Exciting times here at Pinnock towers! “Dot Dash” is about to hit the streets, and it’s time to organise another blog tour. I put the word out on Facebook and Twitter yesterday and I already have quite a few stops lined up. However, there’s always room for a few more, so if you have a blog and you’re willing to have me as a guest, do leave a comment below. I’ll be very happy either to answer questions or to provide you with a ready-made post. I’m reasonably well-behaved and I don’t think there were any complaints last time. Apart from … well, least said, soonest mended. In any case, those Stain Devils are wonderful, aren’t they?

If, however, the idea of me banging on about how wonderful my new book is bores you rigid, you might like to switch off for a month or so until things die down a bit.

The very wonderful What The Dickens magazine have just produced a really cool promotional video for their current fundraising campaign, featuring loads of writers and other creative people, including – if my eyes aren’t deceiving me – none other than Hugh Bonneville (I think he’s been a few things on the telly). Oh, and that’s me at around the 2:27 mark. In case you can’t read the word that I’ve made, it’s “happen”.

So do take a look. And maybe make a contribution? Go on, you know you want to.

I was thinking it was about time we had another guest to this place, and as luck would have it, my chum Geoff Nelder is on (virtual) tour at the moment, promoting his latest book ARIA: Left Luggage (see below for how to purchase). Geoff is a terrific writer with a fiercely critical eye, which he has brought to bear on several of the stories in Dot Dash, either as a fellow member of the Café Doom online forum or as the judge of the Whittaker Prize.

The Lure of Bridges

Whether by physical need or arts medium, sooner or later we are drawn over or under a bridge. They are the subject of international competitions because they link territory and by metaphor, people with their cultural differences.

As a climatologist I have been fascinated by and measured the effect of bridges on microclimates. When built in 1832, the Grosvenor Bridge in Chester, UK was the world’s largest single stone span for 30 years. High above the waters of the River Dee the bridge separates airflow, mainly from the west so that it jets over the parapet threatening to blow this cyclist into the path of buses. Three miles downstream is the village of Eccleston where Chester’s coldest spot can always be found under a private road bridge to the Duke of Westminster’s estate. The road dips to go under and so katabatic cold air pools there, 5 degrees Celsius lower than in the city centre.

In science fiction literature there is hardly a more iconic bridge than in William Gibson’s Virtual Light. The first in the Bridge trilogy, Virtual Light has a preposterous dystopian concept of a community living on the San Francisco Bridge.

Chevette Washington, a bike messenger, steals VR glasses at a party she crashes. Corrupt police, private security and other mysterious people are after her. One, Berry Rydell, rescues her from a security abduction even though he is part of it. He falls for her though their relationship develops very late in the story without time to develop.

The bridge concept comes from a short story Gibson was commissioned to write by an architect group in San Fransisco. One character is a shy Japanese sociologist, Yamazaki. He is in awe of the bridge and their people as shown in this superb setting piece: Note the poetic prose – repetition and echoing normally expunged by editors.

He’d first seen it by night, three weeks before. He’d stood in fog, amid sellers of fruit and vegetables, their goods spread out on blankets. He’d stared back into the cavern-mouth, heart pounding. Steam was rising from the pots of soup vendors, beneath a jagged arc of scavenged neon. Everything ran together, blurring, melting in the fog. Telepresence had only hinted at the and singularity of the thing, and he’d walked slowly forward, into that neon maw and all that patchwork carnival of scavenged surfaces, in perfect awe. Fairyland. Rain-silvered plywood, broken marble from the walls of forgotten banks, corrugated plastic, polished brass, sequins, painted canvass, mirrors, chrome gone dull and peeling in the salt air. So many things, too much for his reeling eye, and he’d known his journey had not been in vain.

A difficult novel to get into and I might have given up too soon had it not been written by the iconic Gibson. The first chapter is in the point of view of an anonymous ‘he’ so we don’t feel engaged. We never find out who he is. Too many characters are introduced early with mostly unexplained actions and provenance. The plot has a dichotomy of the super rich buying security, and the jobless scraping a living. Whether this is truly a sociological class division is dubious. By 1993 when it was first published such sub-plots had run their time. Besides which the poorest characters, such as Skinner (my favourite grumpy old man) is rich in his thoughts and relationships more than the wealthy characters.

Although I like the concept of the famous bridge becoming a home, it is unrealistic even in a post-affluent, possibly post-apocalyptic society. It is dangerous in high winds, subject to many summer advection fogs and cold winters. There must be safer and easier places on dry land to inhabit. The middle plot occurs in a storm on the bridge but cold and danger are barely there even though the blackouts and wetness are portrayed.

In spite of the credibility gap of the bridge, it is that community that makes the dystopian nature of the narrative more human and warm. A better book, in several ways than Neuromancer. It is cyberpunk, a hard-nose crime story, with characters and action set in the future.

In Virtual Light, no one crosses the bridge. In reality, we want to get to the other side, hoping for a better future. Some only make it halfway, using the bridge as a suicide high point, so to speak. The bridge being then a crossing from this life to … something else, or nothing. For most of us, bridges are feel-good symbols.

There are bridges in ARIA: Left Luggage. In Canada, near Lake Louise a simple bridge crosses ice-blue waters of the Bow River as ARIA-infected Manuel crosses from safety to danger, and back again – maybe. Between the Welsh mainland and the island of Anglesey is Menai Bridge where: ‘The suspension bridge looked beautiful in the moonlight, earlier rain glistened metallic greens like slithering jewels down the support struts. Nineteenth-century graceful catena curves and vertical steel ropes tried hard to sooth the troubled minds looking out for trouble.’ Near the end, our heroes need to cross the double-decker Britannia Bridge – night time, driving over railway lines, encountering barriers and maintaining the need for surreptitious, sneaky behaviour. A cliff-hanger on a bridge; what more could you ask?

 

ARIA: Left Luggage

A bridge-like epiphany hit me cycling up a steep Welsh hill five years ago. An original idea: infectious amnesia. Not mass amnesia, but one you catch from being near someone else who also has it. Infectious amnesia doesn’t exist. Thank goodness, but imagine the ramifications if it did. You are on a bus when a man gets on with a new virus, one that loses memory backwards at the rate of a year per week. By the time the bus stops, all the passengers, including you, have ARIA (Alien Retrograde Infectious Amnesia). The driver has it too, and all her passengers until the end of her shift. You go shopping on the way home. Your spouse works in the power plant, your kids go to school. How long before industry stops, society breaks down, and your kids forget how to read, write and talk?

That’s why Mike Resnick, Robert J Sawyer, Jon C Grimwood, Brad Lineweaver and Charles Stross says ARIA is a fascinating idea, and makes us think of what is the most important things we need to remember in our lives.

Purchase ARIA: Left luggage from the usual online links or direct from the publisher.

Illustration from Nelder, Geoff Chester’s Climate: Past, Present and Future (1985)

OK, I don’t usually review films here, let alone mainstream blockbusters. There are plenty of other people around who write for the proper media who know far more about these things than I do, so it’s really not worth the bother.

Except, this one annoyed me. Actually, it really, really, REALLY annoyed me.

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD AFTER THE BREAK.

ALSO SOME BAD LANGUAGE. I AM REALLY, REALLY, REALLY PISSED OFF.

Read more

Just over a month ago, Scott Pack was offering free copies of this book on his blog. It sounded just the sort of thing I might like, so I  applied for one straight away. There were, of course, strings attached. Well, one string, actually. I have to write a review of it.

The problem is that it’s a very odd book. As John Harding says in his cover blurb, it’s “like no other book you have ever read”. I guess the closest thing I could think of to compare it to would be the fakery of Stanislaw Lem’s “A Perfect Vacuum”, or perhaps (and watch my quick spin into completely pretentious territory here) the early films of Peter Greenaway, or even (executing a handbrake turn into another medium altogether) Greaves and Blegvad’s classic album “Kew. Rhone.”

I’m rambling.

OK, the book, by a real-life Professor of Psychiatry (I’m assuming real-life, although there’s no reason at all to believe any of it, frankly), purports to be “The Life and Collected Works of Thomas Darwin (1857-1879)”. This Darwin was supposedly the eleventh and youngest child of Charles Darwin and his wife Emma, who died in an asylum for the insane in Canada at the age of 21 after contracting tuberculosis.

Darwin junior’s claim to fame was, supposedly, that he continued and developed his father’s work into the more esoteric – and, to be perfectly honest – completely bonkers area of inanimate objects (hence the title). A particular obsession (illustrated on the cover) was with the way in which pastry forks evolved from common or garden ones, with the strengthened outside tine as an acquired characteristic.

For a moment, the reader is tempted to say, well, perhaps that is – in a metaphorical sense, at least – how it actually works in practice. But it soon becomes apparent that Darwin is going much, much further than that: he actually thinks that the inanimate objects have evolved without human intervention. Karlinsky shows how this obsession develops, how it is received by the establishment and what the consequences are for Darwin.

The book is structured partly as a work of historical biography – full of believable insights into the Darwin household – and a discussion of Thomas Darwin’s collected works. Karlinsky’s experience of the academic scientific process is put to excellent use in the latter part. I particularly liked the picture he paints of the superintendent of the asylum and his attempts to publicise his own dreadful treatise by somehow getting Darwin senior to give it his imprimateur.

This is a very entertaining and highly original book, and I’d recommend it to anyone with a scientific bent or an interest in bent science.

My short poem, “Choking Hazard – Small Parts”, a kind of modest proposal for armaments manufacturers, is up at Every Day Poets today. This is the one that was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize a couple of years back, and I quite like it.

Let’s kick off with a disclaimer. There is, let’s face it, no way that I’m going to give this book a bad review. It is, after all, the most important book my publishers (yes, the same ones that are putting my own next book out later on this month) have ever produced and it would be completely batshit insane for me to give it anything other than a stellar write-up.

However – and it’s a big however – if it had turned out that I hadn’t liked the book, there would have been a simple option open to me: I could have just ignored it. The other however is that, as I’ve mentioned in an earlier review, I was already a fan of Moore’s work before I read this.

The other massive however is that “The Lighthouse” is a wonderful book.

It is an unashamedly literary book. Very little actually happens in it – it’s basically the story of a middle-aged bloke on a rather dull circular walking holiday in Germany in the wake of a marital break-up, interspersed with glimpses into the life of the proprietress of the hotel where he stayed the first night and where he will return to at the end. There are also flashbacks to the protagonist’s youth and early married life.

The protagonist is called Futh, and I’m sure it’s no coincidence that it’s close to the word “moth” (although I’d love to imagine that it was a completely unconscious choice on Moores’ part – that happens a lot more to writers than you might imagine). Because that’s what he is, constantly fluttering around inappropriate lights instead of making his own path through the world. Just, in fact, like the one that makes a brief, ultimately fatal appearance early on in the book.

Moore’s writing is wonderfully economical and the plot is tightly structured. Lighthouses are a continual reference point throughout the book, and you can have fun spotting new ones (you could, for example, consider the entire plot as following the path of the lighthouse’s beam as it rotates around Futh’s circular walking tour). The one thing that is truly surprising for such a “literary” book is what a page-turner it is.  I was enjoying it so much that I skipped through it in two or three days, fascinated to see how it turned out, and I wasn’t disappointed.

So if you want my tip for the Booker, this is the one. Wouldn’t it be utterly awesome if she won?

This is pretty cool. 3hundredand65 is a story built up from tweets, one per day, over an entire year (which makes something in the region of 9000 words, give or take a few). This kind of thing has been done before, except there are three crucial differences this time:

  • Each day is written by a different person – including loads of celebs.
  • Each segment is illustrated in proper graphic novel style
  • It’s all for charity

As soon as I heard about it, I decided I wanted to be part of it, so I signed up and I was allocated October 1st – yesterday, in other words.

Here’s my bit. I decided to take a disciplined approach and not introduce any new mad characters, instead setting it up for something interesting to happen next. Looking back on it, maybe I should have been a bit more bonkers…

Anyway, if you want to contribute to this excellent charity (and why not?), here’s the link.

In other news, some words of wisdom of mine are featured on page 15 of the latest issue (number 6) of “What The Dickens” magazine. I think they’re going to be interviewing me some time soon, too.

And finally, the website for “Dot Dash” went live yesterday. And yes, it is very similar to the one I did for Mrs Darcy. I’m not quite ready to embark on the next level of learning CSS…

If you’re on Facebook, there’s a new Dot Dash page as well, and it would be really cool if you could “Like” it.