Thursday, 25 February 2010

Picocon update

For those that are planning to attend Picocon in London on saturday 27th, and for anyone toying with the idea, I've been told by the organisers that there's a good chance copies of TW will be on sale. Whether or not this turns out to be the case is entirely outside the organisers' control, since it will depend on books being released and shipped from the publisher's warehouse, but I thought it worth mentioning. It should be a fun day in any case.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Can't buy a fear of music

Here are the records I picked up on my recent trip. As you'll see from the price stickers, some were bought in London (fopp) on the way back. I didn't go sniffing out record stores in the States, and the two I expected to find - the big Virgin on Times Square and the Harvard Record Exchange in Boston - were both long gone. I was also mindful of not bringing back too many items since, aside from customs regulations, our bags were already stuffed to the gills before we left.


In amongst the newer stuff, there are a couple of older albums which are very special to me, and which I am only now buying on CD. I have never owned a vinyl copy of either of them. Steely Dan's Can't buy a Thrill (1972) was their first album, and the first one I bought, on a double cassette with Aja on the flipside. It's a New York album: they were an East Coast band at the time, although by the time of their big, immaculate breakout hits like Hey Nineteen and Babylon Sisters, they were far more strongly associated with LA. It's still one of my favorite albums of all time, although I could say the same about pretty much any Dan release. I bought it in 1985, shortly after journeying to Newcastle to start my degree studies. In my mind it's now indelibly associated with those first few months at university, along with the chart hits of the time - Grace Jones, Waterboys, and so on. I owned a record player, but did not take it with me to Newcastle so for a period many of my music purchases were on cassette. Later I found a few friends who were able to tape records for me so I switched back to vinyl, but that came later. As these were mainly goth/punk friends into Bauhaus, I had to endure their ridicule with my propensity for laid-back American rock. I was right, though.

In that same period I also bought Talking Head's Fear of Music, which is again a New York album, this time from 1979. To me, seven years isn't remotely enough time to account for the radical differences between these records. Can't Buy a Thrill, brilliant as it is, is an album that has the early seventies written through it like a stick of rock. It's jazzy, laid-back, borderline stoner - you could imagine the Dude listening it in between his Creedence tapes. Fear of Music looks and sounds like something from another century. Look how modern that artwork appears even now, how sleekly minimalist. Was there any period of music more convulsive than the interval between these two records?

Anyway, here are my two trusty cassettes from 1985 - they both survived the big Fenham flat burglary of 1987, you'll be gratified to hear, although much of my tape collection didn't -  along with the two CDs I bought last week.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

11K background listening

Back in the UK now, fighting jetlag: failed to stay entirely awake during the noisy and hyperkinetic Sherlock Holmes, which is probably saying something. In the absence of anything more relevant to post, therefore, here's a lovely song that I've been enjoying for the last year or so, especially when I've been trying to get into the appropriate mental groove for the first of the 11K books. I first heard this song on one of the Real World samplers; gradually it wormed its way into my brain to the point where I had to go and buy the album. Say what you will about Peter Gabriel, who pops up here on this live version, but he's done a lot to open my eyes and ears to different kinds of music. I think this is simply wonderful...

Saturday, 20 February 2010

American Airlines

Boston departure lounge, watching American Airlines planes come and go. I recently wrote a short (as yet unpublished) article on the 1972 film Silent Running, which has American Airlines space freighters in it. 2001: A Space Odyssye had Pan-Am spaceliners, but Pam-Am bit the dust years ago. AA are still with us, though, and, to first approximation, still have basically the same logo and typeface. The internal chronology of Silent Running places the film in 2009 or 2010, more or less. Good job we have those space freighters to hold the last forests, then.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Leaving New York

As always I'm leaving NYC but wishing I had an extra day. Tomorrow we ride Amtrak back to Boston, and then it's Logan to Heathrow, followed by a couple of days in London. This was my fifth visit to New York and I felt like I'd done all the obvious tourist stuff on previous stays, so this time we tried to hit a couple of museums we hadn't explored before and take in at least a few films. For the record: Avatar (second viewing, both 3D although we've yet to see it in IMAX), followed by Clooney's Up in the Air (superb) and - tonight - Jeff Bridge's Crazy Heart. My wife and I both big Bridges fans - I've been following his career since Winter Kills, and there are half a dozen other Bridges films that we both love, from Starman to Lewbowski - so we didn't need a great deal of persasion to check out this wonderful low-key semi road movie about a washed-up country/blues artist faced with one last shot at not screwing up. It's a great, utterly convincing performance from Bridges; Maggie Gyllenhaal is also excellent and there's a nice cameo from Robert Duvall.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Travel Time

This is possibly one of the most downbeat, miserable-sounding songs ever recorded - needless to say, I love it unreservedly. Crispy Ambulance is/was a Sheffield-based band active around the time of Joy Division, an act with which they were unfavorably compared, but with the benefit of time I think it's clear that they had their own gloomy synth and guitar thing and are worthy of more than just a footnote.

I listened to this a great deal while writing the first draft of REVELATION SPACE: it seemed to chime perfectly with the tone of melancholic emptiness I was shooting for, and of course there's a nod to sci-fi in the song title. If you dig this, check out "Concorde Square" and "The Wind Season" and tell they aren't utterly fantastic pieces of driving guitar rock.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Terminal World: chapter one

Here's the first chapter of the new book, due from Gollancz in the UK in March and ACE in the US in June.

Chapter One

The call came in to the Department of Hygiene and Public Works just before five in the afternoon. Something messy down on the ledge, maybe a faller from one of the overhanging buildings up in Fourth, maybe all the way down from Circuit City. The dispatcher turned to the wall map, surveyed the pin lights and found a clean-up van close enough to take the call. It was one of the older crews, men he knew. He lifted the black handset of his telephone and spun the dial, taking a drag on his cigarette while the switchboard clunked and whirred.

‘Three oh seven.’

‘Got a smear for you, Cultel. Something out on the ledge, just west of the waterworks. Not much else out there so you should spot it easy enough. Take the service duct on Seventh and Electric and walk the rest of the way. Keys on the blue hook should get you through any municipal locks.’

‘We’re loaded here. And we’re about a minute from coming off shift. Can’t you pull in someone else?’

‘Not at rush hour I can’t. We wait for another van, smear’s going to start attracting a crowd and smelling bad. Seagulls are already taking an interest. Sorry, Cultel, but it looks like you’re going to have to suck it up and earn some overtime.’

‘Fine. But I was serious about being loaded. You’d better get another van to meet us, case we have to move some stiffs around.’

‘I’ll see what I can do. Call in when you’ve peeled it off the concrete; we’ll start the paperwork at this end.’

‘Copy,’ Cultel said.

‘And watch your step out there, boys. It’s a long way down, and I don’t want to have to call Steamville and tell them they need to deal with a couple of smears of their own.’

In the clean-up van, Cultel clicked off his handset and hung it back under the dashboard. He turned to his partner, Gerber, who was digging through a paper bag to reach the last doughnut. ‘You get all that?’


‘Another fucking ledge job. They know how much I love ledge jobs.’

‘Like the man said, suck it up and earn some overtime.’ Gerber bit into the doughnut and wiped the grease off his lip. ‘Sounds good to me.’

‘That’s because you’ve got a sweet tooth and expensive girlfriends.’

‘It’s called having a life outside of scraping pancakes off pavement, Cultel. You should try it sometime.’

Cultel, who always did the driving, grunted something derogatory, engaged the flywheel and powered the van back onto the pick-up slot. Traffic was indeed already thickening into rush hour, cars, taxis, buses and trucks moving sluggishly in one direction, almost nose to tail in the other. Being municipal, they could go off-slot when they needed to, but it still required expert knowledge of the streets and traffic flow not to get snarled up. Cultel always reckoned he could make more money driving taxis than a clean-up wagon, but the advantage of driving corpses around was that he mostly didn’t need to make conversation. Gerber, who generally had his nose into a bag of doughnuts, didn’t really count.

Singular happenings

I can remember when it was quite a novelty to find that someone had transcribed a panel discussion, let alone recorded it: panels used to be these ephemeral things where you could come out with almost any amount of incoherent, ranting rubbish and - aside from those in the room - no one would ever know. Not any more, though. Now they're out there, for posterity - or whatever counts as posterity where digital artefacts are concerned. I should add that, where panels were recorded at Boskone, it was with the full consent of all involved.

Anyway, I was the moderator on this one, along with Vernor Vinge, Karl Schroeder and Charles Stross, and we were there to discuss the Singularity, the notion that at some point in the near future, everything's going to go bananas. Here's the discussion, as captured by Michael Johnson - and see Charlie Stross's blog for some interesting follow-up on some of the issues raised herein.

Deep Navigation

It's mid February, a month or so before the UK publication of TERMINAL WORLD. I'm in NYC, having come down by train after attending Boskone in (unsurprisingly) Boston, which was great - a brilliantly run and friendly convention that went by in a whirlwind, and still left me wanting more. As always there were people I looked forward to meeting who I barely got to speak to, if that, but that's the mark of a busy, jam-packed convention. And by the time I located my credit card with the intention of strolling around the dealer's room looking for goodies, they were already boxing up. Which is probably a good thing because my flight luggage was already heavy enough on the way out, and I've still got a few days to go.

I don't think I said anything about this on the old blog, but there's a new collection out. The NESFA press typically do a "Boskone book" for their guests of honour and this year it was my turn. I've been buying NESFA books for years and it's a blast to have one with my name on the cover - especially one as nice-looking as DEEP NAVIGATION. The contents, which run from my very first story to among my most recent ones, are as follows:

  1. Introduction by Stephen Baxter
  2. "Nunivak Snowflakes"
  3. "Monkey Suit"
  4. "The Fixation"
  5. "Feeling Rejected"
  6. "Fury"
  7. "Stroboscopic"
  8. "The Receivers"
  9. "Byrd Land Six"
  10. "The Star Surgeon's Apprentice"
  11. "On the Oodnadatta"
  12. "Fresco"
  13. "Viper"
  14. "Soirée"
  15. "The Sledge-Maker's Daughter"
  16. "Tiger, Burning"

The gorgeous cover image is by John Picacio, who is also a genuinely nice guy and someone I did get to spend a little time with at Boskone, although not nearly enough. There's also a very generous introduction from that excellent gentleman, Stephen Baxter.

Ordering details here; the page currently says that they are not yet taking orders but the book was freely available at Boskone so I suspect that may be a little out of date:

The book is available in signed, slipcase editions (autographed by John and I) as well as the normal hardcover.

And I think that will do for my first post.

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