Thursday, 28 February 2019

Brace yourselves

Really struggling for a title for this posting, so a play on brace being two of something - although have you ever heard it used outside the context of bloodied animals held in the mouths of gundogs as they trot back to pink-faced men in tweeds with Purdeys under their armpits?

Well, you have now, because this posting is just to make you aware of a brace of stories that I'll have in circulation later this spring.  Atthisarts will have 'Five Minutes at Hotel Stormcove' out by May, and nestled in amongst 58 (yes, 58!) other stories will be my tale, 'A Room with a View'.  Not sure where I got that title from.  Looks great, even as a jpeg, I'm sure you'll agree.  Get your hands on one by clicking here.
Before that, 'How Did They Get You?', a tale of androids and Canadian whiskey on a Martian mining colony, will, hopefully, be appearing in issue number 7 - free, gratis and for nothing - of James Gunn's Ad Astra.  That'll hit your browser next month, I understand.

Both these tales are alike but very differing in that they went through a rewriting process in the light of editorial comments.   'How Did They Get You?' didn't just go through a process, but a wringer, being pitched in November 2017, chased in June 2018, with rewrites submitted in July and October 2018, and a final tweak last month.

Each redrafting was in response to detailed editorial comments questioning the science, the motives and actions of characters, the plot, everything.  Let's just say I don't think the good burghers of Ad Astra would have let Cervantes get away with Sancho Panza's donkey disappearing and reappearing in Don Quixote.  I doubt I thought as much about the story when I first wrote it as they did in reading it.  In contrast, my preference is always to keep the action moving along at a sufficient clip that you don't consider the bits that don't quite fit, hence my view of the process flip-flopped between 'oh my God, what now?' and 'good point, well made'.  To their credit, the rewrites improved the story without changing it.

Meanwhile, the edits for Hotel Stormcove were dealt with by an exchange of emails in a day.  I hope you enjoy them both, or this longer one...


Friday, 15 February 2019

Why I want to live in the future. Or on television

I used to sign off my biography, the short paragraph that decent publishers allow writers to include as a bit of a flag wave and a pointer to other works, with the phrase 'He's allergic to cats and doesn't like dogs'.  Because it's essentially true.

Or, at least that's how I rationalised matters.

I've now dropped it, partially because tone is a tough thing to convey, and it's really not my fault if Americans can't tell when a Briton is joking (dwell on that a moment; there's a meta-level you may be missing).  And if you can't tell when I'm joking, even over something true, it may genuinely cause offence and, heaven forfend, damage sales of my novel '2084'.  Did I mention I have a novel out?

Because everybody - and I mean everybody - seems to have a dog now.  They're everywhere.  Even friends who we thought were mutt-free have now gone over to the dark side and have got themselves yapping sappers of time and freedom.  Telling anybody that you’re a bit South Korean over dogs is an instant one-way ticket to the social-leper colony, certainly in Britain.  Possibly less so in South Korea.

But there's a more subtle reason: I’ve found that I don’t actually dislike dogs.  You see, when I see a working dog - sheepdog, guide dog, sniffer dog, whatever - I have no negative feelings towards them.  Only respect and admiration.  Unlike a pooch on a lease, which always strike me as shitting deadweights.  I saw a 'service dog' on the tube earlier this week.  Think about it.  A dog that can change the oil, check the tyres.  My car'll need its timing belt seen to sometime soon.  Can he do that?   I'm impressed.

I've concluded that my negativity is not towards dogs, but pet ownership.  The enslavement of fellow animals for our amusement and company.  I see something inherently, fundamentally wrong.  I like my wildlife free to roam and do what comes naturally, and wearing coats and collars isn't included in what nature intended.  I like to think that my feelings towards dogs are on a par with those of early abolitionists when they saw a negro boy on tow to open doors and suchlike; that it's wrong, but I'm the only one who seems to get it.

And if you’re reading this thinking, well they’re part of the family and we treat them well and they have a wonderful life, better than they would otherwise, that’s exactly what the regency women would have said about their negro child door openers.  My point is that they would have looked at you like you were a loon if you expressed what today isn’t just a mainstream view, but the only socially acceptable view.  Just as ‘animal lovers’ would - and have - regard(ed) my views as in the territory of tinfoil hats.

But any society can only judge itself against its own moral code.  And I think that moral code will shift.  Slowly.  But it will shift.

And I think I have science on my side.  The differences between humans and animals keep diminishing.  We're more alike than differing.  Animals fall in love, establish rules for fair play, exchange valued goods and services, hold "funerals" for fallen comrades, deploy sex as a weapon, get jealous and violent or greedy and callous and develop irrational phobias, monkeys address inequality, wolves miss each other, elephants grieve for their dead, and prairie dogs name the humans they encounter.  Oh, and dolphins masturbate.  Not only that, we’ve found that all mammals have about the same number of heartbeats per lifetime, around a billion, and that we all urinate for around 21 seconds.  That last one got Dr David Hu an Ig Noble prize.  And richly deserved it was too, I'm sure.

This all adds up to a watertight case for not keeping them as pets.  And in the future, we won’t.  But I can’t live in the future, so where’s the next best thing?  Why, television, of course.  Watch carefully.  Unless it’s vital to the story, nobody ever has a dog.  Television is relatively pet-free, far more pet-free than real life.  No casual stranger in the background is ever out walking the hound.  Because they’re too dumb to take direction and too irrelevant to the story to risk wrecking the scene, slobbering and walking off in the wrong direction.

And I'm including the dogs in that claim as well, the shitting deadweights.