Below are the five most recent posts in my weblog. You can also see a chronological list of all posts, dating back to 2003.

Fri 28 Feb 2014 09:29:27 PM GMT

New format IZ

New format IZ

I've written before of how much I liked the British SF magazine Interzone. Sadly I decided not to renew my subscription last year, as the focus of my reading has been changing and I've not had enough time to keep on top of it. (This is a consequence of my experiment with goodreads, and I'll write more about that sometime.)

Back in October 2012 TTA Press reformatted both Interzone and its sister publication Black Static into a half-size, semi-hard backed shape. The size is similar to the US stalwards Analog and Asimov's, but the cover is harder and glossier and it has a flat spine. I really like the new look, and it's a bit of a shame I didn't complete at least a calendar year's worth of them.

I will probably pick up the odd issue now and then, when a name I recognise catches my eye. Perhaps one day I'll have the time and inclination to read short fiction regularly again. I'd still wholeheartedly recommend it (and Black Static) if short fiction is your thing.

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Wed 15 Jan 2014 07:37:41 PM GMT

Recently, North Tyneside Council circulated the beginnings of a regional development plan. This consisted of a detailed map of the borough, complete with various areas marked out as sites for potential housing development. Included amongst the sites for potential development was Whitley Bay Ice Rink and the surrounding leisure facilities: a football pitch, a cricket pitch, and more.

Whitley Bay Ice Rink has been a fixture in the cultural history of the region and it would be a terrible shame if it were to close. Many people seemed to agree: a petition calling for the site to be excluded from the plan received over 7,000 signatures. Residents were also able to write comments on the plan itself. The specific paragraph for the Ice Rink had attracted over 100 comments when I looked at it on the last day that comments were open. I hurredly put together one of my own:

Whitley Bay Ice Rink is about to celebrate it’s 60th birthday as both a key part of the history and culture of the borough and a unique leisure facility in the wider area. Sadly the Rink has seemed, historically, to be somewhat neglected, rather like the other large cultural landmark in the region - Whitley Bay’s Spanish City and Dome. I argue you should no sooner consider closing or redeveloping the Rink site than the Dome itself. Rather, both should be cherished and invested in, particularly if (as rumoured) the current owners are keen to retire or pass it on.

In recognising the need to increase the amount of housing in the area, one should consider what facilities will be available to the new residents within the region. Removing facilities to provide housing is slaying the golden goose. Whitley Bay Ice Rink is one of the few rinks left in the country and the nearest permanent ice rink within 30 miles. Ice skating has become a fond and lasting memory for many of the adults who have grown up in the region, many of whom enjoy or look forward to their own children experiencing it. I look forward to taking my niece and nephew there, when they are old enough, as well as my own future children. It is a traditional spot for School trips; the sports teams operating from the rink have a proud history and fearsome reputation. It’s an attraction for the large numbers of University students that travel to the two nearest Universities.

The borough is blighted with rotting seaside hotels which (following the recent development of the Idols site) should be converted into attractive flat or maisonette housing as a priority.

Sun 05 Jan 2014 03:55:54 PM GMT

I read a lot this year - I'll write more about that and reflections on goodreads in another post - but most of the things I read weren't published in 2013. (I should also write a bit about my thoughts on e-readers). However, it seems I have enough to write about 2013's novels to make a round-up post worthwhile, so here we go.

The Cuckoos Calling UK cover

This year, crime author Robert Galbraith published his first novel The Cuckoo's Calling. I'd never have heard of it if Galbraith was not outed as an alias for Joanne "JK" Rowling. Clues that Rowling was working on a detective story exist as early as a Guardian preview article in 2012 for her last novel, The Casual Vacancy. Further hints, for me, that this was no first-time author were the taglines from Ian Rankin and Val McDermid on the cover, writers of a calibre I'd be surprised a new author could attract. However I don't know whether they were on the pre-unveiling cover or not. Rowling was upset be outed, having enjoyed the freedom to write without the baggage of expectation that she is subject to. I hope she's pleased: prior to her unmasking the novel was warmly received by the (admittedly relatively small) number of people who read it.

And a very good novel it is too. It starts with a genre cliché of a grizzled, meloncholy detective, Mr. Cormoran Strike, in an upstairs office with a neon light flickering through the window, but fleshes the story out both forwards - a client, a mysterious death - and backwards - how did Mr. Strike end up in that upstairs office - living out of it, no less? As is traditional for the genre there's a very clever twist.

What I really enjoyed about Cormoran Strike was Galbraith/Rowling moving quickly from Chandler-esque everyman to a well fleshed-out, complex protagonist, intertwining the development of the character with the unfolding of the wider plot. I'm looking forward to the sequel, expected in 2014.

The Shining Girls UK cover

A second surprise favourite this year was Lauren Beukes' time-tripping crime story The Shining Girls. A monsterous murder of women somehow finds a room in Chicago that lets him travel through time (or perhaps the room finds him). He uses this facility to stalk and murder a set of Shining Girls: women who, for one reason or another, literally 'shine' in his perception of them. One such woman survives his first attack and decides to try and find out who attacked her, and why.

The crimes are described in a brutal fashion which - from a distance - resemble the sometimes glorified violence for which crime fiction is sometimes criticised, but the focus of the story is very much on the victims: they are fully fleshed out characters and each death is felt by the reader as a genuine tragedy.

I discovered Beukes when her earlier novel Zoo City was included in a Humble eBook bundle. On reading The Shining Girls I felt that the novel deserved to be more widely known than I would expect it to be trapped in the ghetto of genre fiction, so I was pleased to discover that the very mainstream Richard and Judy Book Club discovered it.

In established author news, Terry Pratchett, having adopted speech recognition for writing (to combat his debilitating Alzheimer's) has seemingly managed to accelerate his rate of production and squeezed out at least two this year: The Long War with Stephen Baxter is the sequel to 2012's The Long Earth which I very much enjoyed, but it really felt like "difficult second novel" to me. Hopefully there'll be a third.

Raising Steam, the 40th Discworld novel, was an enjoyable romp around the concept of steam trains, featuring the relatively new Moist von Lipwig who has managed to become one of my favourite Discworld characters. I can't think of much more to say about the novel, really. It's a Discworld novel, probably not the best introduction to the series for a new reader, but will give a reader familiar with the franchise everything they expect, and possibly no more.

Iain Banks sadly died this year, shortly after the publication of his last novel, The Quarry. It's sat on my hardback shelf for the time being. I couldn't bring myself to read it in 2013. I did read his last SF offering from the year prior, The Hydrogen Sonata. Sadly, yet coincidentally, both of these books examine the nature of living and dying, The Quarry in particular from the point of view of a terminal cancer sufferer. I have a small backlog of unread Banks fiction which I want to take my time over with.

Finally, whilst not really a book, I thoroughly enjoyed the BBC's 2013 adaptation of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. Natalie Dormer wrote a piece on the making of the drama which should serve as a good introduction. At the time of writing, most of the programmes have disappeared from iPlayer, but I would be surprised if this wasn't released commercially at some point.

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Wed 25 Dec 2013 11:49:51 PM GMT

2013 is nearly all finished up and so I thought I'd spend a little time writing up what was noteable in the last twelve months. When I did so I found an unfinished draft from the year before. It would be a shame for it to go to waste, so here it is.

2012 was an interesting year in many respects with personal highs and lows. Every year I see a lots of "round-up"-style blog posts on the web, titled things like "2012 in music", which attempt to summarize the highlights of the year in that particular context. Here's JWZ's effort, for example. Often they are prefixed with statements like "2012 was a strong year for music" or whatever. For me, 2012 was not a particularly great year. I discovered quite a lot of stuff that I love that was new to me, but not new in any other sense.

In Music, there were a bunch of come-back albums that made the headlines. I picked up both of Orbital's Wonky and Brian Eno's Lux (debatably a comeback: his first ambient record since 1983, his first solo effort since 2005, but his fourth collaborative effort on Warp in the naughties). I've enjoyed them both, but I've already forgotten Wonky and I still haven't fully embraced Lux (and On Land has not been knocked from the top spot when I want to listen to ambience.) There was also Throbbing Gristle's (or X-TG) final effort, a semi/post-TG, partly posthumous double-album swan song effort which, even more than Lux, I still haven't fully digested. In all honesty I think it was eclipsed by the surprise one-off release of a live recording of a TG side project featuring Nik Void of Factory Floor: Carter Tutti Void's Transverse, which is excellent. Ostensibly a four-track release, there's a studio excerpt V4 studio (Slap 1) which is available from (at least) Amazon. There's also a much more obscure fifth "unreleased" track cruX which I managed to "buy" from one of the web shops for zero cost.

The other big musical surprise for me last year was Beth Jeans Houghton and the Hooves of Destiny: Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose. I knew nothing of BJH, although it turns out I've heard some of her singles repeatedly on Radio 6, but her band's guitarist Ed Blazey and his partner lived in the flat below me briefly. In that time I managed to get to the pub with him just once, but he kindly gave me a copy of their album on 12" afterwards. It reminds me a bit of Goldfrapp circa "Seventh Tree": I really like it and I'm looking forward to whatever they do next.

Reznor's How To Destroy Angels squeezed out An Omen EP which failed to set my world on fire as a coherent collection, despite a few strong songs individually.

In movies, sadly once again I'd say most of the things I recall seeing would be "also rans". Prometheus was a disappointment, although I will probably rewatch it in 2D at least once. The final Batman was fun although not groundbreaking to me and it didn't surpass Ledger's efforts in The Dark Knight. Inception remains my favourite Nolan by a long shot. Looper is perhaps the stand-out, not least because it came from nowhere and I managed to avoid any hype.

In games, I moaned about having moaning about too many games, most of which are much older than 2012. I started Borderlands 2 after enjoying Borderlands (disqualified on age grounds) but to this day haven't persued it much further. I mostly played the two similar meta-games: The Playstation Plus download free games in a fixed time period and the more sporadic but bountiful humble bundle whack-a-mole. More on these another time.

In reading, as is typical I mostly read stuff that was not written in 2012. Of that which was, Charles Stross's The Apocalypse Codex was an improvement over The Fuller Memorandum which I did not enjoy much, but in general I'm finding I much prefer Stross's older work to his newer; David Byrne's How Music Works was my first (and currently last) Google Books ebook purchase, and I read it entirely on a Nexus 7. I thoroughly enjoyed the book but the experience has not made a convert of me away from paper. He leans heavily on his own experiences which is inevitable but fortunately they are wide and numerous. Iain Banks' Stonemouth was an enjoyable romp around a fictional Scottish town (one which, I am reliably informed, is incredibly realistical rendered). One of his "mainstream" novels, It avoided a particular plot pattern that I've grown to dread with Banks, much to my suprise (and pleasure). Finally, the stand-out pleasant surprise novel of the year was Pratchett and Baxter's The Long Earth. With a plot device not unlike Banks' Transition or Stross's Family Trade series, the pair managed to write a journey-book capturing the sense-of-wonder that these multiverse plots are good for. (Or perhaps I have a weakness for them). It's hard to find the lines between Baxter and Pratchett's writing, but the debatably-reincarnated Tibetan Monk-cum-Artificial Intelligence 'Lobsang' must surely be Pratchett's. Pratchett managed to squeeze out another non-Discworld novel (Dodger) as well as a long-overdue short story collection, although I haven't read either of them yet.

On to 2013's write-up...

Thu 21 Nov 2013 10:26:24 AM GMT

Winter has come

A nice view at work this morning.

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