Saturday 30 January 2021


 A minor update. Although things have been difficult the last few months, writing's continued in dribs and drabs. After delivering Inhibitor Phase, I switched over to a story that had I'd been working on during the summer, and that was duly completed. It's a long-ish novelette set in the Revelation Space universe, but otherwise unrelated to the just-finished novel. The story's got a title - "Plague Music" - and a home, but about the latter I'll say no more for the time being.

With that done, I returned to the first raft of editorial rewrites on Inhibitor Phase, and that's kept me busy for most of January. That'll be off my desk in a few days, at least for the time being, and then I plan to dive into another novel, for which I've been doing a lot of mental planning since the summer. This next one will be a standalone title, unrelated to anything I've done. After that - if the creek don't rise, etc - my intention is to write another "Dreyfus emergency", but that's getting rather ahead of myself.

A few days ago I watched the final episode of the first season of "Raised by Wolves", and I'm still not quite sure what to make of the thing as a whole. It's a science fiction series from HBO, with Ridley Scott as executive producer (and also director of the first two episodes). Although it's not (seemingly) connected to any of Scott's filmic productions, it certainly isn't afraid to play with the tropes. The planetary locations are as bleak as anything in Alien, Prometheus or Alien Covenant, and the androids that figure prominently in the narrative seem to run on the same milk-as-blood biotechnology as Ash or Bishop, such that they bleed white fluid when injured. Questions of sentience and morality around the androids also bring to mind Bladerunner, and that film is also evoked in the flashback scenes of a crowded, devastated Earth, in which colonists struggle to secure a place on an ark that will carry them to an offworld colony. Later in the series (spoiler ahead) there's a plotline involving an implanted alien organism in one of the characters, which proceeds to a suitably horrific birth.

Beyond that, though, it's its own thing, and very much unlike a great deal of TV science fiction. There are no familiar actors in it, but all the cast are credible in their (sometime weird) roles, with the androids in particular played very convincingly. Shot for the most part in subdued light and bleak hues, it has the virtue of rarely looking like anything but itself, and some of the worldbuilding choices are interesting and weird, even if it's not yet clear whether they're the result of deep, if unorthodox science-fictional thinking, or just a case of throwing a lot crazy shit into the mix and seeing what happens.

It's set somewhere around 2145, in the aftermath of a religious war on Earth - or rather a war between religious Sun-worshipping "Mithraists", and their atheist opponents. The Mithraists seems to be ones with access to very high technology. They're the ones who've built the androids and the interstellar ark. To complicate things, though, the other side is capable of capturing and reprogramming androids to suit their own rival colonisation effort. Both parties are engaged in an attempt gain control of a planet in the Kepler 22 system. The Mithraist ark is huge but slow, whereas the atheists can get a smaller vehicle there sooner. It's an interesting premise.

(That in itself doesn't make a lot of sense - Kepler 22 is 620 light years away, and there are numerous closer exoplanet candidates. But Kepler 22 was in the news because of its multi-planet system, which is presumably why the writers have latched onto it. Whatever.)

It gets weirder than the above would suggest, though. One of the androids is a superweapon - a "Necromancer". When she ("Mother" - another Scott touch) puts in a pair of special eyes, she transforms from a humanoid-looking form to a metallic figure that can fly (and levitate objects around her) and project some kind of terrifying sonic death ray just by screaming. She's impressively scary. But what it is with the eyes? Why does she need them to effect this transformation? It's the sort of bat-shit worldbuilding that I can't quite figure out for now. See also: the Mithraists have (it would appear) not only the capability to manufacture these fearful Necromancers, but also highly-advanced gravity-defying spacecraft. But their anti-personnel weaponry consists of nothing more than souped-up revolvers and machine guns. When one of their own androids turns against them, their bullets prove totally defenseless.

But I'm in, at least. The series ends with some intriguing hints about the next part of the story, and I look forward to seeing where it goes. If it all turns out to be completely crackers, as I suspect it may, at least it looks good.

Other than the above, my wife and I recently binged the entire first four seasons of Last Tango in Halifax (we'd seen the fifth) and once again I'm convinced that Sally Wainwright must be one of the best writers working in television right now; just a joy to see such brilliantly realised characters, and the travails she puts them through. She's also behind the excellent Happy Valley, one of the best police dramas of recent years.

In books, I spent the run up to Christmas doing something I never thought I'd do: reading Christie. But I felt like I'd seen enough of her adaptations on television and in the cinema that I wanted to see how she works on the page: how she draws character, works misdirection and so on. Twenty years ago you wouldn't have caught me dead reading Christie but we all change. For now, taking a break from detective fiction, I'm reading M John Harrison's fine The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again, which is as good as you'd expect and fully deserving of the plaudits its gained.

In music, I've been starved of new stuff because of lockdown (I'm still a stickler for record shops and physical product, I'm afraid), but I've been greatly enjoying one of the few original purchases I nade in 2020: Hayley Williams' Petals for Armor. She sounds as if she should be Welsh, but she's actually the American singer out of Paramore. Her solo album is a ridiculously catchy, inventive piece of work - underpinned by some phenomenal bass work - and it's made me keen to dig into her catalogue with the main band.

That's it for now. Please keep keeping safe and see you all on the other side of this.



  1. Looking forward to your new writings. I also just finished Raised by Wolves...I liked the premise but about half-way through the season I lost interest. Hoped it would be more science based, not sure why I ever think that because TV shows usually don’t do so good a job at that! Maybe just too weird, where is this going, but the acting is great, not sure if I’m up for another season!

  2. I think the season could have been a few episodes shorter without losing much.

  3. Thanks for the update, it is wonderful to hear that the writing is progressing well. I also watched raised by wolves and actually enjoyed it. In addition to the series you mentioned I also liked police dramas including Line of Duty, Shetland, Paranoid, Collateral, Bodyguard etc. When possible, let us know where your new story Plague Music will be published. Take care.

    1. Line of Duty and Shetland two big favorites here as well.

      If you get a chance, there are some excellent Welsh detective series out there, including Hinterland and Hidden, set in the West and North respectively. And there's recently been a good true-life detective series about the Pembrokeshire murders and how they were solved.

    2. I loved Hinterland ! I watch these shows in Canada on Netflix, unfortunately they do not have « Hidden » but i will keep an eye open for it.

  4. I liked it but I too am not quite sure where they're going with it. Hopefully some more explanatory episodes in S2.

  5. Excited to hear about the new novels! I’m particularly curious about the standalone — looking forward to hearing about that down the road.

    I thought Raised by Wolves was entertaining, though I shared some of your reservations about the logic of the scenario. I’m quite interested to see where it goes.

    I’ve just revisited The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. What a wonderful and audacious novel — certainly proof that Christie was one of the greats. I’ve never been disappointed with anything of hers I’ve read, but that one has always stood out to me.

    I keep meaning to order the new Harrison novel. Last month, I read through some of the stories in his recent collection "You Should Come With Me Now" — he’s such an inventive writer.

    I’ll have to check out Last Tango in Halifax. I’ve seen it recommended on Netflix, but I haven’t given it a shot yet.

    I’m glad you enjoyed Petals for Armor. I also thought it was excellent. I’m not much for Paramore (though I liked their last album), but this record is so idiosyncratic and creative, and I’d argue her songwriting is the best it’s ever been.

    I’ve recently been getting into a band called Temples. It’s shamelessly retro stuff, but I think the songs are quite strong — I thought you might enjoy them. Here’s one called "Context":

    1. Thanks, Steve - I'll check it out.

    2. Glad you enjoyed it! 'Sun Structures', their first album, is my favorite, but I think they're all quite good.

  6. At least one of the actors in Raised By Wolves is very well known: Travis Fimmel, who played Ragnar Lothbrok in Vikings. Ragnar's story has a definite end point in legend, and the show was never quite the same when he departed, but when it was on his He played Ragnar with an intensity and physicality few actors can pull off. The man is a hell of an actor.

    AR, I'm sure you've been asked this before, but have you watched The Expanse? If so, I'm curious to hear your take on it.

    I thought the first few seasons didn't quite reach their potential, but with last season and this current season it's become the best space-set show on TV right now and the best we've seen in a very long time.

    Lastly, thanks for the update on your work and the new RS stuff. I think now is a good time to dust off the series and give it a reread ahead of Inhibitor Phase.


    1. Hi Nik - I hadn't seen Vikings unfortunately so I thought all the actors were relatively new.

      No, I've not seen The Expanse. I don't watch too much TV SF- it just happens that Raised by Wolves was on exactly when I wasn't doing much writing, because of the family business. Normally I don't feel like immersing myself in SF after a day of writing, so I tend to go for cop shows, medical dramas etc.

    2. I just finished watching the first season of Raised by Wolves, which I decided to give a shot after reading your thoughts, and I've gotta agree: It looks like Ridley is, as you said, just throwing a bunch of shit at the wall and seeing what sticks.

      Ridley Scott is my favorite director, and there will be no end to the good will he earned with the original Alien, Bladerunner, Gladiator and Legend, but unfortunately he's gone on this pseudo-creationist bent since Prometheus. (Actual dialog from Noomi Rapace's scientist character in Prometheus about why she believes aliens created humans: "Because I choose to believe.")

      He's also worked the "AI deems humans unworthy and turn on us" trope heavily. Unless someone has a dramatic new spin on it, I find it difficult to play along. Especially since everyone from Elon Musk to Google-employed futurists seems intent on convincing the world that the machine apocalypse will be upon us soon.

      When I read Revelation Space, one of the things I really liked was that you made clear the difference between an actual machine intelligence and a simulation, with your Alpha and Beta sims. You expounded on that with the Watchkeepers in the Poseidon's Wake trilogy, and I think it's a point lost on many people, including the writers of shows like Raised by Wolves and Westworld, who seem content to ignore more than half a century's worth of advancement in the field of cognition in favor of Skinner-style behaviorist models.

      In their view, intelligence is nothing more than output, and you can reconstruct a person's mind entirely by recording their actions, speech and decisions. It's an approach that entirely disregards cognition and internal thought processes, even as new fields of study like embodied cognition offer us tantalizing insights into how things like gut flora and brain chemicals influence thinking and decision-making.

      Anyway, that's an entirely different discussion.

    3. I really disliked Prometheus for the reasons you allude to - it was fairly obvious (also from the promo material) that Ridley was on a bit of a Von Daniken, ancient aliens trip. He keeps saying he talks to scientists who tell him that we can't be alone in the universe, but I wonder who they are.

      I do like enough of his films to be a fan, though. My favorites include Hannibal, which I think not many consider one of his best, but I always find it compelling and rather beautiful in places.

      Now, guts in or guts out?

  7. I’m really looking forward to your new works! After reading your blog we started watching Raised by Wolves. We’re only a few episodes in but I’m really liking it! It’s very different & quirky; & it has a character called “Campion”.😁. Husband & I both thought it has overtones of Hyperion somewhere in it. Enjoy Christie. I stumbled on a complete set at a garage sale when I was around 16 & read them all. Not sure how I would go with them now as an adult. Stay safe. ☺️

  8. I'm really excited to hear updates about your new writings, especially that you're going to be writing more in the Revelation Space universe — I remember remarking to my Dad that when I finish it, it'll be all down hill from there, because I'll never be able to find better space opera for my tastes. Now, at least, it won't have to end as soon! Also, Raised by Wolves sounds very interesting, and the kind of show I would spend a lot of time headcannoning in order to make it make sense, kind of like Neon Genesis Evangelion.

  9. Hello! I'd just like to say I'm a huge fan of your writing and enjoy these updates. Keep the music, TV shows, books and whatever other pop culture stuff you are interested in coming. I enjoy expanding my horizons. You've given me a lot to check out.

  10. I’m really intrigued about Inhibitor Phase - tried to pre-order but I guess they won’t open that up until all the i’s are dotted etc.

    I was really bored of Raised by Wolves. A friend thought it was great but I really found it difficult to connect to the narrative. It was style and gimmicks over content and engagement. Maybe I was just expecting too much. Fortunately we have some great scifi TV still, even Star Trek Discover and Picard have put that franchise back on track.

    Still waiting for the films of House of Suns, Pushing Ice, Century Rain, and of course the Revelation Space series ...