Monthly Archives: November 2013

Small town sex scandal

I decided I ought to write something a bit cheerful. After all I’m supposed to write fantasy and SF and it’s a bit counter-intuitive if I then go off on rants about all sorts of political rubbish.
I wonder if it’s a sign that I’m getting older that I let all this political stuff bother me? I mean, when I was young and impressionable I used to let it wash over me, life was too important to waste watching the political tribes gibbering and posturing along their respective boundaries.

I would like to suggest that the right honourable member's stance on green tariffs is a disgrace.

I would like to suggest that the right honourable member’s stance on green tariffs is a disgrace.

Perhaps I’m older and worry about the next generation? After all there’s times where they seem awfully naïve and even seem to believe in weird stuff that used to reduce us to giggles when we were that age.
Perhaps it’s me; perhaps it’s just that the thick layer of cynicism has started wearing off?
But if I’m losing my cynicism, I’m still going to cling to my sense of the ridiculous. Yesterday as we drove into town we were met by the following boards outside all our local newsagents.

chicken

I’m not sure how many ways that is subversively politically incorrect. Our local paper has someone who creates these and I think people are a little unsure whether he or she is a genius or merely daft. Still they’ve set themselves a high standard. So far, their acknowledged masterpiece is

eel

So have a good day, Nil illegitimi carborundum* and it does you good to laugh.

* which apparently means ‘the unlawful are not silicon carbide’, I’m sure Terry Pratchett with his Discworld novels might dispute this.

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Get a life, just make sure it’s your own

It’s strange really. I read a fair bit, I listen to the radio, mainly in the car, and it always seems to be women telling other women how to live.
We don’t get men telling men how to live quite so much. I suppose the twentieth century rather put a damper on that. Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori no longer has the power it once did.
So how would I tell women to live?

I’d tell them to beware of the critics. What we forget is people seek affirmation by looking round and seeing other people striving for the same things that they are striving for. Hence the person who has dedicated their whole life to getting to the top in business, or to staying thin, or to combining all this with running the ‘perfect’ home will feel nothing but dislike for another person who does none of these and yet has the audacity to be perfectly happy.
So basically ignore those who tell you that you are betraying ‘the sisterhood’ or whatever by not following in their footsteps. What they mean is that by managing to enjoy life, to be happy and content, without bothering to do all the things they do, just makes them feel undermined and their struggles seem worthless.
That’s their problem, not yours; leave them to worry about it.

Then there’s this whole money thing. Given a choice I wouldn’t borrow money. The more you owe, the less free you are. If you owe nothing and even have a few quid tucked away in the bank, if the boss is a bastard, then you can tell him that and tell him where to stuff his job. If he puts his hands where he shouldn’t you can cheerfully stamp on his instep with your heels.
The fact that our society is now utterly out of kilter because housing costs have been allowed to get out of control is sad but probably the place for another rant.

So let’s get another thing straight. Don’t go into life expecting ‘job satisfaction.’ I think the concept really came in when women entered the job market. Yes, in education and nursing and suchlike you can get job satisfaction. But most men will tell you that, actually, a job is just something you do, it brings in the money and funds real life. Few men have a desperate urge to work in call centres, dig ditches, deal with housing benefit claims, empty dustbins, or fill in potholes in the road. If you get ‘job satisfaction’ fine, that’s great, but don’t expect it to just happen as a right. Like everything else that’s worth having, it’s something that only really comes when you work for it.
What you can hope for is to work with a decent crowd, but that won’t happen by accident either. Someone has to put the effort in and set an example. Might as well be you as anyone else.

Who wants sexy check-out girls anyway?

‘Ello, I wish to register a complaint.

(The owner does not respond.)

‘Ello, Miss?

Owner: What do you mean “miss”?

I’m sorry, I have a cold. I wish to make a complaint!

Yes, I wish to register a complaint. Someone out there is taking the micky. It’s like this. You’ll probably have worked out by now that I’ve written ‘Justice 4.1’ which is out in March. But it doesn’t stop there. I’m working on further books in the same setting. Indeed if you want to visit the Tsarina sector there’s even a facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/TsarinaSector

So wander along, click the ‘like’ button and bring a little sunshine into my life.

But the problem is I’m currently trying to create a decent villain who does unpleasant things. Not only that but I’m trying to portray the unpleasant and dysfunctional societies that he dominates.
‘Fair enough,’ I hear you all mutter, ‘Stop whinging and get on with it.’
The problem is that no sooner do I get a really cool, evil and devious idea for my villain, than along comes the real world, sneers at me and points out that reality has already surpassed me.
I was setting up a background where there population would be oppressed and kept in poverty by those employing them. I was a bit worried that I might be getting carried away. After all, when you’re writing fiction you have to make sure you carry the reader with you. They have to suspend their disbelief which means you have to keep things ‘real’.
And then I saw this.
http://www.upworthy.com/that-one-time-when-a-company-with-a-gajillion-dollars-tried-collecting-food-donations-for-its-staff-6?g=2&c=ufb1

Sorry but that is beyond a joke! I literally dare not make that up. Yet somebody sat in an office and decided to make that company policy!

Mind you, the great Terry Pratchett once wrote “There are hardly any excesses of the most crazed psychopath that cannot easily be duplicated by a normal kindly family man who just comes in to work every day and has a job to do.” (Small Gods)
But do we care? Will enough people be so revolted that they stop shopping in Walmart and Asda?
Why do you think I put ‘sexy checkout girls’ in the title? How many people would have bothered reading a rant about supermarket employment policies?

“The louder he talked of his honour, the faster we counted our spoons.”

Funny old world, I remember my mother using that phrase, and now, perhaps thirty years later I discover it was written by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Perhaps it’s an appropriate expression to be brought to mind when I’ve just read that China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Algeria, and Cuba have won seats on the UN Human Rights Council?
But there again, political hypocrisy has been the soundtrack of my life. After all I can remember America defending democracy by the simple expedient of propping up military dictatorships throughout much of the world.
It’s hardly a new phenomenon. I remember reading of an exchange in the House of Lords. One honourable Lord was reduced to spluttering fury. Her Majesty’s government had just recognised as head of state an African tyrant who had seized power by killing his predecessor. In the words of the irate gentleman “Never has a British Government sunk so low.”
At this point an older and potentially wiser member of the chamber had risen to his feet and raised a point of accuracy. He remembered a case when the British Government had recognised a dictator who had not merely killed his predecessor but had eaten him as well.

Are we entitled to intervene to impose our opinions upon others? Was the Second World War justified, or should we have sat back and let Fascism evolve and burn itself out? Was the creed that perpetrated the Holocaust a legitimate target?
But what about modern campaigns which might crush tyrants or regimes of which we disapprove; but that might well also secure energy supplies? Are they justified? Are we justified in going to war with an organisation that regards a fair proportion of the human race as non-persons who are fit only to be chattels of the rest? In the UK we’ve decided to join in the war against Islamic extremism, but we never interfered in the American civil war.

Personally I would suggest that hypocrisy abroad starts with hypocrisy at home. One problem is that we expect to get what we want at the expense of others. Look at the howl that has gone up over the price of energy this winter. Look at the complaints about the price of food. But if we were honest with ourselves, the prices have gone up because they were far too cheap; we were getting a good deal at the expense of others. Apparently, countries like Saudi Arabia now need an oil price of at least $100 a barrel to cover the level of social payments, food subsidies and suchlike they pay to their own population.
You cannot expect cheap food and energy and then bewail the conditions faced by those who are struggling to make a living producing that food.
But with the ‘my beliefs first’ attitude well entrenched we manage to take things even further.
Let us take the issue of the Winter Olympics in the Russia. Do I like the Russian government’s attitude (which may or may not be widely shared by the Russian people) to homosexuality? Frankly, no.
Do I think the Winter Olympics should be held there? Well let us put this in perspective. I have no interest whatsoever in the Winter Olympics (but then I never watched anything to do with the 2012 Olympics in London either.) If the Winter Olympics were cancelled, postponed or moved to Barnsley, it would bother me not at all.
But there are athletes out there who’ve worked for years, practicing, training, giving up all sorts of things, with the 2014 games as their goal. In 2018 they’ll be too old or past their best or new talent will have come through. Their lives have been geared to these games.
If I decide I’m affronted by the Russian attitude am I entitled to demand the games be boycotted, to demand that others screw up their lives to ensure that my beliefs are given the priority I think they deserve?
Surely it cannot be anything other than gross hypocrisy on my part to sit in a house warmed (directly or indirectly) by Russian gas, expecting others to sacrifice their careers because it’s an easy way for me to air my beliefs?
Surely I’m no better than those who demand that women sacrifice their independence of thought and action because their interpretation of their religious beliefs tells them this is how the world should be?

Complicated old world isn’t it?
The more you learn the less certain you become. Leap on a passing bandwagon and you discover it’s a tumbrel taking some poor innocent to the guillotine. I’ll leave you with a comment from a web cartoon, ‘Looking for Group’ at http://www.lfgcomic.com/

Kraken 1

Kraken 2

Fabulous free holiday

Excursion, n ; An expedition of so disagreeable a character that steamboat and railroad fares are compassionately mitigated to the miserable sufferers.
(Ambrose Bierce.)

Everyone needs a gimmick and to sell a book I decided on a fabulous holiday competition. Other people give away bookmarks or free copies of the book or even signed free copies of the bookmark. I would go one step further. For everyone who buys a copy of Justice 4.1 (The Tsarina Sector) and turns up at the check-in desk at the Kaunas City Spaceport, Tsarina, will get a two week, free, all expenses paid holiday for two on Tsarina.
Cannot say fairer than that surely?

The problem is, whilst everyone is doubtless convinced that the book will be a true classic of its genre; folk asked difficult questions about the holiday, along the lines of what is the place like, what factor sun-block will I need; is there a nudity taboo which might impact on the beach holiday they have planned?

Now Haldar Drom is as nice a guy as you’ll meet but he’s a bit slow at getting back to me so I started pirating pictures off the web.
So obviously we need a spaceport. Where do I find a picture of a spaceport? After hunting round I found this and posted it to Facebook.

Spaceport

But I wanted to somehow make it unique to Tsarina so I added the comment
“So I’ve included an artist’s impression of the Spaceport. It’s been lying about in the files for a few centuries to be honest. Not only that but we never had the budget to build it as designed but the picture gives you some idea. Just replace the domed structures with an assemblage of converted transport containers, pre-fabricated industrial units and a couple of obsolete spaceship hulls which were too good to scrap completely. (Strip the drives out of them, leave in the power systems and they make perfectly acceptable office accommodation.)
Oh yes and the grass is greener and more verdant than in the picture. Apparently the artist was from off-world and never got to terms with our climate. (Or the geography for that matter, he’s completely forgotten to put in the river.)
And it’s still possible to land here without getting eaten by the natives.”

This only brought forth more comments. What does the place actually look like? So frantically I scoured the web again. I found this one, I liked it.

ad hoc offices

Actually I’d have liked it in real life because of the ingenuity, but it’s a very practical combination of shipping containers and a covered working area. So it’s there on the spaceport somewhere.
People commented that are site was rather more run down that I was claiming, so honesty compelled me to post this, an atmospheric shot of the breakers yard which is on the periphery of the spaceport.

ad hoc offices 3

Finally because Tsarina has seen better days, there is part of the spaceport which is no longer used much, and is sliding into dereliction. I found this…

ad hoc offices 2

Now then, in the second book, (about to go to the editors) Haldar takes a trip to the spaceport by river taxi and I describe the fishing village which is growing out of a decaying industrial suburb. Whilst I was looking for other stuff I found this.

sudan_slums

And then Susan Watson posted this picture, asking why I was covering up Tsarina’s less attractive face

the-road-desolation1

So I looked at the picture and liked it. I could work with that, so I merely commented
“I don’t think it shows the place in the best light. The old power station isn’t normally that bad but there’s too much Lignite available close to the site to ignore, and it does date from the messy period during the fall of the Salinid Emperors. We had to keep the lights on somehow. It’s wearing well for 350 years old. It’s actually some distance south of the Spaceport and you cannot normally see it from Kaunas City. The old access road has been scrapped since the winter that was taken; it had outlived its usefulness.”

And by chance, by design and by the suggestions of friends, Tsarina keeps growing. The background has now acquired a Lignite fired power station which will inevitably warrant a passing mention in a future book, if only because the smoke might delay flights, or alternatively act as a marker, more visible from orbit than the space port itself.

Stranger than fiction, or just strange?

As the boy confessed when caught peering over the partition into the girls section of the showers; “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

The problem for most of us is that we’re trapped in the shadow of the giants. Not only do we not share their vision, but we’ve not even got the initiative to step out into the sunlight that is there for us, had we only got the courage to shift.
The last couple of days have been a quietly thought provoking time. Remembrance Sunday has gone, and on it I managed to finish reading the new Terry Pratchett, ‘Raising Steam.’ Brilliant book but reading it is not an entirely unalloyed pleasure. You see I am not without my literary pretensions. If you click on the ‘About’ link on the red bar above you’ll see the fantasy books I’ve written. I’ve even got a Sci Fi book coming out in paper back this coming March
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Justice-4-1-Tsarina-Sector-Webster/dp/1908208236/

Hence I was seriously chuffed when someone told me my books reminded them a lot of Jack Vance and Terry Pratchett. It’s nice to think I’m good enough to remind people of the greats, but it does keep me in my place.
So I sat down to read the latest book by the master

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Raising-Steam-Discworld-novel-Novels/dp/0857522272/

And for me, he did it again. Engineering and Steam hit Discworld. But it is so much more than that. He hasn’t merely written a book which is both a good read and amusing in places, page turning in others, he’s shone a light back into our world.
In this book he manages to shine a light into the dark places of religious fanaticism and the use of terror, as well as to get the feel of ‘The Age of Steam’. And the problem is, as he gently looks at the magic of the railway and the nature of the world the railways made, he somehow sets our own world in stark relief.
A century and a half ago we were a people who could build things, who could dream and hammer the dreams into shape with steel, brass and steam. Now we’re just a people who, if they want to make money, rip each other off with financial services scams, wheel clamping schemes, and now the latest is the car parking protection rackets.
We’ve seen the giants, and now we are the pygmies trapped in their shade.

Now, even having literary pretensions isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, reality ends up being more fantastic that anything a writer feels they can create. I went to a meeting locally. A local store, The Range, has got a car park for customers. They’ve handed over the management to Parking Eye who monitor it and ‘police’ it. Now, if you go to the store and buy something, that’s fine, you’ve got two hours to park or else they’ll give you a ticket. But if you buy something, go home, and find that you’ve misjudged the quantities and need more, there’s no return within three hours or you’ll get a penalty charge notice!
Even more strange, if you’re keen to buy something, and turn up before the shop opens, that too earns you a penalty charge notice.

Sorry, but don’t they want our custom? Aren’t they trying to sell us stuff or is the margin on car parking fines better than the margin on actually selling stuff? Does the left hand know what the right hand is doing?

I’m left hoping that Terry Pratchett is fit enough for a few more books; he mentioned wheel clampers in ‘Raising Steam’, perhaps he can throw so light on car parking charges in his next. After all, I think he’s the only person with the imagination to come up with something more surreal than the reality.

Einstein parking eye

They shall not grow old

History? What of it. As my mother carried me, yet unborn, General Allenby led his army into Jerusalem on foot, with the words “I will not ride where my Saviour walked.” As I came into this world, the Tsar and his family were being shot in a cellar.
I loved in my own way, survived another war, the blitz, the rationing, and then I raised a family. Let future generations decide whether I did a good job; and now I am old. As we grow old we build a shell around ourselves like a snail. An accretion of memories and familiarity, known people and comfortable places that prop us up and help us make our way slowly but steadily into the future.
Was I shocked? In the last ten years the only thing that shocked me was when I read that they cancelled all London buses because of a bit of snow.
And now I am ill. The shell that supported me and gave my life shape has been smashed. My world is a hospital bed. I’m surrounded by nurses and auxiliaries and physiotherapists and technicians in unnumbered hordes. They speak kindly and clearly to me but then talk staccato gibberish to each other over my head because the day is too short for the deeds that need doing. And the wards keep changing, diagnosed with this, transferred there, diagnosed with that, transferred onwards again. This time the care is intensive, this time palliative, this time they’re building me up for discharge. I’ve even got a social worker, whatever one of them is supposed to do. Perhaps it’s to make sure I don’t play truant or spend all my money on drink?
The day’s routine? Wake up, look round, try and check to see if I’m in the same ward. The bed next to me has a different occupant; I’m sure they weren’t there yesterday, are they new or am I?
And slowly my mind tries to rebuild the shell. Tries to give me back the security of ‘knowing’. Tries to give me what everyone else takes for granted. So we start with the real. We start with the German exam that no living person but me remembers. We start with the new lab, a triumph snatched from post war austerity. Did someone say austerity? What does some rich young puppy on the front bench know of austerity with his millionaire father? And they tell me his father was a Marxist?
And then there’s the questions; they’re always asking me questions, some difficult, some personal, and always such haste for the answer. Don’t they want me to think about it, to give them the right answer? If they don’t know who the Prime Minister is, why ask me, I’ve seen twenty of them, some great, some pygmies struggling to see over their own inflated egos.
But that’s the trouble with being ill, the questions, the tablets, the constant change for no reason. It leaves me so tired. I think I’ll sleep now, I wonder where I’ll wake up?
But to cancel the buses, just because of a bit of snow. I remember 1947 and……

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.