Monday, 14 December 2015

Modern-day irony

Words written c37500
Stories completed 6
Rejections 99
Acceptances 1

Stumbled across an article the other day promising to tell me how to better cope in the information-overload age, how not to go crazy with the relentless bombardment of views, opinions, facts, data, information, knowledge, psudo-knowledge, quasi-knowledge, numbers, words, images and stuff.  Particularly stuff.  How to cut down our brain-input to a manageable burbling brook of what's most important.

Quite agree that that sort of thing is vital.

So I took an important first step by skipping it.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Listen carefully, I will say this only once (for a second time)

(Well, there's irony for you - a reprint of an earlier posting which garbled its formatting for no immediately apparent reason...)

I'm doing a lot of DIY at the moment, renovating a Victorian villa on the English Riviera.  A bathroom has recently been on the agenda.  Which means a lot of cardboard boxes to open and things to assemble and fit.

Which also means a lot of instructions, diagrams, insert tab A into slot B, and so forth.  Not that I've spent a great deal of time studying them.  Hell, some I only find in the box when the towel rail is nailed to the wall (that is right, isn't it?).

Which has led me to think of why instructions seem so alien to us.  Maybe it's just a man thing, but I suspect it's more of a Mankind thing.  There's an oil & water nature to humanity and paper instructions.  We love information, can't get enough of it.  But whatever you do, don't tell me how to do things.

I once took part in an Operation Raleigh selection exercise, during which the selectors instantly spotted what a total liability I would have been in the wild.  One of the exercises, the only one where I acquitted myself with any kind of honour, involved following a set of instructions.  I think I may have done something like this before as an army cadet, so I suspected that the instructions ended with 'please ignore everything above'.

Hence I just read the last line, which was indeed an instruction that quashed all the commands that went before, and sat whilst my teammates carefully made paper aeroplanes or something.  I was the only person to complete that task correctly - by doing nothing.  Given that I approached the exercise totally out of character - I rarely start reading instructions, let alone finish them - this rare victory just underlined the correctness of the decision not to let me loose on the developing world. 

But, I digress.  I've come to the conclusion that we have been trawling an evolutionary cul-de-sac here, and that Apple have got it right with products that don't come with any instructions.  There were no instructions produced by cavemen to help catch that mastodon.  You just did.  Then we went through a brief (in cosmic terms) period of creating items too complicated to understand at first glance, and we needed to back the up with telephone directories of how-to wisdom.  But now we're heading back to intuitive design, point n' shoot, click n' collect.  Or something.

Our TVs are slightly behind the curve - in my youth they had three controls at the front (on/off, volume, channel) and two at the back (vertical and horizontal wobble); now I have three remotes, each with three dozen buttons.  But I suspect in ten years those buttons will boil down to a few intuitive controls.  Maybe I'll choose my channel by mind control (in which case, how do I avoid defaulting to porn?).

So, my advice to you is, if you want to surf the evolutionary bleeding edge, you can chuck all those instructions.  If you need them, your thing is clearly a bit cro-magnon.  And you wouldn't want that, would you?

A homeopathic hit rate - and just as effective

Words written c35500
Stories completed 5
Rejections 99
Acceptances 1

I have a simple annual target: to sell three stories.

You'll see from the numbers that, with Christmas already here if you're in retail, this year is not a vintage one.  Response number one hundred is rejection number 99.

And then, take into consideration that I'm due a grand total of $14.16 (or a $7.08 'kill fee' if my story is stillborn) for my efforts.  Not much of a career, is it?

Friday, 9 October 2015

Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it

Words written c35500
Stories completed 5
Rejections 83
Acceptances 1

I don't know what it is about the current incarnation of Dr Who that grates so much.

Or, rather, I don't know which aspect grates the most, whether it's the Doctor-centric storylines, with the time lord being the centre of attention rather than a dispassionate observer in others' stories who watches the equivalent of laboratory rats bumble around a maze before intervening, or Malcolm Tucker's trying-too-hard-to-convince-everyone-including-himself performance.

But, as a writer, hackles - which I didn't even realise I had - rose during The Witch's Familiar.  You see, as a writer, you construct a storyverse with a set of rules, the local laws of physics and logic.  And then you stick with it.  Tales of American series having telephone-directory size guidebooks to character and setting are legion, with the hanging threat that any writer who strays outside of them can forget ever working in that town again.  Or planet, if it's sci-fi.  So, if you have to make up a get-out-clause to get you out of a corner of your own painting, then go back to the start and do not pass Go.

You see - spoiler alert! spoiler alert! - the Doctor solves his problems with a laying on of hands (hello? the Doctor as Jesus?), channelling his regenerative energy.  Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't ever recall that being in the Doctor's arsenal.  In fact, my childhood recollection is that the Doctor met his regenerations as I would root canal work, as a rather nasty experience being done entirely to him.  Not by him.  I don't remember the Doctor having any control whatsoever over the whole regeneration trip.

But suddenly, because its the brush that's now needed to paint himself back to the doorway of this particular room, he can turn it on like a tap.

I'm not proposing to do this, but I wonder how many storylines from the last fifty years would be different if he had had this power all along.  Which, of course, within the Dr Who storyverse, it turns out he had all the time...

Issigonis said something along the lines of any fool can design a big car; the challenge is in designing a small car.  And promptly gave us the Mini.  Bend the rules all you like.  Find ones that everybody thought was a rule, but isn't (like you can't set the engine sideways).  But don't break them.  Or make up new ones.

It's damn hard keeping a character going for 35 series over half a century.  All credit to them.  But when you have to make up new attributes to get out of ever more extreme scenarios then you may wish to consider whether the Doctor has run his course...

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

And this is progress, how?

Words written c35500
Stories completed 5
Rejections 82
Acceptances 1

Recently, two young women asked me to jump start their engine.

I'd like to say that's a euphemism but I mean it literally.  They were stuck just down the road outside my house having left their lights on all night and wanted me to jump their engine.

So, I pulled my car up to theirs, unlatched the bonnet (or 'hood', if you're reading this in the former colonies).  And stared.

I'm not totally impractical, although I'm better with houses than cars (have I mentioned my self-build book is available on Amazon?).  But, for the life of me, I couldn't even find the battery.

We used to drive a previous version of the same model and I've previously whipped the battery in and out at regular intervals, mainly because the alternator was dead and I was flogging the beast until it finally gave up the ghost.  But this space-age (well, 2012) update of the same vehicle had had its mechanical innards covered with molded plastic.

I eventually located two unspecified terminals poking out of the side of the molding.  On checking the manual as to which was negative and which positive it simply told me to leave the whole caboodle alone as it was far too complex for my small homo sapien brain to comprehend and that anything to do with the battery - or any thing else - should be left to a qualified mechanic.

For a car battery. Ye Gods.

When we got the new car we still had the old for some time.  I remember holding up the key to the old (traditional design, sits in your palm or pocket quite comfortably) against the new (an unwieldy 'keycard', dimensions of The Little Book of Calm but thinner, although equally stress-inducing) in a restaurant, railing "And this is progress - how?"

This isn't isolated; it's a direction of travel misnamed progress.

I'm firmly of the belief that, if and when the balloon goes up, any medieval child would survive - catching rabbits, making its own shoes - whilst we would starve, staring at a tin can, opener-less, like an abandoned cartoon cat and wondering whether our coffee-shop loyalty cards are still valid.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Filling in the gaps

Words written c35500
Stories completed 5
Rejections 80
Acceptances 1

So, I learnt recently, but only by reading month-old news, NASA’s best candidate for a ‘twin’ for Earth, a planet orbiting its star in the so-called Goldilocks zone, Kepler-452b, is only possibly rocky (and equally likely to be gassy), and then only possibly has an atmosphere and liquid water.  And then, and only then, may it possibly have life.  Oh, and its 1400 light years away.

Face it, we’ll never make it to the stars.

Not that I’m personally bothered; I found commuting from Devon to Edinburgh back in the springtime taxing enough.  However, my thoughts turn to the implications for science-fiction.  Not so much the implications of what we know is out there, but the avenues that, one-by-one, close off. 

Let me explain.  It strikes me that SF is, and always has been, ‘filling in the gaps’.  As knowledge increases our scope for speculating shrinks.  For example, until faster-than-light travel is proved impossible (if a negative can ever be proved) stories will still be littered with inexplicable sleight-of-hands in the shape of portals and wormholes lifting our protagonists to impossibly-faraway worlds.

But something curious happens when a hitherto possible gets crossed through in red ink. Once we know what is or is not, it is hard to posit what could have been.  If a proof is ever offered and accepted of the impossibility of FLT then all such story devices will become somewhat silly.  They feel that the author is cheating.  But - and this is the curious aspect - stories written before the bar dropped somehow seem exempt.

There is something about ‘period’ SF (or any fiction) where we naturally find ourselves reading it in the context of when it was written.  It seems impossible for the brain to tell itself to ‘pretend this story were written in 1950’ whereas it happily copes with a story genuinely written in 1950 with all its accompanying pre Moon-landing clunk?  I mean, it’s all a fiction anyway and we have to buy into a fictional storyverse, so why is it so hard to buy into then-current truths being circumvented, even when done in a non-cheating way.

Compare two books, one I’m reading, H. Rider Haggard’s Allan Quartermain, with one I finished a few hours ago, Ursula LeGuin’s Left Hand of Darkness.  Both, in different ways, fictional anthropological studies, the former of a society on another planet, the second of the dark continent of Africa.  But I can read Haggard in the context of it being written with the mores as well as knowledge of the Victorians, whereas LeGuin’s 1960s novel has to move its unknown society into space.

A regards the books themselves, in both cases I find their fictional anthropological studies interesting intellectually, but ultimately hollow.  Both sag when the story doesn’t move forward - the novel as shark.  It reminds me of a point made in my (largely linguistics) masters degree: that there are savants who can master any real language in days, but find artificial, man-made languages impossible.  The point there is about a need for Chomskian deep-grammar; the point here is about documentary needing to ring true.

For my money, world-building is only of interest in the context of story telling, then the test becomes whether the story is consistent with the rules of the fictional world rather than whether the rules of the fictional world are themselves internally consistent.  I find some SF authors and editors too interested in the science not the story - I once had a story praised by an editor for speculating on unmanned mining ships set to come down in the Australian desert, but rejected for the not being enough of such conjecture.  To me, that was just a throwaway bit of background travelogue; what about the story?

But, whatever the story, prepare for it to become archaic should anything you posit turn out not quite to be the case.  Haggard could build his world on this planet; LeGuin had to, literally, push the boundaries.  As SF always does.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

A candle flares, briefly illuminates my soul, and is lost to darkness again

Words written c35000
Stories completed 5
Rejections 79
Acceptances 1

One of the myriad frustrations of being a semi-professional (i.e. desperate to get paid, but hardly ever doing so) writer is rejection.

Not so much that you get rejected; experience teaches me to expect every email from a small press or magazine to be one, making the odd acceptance a joyous high, but that you hardly ever have any idea how near or far off target you were.  The form rejection rules.  How many careers ended before they begun because writers were blind to how close to print they came, I wonder - or, conversely, were needlessly sustained because they imagined their crayoned drivel had only just missed the mark?

My email revealed four rejections this morning, including one from CC Finlay, Editor at Fantasy & Science Fiction.  These followed on closely on one from ‘Lucy’ at Andromeda Spaceways.

What makes CC’s and Lucy’s notable amongst the 79 so far received this calendar year is that they had some feedback.

CC’s first, in full: Thank you for giving me a chance to read "Share the Love." I got to the end of the story and had no idea what it meant either... Overall the beginning started too slow and the narrative developed too slowly for me until it got to the weird, interesting stuff. I'm going to pass, but I wish you best of luck finding the right market for it. I appreciate your interest in F&SF and hope that you'll keep us in mind in the future.  

I’ve decided, at arm’s length, that I like CC.  He’s my kinda guy.  I think we could drink beer together.  No idea why I’ve come to that conclusion.  Never met him, no idea what CC stands for.  Could be thinking of CC Baxter, of course.

And now an extract of Lucy’s: The first ten pages move very slowly and indirectly. This is novel speed, not short story speed.

Hmmm.  Feedback that tallies is almost more unexpected than feedback at all.

Of course, my inclination is that I have judged the pace correctly, whilst acknowledging that there’s always some fat on the carcass that can go.  They've been written, rewritten, honed and polished.  But when two editors are on the same page...  Share the Love is essentially about a man dropping down, step by step, into the pits of despair until the succour offered by a religious cult that brings peace through linkage - mental, physical and spiritual - with a giant cockroach appears to be his best option.  You don’t strip away his job, relationship, reason for living in three pages.

Or do you?  Perhaps I’m missing the point of what short story editors want in a world where we now have a shorter attention span than goldfish.

Remember that Chandler quote, When in doubt have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand?  Raymond Chandler was writing about what to do when the plot flags; perhaps in 2015 it needs to be applied just after the by-line?

That said, it’s worth exploring the section of Chandler’s 1950 The Simple Art of Murder in which it appears:

This was inevitable because the demand was for constant action and if you stopped to think you were lost. When in doubt have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand. This could get to be pretty silly but somehow it didn’t seem to matter. A writer who is afraid to over-reach himself is as useless as a general who is afraid to be wrong

As I look back on my own stories it would be absurd if I did not wish they had been better. But if they had been much better they would not have been published (my emphasis)

Happy to take the feedback on the nose, respond to the market and make my drafts quicker and slicker, make them a firework - even if, in my eyes and, possibly Chandler's too, they may not be as good as the slow burn that I’m writing.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

AI: Chips & Custard

Words written: c.34000
Stories completed: 4
Rejections: 70
Acceptances: 1

We, all family, recently sat down to watch Spielberg's AI: Artificial Intelligence, his realisation of Kubrick's dream of bringing Brian Aldiss' short story to the screen. I thought it deserved a few thoughts.

Unlike my earlier brief movie reviews, this is a film that I'd seen before, although my recollections of it were limited.  In fact, my only clear memory was of its Lord of the Rings-like ending; outstaying its welcome for a good twenty minutes.  I suspect that I'll be struggling to remember it again in another decade, a product of its cut-and-shunt nature, trying to blend Spielberg's schmaltz with Kubrick's more autistic approach.  Truly chips n' custard; I like them both, just not necessarily together.

Watching it with a nine- and an eleven-year old (and, yes, it is a 12) was a somewhat uncomfortable experience, moving, as it does, from a safe family setting to dangerous outer world, simultaneously prurient and pussy-footing.  It made me wonder who these elements - particularly the jarring Gigolo-Joe - came from.  I suspect it was Spielberg's reading of Kubrick's notes, attempting to humanise robotic male prostitution where Kubrick himself would have portrayed in in the cold style of Eyes Wide Shut, deserving of PhD theses and critical admiration but not much in the way of engagement.  It's as if that's the best Spielberg could come up with to contrast with the safety and comfort of David's family life; delivering a view of the gritty end of life informed through the lens of others' books and movies, nothing ringing true.

One of the most interesting elements - and I suspect this is tantamount to a criticism of Brian Aldiss not being able to foretell the future accurately - is that, whilst Gigolo Joe presciently tells David that information is the most valuable commodity, the pay-per-search Doctor Know makes data searching expensive.  Whereas, in reality, we've had a race to the bottom: the search engine that has succeeded is the one that can tell us the most the fastest, powered by advertising.  Even in the relatively recent past when this was made we hadn't quite realised how we'd monetise the net; not by getting customers to pay for what they want but by making it free and charging the symbiotic leeches of the advertising industry that then ride on untrammelled demand.

But enough soapboxing.

Far be it from me to criticise Spielberg's ability to tell a story, but a rule I have to be very sure about breaking is never to include a character or other vital element in act two or three that hasn't been foreshadowed in act one (maybe the door is still open at the start of act two, certainly not beyond).  The reason why the end feels so clunky, for me, is that the aliens are dropped a propos of nothing into the story.  I suppose the getout clause is that they deliver the opening voiceover, but that would give Morgan Freeman the right to leap out in the third act of about twenty percent of Hollywood movies without any other justification.  Even a brief glimpse of them upfront would have joined the elements together.

I want to end on an upnote or, rather, two upnotes.  Firstly,  the effects still stand up very well, particularly the partially exposed android skeletons in the flesh fair.  Secondly, I had forgotten how good Hayley Joel Osment's performance, both unwordly and other-worldly, was.  Shame that he seems to have grown up into an adult wearing a Hayley Joel Osment mask, if his photo on IMDB is anything to go by.

Oh, and is that an early appearance for Ted?

Thursday, 6 August 2015

We may have peaked as a species…

Words written c33500
Stories completed 4
Rejections 66
Acceptances 1

We’re all realists, aren’t we?

I mean, on the outside we range from clown on-duty to clown off-duty, but through our own eyes we’re all pretty much mid-spectrum.  I see myself as a cynic and a sceptic, but balanced between pessimism and optimism; a balance made harder to shift by an adherence to the viewpoint of Mackay.  Me?  I’m a realist.

However, recently, I’ve detected a slight doomsayer tendency.  In the last post I repeated my rejection of a teleological view of (future) history and the possibility that we are sleepwalking towards a new Great War-style slaughter.

Well, add to that a belief that we’re living in a golden age, a mere blink of the eye in the span of human history, during which antibiotics are anything more than placebos.

Then there’s global warming and the rate at which we’re using and abusing the planet’s resources.  What we need won’t be around forever.  Unlike, say, waste plastic.  We’re a species heading for a cliff-edge.

But watching BBC’s Horizon: The Trouble With Space Junk has opened up a whole new dystopian playground of the mind.

You see, space has more rubbish than the verge of a dual-carriageway.  And whereas on Earth a crisp packet blowin’ in the wind has all the impact of a protest song, in space a fleck of paint acts much like a round from Dirty Harry’s Magnum.  And each impact begets a dozen other flecks, at least.  Someone say ‘geometric progression’?  And that’s before we consider all the stuff that’s bigger than, say, your toenail.

The only thing that keeps space from being like Indiana Jones’ last few steps before grabbing the artefact is its size.  But extrapolation of the sea of space junk (the fact that America is tracking all the objects Sputnik-size and upwards is itself jaw-dropping) shows it spreading and that before too long we’ll have created a cloud of dust with the chances of lethal impact being a small but too-large-to-risk one in four hundred.

And that means every satellite and space station pretty quickly ends up as a pretty fiery ball.

So, what happens then?  Well, I think we all know that GPS relies on satellites.  Stop to think and we’d add the emergency services, mobile phones, the internet, and cashpoint machines to the list.  The stock markets depend on space technology plus any business geographically dispersed like farms.  Not that many businesses are still up and running.

Plus some less-obvious examples, like hedge funds using spy satellite technology to assess the state of investments, at least ones like construction projects that can be seen from space.  You may be more sanguine about this last loss but, remember, you probably won’t get to hear about their problems.

All these ‘advances’ may be impossible in a matter of decades.  We may have peaked as a species…

I did consider submitting a story for the Gernsback Writing Contest’s last round, the theme of which was the solar system 250 years in the future.  I couldn‘t find a story that fitted so didn’t; maybe I should have penned something with semaphore and corsets and slow journeys by horse and map…

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

I'll say this only once

Words written c33000
Stories completed 4
Rejections 65
Acceptances 1

One of the characteristics that makes the interweb what it is is the lack of social cues.  What I mean is the iterative process of judging what we should be doing by what other people are doing.  It’s what stops the A381 resembling a scene out of Mad Max, or John Lewis the Somme.  This is despite the emphasis on ‘social medja’.

Take social cues away and what do you have?  Well, I suppose the example that springs to mind first and foremost is trolling.  But there does appear to be some default within the human brain that goes after the easy-to-grab-hold-of negative example.  So, what about positives coming about from the lack of line of sight to what the cretin at the next desk is up to?

Which leads me to two instructions very commonly found in submission instructions to sci-fi magazines and small presses: no simultaneous submissions; and no multiple submissions.

The latter is a no brainer line not to cross - I think they’ll spot more than one submission coming their way!  But the former?

I don’t do it.  Honest.  Recently I even noticed that I had misread my spreadsheet and had sent off a story that was already out.  I almost had sleepless nights until a rejection from one came though.

But is this just me?  You won’t find a blog shouting out that their author is a serial multiple submitter, but am I just being naive?  Perhaps, in reality, everyone is at it.  What’s the biggest risk?  An apologetic withdrawal of a story should it be accepted twice?  (Take a look at the numbers above if you want to judge the likelihood of that).  Perhaps it’s like jaywalking - in America it’s a law whereas here in Britain it’s just a pragmatic approach to crossing the road.

Look at it this way.  I’ve had a story with since September 2013.  If every publisher took two years to respond I’d barely have a chance to get my wares out there before my sci-fi became historical fiction.  Surreptitious multiple submissions are very tempting.  How wrong is it?  And will it make me go blind?

The reality on response rates is somewhere between and Clarkesworld, of course.  But even so, authors all know the feeling of waiting for months to receive a ‘no thanks’, or worse, a ‘near miss’.

Again, the tally of completed stories has ticked up by one.  I’ve rewritten the near future military sci-fi mentioned in my last post to a far-future far-fetched tale for Cohesion Press’ SNAFU anthology.  Character names, location (now the dumbbell twin planets of Corobus Rama and Corobus Dala sharing an eccentric tumbling orbit around twin suns) and title have all changed.

I don’t currently have both stories out at the same time.  But what if I did?  They have strong similarities, but they aren’t the same story.  I’d probably withdraw one if the other got accepted, but until then... Would they be simultaneous submissions?  Is it just between my conscience and me?  After all, damned if I can see what everybody else is doing…

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Is there honey still for tea? A pessimist responds

Words written c32000
Stories completed 3
Rejections 59
Acceptances 1

As I may have said before, I don’t subscribe to a teleological viewpoint; in other words that we’re heading towards a better tomorrow, as opposed to just tomorrow.

Yes, you can’t unthink an idea or uninvent an invention, so in that sense we’re incrementally improving.  But, at the same time, you can run out of things forever like fresh water, dodos or human kindness.

Take ISIS or IS or ISIL or whatever they’re called this week.  There’s something mediaeval about them that makes the terrorists of my youth look positively gentlemanly.  No code words called in ten minutes in advance by this lot.

Regarding their defeat we seem to have a choice between repeating Vietnam - a lot of expensive military technology against an enemy that melts into the jungle (for jungle, read desert) - or World War One - throwing sufficient numbers of boots on the ground to take sufficient numbers of bullets in the chest.

In all honesty, I can’t see the former working, and I fear that we’ll end up with the latter.  The idea of armies fighting through shear weight of numbers is meant to be something we’ve moved on from.  Isn’t that the better tomorrow that the invention of nuclear weapons gave us?  The idea of conscription is meant to be up there with the barber-surgeon and phlogiston.  But then again, TB is back in vogue, so why not call-up papers?

I look at my eleven year old and sometimes think that, if these were the Edwardian years, he’d be a dead man walking.  It wouldn’t matter how clever and talented he was (and he is), if he were destined for Flanders he would be unilaterally entered into the most cruel of lotteries.  And, in those sunny early century summers, there’d be no way of suspecting.  All would seem well with the world.  How could we possibly end up there?

And who’s to say that we’re not there again?  Who’s to say that he won’t be fighting and dying in the Levant, one of tens of thousands?  Who’s to say that the drones and the smart bombs won’t work, and what will be required will be hand-to-hand combat?

I really hope that in ten years time this piece reads as paranoid rather than prescient.

Which leads me to the obligatory link back to the world of sci-fi, tenuous though it may be.  Dear reader, look back at the numbers which head this piece and you may observe that a third story has been completed; a near future military sci-fi yarn regarding the hubris of fighting the oncoming hordes of jihadists through the forests of Austria with technology.

Oh, and Clarkesworld, of course, have rejected it in less than twenty-four hours.  Business as usual, then…

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

George Osborne's 7"

Words written c31000
Stories completed 2
Rejections 59
Acceptances 1

I am more often than not living my life six weeks or so in the past.

I’ve been watching David Lynch’s Lost Highway in occasional chunks (which really doesn’t lose any narrative sense), recorded off SyFy about six weeks ago, whilst – not simultaneously, I hasten to add - taking in a six-week old sermon from the Church of Wittertainment.  In that sermon Dr Kermode mentioned that Lost Highway garnered its best reviews when French critics were shown the reels in the wrong order.  Serendipity, huh?

What he failed to mention, however, was the similarity between Balthazar Getty and a young George Osborne.

Meanwhile, in a similarly aged copy of the Week, which I was reading in the bath, I noticed that a collection of every UK hit single ever, ever was going under the hammer (metaphorically); 27,000 7” singles were estimated at just £7,000 (they ended up going for a lot more).

During my youth I amassed a weighty collection of vinyl, often bought on the mere recommendation of Melody Maker, or even just on the strength of the name (little did I expect Daisy Hill Puppy Farm to turn out to be Icelandic proto-metal).  Most of it disappeared on eBay over the years for a lot more per disc than was being quoted. 

The reason is obvious, of course: what I sold was the willfully obscure, as opposed to the widely available, and a proportion had become very collectable.  (Unlike top 40 singles, which tended to leave buyers with a morning-after did-I-really-do-that feeling.)  For every Sidi Bou Said there was an early PJ Harvey; for every Faith Over Reason a Rough Trade Singles Club Catatonia.

But could you do that today?  Digital appears to have sucked the joy out of leafing through racks of records, considering the cover, the information, the label.  Not hearing it until it’s bought, paid for, and taken home in a plastic bag swinging from your hand.

Now we have the convenience of hearing it before buying – try explaining that that should be the end of the process.  Where’s the anticipation, the thrill of the hunt?  The sense of buying a gem, which can only come with the experience of buying more often than not, well, Daisy Hill Puppy Farm?

And, in what sense, can you buy a rare gem when it’s just ones and zeros, replicable an infinite number of times over?  I had vinyl that only a handful of others had, and unavailable to anyone running after the bandwagon.  Nowadays your download will be same as mine, even if I downloaded it after being one of three blokes seeing them in a pub, whereas you heard them on national radio.

Jimmy Voldemort (his name must not be uttered!) presciently said that Top of The Pops would last as long as people bought records, and he was right, although I suspect he meant ‘forever’ when he said it.

No more porky prime cuts in the run-off groove.  The youth of today just won’t understand those words…

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Earth 'Entering New Extinction Phase'

Words written: c30000
Stories completed: 2
Rejections: 59
Acceptances: 1

Earth 'entering new extinction phase', screamed the BBC news headline.

Except it didn’t.

When I first stumbled across the story it was number four in the pecking order, somewhere behind a baby being chewed by a terrier.  All highly unfortunate for said baby and its family, but not really on an all-enveloping scale compared to the story that caught my eye.

Later that day it fell to number eight, and was thence ejected to the ‘magazine’ section.

Douglas Adams would have loved it.

I’ve always been impressed by the human animal’s ability to see the relatively-trivial here-and-now and miss the glaringly relevant on the horizon.  A case of admiring the tattoo but not seeing the skinhead.

It’s inextricably tied up with wanting our jam today rather than the full cream tea tomorrow.  Human foibles that have a genetic basis in wanting our jam today because by tomorrow we’ve probably become somebody else’s cream tea (just ask that baby).

We may have invented the internet and self-checkouts and mortgages, but genetically we’re still hunting mammoth.  Talk about a species getting too big for its boots.  And we know where such hubris leads to, don’t we kids?  If not, cast your eyes back to the title of this post…