony of our time is that even as Bush is denouncing Darwin, condemning stem-cell research as blasphemy, and encouraging what he calls 'faith-based initiatives,' his administration is hoping against hope that something resembling a rational, secular, post-Enlightenment republic will emerge in Iraq. It's a towering irony.

And that nails it, really.


Just over a week since I finished the book, and I feel like I'm finally starting to recover. I spent about six or seven days flopping about, getting inexplicably tired at various times, and waking up at really odd hours. Things have stabilised in the past day or two, though, and I'm getting up and going to bed at (for me) normal times.

Outside of that, I think the universe is telling me it's really, really time I got another day job.

Let's have a look at the list of cataclysms so far: my laptop died, and I bought a mac mini to replace it. Cost, about three hundred quid. Then there's the new sofa from Ikea - cost, about the same. Okay, it wasn't an essential, but I got it several weeks before everything else went haywire. A giant bill from the electricity company (long story) doesn't help either. Then my boiler died the other day. Cost of fixing or replacing: don't even ask, because I'm not sure I want to know. I have someone I've been recommended coming around next week. And now my mortgage is going up. Hoo-fucking-ray.

I'm not penniless - yet. But given I'm walking home from the West End a lot these days, I think I might be more or less fixed. More or less, because I still get some pain, but probably not any more than a lot of people have to deal with in the course of their normal working day.

What I do, normally, is graphic design on the lower end of the scale - meaning, I don't usually originate illustrations, and the majority of what I wind up doing is by the standards of the trade relatively simple, using software like Quark Xpress, Illustrator, Photoshop and so forth. I could probably get full time work, but that would severely cut into the writing. So I figure come the New Year, if nothing else has shown up by then, I'll get a job in some small shop somewhere for a couple of days a week. That, plus the money I get from a lodger, should just about keep me afloat.


Book finished! Keyboard down on Friday afternoon, followed by several hours of near-terminal collapse. Or finished enough to go to my agent and then hopefully straight on to Tor for editorial stuff.

Jamie, one of the Saturday night regulars, is hopefully going to get a chance to run it off at his work for me and then I can stick it in the post (yeah, yeah, I know, email, but my agent is a wee bit more old-fashioned than that).

I wound up in Nice n'Sleazy's in town, with Hal, Jamie, Chris and Andy and spent maybe half the time trying to blink myself awake, I was so wiped out after finishing SL. By some nefarious means, we wound up at a place called the Buff Club, which I've only ever been to once before, several months ago. It was actually better than I remembered, and it was pretty good the last time too.

I came across a mention of Stealing Light on the Pan Macmillan website, and saw they've already stuck up a blurb for it:
For half a million years an alien race has been hiding a vast and terrible secret.
In the 25th century, only the Schindleria possess the secret of faster-than-light travel (FTL), thus exerting an economic stranglehold on all interstellar travel. For a century and a half, mankind has operated within their influence, till now there are at least a dozen human colony worlds scattered along Schindlerian trade routes.

Sonja Merrick, while serving as a military pilot, has witnessed atrocities for which this alien race is responsible. Now piloting a civilian cargo ship, she is currently ferrying an exploration team to a star system containing a derelict starship. From its wreckage, her passengers hope to salvage a functioning FTL drive of mysteriously non-Schindlerian origin. But the Schindleria are not yet ready to relinquish their monopoly of a technology they acquired through ancient genocide.

Which is nice, except also terribly out of date. It should read (and I'll be emailing this off to Pan, now the book is finished):

For a quarter of a million years, an alien race has been hiding a vast and terrible secret

In the 25th century, only the Shoal possess the secret of faster-than-light travel (FTL), giving them absolute control over all trade and exploration throughout the galaxy. Mankind has operated within their influence for two centuries, establishing a dozen human colony worlds scattered along Shoal trade routes.

Dakota Merrick, while serving as a military pilot, has witnessed atrocities for which this alien race is responsible. Now piloting a civilian cargo ship, she is currently ferrying an exploration team to a star system containing a derelict starship. From its wreckage, her passengers hope to salvage a functioning FTL drive of mysteriously non-Shoal origin. But the Shoal are not yet ready to relinquish their monopoly over a technology they acquired through ancient genocide.


Doing a little background research while scanning through the near as buggery finished book, I stumbled across a nice little list of 'fictional applications of real materials' amongst which, at a glance, I discovered:

Cheddite (from) Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers (by Harry Harrison): Made by irradiating cheddar cheese, it enabled faster-than-light travel.

I always loved that book. And I always had the idea if I could have been a movie producer or director, one of the films I'd want to make would be of The Technicolor Time Machine.


Tuesday evening, finished a draft of Stealing Light in an all day marathon that lasted until about half one this morning. I've already started going over it again, though this time I'm hoping the checking process will be the last time I'll feel the need to do it. So far I think it's working reasonably well.

With any luck, I think I'm starting to get the hang of this novel writing malarkey. I'm thinking about this being maybe the first in a series of books (let's not use the 't' word just yet), particularly since right now I quite like the idea of spending time in a constructed universe like this one. Especially if it means I don't have to make up a new one every time I start on a new manuscript.

Other than that, quite a busy week, socially speaking. The aforementioned gig, a trip to a screenwriters group that proved to be highly informative and entertaining, plus dinner in Strav's with friends followed by a trip to a party at Mike G's. This week is quieter, but I don't mind since I've been buried, buried, buried in the SL revisions.


I was out last night to the first gig I've been to in several months - a Norwegian (I think) band called Opeth, whom I discovered by way of fellow Glasgow author Mike Cobley. Mike was there, along with Phil Raines, also of GSFWC. Very, very loud, and very, very good. If you like your music loud and brutal, I can only highly recommend their Ghost Reveries album. I listen to this album, frankly, constantly; and it's been a very, very long time since I listened to anything that constantly.

For someone who has several hundred vinyl albums and maybe a hundred cd's, plus most of the same packed onto a 20GB mp3 player, I don't actually listen to music that much. I don't like sitting around and just listening to music, because I get too fidgety. Or my mind gets occupied, and I'll be damned if I can tell you anything about what I just listened to, because I was too busy thinking. I sure as hell don't listen to music when I write: if I'm writing, I'm thinking about the writing. Anything else is an annoying distraction. These days pretty much the only time I do listen to music is on the hoof, on the portable mp3 player.

Anyway, it was good to be out and leading a more normal life. The back got a little dodgy towards the end of the night, but in the main I was fine. I find it a lot easier now to stand than to sit.

While we're on the back subject, I went for a job interview the other day; sort of a three-hour tryout for a publishers, except they decided they didn't want me - which was fortunate, because for the lousy money they were paying for what was after all ony a two-week temp gig, I really didn't think it was worth my time. Mainly it was an opportunity to find out how I managed in a working environment outside of my home. The conclusion is, better than I thought I would, but not well enough. I still got pain after being in one of their reasonably decent chairs for a couple of hours. That tells me I'm not quite ready for the wider world of day jobs.

One of the interesting things about the past several months is that I've been forced into the position of being a full time writer by default. I'd say, looking back, it's been hugely healthy for my writing. I'm feeling pretty positive about the new book - partly also because I've had some good feedback from early readers - and part of that, I'm very sure, comes down to me giving it my full and undivided attention since the start of June.


I got an email from Keith Brooke informing me a review of Against Gravity, written by John Toon, had just been posted up on the infinityplus website; it's a good review all in all, and one I thoroughly enjoyed reading. Thanks Keith (and John). From the review:
Against Gravity is a good futuristic action novel, but the tagline "Live long enough and this could be your future" on the front cover tells me Gibson intends this novel first and foremost as a comment on the world we live in today. You may already have spotted the subtle parallels. But apart from the obvious -- and it was worth Gibson restating it, mind you -- I'm not sure there's much political comment to be found here. Perhaps the main point, beyond the Bush-analogue and the WTC-analogue and the Guantanamo-analogue, is a religious one: that people can (and do) believe any number of things about the same phenomenon, but they could all be wrong. Question those beliefs, people.


cover for Stealing Light
And there it is: the cover for the new book. I actually got this through a while back, but with everything else that's been going on in my life - sciatica, trying to find a new day-job - the opportunity somehow got passed by. It's sort of weird seeing the cover of a book (at least it is, for me) when you've not actually finished it; previously the book itself was always a 'done deal' prior to the artwork.

The cover art is by Lee Gibbons, who also did a lot of covers for Ken MacLeod, amongst many others. It's not as abstract as previous cover designs, given that it does illustrate a specific scene in the story. Overall, I'm pretty pleased.
Along to Edinburgh Sunday evening, and a large pub called The Three Sisters for a Halloween performance of Writer's Bloc, which was extremely enjoyable, particularly Gavin Inglis' Fall of The House of Fraser. During the various breaks between readings I chatted with Alan Campbell, of Scar Night fame, who has an occasionally difficult relationship with deadlines. Alan's approach to deadlines is not entirely dissimilar to Douglas Adams' - for whom the best thing about deadlines was the whizzing sound they made as they went sailing by.

At one point, Alan - unshaven, haggard from long nights of furious writing - listened while I described the sometimes traumatic relationship I had with my own second book, Against Gravity.

Specifically, about two thirds of the way through writing that novel, I got so sick of it I opened a new word document and called it 'Why I Hate This Fucking Book'. After staring at the blank screen for half an hour, all I could think to type in it was 'Because I fucking hate it'.

I don't hate it now; in fact I really like it. But it's just one of those things that comes with the realisation you're no longer writing an unpublished book that might sell, you're working on one that's already been sold - but your publishers haven't seen yet.

So I told Alan about this, and he asked me, 'so do you find it hard dealing with deadlines?'

If I'd thought for more than half a second, I wouldn't have laughed and immediately replied 'fuck, no.' Just half a second more and the words wouldn't have come out.

Which is perhaps why in a recent blog entry, Alan says:
Gary is a fellow Tor author who, although he's a nice guy, is much better at meeting deadlines than I am and is therefore an utter bastard. For the record, Neil and Paul are not utter bastards.

Oh, how we laughed.


So anyway, I was in the bar tonight with Hal, Jim, Paul and others following that night's meeting of the writer's workshop (Shortest ever! Twelve minutes. Because we all read the wrong story) when the subject of exploding airships came up. It seems Mr Duncan had berated a certain Graham Joyce over a lack of exploding airships in his work.

I was appalled by the realisation that neither had I particularly had any exploding airships or such in my work so far. It was pointed out to me by Jim that my first book does contain brain-eating werewolves, which might be a reasonable substitute.

But no, I cried; there were no exploding airships. No detonating Victorianesque follies of highly flammable balsam crashing in picturesque flames, perhaps lightly seasoned with Pirates!.

It was then pointed out to me that my second book does feature an assault by psychopathic fairies aboard an exploding XXXXX XXXXXX (deleted to prevent plot spoilers). Was this a suitable substitute? Perhaps, perhaps; but no Nemo-esque Captain struggling to maintain height in the face of heroic valour.

It then occurred to me that the new book does feature a couple of exploding XXXXXXXXX's (deleted to prevent plot spoilers) and in one particularly impressive and lovingly detailed three page sequence, I do frag an entire bleedin' XXXXXXXXXXXXX (deleted to prevent plot spoilers) to atoms.

Which means I can now live with myself. Note to self: more exploding airships.


Time to find a new day job; they have someone new in the old place, so time to find a new place to do the old job now that I'm not crawling around on all fours anymore. I'm thinking along new lines, though ... Phil pointed out to me there's a lot of classes with names like 'Novels: how to write them and how to finish them' running at local colleges, and it's occurred to me I could think of worse things to do than teach creative writing, depending on how much it actually pays (not much, I suspect). Exactly how on Earth you go about finding out about this kind of thing - or if there's any required, official qualifications (outside of having written and sold books, obviously) that are mandatory - is beyond me. It has occurred to me, however, that I know one or two people who do things like teach classes and so forth, so I might ask about and see whether this is a realistic proposition or a (typically) woolly-headed pipe dream.

One other reason for thinking about this is that I'm not sure how comfortable I feel about continuing doing graphic design in the way that I have; to be frank, there's a point where most graphic designers either end up working for a large company or newspaper fulltime, or running their own agency and letting other people do the actual designing. The design and layout stuff for me, however, has never been anything more than a way of supporting my writing; and it's further occurred to me that if my primary skill is indeed writing, then perhaps I should consider avenues for making money that tie into it.

More than likely though I'll wind up with some design gig; my only worry is whether it's full time or part-time. The former tends to leave me not really feeling up to writing when I get home. The latter leaves me relatively relaxed, and benefits the writing. But finding a part-time gig ain't so easy; full-time might be my only option.


Saturday was largely spent in Edinburgh, watching Andrew Wilson and Hannu Rajaniemi from the Edinburgh equivalent of my own writer's circle read from and generally launch two chapbooks at a radical book fair just off Leith Walk. It was enjoyable, partly because I like their stuff, partly because we got to enjoy the unseasonally mild and even summery weather, and partly because it was fun being somewhere other than lying on my back in my living room which, as you know I never fail to remind you, is where I spent my entire summer. What was also cool was coming across books I might never have been aware of browsing through the 'usual suspect' bookselling monoliths.

Over the past couple of days, I've been exploring options for returning to work. I dropped into the old employer and it took him about three minutes to suggest I might be able to do some more of the usual freelance for him. I'm still not entirely sure if I will; the current designer - my replacement - was sitting on the usual, crappy, bad-for-you ripped-fabric stool better suited to some windy church hall rather than a daily working environment.

I looked at him and thought, in a couple of years, your back is going to be so scragged.

And that's the thing that bugs me; in a lot of print and design places, the attitude seems to be that designers are a necessary evil. I suspect this may in large part be because the people who usually open up these places are either people trained in running printing presses, or businessmen with an eye on opportunity; an awareness or understanding of the necessity of good design is not their priority. I've worked for a publisher, for instance, who very nearly attempted to put out a magazine by typing up the articles, justified, single column, in Microsoft Word with no pictures and a single font because they couldn't bear to pay someone to make it look less, well, shit. Sanity - or perhaps the horrified reaction of the advertisers paying to be in the magazine - prevailed. It's an extreme example of a common phenomenon.

And of course the corollary to all this is that even if they do realise they have to actually hire people to make their stuff look purty, they skimp enormously on desks and chairs, getting the most inadequate stuff possible. The desk in the old work is hammered together out of what could well once have been a door. Any designer in a place like that can expect to spend several hours, five days a week, sitting there and working. Anything less than fully adequate seating and desk arrangement is frankly criminal, in my mind.

So I'm thinking very seriously, when my next chunk of money comes in, of buying an Aeron chair off Ebay. I've never heard less than incredible reports about these chairs, but they ain't cheap - they start at about £900 and up; but I've seen them going for less than half that on the auction sites. Mind you, even then, that isn't cheap either. But since I got this cheap (though so far perfectly adequate) executive-style chair out of Staples, I've realised just how much time I spend sitting in this thing. Enough to make me think an investment in an Aeron could be an investment in my health as well.
Here' an interesting post via Boing Boing about the danger of people turning themselves into terrorists by browsing the internet, a dilemma publicly posited by Michael Chertoff, apparently speaking on behalf of the US's Homeland Security (via Reuters):

Disaffected people living in the United States may develop radical ideologies and potentially violent skills over the internet and that could present the next major U.S. security threat, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said on Monday.

"We now have a capability of someone to radicalize themselves over the internet," Chertoff said on the sidelines of a meeting of International Association of the Chiefs of Police. "They can train themselves over the internet. They never have to necessarily go to the training camp or speak with anybody else and that diffusion of a combination of hatred and technical skills in things like bomb-making is a dangerous combination," Chertoff said. "Those are the kind of terrorists that we may not be able to detect with spies and satellites."

Chertoff pointed to the July 7, 2005 attacks on London's transit system, which killed 56 people, as an example a home-grown threat. To help gather intelligence on possible home-grown attackers, Chertoff said Homeland Security would deploy 20 field agents this fiscal year into "intelligence fusion centers," where they would work with local police agencies.

Read it a second time. It actually reads even more stupid the second time. Really.

Now read it a third time; except now, insert the words 'through reading books' wherever you see 'over the internet'. Note also that at no point does he appear to speak of 'the internet' as a means of communication, specifically stating dangerous radicals who browse the net and read stuff don't need to speak to each other. Ever.

It's nice to know if I do ever go to the States, they'll be happy to ask me why I was googling different ways to blow up the Dome of the Rock with a dirty bomb. I don't know. If I tell them I was researching a science fiction novel I never got around to writing, do you think they'd believe me?


Here's an interesting idea for all you bloggers:

One Day in History

Make history with us on 17 October by taking part in the biggest blog in history.

'One Day in History' is a one off opportunity for you to join in a mass blog for the national record. We want as many people as possible to record a 'blog' diary which will be stored by the British Library as http://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifa historical record of our national life.

Write your diary reflecting on how history itself impacted on your day - whether it just commuting through an historic environment, discussing family history or watching repeats on TV.

I'm not sure if this is in some way limited to the UK, given the project is being run by the British Museum - I haven't really had a chance to look for the specific details, but I don't see any reason why I shouldn't go out of my way to write up an entry on that specific date and post it on the History website as well as on my own blog.
Ok, I'm back. I haven't been blogging because there isn't a great deal to report. My back pain is almost gone, but not enough for me not to worry to a certain degree - worries such as, if I go back to my old daily work schedule, will it just get worse again?

But mainly I've been getting back out, something I literally didn't do for the entire summer. I regained my mobility just in time for the nights to turn long and dark. Rats. Still; you'll forgive me if writing blog entries hasn't been on the top of the list of my priorities recently.

Otherwise, I decided to bite the bullet and buy another computer, a desktop this time for the simple reason that writing at a laptop was absolutely killing me. At one point I had sciatica in my lower back, and pain between my shoulder blades too. Something had to give.

So I picked up a Mac Mini on Ebay reasonably cheap - I say 'reasonably' because it was one of the slightly older models with fewer usb ports; but, it had been upgraded to a gig of ram and an eighty gig hard disk, so still a very good deal for the price I got it for. Which I guess makes me a fully fledged mac-head now - and even better, all my back pains are just fading away (helped by the cheap but lumbar-supporting office chair I picked up). I'm used to Mac OsX from my design work anyway. And yes, it pisses all over Windows. Plus, I can't get over how quiet this thing is; it's just ... silent. And tiny. Tiny.

Even better, the current draft of Stealing Light is almost finished. Phil has most of it on holiday with him just now, so I'm waiting on his comments. What he has isn't quite the done deal - there's still a lot of tweaking to be done - but it's still pretty damn close to the finished article.

So yeah, I meant to write up some kind of groundbreaking, paradigm-shattering polemic tying together Iraq, the P2 conspiracy, and the secret symbolism of Mickey Mouse's ears, but I'm sitting here with cold tablets and a cup of coffee, and ... some other time, yeah.


As of now, I'm pretty much cured of my back pain and sciatica problems of the past several months, and about time too. I'm not exactly performing back flips here - as a matter of fact, I'm still taking painkillers - but I can do 'normal' stuff like go shopping in town or meet with friends in the West End or even go to parties without suffering undue stress. I'm still holding back a little bit on running out to get a new day job, since I've learned the hard way not to rush things. Perhaps in the next couple of weeks I can start looking properly.

The nicest thing is literally not lying around all day on my back propped up on cushions. To this end I bought a new 'office' type chair for my return to sitting-up writing and browsing in a sale for only thirty quid; it's not exactly an Aeron super-duper chair, but right now my spine loves me for it.


I was going to write up a review of A Scanner Darkly, which I caught in the company of a friend last Friday, untii I realised to my annoyance Gary Westfahl had written up a far more succinct review of the film on the Locus Magazine website. I agree with pretty much everything Gary says, while nonetheless recognising the elements of the film that some people found (at least marginally) offputting. As clever as the use of rotoscoped animation to reflect the interior lives of a group of drug addicts is, it to me had the drawback of sometimes distancing the emotional effect of the actors by virtue of their features being painted over by the animation (this emotional effect, of course, is not a problem with the star Keanu Reeves, who - as Westfahl points out - is perfect in the role of a brain-damaged, unresponsive junkie).

The other thing I was going to say I had a problem with was, of course, Reeves, a man perfectly capable of destroying many a cinematic project where his peculiar lack-of-presence neither informs nor illuminates the role he is playing, unless of course it's in Bill & Ted, where he plays an idiot, or My Own Private Idaho, where the director somehow coaxes a good performance of him as ... a mostly dumb teen with a vacant expression. But in fact he really is nigh on perfect for the part of Bob Arctor, a man who appears to view the world around him through a particularly thick sheet of frosted glass. All in all, as (I think it was) Al said, it's the first time I've seen a Philip K Dick movie that hasn't been royally fucked about with by people with no idea what Phil Dick was about: it's a labour of love, a Lord of the Rings for fans of literary epics of drug-induced schizophrenia and mental decay.

All of which brings me to my Conspiracy Theory. This is Dick: there's always a conspiracy theory.

Al's already mentioned on his blog my theory that Linklater, the director, used Rotoscoping animation in order to hide Keanu Reeves, who may well have been brought into the project simply as a way to get the green light and also acquire the necessary funding (movie companies like attractive big names like Keanu because it means that whey a guy goes to the cinema to see the film, their girlfriend or partner will come with them. Therefore, extra tickets sold).

This is why I believe this to be the case:

A couple of years ago I caught a feature on the making of A Scanner Darkly on UK television, on an arts programme, during which a journalist interviewed Woody Harrelson and Robert Downey (who is particularly magnificent in the film, by the way). At one point he asked Woody Harrelson how it felt being made into a cartoon.

Harrelson clearly had no idea what the interviewer was talking about and became quite upset and angry. Clearly, nobody had told him the film would be rotoscoped. If Harrelson didn't know, I'll bet you anything Reeves didn't know, and very likely the film's financiers didn't know.

Until it was too late, of course.

But why do such a thing? Well, I first became aware of director Richard Linklater when he made Slackers in the mid-nineties. It was immediately clear from this and subsequent features he was interested in making something a little deeper than what you normally expect from Hollywood and, like many directors with similar aims, he in fact usually works outside of Hollywood (in Austin, Texas, or so I believe) thus placing himself out of easy reach of financiers, agents, producers, studios and the rest of the apparatus of the movie industry. Dick is a lucrative property these days - Total Recall, Minority Report, and so on - so to make a movie of Scanner Darkly may have required a fairly large financial investment, with added 'securities' such as a big name star.

Let's face it - if you were trying to make 'Scanner' and you got lumped with a deadweight like Keanu Reeves, you'd want to Rotoscope the hell out of it. And not tell anyone until it was much, much too late.


Sometime earlier this week, I suddenly started to get better. The back pain started to go away - just like that. It cleared up so much that Tuesday I made it along to a screenwriter's group that meets in the heart of Glasgow, fully expecting to have to turn back when the pain became too much. Or that I might have to leave halfway through the meeting because I could no longer sit in the chairs in the upstairs bar of the GFT cinema where both the sf writers and the screenwriters groups meet on more-or-less alternate Tuesdays.

Instead, I felt just fine. It was an interesting and informative evening. When I left to go home, I walked for a while. I even listened to music on my MP3 player. This is a big deal: I bought the thing about Christmas, and hardly used it because one thing you don't feel like doing when walking around in excruciating pain is listening to music.

I was hoping the screenwriter's group would be mostly about workshopping scripts. Although this is their central remit, it's become more of a networking thing. It appears to be run by John McShane, whom I remember from years ago as heavily involved in the local and national comics publishing scene (he was also behind a well-received comic called The Bogie Man). I can't remember the name of the chap who came along to give a talk about what he does in the film industry, but he's a composer for film and tv and played guitar with Deacon Blue before they became famous. The highlight for me, however, was the showing of a short movie called Fritz (on a laptop propped up on a bar), about seven minutes in length: a Gilliam-esque fantasy about a young boy who discovers a 90 year old German soldier living under his bed, tapping out morse code reports to a long-vanished Third Reich. It was made by a couple of students from Edinburgh College of Art for something like two hundred quid, and very impressive it is too.

I suspect I'll be going back along to this, mainly to keep my interest in screenwriting alive: it's easy to let stuff like that slip when you have things like manuscript deadlines looming. I'm tempted to give a 22-week screenwriting course a shot, but at two hundred quid, I'm nervous about spending the money given the drop in income following my back problems. But maybe.


Sometimes I get stuck with dramatic motivation: when you want a character to do something or else, you need to have a good reason for them to do it. If it's not a good reason, you've lost your reader. They need to be able to identify with the character sufficiently to believe in what you have that character do.

On the other hand, the strict logic of survival is often abandoned in favour of dramatic tension, the classic being: 'hey, let's all split up and look for the monster'. Or, 'I think I'll go into the spooky abandoned house at the end of the street and see what's behind that locked attic door I was told never to attempt to open.'

In real life, there's no way I'm going into the attic. Not without a full army patrol, a couple of tanks, fifteen gallons of holy water and a flame-retardant kevlar body-suit between me and It. At least, that's what you'd do if you're me.

I got thinking about this the other day watching a movie called 'Wag the Dog', in which Robert De Niro (playing a high-level 'fixer' for the US govt.) and Dustin Hoffman (playing a big-time Hollywood producer who resents he's never been recognised for his efforts at making box-office busting productions) co-operate on inventing a war in Albania to distract the voters, a few days prior to a presidential election, from the President's unfortunate behaviour towards a young girl in the Oval Office (amazingly enough, the movie was finished before the Clinton scandals).

Towards the end of the movie (spoiler alert), the job finished despite a number of obstacles, Hoffman's character declares to de Niro he has every intention of collecting on his hard work. He wants the world to know just how well he handled the creation of the phony war, which he now looks upon as the crowning achievement of his career. De Niro reminds him that he can't talk about what he's done, ever. It's worth his life, literally. Hoffman's character retorts he doesn't care about his life, he cares about cementing his reputation.

The producer's death - a supposed heart attack - is inevitable. Yet knowing you would be murdered without hesitation under such circumstances, would any of us really choose to be so remarkably blind to the fatal penalty? It's clear the producer's attempt to claim responsibility for creating a phony war will not end up with the respect he so clearly seeks: he will simply be a dead producer.

Hoffman's character is walking up to the locked attic door, the one with the sound of something heavy shuffling and grunting behind it, with a shiny new key in his hand. Whistling.

But to do otherwise is, unfortunately, insufficiently dramatic. So I understand why the script does what it does. It's the very, very fine balance between that dramatic tension, and what drives that character. Sometimes it's also worth remembering something Harlan Ellison once said - that hydrogen isn't the most common element in the universe: it's stupidity.

One of my favourite stories of all time is called 'The Little Magic Shop', by Bruce Sterling. It takes every one of those cliched conventions - the locked door, the monster in the basement - and gives them a good hard shafting. It's an object lesson in how to defy expectations, and if you can find it, I can guarantee you'll have read one of the best short stories you've ever encountered.


I was talking only recently about the Sony electronic ink (or e-ink) portable text reader: I discovered Sony have a rival in the Irex Iliad E-Reader, which is apparently already available here, at least on order from the continent.

It's not cheap, mind. You're talking the same cost as a cheapish laptop, which might lead some people to question why they might want one. The important consideration to keep in mind here is the screen technology. This is, apparently, nothing like the screen on your laptop or PDA.

When you read a page on a laptop, light is projected from the screen into your eyes. When you read a page in a book, ambient light is reflected from the page and into your eyes. The latter makes for a far, far easier reading experience - it's why we can sit with a book for hours and suffer few problems. Try reading a whole book on a laptop, and you won't last nearly so long.

Since the e-readers rely instead on ambient light, the appearance of text is intended to mimic the printed page, which is one reason why it's so expensive: new technologies only drop in price through mass production. I'm not about to rush out the door to get one myself just yet - cost and the fact it's a new technology are major and obvious factors - but people who need to work with a number of technical manuals in their work are going to love it. So are a lot of students, when they look at the cost and effort of acquiring physical textbooks over a period of several years of study and having them handy.

Another bonus is you can annotate and make notes in the Irex e-reader with a stylus. I think that feature is going to sell it to a lot of people. As an author, it means I can make corrections on a virtual page to an already existing manuscript without necessarily having to haul around either a laptop or a heavy print-out every time I want to work away from home.

Give it a couple of years, and these things will probably be cheap and plentiful. Newspapers are already investigating the technology as they gear up for the changes coming over the next few decades. You can take a look at a video 'review' of the reader over on youtube.

I don't mean to sound too gosh-wow about all this, but I think these devices represent a huge ground-shift for how we deal with text, and one that's coming soon. Personally I thought the Irex ran a little slow, judging by the video, but for one of the first devices of its kind on the market, I still think it's very impressive.
My old mucker Mike Cobley has only gone and scored himself another book deal. He's been talking about this for a wee while - I've been hearing the details of negotiations between himself, his agent, and Darren Nash at Orbit, who's bought the rights to Mike's new trilogy. Whereas his last trilogy - the Shadowkings books - were solidly epic fantasy, the new books are space opera. The collective title is 'Humanity's Fire'. The Shadowkings books were published by Earthlight, an imprint which crashed and burned with some notoriety.


I've been playing around with MySpace recently (there's a link to my profile there on the right, just scroll down). For all its considerable faults, it's this year it seems to have really grabbed hold of a lot of writers. I was steering clear of the site for a long time because I thought it was primarily intended for teenagers - and largely, it is. But there's a very formidable community of genre novelists and the like on there, enough so for me to take the plunge and put a profile up a couple of months ago. David Louis Edelman has a fair bit to say about the site from a programmer's point of view on a recent blog entry.

I've become seriously addicted to www.youtube.com. No, sorry, it's too late for me. Watch this, if you can stand the cheesy eighties metalness of it all. Why? Why, you cry? Well - assuming you're not scarred for life by all the spandex and poodle haircuts, you might just spot a chap in the line-up who subsequently spent several years doing cover art for many UK sf book imprints, and has since moved on to doing installations for rather large fees (or so I understand). I couldn't possibly name the individual concerned - although he's an acquaintance of mine and several other people I know.

On the subject of youtube again: a spot of browsing has located segments from the South Park episode I mentioned recently - particularly Tom Cruise Still Won't Come Out Of The Closet and The Secret Doctrine Of Scientology.

Lastly, I recently had occasion to come across a site maintained by an Australian sf writer Simon Haynes. He's also a programmer - I haven't had time to fully check it out, but he's the author of what appears to be a rather nifty piece of software designed for the express purpose of planning out, organising and writing a novel. Worth checking out, since it looks like it might make the process of writing a book a touch less daunting if you haven't done it before.

Gee, you can tell I've got a lot of spare time on my hands right now, can't you?


After Louise Welsh's The Cutting Room (still very recommended) I read Iain Banks' Canal Dreams, which I somehow missed getting around to all these years. It turned out to be as good as I expected, and as violent as I expected. That was rapidly followed by John Irving's The World According To Garp, which I actually started reading years and years ago but for some reason got distracted from before I could get very far. It's good, but there's something weirdly prissy about Irving's style. Sometimes, language can be too exact. At times, I was reminded of the way various teachers I had encountered in school life had, with few exceptions, stripped the life out of the fiction and music they were supposed to be 'teaching' us. In the end I enjoyed the book, but almost in spite of the language.

Stuck for something to read next, I pulled John Fowles The Magus down from my bookshelves. I have an enormously distant memory of seeing a movie of the book, quite possibly starring Anthony Quinn, on television. The language in The Magus, by contrast with Irving, just flows - I was carried along and felt involved with the story, as opposed to the experience (with Garp) of feeling I was having events described at one remove by a prissy narrator. I'm still Magus, and it's been too long since the last time I read it to know yet if I'll like it more or less than previously.

The Magus is twisty stuff. An english teacher at a school on a remote Greek island encounters a solitary millionaire who claims to be psychic, before leading the teacher through a series of inexplicable, apparently supernormal events (as I vaguely recall) which might be rationally explained away - or might not. In other words, the main character has his understanding of how the world works challenged.

I just ordered Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita - originally a samizdat novel about life in 'thirties Moscow, in which the Master is the Devil, let loose in the land of Stalinism. It wasn't officially published, apparently, until the late sixties, many years after the author's death. It's meant to be a classic, so we'll see.


It's funny the route procrastination can lead you. I was googling around, doing some research, when I somehow found myself led to this Wikipedia entry on Scientology. Funny enough; particularly the bit about the South Park debacle (there's a famous episode of South Park - I haven't seen it - which not only lampoons Scientology, but also Tom Cruise. It's called 'Trapped in The Closet'. 'Nuff said).

Cruise attempted to stop the episode being broadcast; I knew that much. What I didn't know was the the episode of South Park in question also featured an animated dramatisation of the story of Xenu - a deeply, deeply whacked out story of aliens coming to Earth (in, eh, exact replicas of Douglas Dc-8's, apparently ...) some tens of millions of years ago and blowing up a lot of volcanoes. All with the words THIS IS WHAT SCIENTOLOGISTS ACTUALLY BELIEVE plastered across the screen throughout.

I. Need. To. See. This. Episode.

Even better is the statement Trey Parker and Matt Stone made after the episode was initially yanked:

"So, Scientology, you may have won THIS battle, but the million-year war for earth has just begun! Temporarily anozinizing our episode will NOT stop us from keeping Thetans forever trapped in your pitiful man-bodies. Curses and drat! You have obstructed us for now, but your feeble bid to save humanity will fail! Hail Xenu!!!


—Trey Parker and Matt Stone, servants of the dark lord Xenu, Daily Variety"

Trey and Matt, I kiss your shiny pink feet.

PS - every time I invent some nutjob religion for a story, and I worry they're just too bizarre, I'm going to reread that entry.


Signs of change in the part of Glasgow I live in. Unemployment is sky-high, lumps of concrete are regularly chucked out of top floor windows in high rises at passing cars, and entire streets are derelict. I used to live in the West End, which was way more upmarket. So upmarket that the people who made the area what it was - students, artists, writers, booksellers and so forth - can no longer afford to live in that part of town.

Yet amongst all the relative devastation, the BBC will soon open its new headquarters. A new road bridge over the Clyde will provide faster, cheaper access between the West End and the South Side.

And walking down Copland Road today on my way to post a letter, I saw a delicatessen had opened. A delicatessen. Here.

What next? Coffee shops? God, I hope so.


I made a comment on a blog maintained by David Louis Edelman and he asked in return why White Screen of Despair wasn't giving off any atom or rss blogreader feeds. Arse. My knowledge of HTML stems from the hazy days of 3.0, when I designed web pages for a local environmental concern about, eh, 1997 or so? And what little I knew then I've mostly forgotten since.

If anybody out there does read blogs through news feed programs, let me know if this blog can be read through them now - I've made some internal changes to the page. Blogger allows you to set feed preferences, but the template I use is a wildly modified version of a very old Blogger template, and somewhere along the line I've quite possibly accidentally deleted something I needed.

More than likely I've buggered up the repair process as well, but as far as I can tell from my end you can now get a RSS feed of my blog (but not atom, for some reason). If the aforementioned makes sense to you, do try it out and let me know if it doesn't work.


Here's the weird thing: my agent agents my short stories as well as my novels. Why is that? If there's one thing you're told about agents, it's that short stories aren't worth their while in terms of effort versus recompense. Yet she does send them out.

Back before I got a book deal, Dorothy suggested sending a couple of stories to her (to my surprise), on the understandable basis that making a few short sales would draw attention to the novel manuscript then doing the rounds. This would have been about 1998, 1999. They never sold, which to be honest is a good thing, because I went over one of them recently and it was actually pretty sucky. The central idea was still good, but it was weird seeing how much my prose has improved (I heard that. Shut it.) since then.

I just don't write short stories anymore - well, one a year, anyway. And half the time I don't even really get around to sending them out, except perhaps half-heartedly. I just ... can't be that arsed when I can be working on a book.

I hardly even read short stories anymore. In the Eighties, I read a lot of short fiction. I regularly bought Interzone (I bought the first eighty issues or so, bar one early one, which I missed because a specialist bookseller told me it had gone out of business, for reasons entirely peculiar to himself), as well as Asimov's and Analog, pretty much every month. I also used to have a big pile of early Eighties Omni magazines, which introduced me to a lot of writers, particularly William Gibson. I have copies of disappeared publications like Extro (featuring Ian McDonald's first published story), and many others. Now I guess I'm burned out.

Weirdly, the story I just sent Dorothy is a vampire story. It's weird, because I wrote it less than a week after going to a writing workshop and saying something along the lines of, there's no fucking point in writing a vampire story because it's all been done (one notable exception is a novella by Hal Duncan which hasn't seen the light of day yet, which is a shame, because it's very good).

So I wrote a vampire story. Go figure.

I'm thinking about things to do (apart from looking for a new job) once I'm finished with Stealing Light. I fancy having a go at writing a play for radio - something Nigel Kneale-ish; if you remember 'The Stone Tapes', you'll know the kind of thing I mean.
I think I can safely say I'm on the road to recovery, back-wise. It's hard, though, for people to understand this is a bit more than 'a bit of a bad back'. We're not talking a bit of an ache while you're sitting at a desk or lifting up the shopping, we're talking something akin to a heated dagger being inserted with brute force into your spinal column. We're talking nasty.

When I say 'on the road to recovery', I mean I got to the pub on Saturday (with typical irony, the same Saturday a lot of people were in Belfast for Mecon, the con I was supposed to be at that weekend), but still spent half the night lying on my back when the pain of sitting up became too much. But I got out. This doesn't mean my social life is going to become once again a dizzy whirl, it means I can start on a very careful once a week trip out of the south side, and very, very slowly build up to normal. At the beginning of June I figured I'd be okay by mid-July: wildly optimistic. I'll now cautiously say I'll be hopefully most of the way back to normal by, oh, the beginning of October.


Time for another book recommendation. I've been on a non-sf kick at the moment (I need a break) so picked up a couple of interesting novels over the past couple of weeks. One that's particularly impressed my is a first novel by a local writer, Louise Welsh: 'The Cutting Room'. It's essentially a detective story, following a Glasgow auctioneer as he tries to unravel the story behind a series of decades-old photographs found in a dusty attic filled with the treasured porn collection of a recently deceased man with underworld connections. His search - driven by a to him partly inexplicable need to reach through the years to a long-dead woman and try and give her a voice - leads him through Glasgow's darkest alleyways.

I tried to think of a bunch of superlatives to describe why I liked this book so much, but all that really matters is it's hard to put down. Yeah, it's a cliche, but no less true. The flavour is distinctly noir and, being set in Glasgow, features places and names with a strong ring of familiarity. Welsh has a new book out, Bullet Trick - already added to the shopping list.


The first half of this week was pretty bad again backpain-wise, but it's started to pick up once more, and I'm thinking of venturing out beyond the South Side once more (I was out a couple of times last week, just very brief forays into town on the subway, but I've stayed put the past several days). Mind you, this is the weekend of the Belfast con I was supposed to be a guest at, which limits my options a wee bit since a lot of people are over there.

The thing that seems to be helping now is resting, and not exercising. This worries me a little, since overcompensation due to pain can lead to some very sore muscles, and I feel like I should be doing something. But perversely enough, after a couple of weeks back there of fairly intensive, if relatively gentle exercising, its reached the point where doing exercises seems to increase the pain, not lessen it. I'm sort of hoping this means I'm past a certain curve, and I can now just let my body get on with healing itself.


I've got to be honest, I'm drooling for one of Sony's new ebook devices* when they come on the market. It's going to bring a potentially huge amount of text my way that's otherwise difficult or a pain in the arse for me to obtain in printed form - particularly out of copyright books, classic texts and CC works by people like Cory Doctorow and Peter Watts that, yes, are obtainable online, but like most people I know I hate, hate, hate reading prose off a regular screen.

The important thing about Sony's new ereader is according to reports so far, it comes very close indeed to reproducing the sensation of reading normal printed paper: it's not backlit, in other words, so you'll need to have the lights on to use it. It'll inevitably have a text resize option that'll be heaven sent for anyone with bad or failing eyesight (I have a small, non-growing cataract in one eye, and a plastic lens in the other). And besides, it appeals hugely, gigantically to my need for gadgets. Imagine, I mentioned to someone doing a university course, how nice it would be to have everything you need stored on something the size of a paperback book instead of lugging half a ton of books around campus.

This device likely also represents the sound of an enormous thudding hammer sounding the future for authors like me. It's going to be very interesting, seeing how we adapt to the challenges of this new technology. I suspect the major street bookstores have very little to worry about over the next couple of decades, in the sense that paper books and online works will remain side by side for a good bit to come. On the other hand, I think the newspapers - particularly the broadsheets - are going to have to think hard about what's coming.

Change is good: stasis is death. That, if anything, is the core philosophy of science fiction. For writers, the question may be whether to adapt or die. It may kill some of us off, or it may provide a huge new market and a golden age for fiction. But here's something I've been wondering about - art, including the written word, is a response both to the culture that produces the art, and to the way technology changes that culture. Is it possible that at the heart of electronic paper lies a new fictional paradigm - that in some intrinsic aspect of this technology lies a new way of writing, of engaging/involving the reader?

Off the top of my head, I can think of two ways this might go - Mark Danielewski's superb, ground-breaking House of Leaves is one. This actually started life as a series of online documents that created the creepy sensation of having stumbled across something real, Blair Witch style. TV shows like Lost are another: the producers run online text/interactive games that explain some facets of the show that hint at a greater story. So maybe it'll be some form of interactive, multiple-level story - a story, say, where you have to search the 'net for clues to what happens next in the narrative: or maybe it'll be something else altogether. For writers, the next ten or twenty years is bound to get very interesting.

*Keeping in mind this is Sony, of course, who like to install secret software on your computer and who don't like me listening to some cd's or watching some movies on my laptop which, frankly, really, really fucks me off.


When I first contracted to Tor, cover design questions came up: what was going on the cover? One of my many suggestions was simply to have Big Fucking Spaceships on the cover of Angel Stations, with Shit Blowing Up in the backdrop. Partly this developed from a sense that I was part of a long and grand tradition of authors whose books featured Big Fucking Spaceships with Shit Blowing Up somewhere behind them, although this admittedly grew out of a childhood inability to recognise the frequent inappropriateness of this form of illustration when wrapped around a book by, say, Christopher Priest or JG Ballard.

However, the covers I got for the stuff I've done so far were pretty bloody wonderful, particularly the design for Against Gravity, which actually hangs on my wall. They weren't really, at heart, Big Fucking Spaceship books. Not really. Even though they both did have Big Fucking Spaceships in them.

So anyway, I got an email today, about the cover design they're working on for Stealing Light: it looks like I'm going to get that Big Fucking Spaceship with Shit Blowing Up after all. Which makes sense, because Stealing Light is clearly a BFS with SBU kind of book.

Previously, I wrote the book and then they came up with the cover art, but the fact they're working on it a good few months prior to the deadline suggests to me perhaps they're looking at getting this one out on the shelves a tad earlier than I'd previously suspected. Under normal circumstances I'd have had a new book coming out round about now to go with the paperback release of Against Gravity, but figuring out just what Tor wanted from me (not stories about jazz-obsessed experimental drug-taking '60's period abstract artists helping tinfoil hat wearing mole men under NY's Grand Central Station prevent an attack by Nazis from the Fourth Dimension, apparently) took a while.

Back update: still better, but not quite enough. Like I said, I got out during the day a couple of times last week for some very brief trips into town, but the back is feeling a bit more sore again this week. I actually got as far as stepping out the front door on Saturday night before admitting to myself I was in enough pain I'd end up with a lot more pain if I tried doing the socialising thing. So back in I went, to spend yet another Saturday night on painkillers and watching TV. Which was, shall we say, a touch depressing.

One thing I've been warned of is rushing back into normal activity too quickly, but I've also been advised it's best to get as much exercise as possible. But finding the balance between these two is a matter of personal guesswork. I wanted to try and make it along to a new screenwriting group I found on Tuesday evening, but I'm not going to know if I'm up to that until the time comes. Perhaps I should save myself for next weekend, and see if I'm any better.


I watched the news over the last couple of days - Israel, Afghanistan, the Lebanon, global warming - over and over again, one central question assumed a greater importance than any other. What the hell was that music playing over the obligatory chase sequence in Scooby Doo this afternoon? Am I the only one weirded out by hearing post-grunge over a cartoon dog being chased by a mummy in Cairo?

Next week, and I'll be considering the value of waterwings in a world flooded by the melting of the ice caps.

PS - yes, I do have a life, it just doesn't get to go outdoors very often right now.
I just tripped over a search engine I've never used before, and it's the first time in a very long time I've come across one that appears to have genuine advantages over google: instead of simply presenting you with a list of relevant results, it 'clusters' results into a column of distinct categories, which means tracking down information that's actually relevant to what you're looking for suddenly becomes infinitely easier. clusty.com.
One of the signs I'm getting better is when I actually do stuff like, like, clean the kitchen. A really good sign is when I manage to get on the subway without keeling over, go to Fopp in the city centre, and get back home without the idea of calling an ambulance crossing my mind (not that my leg didn't still hurt quite a lot). Possibly it's time to start looking around for that new day job: I need to call someone next week to pick their brains about a possible change in daytime career.

The other sign I'm getting better is, I'm getting bored. The more I'm able to get around, the more stuck in the house I feel. Argh.


Here's an interesting blog I tripped across, by a copy editor for some of the major US imprints in the States: deannahoak.com. Interesting to see some of the company she keeps - and interesting to read a perspective from inside the industry that doesn't come directly through another writer.

Update: a quick google on copy editors and sf turns up a couple more blogs - most notably this one, by John Joseph Adams of F&SF.
There's an excellent article in today's Guardian (which also features a review of H/al's Vellum) about the growth of internet drama and comedy in a week during which (as I only vaguely recall, being too lazy to reach over for the relevant article situated three inches from my right foot and next to the remains of my lunch) the lowest ever ratings for television viewing in the US, apparently, have been recorded. Which statistic leads some to suspect that television may be ailing under the onslaught of gaming, free internet content, and various other distractions.

The article mentioned Jesus Christ Supercop. He's the messiah, he's armed, and he's on the track of gun smugglers. "Stigmata ... I must be getting close ..."


Books: It's Friday, July 21st, so the mass market of Against Gravity must be out today! Not that I can get into town to find it, mutter mutter ... Pan/Tor have made up for the lack of cover quotes on the paperback edition by putting the quotes up on the book's page on the Pan Macmillan site, which is at least a step forward. Although if you're reading this, you already know what the quotes are, because they're in the column to the right of this one.

I've had one or two queries from the States about where they can find the book ... according to US Amazon, it's available for order, even if it isn't actually published there. If anyone's actually spotted it in any real-world bookshops on that side of the Atlantic, it would be nice to know, and I can maybe put up a list of where it can be found. You can also buy it through the Canadian Amazon (Update: I glanced back at the Canadian site and noticed the book isn't available until September 1st ... not sure why).

Unfortunately, I now note, there are mistakes. The US Amazon lists Against Gravity as a hardcover: it isn't. I also note, disturbingly enough, that another book with the same name, about motor racing by a chap called Edward McCabe, has the cover of my book displayed ...

On another related note, the Spanish edition of Against Gravity should be out later this year. I haven't found any details on the publisher's site, but they should be up closer to publication.

A couple of weeks ago Pan/Tor asked me for an updated biography for their website and future books. The old bio mentioned stuff like, writing since fourteen, used to be a magazine editor (ancient history now), yadda yadda. Boring. So I changed it to:

Gary Gibson lives in Glasgow. He has successfully avoided proper jobs for the majority of his adult life.

Or words to that effect ... I can't remember it exactly offhand, but I think that's it.

Update on the back: definitely improving. Crawling around on my hands and knees is now a thing of the past, though I'm far from fully mobile. I still get a lot of pain, but at least I can move around the house now, and get to the shops around the corner. I think the McKenzie exercises are helping - I've been doing them for about two weeks now. Now, it's a slow countdown to whichever weekend I think I might actually be able to go out again. Apart from one or two trips to an osteopath in the west end (most of which was invisible to me, as the only way to avoid terminal agony in the rear of the taxi was to lie flat in the rear seat, with my knees bent), I haven't seen anything beyond the immediate few blocks around my house in oh, a couple of months.

The better I get, though, the worse the stir-craziness gets. Yet I know I have to keep taking it very, very easy for some time yet: going out on any major expeditions (and by major expeditions, I mean getting the subway into town and popping into a couple of shops) could set me back if I'm not careful. I suspect I won't get out this weekend coming, and likely not the one after that. But if things keep improving as fast as they have been, perhaps the weekend after that.


Although it's been a few weeks since American billionaire Warren Buffett decided to give something like thirty-seven billion dollars to charity, and as much as I genuinely admire the motivation behind it, something's been niggling at me about it for a while. It took me until now to figure out what it is.

The fact is, if you had thirty seven billion dollars to hand, and you were anything like me, then attempting (say) to cure world hunger, end poverty, eradicate disease and so forth would seem like the best possible idea. Yet the fact remains that were I in possession of a similar sum of money, I might - under duress - be forced to admit that alternative ways of spending the money might have occurred to me first.

I've heard people say with justification that beyond a certain point wealth does not bring happiness. This is true, otherwise I wouldn't be committing financial suicide by becoming a writer. However: the main problem with being rich, for me, would be this: 'rich' just isn't enough.

Oh no. For the things I'd want, I'd need to be Buffet rich. So consider the following - my top four ways to spend an unfeasibly vast sum of cash, in reverse order.

4: Buy a country.
Somewhere small, I think. In South America, or Africa. Or buy a bit of a country and take it over. In fact, you'd probably have a lot of change left over - just enough, say, to try out all kinds of lunatic utopian ideals. Like most sf writers I have, shall we say, ideas of alternative societies coming out the wazoo.
And I would name it Garystan.

3: A personal fleet of space shuttles (ISS optional, depending on how long before it goes seriously white elephant and either burns up over Woomera or gets sold to the Chinese)
Because let's face it, you could afford it. And it would be too much fun pimping them up. Interior leather and zero gravity parties? Definitely.

2: Finance a commercial moon landing.
Not to personally take part, just to finance it. Just so I can feel like a bit player in a Robert Heinlein novel.

1: Build an undersea base (my favourite).
A really big one. With submarines styled after old In Like Flint movies, I think. Also with lots of technical personnel in silver hard hats riding around on little buggies going nowhere in particular. Just because I could. Besides, when I got bored with it, I could always rent it out.


And there it is - a hundred or so words on the paperback edition of Against Gravity (out in a week or so! If the bookshops haven't already just stuck it out on the shelves anyway), in today's Guardian newspaper. Here's hoping it boosts the sales a bit. You can find the review here, though you'll have to scroll down to see it. I love that Eric's described the book's denouement as 'brutally secular'. Here's a snippet:

In his second futuristic thriller, Gary Gibson builds on current trends to produce a convincing picture of the world in 2096 ... throughout, Gibson hints at spiritual salvation, but in keeping with the unrelenting materialism of the novel the denouement is brutally secular.

I should get business cards printed up saying Author - Writer - Brutal Secularist. In fact, it sounds like something you could get done for: 'Brutal Secularism'. Like I got medieval on God's ass.

(Update) All right ... a quick glance at the Amazon UK ranking for the mass market paperback shows it sitting nice and comfy in the top three thousand. That gets updated every hour, mind you, so it'll probably bounce all over the place ratings-wise, but I like to think the review will be helping. Like Cory Doctorow pointed out recently, an author's biggest worry isn't the potential effects of digital piracy, it's obscurity. If people don't know about your book, they ain't gonna buy it.


What do you know, my copy of Writing Magazine came through the post today, with my name on the cover - and my photo (from an interview I did for Agony Column a couple of years ago). Aaargh .... if I'd thought they were actually going to put my face on the cover of the magazine, I'd have tried to get a better picture than some random snapshot. I've been meaning for a couple of years to go down to London so Tor's photographer can do a 'proper' photoshoot for their publicity, but I never got round to it and, with the sciatica, I'm not likely to get there any time soon either.
Sigh ... that's me officially had to bow out of this year's Mecon convention in Belfast at the start of August, which to put it incredibly mildly, is kind of disappointing. Still, Hal will be there, flying the Glasgow flag as it were, even if I won't be. However, Michael Perkins left me an open invite for Mecon 10 next year, about the same time, which might be good timing since there's a good chance Stealing Light will either just be out by then or about to come out. Still. Arse.


So I have a piece in the August issue of 'Writing Magazine', which should be out about now, in a regular column called 'My Writing Day' (the cover to the left there is for the previous issue, so I guess they don't have the newest one up yet). It's the yakety-yak you'd expect along the lines of: get up, eat food, lounge about, scratch my arse, watch tv, then frantically bang out about three thousand words of red-hot prose starting about quarter to midnight when the guilt trip really settles in. Don't know if my name is on the cover of the August issue (they're sending me a copy which, with prayers to the dark and sacrificial Gods of the Post Office, should come through to me sometime soon), but it certainly would be nice if it was.


I've been rigorously following the exercises in Robin McKenzies' 'Treat Your Own Back', doing a variety of sit ups and rolls ever hour and a half or two hours, six to eight times a day. I think it's making a difference - though I've said that before, about other treatments. Still, I'm feeling positive: I've had serious back problems for about six months now, during which my sciatica has pretty much dominated my life. It'll probably be at the very least another week before I can be sure it's having the effect I think it might be having. I've got a lot of very tired, very sore muscles that haven't had much exercise since before June.
Yay for me. I just got a mail through from science fiction writer Eric Brown - surely one of the most productive authors I've ever had the pleasure to meet. His output of stories and novels strikes me as downright phenomenal. Eric's written a short review of Against Gravity for The Guardian, due to appear in the Saturday Review section of the paper on the last Saturday in July. To my knowledge, this will be my first review in a broadsheet. Thanks Eric!


Stuck for something to read last night, I tripped across a book called 'The Screenwriter's Workbook' by Syd Field and pulled it down. His approach would probably strike most writers as brutally structuralist, being as it is an approach to creating the standard three act/two plot point movie script, but for all that I've always found his stuff good for inspiration regardless of what I'm actually writing. Like he says himself, writing a script (or in my case a book) is a little like climbing a mountain in the sense that you're aware of the rock immediately below you and the one immediately above you, but you're not aware of the whole mountain. You just deal with each small situation at the time and forget the rest. The Workbook is like having the opportunity to take a step back and take a look at the way something is built, in terms of its underlying structure. Stealing Light is without doubt the most carefully structured thing I've ever worked on, and it's an approach I believe is working for me.

The McKenzie book on back exercises came through the post today and, as I suspected, it's pretty much the same as the exercises the NHS physio gave me a couple of months ago. Those worked at the time, but then I got worse again. Probably, in retrospect, because I was still doing a sucky job sitting in a crap chair at a desk, a substantial portion of which, I suspect, started life as a door.

Again, things are improving, slowly: I tried one or two of the exercises this morning and did in fact feel some improvement, so perhaps all the online praise does indeed count for something. The nice thing about having the book is it explains why your back is the way it is. The physio I had was nice enough, but had a bad habit of forgetting she wasn't talking to another physio and flinging a horrendous variety of technical terms at me before flinging me, really none the wiser, out the door again.


There I was wondering what the hell the music was in that Becks beer commercial that's been running here in the UK; a bit of googling reveals it's The Flaming Lips, a band I really don't know much about beyond seeing them recently on Jools Holland and thinking they were pretty interesting - particularly when they did a cover of War Pigs. Any recommendations for what I should listen to?
Well, time to stop whining about missing reviews and get to the important stuff, like - my second book is finally coming out in mass market paperback in just a couple of weeks (July 21st, as a matter of fact. Did I mention that? Did I?). This, of course, is very, very good. In the meantime, I'm still not working dayjob-wise, but I recently stumbled across a book called 'Treat Your Own Back', by a Robin Mckeie, and ordered it online. It's a series of exercises for my form of back pain which seems to have endless plaudits on both the US and UK Amazon sites. So, worth a shot.

In a way I haven't minded being stuck in the house literally all day until now for the simple reason there's really very little I could do about it. But it is starting to really, really bug me now. It's a heatwave or something out there, but I'll be damned if I can tell from in here. I had a MRI scan on Tuesday morning, however, so the results from that should come back in about a week's time. If I can avoid surgery I will, and to be honest there has been a gradual, if slight improvement since the start of June when I had to give up working. Up until the weekend there I was feeling definite improvement, but it seems to be a whole two steps forward, one step back kind of thing. I get better for a bit, have a relapse, but don't end up quite as bad as I was. Right now it's in a relapse kind of stage, but I'm hoping I'll be better again this time next week.

There's a terrific article by Cory Doctorow on the importance of blogs on the Locus website ('Science Fiction is the Only Literature People Care Enough About to Steal on the Internet'), and 'tis entirely true, I do believe, what he has to say: that blogs, by allowing a more direct, more personal contact with people who just might read your books, create a kind of relationship between the reader and the writer that just didn't exist prior to the internet. Anyway, it's worth checking out. I do find myself wondering sometimes, beyond the immediate circle of friends and family (and a few writers and the like far, far away who have previously announced their presence)whom I believe read this with some regularity, just who else checks this blog out from time to time ...

And here's another thing that sucks: just as my back gives out, what might be my perfect job comes to me through the automatic jobs update I get from the Scottish employment site s1jobs.com. Somebody out there in Glasgow is apparently looking for a layout designer for their publications. I love doing layout design for publications. Maybe I could crawl into the interview on all fours, get the job, buy an Apple laptop and do the work from home ... no? - still, nice idea ...


Right, that explains the Mystery of the Missing Book Quotes. They got lost in the system. And, apparently, it's not the first time it's happened - the standard case of too many cooks, I think, a situation you find in any large business where the amount of noise in the pipeworks can equal the amount of real information. The chain of communication that caused the reviews to go awol has apparently now been repaired - but too late for me, it seems.

So it goes, as Mr Vonnegut would likely say.

Still, I got a list of the reviews that should have been in there via email - including one I had absolutely no prior awareness of: from the popular science magazine Focus, published by the BBC:‘Eventful, full of intriguing detail and fast paced’. Well, that's one I never saw, so I guess I'll have to track it down ... and stick it up in the hall of fame in the right hand column of the blog while I'm at it, I guess.


Arse and double arse. The hinges on the screen of my laptop are well and truly on the way out, which is not the kind of thing you want to happen when you'd rather spend most of your time lying on your back and waiting to get better. Though I am getting better - very, very slowly. I have three choices: go back to this awkward half on my front position for writing (and no, desktop machines aren't an option, you have to be able to sit in a chair for that), find a way to fix the hinges on my Advent 7060 (cheaply) ... or buy a new laptop. And laptops are at least getting cheaper.

The current plan is once I'm back to normal (and I think I will be, even if it'll be the end of the summer by the time I get there), to go back to full time design and typesetting work, at least for a while. I don't feel too worried about being able to at least find something.

It's pretty much a dead cert I won't make it to my younger brother's wedding in early July because of the sciatica, and although I was hoping it might clear up by early August so I could make it to Mecon where I am, after all, one of several writer-guests, I'm beginning to have doubts about that as well. Even if I could make it, and even if I was well enough, it might be putting too much stress on my spine when I should be taking it easy. In the meantime, though, I'm going to play it by ear - and email the con organisers real soon (if they don't see this entry here) and warn them if that's still likely to be the case.

Missing out on a con you've actually been invited to as a writer, it has to be said, sucks quite enormously. No, worse than that. I love the idea of being a guest at a con - and now it's happened, I wind up spending most of my day crawling around on my hands and knees and not going anywhere fast ...

And yes, it is mostly sitting around in a bar or doing the occasional con item, but even the simplest things - like, say, sitting, walking, and so on - are a bit outside my remit at the moment. I realised this after winding up on a walking stick after attending a con about fifteen minutes walk from my front door. When you're having this much trouble, it's time to, er, lie down and take notice ...

Funny thing about something like this happening is how quickly you notice other people are having the same problem. Sarah Ash was talking about her walking difficulties recently in the new Deep Genre blog. Sciatica turned up in a Simpson's episode on tv the other day, and in a couple of other shows. Apparently, back problems are also the number one reason people for people to wind up on disability benefits in this country. So there you go.


Somewhere in the continuing reports of the missing simulacra of Philip K. Dick, still awol somewhere in the United States, and on the eve of the release of the movie version of A Scanner Darkly (which I look forward to with great and considerable anticipation, being something of a fan of much of director Richard Linklater's work, to the degree that I believe he can overcome the horror of Keanu Reeves in the lead role, concerning which I have a Theory) lies the germ of a terrific short story which, again, alas, I will probably never write. Picture it hitching a ride to Orange County and suffering visions.

I think I'm getting better! I can still hardly walk, but there are definite and clear signs of improvement. The osteopath might be responsible, or the very gentle exercises: maybe both, maybe neither. I even made it into Stravaigin's post-spinal manipulation late Friday afternoon to grab a late lunch, read some papers, and enjoy actually being out of the house for the first time in weeks. Mind you, most of the time I was on my back in a booth with my head propped up, but still, call it progress.


The back is feeling slightly, very slightly better. Overall it feels like there's an improvement, but by 'improvement' I mean I can walk twenty metres before the crippling pain kicks in, as opposed to ten. I've got my fourth visit to the osteopath tomorrow afternoon. After that, I'm giving up since I'm increasingly sure I'm not getting any benefit from it. I feel exactly the same after each session as I did before, except poorer.

What has helped, is very gently returning to most, if not all, the physiotherapy exercises, performed two or three times a day, for about five minutes at a time. Very gentle stretching of the muscles, and so forth. But yes, a mild improvement, which cheers me up no end.

I got two copies of the mass market paperback of Against Gravity through from Tor today, and I'm not happy. I'm not happy because when I saw the cover on its own for the mass market, at Eastercon earlier this year, I was assured the reason there weren't any quotes from the reviews I'd read was because they'd decided to put them on the inside of the book instead. So I cracked open the book and ... no reviews, no pull quotes telling you what a terrific book it is, nothing. All there is is the same, out of date bio about being a designer and writing since the age of fourteen. Like, who cares? I've got a web address for that - www.garygibson.net. That, plus a couple of good review quotes, would be far better.

It isn't even like the first time something like this has happened either. I feel kind of churlish for complaining - but the fact is, when you spend a year or more working really, really hard on something that's sprung completely out of your own imagination, when hours a day are spend wondering and worrying over every minute detail, trying to get it right, you want your stuff to get treated with at least reasonable respect. All I'm saying is, when I pick up a book by an author I haven't read, I often check out the pull quotes. They can sometimes motivate me to buy a book. That's why they're there, to sell you the book.

Back when Angel Stations came out, I vaguely recall, they didn't leave enough room for the acknowledgements. So I had to write a much shorter version of it, missing out people, to fit in a much smaller space on another page with other information on it. I'm reaching back here memory-wise, but I do seem to recall being told the full thing would be in the mass market. It wasn't.

I should be happy to have the mass market paperbacks in my hand, but all this has kind of taken the edge off it for me.