Mondo 2000

Back in the early 90s, when I was in my mid-20s, I bought a lot of magazines. A lot of magazines. Quite a few I still have. Others, like the Asimov's and Analog's I bought through the 80s, have largely gone, apart from a few favoured issues. Also remaining is my collection of the first eighty or so issues of Interzone. Those formed such a fundamental part of my reading experience I don't see myself ever letting go of them.

But I also bought publications rarely if ever remembered now. To a great extent, these magazines, and others, were superseded by the internet. At that time, in the early 90s, technology had progressed to the point where it was possible to do relatively cheap, fast but professional-looking graphics and typographical layout on a computer, opening the gates to a veritable revolution in budget magazine design. It allowed any number of publications that were previously simply typed up and photocopied to gain a professional sheen, regardless of how small the print run or how cheaply produced. I got on the bandwagon myself, working on various minuscule titles as editor, publisher, contributor and designer, all at once and in all kinds of combinations. That led me to do a course in graphic design. That led in turn to me getting freelance work on a local music publication. That led in turn to working in a printshop, in a desperate attempt to escape the slave-fiefdom Borders Books I had been trapped in for a year and a half.

Amongst those magazines I still have are sf magazines like Extro, which appeared at the same time as Interzone, and lasted three issues. Purportedly, a major distributor binned an entire run of the magazine in order to make room for some other publication, and there was apparently little they could do about it. One of those issues contains the first published short story by Ian McDonald. There were others, infinitely less interesting, like Nexus and ProtoStellar, which lasted either one or two issues. Much more worthy, in my opinion, are my collections of US publications like New Pathways, Aboriginal SF, SF Age and others, which respectively lasted dozens of issues.

Also amongst that collection are the likes of SF Eye, Omni and Mondo 2000, each of which have had the term 'cutting edge' applied to them at various times. I've started selling many of these magazines off, but pulling them out and photographing them in order to put them on Ebay does give me an opportunity to revisit them. I even have print issues of Boing Boing before it uploaded itself. Mondo 2000 in particular is interesting because much of what was in this distinctly non-mainstream magazine in the early 90s is now very much the mainstream.

For instance: there's a 1991 issue featuring Debbie Harry on the cover. A lot of the articles inside focus on hacking, government intervention, phreaking, and a whole variety of related stuff like members of the Legion of Doom, Virtual Reality 'street tech' (in 1991?!), 'computer graphics (read 'swirly fractals'), and fashion articles with dresses covered in prints of Aleister Crowley. Not to mention editorials and articles by Robert Anton Wilson and William Burroughs. A veritable cornucopia, you might say, of early 90s counterculturalism bashing head-on into retrospectively primitive computer technology. At the time, I couldn't get enough of stuff like this. Even so, I did recently see an image from an issue of the magazine of a 'cyberpunk' loaded down under a mountain of gear, all of it carrying out a whole range of functions nowadays available squeezed into a handheld smartphone.

(It just occurred to me someone should take William Gibson's 'Neuromancer' and replace all of the imagined technology with the real, modern variety. I suspect it might not be that hard to pull off).

Anyway, all of these magazines are gradually getting sold off. Some are rare enough I'm making more off selling them than they cost me in the first place, and they weren't exactly cheap even back then. They have to go, partly because it seems a shame to lock them into a cupboard for the years I'll be back in Taiwan, and partly because a part of me wants to reduce the mountain of stuff that's accumulated around me over the years. And to be honest, in some cases, it's not actually that hard to find scanned PDF's of these publications floating around online...and if I ever do re-read them, then, it's more likely to be on the screen of a tablet than a physical artefact held in my hands. 


My current favourite displacement activities

There are two of them: cycling is the main one, with photography sneaking up on the outside.

I think I get the same thing out of cycling some writers claim to get out of running, with the exception that I consider the latter to be a form of torture. I've gone running in the past, but more with a sense of steely determination than anything resembling enjoyment. I rarely last long.

Cycling is different. I've always cycled, and unlike driving, you can start from around the same age you start walking. One of the first things I bought with money from Angel Stations was my Ridgeback hybrid, and that's been carrying me around Glasgow for about ten years. I took driving lessons back in the mid-90s and hated it. After about a dozen lessons that were going nowhere I never wanted to sit behind the wheel of a car again. And now, with rising fuel prices and self-driving cars just over the horizon, getting a licence now just seems kind of pointless.

Put me on a bicycle and it's a different matter. Just in the past year, however, it began to slide into something closer to obsession, I think in part because it's an opportunity to get out of the house and into the open. It's also a reflection of my improving health. If you suffer from a relatively minor but nonetheless debilitating illness, it can sap you of the desire to even walk out your front door much of the time, which is why in many ways writing is the perfect work for me. The fact I've been going out almost every day to cycle in the past several months is a clear sign of improvement.

Then I had a sudden hankering to get myself a half-decent point and click camera. I've rarely taken photographs, so this came as a surprise even to myself, but on reflection the reasons are clear. 1: it's another reason to get out of the house. 2: there have been too many occasions when I've wished I had a half-decent camera to take pictures. 3:  the basic low-resolution camera on my cheap-as-chips smartphone is never going to cut it.

There's another reason, which is my impending return to Taiwan for an extended period of time. Taiwan is an eminently photographable place. If I'd had a decent camera last time round, I might have taken a lot more and a lot better pictures.

This is the first picture I took outside with the camera - a Canon Powershot SX220, since you ask, got via Ebay for a song. And, yes, I'm aware it's an amateurish shot. That's because I'm a desperately amateurish photographer. I don't care. I hadn't even yet discovered you had to hold the button halfway down for a few moments so the camera could correctly focus before clicking. But, still. It's my bike, next to the Clyde, on a damp October afternoon. I read a few online guides to taking better snapshots after I got home and, believe me, this is the best of the bunch. Given time, maybe I'll improve.

In the meantime, I'm finally trying to get myself into gear for the next book. I have a halfway-to-rough idea of its shape, and the next step is to knock together a coherent, detailed outline. The first book is called EXTINCTION GAME, and this next one will follow on directly from that. For the moment it's untitled, but if it turned out to be called 'EXTINCTION [something or else]', I wouldn't be too surprised. 


Plans and Agents

Well, it's certainly been an interesting couple of weeks. Shortly before I completed and submitted Extinction Game - that being the next book you're going to get from me in late 2014 - I heard word from my agent, Dorothy Lumley, that she wasn't well. As in, really unwell. I had to read between the lines a little because Dorothy had that very English way of understating things even when things were really, really bad. Bad as in cancer, it turned out. I'd barely found out before word spread through social media that Dorothy had, in fact, passed away, only weeks after informing me her agency - for reasons, again, that were implicit rather than stated forthright - would soon be wrapping up.

Naturally, this came as a shock. Even though I've only ever met Dorothy a few times in the flesh, she's been my agent since, I think, 1997, and was responsible for selling Angel Stations to Tor UK in 2003 (published in 2004). Without her, I might never have had a career. I guess she must have believed in me to have kept plugging away all those years until something finally sold. Occasionally she would venture into the far North and Glasgow, to meet not only myself but various crime writers she represented scattered across Scotland. We'd have a very pleasant chat over tea and scones. To be honest, I really thought she'd be around for forever, more or less. Not only that, I gradually came to realise over the years I had really, really lucked out in finding Dorothy. She was an exemplary agent. You hear so many stories about bad agents. Well, take everything bad about them and Dorothy was the precise opposite.

So now I find myself in the interesting position of not having an agent. I don't know if the agency still technically exists - another agency is taking care of putting Dorothy's business into probate. At some point, I guess, I might get a letter officially setting me free. After that, either I'll hunt out another agent...or I won't. That's something I haven't made up my mind about. When I first got an agent, it was because I wanted to sell a book. Great. Job done. Now I'm selling books regularly to a particular publisher, which is an entirely different kettle of fish. And while there may well be certain advantages to having agent representation, if I do get another agent, I'm going to need to know exactly what they could do for me outside of just signing my cheques and taking a percentage of my income. That, I could do myself. The question now is, what can an agent do for a writer who is already to some extent established?

As you'll guess, I'm far from having made my mind up about anything.

On top of that, we - my wife and  I - are planning on returning to Taiwan early next year for at least another couple of years. That means sorting out my flat, renting it out, and dealing with a hundred and one other things as well as trying to work out the plot for the sequel to Extinction Game. But I'm looking forward to the return trip.

Meanwhile, Marauder seems to be doing quite well. The hardback, last I heard, is already into its second printing. The price on all my ebooks available through Amazon, Kobo, and elsewhere mysteriously dropped to ridiculously low prices, helping to boost their sales, which makes me happy. For instance, Stealing Light is currently only £1.32 on Kindle, and similarly low elsewhere. Curiously, this doesn't mean my publisher and I get less money for it - we get the same money. So it's a win-win situation. If you want to try out my ebooks, you get them dirt cheap, and we still get our money. How long this situation may continue I cannot remotely begin to guess. So if you ever fancied trying some of my stuff and haven't, now is the time.

Edit: I just remembered something. Back before I sold Angel Stations, Dorothy asked me to send her short stories for her to try and sell to the magazines. Let me be clear - this never happens. She was that determined to raise my profile in some way that would see me sell books. I've told people this in the past and they clearly had a hard time believing an agent was willing to represent short stories. That's how good an agent Dorothy was. Believe me, she earned her 10%.