Tag Archives: Illuminations

Throwing some light on ILLUMINATIONS

ILLUMINATIONS - the Friday Flash Fiction AnthologySo, the boot took a turn on the other foot. As you may or may not already be aware, ILLUMINATIONS got reviewed over at The Fix Online. And while it’s far from universally lauding the work, the review does us all the highest courtesy possible – it takes us seriously.

My fellow authors all seem to have reached the same conclusion; the level of detail gone into more than mitigates any ego-bruising from the details themselves. It’s like being a martial arts neophyte given a thorough working over by the grand master of the dojo; painful, but extremely educational.

And Alvaro Zinos-Amaro pulled no punches, as is only proper. The reviews of my own stories mostly told me what I already knew, but I’m very happy to see that the ones that got the most respect were the ones I was most confident of. The duration of the FFF experiment thus far coincides with the duration of my career of actually finishing any fiction at all, and to have any of my material pass muster after so little time is more than I might have hoped for.

[ To be honest, I was far more embarrassed to read of the “numerous typographical mistakes afflicting this anthology”. 🙁 ]

So, as it’s fashionable among author types to air their negative reviews at the moment, here are the comments made by Mr Zinos-Amaro on my stories from ILLUMINATIONS, complete with links to the original pieces as published here on VCTB.

In “Alex in Hinterland,” the titular Alex spends time in the Hinterland on a talking, tangible Cloud, against the advice of his peers. What he discovers was not readily apparent to me, though I did get a sense of the story’s implications. The writing seemed somewhat diffuse and the piece as a whole not particularly sharply etched.

A vastly evolved emergent intelligence decides to baptize itself with the name “J” after the square root of negative one. I have no objection to hard SF density, but I’m not sure the profusion of technical terminology in this tale generated a convincing sense of what forces might be at work or helped to maintain the reader’s interest. This tale is weighed down by too much detail and a not particularly inspired ending to achieve what I think it sets out to.

When the Old Lady Evans passes away, the kids are finally able to steal into her house and discover what an “aristos” [sic] keeps for the purpose of entertainment, which may be nothing less than “The Last Bird.” I found the attention to detail and imagery engaging, and though the ending was predictable, the last sentence captured an ironic note that fit snugly within the emotional context of the piece.

In this parable of sorts, talking household appliances worry and fret about “The New Arrival.” This tale, consisting primarily of appliance banter, feels underwhelming, and the ending may be too smart for its own good.

The child narrator of “Daddy in [the] Stone” recounts a weekly Sunday visit to the family’s senescent, mentally frail father. This slice-of-life contains poignant observations and tactfully addresses a delicate but everyday subject. I wasn’t convinced by the narrating voice, which felt like an adult speaking as a child, but there’s enough worthwhile material here for me to recommend it nonetheless.

The young Fentus completes his initiation ceremony and learns some “Secrets of the Faith” shortly thereafter from one of the Order’s priests. The themes, dialogue, characters, and style in this tale offer nothing new, nor do the particulars of their combination. This is all retread material, and the last few sentences augment, rather than diminish, the effect of overall cliché.

The “Alien Abduction” at hand in this tale entails what one might expect. The unfortunate lack of anything new (including the ending) and less-than-stellar writing (for example, the repetitive use of “restrained” and “restraint” in consecutive paragraphs) will likely end up abducting the reader’s time and offer little in exchange.

James and Alex present an optimistic re-evaluation of “Sturgeon’s Law” and consider how it might apply to their “scavving”-based existences. I found the premise entertaining and the characters appropriately depicted for the dramatic purposes in play. As a result, the tale falls in the ten percent margin of Sturgeon’s Law for this reader.

The “physically disadvantaged” narrator of “Oh, For the Life of a Sailor!” joins the Navy, and his decision opens up an unexpected door into his future. Well-realized details help sustain the sense of plausibility in this implausible scenario, and the narrative rhythm helps move things along swiftly.

So there you go. It’s interesting that the subject of “Daddy in the Stone” was misinterpreted; the child’s father is meant to be a holographic recording in a gravestone, rather than a mentally frail shadow of his former self. There’s a lesson in itself; you don’t want to over-do the telling, but nor do you want to under-do it.

Overall, my takeaway points from this review have been twofold.

  • Firstly, I need to write far more regularly and less hurriedly (which isn’t exactly news).
  • Secondly, I don’t naturally lean toward the sort of story that makes a good flash piece (which isn’t exactly news either).

So, I think I’ll be focusing my efforts on longer pieces for the foreseeable future; I’ve proved to myself that I can finish stories worth reading, so now I think I need to write some that I consider to be worth sending out for publication. As my time is limited, that means I’m going to surrender time that I’d normally devote to meeting the weekly flash deadline in favour of making sure I knock out 500 words a day on something more substantial.

However, I’m hoping that once my authorial muscle is a little more developed through regular exercise, I’ll be better able to produce quality flash pieces on a regular basis as well as the more weighty work. Hell, maybe one day I will – Jay Lake-like – be able to seemingly toss the things off without a thought!*

In other words, I’m stepping back from the front line, but I’ll be back. 🙂


Oh, I still have some dead-tree copies of ILLUMINATIONS for sale, by the way … so if you’d like to secure a copy of this fine volume of super-short stories and simultaneously support the National Society for Prevention Of Cruelty to Children, please drop me a line!

[ * Note to Jay lake and anyone else – I know damn well he doesn’t just toss them off effortlessly. It just looks that way because he’s practiced like Sisyphus and nailed the process. The man’s an inspiration. ]

Ready for take-off

bright green rocket Well, I’m not quite ready, to be truthful – but when am I ever?

But readiness be damned – it’s Easter weekend, and I’m off to Orbital in the wee small hours of tomorrow morning for a weekend of geeking the hell out about science fiction. wh00t! [image by jurvetson]

After last year’s shortcomings, I’m not going to make any promises about regular liveblogging that I can’t keep. But I shall attempt a few updates from the scene regardless, and those of you who’re hip to the stuff all the cool kids are doing can follow me on Twitter, if you use it or have an RSS reader.

A major feature of the weekend for me will obviously be the formal launch of ILLUMINATIONS, which will be (I hope) a proud moment.

In the interim, I should point out that copies of ILLUMINATIONS in both print and digital form can be ordered from the Odd Two Out website rightfreakingnow – the print edition is GB£6.99, and the PDF digital copy is yours for an unspecified amount, though we suggest GB£2 as a nice child-saving donation size.

Of course, digital copies and print copies of ILLUMINATIONS bought from the website won’t come personally autographed by the rakishly handsome editor, will they, eh? 😉

Eastercon means there probably won’t be any Friday Flash from me tomorrow, so apologies in advance if you’re looking forward to it. That said, we may get something out of the workshop we’re running, so never say never.

There will be an FPB … but it will likely be brief, as it’s going to be hard enough sparing the time to do the free fiction round-up at Futurismic. And the rumour is there’ll be a mass celebration of The Friday Curry involving a hefty chunk of the Third Row Fandom crew.

My crazy rock’n’roll lifestyle, eh? 🙂

See you at Eastercon if you’re going. Otherwise, adios amigos!

Friday Photo Blogging: psychedelic percussion

The lighting at the super little Brighton venue The Freebutt isn’t very conducive to photography of bands in action.

Well, it would be more truthful to say that the combination of my low-end equipment and beginner shutterbug skills weren’t up to the task of capturing Dead Meadow performing without using the Auto Mode.

Oil-wheel kick drum

But unmoving objects are easier to deal with, and Dead Meadow’s silver-finished Ludwig drumkit (with psychedelic oilwheel projections on the kick skin) made a rather charming subject, if I do say so myself. I really must get around to buying a faster lens, though.


Writing about music

As seen above, I had the Dead Meadow show to write about, which also featured local psych-out heroes (and lovely chaps) You’re Smiling Now But We’ll All Turn Into Demons.

All in all, a great gig and night out with friends, and The Freebutt is now on my list of fantastically non-corporate venues that I wish were on the end of my street.

Writing about books

I’m still wrestling with the Wolfe; I got to a stage where it felt like I was reading fifty pages and fining myself closer to the front than I had been before, but I’m now into the last quarter.

It’s not that it’s bad, it’s that it’s colossal – and I’ve not had many chances to just sit down and blitz the bugger. I will defeat it this weekend, one way or the other**.

Futurismic

Everything seems to be ticking over fairly well at Futurismic at the moment; last time I checked we’d had 2000 click-throughs on “Uxo, Bomb Dog”, and I expect there’ll be more in a long tail (arf!) to come.

Next Monday sees the return of our non-fiction columns, or at least the first of them; I’ll keep you posted.

ILLUMINATIONS

Well, the cat’s out of the bag now, isn’t it? 😀

Editing ILLUMINATIONS in a tiny timeframe was one hell of a task, but strangely exhilarating – not to mention further proof that I tend to perform at my best (or at least at my most focused) when under pressure.

There was very little corrective editing to be done – except a few massages and tweaks of punctuation – as we decided to leave the stories essentially the same as they had been when first published on our respective sites.

However, getting everything into the same format and typographical layout was quite a mission for someone who’d never had to do such a thing before. And then there was the real challenge – deciding on the order for the stories.

We decided to go with a sort-of thematic ordering rather than the obvious chronological alternative (or the clunky grouped-by-author option), which mean yours truly had to read them all through, tag them with themes and tropes, and attempt to assemble them into a sequence that made sense.

I can now reveal to the world the incredibly high-tech manner in which I handled this process:

ILLUMINATIONS-index-cards 

Yup. Whole lotta index cards.

Anyway, as this didn’t happen this week, I shouldn’t be talking about it in FPB, should I? I’ve just been itching to waffle on about it, though, and it’s hard to stop now that I actually can. Eastercon attendees, beware! 🙂

Books and magazines seen

Thanks to the charming and erudite John Joseph Adams, I’m now receiving books from Night Shade Books – these made up part of my bumper post day from earlier in the week.

There are two of Liz Williams’ “Inspector Chen” novels, which I sincerely hope to make time for; Liz Williams being one of those authors who I was utterly uninterested in until I heard her talk about her work, and in whom I become more interested with each successive encounter***.

The other Night Shade title is the lushly-jacketed Implied Spaces by Walter Jon Williams:

Walter Jon Williams' Implied Spaces cover

“A novel of the singularity”, according to the front cover. So many intriguing books, so little time – I demand my Modafinil, damn you!

Also in the postbox this very morning was Interzone #215, featuring my reviewing team’s round-up of 2007 (ooooh, the controversy), as well as fiction from Greg Egan and personal favourite Rudy Rucker. Not to mention the big bug-critter on the front:

Interzone 215 cover

Coda

Bloody hell, this year’s flying past. This time next week, I’ll be at Heathrow for Eastercon … in fact, only two more days of work and a career development course in London to go before my long weekend starts. Just goes to show that keeping busy seems to be the best cure for mopiness and general winter blues, at least in my case.

Easter is turning into one of those nexus points in life, actually; the con makes it a landmark point in my fandom social calendar, of course, but this year there’s been the additional crescendo of putting together ILLUMINATIONS with the same target date, and this week my boss at the day job departs for maternity leave.

I’m slightly amazed I’ve survived, to be honest; there was a point about a month back that I seriously thought I’d bitten off more than I could chew and would end up paying the price. But here I am, still sane and still working. That said, I think I now know where my limits lie.

And speaking of limits, this seems like a good place to define one for this week’s FPB. It’s high time for a cold refreshing pint of lager while I wait for The Friday Curry Of Reward … which will be all the more solemn an occasion due to having to suspend the tradition for Eastercon next week …

… unless anyone can recommend a good curry house in Heathrow and has no other plans for the Friday evening, that is? 🙂

Anyway, enough blather. Have a good weekend, folks. Hasta luego.


[ * Auto Mode gets the job done, but results in photographs which [unsurprisingly] look as if their subject has just had a very bright light go off in front of them, which isn’t ideal. It annoys the performers too, natch. ]

[ ** I’m serious this time; I’m gonna nail that sucker. ]

[ *** In other words, I suspect she may be able to write fantasy that doesn’t make me want to break things, and I really should give her the opportunity to prove me right. She was interesting at Eastercon last year, and at Picocon the other week. ]

ILLUMINATIONS: The Friday Flash Fiction Anthology

Odd Two Out Publishing is extremely proud to present:

ILLUMINATIONS: The Friday Flash Fiction Anthology

Illuminations-Friday-Flash-Fiction-Anthology-cover

ISBN 978-0-9558662-0-3


ILLUMINATIONS is a new anthology from small press Odd Two Out Publishing showcasing original, cutting edge short fiction from eight up-and-coming young British writers.

When British author Gareth L Powell started adding short weekly pieces of flash fiction to his website back in July 2007, he didn’t expect anyone else to take much notice.

But soon there were seven other writers doing likewise – Paul Graham Raven, Gareth D Jones, Martin McGrath, Dan Pawley, Justin Pickard, Neil Beynon, and Shaun C Green. Together, they have become known as the Friday Flash Fictioneers.

Flash fiction stories are complete short stories told in fewer than 1,000 words. Quoting from his introduction to the anthology, Gareth L Powell says:

“Adhering to this restricted format can be a valuable exercise for a writer. It’s often a lot trickier than it looks. You have to make every word count. Every thing in the story has to be doing something because there just isn’t room for extraneous waffle.”

The Friday Flash Fictioneers come from diverse walks of life — musicians, office workers, freelance journalists, students, magazine editors — and this new anthology collects together the best of their weekly output.

Edited by Paul Graham Raven, the pieces range from mainstream literature to far-out speculation; from horror to humour; from outright fantasy to straight-faced space opera.

All the stories in ILLUMINATIONS are published under a Creative Commons licence that permits them to be reproduced in the public domain as long as no profit is made in the process.

Copies of ILLUMINATIONS: The Flash Fiction Anthology will be available to order for £6.99 from Odd Two Out Publishing, or from the authors themselves. All profits from the sale of ILLUMINATIONS will be donated to the NSPCC.

Alternatively, The Fictioneers will be running a flash fiction workshop as part of Orbital 2008, the British Science Fiction convention held at the Raddisson Hotel, Heathrow over the Easter weekend. Convention-goers are invited to come along to quiz the team and have a go at writing their own extremely short fiction.


[ OK, with the official press release done, I can confess: yes, this is the oft-alluded-to soopa-seekrit project I’ve been working on recently! LOOKATWHATWEDID! 😀

I’m incredibly chuffed we got it nailed in time for Eastercon, and I’m fit-to-shit that my name’s on the cover – not just as author, but as editor too – and in such fine company.

It’s been a massive learning experience, not to mention a bizarre mixture of creative fun and hair-tearing frustration, and I shall be talking about some of the things I picked up on the journey in weeks to come.

In fact, let’s be honest – it’s going to be almost impossible to get me to shut up about it. I hope you’ll be understanding … and I hope you’ll buy a copy! It’s for charity, y’know! ]