Coming Soon…

Apologies for the lack of content on here recently. I’ve been pretty burned out after completing An Incomprehensible Condition, I’ve had an important deadline for work, and the little writing I’ve been able to do last week has been put into the Mindless LoEG annocommentations (parts two, three and four of that are forthcoming, and will be great). I’ve not even had time to do the belated blog tour articles I owe, or to answer my email.

However, I’ve got a week off now, and I plan to use it on writing. So over the next nine days you can expect:
The resumption of my looks at William Hartnell’s Doctor Who stories. I’ll be starting from The Aztecs, but when I bookify them I’ll do a lot of rewriting on the five I’ve already looked at.
The first in a series of posts looking at the Monkees’ music (I’m leaving the second Beach Boys book until a firm date for the Smile Sessions box set is available, so I can incorporate that sensibly).
The remainder of my Hugo reviews
And my contributions to Mindless League annos. I’ve only contributed about 10% of the second annocommentation post, but I’ll be adding much more to parts three and four.
Meanwhile, remember that tomorrow the price for the Kindle version of Sci-Ence! Justice Leak! goes back to $5 from the 99 cents it’s currently at…

Hugo Blogging: The Short Stories

This is a difficult set of stories to review, as short stories can be spoiled in the way novels (at least good ones) really can’t – most consist of a single central idea or image, and without

Of the four stories nominated for the Best Story award in the Hugos, three of them are so similar in their thematic concerns that they could all have been written for a themed anthology, dealing as they do with small, self-contained communities, with single points of failure, and with restrictions on reproduction. For that reason they probably all seem better than they would if taken alone.

Ponies, by Kaj Johnson, therefore probably comes off slightly worse than it otherwise would, having little in common with the other three. A very short story indeed, and easily the best-written of these four as prose, it’s a beautiful fantasy piece about conformity and sacrifice, with a haunting central metaphor, and a story which more than hints at things like female circumcision. A little slight, maybe, but one that feels better in the memory than it did when reading it.

Amarylis, by Carrie Vaughn, did nothing for me. The crew of a fishing boat in a post-collapse society with strict limits on both food and breeding have a member who wants a kid, but the bloke in charge of weighing their catches keeps putting his finger on the scales so they can’t. Not a bad story as such – a perfectly decent way to spend five minutes – but hardly the best thing published last year.

For Want Of A Nail by Mary Robinette Kowal is, to all intents and purposes, an Asimov story. Set on a generation ship with strict limits on breeding, and where everyone gets ‘recycled’ as soon as they stop being productive, when a minor piece of hardware breaks in a robot and a spare part is needed, a secret that has been kept for years is revealed. A very strong story, and it’d be a worthy winner, but to my mind the ending is a little weak.

As for The Things by Peter Watts… I will link it, but want to place that link *AFTER* a trigger warning for any of my friends who have experienced sexual violence – and I’m afraid that that is also a spoiler for the story. EDIT – And I’ll reiterate that trigger warning – see the comment by Emily after this post. This story has a *NASTY* sting to it – one that I think works, and that is earned by the story, but that made me feel uncomfortable, and I am someone who does not get discomforted easily and who has never personally experienced anything like the events mentioned.
A reworking of The Thing (the John Carpenter film version, though anyone familiar with the 1950s film, or the short story Who Goes Here on which both were based, will get the gist of the references) told from the point of view of the monster, and even if you don’t know the source material it’s still stunningly effective, turning the body horror and paranoia about communism of the original(s) round while keeping the actual events identical to those in the film.

My ranking for these is going to be The Things, Ponies, For Want Of A Nail, Amaryllis, but the top three are all very close.

What Should My Next Book Be?

So I’ve finally got An Incomprehensible Condition out of the way, and I’m going to start work on the next few things. My plan is to structure my book-writing like a Claremont A-B-C type plot – have a main book that I’m doing the bulk of the work on at any one time, a second one that I’m writing bits of, and a third I’m planning, then keep moving each book up a stage as I finish.

(This will probably mean roughly one blog post per week on each of the A and B books for a while, unless either of them is a novel. I’ve decided that with the novels I have ideas for, I’m going to write and publish them *first* and then serialise them after the fact).

So I’m interested in which of the book ideas I’ve got people are most interested in reading – and also if there are any books you’d like to see me write. A few things to bear in mind, though:

My music books outsell the others by a factor of three to one.
I have recently joined the Mindless Ones, so comic and TV related posts should go over there unless they *definitely* don’t suit that site, rather than here (so for example posts on new Doctor Who will go over there, posts on old black and white Hartnell episodes over here. Posts about Grant Morrison or Peter Milligan comics definitely go over there, but I’m not sure yet about e.g. Cerebus – there’s a specific feel to that site, and I know some of my material works there, but am not sure how much yet).

Book ideas I’ve got already:
Beach Boys books vols 2 & 3 – this is necessary after publishing vol 1
Guides to Doctor Who episodes, one Doctor per book, starting with Hartnell
A Sherlock Holmes pastiche that has a twist that, unbelievably, I can’t find in any other Holmes pastiche.
A guide to self-publishing, focusing on non-fiction
A look at all Morrison’s DC superhero work (Animal Man, Doom Patrol, JLA, All-Star Superman, Batman, etc)
A guide to the music of the Monkees
A space-opera, high-concept science fiction novel
Guides to the solo albums of Lennon, McCartney and Harrison
A book on Cerebus
A Hammer-style Gothic horror novel

or something else?

Linkblogging For 20/07/11

Proper blogging will resume in a couple of days, but for now here’s some links.

Firstly, I got an email through from lulu today saying that if you buy my latest book from their site before 15th August, they’ll give you 15% off if you use the code MYBOOK305 at the checkout.

In praise of Joanne Rowling’s Hermione Granger series

A new Cindy And Biscuit story is being serialised at Mindless Ones. Part one part two.

Rais Bhuiyan, who was shot in the face by a racist gunman as a response to the attacks on the World Trade Centre in September 2001, is fighting to stop the state of Texas executing his attacker.

Stewart Lee on Michael McIntyre

Matt Seneca on Geoff Johns

The British Psychological Society report Understanding Bipolar Disorder is free to download until the twelfth of August. Also Cambridge University Press is offering free access to all articles published in its journals in 2009 and 2010 until the end of August.

The Muppets’ Strange Life After Death

And physicists have designed a time cloak

Kindle Incomprehensible Condition Now Up

The Kindle version of my book An Incomprehensible Condition: An Unauthorised Guide To Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers, is now up here (US) and here (UK).

A version went up yesterday which was badly-formatted. If for some reason you get this, please re-download the book (it might take some time for my changes to be live on all Amazon’s servers).

As always, reviews are appreciated.

Incidentally, I noticed yesterday that this book is in the exact same categories (comics & graphic novels and literary criticism & theory) as Grant Morrison’s own new book Supergods. Not that I’d suggest that you should all buy multiple copies of mine just to push it ahead of Morrison’s book in the charts for a second, just because it’d be funny, but you should definitely do that.

I’ll be updating the books page and the pages with the original essays on with links later today.

(I originally posted this on the 16th. For some reason the post has disappeared…reposting).

Hugo Blogging – Connie Willis May Be The Worst Writer In Existence

(Before I start, I *will* be doing my guest posts for Liberal England and Thagomizer soon, and will be posting a review of the Beach Boys gig, probably tomorrow, but I’ve had writer’s block for a few days after finishing writing my last book while ill. But I needed to get this off my chest).

I own a book – a rather good one – called How Not To Write A Novel. It takes you through the most common, and most awful, mistakes made by budding authors, and if you read it and manage not to make any of the mistakes it talks about, you might not end up with a *great* novel, but you can be sure to have something at least not obviously, blatantly, godawfully incompetent.

However, I have now discovered a way to produce a masterpiece. Just read Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis, do the exact opposite of what she does, and you will have the greatest work in the history of English literature.

I talked a little about Blackout before, the first half of this two-part so-called novel. To recap – it had nothing at all in the way of plot, had appalling errors of dialect where all the supposed English people had American speech patterns, and it just *stopped* with a ‘read part two to get the end’ – no sort of resolution or conclusion at all. It was a bad book and it made me angry.

However, the Hugo awards people added part two – All Clear – to the downloadable Hugo Packet a couple of weeks ago, and I am trying to get through everything nominated (though I doubt I’ll be able to – I’ve been extraordinarily busy the last couple of months). So I thought I’d at least give it a go.

I am two hundred pages into this 600+ page excuse for a book (or 700 pages into the 1100 page total) and will not be reading any more.

Here is a list of things you can do if you want to write just like the multi-Hugo-Award-winning author Connie Willis:

Write a 600 page book with no conclusion at all, and tell your paying customers to buy another book if they want the conclusion to the story.

Have at least the first 200 pages of that other book continue the pattern of having absolutely nothing happen.

Make a *MASSIVE HUGE DEAL* about your detailed research, filling the book full of details, but then do things like have a character go to visit a barmaid who lives in Manchester, in the Midlands. He goes to her flat on King Street, but she’s moved and so he has to go all the way across town to Whitworth Street. [Manchester is not in the Midlands. King Street is not a residential area, and if it were it would be far too expensive for a barmaid, being at the time the book is sent the centre of Manchester’s banking industry and now the most expensive shopping street in the North of England. Whitworth Street is less than five minutes’ walk away from King Street, and at the time had no residential properties.] Willis has clearly just looked at the Wikipedia ‘list of Manchester streets’ without realising that that list only covers a circle around the city centre with only about a quarter-mile radius. And these details were not necessary to the plot – the character could have turned up, been told she lived ‘the other side of town’ and gone there, without mentioning the streets. Or, indeed, the character could just have gone to the right house with no damage to the story whatsoever. Instead, Willis chooses to show off her research, and gets it laughably, ludicrously wrong.

Assume that all English-speaking people speak in American Standard, and then make sure you have all your British characters repeat phrases like “go look”, “go see”, “go do” and so on. This will ensure that any British reader will want to go *and* return your book to the shop at the earliest opportunity. If you make a special effort, you can put one of these “go verb” sentences in straight after making a gigantic deal of how Englishily English your characters are. If you do this enough you should be able to induce a nervous tic in your reader.

Repeatedly have it look like people have uncovered your characters’ secrets, by having chapters end with people saying things like “Wait a minute, I know what you’re doing…”, then cut to chapter about a different character, then cut back to the original characters, to reveal that there is a perfectly innocuous explanation and they don’t really know anything. Phew! Crisis averted! This trick works especially well the twenty-third or twenty-fourth time it happens in your book.

Have a British character think things like

“Which had been a dreadful idea ever since the days of the American Pilgrims, when John Alden had attempted to persuade Priscilla Mullins to go out with Miles Standish, and Priscilla had said, “Speak for yourself, John.” The last thing she needed was for Stephen to say, “Speak for your-self, Isolde.”
She wondered if John Alden had been a time traveler, who’d then had no idea how to get out of the muck-up he was in.”

– because of course when a British person is thinking to herself, she will immediately think of the kind of cultural reference that every American schoolkid knows but which no British person has a clue about. (This is not me saying this is a bad book because she’s American, by the way. If a British writer were to have an American think about King Charles II in the oak tree, or Alfred burning the cakes or something, I’d have a similar contempt for it. It’s not “ha ha Americans don’t understand British people” but “ha ha bad writer doesn’t bother to think through her characters’ thoughts).

Have all your characters, all the time, talk incessantly about how great Agatha Sodding Christie is, for some reason.

While, obviously, your major characters should all speak like proper Americans, you must ensure that any minor character who is meant to be working class should speak in Dick Van Dyke Cockernee that occasionally slips into something like phonetic Mummerset – “Gor blimey guvnor that’s a rum do and no mistake, bain’t it?” might do for a typical line of dialogue [NB not actual dialogue, I can’t bear to look through the book for an actual example].

Place your major characters, all of whom are friends and care about each other, in a life-threatening situation in which they all need to share all relevant information and work together. Then have them all hide information from each other so as not to worry them. Doing this can easily add five hundred pages of misunderstandings and complication to your book.

And finally…

Have the entire plot of your book depend on the idea that a historian, at Oxford University, whose specialist period is the Second World War, is completely unfamiliar with the names ‘Bletchley Park’ and ‘Alan Turing’.

This is someone who has apparently had a successful writing career for as long as I’ve been alive. On the evidence of this utter, appalling, piece of shit, this travesty, this disgrace that makes Dan Brown look like a more elegant and refined version of F. Scott Fitzgerald, I can only assume that she has incriminating photos of the head of publishing at Spectra, her publishers, and of the people who choose the Hugo shortlists. In which case, I can only say to let her release the photos – they could hardly do more damage to your reputations than these books do.