Tag Archives: reading

Poor scribblers!

Truly dissatisfied persons, maybe more than anybody else, take a large proportion of their experience from books. Or they find they can double their experience, and make a second pass at the day-today, by writing it down. Poor scribblers! Such people are closest to a solution, and yet to everyone else they seem to be using up time, wasting life, as they spend fewer hours “living” than anyone, and gain less direct experience. Serious reading often starts from a deep frustration with living. Keeping a journal is a sure sign of the attempt to preserve experience by desperate measures. These poor dissatisfied people take photographs, make albums, keep souvenirs and scrapbooks. And still they always ask: “What have I done?”

From “The Concept of Experience”, by Mark Greif (Against Everything, Verso, p85)

Friday Photo Blogging: second on the bill

This time next week, I’ll no doubt be sound-checking in preparation for this:

Second on the bill

Yup, Aeroplane Attack‘s first appearance at The Wedgewood Rooms, a former place of employment for three members of the band and the premier live music venue in Velcro City. And it’s a free gig on a Friday night – so if you’ve got no plans, head on down! Promises to be a night of goud loud tuneage, and I’m really looking forward to it… especially as I’ve borrowed a new echo box and am itching to deploy it over a large PA.

So, likely no FPB next week, much like last week (although my excuse last week was a train journey up to Manchester). It’s all go in my universe, as I do keep mentioning… so I’d best get on with it, eh?

Album of the week

Actually from last week, but easily good enough to carry over… it is, of course, The Eternal by Sonic Youth. If you’re a Sonic Youth fan already, you’ll be wanting to pick this up. If you’re not yet a fan, it’s accessible enough to be a good contemporary introduction to an utterly original band who’ve been gigging and recording almost as long as I’ve been alive. Go listen to ’em.


Yeah, look at me compressing a number of sections into one. Such is the manner of my life at the moment, and – during the scant seconds I get to sit and consider it – I’m quite enjoying it that way, thank you very much!

No review writing has been committed for a while, but I’ve been getting a decent amount of reading packed into the schedule; currently about a third of the way through China Mieville’s The City & The City, which is a good story whose premise is handled with subtlety, though I’m finding the narrative voice a bit odd at times – often enough, in fact, that I may shift to reading the published version rather than the ARC in case what I’m seeing is a pre-copyedit state.

Still plenty on my freelance plate, though the light is visible at the end of a few tunnels (even as another seems to stretch itself out further). Futurismic is rolling along nicely; we got linked to at MetaFilter the other day, and while it didn’t bring an avalanche of traffic I’m really chuffed to see us there, because I’ve been following the MeFi feed for almost as long as I’ve had an internet presence – and hence appearing there is a little like getting to have a drink in the Cheers bar would be for television fans of a certain age.

Wireless by Charles StrossWhat else has been happening? Well, adventures Northward, band practices and meetings (and plain old hang-outs), live shows (like the mighty Clutch), hunting down cardboard boxes so as to ship seventy-odd kilos (SRSLY) of unwanted books to a buyer… from the sublime to the mundane, it’s all go, basically.

So there’s just time to trumpet happily about the arrival of Charlie Stross‘s new short fiction collection, Wireless, which arrived in the mail this week (and will be shouldering its way up the TBR array in the days to come).


Now, I’ve got stuff to be doing, so I’ll bid you all a good weekend. Take care!

TEMPLATE by Matthew Hughes

[ Note for regular readers and other webizens – this is the first in a string of what I hope will be fairly regular entries wherein I write my thoughts about books and stories I have recently read.

They’re not going to be reviews – indeed, in some cases (like this one) they will be books which I cannot review without justifiable claims of bias, but more often they’ll be titles I don’t have the time or will to review fully. Furthermore, they’ll contain a certain amount of discussion about the mechanics of the writing or plotting; think of it as me workshopping the pieces in a group of one in a glass box on the interwebs. With SP01l3RZ!!!!1OMG.

This being the interwebs, you are of course more than welcome to join in the conversation. 🙂 ]

TEMPLATE by Matthew Hughes

Matthew Hughes - TemplatePS Publishing, Aug 2008 – ISBN: 978-1905834617

First things first: I loved Template to bits. I’d read one Hughes title before (Black Brillion) which I remember liking, but I didn’t fall for it in the same way… maybe a revisit is required.

Every reviewer of Hughes seems to say that he writes like Jack Vance; it’s such a common claim I have to give it credence. I can’t speak with authority because (to my shame) Vance is among that ever-growing list of Writers I Really Need To Discover Properly; for me Hughes writes like Iain M Banks trying on a Michael Moorcock mask, or maybe the other way round. If that’s a bit like like Vance, then score one for genre fiction consensus.

The pseudo-archaic language is well chosen and perfectly controlled, never once strained, never becoming a chore (or a calculated obstruction, viz. Wolfe’s New Sun books). Also notable is Hughes’ handling of detail; rather than deploy a Gormenghastian mass of description Hughes sets the mood, provides a few pointed (and frequently baroque) close details, and then lets your brain do the set dressing all on its own. It certainly worked for me; I was struck by how vividly I had visualised the characters, which never seems to happen as much with writers who describe at length. Less really is more, eh? Even as Conn’s heritage was in the process of being revealed, I was so caught up in the telling-of-the-tale that I felt exactly the same shocked comprehension as the character himself. That’s good engagement, right there.

Template is also a very philosophical novel, and very of-its-time. Laced in with the classic sf theme of the clone/gen-eng’d being and its place as a free agent in the universe (throw in some transcendence of creator’s purpose and the redemption of said creator for good measure) Hughes takes a long deep look at the cultural assumptions that underlie our economic systems… and I’m not talking Blue or Red here so much as completely different cultural shapes for the terms ‘price’, ‘trade’, ‘value’ and ‘worth’. Oh, and ‘good’, of course.

Careful choices make for a good balance of sympathy and that essential lead-character ignorance-of-the-world in Conn Labro, an iteration of the ‘orphan outsider in a society of outsiders’. His games-trained analytical mind suits his his home-world, but makes him prone to question the very different systems he encounters beyond it, not to mention his reactions to such. (It has literally just occurred to me that in that respect he’s like an echo bounced from Banks’ Gurgeh, the Player of Games.) In some respects Conn is also an amplified version of our (economic and cultural) selves as 21st Century humans; this metaphor could be seen as being made a little more concrete in the revelations about his origins late in the novel.

And to close with a reiteration – what a great read! It might be partly due to not having sat down and read a book that I wasn’t on a deadline for, but I’ve not enjoyed a book viscerally quite so much in some time, as both reader-for-pleasure and student-of-craft. It’s a template for a great story, you might even say…

Yeah, OK, I’ll get my coat.

Friday Photo Blogging: Der Neue Synagoge

I’m running pretty short of Berlin photos that I’ve not shared already (cue sighs of relief all round), but having done little or no photography in the last few weeks I am obliged to rummage in the crates once again. So, how’s about some Moorish retro architecture in the form of Berlin’s Neue Synagoge?

Der Neue Synagoge, Oranienburgerstrasse, Berlin

It will probably come as no surprise that it’s not the original, but a close reproduction of the 19th Century building which was battered during the war and subsequently razed to the ground. If you walk along Oranienburgerstrasse after dark[1], you’ll notice a quiet policeman on the street in front, in a little roped-off region.

If only my native country were so careful to dissuade people from remaking the mistakes of the past.

Writing about music

The Dreaded Press chunters along quite smoothly now thanks to my volunteer reviewers. As mentioned before, things are winding down for the season – only one album came in the post this week, where I would normally receive four or five – so I’ve got a chance to consolidate some headway over the holidays and think about new strategies for the site.

And maybe finally do that redesign which I’ve been meaning to do since I installed the current hackabout of a theme over a year ago…

Album of the week

I’m going to cheat by picking two albums, but as they’re from the same band and have just been reissued simultaneously, I figure that’s fair enough. The albums in question are Heaven’s End and Fade Out by proto-shoegaze noiseniks Loop; if you like raucous fuzz and saturated soundscapes, grab yourself a missing link from the history of the style.

Writing about books

Despite last week’s triumphant completion of the epic Steampunk review, I managed to crank out a review of Lou AndersFast Forward 2 anthology for Futurismic. It was quite an easy review to write in some respects, because there was something positive to say about almost every story. Apparently I’m the only person who ‘read’ Picacio’s cover art correctly… though I suspect a number of other people did, but simply decided not to mention it in their review.

There’s still a hefty backlog of books that I read months ago but still haven’t reviewed, and new titles in the queue, some with deadlines. Plus I’ve almost finished Nick HarkawaysThe Gone-Away World, which I think will have to be written about simply by dint of being such a unique and interesting book (not to mention one I wish I’d gotten round to sooner). Thank goodness for upcoming holidays, eh?


The basic engine and visual framework of The Pretty Big Project have been installed, and the client likes it very much. But they want me to do something with one of the subsections that I’m not entirely sure how to go about achieving… I think I have a solution, but it’s not going to be particularly elegant from the back-end. That’s Saturday’s job – some “suck it and see” code testing[2].

Other freelance stuff is business as usual; lovely.


A new month means a new story at Futurismic – in this case the return of Jason Stoddard, putting his fiction where his mouth is and following his own Positive SF manifesto in “Willpower“. I really enjoyed it, and the comments so far (both on the page itself and at io9) seem to concur. I’d be interested in hearing any further opinions from VCTB regulars. Because you have all read it, right? 😉

Books and magazines seen

A quiet week again – seems like the publishing industry is slowing down for the season, too. Then again, there could be a lot more reasons; my sympathies go out to anyone working in publishing at the moment, because I’ve experienced what it’s like to work in an industry where the axe is hovering over everyone. Here’s hoping things perk up sooner rather than later – for everyone, not just the publishers[3].

So, this week’s only input is a long-awaited BSFA care package. Lots of good stuff in Vector this time, and a bumper reviews section (including my review of David Levy‘s Love and Sex with Robots). Some of the articles (not to mention the Elastic Press sampler) have already provoked some vigorous debate over at the BSFA forums; if you’re a member, be sure to drop in and share your thoughts.


I suppose it’s high time I gave some thought to what I’ll be doing over the Allegedly Festive Period, but I doubt it’ll be anything special. My mother’s visiting the south coast this year, so I’ll not be trekking to Yorkshire in the mobile purgatory of the National Express network again… *shudder*

Still, there’s time remaining for planning[4]. In the meantime, the weekend has arrived, so I’d better make myself some food and get cracking with the free fiction round-up at Futurismic, hadn’t I? Have a great weekend yourselves, as best you’re able. Auf weidersehn!

[ 1 – There are many good reasons to do this; great bars and restaurants, for example, in addition to many architectural marvels like the above. You might initially be as confused as I was by the preponderance of young ladies whose fashion sense seems to be grounded in the props department of a studio that made eighties hair-metal videos. It wasn’t until one of them engaged me in conversation that I realised she wasn’t waiting for a friend at all. Not a *specific* friend, anyway. ]

[ 2 – Based on prior experience, that’s about six hours of the day accounted for… ]

[ 3 – That said, I’m pretty alarmed by this slew of interest rate drops and tax breaks that are being announced over here in the UK. Are the Government postponing the inevitable, or simply spreading it out thinner over a longer period? Or are they making like Jack Bauer with a pair of wirecutters inside a device they don’t fully understand? Guess we’ll find out eventually, but I would feel a lot more secure had we buried our facile national nostalgia for the days of empire and joined the bloody Euro when we had the chance. ]

[ 4 – He said, with a confidence that might prove not to be borne out by events. ]

Obscure books meme

For a man who claims not to be very keen on blog memes, Andrew Wheeler tends to pass a lot of them through his own fiefdom. Anyway, other cool and interesting people are doing it, and it’s been bloody ages since I did anything more here than links and FPB, so:

What ten books do you own that you think no one else on your friends list does?

I don’t have a flist (because I don’t LJ, yo), so let’s assume that if you read VCTB, you’re my friend[1].

  1. Virtual and Other Realities by Edwin Morgan – poetry collection from the Scots Poet Laureate. (If I stuck with poetry titles I could probably run off ten obscure books easily, but I feel it would be cheating.)
  2. He Died With A Falafel In His Hand by John Birmingham – a sort of gonzo collection of horrible shared-housing tales from Australia, most of which are just unbelievable enough to be true
  3. Emanuelle by Emanuelle Arsan – The novel a million bad soft-porn films were named after. Oh, you may sneer, but there’s some very interesting philosophical diversions about personal freedom amongst the raunch. Plus it seems you can’t find a copy on Amazon UK, so pretty obscure AMIRITE?
  4. The Oxford Illustrated History of the Royal Navy – day-jobs can really rub off on you, can’t they?
  5. The Genealogy of Morals by Friedrich Nietzsche – yeah, you never saw that one coming.
  6. Raj: the Making and Unmaking of British India by Lawrence James – does what it says on the tin.
  7. The View Over Atlantis by John Michell – one of the jewels of my ‘crank collection’; seriously wacky but very compelling. You’ll never think of ley-lines the same way again…
  8. Altered State by Matthew Collin – a counter-cultural social history of the rise and commercialisation of rave culture in the UK.
  9. Media Virus! by Douglas Rushkoff – arguably the book that codified the notion of viral marketing and accidentally tipped off big brand business to the tools of the trade.
  10. Food Of The Gods by Terence McKenna – the thesis here is that, essentially, hallucinogenic mushrooms gave rise to the first matriarchal human societies, and our departure from that culture is due to the different sorts of recreational substances that are considered acceptable in our societies. Bill Hicks used to riff on this idea, though I have no idea if he read this book, and McKenna has a lot of big ideas and heavy research to add to the mix, including a hippie-style interpretation of the singularity that happens to intersect with the end of the Mayan calendar in 2012. Drugs, ancient races, cultural shifts… this one has everything, and is well worth a read even if you totally disagree with everything it contains.

That should do it. Though knowing how pride comes before a fall, I expect some of you will chip in and admit to owning at least half of these. But hey, it’s just a meme, and I had half an hour’s fun roaming my bookshelves. So if you feel the urge, pick it up and pass it on.

[ 1 – Can we assume that? Please? Go on… I promise to walk away when your other friends turn up. And I’ll give you my lunch money. ]