Bats, Giant Diseased Bats

I am, in fact, farting around with a little personal weblog idea, because it amused me to “make” a thing that took away the impetus to tweet.  (I had to go back on Twitter in prep for the CASTLEVANIA launch announcement.)  I’m fine with syndicating words to Twitter, as it can create useful network effects that benefit me when I go back into public-internet-hermit mode.  But having Twitter be their sole home and originating space?  Not always so comfortable with that.  I have systems to copy my words out of Twitter again, but…

And while I do enjoy these morning notes, and find them useful — when I’m really busy, like this year, my mornings are really just for trying to wake the fuck up.  I’m finding I’d like to do little bursts of notation and broadcast during the day.  As a way to keep myself thinking and moving, as a way to perhaps be in the world in a useful way, and also to create a little box of thoughts for myself.

Coming off the main services and using them for what they’re actually good for – sharing interesting links and pictures, signal boosting the good things, and abusing people I know.  (Hi Chip!)  Doing everything else in my own diaries and notebooks.

This is probably still my brain trying to escape the multiple deadlines surrounding me like bats.

Here is a picture of some skulls.  I have a newsletter.

 

SUMMERLAND

The British Empire colonised the afterlife.

SUMMERLAND is one of the great entertainments of the year so far.  Another alternate-history, like UNHOLY LAND. And as good.

This 1938 is a time following an actual expedition into the afterlife by a British colonel, aided by Marconi and a thinly disguised HG Wells (named Herbert Blanco West, the latter two names belonging to his illegitimate children, which I thought was a fine touch) using the additional scientific theories of Charles Howard Hinton, a mathematician interested in the fourth dimension (he shows up briefly in FROM HELL).

Rachel White works for the Secret Intelligence Service. The service’s higher echelon is split into two parts. The Winter Court, here in the world of the living. And the Summer Court, populated by dead spymasters and spies — named for Summerland, an old British term for the afterlife. Thanks to British ecto-science, the two sides can interface.

One bleak winter afternoon when he was ten years old, Peter returned from school and found his mother sitting in the drawing room. The crystal set he thought was safely hidden amongst his toys under his bed lay in her lap. It was the size of a cigarette box, with a frayed cardboard casing, a Bakelite tuning dial and a tinny speaker that you had to hold up against your ear. Peter had bought it from Neville, an older boy at school. ‘Nanny Schmidt found this while cleaning,’ she said, tapping the set. ‘Tell me, Pete – what do the dead say when you talk to them?’ ‘You … you can’t talk to them with the basic kit, you can only listen,’ Peter said. ‘There is a lot of static. Mostly you only get the recent dead. They don’t make much sense.’ ‘I see.’ ‘I just wanted to understand how it worked.’ ‘And do you?’ ‘Of course I do, Mother, it’s all in Powell’s Aetheric Mechanics for Boys.

And let’s be clear here – the afterlife is British. Only British subjects of a certain status can obtain a Ticket.  Because when we did we go to the afterlife – but we fade away after a day. We dissipate. The Ticket lets us stay there, in the city we built on the other side.

Rachel White is dealing with a Russian defector who seems to be trying to get himself killed. Without a Ticket. And that’s where it starts. Because he knows something he hasn’t told anyone else.  Something that could destroy the British security service. And he tells Rachel.

It’s a spy story, yes.  In a thoroughly worked out alternate history where accessing ghost technologies changed everything, large and small.  Le Carre in the underworld, perhaps. It’s also an absolute blast from beginning to end.  One of those “it’s 3am I really need to put this book down, maybe at the end of this chapter, oops no” books.

I’m not doing it justice.  I really liked it.

Full disclosure: I once wrote a graphic novella called AETHERIC MECHANICS.

SUMMERLAND, Hannu Rajaniemi (UK) (US)

 

 

 

UNHOLY LAND

I read an advance copy of Lavie Tidhar’s UNHOLY LAND last week.  It’s one of those lovely books that starts out presenting itself as one thing, and mutates into another almost without you seeing it.

It begins with a minor pulp detective-fiction writer leaving his home in Berlin to revisit the land of his birth – a Jewish state in Africa.  Right away, we’re in alternate-history space — this was actually a floated idea around 1900, the British Uganda Program, also referred to as the Uganda Scheme, in the wake of Russian pogroms against the Jewish people.  So far, an African take on THE YIDDISH POLICEMAN’S UNION.

But.  The writer’s name is Lior Tirosh. Compare that to Lavie Tidhar.  Partway through, Tidhar ascribes the authorship of one of his own books to Tirosh. OSAMA.  An alternate-history novel featuring a detective and a series of pulp novels.   One detects the wake of the grand galleon of Michael Moorcock sailing by on the way to Tanelorn.  Tidhar, as most recently evidenced by CENTRAL STATION, is a game-player of a writer who uses the spectrum of science fiction canon for his pieces.

And then the book turns into what it’s really about, a grand game of alternate worlds cast like jewels on the sand.  The long second act is all dust and blood and madness and glory, and the fast third act comes down on you like a sharpened spade.

Lavie Tidhar is a clever bastard, and this book is a box of little miracles. I liked it.

More details here.  It’s out Sept/Oct.

UNHOLY LAND, Lavie Tidhar (UK) (US)

 

Crooked God Machine

My Daddy’s hands were like burnt maps. He said if we wanted to learn how to conquer the world, all we needed to do was look at his hands.

CROOKED GOD MACHINE by Autumn Christian is a mesmerising, monstrous nightmare of a novel.  There’s David Lynch in there, and Cormac McCarthy, and Southern Gothic, and modernist narrative forms, and folklore and half a dozen other things that are all the novelist.  I’m just trying to put some handles on it for you. It is horrific and unrelenting and dreamlike and beautiful.  I found it weirdly hard to put down.  Like it didn’t want to let go.  Like it wanted to make me keep looking.

It’s the story of Charles, who is living through the very slow end of the world, living in a small house in a small town that is always dying but never quite dead yet.  It’s the story of growing up during the end of the world.  Normalising the most awful things.

There are almost clues to what happened.  But they’re scattered by dream logic, and the lyrical horror of transapocalyptic life, where God shrieks at you through the television, a Jenny Greenteeth-like monster called Jolene eats bones in the creek at the end of your garden, people go to sleep for ten years with spiders in their heads and the hell shuttles are always on their way to collect you.

For some of you, there’s a bunch of things in there that are going to feel disturbingly close to home. It is not a comfortable read for anyone.  But it compelled me.  It’s young, raw work, but it is fierce and furious and knows what it’s about. I admired it a great deal.

CROOKED GOD MACHINE, Autumn Christian (UK) (US)

 

Medicine For A Hole In The Head

Sometimes — and I suspect it’s usually a sign something is wrong in the work, that my brain is thrashing around looking for new things to grab hold of — but sometimes, I think about being online more.  In that Extremely Online way of multiple daily blogging.  I look at clever new microblogging systems like Blot, which is really very smartly built indeed, or remember with guilt that I still have an unused instance at the marvellous Ghost system, and I think, well, maybe I could do something this time…

It is, as I say, a warning shot from the back of my head.  Something’s wrong and I need to look at what I’m working on again.  It’s the subconscious leaving clues that something is broken. You have to learn to recognise these things before they trip you up.

I have decided to blame Georgina Voss for saying she wanted “an alternative internet.”  That clause sent my stupid brain to a number of places it should not loiter in.

So I shall go to the place where they fill these glasses with wine, as medicine.

Re-reading: CANNIBAL METAPHYSICS, Eduardo Viveiros de Castro (UK) (US)

 

Bad Writer

Georges Simenon used to write a novel in eight days, producing between six thousand and eight thousand words a day.  He’d start at dawn each day and be done by 10.30am, drenched in sweat.  In his younger days, it’s said, he’d throw up after completing his shift.  One of my favourite stories about Michael Moorcock is that he’d start a book on a Monday when the bill from Harrods came in and deliver the novel on Friday to get the cheque to pay it.

I cannot imagine what these things are like.  I’m a 500-word-a-day novelist.  Sometimes I wonder if I’m too late to try it: whether it’d kill me, whether I’d dry up halfway through.  Whether it would even be worth it.  These things stand like megalithic stones in the landscape of a writer.  I know I’m working in their shadows.  But I also tell myself: what muscles do you tear and what do you lose when you try it?

Simenon owned wolves. But he had to give them to a zoo after they ate the cat.

 

Recently read: CROOKED GOD MACHINE, Autumn Christian (UK) (US)

 

Beckett And The BBC Radiophonic Workshop

One of my favourite Samuel Beckett pieces is ALL THAT FALL, and, in search of a memory-refresher on a detail of the piece, I found this thing that I don’t think I knew before:

Since the journey of the main character is presented psychologically, Beckett asked for natural sounds to be adapted in unnatural ways. “New methods,” Martin Esslin writes, “had to be found to extract the various sounds needed (both animal and mechanical – footsteps, cars, bicycle wheels, the train, the cart) from the simple naturalism of the hundreds of records in the BBC’s effects library. Desmond Briscoe [sound technician] (and his gramophone operator, Norman Baines) had to invent ways and means to remove these sounds from the purely realistic sphere. They did so by treating them electronically: slowing down, speeding up, adding echo, fragmenting them by cutting them into segments, and putting them together in new way.”[80]Actors produced the sounds of all the animals but “Beckett was actually unimpressed by the use of human voices for the rural sounds when he listened into the … broadcast.”[81]

“These experiments, and the discoveries made as they evolved, led directly to the establishment of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Beckett and All That Fall thus directly contributed to one of the most important technical advances in the art of radio (and the technique, and indeed technology, of radio in Britain).”

Also in Briscoe’s Guardian obit:

The pioneering sound engineer Desmond Briscoe, who has died aged 81, was among the first in Britain to realise the potential of electronic music in the 1950s, initially through composition and eventually as manager of the BBC’s electronic music studio, the Radiophonic Workshop, from 1960 to 1984.

His breakthrough commission – the success of which ultimately led to the creation of the studio – was Samuel Beckett’s first radio play, All That Fall (1957). Realising Beckett’s wish for a new kind of “pure radio” – one that blended dialogue, music and sound effect – Briscoe used the Parisian techniques of musique concrète (music made by editing together and manipulating bits of prerecorded magnetic tape) to create sounds previously unheard on British radio, thus bringing to public attention the potential for electronic tape effects in drama.

I kind of love the notion that the sainted BBC Radiophonic Workshop is all Samuel Beckett’s fault.

 

 

The Clock

I’ve never really had to travel constantly for my job.  But there have been times.  God, there have been times. There are those years, those moments, when you wake up at 4am in a strange hotel room in a strange city, and you’re coming up on one hundred thousand miles on the flight trail, and you look at the clock and think what the hell am I doing?  And that’s me saying that, a neurotypical log of low emotional content and dead nerves.  What the hell am I doing?  Does this stop?  Can it stop?

And in the morning you’re back in another car, on the way to another airport, knowing it’s three more continents before dinner, looking at the clock, and it keeps on ticking, and you keep on moving, and you try to relax back into the ticking and keep moving into the future.

If you can still hear yourself over the tick of the clock, you’re lucky.  Hold on tight til the sun comes up.

 

READING: THE FICTION, Curt Pires & David Rubin with Michael Garland (UK) (US)

 

Post-Light

I saw Kate Devlin tweet that How The Light Gets In 2018 destroyed her. I know the feeling but I wish I had time to be destroyed.  Got home late Tuesday, after that goddamn thunderstorm followed me into London while I was in for two meetings, and then stalked me all the way back to Southend.  I am heading out again in a couple of days, unusually for me, and fully expect it to trail me back into London.

How The Light Gets In festival was unusual, too.  For me, it’s not normally that incredibly social.  Sunday was a joy, drinking with Kate, Mic Wright, Kristen Sollee and Roxana Shirazi (and Tess Gruenberg, earlier).  I’m not sure any of the panels I did were especially enlightening for anyone, although I certainly learned things from the likes of the formidable Margaret Boden,  But, for the first time, I just had an incredibly fun and relaxed day full of laughter and stories.  It may not have been productive in any real sense, but, damn, I’d missed the experience of friends.

And now I’m back to the processing and the sending and the writing.  That should hold me for a year.  Here we go again.

 

READING: THE BOOK OF CHOCOLATE SAINTS, Jeet Thayil  (UK) (US)

 

London And Out

Made it into London after far too many trains out of darkest Wales, only to run back into the thunderstorm I left behind. Damp superheated London is not a thing I would invite you to experience. And suddenly Bank Holiday Mondays are a thing where people close shops and bars and restaurants again? When did that happen? Thankfully, when I made it back West to find Molly, there was a basic British boozer open, and we drank all their whisky until very late. Strange to think she’s one of my oldest friends now, as well as one of the best.

And now, for my sins, to Carnaby Street. And then home to the Thames Delta. Where I’ve just been told the thunderstorm awaits me. I remain the bringer of rain, no matter where I go.