Future Ways

I got told I should have a hobby.  So I’ve decided to build a physical collection of German experimental music from the 1970s, the kosmische.

What they used to call Krautrock, back in the dark ages. Typing it in that way is pretty much the only time you’ll catch me using that word – in its context as an old, awful word from a worse time.  Kosmische is better.  German experimental music from the 1970s covers it all. (Although, if I had a drink, I could argue that Kraftwerk were kosmische via “Autobahn” in the same way that a dual carriageway represented intersidereal space in ALPHAVILLE – a “fable on realistic ground” in Godard’s words) It might be ungainly as a term, but I haven’t found a better term that describes all of it.  The laboratories of Germany that sought to create a new music for a new country.

I love the sense of all these groups of people reaching for a condition of new futurity, many launching themselves on radically different trajectories from the others, others tumbling into similar motifs, as if the Apache-beat/motorik has its steam-engine time.

It makes you want to look around for the laboratories of today.  Notable, many of these groups worked in conditions of isolation. What next shall steam-engine at steam-engine time?

Thomas The Tank Engine In Hell

I attempted to destroy Lavie Tidhar’s brain yesterday by affirming that, yes, THOMAS THE TANK ENGINE is a dystopia, and in fact is a post-nuclear-apocalypse story about the Strategic Reserve ghost fleet.

The Strategic Reserve is one of Britain’s finer urban myths.  It holds that a ghost fleet of pristine steam locomotives is stored in a secret base under Box Tunnel, in the west of England, ready to be deployed on the rails in the event of nuclear EMP frying the electric lines. In the aftermath of atomic war, the steam trains would roll out of Box Tunnel to serve the survivors, eating fire and breathing soot.

Box Tunnel has its own myth.  Designed by Brunel, dug out by thousands of workers who burned one ton of candles a week to light their way, it is said the tunnel is angled so that the sun can be seen to rise through its portals on Brunel’s birthday, April 9.

I used Box Tunnel in my second James Bond graphic novel, EIDOLON.  Charlie Stross used the Strategic Reserve in THE RHESUS CHART, I think.

Anyway, Lavie’s recent book CENTRAL STATION was great and you should read it.  (UK) (US)



Over It

Over the weekend I wrote two comics scripts. This is not something a human body – at least my human body – is supposed to do.  I had chunks of both of them pre-written or floating around in rough note form, but, still. Top to bottom and out the door.  Yesterday I processed a stupid amount of work-related information, proofed a PDF, read most of a book sent on to me for a consideration to adapt, locked the casting of two characters on a tv show, wrote another couple of pages on a long series document.  I’m permanently tired, I’m in a growing amount of pain, my email is piling up, I’m not posting anything anywhere but here and on my newsletter, most people probably think I’m dead and there’s nothing here but the work and the weather and music and the event streams on the big screen and the thinking.

I’m here to report that I’m in my happy place.  You guys can have the rest of the world.  I’m over it.  I am in my place of peace.

You have a place of peace too.  It only takes time and experimentation to find it. Think about doing that.


Spring Is Here

Yesterday I left the house — well, I left the house for ten minutes to get water and cigarettes and that was the only time I went out yesterday because I had to process a tv pitch and movie treatment notes and re-listen to a bunch of audition tapes before actually writing a word, and —

Yesterday,  I left the house with only a henley and an open shirt on my top half, and I didn’t get snowed on or cut through by Arctic wind. I did, however, catch a look at myself in a shop window and my god that winter weight has to go

Yesterday, I left the house with only a henley and an open shirt on my top half and it was crisp and clean without being properly cold, for the first time this year. Spring has finally happened.  If it stays like this for another ten days, I might even shake the cold and the damp out of my bones, where it starts settling by February.

I just felt like noting that the world is starting up again. I like marking the seasons and cycles, these days. Soon I’ll be able to work outdoors, travel light and change hue to actual white from blue/grey.

Image from a couple of months ago, when the girls went out in the snow but decided a snowman would be just too boring.


LEFT BANK: Fear & Loathing In The City Of Lights

(Ernest Hemingway, in a jeep) stopped once more, this time in front of 7 rue des Grands Augustins. Picasso was not in – he was still with Maya and Marie-Thérèse. The concierge asked Hemingway if he wanted to leave something with his note. Without a pause, Hemingway went straight to his jeep and came back with a wooden case full of hand grenades on which he wrote, ‘To Picasso from Hemingway’ and handed it to the concierge.

LEFT BANK by Agnes Poirier is a witty, sharp-edged but not unaffectionate history of the Parisian cultural scene 1940-50.  It is filled with lovely anecdotes like the above.

Also, this was, um, interesting:

Sartre took fame in his stride, not that he looked for it – rather the opposite. This sudden glory felt to him idiotic and a high price to pay. He had wanted to write novels, to be a writer, to be a genius living in obscurity like Baudelaire. Events had decided otherwise and sentenced him to be an outspoken intellectual living in the glare of public attention. Nobody would ever remember what he wrote but only what he was and what he said – in other words, he would be remembered as a public intellectual, not quite the same thing as the great writer he had once wanted to be. ‘From now on, he would put the absolute in the ephemeral, he would lock himself up in the present and in the time he lived in, he would accept to perish entirely with his epoch,’ wrote Beauvoir. What extraordinary clairvoyance and lucidity. Indeed, Les Chemins de la liberté would be his last work of fiction. Sartre would sacrifice himself to commenting and trying to influence the world.

This is exceptionally clear-eyed, cold and well stated.

The book may bear useful comparison with Sarah Bakewell’s excellent AT THE EXISTENTIALIST CAFE, a book that is notably kinder to everyone (except Heidegger) than Poirier’s.  Poirier observes many of the players with a somewhat jaundiced eye – her distrust of the dancing phenomenologist Merleau-Ponty is almost palpable, whether he’s roasting Koestler or creeping on Juliette Greco.  Poirier’s observations of the women of the Left Bank are generally warm, however, and conducted with a fond detail that admirably fills out the female stories that tend to get erased or subsumed among the Sartres and Picassos and Camus’ of the time.  (What is the plural of a Camus?  Camuses?  Camusii?)  The heroes of the French Resistance in Paris had people of the arts among them, and some died for that, and their stories are worth learning.

Anyway, this book is great.

LEFT BANK, Agnes Poirier (UK) (US)

Network Effects

Some time in the past, I read that Charles Dickens was attacked by contemporaneous critics for what they saw as an overuse of coincidence in his work.  What they missed was that Dickens was one of the first people writing in a sustained way about life in early-modern cities. When you stack enough people in a single place, at an unprecedented density, confluences happen at a very increased rate. It’s the network effect.

They used to say that if your kink is one in a million, and you live in New York City, there are seven other people just like you.  Network effect.

Old Terence McKenna used to say “find the others” to his little convened groups in bookstores or retreats, and “someone in this room probably has what you need,” because the people in those particular interest clouds were geographically scattered and only connected by slow long-distance pre-digital communications.

“Finding the others” is a keyword search now.  Network effect is the tag cloud casting the long dark shadow over the conversation.

We’re still driving cars without having learned how to not kill people with them.  Pretty much the same thing with social media.





The signal for when too much is happening is, for me, very simple.  It’s when my phone tries to play eight notification sounds in the same second and has a seizure.  That happened Friday.  Yes, Friday was Good Friday, which I understand is a holiday in some places.

It’s hard for me to describe how my brain works.  I mean, it’s hard for most writers, I think?  I dimly remember Fraction in CASANOVA likening his mentation to running around with a stick dipped in honey to catch butterflies or something.  I can run a lot of windows on my screen, but eventually the screen fills up and I’m doing more clicking than viewing just to see everything that’s going on in my head.  Which means that less is going on in my head because I’m doing more clicking than looking.  Something like that.  Cognitive overload, which eventually triggers the hypertensive stress and the blood pressure fuckery if I let it go on too long.

Try this, for a minute.  Try to describe your experience of how your brain works.  Think of a metaphor that works for you.  Then describe your experience of the thing that stops it working.  Explain your brain to yourself.  It’s a good way to surface the problems, and perhaps the ways to solve them.  The inside of your own head is really pretty amazing in ways that are unique to you. Even the annoying or “bad” parts. Sit and breathe and watch it go, and then paint a picture of it with words.  That’s all we do, here in hermit country.  Paint with words. Sit down next to me.1



On The Sobering Uses Of Literature

Jean-Paul Sartre was working furiously on his second play, Les Mouches (The Flies), while finishing his major philosophy treatise, L’Être et le néant (Being and Nothingness). Jean Paulhan had convinced Gallimard to publish the 700-page essay even if the commercial prospects were extremely limited. However, three weeks after it came out in early August, sales took off. Gallimard was intrigued to see so many women buying L’Être et le néant. It turned out that since the book weighed exactly one kilogram, people were simply using it as a weight, as the usual copper weights had disappeared to be sold on the black market or melted down to make ammunition.

From the excellent LEFT BANK by Agnès Poirier  (UK) (US)



New Computer Who Dis

My four-year-old warrior of a Thinkpad started sending me warnings of a failing hard drive last month. Being in the middle of writing a tv series is not the best time to have a hard drive failure.  So today I am writing on a new Thinkpad.  The old one – which was brilliant and Just Worked – was a 14-inch machine. This one is a 15.6-inch machine, because I liked the idea of having just a little bit more screen. I forgot that the keyboard would come with a numberpad.  Which 14-inch machines generally don’t. So everything I have four-year muscle-memory of is shoved a couple of inches to the left.  This means that I’ve been typing like a seal for a day, trying to burn in the new memory while hitting \ instead of the shift key every twenty seconds.

The old machine is in my desk drawer, right under the desktop the new one is sitting on.  It still works.  It will probably work forever. The hard drive failure warning was a test of love and loyalty. I have failed it.  I am a monster.  I will die alone, with only the voiceless, heartless blank stare of a new laptop that is wrong by two inches to witness my lonely, deserved passing.

Below is a recent photo of the old laptop and its battle scars.

The new machine is a Lenovo T580 touchscreen version.  (UK) (US)


VOID BLACK SHADOW: Return Of The Space Witch

VOID BLACK SHADOW by Corey J White is the sequel to KILLING GRAVITY, being the continuing science fiction tale of Mars Xi, an actual no-shit SPACE WITCH.  That probably sold the books to some of you all on its own.  (Space witch, complete with a cat-like gengineered-weirdo familiar that, in my head, always looks more like a ferret for some reason.)

VOID BLACK SHADOW was, for me, a really fast read.  It just clatters along, and it packs a lot in – a lot more than I originally expected.  Every time you think it’s going to settle into “Oh, so this is where the rest of the book is set,” White just blasts through it and throws a bunch of new stuff at you. White is due to be discovered as a John Scalzi-like crowdpleaser with sharper teeth and a real flair for the Big Stuff.

VOID BLACK SHADOW is a wild, explosive ride through the deep dark.  You’ll like it.

(I did a cover blurb for KILLING GRAVITY, full disclosure etc etc)