Wednesday, 22 June 2022

…And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead. That, and T-Shirt Sales.

...is the title of my contribution to Mystery and Horror LLC's ninth 'Strangely Funny' anthology, release date tbc.


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2084 - The Meschera Bandwidth

2084. The world remains at war.

In the Eurasian desert, twenty-year old Adnan emerges from a coma with memories of a strictly ordered city of steel and glass, and a woman he loved.

The city is the Dome, and the woman... is Adnan's secret to keep.

Adnan learns what the Dome is, and what his role really was within it. He learns why everybody fears the Sickness more than the troopers. And he learns why he is the only one who can stop the war.

Persuaded to re-enter the Dome to implant a virus that will bring the war machine to its knees, the resistance think that Adnan is returning to free the many - but really he wants to free the one.

24 0s & a 2

Twenty-four slipstream stories.  Frequently absurd, often minimifidian, occasionally heroic.

Saturday, 4 June 2022

Stay classy

I have, for the last year and half or so, been a member of the British Science Fiction Association.  You'd think, being British and a writer of science fiction of reasonably long standing, I'd have been a member for years.  However, I've long struggled with the notion of what such an association is for, given that, for most, the production of written science fiction is a solitary activity, excepting the popular parlour game 'Drabble'.  It's not as though they give you more direct line of sight to publishers or agents, which would be of value to me.  Yes, I suppose if we were all knee-deep in TV or movie science fiction, then we'd need to be more collaborative, but wouldn't working in that milieu make that happen anyway?  And as for discussing the consumption and enjoyment of science fiction, isn't that what pubs and beer are for?  Deeper analysis than that risks treating genre fiction as having more explanatory power or meaning than it has.  I mean, the vast, vast majority of the time we're just trying to entertain.  End of.

The BSFA's publication Vector shows what happens when it's-just-a-bit-of-fun is taken way, way too seriously, with articles of various degrees of pretention or portent disappearing up their own fundaments in a haze of pseudo-intellectual nonsense.  Imagine not just every slice of burnt toast contains the face of Jesus, but you've decided you can predict the future from his facial expressions.  And whilst I'm grateful the BSFA produce it and post it out to me, the fact that it's available free on the interweb makes paying a membership fee even more questionable.

One notable exception from the trend towards social science PhD leather elbow patch unreadableness is Marie Vibbert's article 'Jobs and Class of Main Characters in Science Fiction', which I enjoyed considerably.  Now, I could bang on about the utter, utter misunderstanding of the concept of class that predicates Marie's analysis, but it turns out she's American, so obviously class, to her, is all about money, whereas in Britain it's all about... well, class, obviously - which is separate from, albeit wonkily related to, demography, which is more about what's going on here.  That apart, it's an interesting take on authorial choices without seeing patterns in the clouds that just ain't there.

You've previously seen how I like a good bit of Excel, so I though it may be mildly amusing if I were to put my own stories, both published (50-odd) and unpublished (40-odd) through the same analysis, partly to see whether I diverge from the norm, and partly to judge whether there's some fundamental difference between what the market's bitten on and what they've spat back at me.

Marie, using a semi-scientific but, to me, entirely reasonable salad of Orion SF Masterworks, BSFA award winners and a 'best of' Google search, gives us this result, compared to Pew Research figures on the US population as a whole:

And my survey says...

So, what to think?  Well, firstly, my unpublished work looks a lot like the sci-fi universe, whereas my published work looks more like real life.  And, overall, I'm a lot less inclined to give my protagonists unrepresentative positions of power and influence than writers generally.  I wasn't expecting to draw the conclusion that I'm right and it's the rest of the industry that's wrong, but if that's what the numbers say...

Tempted as I am to end there, it's probably nothing other than noise.  But, if there is meaning to be gleaned, it may reflect British versus American mores (which I don't think Marie even acknowledges, let alone tackles), far better expressed and discussed here.  I get why Americans want their heroes to be starship captains and superheroes - if my nation had precious little history, I'd want Arthurs and Beowulfs too - but get Britons to write sci-fi and you end up with Doctor WhoHitchhikers and Red Dwarf.  We don't want people with power, we want outsiders and the oppressed middle, because that's who we look up to and feel most kinship with, respectively.  That's why many of my stories have people of ability trapped below the decision makers, implementing absurdity despite themselves: lions led by donkeys.  Not sure that trope makes it across the pond unscathed every time.

However, like Marie, I had difficulty assigning class to a lot of my characters.  Some - God, Death, a sentient refrigerator - I simply excluded, but others - a "magician", a teenage girl, kids - made me ponder.  But much of the time I'm writing an every(wo)man, a placeholder, a cypher we can all hang our own faces on.  When you, dear reader, read such stories, you can place yourself in the shoes of the protagonist whilst, similarly, I'm writing me - and, because I see myself, class-wise, occupying that middle ground, I see those cyphers as of similar class - even if that me is another gender, age or race, because that battle to overcome hurdles to get to what you want, whether that's to survive a near-death encounter or just sell some t-shirts, is universal.  And, after all, isn't that exactly why we write and read fiction?

Trouble is, you can't stretch a simple, universal truth like that into a pseudo-academic Vector article...

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2084 - The Meschera Bandwidth

2084. The world remains at war.

In the Eurasian desert, twenty-year old Adnan emerges from a coma with memories of a strictly ordered city of steel and glass, and a woman he loved.

The city is the Dome, and the woman... is Adnan's secret to keep.

Adnan learns what the Dome is, and what his role really was within it. He learns why everybody fears the Sickness more than the troopers. And he learns why he is the only one who can stop the war.

Persuaded to re-enter the Dome to implant a virus that will bring the war machine to its knees, the resistance think that Adnan is returning to free the many - but really he wants to free the one.

24 0s & a 2

Twenty-four slipstream stories.  Frequently absurd, often minimifidian, occasionally heroic.

Sunday, 15 May 2022

After Abercrombie

Serendipitously, after recent posts outlining my somewhat laissez faire attitude towards simultaneous submissions, life comes along with an example of the scenario I may have to spin as reality when trying to gloss over my misdemeanours: a submission long-since given up as lost in the ether and subsequently pitched to other markets, that is accepted totally out of the blue.

The story is a sci-fi flash called 'After Abercrombie' and the venue in question is the Page & Spine Fiction Showcase.  In fact, the message wasn't just that it had been accepted, but that it would be published the next day, and $20 would be finding its way into my PayPal account (and has done so).

I'm doubly confused as this seems to be Page & Spine's death rattle, having rebranded themselves as the unpaid market P&S.  No contract came with the acceptance, writers' guidelines have been removed from the old site, and my email enquiry about terms, particularly exclusivity, has not been responded to.  So, I guess, there is no exclusivity.  Not sure what else to conclude.

Other than suggesting you take a look.

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Click on the images or search for these on Amazon.
You're here, so surely you know how to do that?


2084 - The Meschera Bandwidth

2084. The world remains at war.

In the Eurasian desert, twenty-year old Adnan emerges from a coma with memories of a strictly ordered city of steel and glass, and a woman he loved.

The city is the Dome, and the woman... is Adnan's secret to keep.

Adnan learns what the Dome is, and what his role really was within it. He learns why everybody fears the Sickness more than the troopers. And he learns why he is the only one who can stop the war.

Persuaded to re-enter the Dome to implant a virus that will bring the war machine to its knees, the resistance think that Adnan is returning to free the many - but really he wants to free the one.

24 0s & a 2

Twenty-four slipstream stories.  Frequently absurd, often minimifidian, occasionally heroic. 




Tuesday, 3 May 2022

You'd have thought they'd have emailed

I don't want to give you the impression that I occasionally Google my own name, but I occasionally Google my own name.  Not having an agent or a press-cutting service (did any of those outlast the Reagan administration? did they ever exist outside of pulp novels?) I would otherwise miss out on things like Austrian Spencer's review of The Dead Inside on Goodreads:

"Highlights for me were discovering Robert BagnallSarah Jackson Marcus Woodman, all of whom I’ll read more from this year."

I'd also miss out on finding a reference to myself on File 770 going back almost a year and a half (I said that I only Googled myself occasionally) reporting that my story 'The Thirteenth Floor', published in Third Flatiron's 2019 anthology 'Gotta Wear Eclipse Glasses' (did I mention I have a story forthcoming in their next?) made the British Science Fiction Association Awards 2020 longlist in January 2021.

This, I admit, is news to me.  My understanding is that stories have to be nominated by somebody other than the author, so person or persons unknown and who I never paid in unmarked bills must have liked the yarn enough to nominate.  I'd only been a member for about three weeks at that point and was still working out how the whole BSFA thing worked, but they had all my details...  You'd have thought they'd have emailed or something, to let me know...

Meanwhile, back where people do give me a heads-up as to what's happening, here are two items for your virtual shopping basket.  Firstly, JayHenge's 'Grandpa's Deep-Space Diner' came out a couple of weeks ago with a reprint of my story 'The Fool' about an idiot with a fruit pudding.


Secondly, all credit to Patrick O'Ryan for getting the first issue of 'Medusa Tales' out of the door so quickly - my bad mermaid story 'Devil Ray at the Doorway' was taken less than four weeks ago.  Best of luck to both him and the magazine.


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Click on the images or search for these on Amazon.
You're here, so surely you know how to do that?


2084 - The Meschera Bandwidth

2084. The world remains at war.

In the Eurasian desert, twenty-year old Adnan emerges from a coma with memories of a strictly ordered city of steel and glass, and a woman he loved.

The city is the Dome, and the woman... is Adnan's secret to keep.

Adnan learns what the Dome is, and what his role really was within it. He learns why everybody fears the Sickness more than the troopers. And he learns why he is the only one who can stop the war.

Persuaded to re-enter the Dome to implant a virus that will bring the war machine to its knees, the resistance think that Adnan is returning to free the many - but really he wants to free the one.

24 0s & a 2

Twenty-four slipstream stories.  Frequently absurd, often minimifidian, occasionally heroic.




Sunday, 24 April 2022

Like side two of the first Tindersticks LP

Writing about recent successful story submissions requires a degree of cognitive dissonance on my part.  On the one hand, it's a tale of manuscripts that have sat on the shelf, dowdy and unloved to the point of having grey hair and half-moon glasses, finally finding their dancing partners.  On the other, of new stories still wet behind the ears flying out of the door before they have a chance to absorb carping feedback and get boiled down in the inevitable rewrites.

As far as the former go, a pair recently sold have racked up ninety-nine rejections between them, before finding success with submissions number one-hundred and one-hundred-and-one.  And another with fifty knockbacks under its belt is, at least as far as the Grinder is concerned, just about the longest standing unrejected submission with three different venues at the same time.

And that last point, of simultaneous submissions, is where I have a slight confession to make.  I've previously blogged about my take on (not) observing publishers' rules about simultaneous submissions, and have now been hoisted ever so slightly by my own petard.

Of course, I blame the fact that I seem to have hit a rich vein of form, like side two* of the Tindersticks' first LP (insert your own metaphor, musical or otherwise), where what I write turns swiftly to sales.  It's temporary, of course.  You can’t bottle lightening, and all that.  Even the Tindersticks couldn't keep it up, although my recollection is that Simple Pleasure was damn good.  But I've had one story sell on its first outing, and another sell twice in its first four showings at market, in the style of Max Bialystok.

In my defence, m'lud, I cite statistics.  I submit each story, maybe ten times a year, and have a success rate of one in thirty, meaning stories normally take three years, on average, to sell.  Only around a third of my stories are with more than one venue at any one time, and most of the time those markets allow simultaneous submissions.  So I reckon the chances of two venues, neither of which accepts simultaneous submissions, both accepting a story within a narrow window of opportunity should happen, on average, every century or so.  But that's on average, and assumes my stories remain average, which I don’t think they are - even if the 10,000 hour rule is bunk, the practice must be showing, right?

So, without saying which are the spinsters and which the debs, all of the following new, original, and previously unpublished stories sold in a dizzying ten-day period:

* of the double vinyl, of course, the tracks from 'City Sickness' to 'Marbles', not the CD, where side two presumably means the printed picture of the flamenco dancer on the face not read by the laser.  Precisely what ‘side two’ may mean to anyone under forty reading this for whom music inevitably means a Spotify download is anyone's guess...

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Click on the images or search for these on Amazon.
You're here, so surely you know how to do that?


2084 - The Meschera Bandwidth

2084. The world remains at war.

In the Eurasian desert, twenty-year old Adnan emerges from a coma with memories of a strictly ordered city of steel and glass, and a woman he loved.

The city is the Dome, and the woman... is Adnan's secret to keep.

Adnan learns what the Dome is, and what his role really was within it. He learns why everybody fears the Sickness more than the troopers. And he learns why he is the only one who can stop the war.

Persuaded to re-enter the Dome to implant a virus that will bring the war machine to its knees, the resistance think that Adnan is returning to free the many - but really he wants to free the one.

24 0s & a 2

Twenty-four slipstream stories.  Frequently absurd, often minimifidian, occasionally heroic. 

Sunday, 10 April 2022

If it's okay for Billy

I'm a great believer in it being bad karma to talk about stories before they're picked up by a venue.  So it's proved with my rewrite for Solarpunk, which they didn't like enough to take.  Win some, lose some, move on.

So, let me test the writing-gods once more by relating another rewrite request.  This one's for Shoreline of Infinity, for which I have a certain fond regard.  I've exchanged emails with editor Noel Chidwick, who comes across as genuine and approachable. It's British - proudly Scottish - so I get the sense that we're a bit more aligned in our sensibilities compared to some of the more overly-focus grouped and offended-on-behalf-of-others American venues.  I know the editor of The Best British Science Fiction has a lot of love for it.  Plus I see it's recently put its rates up.  Obvs, it's the last one that really counts.

My story having been with them since last June, this was the feedback I got:

Very well written and observed - it cracks along at a fair pace. At first I was thrown by the genre-mix: cop/crime-alternate reality/fantasy... But by the end, I think it worked. I was convinced. However, the problem I have is that it's a first person story in which the narrator appears to be heading towards her death. So how did she relate the tale? And if she survived, how? If the story could be rewritten in the third person, I think it'd work far better.

Now, I'll say straight up, that I've never had the slightest problem with the idea of a first person narrator - the 'I' of the story - dying.  If it was okay for Billy Wilder, it's okay for me.  And I'm aware that we're not alone, Billy and me.  In fact, I've struggled to see what the objections could be, and this from somebody who would rather be torn apart by wild animals than do up the bottom button of a waistcoat.

The Moonlighting Writer suggests those reasons may be because:

  • you annoy your audience (answer: I write to unsettle);
  • it's jarring (answer: this particular ending is the cliff-hanger where the narrator may or may not die, so I'd say it's a natural ending); or,
  • it robs you of the possibility of a sequel (answer: it's a short story, and I don't think I've ever written the same character twice)
My understanding is that Sunset Boulevard got a fair amount of stick at the time for the device, although it doesn't seem to be coming to the surface of my Google searches.  Perhaps I read it in Cameron Crowe's excellent Conversations with Wilder, which I no longer have, or perhaps I've misremembered?  If true, I suspect it was more the shock of the new than a fundamental feeling of being cheated.  If anything, Sunset Boulevard merely kicked the door open for hoards to follow - just look at the examples on that TV Tropes link. 

Thinking it through, I can only conclude that for you, dear reader, these characters we paint through black pixels on white, or inky scribbles on paper, are real.  They're not the constructs they are for the writer, who builds them from some skeletal armature, chooses their clothes and voice and gait and preferences and tics.  It's a game for us, but, hey, you buy into it.  You really buy into it.  Perhaps that's the fundamental difference between writer and reader.  You don't see behind the curtain.  Maybe you don't even want to see behind the curtain...

Of course, when it came to the rewrite itself, principles disappeared.  I may have just painted the writer as god, but compared to editors...

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And, just to try to balance the karma out a bit, some news on a story that has been taken: Medusa Tales, who publish 'stories of transformation', will be running Devil Ray at the Doorway, my tale of a bad mermaid in a tsunami.

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Click on the images or search for these on Amazon.
You're here, so surely you know how to do that?


2084 - The Meschera Bandwidth

2084. The world remains at war.

In the Eurasian desert, twenty-year old Adnan emerges from a coma with memories of a strictly ordered city of steel and glass, and a woman he loved.

The city is the Dome, and the woman... is Adnan's secret to keep.

Adnan learns what the Dome is, and what his role really was within it. He learns why everybody fears the Sickness more than the troopers. And he learns why he is the only one who can stop the war.

Persuaded to re-enter the Dome to implant a virus that will bring the war machine to its knees, the resistance think that Adnan is returning to free the many - but really he wants to free the one.

24 0s & a 2

Twenty-four slipstream stories.  Frequently absurd, often minimifidian, occasionally heroic.

Wednesday, 23 March 2022

Okja - bacon sarnies, anyone?

I finally caught up with Bong Joon Ho's 2017 Okja, a film superior IMHO to the over-lauded Parasite.  There.  Nothing like getting the controversy in early.

As you can probably tell from that gambit, there's a lot I liked about the movie - from Jake Gyllenhaal's bonkers (and virtually unrecognisable) TV naturalist to the loveable (but not loveable enough to put me off bacon) Okja.  And credit to the effects people for remembering that post-violence physiology is as much about swelling as bleeding. 

There was, however, one element that grated.  It's how the film portrays our view of genetically modified organisms (GMO).  The story relies on Tilda Swinton's Lucy Mirando, CEO of the Monsanto-in-disguise corporate villains, hiding Okja's genetically modified roots under a smokescreen of a bucolic miracle, mother nature handing us this uber-porker through her munificence and benevolence.  It plays to - and worse, reinforces - all the misunderstanding about GMOs.

What is it about humanity's sudden mistrust of genetically modified plants and animals?  We've been genetically modifying them for millennia, just by guesswork.  It's called cross-breeding: putting the tastiest animal in with the biggest and picking out the ones that have both traits from the litter, or grafting a heavy-cropping stem on to a hardy rootstock.

Genetically modifying flora and fauna in the modern sense is no different, it's just doing it with the lights on and the boxing gloves off.  We can see the mechanism under the bonnet, pick out the gene combinations for colour, flavour, yield and disease resistance.  We no longer have to guess.

How we use GMOs may be problematic, of course.  Making a grain resistant to pesticides allows you Agent Orange the farm at the expense of every living thing other than your cash crop.  For clarity, I think that is a BAD THING.  But it doesn't make GMOs a bad thing.  It does, however, mean that GMOs open up a whole new world of bad things.  It's like saying that the invention of the internal combustion engine was a huge evil because it allowed the development of tanks and warplanes, forgetting that it also gets food into our shops and people to hospitals.

But a cursory search of the internet shows that many, many people have swallowed the whole Frankenfood scare story, more so amongst the young which, to me, demonstrates that the power of the social media echo chamber outguns the classroom's ability to teach people to think rationally.  GM foods cause cancer?  Well, let me name a couple of really quite natural consumables that do that just as well - tobacco and alcohol.  QED: being GMO or non-GMO has nothing to do with it.

Given this, and the resistance we've seen to Covid-19 vaccines, I wonder whether it's possible to produce something akin to Asimov's three laws of robotics, but for humanity's stance towards innovation?  How about:

  • If I can see how it works, I'll trust it (e.g. the wheel)
  • If I can't see how it works, but it brings me entertainment or pleasure, I'll trust it (e.g. the Internet, street drugs)
  • If I can't see how it works, but it predates me, I'll trust it (e.g. fire)
  • Everything else is witchcraft
As a species, we're fucked, aren't we?

#

Click on the images or search for these on Amazon.
You're here, so surely you know how to do that?


2084 - The Meschera Bandwidth

2084. The world remains at war.

In the Eurasian desert, twenty-year old Adnan emerges from a coma with memories of a strictly ordered city of steel and glass, and a woman he loved.

The city is the Dome, and the woman... is Adnan's secret to keep.

Adnan learns what the Dome is, and what his role really was within it. He learns why everybody fears the Sickness more than the troopers. And he learns why he is the only one who can stop the war.

Persuaded to re-enter the Dome to implant a virus that will bring the war machine to its knees, the resistance think that Adnan is returning to free the many - but really he wants to free the one.

24 0s & a 2

Twenty-four slipstream stories.  Frequently absurd, often minimifidian, occasionally heroic.